The ancient Egyptians were a fantastic race of people. There understanding of the celestial sky in some ways rivals even our own today. The magnificent temples, monuments, and cities that have been built by these people, have done their best to withstand the ravages of time itself. After all look at the pyramids of Giza. Are these not a true testimony to the accomplishments of man?
The ancient Egyptians were well versed in mathematics, astronomy, and medicine. Yet, even greater than these traditions was the architecture of the structures that were erected by these people. The pyramids, the obelisks, the rock tombs, and the grand cities, all of which were assembled with such a high degree of accuracy that the structures have stood in defiance against time itself, not to mention the equipment that was devised and used, to not only build, but to move the stones that were used in the construction of these massive monuments. All of these deeds required a fantastic amount of knowledge on the part of the ancient Egyptians.
The Egyptians and Mathematics
The Egyptians utilized a decimal system of mathematics. The units of measure were indicated by hieroglyphics. The finger represented 10,000, the tadpole represented 100,000, and a particular god with his arms raised represented 1,000,000. The units of linear measurements were depicted as for example the palm, the finger, and the cubit.
The cubit, of coarse was an odd thing to come up with, since this was not a measurement discovered from observation, because in the case of the majority of Egyptians the cubit is smaller than the proposed (.523 meters). So seven palms works out to be exactly one cubit, and 100 cubits is said to equal one khet. Now for distances longer than that, the Egyptians resorted to the use of the Atour, which was equal to 20,000 cubits.
In the construction of cities, temples, and funerary complexes, where larger areas of land were to be measured, larger units of measurements were utilized. Such as the setat which was said to be equal to 100 square cubits, and a mile was equal to 1,000 square cubits.
Now, I am sure that you are asking – what all this has to do with astronomy? Well, if you think about it long enough, you will realize that if their cities, temples, and tombs were laid out according to the positioning of the stars in the sky. Then they would have to of had a good grasp of mathematics in order to figure the angular separation of certain stars in order to convert these measurements into linier units, which they used in the positioning of buildings.
Egyptians and Astronomy
As I have stated earlier the ancient Egyptians were not only excellent mathematicians, but they were also magnificent astronomers as well. They were able to observe the difference between the circumpolar stars (the stars that never set below the horizon) verses the non circumpolar stars. And from the non circumpolar stars they chose thirty six stars that they called Decan stars. These Decan stars held reign over sequences of ten day cycles which in turn made up their annual celestial cycle. The ancient Egyptians then took the Decon stars, and formulated thirty six horizontal columns split into twelve vertical registers. And then arranged the Decan stars upon this tablet, in the order in which each star would appear on the horizon during the night. By doing this they could tell at a glance, the hour of the night by the appearance of a specified star on the horizon.
Egyptian Architecture and Mathematics
Of all the Memphite pyramids, the Great Pyramid of stands as the greatest example of the ancient Egyptians use of mathematics to assist them in the positioning of large structures. But just how did they use mathematics and astronomy to accomplish such a feat? Well, let us examine that for a moment.
Mostly all of the pyramids are positioned with respect to the stars, and I must say it was done with astounding accuracy, especially the Great Pyramid. This structure was built and positioned within a margin of error of only two feet and thirty inches overall. This is so dramatic that it could not have been accomplished by judging the direction of any known land mark; it had to have been the direct result of precise astronomical observations, combined with not only mathematics, but also with the use of constructing tools that were also remarkably accurate
We have discovered through archeological digs, the tools used to build these structures, and how these tools were utilized to accomplish this task. The tools used by the Egyptians were very simple and consisted primarily of two devices. The first being a right angle rod marked along its length with increments denoting cubits. A hole was drilled on one end, where a plumb line would have attached, and the second tool was an unmarked rod with a hole at one end.
The idea behind this was first for one worker to look through the hole of the unmarked rod, and sight both the plumb line (which was held by a second worker) and a specified star. Then according to the foundation ceremonies, the worker would then face towards Ursa Major, and search for the polar star (which back then was Thuban located in the constellation of Draco). Once this star was located the worker then marked a line running from north to south coinciding with the notched increments of the other rod, pretty easy huh. This simple method was utilized to layout the foundations of every structure that adorns the landscape of Egypt.
In closing I will say that if it were not for such Egyptian discoveries such as PI and the decimal system use of 10. We today may still be living in the dark ages. The ancient Egyptians have provided us with a knowledge that in some ways surpasses even the mighty Greek Empire itself not to mention the Romans. It has been my great pleasure to have shared this article with you, and I hope that you have enjoyed reading it, as much as I have enjoyed writting it, Thank You.