By Minnie Apolis
It has always been a bit of a puzzle for most of us as to how the ancient Egyptians laid out the base for their pyramids in such an accurate manner, with parallel sides and apparently oriented to a star. It was no accident, and it did not involve the assistance of aliens – although the Egyptians did invoke the assistance of the goddess Seshat.
I came across a description of the process in a book about ancient astronomy. Wherever it refers to the Bull's Thigh, it means the Big Dipper. The Egyptians were aware that it had seven main stars. The goddess Seshat, mentioned above, was depicted with a strange headdress with what is described as a seven-pointed star in an umbrella-shaped arch. It looks to me more like a marijuana plant, but so be it. Anyway, the seven points represent the seven stars of the Big Dipper aka Bull's Thigh.
Laying out a new pyramid or temple was a sacred ceremony called The Stretching of the Cord.
The book says, “When New Kingdom and Ptolemaic Egyptians began construction on a new temple, the foundation ceremonies included the “Stretching of the Cord.” This ritual required the pharaoh to establish the basic reference line for the temple's orientation and plan. Texts and wall reliefs indicate the at the pharaoh accomplished this task with the assistance of the goddess Seshat. . .
“(the pharaoh) stretches the rope in joy. With his glance toward the ak of the Bull's Thigh constellation, he establishes the temple of the Mistress of Dendera, as took place there before. .
The pharaoh says ”Looking to the sky at the course of the rising stars, recognizing the ak of the Bull's Thigh constellation, I establish the corners of the temple of Her Majesty.
The pharaoh says ”I have grasped the stake along with the handle of the mallet. I take the measuring cord in the company of Seshat. I consider the progressive movement of the stars. My eye is fixed upon the Bull's Thigh constellation. I count off time, scrutinize the clock, and establish the corners of my temple.”
The book explains that most likely the Pharaoh took a ceremonial role rather than actually laying out the whole base of the temple – rather like cutting the ribbon on a bridge, or christening a ship in modern times.
It is apparent that from this description of the ritual, that the Egyptians sighted along a line to the Big Dipper. Unfortunately we do not know what the word ak means. It could mean “position” or “orientation.” It does seem clear that this is similar to surveying techniques.
What I imagine is the Pharaoh (or the chief surveyor) marking a line that follows the path of one of the stars of the Dipper as it moves across the night sky. You could hardly expect an important personage like the Pharaoh to stay up all night for that; he needs his beauty sleep. But the grunts would stay up and using some starting point on the ground, mark a line that follows the progress of the Dipper. Drive a stake where you want one corner to be, and following the star's path, drive another stake a couple hundred feet away with a cord stretched between them that lined up with the star – possibly with the position of the star at moonrise or something like that, and possibly on an equinox or solstice.
I have often wondered if one could do this in one's own back yard. Just stay up one night, camping out in other words, and lay out a base for your personal temple – or greenhouse, whatever.
Echoes of Ancient Skies: The Astronomy of Lost Civilizations, Dr. E. C. Krupp, Dover Publications of Mineola, New York, 1983, pages 24-26. ISBN 0-486-42882-6