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The Contemporary Review, Volume 36, September 1879

For a tunnelling once constructed


now with regard to the true north-and-south direction, although the shadow method, carried out on a truly level surface, would be satisfactory enough for a first rough approximation, or even for what any but astronomers would regard as extreme accuracy, it would be open to serious objections for really exact work. These objections would have become known to observers long before the construction of the pyramid was commenced, and would have been associated with the difficulties which suggested, I think, the idea itself of constructing such an edifice.

Supposing an upright pointed post is set up, and the position of the end of the shadow upon a perfectly level surface is noted; then whatever use we intend to make of this observation, it is essential that we should know the precise position of the centre of the upright's base, and also that the upright should be truly vertical. Otherwise we have only exactly obtained the position of one end of the line we want, and to draw the line properly we ought as exactly to know the position of the other end. If we want _also_ to know the true position of a line joining the point of the upright and the shadow of this point, we require to know the true height of the upright. And even if we have these points determined, we still have not a _material_ line from the point of the upright to the place of its shadow. A cord or chain from one point to the other would be curved, even if tightly stretched, and it would

not be tightly stretched, if long, without either breaking or pulling over the upright. A straight bar of the required length could not be readily made or used: if stout enough to lie straight from point to point it would be unwieldy, if not stout enough so that it bent under its own weight it would be useless.

Thus the shadow method, while difficult of application to give a true north-and-south horizontal line, would fail utterly to give material indications of the sun's elevation on particular days, without which it would be impossible to obtain in this manner any material indications of the position of the celestial pole.

A natural resource, under these circumstances--at least a natural resource for astronomers who could afford to adopt the plan--would be to build up masses of masonry, in which there should be tubular holes or tunnellings pointing in certain required directions. In one sense the contrivance would be clumsy, for a tunnelling once constructed, would not admit of any change of position, nor even allow of any save very limited changes in the direction of the line of view through them. In fact, the more effective a tunnelling would be in determining any particular direction, the less scope, of course, would it afford for any change in the direction of a line of sight along it. So that the astronomical architect would have to limit the use of this particular method to those cases in which great accuracy in obtaining a direction line and great rigidity in the material indication of that line's position were essential or at least exceedingly desirable. Again, in some cases presently to be noticed, he would require, not a tubing directed to some special fixed point in the sky, but an opening commanding some special range of view. Yet again it would be manifestly well for him to retain, whenever possible, the power of using the shadow method in observing the sun and moon; for this method in the case of bodies varying their position on the celestial sphere, not merely with respect to the cardinal points, would be of great value. Its value would be enhanced if the shadows could be formed by objects and received on surfaces holding a permanent position.

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