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The Contemporary Review, Volume 36, September 1879

For Alpha Draconis to be observed down the ascending passage


The first of these points is at once the most important and the most difficult. It is so important, indeed, that we may hope for significant evidence from the consideration of the methods which would suggest themselves as available.

Consider:--The square base has been duly oriented. Therefore, if each square layer is placed properly, the continually diminishing square platform will remain always oriented. But if any error is made in this work the exactness of the orientation will gradually be lost. And this part of the work cannot be tested by astronomical observations as exact as those by which the base was laid, unless the vertical boring by which the middle of the base, or a point near it, was brought into connection with the entrance passage, is continued upwards through the successive layers of the pyramidal structure. As the rock rises to a considerable height within the interior of the pyramid,[44] probably to quite the height of the opening of the entrance passage on the northern slope, it would only be found necessary to carry up this vertical boring on the building itself after this level had been reached. But in any case this would be but an unsatisfactory way of obtaining the meridian plane when once the boring had reached a higher level than the opening of the entrance passage; for only horizontal lines from the boring to the inclined tunnelling would be of use for exact work, and no such lines could be drawn when once the level of the upper end of the entrance passage had been passed by the builders.

A plan would be available, however (not yet noticed, so far as I know, by any who have studied the astronomical relations of the great pyramid), which would have enabled the builders perfectly to overcome this difficulty.

Suppose the line of sight down the entrance passage were continued upwards along an ascending passage, after reflection at a perfectly horizontal surface--the surface of still water--then by the simplest of all optical laws, that of the reflection of light, the descending and ascending lines of sight on either side of the place of reflection, would lie in the same vertical plane, that, namely, of the entrance passage, or of the meridian. Moreover, the farther upwards an ascending passage was carried, along which the reflected visual rays could pass, the more perfect would be the adjustment of this meridional plane.

To apply this method, it would be necessary to temporarily plug up the entrance passage where it passed into the solid rock, to make the stone-work above it very perfect and close fitting, so that whenever occasion arose for making one of the observations we are considering, water might be poured into the entrance passage, and remain long enough standing at the corner (so to speak) where this passage and the suggested ascending passage could meet, for Alpha Draconis to be observed down the ascending passage. Fig. 2 shows what is meant. Here D C is the descending passage, C A the ascending passage, C the corner where the water would be placed when Alpha Draconis was about to pass below the pole. The observer would look down A C, and would see Alpha Draconis by rays which had passed down D C, and had been reflected by the water at C. Supposing the building to have been erected, as Lepsius and other Egyptologists consider, at the rate of one layer in each year, then only one observation of the kind described need be made per annum. Indeed, fewer would serve, since three or four layers of stone might be added without any fresh occasion arising to test the direction of the passage C A.

[Illustration: Fig. 2.]

It is hardly necessary to remind those who have given any attention to the subject of the pyramid that there is precisely such an ascending passage as C A, and that as yet no explanation of the identity of its angle of ascent with the angle of descent of the passage D C has ever been given. Most pyramidalists content themselves by assuming, as Sir E. Beckett puts it, "that the same angle would probably be used for both sets of passages, _as there was no reason for varying it_," which is not exactly an explanation of the relation. Mr. Wacherbarth has suggested that the passages were so adjusted for the purpose of managing a system of balance cars united by ropes from one passage to another; but this explanation is open, as Beckett points out, to the fatal objection that the passages meet at their lowest point, not at their highest, so that it would be rather a puzzle "to work out the mechanical idea." The reflection explanation is not only open to no such objections, but involves precisely such an application of optical laws as we should expect from men so ingenious as the pyramid builders certainly were. In saying this, let me explain, I am not commending myself for ingenuity in thinking of the method, simply because such methods are quite common and familiar in the astronomy of modern times.


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