The Use of Paleomagnetic Declinations for Mesoamerica and China to Decode Orientation of Mesoamerican and Chinese Pyramids

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Chapter 5

The Use of Paleomagnetic Declinations

for Mesoamerica and China to Decode Orientation of Mesoamerican and Chinese Pyramids

Jaroslav Klokočník1 and Jan Kostelecký2

1Astronomical Institute, p.r.i., Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic,

CZ Ondřejov Observatory, Czech Republic, EU

2Research Institute of Geodesy, Topography and Cartography,

CZ Ostrava-Poruba, Czech Republic, EU


We show that and how paleomagnetic declinations from regional measurements or from the global magnetic field models (in spherical harmonics) can be used in a rather unexpected way: to decode the space orientation of pyramids in Mesoamerica and China. The arguments are based on our own measurements in situ, on analysis of satellite images and on worldwide paleomagnetic data available to date for relevant time intervals are gathered and presented to claim that many pyramids and other important buildings in Mesoamerica (Olmécs, Maya) and in China (Xi’an and other areas) were oriented by means of a magnetic compass.

Orientation of majority of Olmécs/Maya and Chinese pyramids with respect to south-north (cardinal) direction is not arbitrary, accidental, but intentional, done according to strict rules. The orientation is only approximately “south-north”; there is often significant deviation to east or west. We provide a necessary minimum of historical data, we explain what is the Fuson hypothesis, how to determine astronomical azimuth from measurements by a compass, how to use Google Earth with satellite images, etc.

The crucial is theThe paleomagnetic declination is crucial., Itwhich is derived from global models in spherical harmonic expansions (Korte, Constable, Donadini…) as well as from the local data directly (e.g., Boehnel for Mexico). This data hasve limited precision, unfortunately only about 5 degrees till now, which represents the main obstacle and limiting factor to all our work.

We recall the Fuson hypothesis, stated nearly half a century ago, to explain the orientation of the pyramids and other important buildings in Mesoamerica (with respect to the cardinal, astronomically south-north direction).

If a magnetic compass was used for the orientation of a structure, then its orientation conforms to the epoch of construction or last reconstruction of the structure.

The direction of the magnetic pole of the Earth changes significantly with time (in a contrast to the direction of the astronomical pole, pole of rotation of the Earth).

Thus, the age of a structure and its space orientation have to correlate. We correlated the orientation and the age of various pyramids in Mesoamerica and China (mostly those near Xi´an, province Shaanxi), belonging to the Han dynasties, using the relevant paleomagnetic declinations.

We support the Fuson hypothesis both for Mesoamerica and China. A magnetic compass to define the orientation of an upcoming pyramid was excavated in Olmécs’ locality San Lorenzo, Veracruz, México (~1200 BC). In China, another construction of a magnetic compass was used within the frame of commonly known and generally used feng-shui practice (known at least from the West Han dynasty, ~200 BC, but may be much older, from time immemorial).
Keywords: paleomagnetic declination, Fuson’s hypothesis; pyramids; Olmécs/Maya; pyramids in China (Xi’an tombs); Han dynasties; magnetic compass

Introduction and Motivation

Nearly everybody can easily check (using satellite images and Google Earth software) that various buildings, including pyramids in many archaeological sites of Mesoamerica, Peru, China and other countries are often oriented along the cardinal “north-south” (in China “south-north”, nan-fang – bei-fang) direction (or east-west direction, rotated by 90°) to the geographic pole, but not perfectly. The mMajority of the structures is directed to the present north geographic (astronomical) pole (pole of rotation of the Earth) with a “deflection” or “deviation” (to east or west), significant enough not to be considered inaccuracy (error) of the planning or construction of the objects.

Often in various cultures we meet astronomical (calendrical) orientation, according (in direction) to sunrise or sunset at solstices or equinoxes or according to relevant azimuths for the Moon, planet Venus, bright stars or constellations. But it is surprising that in fact only a small portion of all such important historical objects areis oriented astronomically (Pavelka et al. 2013).

It is hard to believe that these alignments are only accidental, especially in the case of Maya or China. Sometimes the orientation defies the local topography: “at some sites there may have been a conscious effort to preserve a particular alignment in spite of the intervening terrain” (e.g. in Teotihuacán, Calixtlahuacan, Xochicalco), oriented astronomically (e.g., Aveni 2001). We can rule out: pure chance, local topography, aesthetic reasons, climate, water supply, military defense, and similar reasons. And also we can also put aside a minority of objects, which are obviously oriented astronomically. It is evident that there must have been very strong motivations for these societies to use and to keep such orientation.

Fuson (1969) suggested an explanation for that strange orientation, aimed in that time to Mesoamerica. His hypothesis can shortly be summarized as follows: Olmécs and Maya used a compass for the orientation of their important buildings. The direction of the compass needle aligns along the magnetic field and defines magnetic declination at the time of the building construction or its last reconstruction. Due to the fact that the magnetic pole is wandering, the direction as observed from the given locality is changing with time. Buildings of various ages should have different space orientation (it means different ‘deviations’ from the cardinal direction). Their alignments are changing throughout time. Fuson (1969) mentioned more than 100 major ceremonial centers on Yucatán (México), Guatemala and Honduras, erected mostly between AD 200 and 1200 (his Figure 1) and found (by means of geodetic measurements) prevailing east “deflection” from the cardinal direction.

Carlson (1975) supported Fuson hypothesis archaeologically. He wrote about a discovery of the artifact excavated in San Lorenzo (Veracrúz, Mexico), which is considered to be a lodestone compass, made from pure hematite (Fe2O3). The age of the sample was estimated by radiocarbon dating of surrounding organic layers to 1400 − 1000 BC (3400 – 3000 BP; BC means “before Christ”, AD means “anno Domini” equating “after Christ”, BP means “before present”). As such, a piece of lodestone could float on liquid mercury and a mechanism for a compass is given. The materials needed to build it (mercury, magnetite rocks, cinnabar, and limestone) were available at this region. For example, near Monte Albán (Oaxaca, México), in a locality known as San José Mogote, was a workshop for mirrors from magnetite, probably already 500 years before Monte Albán was established. A settlement in Loma Salinas/Coatepec is situated directly at the magnetic mineral mines (Flannery and Marcus, 2005). Methods to prepare liquid mercury from cinnabar (HgS, mercuric sulphide) by roasting on air or with limestone were also known and used by Olmécs and Maya, for painting ceramics and other purposes.

A successful test of the Fuson hypothesis in time around 1970−1990 was hardly possible due to very limited knowledge of the magnetic pole wandering and relevant paleomagnetic declinations for time and places of interest. We tested Fuson hypothesis by our own field measurements in many places in Mesoamerica and supported but not proved it (for details see
Klokočník et al. 2007).

Then we recognized that pyramids are also in China, about 100 are located around Xi´an and many others in various parts of China. We employed nearly the same method to study their orientation as was used for Mesoamerica. Our preliminary results about the Chinese pyramids supported Fuson hypothesis also for China (Charvátová et al. 2011).

In this paper, we summarize new discoveries about the Chinese pyramids during the last three years, which are supporting the Fuson hypothesis further on.

The important fact is that the instrument called “compass” (si nan) was known to be discovered and used in China since West Han dynasty (Needham, 1964). Although the time of discovery of the Chinese compass is still controversial, some researchers (Wang Zhenduo, 1948; Lin Wenzhao, 1985) suggest its derivation time should be 4th century BC (Zhan Guo dynasty, 475–221 BC) while some others doubt that the more definite time should be in the newer Tang dynasty (Liu Yifeng et al. 2010), the well-recognized derivation time of Chinese compass is in the West Han dynasty (~200 BC – 0).

A Chinese compass (Figure 1) relates to feng-shui, which is an art and technique (but not scientific method) known and used (famous and still in use) for the “correct” orientation of dwellings for living people, as well as structures like pyramids and mausolea for burriburialsed, for a long time (Lin Wenzhao, 1985). In China, cCompass in China has many names and types, for example “luo jing” (for navigation) or “ci luo jing”, “luo geng”, “zhi nan zhen”, “zhi nan che” or “si nan”, reflecting the fact how important the object it was and is for Chinese. Everywhere in this paper, we use the official pinyin system of transcription of these Chinese names to Latin (pinyin was introduced in China officially in 1957).

Figure 1. Chinese compass floating on water. Reconstruction according to Wang Chen-to, following Dawson/Needham (1964), p. 253.

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