Pseudoscientific metrology

Pseudoscientific metrology

Some approaches in the branch of historic metrology are highly speculative and can be qualified as pseudoscience. Interest in ancient metrology was triggered by research into the various Megalith building cultures and the Great Pyramid of Giza.[citation needed]



In 1637 John Greaves, professor of geometry at Gresham College, made his first of several studies in Egypt and Italy, making numerous measurements of buildings and monuments, including the Great Pyramid. These activities fuelled many centuries of interest in metrology of the ancient cultures by the likes of Isaac Newton and the French Academy.[citation needed]

The pendulum

The first known description and practical use of a physical pendulum is by Galileo Galilei, however, Flinders Petrie, a disciple of Charles Piazzi Smyth, is of the opinion that it was used earlier by the ancient Egyptians. Writing in an article in Nature, 1933 Petrie says:

If we take the natural standard of one day divided by 105, the pendulum would be 29.157 inches at lat 30 degrees. Now this is exactly the basis of Egyptian land measures, most precisely known through the diagonal of that squared, being the Egyptian double cubit. The value for this cubit is 20.617 inches, while the best examples in stone are 20.620±0.005inches. [1]

No explanation is offered as to why no Egyptian pendulums have been found, despite the extremely rich archaeological material from this culture, nor to the question as to why none of the rich historic material from Egypt mentions this, or indeed why a divisor of 105 would have been chosen or measured.

Charles Piazzi Smyth

John Taylor, in his 1859 book "The Great Pyramid: Why Was It Built? & Who Built It?", claimed that the Great Pyramid was planned and the building supervised by the biblical Noah, and that it was:

built to make a record of the measure of the Earth.

A paper presented to the Royal Academy on the topic was rejected.

Taylor's theories were, however, the inspiration for the deeply religious archeologist Charles Piazzi Smyth to go to Egypt to study and measure the pyramid, subsequently publishing his book Our Inheritance in the Great Pyramid (1864), claiming that the measurements he obtained from the Great Pyramid of Giza indicated a unit of length, the pyramid inch, equivalent to 1.001 British inches, that could have been the standard of measurement by the pyramid's architects. From this he extrapolated a number of other measurements, including the pyramid pint, the sacred cubit, and the pyramid scale of temperature.

Smyth claimed—and presumably believed—that the inch was a God-given measure handed down through the centuries from the time of Israel, and that the architects of the pyramid could only have been directed by the hand of God. To support this Smyth said that, in measuring the pyramid, he found the number of inches in the perimeter of the base equalled 1000 times the number of days in a year, and found a numeric relationship between the height of the pyramid in inches to the distance from Earth to the Sun, measured in statute miles.[citation needed]

Smyth used this as an argument against the introduction of the metre in Britain, which he considered a product of the minds of atheistic French radicals.[citation needed]

The grand scheme

By the time measurements of Mesopotamia were discovered, by doing various exercises of mathematics on the definitions of the major ancient measurement systems, various people (Jean-Adolphe Decourdemanche in 1909, August Oxé in 1942) came to the conclusion that the relationship between them was well planned.[citation needed] Livio C. Stecchini claims in his A History of Measures:

The relation among the units of length can be explained by the ratio 15:16:17:18 among the four fundamental feet and cubits. Before I arrived at this discovery, Decourdemanche and Oxé discovered that the cubes of those units are related according to the conventional specific gravities of oil, water, wheat and barley. [1]

Stecchini makes claims that imply that the Egyptian measures of length, originating from at least the 3rd millennium BC, were directly derived from the circumference of the earth with an amazing accuracy. According to "Secrets of the Great Pyramid" (p. 346 [2]), his claim is that the Egyptian measurement was equal to 40,075,000 meters, which compared to the International Spheroid of 40,076,596 meters gives an error of 0.004%. No consideration seems to be made to the question of, on purely technical and procedural grounds, how the early Egyptians, in defining their cubit, could have achieved a degree of accuracy that to our current knowledge can only be achieved with very sophisticated equipment and techniques.

Robin Heath

Later, these ideas were further developed as defence for the Imperial units against the emerging metric system, and adopted by parts of the anti-metric movement. Robin Heath, in his book Sun, Moon & Stonehenge, connects the megalithic yard (and thus Stonehenge) to the imperial foot, and manages to connect a few astronomical phenomena, and the Egyptian Royal Cubit (and thus the Great Pyramid) into one grand equation (MY is an abbreviation for megalithic yard):

if the lunar year is represented by 12 MY then 1 ft corresponds precisely to the extra 10.875 days to coincide with the end of the solar or seasonal year. Furthermore, the period between the end of the solar year and 13 lunations - 18.656 days - is represented by another unit of length from antiquity, the 'Royal Cubit' of 20.63" or 1.72 ft. [3]

This seems to bring pseudoscientific metrology to new heights, especially in view of the conclusion:

Hence the equally astonishing revelation that 1 MY = 1 ft + 1 RC. Assuming that the MY was the primary unit, then the derivative foot and cubit appear to have formed a logical and essential part of the astronomical and calendrical researches of our Neolithic ancestors. If, however, the foot preceded the MY in time - and here we must remember that 1/1,000th of a degree of arc around the equatorial circumference of the Earth is just 365.244 ft in length! - then knowledge of the roundness of the Earth must have predated use of the MY…i.e. well before 3,000BC. There are no other choices readily apparent!

The megalithic system

Christopher Knight and Alan Butler further develop the work of Smyth's and Stecchini's "Grand Scheme" in their Civilization One hypothesis, which describes a megalithic system of units.[2] This system is claimed to be the source of all standard units used by civilization, and is so named after the Neolithic builders of megaliths. Knight and Butler contend the reconstructed megalithic yard (0.82966m) is a fundamental part of a megalithic system. Although the megalithic yard is the work of Alexander Thom, Knight and Butler make a novel contribution by speculating on how the MY may have been created by using a pendulum calibrated by observing Venus. It also explains the uniformity of the MY across large geographical areas. The accuracy claimed for this procedure is disputed by astronomers.[3]

Knight and Butler describe a procedure for Neolithic astronomers to make a "Venus Pendulum", using the transit of Venus across the sky to give both time and distance units.

Measures of volume and mass are derived from the megalithic yard. It is divided into 40 megalithic inches. Knight and Butler claim that a cube with a side of 4 megalithic inches has a volume equal to one imperial pint and weighs one imperial pound when filled with unpolished grain. They also posit ratio relationships with the imperial acre and square rod.[2]

See also


  1. ^ A lesson from history: it’s good to look back from time to time Retrieved on 13 October 2008
  2. ^ a b Butler
  3. ^ Uriel's Machine – a Commentary on some of the Astronomical Assertions.


  • Martín-Gil FJ, Martín-Ramos-P, Martín-Gil J (2002) - "Is the Scotland's Coronation Stone a Measurement Standard from the Middle Bronze Age?", Anistoriton - Issue P024 of 14 December 2002
  • Shalev, Zur 1967 - "Measurer of All Things: John Greaves (1602-1652), the Great Pyramid, and Early Modern Metrology", Journal of the History of Ideas - Volume 63, Number 4, October 2002, pp. 555–575, The Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Thom, Alexander (1955). "A Statistical Examination of the Megalithic Sites in Britain". Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Series A (General) (Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Series A (General), Vol. 118, No. 3) 118 part III (3): 275–295. doi:10.2307/2342494. JSTOR 2342494. 

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