Jarome Vahai’s research on early GPS devices fascinated a group of students and scholars at this year’s Stanford Honors Research Symposium
Pyramids and monoliths around the world perform four functions that modern GPS devices perform, according to a newly released study by Jarome Vahai. The ancient navigational device researcher recently told a captivated audience at the 2011 Stanford Honors Research Symposium that ancient structures helped societies tell time, measure the circumference of the earth, pinpoint their location on the earth and identify their location during travel—just like modern GPS devices.
GPS systems are used for many things, including exploration, expanding territories, and conducting import/export trade and commerce over great distances.
“Early civilizations thought the same way we think now,” said Jarome Vahai. “We use GPS devices to locate where we are and how to get to other places—and so did they.” Vahai notes that as tools have improved, building structures like the pyramids has become unnecessary.
Many of the ancient landmarks that are still in existence are positioned in ways that mark the longest and shortest days of the year by the patterns of shadows they cast at equinox. In addition to showing calendar position, shadows could also be used to tell time during the day.
The Giza pyramids and shadows were also used by Eratosthenes to calculate the circumference of the earth. Ancient civilizations understood they were on a round, turning planet because their stone markers line up with one another around the globe. Some even line up with other planets and constellations, says Vahai.
Vahai’s research shows that markings identified at the pyramid at Chichen Itza point to the pyramids at Giza; others point to Stonehenge, the pyramids in China, and the great Cambodian temple Angkor Wat. He has also found that the stone markers of Ha’amonga, known as Tonga’s Stonehenge, line up with Fiji, Hawaii, Samoa, New Zealand and the Cook Islands.
“These ancient structures were lasting landmarks that told people where they are located in relation to other parts of the world,” said Vahai.
The usefulness of landmarks in the ancient world cannot be understated. Rulers had expansive empires that covered huge amounts of land, and protecting those lands could be challenging. Babylon and Giza are located in places that are difficult to find and get to, probably for security reasons. The large structures were helpful landmarks.
“I am very proud that Stanford selected my research; they only accept about 20% of submissions,” said Vahai. “The audience was extremely engaged—the moderator was so wrapped up in the topic, we ended up going over the time limit.”
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