Wednesday, 3 August 2011

"When the Egyptians want to be precise, they are."

An object long considered a mystery to our modern sensibilities has recently been the subject of some interest in archaeological circles. The ‘decorative case’ from the tomb of the Ancient Egyptian architect Kha resembles an ornate box of unusual design, and most have simply agreed that it is merely that. Of late, however, the idea that it is in fact an early protractor has been put forwards.

While that, in itself, is reasonably interesting, it is not this fact that draws my attention. Rather, in the article discussing the object, there is a marvellous rebuttal:

But Kate Spence, an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge who specialises in ancient Egyptian architecture, is not convinced and maintains the object is simply a decorative case. She says that unlike those on known measuring instruments, the markings in question are not particularly accurate: "When the Egyptians want to be precise, they are."

What Dr Spence here refers to is in line with my ongoing passion – the device they claim to be a protractor is simply not accurate enough. While it’s entirely possible that it is some sort of crude protractor (and likely the first of its kind), the measurements apparently defined upon its surface are clearly not up to the extraordinary works for which the Ancient Egyptians are famed.

Now, while it is likely there are those who would (foolishly) argue that this proves the ancient peoples of the world could not have built their pyramids, I would reply only that your own school protractor is almost certainly not up to the task either.

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