Thursday, July 26, 2007

Pyramid Schemes:A Brief History of the Mysterious Monuments

The sonar chart obtained by Captain Don Henry, purportedly showing a gigantic underwater "pyramid."

Impossibly huge and geometrically precise stone constructs, withstanding the ravages of time as if by the will of the gods. Unlike the Bermuda Triangle and Atlantis, of course, pyramids are decidedly real. What is in question is their origins, their possible mystical properties, and whether any may have been found on the ocean floor as Atlantean relics.

It has long been argued that the ancient Egyptians and Aztecs could not possibly have built the pyramids on their own; therefore, they are evidence of some greater intelligence, possibly extraterrestrial. But the earthly tools used in their construction have been found, and, while the pyramids represent an astonishing feat of engineering that required untold years of labor, it appears that early humans were capable of the task.

Some have focused on the amazing structural and geometrical properties of the pyramids. First there is their incredible longevity: the pyramids have remained intact while other structures of a comparable age have crumbled away. This is largely attributable to the inherent durability of their characteristic shape. "It is, in fact, the form that a structure takes when it falls down!" James Randi has observed. "In other words, having tumbled to a pyramid-shaped mass, it cannot collapse much further." So their well-preserved state owes more to their architects' wisdom than to any mystical force.

Pyramid enthusiasts have divined remarkable mathematical formulas from the monuments' heights, lengths and angles. This is especially true of the Great Pyramid of Cheops. Writers such as Erich von Daniken and Charles Piazzi Smyth have wrung all manner of figures out of this pyramid's measurements, including the Earth's polar radius and its distance in miles from the sun -- but their calculations take liberties that keep them from holding up under close scrutiny. Furthermore, one can play with any set of figures and eventually produce falsely meaningful results that were never intended to be there. Martin Gardner demonstrated this by calculating the speed of light from the height and capstone weight of the Washington Monument.

Then again, maybe some geometrical phenomena were built into the pyramids -- if inadvertently. For instance, if you double the length of one base side of the Great Pyramid and divide it by the height, the result is very close to the value of pi. There is no evidence that the ancient Egyptians ever measured pi. One explanation is that the builders used a wheel tool to measure lengths, and using a circle's diameter as a unit of measure could lead to pi being "hidden" throughout the structure.

Pyramids have historically been viewed as repositories or conduits of otherworldly power. Egyptians used them to honor the dead and Aztecs performed ceremonial sacrifices atop them, suggesting that the structures held a great deal of spiritual significance in both cultures. These supposed properties were brought to the attention of the modern world by Karl Drbal, a Czechoslovakian who in 1959 founded the notion of "pyramid power." It became fashionable to use miniature pyramids for the supposed purposes of magical healing, augmented psychic powers, and communion with alien beings. People believed that a wish written on a slip of paper and worn inside a pyramid pendant would come true, and that old razor blades placed within a pyramid would spontaneously sharpen overnight.

Edgar Cayce, the prophet and Atlantis supporter, determined with his psychic powers that the Great Pyramid had been built by a team of Egyptians and Atlanteans. He said the Atlanteans helped by levitating the stones during construction, and that they recorded the whole of human history -- past and future -- within the pyramid. This comprehensive documentation ran up through 1998, Cayce's projected Second Coming of Christ.

If the folks from Atlantis were this interested in pyramids, it stands to reason that they would have built some of their own. There have been sightings of undersea objects that looked like pyramids from above the surface, which turned out to be natural formations with no pyramid shape at all. An elaborate Atlantis pyramid hoax was perpetrated in Charles Berlitz's 1978 book Without a Trace, the follow-up to his notorious The Bermuda Triangle.

Berlitz presented sonar tracings of the Atlantic ocean floor near the island of Bimini as evidence of a giant sunken pyramid. Bimini lies within the Bermuda Triangle, and is in the exact area where Edgar Cayce placed Atlantis. Berlitz indicated that the pyramid reached 470 feet above the ocean floor and was 520 feet long at each of its four bases -- comparable in size to the 450-foot-high Great Pyramid.

The sonar chart, obtained by Captain Don Henry and "authenticated" by Dr. J. Manson Valentine of the Miami Museum of Science, does indeed appear to constitute impressive proof... at least, until you know how to read it properly. The tracing shows a cross-section of a distinct, symmetrical pyramid shape rising above an otherwise flat surface. But sonar tracing of the type Henry used produces a readout with a greatly exaggerated vertical axis, to make it easier to detect horizontal surface changes. Thus, what appears to be pyramid sides sharply rising at 45� angles is in reality a gentle slope of no more than two or three degrees. The furthest thing from 470 feet, the apex of this "pyramid" is really only a few feet tall.

To add to the deception, Berlitz pointed out the bottom line of the chart as representing the ocean floor. It was actually just an arbitrary line where the chart cut off; on such sonar charts, the line showing the true ocean floor runs off the bottom of the chart and reappears at the top. The contrast of the sharp slope against this false ocean floor made the map's subject much more pyramid-like.

It is also possible that Henry made this sonar tracing by running his scanning boat in one direction, then abruptly reversing his direction. Doing so would produce a symmetrical pyramid-shaped sonar chart from practically any part of the ocean floor (although sometimes the pyramid would appear upside-down, depending on the slope and the boat's direction).

Berlitz also reported another alleged Atlantis ruin, the "Bimini Road." An undersea ribbon of parallel rock formations running for 1,000 miles off the Bimini coast, it was the remnants of a highway paved by Atlanteans, Berlitz claimed. While the Bimini Road's patterns do make it look man-made, it is actually just an aggregation of beach rock, which naturally forms this way in many parts of the world.

One can't say whether Berlitz genuinely believed the pyramid was there and the Bimini Road was real, or if he was intentionally twisting the facts for the sake of another exciting bestseller -- although one wonders what kinds of experts in their fields Captain Henry and Dr. Valentine were if they failed to point out Berlitz's wild misconceptions.

The three legends of the Bermuda Triangle, Atlantis and the pyramids are remarkably complimentary. Pyramids were built in both Africa and the Americas, and Atlantis serves as a possible bridge to bring that concept -- as well as the needed architectural skills -- to both sides of the ocean. Atlantis's technological wreckage gives cause to strange occurrences in the Bermuda Triangle. All three stories deal with mysterious energies, ancient secrets, spirituality and death -- and possibly aliens, who might well be responsible for the whole shebang.

In science, when the findings of disparate fields of study dovetail into a harmonious whole, the result can be a mutual affirmation of validity. It may be tempting to follow the same line of thinking in the case of these three phenomena: "It all fits together so well, there must be something to it!" But when the pieces include myths, half-truths and deception, the completed picture will be just a bunch of lies... or, at best, some really cool mythology.

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