On the Geomagnetic Alignment of Chinese Pyramids

An analysis of the geomagnetic alignment of more than three dozen earthen pyramids in China reveals a number of interesting correlations between the date of construction and size. A strong correlation (R = 0.79) between the orientation of a pyramidal mound and the direction of the geomagnetic pole at the time of construction supports the idea that the Chinese used some form of a magnetic compass to align many if not all these structures. A moderate negative correlation (R = –0.59) between the size of a mound and its date of construction reveals that older mounds tend to be larger and decrease in size over time. Comparing these findings with those from a previous study of 3rd to 5th Dynasty Egyptian pyramids suggests that it is possible the ancient Chinese, as well as the Egyptians, could have repurposed/reused older and larger structures as tombs for later day rulers and their families.

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The Chinese Pyramids

In China, numerous pyramidal mounds are thought to have been constructed as mausoleums and burial mounds containing the remains of early emperors and their families. Some are oriented in known geographical or astronomical detections, but most are not. These structures were unknown in the West before the 20th century. One of the first to gain widespread attention following World War II was the tomb of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty (156 – 87 BCE), which became known as the White Pyramid.

Most (but not all) of the Chinese pyramids are in the Guanzhong region between the Qinling Mountains to the south and several mountain ranges to the north.

Geomagnetic Dating

Unlike the geographic pole, which is relatively fixed over time, the geomagnetic pole moves as the earth’s magnetic field changes. According to the geomagnetic alignment hypothesis, which was first proposed by Robert Fuson, dates when a site is aligned to the geomagnetic pole (i.e., when a magnetic compass aligns to the principal axis of the site) are possible dates for its construction (or modification). For sites within the range of magnetic declinations in China over the past 4000 years, we selected the geomagnetic pole that most closely lined up to the site and used it as the basis for dating the site. When an alignment could be associated with more than one date, the one closest to the dynastic date was chosen. Dynastic and geomagnetic dates of Chinese pyramid sites are plotted below:

Given the limited accuracy of the geomagnetic pole data, particularly as you go back farther in time, we find significant differences between dynastic and estimated geomagnetic dates. Differences of a century or less in later Sui and Tang dynasty tombs increase to up to five centuries in the early Han dynasty.

Magnetic declination in central China over the past 4000 years. Positive angles are east of north and negative angles are west of north.

Anomalous Alignment

The greatest difference in alignment is for the tomb of China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huang (Tomb of First Emperor in Lintong) located within a massive earthen pyramid approximately 360 x 360 meters (33 acres) in area. Its size is considerably larger in area than the Great Pyramid of Cholula in Mexico (273 x 295 meters) and the Pyramid of Khufu in Egypt (230 x 230 meters. Qin Shi Huang ruled China until 210 BCE. If his burial site was constructed and geomagnetically aligned at this time, it should be oriented approximately 7° west of north. As shown in the animation below, the pyramid is oriented about 1.5° east of north. This direction lies between the 1900 BCE and 1800 BCE geomagnetic poles. There is no other geomagnetic alignment at a declination of 1.5° from 1800 BCE until 200 CE, which is more than 400 years after the death of Qin Shi Huang. It is difficult to account for this discrepancy in terms of geomagnetic pole accuracy.

Geomagnetic pole alignment between 200 BCE and 1900 BCE (date in the upper left corner). The best alignment is between 1800 BCE and 1900 BCE. (Base image courtesy Google Earth.)

A Possible Explanation

If the pyramid was aligned geomagnetically one possible explanation for the discrepancy between its dynastic and geomagnetic date is that the pyramid is much older than the tomb contained within it. In other words, Qin Shi Huang could have been buried within the preexisting structure. Before Consort Ban, geomagnetic dates tend to be earlier than dynastic dates. The negative bias of the geomagnetic dates backward in time suggests the possibility that earlier pyramids could have been reused for later-day burials.

The Chinese historian Sima Qian, writing a century after Qin Shi Huang‘s death, states that it took 700,000 men to construct his mausoleum, a labor force whose size has been disputed. It is interesting that in his account Sima Qian never mentions the thousands of terracotta statues buried east of the pyramid to protect the emperor in the afterlife from evil spirits. The Terracotta Warriors, which were excavated in 1974 are lined up in a direction slightly south of due east. Based on the orientation of its surrounding enclosure, their alignment would appear to be the same as the pyramid suggesting the array of Terracotta Warriors was aligned at the same time as the pyramid. It is possible that Sima Qian did not mention the statues because they were buried at the time and had been buried for more than a thousand years.

Plotting pyramid area versus date shows a low to moderate negative correlation. A negative correlation implies the size of pyramids tended to decrease over time. In other words, the oldest pyramids should be the largest. If we accept the geomagnetic dating of the pyramid containing Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum, then the oldest pyramid is the largest.  

A Similar Trend?

Based on an analysis of 3rd – 5th dynasty Egyptian pyramids it was hypothesized that certain 4th Dynasty pyramids could be much older than their accepted age leading to the possibility that they were not built but co-opted and modified by 4th Dynasty pharaohs. The same possibility is suggested for the first Chinese emperor based on the alignment and size of the pyramid within which he is entombed. Did Qin Shi Huang, like Khufu and Khafre, co-opt preexisting structures that were much larger than what was being built at the time for their own purposes? Over this period, the size of Egyptian pyramids strongly correlates with the age of construction, with later pyramids becoming smaller (and less well built). Could a similar trend have occurred in China?

The featured image at the top of the article is an artist’s conception of the northern sky in central China during a geomagnetic storm. (Source images courtesy of Google Earth and Wikimedia Commons.)

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