All  
Ancient Pueblo Peoples Practiced Advanced Geometry without a Known Written Language or Numerical System, Could You?

Ancient Pueblo Peoples Practiced Advanced Geometry without a Known Written Language or Numerical System, Could You?

Print

A startling discovery was made while studying the mysterious Sun Temple at the Mesa Verde archaeological site in Colorado, USA – a repeated pattern of shapes and measurements stands out in the architecture. But how did the ancient Pueblo peoples build their sophisticated site? The Southwestern Pueblo people who built the site around 1200 AD had no known writing or numerical systems to help them in their architectural endeavors.

This intriguing discovery was made by Dr. Sherry Towers, a professor with the Arizona State University’s Simon A. Levin Mathematical, Computational and Modeling Sciences Center, who had spent years examining the Sun Temple at Mesa Verde.

The Sun Temple at Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, USA.

The Sun Temple at Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, USA. (CC BY SA 4.0)

Although Heritage Daily reports that she began her work with a different purpose, Dr. Towers was surprised to see the same measurements cropping up over and over again – specifically, she saw that the site was laid out using a unit of measurement that was just over 30 centimeters (just under a foot) in length.

Equilateral triangles, squares, 45-degree right triangles, Pythagorean triangles, and the famed “Golden rectangle” kept popping out at her while she examined the enigmatic feature of the well-known archaeological site as well.

A satellite photo of the Sun Temple archaeological site in Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, USA with illustrations demonstrating its geometrical properties.

A satellite photo of the Sun Temple archaeological site in Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, USA with illustrations demonstrating its geometrical properties. (Dr. Sherry Towers)

Interestingly, Dr. Towers also found evidence suggesting that these geometrical shapes were present at other ancient Pueblo sites as well -  Pueblo Bonito, in New Mexico’s Chaco Culture National Historic Park, provides another example of this knowledge at a ceremonial site. Others may be found in the future as well.

As Popular Archaeology states: “With some geometrical know-how, a straight-edge, a compass or cord, and a unit of measurement, all of the shapes are fairly easy to construct.” But how did the ancient Pueblo peoples go about their construction without a written language or numerical system to aid them?

A satellite photo of the Pueblo Bonito archaeological site in Chaco Culture National Historic Park, New Mexico, USA with illustrations demonstrating some of its geometrical properties.

A satellite photo of the Pueblo Bonito archaeological site in Chaco Culture National Historic Park, New Mexico, USA with illustrations demonstrating some of its geometrical properties. (Dr. Sherry Towers)

The ability for the Southwestern Pueblo peoples to create measurements that were near-perfect, with a relative error of less than one percent, provides more evidence that ancient civilizations were more advanced than some people believe - in-fact, they were likely just as, or more, creative than most people today. As Dr. Towers says:

"This is what I find especially amazing. The genius of the site's architects cannot be underestimated. If you asked someone today to try to reconstruct this site and achieve the same precision that they had using just a stick and a piece of cord, it's highly unlikely they'd be able to do it, especially if they couldn't write anything down as they were working."

A view of the Sun Temple from Cliff Palace loop.

A view of the Sun Temple from Cliff Palace loop. (Robin Stevens/CC BY NC ND 2.0)

Returning to Dr. Towers original interest in the Sun Temple; she was looking for evidence suggesting the site’s use in astronomical observations. As she has said:

“The site is known to have been an important focus of ceremony in the region for the ancestral Pueblo peoples, including solstice observations,” Towers says. “My original interest in the site involved looking at whether it was used for observing stars as well.”

The Sun Temple.

The Sun Temple. (Ken Lund/CC BY SA 2.0)

Despite its name, the exact purpose of the Sun Temple has not yet reached consensus, but like Dr. Towers, many other researchers have wondered if the Sun Temple was an ancient observatory. For example, Gary A. David has previously written on Ancient Origins:

“[…] the so-called Sun Temple was used exclusively for watching the skies. It is located on top of the mesa rather along cliff sides within the canyons. Perched at the southern edge of the mesa near the juncture of Fewkes Canyon and Cliff Canyon, this D-shaped structure lies a bit more than 300 yards southwest of Cliff Palace, which is located on the far side of the latter canyon. These two canyons, by the way, contained a total of 33 habitation sites.”

Looking to the structure’s architecture, David provides detailed examples of just how different architectural features of the Sun Temple indicate solstice times and other skyward phenomena. You can read more of his extensive research into the astronomical use of the Sun Temple in the article: ‘Orion Temple in Colorado.’

But, if you’re hoping to find out more details on Dr. Towers’ procedure and analysis, you’ll have to wait just a little longer - her study results will appear in the April 2017 edition of the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

Top Image: Aerial view of the Sun Temple in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, USA. Source: Google Maps

By Alicia McDermott

Comments

Thomas O. Mills's picture

Frank Waters dedicated a chapter in his Book of the Hopi, page 94, writen in 1963 to the Sun Temple of Mesa Verda.  He explains which clan built it, what it represents, what ceremonies were held there and which clan took part in the ceremonies, and why there is a Sun Dail located on the southeast corner.  As information    tom

Thomas O. Mills

Roberto Peron's picture

You can find geometric shapes in just about anything.  As for those sites that truly were built using geometric designs I guess those people weren’t quite the “savages” some people like to think of them as.  And that is music to my ears!  Our ancestors were not ignorant barbarians! Time to remove our ethnocentric sunglasses and stop trying to look through the glass darkly.

 

Unfortunately you might be right. There is too much of this going on to just personally benefit one individual in future book sales or career advancement. It detracts from selling interest in the overall industry product which is HISTORY.

The general public is getting wise to these type of actions and losing interest in history altogether because of it. This is detrimental to the whole ideal of promoting and creating a market through interest in history.

If these folks don’t stop stepping on their own toes with this sensationalizing of possibilities in theory real soon… there will no longer be a market and demand for their wares or knowledge and everyone loses in the end.

There are many, many very more significant and important projects that truly warrant recieving this funding. Read the news this morning and already these type of grandiose projects may have cost the whole historical community and industry billions in funding.

At some point Self Responsibility needs to come into play. Cause and Effect… Guilt by Association… Cross Contamination… Time to rally behind those projects that truly deserve funding rather than the self interested 001 %.Or it will all be for naught, Zero, Zilch, Por Nada…

I do business consultation and promotion for a living and see the writing on the wall, This will be the end result, trust me… I have already seen it happen many times to end up destroying a product and the very market demand for that product.

Sorry for all the edits folks, but I just can’t express how important this situation happens to be for the sake of historical knowledge...

another example of a stretching ambiguous points to make a point for a paper.. and do not reflect the reasoning of the actual builders.. given enough arbitrary points one can find all kinds of geometric shapes that have nothing to do with the actual structure

But the “D” shape with the straight walls of both facing due South is very curious. Why? 

On second thought… I notice in the third image down of the Sun Shrine, only the front straight wall surface is being exposed to direct sunlight. Less wall surface mass exposed to direct sunlight would indeed result in a cooler overall temperature throughout the day. Could the reason for the “D” shape be for this practical common sense functionality? 

Pages

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Next article