Looking Back

Posted on 17th June, 2011 by Meira.

 

In his book, Secrets of the Sun Sects, Christopher Jordan tells us that ancient Sun cultures did not actually worship the Sun: they simply used it. The worshiping apparently came much later: after successive administrations neglected education, and societies slid down the slope of ignorance to become entrapped in the hokum of religions. Before that, in the clear blue days of scientific enlightenment, most cultures were using the Sun to cook their food, boil their water, and heat their homes. The more sophisticated communities developed solar tools for melting steel, cutting stone, and creating weapons. According to Christopher Jordan, previously a research scientist, but now living in Cambodia, even the most underdeveloped of the Ancients – folks who wandered the Earth more than two thousand years ago – could harness the power of the Sun with simple, spherical, mirrors, and store the resultant energy in big black rocks for later use.

The naysayers will have it that the Ancients didn’t have the math to create a parabolic mirror, which, until recently, was considered essential if you plan to concentrate sunlight. Jordan points out that although the Ancients didn’t have the math for fine measurement, they did build the pyramids, and they did build the Acropolis: two huge enterprises involving numerous, precision made, structures that have stood the tests of time better than most. The Ancients may not have had access to decimals, or differential calculus, but they understood ratios; they understood the golden ratio, and the golden triangles. They must have understood the angle of repose when they built the pyramids, and they knew all about right angles, and isosceles triangles, and they knew about the relationship between the curve of a mirror and the angle at which it reflects light. The Ancients, according to Jordan, knew that by using only a small section of a spherical, as opposed to parabolic, mirror, they could generate temperatures in the thousands of degrees. Admittedly only in tiny spots, but if you are welding metal, or cutting stone, a spot is all you need. If you are heating a large stone to power an oven, or a space heater, then any, flat, reflective surface will do. In practice these latter solar collectors were the polished linings of the solar chamber doors.

The modern version of the high temperature concentrator is the satellite dish: used to collect digital data for our TVs and computers. The dish is usually around a metre wide, with a depth in the order of only a few millimetres, but it concentrates enough of the data hitting that dish into an electronic receiver that, with only a little help from our TV sets, brings million man marches and the crashing bands of the Coldstream Guards thundering into our living rooms. In his paper, The Math Behind Burning Mirrors, free from Smashwords, Christopher gives us chapter and verse on how the Ancients used simple trigonometry to make sections of spherical mirrors for purposes ranging from curing ceramics to burning the invader’s boats.

If you’re finding all this a bit intangible you might try taking an ordinary shaving mirror into the sunlight, pointing it toward the Sun, and holding a piece of paper a few feet off its surface. Be careful because the paper will catch fire: Really it will, try it. It will catch fire at around 450 degrees centigrade. How long then to boil a kettle?

To make a spherical dish all that it is required is a potter’s wheel and an arm from which to suspend a pendulum. If the material to be shaped is turned on the wheel, and the tool used to create the profile is suspended from the arm, then a spherical dish is formed.

Pendulum and Potter's Wheel

The radius of the dish is decided by the amount of material on the wheel, and its depth is decided by the length of the pendulum: Pretty simple. More clay makes bigger bowls; longer pendulums make shallower dishes.

Now, if we let Jordan take us a little further into his calculations as to what to expect in terms of temperatures we see some pretty astounding results. The gains, or concentrations as he likes to call them, depend on the angle at which the reflected sunlight strikes the focal point of the dish. The rise in temperature equates to the ratio of the area of dish, where the energy is collected, to the area of the focal point, where the energy is concentrated. Because we are squeezing all the solar energy landing on the larger area, into the smaller, and as the smaller area can be a just a pinpoint, this ratio number can reach into the thousands, which gives you some idea as to how powerful these devices can be.

Once we accept the premise that the Ancients were pretty sophisticated solar engineers a whole series of mysteries are resolved but, as ever, a whole slew of other questions are raised. Sun discs, Sothic triangles, the ank, and other artefacts, all commonly seen in glyphs and ancient drawings, now take on new significance: The alignment of stone circles, solar chambers, and whole temple complexes can now be explained. So too can the huge stones, the so called alter stones, found in upper the chambers of Ziggurats and other, ancient buildings. Even the orientation of the most humble barrow makes sense.

If all this is true, and why should we doubt Jordan when he supports his thesis with such overwhelming evidence? then we have to ask what went wrong? If Stonehenge was a community centre where the inhabitants could stave off the ravages of temperate winters, and the builders of the pyramids could cut large stone blocks with machine shop accuracy, why did we spend the Middle Ages in mud dwellings ravaged by disease? Jordan doesn’t go there, but the separation into kingdoms, and the rise of religions, seem likely culprits. If what we know of human history is any guide then we could put mankind’s demise into warring polluters of the planet down to a laissez-faire attitude that may well have overtaken the more sophisticated ancient societies. This, as we see in advanced societies today, brought about a decline in education that eventually led the uninformed to religion and war.

Happily the current decline is arrested to some extent by an awareness of the changing climate, and a temporary lapse in industrial expansion of the first world nations. All that is required to put things right is an open-minded look back at our early societies, and Jordan, in his patient wisdom, hands us a comprehensive guide book to be that end.

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