This is a rather small point, but I think it gets at the heart of Alan Butler’s naïve vision of ancient history. On America Unearthed this weekend he had Scott Wolter pour a pint of beer into a box whose sides are each one-tenth of an alleged Megalithic Yard. He did not explain why a unit of measurement in this system would be based on a tenth since the Megalithic Yard was allegedly a base-6 system, with an irregular division into 40 Megalithic Inches to the yard.
Because the Megalithic Yard is, for Butler following Alexander Thom, 2.72 feet, that makes each side of the box 0.272 feet, or 3.264 inches. A cube’s volume is equal to the length of its three sides multiplied, yielding 34.77 cubic inches.
A pint is not 34.77 cubic inches.
A pint is 34.68 cubic inches, and Alan Butler knows this. In Civilization One (2004), he reports that Christopher Knight discovered the similarity of measurements after calculating cubic volume for various numbers of Megalithic Inches, and the two men together calculated that a “megalithic pint” with a cube side of 4 Megalithic Inches was equal to 1.005 imperial pints. Similarly, they found that an imperial gallon was close to but not exactly the same as the volume of a cube made with sides of one-fifth of a Megalithic Yard, i.e. 8 Megalithic Inches. (A gallon is eight times the volume of a pint.) They called this an “astonishing” level of accuracy, but it is not precisely accurate.
It may be close, but it seems to be a case of reverse-engineering a connection: Why a pint? Why a tenth of a Megalithic Yard? Why can’t quarts and cups be reduced to even units of this system? In short, with 40 Megalithic Inches per yard to work with, calculating volumes using units from 1 to 40 was bound to produce at least one cubic volume reasonably close to some current unit of volume, in some system.
It gets worse, however.
The imperial pint is not the same as the U.S. customary pint. The U.S. customary pint is approximately 20% smaller than the British imperial pint and has no relationship whatsoever to the megalithic yard. The same rule applies to the gallon, which is composed of eight pints. Somehow the Freemasons missed that one when they imported their secret goddess cult to America along with British customary units.
The imperial pint (or gallon) is not an ancient unit of measurement. It was invented in 1824.
Yes, you read that right. The imperial pint was defined in 1824 by the Weights and Measures Act, which attempted to standardize three different gallons which were then in use in the United Kingdom: These were the corn gallon of 268.8 cubic inches, the wine gallon of 231 cubic inches, and the ale gallon of 282 cubic inches. The imperial gallon was based on the ale gallon, while the United States retained the wine gallon as its standard. However, inspired by the metric system, Britain defined the new imperial gallon not by customary measures but as ten pounds of water, weighed at 62 degrees Fahrenheit and 30 inches of mercury on the barometer. (This definition changed again in 1895 and 1963.) This worked out to 277 cubic inches, a number arrived at transparently by a science that did not involve Stonehenge.
A “megalithic gallon,” as Knight and Butler define it, would be 278.6 cubic inches, which matches none of the customary gallons in use prior to 1824. To make things more complicated, Britain has used at least 17 different measurements of the gallon since the Roman conquest, of which none exactly matches the “megalithic gallon,” though Queen Anne’s gallon, the imperial gallon, and the gallon if Henry VI come close. Henry VI actually manages to come with 0.6 cubic inches, just by sheer coincidence. The historic volumes range from 216 to 282 cubic inches and do not represent a coherent system but rather various estimates of what was apparently ten pounds of water, with variations on the weight of a pound by location, elevation, and pound-weight system (at least four different standards were used prior to Elizabeth I’s standardization of the avoirdupois pound).
In short, the current system Butler relates to the Megalithic Yard did not exist before 1824, and the underlying system it refined did not exist prior to 1300, when the modern units of weight and volume emerged as one option among many variations. If there were some real connection to the Stone Age, we should have seen evidence of a similar unit of measurement between 2,500 BCE and 1300 or 1824.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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