One weird claim from Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods has always bothered me, and I’ve never been able to figure out just where it came from. In the book, von Däniken claims that Egypt’s Great Pyramid lies at the “center of gravity” for all earth’s land:
Now, obviously this makes no sense whatsoever. In 1973, Playboy magazine tried to get von Däniken to explain what he meant by this, and von Däniken had absolutely no idea, admitting that he just copied it out of a book.
This is clearly a post hoc explanation that confuses gravitational center with geographic center, and many writers after von Däniken have tried to justify it with recourse to Mercator project maps skewed to put the pyramid at the center of an X formed by lines crossing from Africa to Tasmania and Kamchatka to Patagonia. But, as mentioned, this has nothing to do with gravity. This claim does not appear in James Bonwick’s exhaustive catalog of pyramid theories, written in 1877, so it must be a modern invention or misconception, whose source I will soon reveal.
Since the claim has no basis in science, most skeptics have been content to let it go as more ignorant blathering from an uninformed writer. Nevertheless, it continues to be repeated by alternative writers even today, including, recently, Allen Austin in the self-published The Middle of the Earth (2011) and Ryszard Chorosy and Lucyna Lobos-Brown in The Cleansing of the Earth: 2012 (2009) (a vanity press book which actually plagiarizes von Däniken word-for-word for several pages without credit). A few alternative writers state that the claim derives from Joseph Seiss’s 1884 book The Gospel in the Stars, but this book does not include the claim and instead merely summarizes Piazzi Smyth’s pyramid silliness from Our Inheritance in the Great Pyramid.
Seiss’s earlier book, Miracle in Stone (1877) seems a more likely source. There he writes:
In turn, Seiss’s claims derives in a muddled way from Piazzi Smyth, who argued in 1864, in Our Inheritance, that
We know that Erich von Däniken used Piazzi Smyth's Our Inheritance as a key source for Chariots, though probably secondhand from summaries in other authors. The book is mentioned by name a few lines before his “center of gravity” claim, but it does not appear in the bibliography. Of course, Piazzi Smyth believed the pyramid was built by the direct orders of God as testimony of Judeo-Christian teachings.
Piazzi Smyth also made the claim that the pyramid stands at the center of earth’s landmass. He presents a chart in Our Inheritance trying to make the case, though of course it is wishful thinking.
This isn’t true; a line at 70 degrees West would cross more land. But whatever.
The point is: Erich von Däniken, trying to summarize a later writer’s summary of Piazzi Smyth, has confused and conflated the two separate claims and created from them the false claim that the pyramid stands at the “center of gravity of the continents.” The two separate claims are (a) the pyramid represents a fraction of the weight of the earth when corrected for specific gravity, and (b) the pyramid stands on a line placing it at the center of the earth’s land masses. Von Däniken, understanding neither claim, confounded them and created a new claim that continues to be repeated down to the present day. His previous sentence, about the pyramid meridian dividing the continents and oceans in equal halves (an impossibility, given the distribution of land and water) is also a corruption of Piazzi Smyth’s passage. Von Däniken simply did not understand the material, presented it anyway, and confidently asserted that what he did not understand was evidence of a hypothesis he could not prove.
So, that’s sorted, and now it can stop bothering me.
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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