Dr Clive Davenhall - Charles Piazzi Smyth and the Great Pyramid

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Skeptics on the Fringe Presents:

Dr Clive Davenhall - Charles Piazzi Smyth and the Great Pyramid: Pyramids, Photography and Pseudoscience

Charles Piazzi Smyth (1819–1900), the Second Astronomer Royal for Scotland and Regius Professor of Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh, enjoyed a long and productive career, making important contributions to astronomy and other fields. He was, for example, responsible for the Edinburgh time gun. However, he is best remembered for his eccentric ideas about the Great Pyramid of Giza. In the early 1860s he became convinced that the dimensions of the Great Pyramid demonstrated that it had been built using a unit of measurement almost equal to the British inch, that it encoded the dimensions of the earth and the solar system, and that consequently, its construction was divinely inspired. In order to verify these ideas he travelled to Egypt and carried out a thorough survey of the Pyramid, more accurate than any previous ones, and also photographed the interior, the first successful application of flash photography in the field. Piazzi Smyth’s ideas attracted an enthusiastic group of followers who extended them, maintaining that the interior features of the pyramid encoded predictions of events subsequent to its construction, again by divine inspiration. In the 1880s the underlying notion of Smyth’s pyramid-inch was shown to be erroneous and based on a misunderstanding of the dimensions of the Pyramid. Nonetheless his ideas continued to attract a committed following for many years. This talk will describe Piazzi Smyth’s work on the Great Pyramid and discuss its reception and criticism during the nineteenth century and continuing afterlife through the twentieth century and to the present.

Clive Davenhall is a recently retired from a position as a Project Manager and Software Developer in the Wide Field Astronomy Unit, Institute for Astronomy, University of Edinburgh, working on star catalogues and astronomical databases. He has a long-standing interest in the history of astronomy and has written and presented talks on this subject. A particular interest is the reception and influence of astronomy on wider society during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He has degrees from the universities of London and St Andrews, He is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and Member of the British Computer Society.

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