The architect Kha helped to build pharaohs’ tombs during the 18th dynasty, around 1400 BC. His own tomb was discovered intact in 1906 by archaeologist Ernesto Schiaparelli in Deir-al-Medina, near the Valley of the Kings. Among Kha’s belongings were measuring instruments including cubit rods, a levelling device that resembles a modern set square, and what appeared to be an oddly shaped empty wooden case with a hinged lid.
Schiaparelli thought this last object had held another levelling instrument. The museum in Turin, Italy, where the items are now exhibited identifies it as the case of a balancing scale.
But Amelia Sparavigna, a physicist at Turin Polytechnic, suggests that it was a different architectural tool – a protractor. The key, she says, lies in the numbers encoded in the object’s ornate decoration, which resembles a compass rose with 16 evenly spaced petals surrounded by a circular zigzag with 36 corners.
Story: Jo Marchant, New Sciencist| Photo: Jane Maria Hamilton