The world’s first protractor

Published on July 29th, 2011 | by Admin

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protractor

An object found in the tomb of an Egyptian architect may be the world’s first protractor.

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.

[Full story]

Story: Jo Marchant, New Sciencist| Photo: Jane Maria Hamilton

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