Do Ancient Sites point to the Old North Pole?
By Mark H Gaffney
The orientation of ancient sites in Mexico and Central America continues to be one
of archeology’s strangest enigmas. Probably the best known case is the avenue at
Teotihuacan, Mexico, located about twenty miles northeast of Mexico City. Called
the Way of the Dead, the broad straight avenue starts at the foot of the huge
Pyramid of the Moon and extends for about two miles. En route, it passes by the
even more imposing Pyramid of the Sun. I vividly recall how intrigued I was when
I learned that the avenue and these two great pyramids are not aligned to true north
like the pyramids of Giza, Egypt but oddly point 15.47 degrees (15 degrees 28
minutes) east of north. Archeologists have never explained this puzzling fact which
in my view, calls into question their attempts to identify and impute meaning to
equinox and solstice points on the horizon.
Teotihuacan is not a lone case. Most other pyramids and temples in Central
America are also aligned east of north. During the early 1970s, the
archeoastronomer Anthony Aveni surveyed the region and identified fifty such
sites. He grouped them into three distinct clusters: a small minority aligned to true
north, a larger group aligned to 7 degrees east of north, and an even larger third
group that ranged between 15 and 20 degrees east of north. Aveni referred to this
last group as “the 17 degree family”.1 He went on to present an exhaustive
catalogue of such alignments in his subsequent book Skywatchers of Ancient
Although Aveni never found an explanation, he did conclude that members of the
17-degree family were “nonfunctional imitations” of the oldest site in the region:
Teotihuacan. It is curious that nearly all of the sites in this group are also located
within 100 kilometers of Teotihuacan. Aveni suggested that whatever the original
purpose of the east of north orientation had been, it was eventually forgotten and
lost to history.3
He also reported what I regard as the most telling detail of all. An aerial survey of
the Central Mexican highlands conducted in 1974 showed that the strange east of
north alignment was not limited to religious and ceremonial sites. Most villages,
towns and even agricultural fields across the region were generally aligned in the
same fashion: east of north.4
Evidently the entire grid of human society across
Central Mexico was affected. The key question, of course, is why? Were sites in
the region originally aligned to true north, before some great earth cataclysm in the
remote past shifted the continent? This would imply that Teotihuacan is older,
perhaps much older, than we have been led to believe. Although such a conclusion
is controversial, an event of this scale would have had to have occurred in remote
antiquity, because ocean bottom cores indicate that the crust of the earth has been
stable for the last 10,000 years.5
As for the similar east of north orientation of Mayan sites in Yucatan and
Guatemala, Aveni wrote that “the plans of Maya ceremonial centers seem to
exhibit more disarray than those of Central Mexico.”6 Aveni attributed the east of
north alignment of these sites not to the Mayans themselves but to the Toltecs who,
he felt, introduced it when they conquered the region. It’s a plausible explanation.
But there is also another possibility. As I studied the region’s geography I began to
suspect that the hypothetical event that shifted the continent might also have
caused local dislocations, particularly in southern Mexico and Central America. I
am no geologist and could be wrong about this. But look at the map. The narrow
isthmus of Central America does look twisted. Surely one is safe to assume, as a
general rule, that the larger the land mass the more stable.
I gained additional insights from the Austrian geologist Eduard Seuss, compiler of
The Face of the Earth published between 1904-1909, a massive work which
attempted the near impossible task of summarizing all that was known at that time
about our planet. More than a century later, Seuss’s remarkable four volume opus
continues to be a useful resource. His book drew my attention to the string of
young and very active volcanos on the west coast of Guatemala, and to the great
complexity of the nearby Caribbean basin, including the deep trench south of Cuba
and the Antilles.7
The seafloor map features three prominent ridges radiating
eastward from where Guatemala, Belize and Honduras come together. Were the
Guatemalan volcanoes born of deep stresses in the earth caused by the shifting
crust? During a recent flight on a clear day from Mexico City to San Francisco I
got a good look at Central Mexico from the air. The beautiful countryside is pockmarked with calderas. These old volcanos are long dormant. But things are very
different down in Guatemala. As my thinking evolved, I decided to rule out as
unreliable any site south of Mexico City. Ultimately, I retained confidence in only
one, Teotihuacan, by far the oldest. As I will attempt to show, one was sufficient.
Recently, we learned that an important site in South America is also aligned east of
north. Ongoing archeological excavations since 2000 at legendary Tiahuanacu,
Bolivia finally succeeded in exposing the original foundations of the famous
Akapana pyramid, and the foundation of a second pyramidal structure at nearby
Pumapunku. When I visited Tiahuanacu in October 2018 I was pleasantly surprised
to find that the foundations of both of these pyramids are largely intact. This is
very good news because a deep overburden of red mud had long stymied efforts to
investigate this key site. An early investigator, Arthur Posnansky, called
Tiahuanacu the cradle of South American civilization and dated it to 15,000 BC.
Today, of course, a near consensus of archeologists reject his early date. Most think
Tiahuanacu dates only to the first millennium AD.
Intact foundation of
Intact foundation wall, Pumapunku, Tiahuanacu. Notice the overburden of red dirt.
Yet, the foundations of these two pyramids are now exposed and their alignments
raise new questions. Their east-of-north orientation is hard to explain, assuming
that the north-south axis of the present world map has been constant in perpetuity.
The Akapana is .2 degrees east of north; and the nearby pyramid at Pumapunku is a
full 2 degrees east of north.8
Neither of these azimuths makes sense from the
standpoint of archeology. One may ask: were these east of north alignments caused
by the same earth-changing event that shifted Teotihuacan, Mexico?
There is no doubt about the alignments at Tiahuanacu. I was able to confirm them
myself using Google Earth Pro, a user-friendly mapping software that, now,
happily, is also a free download. The program is based on satellite imagery and has
rendered theodolites largely obsolete. Most of the surface features of our planet
have now been surveyed from space and are accessible via the Internet. No longer
is it necessary to go to the trouble and expense of traveling to an archeological site
simply to obtain an alignment. We can now visit sites in cyberspace. Google Earth
Pro allows us to zoom in and out with ease. The program is also promising for
another reason. Although it displays the earth in virtual space as a perfect sphere,
the software takes into account the equatorial bulge and the flattening at the poles
when doing calculations. Moreover, Google Earth pro automatically plots the
shortest distance between two points on the earth’s surface. These are big advances
over the frustratingly inaccurate method of attempting to plot azimuths on a
physical globe with string, or by some other means. Armed with this relatively new
earth mapping tool, any computer literal person can accurately plot arcs and great
circles at home. So, let’s get to it!
I should mention, right off, that I could make nothing of the 2 degrees east of north
alignment of the Pumapunku pyramid. That one remains a mystery.
Even so, my excitement mounted as I plotted the alignments of the Akapana and
the pyramids at Teotihuacan. (see illustration one) Is it mere coincidence that the
two arcs cross over Baffin Island, Canada, at a point very near to the probable
center of the Laurentide ice sheet during the last glacial maximum? In my opinion,
no, because I suspect both of these pyramids were originally aligned to true north.
If true, this means they still point like an arrow to the former north pole.
A Third Leg
Although I felt confident about these two alignments, it was obvious that a third
match would greatly buttress my case. So began the hunt for another matching site.
My search led me quite naturally to Egypt which I judged to be ideal because of its
Illustration one: Teotihuacan alignment at left, Tiahuanacu alignment at right
great antiquity, and also because of its geological stability, due to Egypt’s location
at the geographical center of the continental land mass of the planet.
By the time I arrived in Cairo in April 2019 for a two-week tour of ancient sites, I
had already done sufficient homework that I knew what I was looking for: a
pyramid or temple aligned not to the present axis of true north/south, but rather, to
a grid oriented west of north. I was even half-convinced I had already narrowed the
search to one particular site. In 2005, two archeoastronomers, Mosalam Shaltout
and Juan Antonio Belmonte, had published a list of the orientations of 115 ancient
Egyptian temples in southern Egypt. Their paper was a compilation of fieldwork
completed in 2004, and their list was exhaustive. It included every ancient site
from Abydos south to Abu Simbel.9
I was greatly encouraged when I discovered
that one site on their list, the temple of Nekhbet at Elkab (on the Nile), was
apparently aligned to 25 degrees west of north (155 degrees SE of north): the
magic angle at that latitude/longitude which matched the pyramids of Mexico and
Bolivia. Nekhbet was the vulture goddess of southern Egypt, and during my tour I
observed her winged image on the walls and ceilings of numerous temples.
However, I was not able to confirm the professors’ data. Unfortunately, after
checking the temple with Google Earth Pro, I reluctantly concluded that Shaltout
and Belmonte had erred. There are actually two temples of Nekhbet at Elkab, and
both of them are aligned 140 degrees SE of north. There was no match. I was back
to square one.
Notwithstanding the setback, the Egypt tour was an amazing experience. My group
was international, made up of individuals from more than a dozen countries; and
nearly all of us were megalithomaniacs. Each day, we visited incredible places and
saw mind-boggling sights. Our tour guides were also exceptionally competent.
Almost everywhere we went, we saw evidence of advanced technology. No
question about it, the ancients had used power equipment, including saws and drills
capable of cutting, dressing and polishing multi-ton blocks of granite, a stone that
is 6 or 7 on the Mohs scale of hardness (diamond being 10 and marble 3).
Moreover, the ancients were also somehow able to move gigantic stone blocks,
which they did with apparent ease. Although a full account is beyond the scope of
this discussion, I will mention one site in northern Egypt because it is relevant to
this paper, namely, the pyramid complex at Abusir. The place is about seven miles
southeast of the Giza Plateau, and a part of the greater Memphite necropolis which
the scholar Eve A.E. Reymond called “the sacred homeland of the Egyptian
temple,” based on her detailed study of the building texts at Edfu.10 Today, Abusir
is a ruin. Some great cataclysm evidently hit the place in the remote past,
shattering its megalithic walls and granite columns, and tossing blocks of stone
about as if they were toys. At one temple, we observed that the tops of large
limestone columns were entirely missing. Why? Apparently because they were
exposed to extreme heat. But what could vaporize limestone?
Back home after the tour, my search continued on line. As I checked alignments
using Google Earth Pro, I was able to confirm that nearly all of the Egyptian
pyramids from Abu Ruwash south to Meidum are on the same grid as the Great
Pyramid, which is aligned to true north. This supports the standard view that these
pyramids date to the same general era. Nonetheless, I found an exception at the
Userkaf Sun temple which is usually considered a part of the Abusir complex. (see
illustration three) It was allegedly constructed by Userkaf, the first pharaoh of the
fifth dynasty. Yet, as I zoomed in, it was evident and to my mind telling, that the
standard descriptions of the place by Egyptologists are at odds with the facts on the
ground. The site is distinctive because it includes a small pyramidal structure
which is aligned to a different grid. Viewed from above, the disparity is quite
conspicuous. (See illustration two) Notice that the compound and rectangular
enclosing wall are aligned to true north, while the associated pyramid at the left is
oriented west of north. Unfortunately, drifting sand has obscured its base so it was
not possible to obtain an alignment. Although this discovery was inconclusive, it
inspired me to continue searching in the vicinity.
Illustration two: Userkaf Sun temple with displaced pyramid at left
Days later, I found what I was looking for: an undisturbed ruin one mile south of
Abusir that is aligned to the magic angle (~24+ degrees west of north) for this
latitude & longitude. (See illustrations three & four) The place is not on the map,
nor could I find a description in the literature. Its coordinates are: 29 degrees 52′
Illustration three: un-named site one mile south of Abusir, Egypt. A fence
surrounding it on three sides (north, west and east) is just visible. The red line is
56” N Latitude, 31 degrees, 12′ 1” E Longitude. Although apparently nameless, the
site must be known to the Egyptian authorities because someone constructed a
fence around it. At least five different foundations are visible from above. Several
are partially obscured by sand dunes but, luckily, others are exposed, and all are
aligned to the same grid, ~24+ degrees west of north. The site is large, more than
500 feet wide from side to side, and looks to be undisturbed. Does it date to
extreme antiquity? The strange alignment makes this tantalizingly plausible. Of
course, the site could just as easily be a former industrial center, or a military base
Illustration four: showing its location in relation to Abusir at top center. The
Serapeum and Step Pyramid at Sakkara are just off the map at the right.
that was later abandoned. However, if such is the case, why does its alignment
match the pyramids in Bolivia and Mexico? Although satellite imagery is a
powerful tool, we won’t be able to evaluate the site by means of satellite imagery
alone. Ultimately, someone will have to go there. One of our tour guides informed
me, however, that visiting the place is not possible without authorization.11 Even a
brief walk-through would be illegal without a special license. The Catch-22 is that
licenses and permits are normally granted only to professional archeological
organizations, most of whose members probably regard Charles Hapgood as a
crank or pseudoscientist. After centuries of neglect during which time foreigners
repeatedly looted Egypt’s priceless antiquities, one can well understand why local
authorities are reluctant to grant access. Still, only ground-truthing will answer the
key question, does this site predate the Sphinx and Great Pyramid?
In my opinion, it is not mere coincidence that the alignment of this mysterious
Egyptian site matches the pyramids of Mexico and Bolivia. (See illustration five)
Although the agreement is not spot on, it is too close to be due to chance. I suspect
that all three of these sites were formerly aligned to true north, before the crust of
the planet shifted at the end of the last ice age, as Charles Hapgood and others have
proposed. This would mean that the crust of the earth shifted by ~1,605 miles.
Based on this data, I estimate the coordinates of the former north pole at: 67
degrees 16’ N latitude; 65 degrees 45’ W longitude, which is about 475 miles
northeast of Hapgood’s estimated position over Hudson’s Bay (65 degrees N
latitude; 83 degrees W longitude).12 Hapgood believed the crust shifted about 2,000
Illustration five: Is this the former position of the north pole?
I never expected such a close match. The outer crust of the earth below the
continental land masses is only 20-30 miles thick, and beneath the oceans the crust
is even thinner, only 3-6 miles deep. Moreover, the crust is composed of
interlocking tectonic plates. For all of these reasons, my working assumption was
that any significant movement of the crust would produce major fractures and/or
dislocations that would severely distort any former grid on the surface. But the
close agreement of Teotihuacan, Tiahuanacu and the as yet nameless site in Egypt
indicates otherwise. Despite the susceptibility of smaller landmasses like Central
America to local or regional dislocations, it would appear that the earth’s crust can,
at times, move as a whole unit. This indicates that the slippage must occur not
between the outer crust and the lithosphere (the layer immediately beneath it) but
at a deeper level, an idea first proposed in 2000 by Rand Flem-ath, another
Hapgood aficionado.13 More research is obviously needed, and the sooner the
Mark H. Gaffney is hard at work on a book that will present important new
evidence supporting Charles Hapgood’s theory of crustal displacement. Mark Can
be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org
1 Anthony Aveni, Ed., Archeoastronomy in Pre-columbian America (Austin and London, University of Texas Press,
1975), see chapter 8, p.163.
2 Anthony Aveni, Skywatchers of Ancient Mexico (Austin and London, University of Texas Press, 1980), Appendix
A, p. 311.
3 Ibid., p. 237.
5 David B. Ericson and Goesta Wollin, The Deep and the Past (New York, Grosset & Dunlap: 1964), p. 87.
6 Skywatchers, p. 238.
7 Eduard Seuss, The Face of the Earth Vol. I, trans. By Hertha B.C. Sollas ( Oxford, Clarendon Press: 1904), p.
8 Recently, a mathematician named Mario Buildreps compiled the alignments of 157 ancient sites from Mexico to
Peru, based on satellite imagery.
9 Mosalam Shaltout and Juan Antonio Belmonte, “On the Orientation of Ancient Egyptian Temples: Upper Egypt
and Lower Nubia,” Science History Publications, Provided by the NASA Astrophysics Data System, 2005, see Table
1, p. 277.
10 E.A.E. Reymond, The Mythical Origin of the Egyptian Temple (New York, Manchester University Press: 1969), p.
11 email from Ahmed Araby, May 30, 2019.
12 Charles Hapgood, The Path of the Pole (Adventures Unlimited, Kempton, Illinois: 1970, 1999 reprint), p. 106.
13 Flem-ath was attempting to explain why the geological hot spot beneath Hawaii did not shift during past crustal
displacements. Colin Wilson and Rand Flem-ath, The Atlantis Blueprint (New York, Little, Brown & Co., 2000), p.
Do Ancient Sites point to the Old North Pole?