Diary Notes

Grids of Squares & Flattened Circles

There is a common approach in ancient building based upon the establishment of a grid of squares, as a framework for the geometrical construction of buildings, from stone circles to Egyptian and Greek temples, to Roman and Orthodox Basilicas, and to Gothic and Enlightenment buildings, plus in Indian temples. Just as one builds foundations, all that is inside a building is controlled by numerical ideas. I have therefore published some work I did to show how flattened circle, in megalithic times, could have used what came to be Egyptian methods for laying out building works and to not always depend on the ropes and stakes of the free style geometrical construction which led to analytical geometry, compass and straight edge.

Peat Fires revealing Rock Art

There have been a number of large peat moor fires in England and one of these in North Yorkshire revealed a few megalithic sites. I have republished my own interpretation of a significant pattern made on a major flat stone as part of an egg-shaped stone circle. The egg can be seen in the work of Alexander Thom as based on the near-Pythagorean triangle with sides {17 17 24.0416}. When Thom’s plan is laid over that of the excavation (Rock Art and Ritual by Brian Smith and Alan Walker), one can see there is a close fit to the excavated site. When the egg is expanded to fit the line drawn by the excavators, the units of the geometry are 1/2 foot (6 inches) so that 17 = 102 inches (8.5 feet), 24 = 144 inches (12 feet) and 12 = 72 inches (6 feet), possible by overlaying different plans, one with the scale shown!

Geometry of the stone egg where the rock art was found on one of its stones. Note the alignment of the egg’s axes to the cardinality of the sun’s solstice extremes at that latitude.

Chalk Drums to generate pi

When I joined the Prehistoric Society for a year, an article about megalithic chalk drums being found with strange decoration which may depict PI, since their diameter allows rolling them to count out a given type of foot measure. This may be why some are not carved because they were heavily used while others could have been metrological standards, not as rods but as cylinders that do not required end-to-end counting but continuous counting, providing one can count!

Angkor Wat as west-facing observatory

I have been doing work on Angkor Wat, something I never got around to after a first introductory post about nested squares there. Both Lords of Time and Language of the Angels were to have included it. Eleanor Mannikka, spent 20 years on a numerical analysis of its architecture and there is an amazing set of French plans by G. Nafilyan. I looked at the temple as an observatory, since it looks west as aligned towards the sun and moon setting on the horizon, which appears to have been part of its intended use. Settings are easier to work with that risings, since there is plenty of warning of settings as sun or moon slowly travel every day towards the western horizon.

Earlier Posts

The current theme is search: Golden Rectangles which led to finding them in search: St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and in the Umayyid Mosque in Damascus. But the Olmec heads have come to mind after a TV documentary, so that work from 2017 was completed, suggesting “what they mean”.

I have started a theme on Music, part one giving overview of how music derived originally from an ancient world where pure number relationships between tones (ratios) developed much the familiar terminology of modern music, but in the interests of group performance and composition, each interval sacrifices purity for utility.

I have also republished an article on the significence of square roots.

Developmental Roots below 6

Square roots turn out to have a strange relationship to the fundaments of the world. The square root of 2, found as the diagonal of a unit square, and the square root of 3 of the diametric across a cube; these are the simplest expressions of two and three dimensions, in area and volume. This can be shown graphically as:

The first two roots “open up” the possibilities of
three-dimensional space.
Continue reading “Developmental Roots below 6”

Music of the Olmec Heads

Seventeen colossal carved heads are known, each made out of large basalt boulders. The heads shown here, from the city of San Lorenzo [1200-900 BCE], are a distinctive feature of the Olmec civilization of ancient Mesoamerica. In the absence of any evidence, they are thought to be portraits of individual Olmec rulers but here I propose the heads represented musical ratios connected to the ancient Dorian heptachord, natural to tuning by perfect fifths and fourths. In the small Olmec city of Chalcatzingo [900-500BCE] , Olmec knowledge of tuning theory is made clear in Monument 1, of La Reina the Queen (though called El Rey, the King, despite female attire), whose symbolism portrays musical harmony and its relationship to the geocentric planetary world *(see picture at end).

* These mysteries were visible using the ancient tuning theories of Ernest G. McClain, who believed the Maya had received many things from the ancient near east. Chapter Eight of Harmonic Origins of the World was devoted to harmonic culture of the Olmec, the parent culture of later Toltec, Maya, and Aztec civilizations of Mexico.

Monument 5 at Chatcatzinga has the negative shape of two rectangles at right angles to each other, with radiating carved strips framing the shape like waves emanating from the space through which the sky is seen. The rectangles are approximately 3 by 5 square or of a 5 by 5 square with its corner squares removed.

Monument 5 at Chalcatzingo is a framed hollow shape. The multiple squares have been added to show that, if the inner points are a square then the four cardinal cutouts are described by triple squares.

The important to see that the Olmec colossal heads were all formed as a carved down oval shape, that would fit the height to width ratio of a rectangular block. For example, three heads from San Lorenzo appear to have a ratio 4 in height to 3 in width, which in music is the fourth (note) or subdominant of our modern diatonic (major or Ionian) scale.

Even narrower is the fourth head at San Lorenzo, whose height is three to a width of two. This is the ratio of the perfect fifth, so called as the fifth note of the major scale.

And finally (for this short study), the ratio 6/5 can be seen in Head 9 of San Lorenzo and also at La Venta’s Monument 1 (below).


If the heads were conceived in this way, the different ratios apply when seen face on. The corners of the heads were probably rounded out from a supplied slab with the correct ratio between height and width. The corners would then round-out to form helmets and chins and the face added.

And as a group, the six heads sit within in a hierarchy of whole number ratios, each between two small numbers, different by one. At San Lorenzo, Head 4 looks higher status than Head 9 and this is because of its ratio 3/2 (a musical fifth or cubit), relative to the 6/5 of Head 9. We now call the fifth note dominant while the fourths (Heads 1, 5 and 8) are called subdominant. These two are the foundation stones of Plato’s World Soul {6 8 9 12}, within a low number octave {6 12} then having three main intervals {4/3 9/8 4/3}* where 4/3 times 9/8 equals 3/2, the dominant fifth.

*Harmonic numbers, more or less responsible for musical harmony, divide only by the first three primes {2 3 5} so that the numbers between six and twelve can only support four harmonic numbers {8 9 10}

San Lorenzo existed between 1200 to 900 BCE, and in the ancient Near East there are no clear statements for primacy of the octave {2/1}, nor was it apparent in practical musical instruments before the 1st Millennium BCE, according to Richard Dumbrill: Music was largely five noted (pentatonic) and sometimes nine-noted (enneadic) with two players. However, the eight notes of the octave could instead be arrived at, in practice, by the ear, using only fifths and fourths to fill out the six inner tones of a single octave; starting from the highest and lowest tones (identical sounding notes differing by 2/1). A single musical scale results from a harp tuned in this way: the ancient heptachord: it had two somewhat dissonant semitone (called “leftovers” in Greek), intervals seen between E-F and B-C on our keyboards (with no black note between). Our D would then be “do“, and the symmetrical scale we today call Dorian.

The order of the Dorian scale is tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone, tone {T S T T T S T} and the early intervals of the Dorian {9/8 S 6/5 4/3 3/2} are the ratios also found in these Olmec Heads*. The ancient heptachord** could therefore have inspired the Olmec Heads to follow the natural order tuned by fourths and fifths.

*I did not consciously select these images of Heads but rather, around 2017, they were easily found on the web. Only this week did I root out my work on the heads and put them in order of relative width.

**here updated to the use of all three early prime numbers {2 3 5} and hence part of Just Intonation in which the two semitones are stretched at the expense of two tones of 9/8 to become 10/9, a change of 81/80.
(The Babylonians used all three of these tones in their harmonic numbers.)

To understand these intervals as numbers required the difference between two string lengths be divided into the lengths of the two strings, this giving the ratio of the Head in question. The intervals of the heptachord would become known and the same ratios achieved within the Heads, carved out as blocks cut out into the very simple rectangular ratios, made of multiple squares.

The rectangular ratio of Head 4, expressed within multiple squares as 3 by 2.

The early numbers have this power, to define these early musical ratios {2/1 3/2 4/3 5/4 6/5}, which are the large musical tones {octave fifth fourth major-third minor-third}. These ratios are also very simple rectangular geometries which, combined with cosmological ideas based around planetary resonance, would have quite simply allowed Heads to be carved as the intervals they represented. The intervals would then have both a planetary and musical significance in the Olmec religion and state structure.

Frontispiece to Part Three of Harmonic Origins of the World: War in Heaven
The seven caves of Chicomoztoc, from which arose the Aztec, Olmec and
other Nahuatl-speaking peoples of Mexico. The seven tribes or rivers of the old world are here seven wombs, resembling the octaves of different modal scales, and perhaps including two who make war and sacrifice to overturn/redeem/re-create the world.

A Musical Cosmogenesis

Everything in music comes out of the number one, the vibrating string, which is then modified in length to create an interval. Two strings at right angles, held within a framework such as Monument 5 (if other things like tension, material, etc.were the same) would generate intervals between “pure” tones. However Monument 5 is not probably symbolic but rather, it was probably laid flat like a grand piano (see top illustration). Wooden posts could hold fixings, to make a framework for one (or more) musical strings of different length, at right angles to a reference string. This would be a duo-chord or potentially a cross-strung harp. Within the four inner points of Monument 5 is a square notionally side length. In the image of Monument 1, and variations in height and width from the number ONE were visualized in stone as emanating waves of sound.

The highest numbers lead to the smallest ratio of 6/5 then the 6/5 ratio of Head 9 can be placed with five squares between the inner points and the 3/2 ratio of Head 2 then fills the vertical space left open within Chalcatzingo’s Monument 5.

Monument 5’s horizontal gap can embrace the denominator of a Head’s ratio (as notionally equal to ONE) so that the inner points define a square side ONE, and the full vertical dimension then embraces the 3/2 ratio of the tallest, that of Head 2.

It may well be that this monument was carved for use in tuning experiments and was then erected at Chalcatzingo to celebrate later centuries of progress in tuning theory since the San Lorenzo Heads were made. By the time of Chalcatzingo, musical theory appears to have advanced, to generate the seven different scales of Just intonation (hence the seven caves of origin above), whose smallest limiting number must then be 2880 (or 4 x 720), the number presented (as if in a thought bubble) upon the head of a royal female harmonist (La Reina), see below. She is shown seeing the tones created by that number, now supporting two symmetrical tritones. The lunar eclipse year was also shown above her head (that is, in her mind) as the newly appeared number 1875, at that limit. This latter story probably dates around 600 BCE. This, and much more besides, can be found in my Harmonic Origins of the World, Chapter Eight: Quetzcoatl’s Brave New World.

Figure 5.8 Picture of an ancient female harmonist realizing the matrix for 144 x 20 = 2880. If we tilt our tone circle so that the harmonist is D and her cave is the octave, then the octave is an arc from bottom to top, of the limit. Above and below form two tetrachords to A and D, separated by a middle tritone pain, a-flat and g-sharp. Art by by Michael D Coe, 1965: permission given.

Umayyad Mosque: Golden Rectangles from Squares

photo above of Umayyad Mosque, Damascus by Bernard Gagnon for Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.

In previous articles on double squares and then St Peter’s Basilica, it became clear that squares and double squares have been embodied, within sacred buildings and art, because circles can then spawn golden rectangles from them. A golden rectangle has one dimension related to its other dimension as the golden mean {1.618034…}. Firstly, the original square plus golden rectangle is a larger golden rectangle but, secondly, the new golden rectangle (beside the square) shares its side length as one unit {1} but its other side is then the reciprocal of the golden mean (0.618034).

The golden mean is the only irrational number whose reciprocal, and square share its fractional part {0.618034 1.618034 2.618034}: there can be only one real number for which this is true. But it is in its geometrical expression, living structure and aesthetics (as in classical architecture) that lead its uniqueness to be seen as a divine ratio. Therefore, it seems, ancient human civilizations sought this golden form of harmony within the form of the Temple, especially in Dynastic Egypt and Classical Greece. The planet Venus must have reinforced this significance since its synod {584 days} is 8/5 of the solar year {365 days} and its manifestation such as evening and morning stars, move around the zodiac tracing out a pentacle or five-pointed star, the natural geometry of the golden mean.

The natural geometry of the Golden Mean is the Pentacle, traced out by planet Venus upon the Zodiac as evening and morning star. (from Sacred Number and the Origins of Civilization)

In the renaissance, the Classical tradition of Ancient Greece and Rome was reborn as neoclassicism, a famous proponent being Palladio, and further neo-classicism arose in the 19th Century and continues in the United States. From this, the previous article on St Peter’s saw its original square become rectangular in a golden way. The whole basis for this is due to the nature of squares and circles, that is: golden rectangles are easily formed geometrically through squares and circles.

The extension of St Peter’s from a square, by adding a golden rectangle, can be seen to also apply within the original square. Furthermore, there is a medium-sized square within the golden rectangle plus a small golden rectangle (see below).

The overall golden rectangle of St Paul’s of a square and golden rectangle below. Using the square within the golden rectangle, the original square above can have four such overlapping squares, to create a cruciform pattern, the upper part of which was used to lay out the Umayyad Mosque.

The medium square can be tiled four times within the large square to overlap the other medium squares, as shown above. This creates a small central square while the four regions that overlap are smaller golden rectangles. The lower golden rectangle is also repeated four times with overlapping, twice horizontally and twice vertically. It is seen that squares and golden rectangles can recede within a square, into smaller sizes, or expand around a square. It is as if all levels of scale hold a kind of fractal, based upon the golden mean.

The top six elements of the square can be seen to match the site plan of the Great (Umayyad) Mosque of Damascus, built 900 years before St Peter’s Basilica, on the site of an Orthodox Cathedral and, before that, a Roman temple to Jupiter. In other words, any golden rectangle design can contain resonances of somewhat different golden mean designs, that may express a different meaning or context; in this case the Mosque gives the notion of two squares overlapping to generate an intervening region of blending and the rectangle of overlap will then be phi squared in height (shown yellow below) relative to the width being unity – the central square’s side length.

The geometry of the Umayyad Mosque

My thanks to Dan Palmateer, for his emails and diagramming whilst on this theme of golden rectangles. One of his own pictures (below) shows the central square of the main square, by tiling the main square with the small golden rectangle.

The central square within the greater square is revealed in St Peter’s as a square within a circular area, noting that this plan (held by The Met Museum) was made after the building had been completed.

There was obviously a vernacular of golden rectangular building in Islam which was carried forth in Renaissance Europe. The potential for golden rectangular building can be all-embracing, as it is a property of space itself, due to numbers.

Starcut Diagram: geometry to define tuning

This is a re-posting of an article thought lost, deriving in part from Malcolm Stewart’s Starcut Diagram. The long awaited 2nd edition Sacred Geometry of the Starcut Diagram has now been published by Inner Traditions. Before this, Ernest McClain had been working on tuning via Gothic master Honnecourt’s Diagram of a Man (fig. 2), which is effectively a double square version of the starcut diagram.

The square is the simplest of two dimensional structures to draw, giving access to many fundamental values; for example the unit square has the diagonal length equal to the square root of two which, compared to the unit side length, forms the perfect tritone of 1.414 in our decimal fractional notation (figure 1 left). If the diagonal is brought down to overlay a side then one has the beginning of an ancient series of root derivations usually viewed within the context of a double square, a context often found in Egyptian sacred art where “the stretching of the rope” was used to layout temples and square grids were used to express complex relationships, a technique Schwaller de Lubitz termed Canevas (1998). Harmonically the double square expresses octave doubling (figure 1 right).

Figure 1 left: The doubling of the square side equal 360 units and right: The double square as naturally expressing the ordinal square roots of early integers.

Musical strings have whole number lengths, in ratio to one another, to form intervals between strings and this gives geometry a closer affinity to tuning theory than the use of arithmetic to calculate the ratios within a given octave range. The musicology inferred for the ancient world by Ernest G. McClain in his Myth of Invariance (1976) was calculational rather than geometrical, but in later work McClain (Bibal 2012-13) was very interested in whatever could work (such as folding paper) but was especially interested in the rare surviving notebook of 13th century artist Villard de Honnecourt, whose sketches employed rectilinear frameworks within which cathedrals, their detailing, human and other figures could be drawn.

“I believe we have overlooked Honnecourt as a prime example of what Neugebauer meant in claiming Mesopotamian geometry to approach Renaissance levels illustrated in Descartes. If Honnecourt is 13th c. then he seems more likely to be preserving the ancient picture, not anticipating the new one.”

This draws one into significant earlier traditions of sacred art in Egypt (Canevas) and in Indian temple and statue design, and to Renaissance paintings (see end quote) in which composition was based upon geometrical ideas such as symmetry, divisions into squares and alignments to diagonals. Figure 2 shows one of Honnecourt’s highly stylised sketches of a man, using a technique still in use by a 20th century heraldic artist.

Ernest McClain, Bibal Group: 18/03/2012

Figure 2 The Honnecourt Man employing a geometrical canon.

The six units, to the shoulders of the man, can be divided to form a double square, the lower square for the legs and the upper one for the torso. The upper square is then a region of octave doubling. McClain had apparently seen a rare and more explicit version of this arrangement and, from memory, attempted a reconstruction from first principles (figure 3), which he shared with his Bibal colleagues, including myself.

Figure 3 McClain’s final picture of the Honnecourt Man, its implied Monochord of intervals and their reciprocals.

To achieve a tuning framework, the central crossing point had been moved downwards by half a unit, in a double square of side length three. On the right this is ½ of a string length when the rectangle is taken to define the body of a monochord. McClain was a master of the monochord since his days studying Pythagorean tuning. Perhaps his greatest insight was the fact that the diagonal lines, in crossing, were inadvertently performing calculations and providing the ratios between string lengths forming musical intervals.

Since the active region for octave studies is the region of doubling, the top square is of primary interest. At the time I was also interested in multiple squares and the Egyptian Canevas (de Lubitz. 1998. Chapter 8) since these have special properties and were evidently known as early as the fifth millennium BC (see Heath 2014, chapter two) by the megalith builders of Carnac. In my own redrawing of McClain’s diagram (figure 4) multiple squares are to be seen within the top square. This revealed that projective geometry was to be found as these radiant lines, of the sort seen in the perspective of three dimensions when drawn in two dimensions.

Figure 4 Redrawing McClain to show multiple squares, and how a numerical octave limit of 360 is seen creating lengths similar to those found in his harmonic mountains.

Returning to this matter, a recently developed technique of populating a single square provides a mechanism for studying what happens within such a square when “starcut”.

Figure 5 left: Malcolm Stewart’s 2nd edition book cover introducing right: the Starcut Diagram, applicable to the top square of Honnecourt’s octave model .

Malcolm Stewart’s diagram is a powerful way of using a single square to achieve many geometrical results and, in our case, it is a minimalist version that could have more lines emanating from the corners and more intermediate points dividing the squares sides, to which the radiant lines can then travel. Adding more divisions along the sides of the starcut is like multiplying the limiting number of a musical matrix, for example twice as many raises by an octave.

A computer program was developed within the Processing framework to increase the divisions of the sides and draw the resulting radiants. A limit of 720 was used since this defines Just intonation of scales and 720 has been identified in many ancient texts as having been a significant limiting number in antiquity. Since McClain was finding elements of octave tuning within a two-square geometry, my aim was to see if the crossing points between radiants of a single square (starcut) defined tones in the just scales possible to 360:720. This appears to be the case (figure 6) though most of the required tone numbers appear along the central vertical division and it is only at the locations nearest to D that eb to f and C to c# that only appear “off axis”. The pattern of the tones then forms an interesting invariant pattern.

Figure 6 Computer generated radiants for a starcut diagram with sides divided into six.

Figure 7 http://HarmonicExplorer.org showing the tone circle and harmonic mountain (matrix) for limit 720, the “calendar constant” of 360 days and nights.

Each of the radiant crossing points represents the diagonal of an M by N rectangle and so the rational “calculation” of a given tone, through the crossing of radiants, is a result of the differences from D (equal to either 360 or 720) to the tone number concerned (figure 8).

Figure 8 How the tone numbers are calculated via geometrical coincidence of cartesian radiants which are rational in their shorter side length at the value of a Just tone number

It is therefore no miracle that the tone numbers for Just intonation can be found at some crossing points and, once these are located on this diagram, those locations could have been remembered as a system for working out Just tone numbers.


Heath, Richard.

  • 2014. Sacred Number and the Lords of Time. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions.
  • 2018. Harmonic Origins of the World: Sacred Number at the Source of Creation. Inner Traditions.
  • 2021. Sacred Geometry: Language of the Angels. Inner Traditions.

Lubitz, R.A. Schwaller de.

  • 1998. The Temple of Man: Apet of the South at Luxor. Vermont: Inner Traditions.

McClain, Ernest G. 

  • 1976. The Myth of Invariance: The Origin of the Gods, Mathematics and Music from the Rg Veda to Plato. York Beach, ME: Nicolas Hays.

Stewart, Malcolm.

  • 2022. Sacred Geometry of the Starcut Diagram: The Genesis of Number, Proportion, and Cosmology. Inner Traditions.