Studia Geophysica et Geodaetica

, Volume 55, Issue 1, pp 159–174 | Cite as

Chinese tombs oriented by a compass: Evidence from paleomagnetic changes versus the age of tombs

  • Ivanka Charvátová
  • Jaroslav Klokočník
  • Josef Kolmaš
  • Jan Kostelecký


Extant written records indicate that knowledge of an ancient type of compass in China is very old — dating back to before the Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) to at least the 4th century BC. Geomancy (feng shui) was practised for a long time (for millenia) and had a profound influence on the face of China’s landscape and city plans. The tombs (pyramids) near the former Chinese capital cities of Xi’an and Luoyang (together with their suburban fields and roads) show strong spatial orientations, sometimes along a basic South-North axis (relative to the geographic pole), but usually with deviations of several degrees to the East or West. The use of the compass means that the needle was directed towards the actual magnetic pole at the time of construction, or last reconstruction, of the respective tomb. However the magnetic pole, relative to the nearly ‘fixed’ geographic pole, shifts significantly over time. By matching paleomagnetic observations with modeled paleomagnetic history we have identified the date of pyramid construction in central China with the orientation relative to the magnetic pole positions at the respective time of construction. As in Mesoamerica, where according to the Fuson hypothesis the Olmécs and Maya oriented their ceremonial buildings and pyramids using a compass even before the Chinese, here in central China the same technique may have been used. We found a good agreement of trends between the paleodeclinations observed from tomb aligments and the available global geomagnetic field model CALS7K.2.


Chinese tombs (“pyramids”) magnetic compass paleomagnetic declination Fuson hypothesis 


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Copyright information

© Institute of Geophysics of the ASCR, v.v.i 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ivanka Charvátová
    • 1
  • Jaroslav Klokočník
    • 2
  • Josef Kolmaš
    • 3
  • Jan Kostelecký
    • 4
    • 5
  1. 1.Institute of GeophysicsAcademy of Sciences of the Czech RepublicPraha 4Czech Republic
  2. 2.Astronomical InstituteAcademy of Sciences of the Czech RepublicOndřejovCzech Republic
  3. 3.Institute of Anthropology, Faculty of ScienceMasaryk UniversityBrnoCzech Republic
  4. 4.Research Institute for GeodesyTopography and CartographyZdiby 98Czech Republic
  5. 5.Department of Advanced Geodesy, Faculty of Civil EngineeringCzech Technical UniversityPraha 6Czech Republic

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