The Murray Frarm Tunnel ChamberCan its design and orientation reveal its age?
by Victor Moseley
[Note: This is an abridgement of the article appearing in the Volume 1, Number 1, 1984 issue of
the Midwestern Epigraphic Journal]
See also The Murray Cairn
The Murray Farm Tunnel Chamber, located in Holmes County one mile east of Greer Ohio, was discovered in the fall of 1981. Since no revealing inscriptions or artifacts have been found in association with the monument, we have little more than its design and orientation to help identify its builders, purpose, and antiquity.
In view of Colonial American building standards, there is no evidence for placing the erection of the monument within historical times. By way of design of the floor plan and elevations, the complex appears to be unique in America. Its closest relative would be the corbelled stone chamber in Upton, Massachusetts. But the New England monument with its short tunnel is patterned after the Mediterranean Tholos Tomb and is dated much later according to Barry Fell in Saga America.
Oppositely, there is much about the Ohio tunnel chamber that suggest ties with ancient northern Europe dating three and even four millenniums B.C. Uppermost in clues that support this great antiquity and origin is the configuration of the Ohio Complex. Accessibility to the chamber is exceedingly difficult. Passage is through a long, low, and narrow, slab-covered and partly drystone built tunnel.
The chamber walls and part of the tunnel walls have been cut into solid rock. The ceiling of the chamber is a barrel arch of small stones laid in mortar. Except for this last detail and the fact that the tunnel leads to a spring, the design of the complex resembles a megalithic passage grave. Comparison with the 5300 year old passage grave at Newgrange in eastern Ireland, we find the Murray Farm Complex identical in many ways and curiously unique in other ways.
Possibly the most important difference between the Ireland and Ohio complexes has to do with orientation. Unlike Newgrange, which has a solar orientation, the Ohio unit does not. Newgrandge is oriented to the winter solstice. This has the extraordinary effect of allowing sunlight to pass through sixty feet of tunnel to brighten the chamber for several days, then leave it in total darkness for another year. What religious significance this has, we can only guess. Additionally, an elaborate network of drainage tubes were installed in the ground above to divert water prevent dampness in the big corbelled stone chamber which housed burial ashes and bones.
The Ohio Complex had a very different but as yet unidentified purpose. The tunnel and chamber each have a peculiar ten feet long drainage tube extending out from the base of the walls to a source of spring water. Both flow constantly keeping the floor wet and creating dampness throughout the complex. This is a most unlikely condition for a place of burial and less likely for storage as a colonial root cellar. Moreover, if all this work were done to protect the water, it is a most unusual achievement in American settlement habits.
Considering the amount of work accomplished to quarry the materials, excavate into solid rock, erect rather large blocks and slabs, and conceal the works under three to twenty feet of fill, it would make more sense to attribute the monument to ancient Celts who appear to have been preoccupied with a strange veneration for water sites, swamps, lakes, river, and springs. Then too, the lack of an eastern orientation in the Murray Farm Complex, as opposed to that of the European passage graves, betrays some other mysterious purpose at Greer.
Averages of several magnetic compass readings taken on the Ohio tunnel give a direction of 14° [along a line] from the chamber to the exterior tunnel exit. Converting this to True North with the magnetic declination for the Greer area gave a bearing of 9° and 10m. This turns out to be a very strange alignment if based on an astronomical siting.
If one subtracts the minutes, the reading is identical with that found in the mysterious and still unsolved orientation at the ancient ruins of Uxmal, Ycatan, in Central America. The streets, plazas, and buildings of that city are for the most part oriented 9°east of True North.
Of course, the sightings for Uxmal may have been associated with the east and west alignments of its works and the aiming point may have been an unknown rising or setting star on the east or west horizons. The configuration of the Ohio complex, on the other hand, offers no east or west element to sight along. Its alignment must be associated with North.
What then was the aiming point for laying the Ohio tunnel? Although the Ohio construction does not fulfill the criteria for a true passage grave, it does never-the-less retain the configuration of one. Did the memory of this once popular type of construction transfer to a new purpose? Was there a need for a new astronomical aiming point when it was laid, directed away from the sun, towards another deity in the cosmos?
We can't prove it, but we believe that the nature of the construction combined with the unidentified purpose of the complex places it well back in time. And, there could have been an astronomical tie-in to its alignment, just as there had been for most of the passage graves reported in the past.
Accordingly we thought that a study of the northern sky might solve the mystery of the odd bearing. Our present North Star naturally didn't qualify as an aiming point for the tunnel. Due to the precession of the equinoxes, going back in time meant that Polaris would have been seen west of features on the earth which we associate with True North today, not 9 degrees east of North to the lay of the tunnel.
This didn't leave many choices for our astronomical aiming point. Any sighting not suitable to the alignment of the tunnel had to be disregarded and this included all the star, sun, moon and planet risings and settings on the east and west horizons. Even risings of stars in the north were not considered since any that came close to the tunnel alignment meant aiming at stars whose movement ran nearly parrallel, with the horizon. Compared to risings on the east horizon where star movements incline more to the vertical, north risings would form a poor intersection with the horizon and introduce error in the location of the aiming point. We believe that another type of astronomical aiming point may have been used.
A possible solution came to us while considering the effects of the precession of the equinoxes. Our aiming point might be associated with a star whose nearly imperceptible movement was related to the westerly creep of the signs of the zodiac past the equinoctual vernal point. Only in this case the aiming point would be a star in the northern sky well away fron the equinoctual sun. To explain, let us go on a bit about the presession.
Precession itself is caused by a slow wobble of the earth's axis. It can be compared to the slow wobble of a top or gyroscope when its rotation slows due to the pull of earth's gravity. This wobble of the earth, due mostly to the gravity of the moon, is however, relatively constant. Earth's rotation about its axis slows almost imperceptively over a long period of time. The application of torque (by the pull of the moon) tends to change the direction of the rotation axis. The result is a slow drifting of the earth's axis, the extentions of which describe circles among the stars in the northern and southern hemispheres. As seen the northern sky, this is a counterclockwise movement through a circle with a radius of 23½°. It takes almost 26,000 years to complete just one revolution through the circle of stars we know as the zodiac.
The circle of stars is called the precession circle and by creep we mean that the stars appear to move in succession pass that part of the sky to which earth's axis points. The rate of creep through this pole position is incredibly slow - about one degree every seventy-two years. This explains why Polaris was west of North and takes us into the consideration of previous polar stars as aiming points.
Everone knows that Polaris is the pole Star now, but as the pointer of earth's axis tracks the precession circle forward in time, say about 13,000 years from now (halfway around the circle ~ 26,000 years), it will come to another pole star called Vega in the constellation Lyra. Vega is on the other side of the precession circle opposite Polaris. Now tracking back in time from now to 3000 B.C., the the earth's axis pointed at the star Thuban in the constellation Draco, the dragon. Interestingly, the date when Thuban was the Pole Star falls within the period of antiquity when megalithic passage graves were being built in Northern Europe.
At that time, Newgrange was already 300 years old, but the idea was not forgotten. The Mayes Howe passage grave in the Orkney Islands was erected much later in 2500 B.C. Could the idea have travelled on to America and Ohio several hundred years later?
Author Barry Fell in Bronze Age America places Norwegian mariners in Peterborough, Canada around 1700 B.C. He reasons also from his decipherment and translation of inscriptions found on the petroglyphs there, that these were not the first visitors to the New World. Moreover, Fell said, "the radiocarbon dates from the Lake Superior copper mines indicates that the mines were worked between about 3000-2000 B.C." We suggest that perhaps earlier visitors could have brought along settlers who found their way to Holmes County, Ohio.
As to when the settlers might have arrived near Greer, we believe if we could determine the cause of the 9° deviation from True North for the Ohio tunnel alignment, by doing so we just might also reveal when the monument was built.
Having thrown out all the aiming points on the horizons as unsuitable to the odd north bearing, we turned next to the former pole stars found along the precession circle between Polaris and Thuban. Among these we find only Sixth Magitude stars, which would not be likely candidates. The star magnitude scale was created by astronomer Hipparchus of the second century B.C., on a scale of zero to six, zero represents the brightest star and six the faintest star visible to the naked eye. Polaris, as an illustration, is a second magnitude star but is not regarded as being very brignt. This gives you some idea of how insignificant appearing a Sixth Magnitude star can be. None of them would seem to qualify well as a prominent aiming point on which to orient the tunnel. Even if one was used, it can only have been seen under the very best observation conditions. Thurban however, did seem to qualify. It has a magnitude of three, only slightly less brignt than Polaris but has some other things going for it. You will remember, when Thurban was the Pole Star, we were in the era of megalithic passage graves.
Assuming that the ancient star watchers had used a "former" pole star as an aiming point and that this aiming point was 9° right of earth's axis at the time, this would account for a 9° deviation east of True North. It remained then, to select from the former pole stars one that could have had a great deal of meaning to them. Polaris, as we said before, was out of the question. The fainte Sixth Magnitude stars were poor qualifiers. But Thuban, having been a prominent pole star, could have still held a place of importance in the inerited knowledge of the Ohio sky watchers. In fact, it would have been the most prominent star near the center of their polar sky, whirling about the celestial pole as it does today but at a much shorter radial distance from the pole.
Futhermore, if at this time, when earth's axis pointed to only a void in the sky, Thuban had been chosen as the aiming point for laying the tunnel, then the deviation from True North should reveal when the monument was built. It seemed worth a try and here is what we arrived at:
The mathematics are simple. Where 9 is the deviation in degrees, 72 is the number of years in one degree of creep, and 3000 is the end of the fourth millennium B.C. the 9 times 72 equals 648 years, and 3000 less 648 comes to 2352 which is the date in the third millennium B.C. for construction of the Murray Farm Tunnel Chamber that we now propose.
The tunnel in Ohio may have been 60 feet long, like its near counterpart in Ireland. Possibly 35 feet of tunnel and the original entrance were destroyed while oil company was preparing the site for the erection of an drilling rig. Although the destruction is regretable, it was accidental, even fortuitous, since the complex may never have otherwise been discovered. The estimate of how much was destroyed is based on what the property owner Robert Murray remembers about the original land formation before excavation. This information was then checked against the plotted position on a topographic may in relation to 20 foot contours. Murray's estimate appears to be correct.
The chamber is located under 20 feet of fill below the north edge of a gravel road that transverses a ridge running east and west. The vertical distance form the chamber floor to the road bed above is 28 feet which illustrates that the complex is buried in a considerable amount of hillside under tons of fill. The remaining portion of the tunnel is 2 feet wide and over 25 feet long. It is 3 feet high in the first 6 feet of passage whereupon headroom heightens to 4 feet, narrowing towards the entrance to thechamber. The chamber is 50-53 inches in diameter and 8 feet 2 inches in height. The interior looks more like a shrine dedicated to the worship of the earth mother since the walls are cave-like with carved nitches and shelves providing space for perhaps, placement of fertility idols and offerings to the gods, the world tree, water elves, whatever.
A people who were aware of an astronomical calendar of great ages, which are approximately 2160 years long, all of which make up a nearly 26,000 year cycle, must certainly have been aware of which direction earth's axis was drifting in. If this is true, then they would also have known where to fix the position of the sweeping former pole star in order to pay homage to super star god, the World Tree, earth mother, and the life giving waters. Meanwhile, as we said in the beginning all we have to go on is the design and orientation of the complex. Perhaps this hypothesis will stimulate thought that will lead to a better understanding of the Murray Farm monument.