15:25 GMT18 January 2021
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    Sir Isaac Newton, credited with laying the foundations of 'Newtonian' physics, is believed to have been obsessed with occult investigations into the Great Pyramid of Egypt, hoping to gain knowledge that would help him accurately measure the circumference of the Earth to demonstrate his theory of gravitation on a planetary scale.

    A rare collection of unpublished, scorched notes by Isaac Newton, the English physicist and mathematician famous for his laws of physics, which reveal the level of his obsession with the inherent secrets of the Egyptian pyramids, were sold at an auction on 8 December for £378,000, (around $500,000).

    ​The papers, which are believed to date to the 1680s when the scientist was in his forties, were almost destroyed by Newton’s dog Diamond, who, according to lore, jumped on a table and knocked over a candle, setting them on fire.

    The singed manuscripts shed light on Newton’s fascination for alchemy, as they show him puzzling over the external dimensions of the Great Pyramid of Egypt, length of its tunnels, height of its chambers and size of its bricks.

    The mathematician, credited with laying the foundations of Newtonian physics and establishing the law of gravity, studied the pyramids during the late 17th century while at his birthplace, Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire.

    Like some other European scholars of his time, Newton believed that the ancient Egyptians possessed a knowledge, since lost, that could unlock historic secrets such as Biblical coding and the precise timing of the apocalypse.

    “The searching out of ancient occult secrets was a central trope of alchemy, a subject which Newton studied deeply,” said Sotheby’s in the auction listing.

    Newton believed that the cubit, a unit of measurement used by the Great Pyramid’s builders, could enable him to figure out the exact dimensions of other ancient structures, such as the Temple of Solomon, which he thought could hold the key to understanding the biblical apocalypse.

    ​He also hoped to validate his own theory of gravity, believing that ancient Greeks had successfully measured Earth’s circumference using a unit called the stade, which he believed was borrowed from the Egyptians.

    Temple of Solomon
    © CC0 /
    Temple of Solomon

    “Newton believed it likely that the ancients had been able to measure the Earth using techniques lost to modern man. The figures given by Eratosthenes (the third-century BC mathematician who calculated Earth's circumference remarkably accurately) did not fit Newton’s propositions for gravitational attraction, so he turned to the earlier figure given by Thales and Anaximander in the 6th century BCE, which was that the Earth’s circumference was 400,000 ‘stades’,” said the auction house, adding:

    “Assuming that the Greeks took their measures from the Egyptians, it should therefore be possible to quantify the stade from the cubit, and the Earth from the stade. Newton abandoned this line of argument before the publication of the Principia, but it is likely that when making these notes he hoped that the pyramid would give him the measure of the Earth and prove gravitational theory.”

    Newton never published anything pertaining to his occult studies while he was alive.

    “It is not surprising that he did not publish on alchemy, since secrecy was a widely held tenet of alchemical research, and Newton’s theological beliefs, if made public, would have cost him (at least) his career,” said Sotheby’s.

    The papers sold at the auction are said to have been discovered in the 1880s, about 200 years after Isaac Newton is thought to have written them.


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    Sotheby's auction, Sotheby's, the Great Pyramid, gravity, Isaac Newton, pyramids, pyramids
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