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What are the Mt. Yaoshan and Mt. Huiguanshan Altar in Liangzhu used for? This bottomless mystery has distressed researchers of Liangzhu Culture in the world for many years. After many years' observation and research, Liu Bin, the discover of Liangzhu Ancient Town and researcher from Zhejiang Historical Relics Research Institute, recently held the view that the strange square-shape (the shape of "Hui", a Chinese character) altars on Mt. Yaoshan and Mt. Huiguanshan were very likely served as a platform for observing the year. All the winter solstice, summer solstice, spring equinox and autumnal equinox can be observed through the sunshine and correctly and regularly found out on the square-shape altars.

    There are strange square-shape altars on both Mt. Yaoshan and Mt. Huiguanshan.

    In 1987, the Liangzhu Culture Altar was firstly found on the peak of Mt. Yaoshan. With the main part in the dipper-shape structure, the alter basically faces the southern and northern direction, with east-west length about 24m and south-north width about 18m; the flat natural mountain bed rock can be seen on the top of the 400-square-meter altar, which was built and chiseled flat and neat through meticulous manual work. What is obscure is that there is a square-shape marl earth frame, with south-north length of outer frame about 11m and east-west width of outer frame about 10m, south-north length of inner frame about 7.6m, east-west width of inner frame about 6m and with depth of 0.65m-0.85m, which was constructed through the trenching and earth filling way. It is measured its four angles are 45°, 135°, 225° and 305° north by east, respectively.

    In 1991, an altar, which is similar to the shape of the altar found on the Mt. Yaoshan, was discovered on Mt. Huiguanshan in Pingyao, where is about 5km from the newly found Liangzhu Ancient Town. The main part of the restored rectangular dipper-shape alter on Mt. Huiguanshan, with top covering approximately 1500sqm, east-west length of top about 35m and south-north width of top about 27.5m, is towards the south and north direction. A square-shape marl earth frame, with south-north length of outer frame about 13.5m and east-west width of outer frame about 12m, south-north length of inner frame about 9.5m, east-west width of inner frame about 7m, width of surrounding trench of the frame chiseled on the bed rock of 2.2m-2.5m and with depth of 0.1m-0.6m, was also constructed on the western part of the altar's top through the trenching and earth filling way. It is measured its four angles are 45°, 135°, 225° and 305° north by east as well.

    The square-shape altar was probably used in observe the solar terms of the year.

    Li Bin thought over the doubts and suspicions perplexed him for many years on the altar during the more than one years' time when the altar was excavated and restored. In the important days in solar terms including winter solstice, summer solstice, spring equinox and autumnal equinox, he would erect a surveyor's pole in the center of the altar to as to observe the variation of sun shadows and the sunset position. Through over two years' practical observation and deliberation, Li Bin found out that the altar should be designed as a place for observing the astronomical phenomena, recording the solar terms of year and making the time calendar.

   In the winter solstice, the sunrise direction is just identical with the direction of the two altars' southeastern angle, which is about135° north by east, while the sunset direction is just in coincidence with the direction of the two altars' northeastern angle, which is about 225°. In the summer solstice, the sunrise is just in the same direction with the two altars' northeastern angle, which is about45° north by east, while the sunset direction is coincident with the direction of the two altars' northwestern angle, which is about305°.

    In the spring equinox and autumnal equinox, the sun rises from the east of the altar, which is about 90°north by east and sets from the west of the altar, which is about270°.

Liu Bin deemed that the correct law is evidently not a coincidence. Apart from the dimension and angle, the position of the marl earth frame on the altar was also elaborately designed and selected, for the reason that event he same azimuths are in the different positions, making the reference points of observed sunrise and sunset different. According to the practical observation of Mt. Yaoshan and Mt. Huiguanshan, if the marl earth frame was moved, the sunrise and sunset will not be observed at the same angle due to the sheltering of mountain ranges.

    Besides being used in observing the movement of sun and the solar terms of a year, the altars were also probably used in observing other celestial bodies, including the moon and astronomic and atmospheric changes. It still needs to conduct further study on whether the moving regularity of other celestial bodies and the altars are related in terms of direction.

    The generation of the ancient Chinese sundial consisting of an elongated dial and one or two gnomons was deeply related with the origin of the square-shape altars.

    Observing the astronomical phenomena, learning about the universe and grasping the regularity of time are of great connotation to the history of development of human science. In particular, the production and development of agriculture extremely relied on the calendar knowledge. China, one of the countries mastering calendar knowledge in the earliest time, had recorded the observation of the heavenly bodies and climate changes in many historical works including the Huai-nan Tzu, Xia Xiao Zheng, Tso-Chuan and Lu's Spring and Autumn Annals.

    Apart from recording the movement orbit of the sun and the moon in the universe, the observation of the sunrise and sunset direction should the aspect of great importance. The observation tools including the ancient Chinese sundial consisting of an elongated dial and one or two gnomons and the sundial had been invented in the practical observation. The astronomy and calendar were gradually found out and concluded in practical observation.

    According to Liu Bin, regarding the generation of the ancient Chinese sundial consisting of an elongated dial and one or two gnomons, there would be only the elongated dial, but no gnomons in the earliest time. The elongated dial was originally used in making symbols of sunrise and sunset on different lands. This was the same as the function of altar in the Liangzhu Culture, which marked the observed positions with marl earth frame. The piled way of Tu (earth) may be just the real and original meaning of "Gui (composed of two Chinese words of Tu (earth) "."There was 'land elongated dial' in the ancient records, and I thought it should be a meaning of making symbols on land", Liu Bin added. "Using the land elongated dial to mark the four seasons through observing the movement of the sun and the moon" was recorded in the Zhouli·Chungong·Dianrui.

    The gnomon was expected to be gradually found out in the process of using of the elongated dial. The projection of gnomon has two functions, on the one hand, it can observe the direction of the sun; on the other hand, it can learn about the changes of time and seasons through the observation of the length of the sun shadow. In addition, the position of the shadow of the gnomon falling on the surface of the elongated dial can be used in accurate calculation of time, thus making the combination of the elongated dial and the gnomon generated.

   Pro. Jiang Xiaoyuan, Ph.D students' advisor in Shanghai Jiao Tong University and vice-director-general of Chinese Society of History of Science and Technology, told the reporter that in ancient times, people made the surface of the elongated dial on the level ground and used the catenary in erecting a vertical pole, which was actually the "gnomon". The ancient Chinese sundial can not only determine the time, but also ascertain the direction of the east, west, south and north. The gnomon can be made through drawing a circle and erecting a vertical pole on the center of a circle. When the sun rises, the projection of sunlight on the gnomon will form a focal point with the circle; when the sun sets, the projection of sunlight on the gnomon will further form a focal point with the circle. The direction of the vertical bisector of the straight line connecting the two focal points on the circle is the south and north. This kind of method for measuring direction was recorded in the Zhou Bi Suan Jing (The Arithmetical Classic of the Gnomon and the Circular Paths of Heaven):"When the sun rises, erect the gnomon to record the shadow of the sun, when the sun sets, erect the gnomon to record the shadow of the sun again. The two points recording the shadows of sun point to the east and west, while the two ends of the vertical bisector of the straight line connecting the said two points are in the direction of south and north, respectively."

     The other kind of method for erecting the gnomon was recorded in the Huai-nan Tzu Tianwen: "In the morning, firstly erect a gnomon in the east, erect the other gnomon which is about ten steps from the first for observation, and the sunrise direction is the north. When the sun sets directly, erect another gnomon in the east, and use the gnomon in the west for observation, the sunset direction is the north, thus ascertaining the eastern direction. The point in the middle of the two gnomons and the gnomon in the west are in the eastern and western direction, respectively. In the winter solstice, the sun rises from the southeast, and sets from the southwest; in the spring equinox and autumnal equinox, the sun rises from the east and sets from the west; in the summer solstice, the sun rises from the northeast and sets from the northwest; therefore, the opposite direction of the intersection point of the northeastern and northwestern line is the south." Liu Bin deemed that this method taking the eastern and western line as basis in determining the four direction of southeast, southwest, northeast and northwest is similar to the marl earth frame directional method in Liangzhu Culture. The method using the gnomon is more accurate than that using elongated dial. The altars on Mt. Yaoshan and Mt. Huiguanshan are in the right direction, and the graves in Liangzhu Culture are also in the southern and northern direction. It is convinced that the ancestors in Liangzhu may use this method in determining direction as well.

     A more accurate and detailed gnomon method for observing the solar terms of the year was recorded in the Zhou Bi Suan Jing. A simple and movable "sundial" was invented through moving the gnomon to a special wood or a stone board and erecting a thin pillar in the middle of the board.

    With the observation experiences being accumulated and summarized, the ancient Chinese sundial for observing the direction of sun was gradually replaced by a simple and accurate sundial, which was used for observing the length of shadow of sun on the elongated dial.

  According to the same source, although we can not ascertain whether the movable sundial used in the Zhou and Han Dynasty was invented in the Liangzhu Culture, or whether a more simple sundial for determining the length of the shadow of the sun was mastered, the meticulously designed and constructed Liangzhu altars were easily abolished after using for a period, and none similar altars has been found out from the middle of the Liangzhu Culture till now. A reasonable way for explaining this phenomenon is as follows: it is very possible that the ancestors in Liangzhu had mastered a simpler and more effective observation method, making the selection of observatory unfixed and the way for building observatory on the top of mountain abolished. It seems that the platform patters and bird poles on the implements including the jade bi made in the later period of the Liangzhu Culture are the symbols of erecting gnomon on the high platform. It may be a record for taking down the phenomenon of erecting gnomon in the late Liangzhu Culture.

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