Ecuador's 'out of line' equator

The point where countless tourists put a foot each side of the line emanating from this monument, in order to be in each hemisphere at the same time, well they're actually still fully in the Southern Hemisphere.

The West has often behaved quite haughtily to peoples it has subjugated. On some occasions, justification could be given for such behaviour, even if it is arrogant, by virtue of the fact that right decisions were taken. On others, however, it has just been plain misguided, resulting in catastrophe, and more so for the natives controlled than their controllers.

Yet sometimes getting things wrong can be just a little amusing and relatively harmless.

In a Latin American context, the French Academy of Sciences first Geodesic Mission in 1736 could be viewed as one of those latter cases. Where this team was believed to have marked the line of the equator, the dividing point between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, well it was a little bit off. The monument constructed to identify and honour the mission's work, located 26 km north of the Ecuadorian capital Quito, is actually about 240 metres to the south off the spot.

So the point where countless tourists put a foot each side of the line emanating from this monument, in order to be in each hemisphere at the same time, well they're actually still fully in the Southern Hemisphere.

Now of course that the European surveyors weren't exactly accurate all those centuries ago shouldn't be a major cause for embarrassment. There were no man-made satellites in the skies above linking to Global Positioning Systems to help them as we have today. No, the tools they had were far more basic.

However, at the time they would have considered themselves far more advanced than the indigenous populations of the region.

Thus, it is quite interesting to note that when the more accurate equator line was mapped with the aid of modern technology, a basic indigenous monument was apparently found that matched closer to this than the French one.

Of course the indigenous had centuries to figure it out; the French mission only had a few years to do so. They deserve to be cut some slack. But sometimes, if in doubt, don't be afraid to ask the locals around these parts. They might know more than you think.

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