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|How it didn't happen|
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The Giza pyramids have been the cause of more extreme wingnuttery, pseudoscience, bullshit, and woo than any other ancient monument on the planet. They are popular focal points for theories concerning ufology, the Illuminati, Atlantis, and certain sects of Christianity. People who espouse such ideas in relation to the Giza pyramids are referred to as pyramidiots (similar to, but not to be confused with "IDiots").
Historical and geographic introduction
The Giza Plateau is a desert plateau located west of modern day Cairo. The plateau is in fact simply the northernmost of a long string of necropolises that run along the desert west of the Nile from Giza as far south as the Faiyum. This string of necropolises contains well over 100 pyramids, built between the Third Dynasty and the end of the Middle Kingdom. As such it is important to discard the implied but rarely stated assumption of these "alternate" theories that the "big three" pyramids at Giza are the only ones in Egypt.
The main three pyramids on the Giza Plateau were built between c. 2470-2396 BCE over the course of 5 reigns during the 4th Dynasty of the Ancient Egyptian Old Kingdom. The first, and also the largest, was built by Khufu (a.k.a. Cheops). Its original capstone no longer exists, so a metal frame on top now indicates its original apex. This is followed by the pyramid of Khafra (the most well known, due to its association with the Sphinx and also being the most photogenic, retaining its smooth casing stones toward the top); and finally the smallest, which was built by Menkaura, a little distance from the others, and originally intended to utilize granite instead of limestone in its casing layer.
Each pyramid formed a self-contained complex, featuring a pyramid temple built immediately adjacent to the main structure, and a valley temple, located further away toward the river. This was linked to the pyramid by a long, elevated stone causeway that was originally roofed. In addition there were subsidiary pyramids as part of these complexes for the burial of close members of the Royal family.
Later pyramids included religious texts, inscribed within the burial chamber (the Pyramid Texts, now translated, and widely available), but this practice was only introduced in the 5th Dynasty, so is not present in any pyramid at Giza.
Orion correlation "theory"
The Orion Correlation Theory was first
dreamed up postulated by Robert Bauval, a professional construction engineer with an interest in esoterica. In his book The Orion Theory (Arrow Books, 1994), he presents his Orion Correlation Theory (OCT), which, in short, centres around the idea that the Giza Pyramids were built as part of one "master plan" to map out certain key constellations on the ground (the "big three" at Giza being Orion's Belt... if viewed from the south, which the Egyptians considered "up"), and that the small shafts in Khufu's pyramid were aligned to view Orion and Sothis (Sirius). Whilst this might be stretching credibility, it only truly snaps once Bauval comes up with an "epic fix" by claiming that, as some of his alignments don't work when applied to the heavens at the time of construction, the layout of the pyramids was planned not around 2470 BCE, but in 10500 BCE, more than 8000 years earlier, or to put it another way, almost three times the length of the entire duration of the Pharaonic period, and four times the length of time between Julius Caesar and the present day.
However, the "epic fix" doesn't work. In addition to this, to keep the all-important "master plan" workable, several pyramids had to be "removed" from Bauval's calculations, as well as putting faith in the idea that the Pharaohs followed a multi-generational master plan for the necropolis (drawn up 8000 years earlier), despite that fact that very often no more than a passing effort was made to finish the burial of one's predecessor relatively quickly and easily, as evidenced by the Seneferu, Menkaure and many others.
It is also claimed that in this grand alignment, the Milky Way is represented by the Nile, though no effort is made to explain where the Nile flowed in 10500 BCE, despite it migrating drastically both east and west in the Giza area.
Stephen Quirke, professor of Egyptology at University College London and curator of UCL Collections Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, presents a rather more practical picture for the location of the Giza pyramids; that they lay on a good line of sight with the great temple of Ra at Heliopolis, and its Benben stone (the original obelisk). The 4th Dynasty was the beginning of the focused, consistent devotion to the solar cult that dominated the Old Kingdom from that point onward. Although not absolutely conclusive, his theory is sound, reasoned, and consistent. Quirke is also a recognized professional in his field.
Based on this, one can only conclude that OCT is nothing but pseudo-science, based on ideas which are sound (such as the religious importance of certain stars to Egyptian religion) taken to their logical, but ultimately absurd, conclusions.
Zahi Hawass's April 2015 hissy fit
The very name Robert Bauval is a major red flag to Zahi Hawass, the disgraced former Minister of Egyptian Antiquities. Hawass accuses Bauval of having vandalized the Great Pyramid by scraping some paint off a cartouche. Although the dirty deed was actually attributed to a pair of German woo-meisters, Hawass thinks Bauval was the real instigator.
A scheduled debate between Hawass and Graham Hancock on 22 April 2015 was cut extremely short when Hancock displayed his very first slide, depicting the Orion correlation theory and Bauval himself. Hawass stormed out.
Power station "theory"
He argues how the Great Pyramid (the others don't matter) was, in fact, a massive power plant that used the magnetic poles and "vibrations" channeled through "harmonic resonators" and the dimensions of the structure to generate huge amounts of power, before being destroyed in a massive fire caused by its use of hydrogen.
Central to his argument is the supposition that the ancient Egyptians had a generally ultra-high level of technology, as evidenced by the accuracy and quality of their stonework. In support of this he points to examples of work with hard stone around the Giza pyramids and the Serapeum at Saqqara. He fails, however, to mention several key points:
- The Serapeum was constructed in the 19th Dynasty, and used through much of the Late Period, a time with ample textual and archaeological sources, rather than belonging to "prehistory" as Dunn describes the artifacts.
- There is absolutely no archaeological or textual evidence whatsoever to support the existence of these hypothetical super-technologies.
- That the effects on stone he ascribes to the use of advanced technology have been accurately reproduced through experimental archaeology using quite simple tools, and that these results have been widely published, including in the mass media.
- That the power station theory he postulates uses the internal layout of Khufu's pyramid, which is significantly different from the others at Giza, let alone elsewhere in Egypt. What the others were for, then, is anyone's guess.
Whilst the achievements in accuracy and quality of engineering and workmanship in both the Pyramids of Giza and elsewhere in Egyptian sculpture and architecture are humbling, it was well within their capabilities as a Bronze Age civilization thanks to an efficient bureaucratic and social organisation that was able to control the quality and speed of work, availability of labour, tools, and supplies, and provide literate expertise to oversee and guide the work being done.
The theory that the Great Pyramid was some kind of machine was also postulated by author Alan Alford, in his book Gods of the New Millennium, although he later retracted this in the foreword to his follow-up book, The Phoenix Solution.
Piramids and Phiramids
One of most active and influential branch of pyramidology is to look for mathematical and/or physical constants in the measurement of the Great Pyramid of Giza (the GP) and to find some everywhere. Historically, most pyramidiotic theories have been focusing on and the so-called golden ratio . These theories fall in two broad categories although nowadays they tend to be mixed together.
It happens that the slope of the GP is resulting in a square base with edges of 440 royal cubits for a height of 280 royal cubits. At the time of Khufu, it was an obvious choice for technical and historical reasons  yet, it also became a perfect bedrock for pyramidiotic theories because :
This, of course, is a simple mathematical coincidence but, with basic skills in algebra and a little bit of imagination, one may easily turn it into a whole set of woo-geometrical statements. Classical examples include: “half the perimeter of the base divided by the height equals ”, “the height of the GP is the radius of the circle which circumference equals the perimeter of the base”, “the apothem of each face divided by half an edge of the base equals ” or “the surface of the four faces divided by the surface of the base yields ”.
All of these statements are, of course, raw approximations that are valid for any pyramid built with a 28/22 slope and independent of the unit of length used. It seems like the whole thing was “discovered” back in 1859 by a guy named John Taylor.
A slightly more subtle version was popularized by a guy named Charles Funck-Hellet in 1952. It happen that the royal cubit used in the GP is usually estimated to be about 52.35 cm long but, by another funny coincidence:
As a result, pyramidologists stated that the royal cubit was exactly 0.5236 meters long and, starting from this, found another bunch of and . The trick is pretty simple: one may safely assume that any measure in royal cubits that is a multiple of 6 (resp. 5) will, once converted into meters, yield a multiple of (resp. ).
Typical statements based on that relationship include : "the height of the pyramid in meters plus half a edge of the base in meters yields a hundred times ", "“the height of the pyramid in meters minus half one edge of the base in meters yields a ten times ", “the perimeter of the King’s Chamber in meters minus its width in meters yields ten times .” or “the perimeter of the King’s Chamber in meters yields ten times ”.
Other weird theories
Other theories include aliens building the pyramids, often based on the idea that there is no way the Egyptian civilization was capable of designing and building such structures, and on supposed "sacred" measurements. However, Egypt had a number of different measurements, not all of which are fully known to us, thus making these "sacred" numbers meaningless. It is entirely possible to make the numbers you want, since there are so many possible units to choose from. It is also entirely plausible that the Egyptian civilization had the necessary expertise, infrastructure and motivation to build even the most impressive of those pyramids.
The Mars connection
The frisbee expert and self-described "civilian intelligence analyst" Robert Morningstar proposed in 1998 that the geometry of the Giza plateau mimicked the three Martian volcanoes known as Tharsis Montes. See this. Morningstar's theory fails at first inspection, since there is no possible way the pyramid builders could have seen Tharsis, let alone mapped the volcanoes with the necessary precision.
The beginning of modern study of the pyramids began with the invasion of Egypt by Napoleon. Along with his army he brought many of the best French scholars of the day to Egypt to catalogue the country, both ancient and modern, in the "Description De l'Egypte", which documented the plateau itself as well as the interior of the Great Pyramid, but did not attempt to explain what the structures were used for, concerning itself simply with mapping and drawing their architectural features..
This study was complemented by the work of Karl Richard Lepsius under a Prussian expedition backed by King Frederich Wilhelm IV. Lepsius mapped some 67 pyramids from Giza to Dashur, and carved a hieroglyphic inscription to his King on the pyramid of Khufu, above the original entrance.
None of these experts found any reason to contradict the classical authors' assertions that the pyramids functioned as Old Kingdom Royal tombs, though some of their more fantastical accounts of their construction have now been debunked due to more recent discoveries.
All three main pyramids contained large granite sarcophagi up until the 19th century, when Colonel Vyse removed Menkaura's sarcophagus in order to ship it to London. Within it he found shards of a coffin from the Late Period, mostly likely the 26th Dynasty, and human remains from the Coptic period. Sadly, the ship was lost en route. The sarcophagi of Khafra and Khufu remain in situ.
In recent decades efforts have been made to excavate the nearby town which housed the workers during the construction of the Giza pyramids. Excavation is currently ongoing, but work by Dr. Mark Lehner and others have revealed a sizable, organised settlement for accommodating the workers. This has disproved the
bullshit "theories" of space lasers and/or vast slave armies being used in pyramid construction.
In summary, there is strong evidence and widespread acceptance amongst Egyptologists for the Giza pyramids being built during the 4th Dynasty for use as Royal tombs.
- Lehner, M (1997) - The Complete Pyramids, Thames & Hudson, London
- Dodson, A & Hilton D (2004), The Royal Families of Ancient Egypt, Thames and Hudson, London
- Shaw, I (2000), The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, OUP, Oxford
- See the Wikipedia article on Robert_Bauval.
- Wilkinson, R W (2000), The Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt, Thames and Hudson, London
- Clayton, P (1994), Chronicle of the Pharaohs, Thames and Hudson, London
- Lutley K & Bunbury, J (2008), The Nile on the Move, Egyptian Archaeology #38
- Quirke, S (2001), The Cult of Ra, Thames and Hudson, London
- Jason Colavito blogs the incident, 24 April, including embedded video.
- Nicholson, P and Shaw I (2000), Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
- The surprisingly simple way Egyptians moved massive pyramid stones without modern technology, Washington Post, 2-May-2014
- Herodotus, An Account of Egypt, Trans.: Macaulay, G C, Project Gutenberg (EBook #2131, 2006)
- Miller, C (2005), Description De l'Egypte, Taschen, Cologne (facsimile reprint)
- Shaw, I and Nicholson, P (2008) British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, British Museum Press, London
- http://www.aeraweb.org/projects/lost-city/ The Lost City of the Pyramids
- http://www.aeraweb.org/lost-city-project/feeding-pyramid-workers/ Feeding the Pyramid Workers