About Egyptian Pyramids
by Jimmy Dunn
Every year we receive from various readers hundreds of strange theories about almost every aspect of ancient Egypt. Sometimes they have some merit, but unfortunately that is not very common. Sometimes they are honest research projects by enlightened lay Egyptologists, while at the other end of the spectrum are theories presented to us obviously by confused minds, and even outright charlatans apparently seeking a little attention (usually for some book or documentary film they are publishing). We do not mind receiving these, though admittedly those that show little or no real understanding of the monuments and ancient culture of Egypt do not hold our attention for long.
The majority of these theories involve the pyramids, specifically the Great Pyramids at Giza, which are much like celebrities, becoming the focus of all manner of rumors and even outright lies. The internet is to them as the tabloids are to human celebrities, except they cannot avail themselves of a lawsuit to rectify the transgression. More often than not, there are also claims of government cover-up, involving Egyptologists, the Supreme Council of Antiquities or specifically its chairman, Zahi Hawass, in order to veil some secret, higher knowledge. I can remember one time him letting one such conspiracy buff investigate the bathroom in his office for a secret tunnel.
Year after year, we receive many emails about these various theories, which are often not particularly new. They have a tendency to cycle, being disproved, only to show up once again some years later. Many are based on smoke and slight of hand, ignoring various truths and a vast amount of scholarly research resulting in an extensive body of factual information. They go on and on, talking about the pyramids reflecting the circumference of the world or the hidden libraries of Atlantis, without paying much heed to information outside of their focus.
For example, many if not most of these theories concern a single monument, such as the Great Sphinx or the Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza, without much regard for their context within the Giza Plateau, the worker villages of those who constructed the pyramids, the hundred or so other Pyramids in Egypt or the many other extensive building projects in Egypt. For that matter, many of these theories completely ignore the ancient Egyptian religion as well. Professional Egyptologists have taken to calling the believers of such theories pyramidiots, and for good reason.
This is not to say that many valid ideas have not been put forth by lay Egyptologists. Mixed among the wild theories sometimes come well thought out hypothesis from those who have clearly made a study of formal Egyptology. Sometimes their ideas have even been adopted by the scholarly community. The real difference is that they usually have a broad understanding of ancient Egypt, usually after years of informal study, of Egyptology.
For example, some Egyptologists probably think that the ancient Egyptians may have sailed farther abroad than originally supposed, perhaps leaving traces of their ancient civilization in places more far a field. There is not a lot of evidence to support such theories, but it is not impossible given what we now know. Ancient sailors, even Egyptians, could have become lost and there is also immerging evidence that ancient mariners may not have stuck as closely to shore as we originally thought. However, even this theory must be looked upon with some common sense. It is very doubtful, for example, that they had anything to do, for example, with the pyramids of South America.
At other times, those proposing some of the wilder theories have demonstrated the lack of even a very basic knowledge of ancient Egypt, its monuments, religion and culture. In future subsections of this article, we will explore some of the more valid propositions, and perhaps even some of the less valid theories, but some do not even warrant acknowledgement.
Take, for example some recent email I have been receiving about the pyramids of Giza. These claim that the Great Pyramids at Giza were never tombs at all, but were instead some sort of "scientific endeavor". I would not usually grace the source of such a theory by publishing the website address, but this one time I will do so in order to point out some of the problems they pose particularly to those interested, but relatively uninformed about ancient Egypt.
The website in question proclaim itself to be the Open Cheops Committee, and by the second paragraph of their home page they are claiming that Zahi Hawass acknowledged their premise publicly, but later reversed his position. Knowing Dr. Hawass, and his rather constant flow of books on the pyramids that never question the pyramids as tombs, this is a little difficult to believe (In fact, there are a series of small, step pyramids spread along the Nile that Egyptologists do not believe to be tombs, but that is not very relevant for this discussion).
Plan of the Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza in Egypt, showing the overall complex The pyramids of Egypt represent a progression and an evolution, both in religion and architecture, that is identifiable just about from beginning to end. This is not to say that we know all there is to know about these great monuments, but we do know and can pinpoint their elevation from the early mastaba tombs to the first step pyramids. We can see the early failures as the Egyptian's first attempted true pyramids, and we can also define their first successes, which included the Great Pyramids at Giza. Later, we find as the burial sarcophagus became almost embedded into the pyramids themselves, a religious progression towards Osirion mythology (Osiris was first and foremost a funerary god) that finally terminated with the last Pyramid of Ahmose I, founder of the New Kingdom, at Abydos. Throughout the history of the Egyptian pyramids, burials, or at least coffins or sarcophagi, have been found within the pyramids, including those at Giza.
It is true that the early pyramids were not formally inscribed, but they were also a part of larger complexes, including mortuary temples that were inscribed. In fact, there are even inscriptions of pyramid workers that provide us with some information even in the Great Pyramid. Furthermore, later pyramids were inscribed with various funerary texts.
The fact that the Egyptian pyramids were tombs is not simply an idea put forward by Zahi Hawass, however. The pyramids, including the Great Pyramids of Giza, have been excavated, explored, analyzed for well over one hundred years by many different scholars including people such as Mark Lehner, who first went to Egypt to explore the mystic beliefs of Edgar Cayce, but abandoned these alternative theories after gaining knowledge of the monuments and became a professional Egyptologist. Many other modern Egyptologists, even today, are doing work at various pyramids, and to our knowledge, none of them believe that the pyramids were not tombs. Furthermore, it should be pointed out that the Pyramid of Khufu, specifically, is situated in a necropolis and surrounded by many private tombs as well, most of which belonged to members of this king's court.
Interestingly, various parts of this web site demonstrate a complete lack of knowledge about Egypt, including various tidbits that are known to even casual tourists who have taken just a standard tour of the country. For example in one passage, the web site explains that:
Obviously, anyone even remotely familiar with Aswan knows that Elephantine Island is not submerged by the Aswan Dam. In fact, it sits in front of the Dam across from the city of Aswan. Furthermore, there are various proposed reasons why Elephantine is named as such, but none of them have to do with the shape of the island.
Its not our purpose here to tear up this particular web site line by line, but simply to show that one must be very careful about all the web sites and their theories that are floating around the internet. Frankly, it is best first to study the traditional, scholarly facets of Egyptology before delving into alternative theories.
For one thing, other theories are not as clearly inappropriate. For example, one famous idea is that the Great Sphinx is much older than most traditional Egyptologists believe. Scholars usually assign the Sphinx to the reign of Khafre, while the idea that it may have been from the reign of Khufu is also possible. However, one alternative theory which has received much attention dates it much older than this, mostly because of weathering along its sides. This theory is in fact the work of much better educated proponents, actually some of whom are scholars themselves, though not professional Egyptologists. Hence, the theory actually received considerable attention even within the field of Egyptology. Nevertheless, I know of no professional Egyptologists who have adopted these views, but the reason why is somewhat complex. Mostly, the reasons that the theory was rejected was due to the context of the Giza Plateau, other better dated monuments that were cut from the same rock from which the Great Sphinx was carved, and an explanation of the weathering based on salt absorption and flaking.
Between these two extremes are many other theories, some based on mysticism, while others are based on science, which all have in common the lack of adaptation by the Egyptological community. In the coming months, we will be exploring many of them, so check back frequently for updates.
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