A Happy New Year to all WordPress readers! May 2018 bring you many blessings.
It’s barbarically cold in Chicago, so I thought I’d compose a less formal article today. I’m certainly not setting foot outside.
It goes without saying I do a prodigious amount of reading, and sometimes that takes me into the murky realm of fringe writers. And in my interactions with visitors at the museum, I occasionally come across folks who have some very strange ideas about ancient Egypt. Sometimes what they say makes me smile, and sometimes I want to rip out what’s left of my hair. That wouldn’t take long, really.
I also help moderate a very popular internet message board called Unexplained-Mysteries. The forum where I spend most of my time on UM is Ancient Mysteries & Alternative History, which is where I encounter the largest number of wacky fringe ideas. There is almost always a thread or three about ancient Egypt, and of these, one is almost always guaranteed to be about the Great Pyramid.
That’s not altogether surprising. Most fringe writers and readers really don’t have a working understanding of pharaonic Egypt, and to the average person the Great Pyramid is one of the singular icons of that great civilization. You think of Egypt, you think of that pyramid.
Few ancient monuments are as recognizable as the Great Pyramid, and arguably no ancient monument has been as misrepresented and abused as the Great Pyramid. No blog (or, indeed, book) could adequately cover all of the fringe themes about the Great Pyramid. I stress “theme” because none of these are theories in the proper historical sense of the word. A working theory requires evidence that can be substantiated. The fringe doesn’t do theories, so “theme” is an appropriate word.
Although this pyramid often appears in my blog, and is the main subject of more than one article, it isn’t actually of key interest to me. There is so much more to pharaonic times, and that’s part of the problem. Fringe fans do not seem to be aware of that. We’ll return to this sentiment in a bit. But suffice it to say, I often do write a lot about the Great Pyramid simply because there is so much public attention poured on it. I want to present the facts and erase misunderstandings.
Let’s take a brief look at just some of the oddball themes..
One of the most common is aliens, and there is a wide variety of alien themes attached to the Great Pyramid. It’s a landing pad for alien spacecraft. Together with the other pyramids at Giza it’s a land marker for alien spacecraft. The precision with which it was built “proves” only aliens could’ve erected the monument. I could fill quite a few articles describing just the alien themes, but then again I might take to ripping out my hair. I need what’s left of it.
In other versions of alien themes, benevolent aliens came to earth and taught primitive humans how to work stone. That’s probably a bit more palatable, but it still requires that aliens had to teach us stupid humans how to build stuff. And why would a super-advanced race of aliens traverse the endless cosmos just to come here to earth to teach ancient man how to build in…stone? They couldn’t manage better building technologies?
Related is the precision angle. Looking at the skill that went into the pyramid, not all fringe proponents think aliens did it but perhaps some lost civilization that was highly advanced and possessed super-technologies. Sometimes this is attributed to the survivors of the destruction of Atlantis, who resettled many thousands of years go in the land of Egypt. Never mind that Plato wrote the story of Atlantis as an allegorical tale, Atlantis feeds the fringe almost as much as the Great Pyramid does.
This goes back to a lack of knowledge about ancient Egypt and the tremendous amount of research that has gone into historical studies over the past 200-plus years. We know there was no great civilization in northeast Africa prior to pharaonic Egypt. No evidence exists for such a thing, and there would be surviving evidence for such a thing.
Well, it’s true the skill level to build the pyramid was impressive, even if not quite as “perfect” as the fringe tends to think. But the fringe seems incapable of understanding how an Early Bronze Age civilization could manage such a feat. That deficit in comprehension is not the fault of Early Bronze Age engineers.
There are several fringe authors who advocate for advanced, lost technologies. They refuse to believe that the tools known to have existed in ancient times were fit for the job, so they force in arguments that there were power tools of the sort we use today—or tools even more advanced than ours. Their main argument if the tool marks left behind on stone masonry, which they refuse to believe ancient tools could’ve made, even though experiential archaeology has proved time and again that known ancient tools were perfectly suited to the work.
And the amount of perfection is indeed exaggerated. The Great Pyramid and many other pharaonic monuments are indeed very accurately oriented toward certain cardinal directions, but that is a direct reflection of religious and ritual requirements. And it hardly requires advanced astronomical tools to find true north. I was trained to do that as a kid in the boy scouts. The fact is, it’s the casing stones that are extremely well fitted (where they survive), but not so with the rest of the pyramid. The farther into the pyramid you go, the more rubble and mortar you encounter. The blocks are in a variety of sizez and shapes. This is not perfection.
There is the fellow who for a while was passionately advocating that the blocks of the pyramid were actually poured like concrete. Never mind that there is no evidence the Egyptians ever had the infrastructure for such an industry. That old theme has died away, along with so many others.
I even know one fellow who for years has tried to convince people on forums like the one I moderate, that there was a lost geyser technology that enabled the Egyptians to lift the stones so high. He tends to be chased out of forums because he simply cannot offer realistic evidence to support any aspect of his bizarre theme. It’s all in his head.
There is so much more, such as levitation employed through sound or mind power and other ideas divorced from reality. But you get the idea. People who don’t understand ancient engineering skills and potentials, and have no desire to acquire realistic learning, will attach all sorts of truly odd themes to the pyramid.
THE AGE OF THE PYRAMID
Before moving on I also need to touch on this. Very popular to this day are the themes that the pyramid is thousands of years older than conventionally thought. The conventional theory is that it was built around 2500 BCE. Two rounds of extensive carbon dating have shown that it might have been built around a century earlier than thought, which was a surprise to no one in Egyptology. But even now, fringe writers want their readers to believe the pyramid is more like 10,000 years old.
This goes back to an absence of education about pharaonic Egypt, and the known stages of development the people in the Nile Valley underwent leading up to state formation (c. 3100 BCE). We know these facts because of real-world archaeology and research, and of course modern science like carbon dating. But fringe writers constantly either try to ignore the science or pretend it’s just wrong, which might be convenient but ultimately just reveals fringe writers’ lack of knowledge about the applicable science.
What this all boils down to, I stress again, is a very narrow and insufficient understanding of ancient Egypt, on multiple levels. The fringe is obsessed with the Great Pyramid, as though it is the only thing in the Nile Valley the Egyptians ever built. In point of fact, the Great Pyramid was of great importance only in Dynasty 4, when it was built as the eternal home, or tomb, for King Khufu. It was for his mortuary cult. The next king immediately started the building of his own tomb, at a site called Abu Rawash, and that monument then became the focus of the state.
Extant evidence shows us there were priests working in Khufu’s pyramid complex until the end of the Old Kingdom (c. 2195 BCE), so there was an active cult for Khufu during all of that time. That’s pretty good. But after that Egypt fell into chaos and civil war, during the troubled time we refer to as the First Intermediate Period. Giza was abandoned. It would never again hold the place of prominence it did in Dynasty 4, and the Great Pyramid arguably less so. That is historical fact. Khufu was of course remembered for generations after his death, but his pyramid was not any sort of focus to the Egyptians in later centuries.
Dynastic Egypt experienced numerous rises and falls, from the glories of empire during the New Kingdom to the repeated invasions of foreign kingdoms during the Late Period. In one brief time during the Late Period, Dynasty 26, Giza did experience a renaissance, but it really wasn’t the Great Pyramid that was the focus. The main monument at Giza that was of importance to later generations was the Great Sphinx.
The monarchs of the Saite Period (Dynasty 26) revered the Sphinx and restored some of its former glories. The one pyramid at Giza which became of importance at that time was one of the little pyramids to the east of the Great Pyramid, whose small temple complex had been turned into a little temple to the goddess Isis. It had originally been erected for the burial of a queen or daughter of Khufu, but that was forgotten by Dynasty 26.
The logistics and manpower it took to build the Great Pyramid was truly impressive. It shows the skill and resources of Dynasty 4, not to mention the stature and power of Khufu. But in reality the Great Pyramid is just a massive pile of stones, even if it was the tallest building on earth until the Eiffel Tower.
But think of the later monuments the Egyptians built. The more time went on, the more advanced their building skills became. Arguably the single-most important building from pharaonic Egypt isn’t the Great Pyramid but the Karnak temple complex, known in ancient times as Ipet-Isut, “the most select of places.” This temple served a wide variety of purposes but was the principal cult center for Amun, the most important deity of the New Kingdom and for centuries thereafter. Generation after generation of pharaohs added to it.
Its massive pylons and soaring columns made Karnak one of the largest religious structures mankind ever built, and its architecture and masonry represent a level of engineering skill several orders of magnitude superior to that of the Great Pyramid.
One of the greatest pharaohs of the New Kingdom was Ramesses II, who reigned for 67 years. Ramesses was a prodigious builder, including at Karnak. And what he didn’t build he might claim for himself, by erasing a preceding king’s name and carving in his own. Archaeologists have nicknamed him “the Chiseler” for this practice.
But one monument that was all his doing was the great temple at Abu Simbel, just inside ancient Nubia to the south of Egypt. It served as a reminder to the Nubians that Ramesses was the big man on the block and it was best to mind him. It is still a popular tourist stop to this day.
Each statue—all four of which depict Ramesses himself—stands about 60 feet tall, and a temple with columns was carved deep into the mountainside. This edifice dramatically reflects the far-reaching power and might of Ramesses II, and is unlike anything builders in the time of the Great Pyramid would’ve dared to attempt.
But we all have our favorite Egyptian monuments. I love all of them, some more than others. If I were to chose an overall favorite, it would have to be the great mortuary temple of Hatshepsut at the site Deir el Bahri.
Hatshepsut is one of those kings who fell out of favor and was erased from history by later kings. This was mainly because Hatshepsut was a woman. Women were not supposed to be kings. So a lot of her monuments and inscriptions were destroyed after she died, but later kings kept her mortuary temple largely intact. It was used for centuries for the rituals and processions of later generations. They may have wanted to forget about Hatshepsut, but her temple was too beautiful to ignore.
All told, the Egyptians were indeed master stonemasons. They were the first in the world to build colossal monuments with stone, and no one could do it like they could. They didn’t need aliens or levitation or geysers or super-technologies. They needed only themselves and their own ingenuity.
A new year has dawned, placing pharaonic Egypt even farther back in time. But we continue to study them and celebrate them. We continue to understand what was important to them and why. We will never stop learning. I dare ask, when will the fringe start learning?
No bibliography for this article. I was just in the mood to write, and perhaps to vent a little. The above comes from memory.