Atlantis Enigma - Chapter 4
MYSTERIES IN EGYPT
... THERE WAS CIVILIZATION IN EGYPT FAR EARLIER THAN WE HAVE PREVIOUSLY SUPPOSED.
The Americas are not the only area of the world to provide examples of construction on a monumental scale.
There is a cut stone block in the Lebanon so immense (it weighs an estimated 1,000 tons) that it lies beyond the capacity of the world's largest crane to lift. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors were prepared to drag it halfway up a mountain.
Newgrange, in Ireland, a structure older than the pyramids, consists of an enormous artificial mound, a stone-lined inner chamber and a surrounding circle of megaliths, each weighing many tons. It represents an extraordinary feat of engineering, yet Newgrange is only one of three similar giant mounds and many other lesser megalithic structures that make up what archaeologists call the Boyne Valley Complex.
The massive megaliths on Malta, in Britain, in France and many other countries stand today as tokens of an engineering tradition that stretches back into the depths of prehistory. It was a tradition inherited by our earliest civilizations, nowhere seen more clearly than in Egypt. Monumental temple buildings survive as testimonials to Egyptian expertise in working stone. Although some were raised in sandstone, many more were built using incomparably harder granite, which is far more difficult to work. Granite was also used extensively for obelisks, with which so many pharaohs commemorated their reigns. These giant fingers pointing at the sky reach heights of up to 101 feet and can weigh hundreds of tons. An unfinished one in the quarries at Aswan has an estimated weight of more than 1,000 tons.
We know, more or less, how obelisks were cut from the granite bedrock, but we have no idea at all how they were moved the unfinished giant obelisk at Aswan would have been beyond any construction machinery in use today. Once moved, as moved they were, we can only guess how they were erected. A British television production crew recently attempted to match the erection of the smallest known obelisk using only manpower widely believed to have been the only thing available to Egyptian engineers. Despite the input of experts and considerable ingenuity in equipment, the attempt failed.
As has often been pointed out, the means by which the Old Kingdom Egyptians raised their immense pyramids at Giza remains a total mystery . . . except to those Egyptologists who cling to the myth that earthen ramps were used. The British master builder, Peter Hodges, has shown that an earth ramp would not do, because of the problem of retaining the sides. (7) He dismisses the suggestion of mud-brick ramps on the grounds that this material would crumble under the loads it would have to bear. If a ramp was used at all, the necessary stability could only have been achieved using squared stone. But whether made from earth, brick or stone, the volume of practical ramps would be three times that of the pyramids themselves and their length would be approximately one mile, taking them off the Giza plateau and well into the desert.
Faced with this objection, archaeologists determined to cling to orthodox theory have suggested spiral ramps, but disposal of ramps of whatever design presents a problem. Spreading the constituent material of just one of them to a depth of 6 feet would cover a 700 acre area. Architect Julian Keeable has calculated that the combined volume of material needed for ramps servicing the three main pyramids would be an absolute minimum of 5 million cubic feet and, given a realistic ramp gradient, could approach five times that figure.(8) There is no indication of this amount of waste material having been disposed of in the vicinity of the Giza plateau.
Ancient Egypt, so far as we are aware, was without the wheel and consequently without the pulley, which relies on wheel technology. Without ramps how did they get the massive blocks ranging in weight from 2.5 to 50 tons - up there? Hodges believes they used levers, and has conducted experiments to show that lever power can lift far heavier loads than most of us would imagine. Interestingly, the Greek historian Herodotus records an ancient tradition that levers were used. But even granting the stones were moved by levers, Hodges does not explain how they were set in place with optical precision. Nor will the use of levers explain how the Great Pyramid, the largest of the three main structures at Giza, was aligned precisely to the cardinal points, or how it came to incorporate the value pi.
These small mysteries are compounded by the fact that the Great Pyramid appears to be a stylised, but mathematically accurate, representation of the northern hemisphere. Claims to this effect were made centuries ago by classical authors, dismissed by Egyptologists, but confirmed by fresh measurements made in 1925. More recently, several authors have noticed that one line passing through the pyramid divides the planetary landmass into two near equal halves, while another provides near equal hemispheres of land and water.
The multiplying mysteries of the Great Pyramid have been treated so extensively elsewhere that it would be superfluous to present an exhaustive listing here.(9) Besides which, the pyramids are not, surprisingly, the most impressive examples of ancient Egypt's engineering skills: merely the best known.
Abydos, located in the low desert, west of the Nile, near al-Balyana some 90 miles north of Luxor, is one of the most important archaeological sites in Egypt. The ancient city was a royal necropolis and later a pilgrimage center for the worship of Osiris. Excavations at the end of the nineteenth century by Emile-Clement Amélineau and Flinders Petrie uncovered a series of pit tombs belonging to the kings of the first two dynasties of Egypt. They also discovered impressive brick funerary enclosures at the north-western end of the necropolis. One was so extensive it covered nearly 2 acres, Today, tours to this site tend to concentrate on the beautiful New Kingdom Temple of Osiris, built by Seti I, but the real mystery of Abydos is centered on what is now called the Oseirion.
Visits to the Oseirion are sometimes discouraged because portions of it are now under water, the result of a major rise in the water-table since the foundations were laid. Even so, it's possible to appreciate the impact this curious structure had on the archaeologists who rediscovered it in the early years of the twentieth century.
In the Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution for 1914, Edouard Naville concluded that the current excavations had unearthed the well of Abydos described by the Greek geographer/historian Strabo, in Book XVII of his Geographical Sketches. According to Strabo, the well was to be found near the Seti temple, but was itself subterranean and remarkable for the enormity of the stone blocks which formed the ceiling of its corridors. What may be seen today is impressive enough. The architecture is wholly unlike that of the Temple of Osiris - or any other New Kingdom temple for that matter. If anything, it is reminiscent of the ancient Valley Temple of Chephren, at Giza. Massive pillars of red granite weighing up to 100 tons each can be seen as you move towards the chamber traditionally believed to be the Tomb of Osiris. Close to this 'tomb' Naville and his team discovered a vast subterranean reservoir. He describes it in his Smithsonian article:
Nothing revealed its presence; the entrance to it was exactly like that of all the other cells, the back of it being walled up after they had dug . . . it. The discovery of this subterranean reservoir, constructed of huge building stones, presents many questions.... We could not get to the bottom ... as it is obstructed by a number of large blocks thrown there at the time the edifice was destroyed.
The cyclopean nature of the stone slabs used to build the reservoir is highlighted by the fact that Naville talks of broken fragments weighing several tons. Making the inevitable comparison with the Giza temple, he has this to say:
Up to the present time, what is called the temple of the Sphinx at Gizeh has always been considered one of the most ancient edifices in Egypt. . . . The reservoir of Abydos being of similar composition, but of much larger materials, is of a still more archaic character ...... The pyramids are perhaps of the same age, but a pyramid is simply a mass of stone and is not a complicated design like the reservoir.
If we have here the most ancient Egyptian structure ..... it is curious that it should be neither a temple nor a tomb, but a reservoir, a great hydraulic work. This shows that the ancients well understood the flow of subterranean waters, the laws which control their rise and fall.
The point is well made, particularly since the sheer size of the stones make the Abydos reservoir an engineering work difficult, if not impossible, to duplicate today. Even if, as most modern Egyptologists believe, the Oseirion and its associated reservoir were built by Seti I, it is a remarkable feat of engineering. If, as Naville conjectured, it is actually contemporary with the Giza pyramids, then we have a further indication of the astonishing ability of the Old Kingdom Egyptians to handle stones more massive than anything we would comfortably tackle now.
But there is a third possibility, which deepens the mystery still further. The iconoclastic John Anthony West, a persistent thorn in the side of orthodox Egyptology with his insistence that this civilization is far more ancient than the scholars allow, has made an extraordinarily interesting observation at Abydos.(10)
West notes that what is now taken as the bedrock on which Seti built his temple is actually compressed silt from the Nile. Once this is realized, it seems reasonable to assume that the Oseirion. was not originally the semi-subterranean structure it is today, but was built on level ground and subsequently buried by the silting of Nile floods. But such high-level floods date back to 10,000 BC, which would give the Oseirion an antiquity of more than 12,000 years. The reservoir might be older still.
In the mastabas tombs of Saqqara, Egyptologists have unearthed another mystery. Among the artifacts discovered in these ancient burial chambers were several slim-necked jars. The jars are made from diorite, the hardest stone on earth. They consist of a long, thin, elegant neck topping off a bulbous body. The vessels, neck and body, have been hollowed out to leave a wafer-thin shell. The mystery is, how did the Egyptians make them?
The mastabas of Saqqara are among the oldest surviving structures of ancient Egypt. They are extensive, mud-brick ruins of what were once tombs of the earliest dynastic kings. They are older than the pyramids. According to the current scholarly consensus, they date no later than 2575 BC but could be as early as 3050 BC. This means that the slim-necked jars they housed are between 4,000 and 5,000 years old.
Today, there is no technique known that would enable us to duplicate those jars. Tempered steel will scarcely scratch a piece of diorite. But even if the earliest Egyptians had this metal - which all the experts insist they did not - we cannot imagine what sort of tool could be inserted into the slim neck of such a vessel in order to hollow out its inside.
Even apart from the mastaba jars, the way the Egyptians handled diorite is something of a mystery. An Old Kingdom statue of the pharaoh Kephren, in this dark-colored Nubian stone, remains one of the world's finest artworks, almost photographic in its attention to detail. Yet Egyptologists insist the hardest chisels of the time were made from copper, a soft metal wholly incapable of working this stone.
The mystery of how diorite was worked is matched by the mystery of how the Egyptians worked granite. Thousands of visitors to the Great Pyramid at Giza have gazed in admiration at the chocolate-colored granite sarcophagus in the King's Chamber, without realizing it too is a mystery. The puzzle, first recognized by the father of Egyptology, the respected British archaeologist Flinders Petrie, is that to hollow the sarcophagus from its constituent granite would require the use of diamond-tipped drills at a pressure of 2 tons. We can achieve this today without too much difficulty, but only by means of power tools. We have no idea at all how the Egyptians managed it.
We have no idea how the Egyptians managed to coat copper vessels with a micro-thin layer of antimony either. At a later time, the plating of artworks and utensils was achieved by beating on thin sheets of metal gold, silver or whatever. It was a crude process characterized by hammer marks and relatively thick plating. The antimony plating, found in the earliest Old Kingdom and pre-dynastic artifacts, is of a wholly different order.
In 1933, Dr Colin G. Fink, then head of the division of electro-chemistry at Columbia University, suggested the Egyptians must have known of electro-chemical exchange - electro-plating - a process thought to have been discovered in the nineteenth century.
Much of Egyptian culture seems to have been like that. The further back you go, the more sophisticated the techniques become - the exact reverse of what the theory of linear evolution predicts. The pattern shows clearly in the most famous of all Egyptian preoccupations, pyramid building. The earliest known pyramid is that of Djoser, at Saqqara, built according to some chronologies only about sixty years before the Great Pyramid at Giza, which itself followed a veritable orgy of pyramid building attributed to the pharaoh Sneferu.(11) A look at the sizes of these early dynastic and Old Kingdom structures tells its own tale.
Djoser's pyramid has an estimated volume of 432,000 cubic yards. The pyramids attributed to Sneferu at Meidum, and Dashur are respectively 834,824 and 1,616,811 cubic yards in size. In the Giza group, the Great Pyramid of Khufu achieved a volume of 3,376,350 cubic yards and that of Khafre 2,889,902 cubic yards. The third Giza pyramid, that of Menkaure, is much smaller at 307,384 cubic yards. An unfinished pyramid at Zawiyet el-Aryan, possibly begun by Nebka, has a base size comparable to that of Khafre at Giza and might have finally rivaled it in volume. But once you move forward in time from these gigantic structures, the decline becomes evident. Never thereafter was a single pyramid built to match even the volume of Djoser's work. Only the Middle Kingdom pyramid of Senwosret II at Dashur (377,054 cubic yards) comes close. Few of the later pyramids achieved a volume of 250,000 cubic yards. Most struggled to top 100,000 cubic yards.
Size is not, of course, everything, but sheer engineering excellence follows exactly the same pattern of decline. The really ancient pyramids of Egypt stand proud today attracting tourists by the million. Many of the more recent structures are little more than mounds of rubble. It is as if the Egyptians once knew the secrets of monumental engineering - and a few other things besides - then gradually forgot them. But where could the Egyptians have learned these secrets in the first place?
The history of ancient Egypt is, to say the least, peculiar. Even the most orthodox Egyptologist admits that the culture seems to have sprung up fully formed in the Nile Valley somewhere around 3100 BC.
The Egyptians themselves didn't believe this. Plato reported that their priests claimed the foundation of their state dated about 1,000 years after the foundation of Athens - that's to say, somewhere around 8600 BC. Texts discovered in Egypt itself suggest an even more venerable lineage. The surviving records are embodied in a list of kings drawn up by a priest named Manetho, who lived between 347 and 285 BC, and the Turin Papyrus, a manuscript dated around 1400 BC.
The earlier of these sources lists the familiar dynastic pharaohs, but claims there were three distinct periods in what is now thought of as Egyptian prehistory. The first was a line of pre-dynastic kings who ruled for 13,420 years. The second was a line of 'Horus-kings' (the exact meaning of the term is obscure) extending for a further 23,200 years. The final period, according to the Turin Papyrus, was a time of demi-gods, but the papyrus is damaged so we don't know how long they ruled.
According to Manetho, the pre-dynastic pharaohs went back some 13,777 years. He gave a combined dating for the Horus-kings and demi-gods of a further 15,150 years. Thus, depending on which source you consult, the Egyptians placed the foundation of their culture somewhere between 9000 and 37,000 BC.
While modern Egyptologists name and date the familiar pre-dynastic and Old Kingdom pharaohs with the help of these two documents, they dismiss the earlier claims as fiction. In this they are supported by the archaeological evidence. Although signs of habitation in the Nile Valley stretch back to 18,000 BC, there is no sign whatsoever of an advanced civilization prior to 3100 BC ... unless you believe what geologists have been saying about the Sphinx.
The current controversy about the dating of the Great Sphinx at Giza has received so much publicity that it does not warrant treatment in any great detail here.(12) But the bottom line is relatively straightforward. An American professor of geology, Robert Schoch, was asked to estimate the age of the Sphinx - thought by Egyptologists to date from the Old Kingdom - on the basis of its pattern of weathering. Schoch, and other geologists who examined the stonework, concluded the weathering was caused by rainfall and not sand abrasion as had been previously assumed. On this basis, Schoch confidently dated the Sphinx somewhere between 7000 and 5000 BC. Some other experts believe it could be anything up to 5,000 years older.
These findings remain controversial, although rather more so among Egyptologists than geologists. But along with the advanced architectural, engineering and various other technical skills so unexpectedly evident in pre-dynastic and Old Kingdom times, they support Plato's contention that there was civilization in Egypt far earlier than we have previously supposed.
(7) In How the Pyramids Were Built, Element Books, Shaftesbury, 1989.
(9) See, for example, Peter Tompkins's Secrets of the Great Pyramid, Allen Lane, London, 1973; or, more recently, The Orion Mystery by Robert Bauval and Adrian Gilbert, Heinemann, London, 1994; Keeper of Genesis by Robert Bauval and Graham Hancock, Heinemann, London, 1996; Fingerprints of the Gods by Graham Hancock, Heinemann, London, 1995; or my own Martian Genesis, Piatkus, London, 1998.
(10) In his Traveller's Key to Ancient Egypt, Quest Books, Illinois, 1995.
(11) There is continuing academic debate about Egyptian dates, exacerbated in recent years by a new breed of Egyptologist who insist that some Egyptian structures, notably the Great Sphinx at Giza, are older than previously believed by between 4,000 and 9,000 years.
(12) Interested readers will find a fuller account in my Martian Genesis, Piatkus Books, London, 1998.
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