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...more Myths Monuments and Mnemonics: A Photographic Tour of Egyptian Antiquities
David Griffard

(Photos by the author)

The mountainous stone pyramids at Gizeli have withstood the erosive forces of time, natural and human, to reveal the essentials of their original outer dimensions and generally preserve the internal chambers and passageways. Their antiquity alone is cause enough for wonder though older examples show them to be particularly grand structures in an already established tradition - one that continued generally throughout the Old Kingdom of Egypt. About eighty are known, but the sheer mass of the Gizeli group has added to the sense of mystery associated with pyramids and served to remind travelers since ancient times that a major wave of human achievement was commemorated here. The Great Pyramid of Khufti [Cheops] itself has over six million tons of stone blocks, the smallest of which is a little under two tons. Its massive foundation rests on and is embedded in bedrock, and the four sides are aligned almost perfectly with the cardinal points. A narrow inclined passageway built into the North quadrant is generally assumed to have aimed at the celestial pole and, according to one ancient Greek historian, the dimensions of the pyramid were related to its latitude. According to another, there once were inscriptions on its surface. Though its gold-covered capstone is missing, we still can imagine the brilliant beacon created when it reflected the Sun.

Not far away the step-pyramid of Zoser, the oldest known, stands its own vigil against time and shows the art of pyramid building traced to very early history. Like the Great Pyramid, Zoser's is aligned with the cardinal points and in its construction seems also to show a particular concern for the region of the celestial pole. On the Northface of the pyramid, a small box-like stone room tilts toward the northern sky. Inside, a life-like statue of Zoser, maintains its eternal watch through two small holes in the front wall.






Though the statue is a copy and a glass window has been placed in one side-wall, the tiny cell still conveys directly and with some elegance the central role of observational astronomy in Egyptian religion and culture almost five-thousand years ago. As the divine authority on Earth, the pharaoh had a primary responsibility for the cosmic order. At the same time, at his death the resurrection of his soul in heaven was conceptualized astronomically. An ancient Egyptian religious text reads:

Thou shalt appear in heaven,
Thou shalt traverse the sky,
Thou shalt be side by side
with the gods of the stars.

Perhaps no other nation in history can trace so long a preoccupation with the heavens and their turning, or boast so many huge monuments and temples with known or conjectured astronomical alignment. Yet with all the demonstrated capacity for precise measurement and engineering and the evident sophistication in Egyptian mathematics and geometry, modem interpreters have difficulty in making astronomical sense of it all.

[*!* Image: Zoser's statue maintains a perpetual vigil towards the "North of Heaven"]

For example, the cardinal point alignment of the Great Pyramid and clues from the historical record suggest an equinoctal meaning along with the obvious polar implication of the North-quadrant passage. Ancient Egyptian texts call the pyramid a petrified/frozen ray of the Sun, i.e., a single moment in time. From other accounts that its design was related to latitude and that the North-face would swallow its shadow at noon on certain days, the equinox seems the most likely candidate.

In the diagram on the next page it can been seen that at the latitude of Gizeh, a fraction less than 30 N latitude, the North-face of a pyramid with a slope of about 60 would be parallel to the Sun's rays at noon on the equinox, eliminating the shadow on the surface. Since the elevation toward the celestial pole is the same as the latitude of a place, a tunnel in the North-quadrant inclined at 300 would point directly toward the North celestial pole. A pyramid of these dimensions, anchored to a true cardinal alignment would serve as a simple yet precise and perpetual visual display of the annual Sun-cycle. It also would stand as an elegant symbol of the general relationship of Egypt [geocentrically perceived] to the polar and equatorial "centers" of the cosmos.

But the Great Pyramid has a slope of just under 52 and the North-pointing passage has an incline of a fraction over 26.5. That these are not accidental deviations from 60 and 30 respectively, is shown by their approximation in the other pyramids, though with notable exceptions.The Bent Pyramid at Dashur, for example, begins at over 54 but the slope is changed steeply to 43.5 about halfway to the top. The North-face tunnel begins at an incline of 26 but changes to 28.5 for the last few yards to the surface of the pyramid. It is also unique in having another tunnel passage opening onto the West-face. The next pyramid, the Red Pyramid, was constructed entirely at a slope of 43.5 with its North-face tunnel inclined at about 27. The Great Pyramid returned the slope to nearly 52 as did Chephren's [52 20'], the second largest at Gizeli, and those which followed. Chepren's has two tunnels, both in the North_ quadrant, one inclined at 25 55' and a lower passage at 21 40'. These enigmatic variations in the basic design and their general deviation from the angles one would expect if marking the equinox or celestial pole were the intended objectives. Specialists have noted that the ratio of the Great Pyramid's height to its perimeter is as to the circumference of a circle whose radius is the pyramid's height and that the ratio is accurate to better than one part in a thousand. At the same time, failure of all the others with similar slopes to express the ratio correctly suggest that the ratio may not have been the primary message or purpose intended by the design. The sudden change in angle of the Bent Pyramid to 43.5 and its preservation in the design of the Red Pyramid seems to confirm this.

[*!* Image: Equinox Pyramid for 30 N. Latitude [noon/meridian]. LABELS: North-face shaft 30 elevation to pole . 60 base angle to celestial equator: North-face parallel to the SUN's rays at noon on the Equinox. EARTH at Equinox. Direction of the SUN's rays at the Equinox. Local horizon.]

In any case, the inclines of the tunnels toward celestial North are independent of the ratio of the base perimeter to the height and variations in all these from the true celestial pole as well as from one another are cause enough for confusion. Even if the individual variations are rationalized as construction error and averaged out, the result is still well below the 29-300 angle required by the latitudes of the pyramids. How can this be so for people whose monuments otherwise testify to their passion for precision?

It is a riddle worthy of the Sphinx [said to have Chepren's face] whose cryptic Eastern gaze reminds us how little we know of these remote times.

The Sphinx survived to play a role in a much later period of Egyptian history, having chosen by oracle at least two pharaohs of the New Kingdom. A stone memorial from one grateful king stands at the base.


[*!* Image: Amenhotep III's temple, Luxor; a sphinx-lined avenue once led to the temple of Amen-Ra, Karnak]
[*!* Image: Temple of Amen-Ra, Karnak; the central axis from Amenhotep III's N.W. pylon, looking S.E.]

The New Kingdom, beginning well over a thousand years closer in time than that of the Great Pyramid, is better known but the period is still too remote for much historical clarity; the great periods of Greek and Roman history would not develop for many centuries to come.

Ancient Thebes was the heart of the New Kingdom and lay along a particularly beautiful stretch of the Nile at what is now Luxor, about 400 miles upstream from Cairo [Gizeh, Saqqarah, Memphis]. Unlike the polar and cardinal-point orientations of the Old Kingdom pyramids, the major astronomical temples here seem related to the solstices. At Karnak, the central axis of the huge temple to Amen-Ra points toward the summer solstice sunset. The massive religious complex of beautifully decorated stonework pylons, columns, obelisks and statuary - covers an area of 64 acres. Clearly the ancient Egyptian drive for precise measurement and construction is still in evidence though the astronomical objective and form of monument has changed significantly.

[*!* Image: Karnak: Vestiges of original paint survive]

But here too, there are some vexing astronomical problems. The setting Sun at summer solstice is not visible at all from the southeast extreme of the central axis [see photo below]. Though the axis changes direction slightly with the addition of the outer northwest pylon the problem is only partly corrected, showing a small fraction of the Sun's disc from the other end of the pylon axis [see photo, left]. In the town of Luxor,  another large temple, originally linked to Karnak, clearly shows a bend in its axis [see back cover].

[*!* Image: Karnak: Temple interior, looking N.W. along axis]

[*!* Image: "Memnon" [Amenhotep III] Colossi, West Bank, Thebes; oriented toward the winter solstice sunrise]

Across the Nile, the seated statutes of Amenhotep Ill mark the place of another temple oriented toward the southeast and the winter solstice sunrise. [Legend has it that at the first light of dawn on the winter solstice a tone could be heard coming from the monument.] It is easy to see that the long telescoping central axes of the Theban temples were ideally designed for the visual marking of particular days in the solar year. But it is not easy to imagine why a temple axis dedicated to a particular event such as a solstice should suddenly have turned from the original sight-line, or why, after the correction was made, the alignment was still off.

[*!* Image: Weathered limestone cliffs; Valley of the Kings]


[*!* Image: Astronomical tables were a regular feature in tombs]

Near the Colossi, the towering cliffs of the Valley of the Kings [photo, lower left] are riddled with tombs of pharaohs, dug deep through mine-like shafts into the rock itself. Here, protected from the weather and, to some degree, from human damage, the brilliant colors which once adorned the exterior temples can be seen in remarkably preserved condition in the tombs and corridors of this incredible rock-of-ages. Clearly, hieroglyphic artwork is not only interesting but quite beautiful and helps one imagine the stunning visual impact of a large temple complex as it must have looked then, in the bright Egyptian Sun. It also illustrates with emphasis the ancient Egyptian's spiritual identification with the visible cosmos. The pharaoh is shown greeting a series of astronomical gods, each marked with its own distinctive symbol, as his soul journeys through stages of induction into the Other World as prescribed in the religious texts. The journey was astronomical as was the goal - resurrection as an immortal celestial being. The way was marked with many dangers to the soul; the hieroglyphic texts prescribed myriad formulas and rituals to protect it from harm and keep its progress on course at these points. At times the great gods of the solar system intervened, providing safe conduct part of the way. Elaborate astronomical tables [see photo above] charted the cycles of stars and planets in great detail, down to the individual hours of the night

In early hieroglyphic texts it was said, simply, "Behold, thy soul is a living star." But, alas, apparently the Old Kingdom pharaohs were destined to fail in their bid for stardom. As we have seen, none of the North-quadrant tunnels through which it was believed the pharaoh's spirit could exit and re-enter the pyramid pointed correctly at its objective, the "North of Heaven" [celestial pole]. Once the soul left the pyramid it was never heard from again [no doubt to the good fortune of the astronomers and engineers who built it] having been mislaunched towards its celestial mark by several degrees. Nor do things seem to have improved over a millennium later. Though now the task was simply to point a long temple axis directly at a particular sunset on the horizon, the master astronomers and engineers of the pharaohs who built the Karnak temple not only missed the mark but had to bend the axis even to approximate accuracy.

These notions are, of course, as absurd as they sound; the characteristic genius of ancient Egyptian builders for precision alone makes it so; it is not reasonable that gross errors in astronomical alignment of Egyptian temples and monuments were a matter of design error or haphazard construction.

The fact that astronomy and religion were then one and the same makes it unbelievable. Since the beginning, Egyptian spiritual life demanded purity and perfection and abhorred the untrue; significant errors in alignment of their astronomical temples would not be matters of carelessness.

From the practical point of view, since the alignments were for the purpose of causing the "god's" rays to make a visible display on a particular day, nothing less than accurate alignment could have kept the astronomer-priests in tithes. Such visual phenomena played a vital, integral part in the enactment of significant religious rituals-alignments had to work. A solstice temple whose axis was so misaligned that the rising or setting Sun didn't even make an appearance on that day would have been unthinkable.

Obviously, there are some things about the world of ancient Egypt that we have not managed to get quite straight. The conventional academic treatment of such anomalous facts as the faulty solar alignment at Karnak, typically, is to pass them off as errors, or as purley symbolic alignments, or to assume that they were pointed at another star or planet instead.

The most obvious alternative hypothesis - that the solstice point itself had moved - is not even considered. The conventional wisdom that human history has been free of any such global shifts automatically precludes this view. This doctrine somehow has managed to prevail even though the Egyptian records themselves [and other ancient texts] speak of cosmic catastrophes in clear and unmistakable terms.

When Velikovsky pointed out these correspondences between ancient records and monuments 37 years ago, the scientific dogma was that no physical shifts in the Earth's orientation could have occurred and that any thought to the contrary was not only unscientific but, in the view of some, dangerous.


Today there is some softening of that dogma and even a catastrophic interpretation or two from within the ranks of establishment science. But generally the traditional academic view that no such events, whether as conceived by Velikovsky or through some other mechanism, have touched human history has held its hoary irrational ground. If some day the issue ever gets a genuinely scientific hearing, it seems certain that the astronomical monuments and temples of Egypt, along with their historical record, will provide critical quantitative descriptions of the celestial sphere.



Interestingly, just over a ridge from the Valley of the Kings stands another temple which bears specifically on the Velikovsky issue; in this case, with his reconstruction of Egyptian chronology. Under this revision in ancient dating, the reign of the famous Queen Hatshepsut of the XVIIIth Dynasty fans in the same period as the reign of King Solomon in Israel.

On the walls of her temple, called the "Most Splendid of Splendors," [see photo, upper left], Hatshepsut left a beautiful testimony to her divine birth as the daughter of Amen-Ra [see photo, left], and an elaborate accounting and depiction of a major expedition she had made during her reign to Punt, meaning "Divine Land or Holy Land."Just where this was has escaped definitive identification by scholars working under the conventional chronology.

But just as the Biblical "golden calf' [see photo above] seems reminiscent of Solomon's dalliance with "foreign gods", so too the whole temple is, in Velikovsky's historical reconstruction, a copy of

Solomon's. It was seen by Hatshepsut, known from the Biblical version as the Queen of Sheba, when she paid a royal state visit to Solomon's kingdom - Punt, the "Holy Land."

Though neither Hatshepsut's destination on the Punt reliefs, nor the identity of the Biblical Sheba is known, the thesis that Punt ["Holy Land"] of the Egyptian texts was the "Holy Land" we know, and that the queen who visited Solomon was Hatshepsut, met little acceptance. Once again, this has less to do with the evidence presented [see Ages in Chaos. vol. I] than it does with conventional academic doctrine that ancient dates for Egypt's history have been established clearly, and that Hatsheptsut had been dead for centuries by the time Solomon came along.

Perhaps; but if so, the memorialized expedition of Hatshepsut, laden with gifts from Egypt and bound for a "Holy Land" to the northeast of Egypt, made off for an unknown kingdom. Meanwhile, Solomon's story of Sheba, a great queen from the South, seems grossly overblown at best, and a total fantasy at worst. In his day, according to the conventional chronology, there were no women on the throne in Egypt or anywhere else that could match the description of her importance or the richness of her tribute.

Why it should be easier to believe that Hatshepsut sailed off to Fantasy Island, or that the Hebrew story of Solomon and Sheba is romantic fiction, than to believe that historians could be in error about Egyptian chronology is not easy to understand. Some refusal to accept new and better hypotheses without a die-hard struggle is not a new feature in academic life. But here, it may be related to a larger sense of aversion toward the ominous historical reality implied by solstice temples which no longer work, celestial pole alignments which are no longer true and ancient hieroglyphic tales of cosmic catastrophes which shook the foundations of planet Earth.

It may be that the evaluation of the ancient Egyptians implied by the conventional view is correct - that they made gross construction errors in their temples, or that their astronomy was more symbolic than observational, and that their own written history is fantasy, not fact. But at day's end on the Nile, in the quiet golden light of sunset over the Valley of the Kings, one senses strongly that this can't be so. On the contrary, it seems strangely certain in that timeless moment that far more will change than conventional attitudes toward global natural catastrophes or scholarly faith in the conventional dates when the actual history of Ancient Egypt becomes known.


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