Chapter 37 - Made by Some God

I had climbed the Great Pyramid the night before, but as I approached it in the full glare of midday, I experienced no sense of triumph. On the contrary, standing at its base on the north side, I felt fly-sized and puny— an impermanent creature of flesh and blood confronted with the awe-inspiring splendour of eternity.


I had the impression that it might have been here for ever, ‘made by some god and set down bodily in the surrounding sand’, as the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus commented in the first century BC.1 But which god had made it, if not the God-King Khufu whose name generations of Egyptians had associated with it?

For the second time in twelve hours, I began to climb the monument. Up close in this light, indifferent to human chronologies and subject only to the slow erosive forces of geological time, it reared above me like a frowning, terrifying crag. Fortunately, I only had six courses to clamber over, assisted in places by modern steps, before reaching Ma’mun’s Hole, which now served as the pyramid’s principal entrance.

The original entrance, still well-hidden in the ninth century when Ma’mun began tunnelling, was some ten courses higher, 55 feet above ground level and 24 feet east of the main north-south axis. Protected by giant limestone gables, it contained the mouth of the descending corridor, which led downwards at an angle of 26° 31’ 23”.


Strangely, although itself measuring only some 3 feet 5 inches x 3 feet 11 inches, this corridor was sandwiched between roofing blocks 8 feet 6 inches thick and 12 feet wide and a flooring slab (known as the ‘Basement Sheet’) 2 feet 6 inches thick and 33 feet wide.2


1 Diodorus Siculus, Harvard University Press, 1989, p. 217.

2 The Pyramids of Egypt, p. 88; The Great Pyramid: Your Personal Guide, pp. 30-1.

Hidden structural features like these abounded in the Great Pyramid, manifesting both incredible complexity and apparent pointlessness. Nobody knew how blocks of this size had been successfully installed, neither did anybody know how they had been set so carefully in alignment with other blocks, or at such precise angles (because, as the reader may have realized, the 26° slope of the descending corridor was part of a deliberate and regular pattern). Nobody knew either why these things had been done.

The Beacon
Entering the pyramid through Ma’mun’s Hole did not feel right. It was like entering a cave or grotto cut into the side of a mountain; it lacked the sense of deliberate and geometrical purposefulness that would have been conveyed by the original descending corridor. Worse still, the dark and inauspicious horizontal tunnel leading inwards looked like an ugly, deformed thing and still bore the marks of violence where the Arab workmen had alternately heated and chilled the stones with fierce fires and cold vinegar before attacking them with hammers and chisels, battering rams and borers.

On the one hand, such vandalism seemed gross and irresponsible. On the other, a startling possibility had to be considered: was there not a sense in which the pyramid seemed to have been designed to invite human beings of intelligence and curiosity to penetrate its mysteries?


After all, if you were a pharaoh who wanted to ensure that his deceased body remained inviolate for eternity, would it make better sense,

(a) to advertise to your own and all subsequent generations the whereabouts of your burial place, or

(b) to choose some secret and unknown location, of which you would never speak and where you might never be found?

The answer was obvious: you would go for secrecy and seclusion, as the vast majority of the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt had done.3


3 In the isolated Valley of the Kings in Luxor in upper Egypt, for example.

  • Why, then, if it was indeed a royal tomb, was the Great Pyramid so conspicuous?

  • Why did it occupy a ground area of more than thirteen acres?

  • Why was it almost 500 feet high?

  • Why, in other words, if its purpose was to conceal and protect the body of Khufu, had it been designed so that it could not fail to attract the attention—in all epochs and under all imaginable circumstances—of treasure-crazed adventurers and of prying and imaginative intellectuals?

It was simply not credible that the brilliant architects, stonemasons, surveyors and engineers who had created the Great Pyramid could have been ignorant of basic human psychology. The vast ambition and the transcendent beauty, power and artistry of their handiwork spoke of refined skills, deep insight, and a complete understanding of the symbols and primordial patterns by which the minds of men could be manipulated.


Logic therefore suggested that the pyramid builders must also have understood exactly what kind of beacon they were piling up (with such incredible precision) on this windswept plateau, on the west bank of the Nile, in those high and far away times.

They must, in short, have wanted this remarkable structure to exert a perennial fascination: to be violated by intruders, to be measured with increasing degrees of exactitude, and to haunt the collective imagination of mankind like a persistent ghost summoning intimations of a profound and long-forgotten secret.

Mind games of the pyramid builders
The point where Ma’mun’s Hole intersected with the 26° descending corridor was closed off by a modern steel door. Beyond it, to the north, that corridor sloped up until it reached the gables of the monument’s original entrance. To the south, as we have seen, the corridor sloped down for almost another 350 feet into the bedrock, before opening out into a huge subterranean chamber 600 feet beneath the apex of the pyramid. The accuracy of this corridor was astonishing. From top to bottom the average deviation from straight amounted to less than 1/4inch in the sides and 3/10-inch on the roof.4

Passing the steel door, I continued through Ma’mun’s tunnel, breathing in its ancient air and adjusting my eyes to the gloom of the low-wattage bulbs that lit it. Then ducking my head I began to climb through the steep and narrow section hacked upwards by the Arab diggers in their feverish thrust to by-pass the series of granite plugs blocking the lower part of the ascending corridor.


At the top of the tunnel two of the original plugs could be seen, still in situ but partially exposed by quarrying. Egyptologists assumed that they had been slid into their present position from above5—all the way down the lag-foot length of the ascending corridor from the foot of the Grand Gallery.6


Builders and engineers, however, whose trend of thought was perhaps more practical, had pointed out that it was physically impossible for the plugs to have been installed in this way. Because of the leaf-thin clearance that separated them from the walls, floor and ceiling of the corridor, friction would have foiled any ‘sliding’ operation in a matter of inches, let alone 100 feet.7


4 The Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh, p. 19.

5 Discussed in Secrets of the Great Pyramid, p. 230ff.

6 Dimension from The Traveller’s Key to Ancient Egypt, p. 114.

7 Secrets of the Great Pyramid, p. 230ff.

The puzzling implication was therefore that the ascending corridor must have been plugged while the pyramid was still being built. But why would anyone have wished to block the main entrance to the monument at such an early stage in its construction (even while continuing to enlarge and elaborate its inner chambers)?


Moreover, if the objective had been to deny intruders admission, wouldn’t it have been much easier and more efficient to have plugged the descending corridor from its entrance in the north face to a point below its junction with the ascending corridor? That would have been the most logical way to seal the pyramid and would have made plugs unnecessary in the ascending corridor.

There was only one certainty: since the beginning of history, the single known effect of the granite plugs had not been to prevent an intruder from gaining access; instead, like Bluebeard’s locked door, the barrier had magnetized Ma’mun’s attention and inflamed his curiosity so that he had felt compelled to tunnel his way past them, convinced that something of inestimable value must lie beyond them.

Might this not have been what the pyramid builders had intended the first intruder who reached this far to feel? It would be premature to rule out such a strange and unsettling possibility. At any rate, thanks to Ma’mun (and to the predictable constants of human nature) I was now able to insert myself into the unblocked upper section of the original ascending corridor. A smoothly cut aperture measuring 3 feet 5 inches wide x 3 feet 11 inches high (exactly the same dimensions as the descending corridor), it sloped up into the darkness at an angle of 26° 2’ 30” 8 (as against 26° 31’ 23” in the descending corridor).9

What was this meticulous interest in the angle of 26°, and was it a coincidence that it amounted to half of the angle of inclination of the pyramid’s sides—52°.10

The reader may recall the significance of this angle. It was a key ingredient of the sophisticated and advanced formula by which the design of the Great Pyramid had been made to correspond precisely to the dynamics of spherical geometry. Thus the original height of the monument (481.3949 feet), and the perimeter of its base (3023.16 feet), stood in the same ratio to each other as did the radius of a sphere to its circumference.


This ratio was 2pi (2 x 3.14) and to express it the builders had been obliged to specify the tricky and idiosyncratic angle of 52° for the pyramid’s sides (since any greater or lesser slope would have meant a different height-to-perimeter ratio).

In Chapter Twenty-three we saw that the so-called Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan in Mexico also expressed a knowledge and deliberate use of the transcendental number pi; in its case the height (233.5 feet) stood in a relationship of 4pi to the perimeter of its base (2932.76 feet).11


The crux, therefore, was that the most remarkable monument of Ancient Egypt and the most remarkable monument of Ancient Mexico both incorporated pi relationships long before and far away from the official ‘discovery’ of this transcendental number by the Greeks.12 Moreover, the evidence invited the conclusion that something was being signalled by the use of pi—almost certainly the same thing in both cases.


8 The Pyramids of Egypt, p. 91.

9 Ibid., p. 88.
10 Or 51° 50’ 35” to be exact, Ibid., page 87; Traveller’s Key to Ancient Egypt, p. 112.

11 See Chapter Twenty-three.
12 Ibid.

Not for the first time, and not for the last, I was overwhelmed by a sense of contact with an ancient intelligence, not necessarily Egyptian or Mexican, which had found a way to reach out across the ages and draw people towards it like a beacon. Some might look for treasure; others, captivated by the deceptively simple manner in which the builders had used pi to demonstrate their mastery of the secrets of transcendental numbers, might be inspired to search for further mathematical epiphanies.

Bent almost double, my back brushing against the polished limestone ceiling, it was with such thoughts in my mind that I began to scramble up the 26° slope of the ascending corridor, which seemed to penetrate the vast bulk of the six million ton building like a trigonometrical device.


After I had banged my head on its ceiling a couple of times, however, I began to wonder why the ingenious people who’d designed it hadn’t made it two or three feet higher. If they could erect a monument like this in the first place (which they obviously could) and equip it with corridors, surely it would not have been beyond their capabilities to make those corridors roomy enough to stand up in?


Once again I was tempted to conclude that it was the result of a deliberate decision by the pyramid builders: they had made the ascending corridor this way because they had wanted it this way (rather than because such a design had been forced upon them.)

Was there motive in the apparent madness of these archaic mind games?

Unknown dark distance
At the top of the ascending corridor I emerged into yet another inexplicable feature of the pyramid, ‘the most celebrated architectural work to have survived from the Old Kingdom’13—the Grand Gallery. Soaring upwards at the continuing majestic angle of 26°, and almost entirely vanishing into the airy gloom above, its spacious corbelled vault made a stunning impression.

It was not my intention to climb the Grand Gallery yet. Branching off due south at its base was a long horizontal passageway, 3 feet 9 inches high and 127 feet in length, that led to the Queen’s Chamber.14 I wanted to revisit this room, which I had admired for its stark beauty since becoming acquainted with the Great Pyramid several years previously. Today, however, to my considerable irritation, the passageway was barred within a few feet of its entrance.

13 The Pyramids of Egypt, p. 93.

14 Dimensions from Traveller’s Key to Ancient Egypt, p. 121, and The Pyramids of Egypt, p. 93.

The Grand Gallery and the King’s and Queen’s Chambers with their northern and southern shafts.

The reason, though I was unaware of it at the time, was that a German robotics engineer named Rudolf Gantenbrink was at work within, slowly and painstakingly manoeuvring a $250,000 robot up the narrow southern shaft of the Queen’s Chamber. Hired by the Egyptian Antiquities Organization to improve the ventilation of the Great Pyramid, he had already used his high-tech equipment to clear debris from the King’s Chamber’s narrow ‘southern shaft’ (believed by Egyptologists to have been designed as a ventilation shaft in the first place) and had installed an electric fan at its mouth.


At the beginning of March 1993 he transferred his attentions to the Queen’s Chamber, deploying Upuaut, a miniaturized remote-controlled robot camera to explore its southern shaft.


On 22 March, some 200 feet along the steeply sloping shaft (which rose at an angle of 39.5° and was only about 8 inches high x 9 inches wide),15 the floor and walls suddenly became very smooth as Upuaut crawled into a section made of fine Tura limestone, the type normally used for lining sacred areas such as chapels or tombs.


That, in itself, was intriguing enough, but at the end of this corridor, apparently leading to a sealed chamber deep within the pyramid’s masonry, was a solid limestone door complete with metal fittings ...


15 The Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh, p. 24.

It had long been known that neither this southern shaft nor its counterpart in the Chamber’s northern wall had any exit on the outside of the Great Pyramid. In addition, and equally inexplicably, neither had originally been fully cut through. For some reason the builders had left the last five inches of stone intact in the last block over the mouth of each of the shafts, thus rendering them invisible and inaccessible to any casual intruder.

  • Why?

  • To make sure they would never be found?

  • Or to make sure that they would be found, some day, under the right circumstances?

After all, there had from the beginning been two conspicuous shafts in the King’s Chamber, penetrating the north and south walls. It should not have been beyond the mental powers of the pyramid builders to predict that sooner or later some inquiring person would be tempted to look for shafts in the Queen’s Chamber as well. In the event nobody did look for more than a thousand years after Caliph Ma’mun had opened the monument to the world in AD 820.


Then in 1872 an English engineer named Waynman Dixon, a Freemason who ‘had been led to suspect the existence of the shafts by their presence in the King’s Chamber above’,16 went tapping around the Queen’s Chamber’s walls and located them.


He opened the southern shaft first, setting his,

‘carpenter and man-of-allwork, Bill Grundy, to jump a hole with a hammer and steel chisel at that place. So to work the faithful fellow went, and with a will which soon began to make a way into the soft stone [limestone] at this point, when lo! after a comparatively very few strokes, flop went the chisel right through into something or other.’17

The ‘something or other’ Bill Grundy’s chisel had reached turned out to be,

‘a rectangular, horizontal, tubular channel, about 9 inches by 8 inches in transverse breadth and height, going back 7 feet into the wall, and then rising at an angle into an unknown, dark distance ...’18

It was up that angle, and into that ‘unknown dark distance’, 121 years later, that Rudolf Gantenbrink sent his robot—the technology of our species having finally caught up with our powerful instincts to pry.


Those instincts were clearly no weaker in 1872 than in 1993; among the many interesting things the remote-controlled camera succeeded in filming in the Queen’s Chamber shafts was the far end of a long, sectioned metal rod of nineteenth century design which Waynman Dixon and the faithful Bill Grundy had secretly stuffed up the intriguing channel.19


Predictably, they had assumed that if the pyramid builders had gone to the trouble of constructing and then concealing the shafts, then they must have hidden something worth looking for inside them.

16 The Pyramids of Egypt, p. 92.

17 The Great Pyramid: Its Secrets and Mysteries Revealed, p. 428.

18 Ibid.
19 Presentation at the British Museum, 22 November 1993, by Rudolf Gantenbrink, of footage shot in the shafts by the robot camera Upuaut.

The notion that there might have been an intention from the outset to stimulate such investigations would seem quite implausible if the final upshot of the discovery and exploration of the shafts had been a dead-end. Instead, as we have seen, a door was found—a sliding, portcullis door with curious metal fittings and an enticing gap at its base beneath which the laser-spot projected by Gantenbrink’s robot was seen to disappear entirely ...

Once again there seemed to be a clear invitation to proceed further, the latest in a long line of invitations which had encouraged Caliph Ma’mun and his diggers to break into the central passageways and chambers of the monument, which had waited for Waynman Dixon to test the hypothesis that the walls of the Queen’s Chamber might contain concealed shafts, and which had then waited again until arousing the curiosity of Rudolf Gantenbrink, whose high-tech robot revealed the existence of the hidden door and brought within reach whatever secrets— or disappointments, or further invitations—might lie behind it.

The Queen’s Chamber
We shall hear more of Rudolf Gantenbrink and Upuaut in later chapters. 16 March 1993, however, knowing nothing of this, I was frustrated to find the Queen’s Chamber closed, and glared resentfully through the metal grille that barred its entrance corridor.

I remembered that the height of that corridor, 3 feet 9 inches, was not constant. Approximately 110 feet due south from where I stood, and only about 15 feet from the entrance to the Chamber, a sudden downward step in the floor increased the standing-room to 5 feet 8 inches.20 Nobody had come up with a convincing explanation for this peculiar feature.

The Queen’s Chamber itself—apparently empty since the day it was built—measured 17 feet 2 inches from north to south and 18 feet 10 inches from east to west. It was equipped with an elegant gabled ceiling, 20 feet 5 inches in height, which lay exactly along the east-west axis of the pyramid.21 Its floor, however, was the opposite of elegant and looked unfinished. There was a constant salty emanation through its pale, rough-hewn limestone walls, giving rise to much fruitless speculation.

In the north and south walls, still bearing the incised legend OPENED 1872, were the rectangular apertures discovered by Waynman Dixon which led into the dark distance of the mysterious shafts. The western wall was quite bare. Offset a little over two feet to the south of its centre line, the eastern wall was dominated by a niche in the form of a corbel vault 15 feet 4 inches high and 5 feet 2 inches wide at the base. Originally 3 feet 5 inches deep, a further cavity had been cut in the back of this niche in medieval times by Arab treasure-seekers looking for hidden chambers.22 They had found nothing.

Egyptologists had also been unable to come to any persuasive conclusions about the original function of the niche, or, for that matter, of the Queen’s Chamber as a whole.

20 The Pyramids of Egypt, pp. 92-3.

21 Ibid., p. 92; The Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh, p. 23.

22 The Pyramids of Egypt, p. 92.

All was confusion. All was paradox. All was mystery.

The Grand Gallery had its mysteries too. Indeed it was among the most mysterious of all the internal features of the Great Pyramid. Measuring 6 feet 9 inches wide at the floor, its walls rose vertically to a height of 7 feet 6 inches; above that level seven further courses of masonry (each one projecting inwards some 3 inches beyond the course immediately below it) carried the vault to its full height of 28 feet and its culminating width of 3 feet 5 inches.23

Remember that structurally the Gallery was required to support, for ever, the multi-million ton weight of the upper three-quarters of the largest and heaviest stone monument ever built on planet earth. Was it not quite remarkable that a group of supposed ‘technological primitives’ had not only envisaged and designed such a feature but had completed it successfully, more than 4500 years before our time?

Even if they had made the Gallery only 20 feet long, and had sought to erect it on a level plane, the task would have been difficult enough— indeed extraordinarily difficult. But they had opted to erect this astonishing corbel vault at a slope of 26°, and to extend its length to a staggering 153 feet.24 Moreover, they had made it with perfectly dressed limestone megaliths throughout—huge, smoothly polished blocks carved into sloping parallelograms and laid together so closely and with such rigorous precision that the joints were almost invisible to the naked eye.

The pyramid builders had also included some interesting symmetries in their work. For example, the culminating width of the Gallery at its apex was 3 feet 5 inches while its width at the floor was 6 feet 9 inches. At the exact centre of the floor, running the entire length of the Gallery—and sandwiched between flat-topped masonry ramps each 1 foot 8 inches wide—there was a sunken channel 2 feet deep and 3 feet 5 inches wide.

What could have been the purpose of this slot? And why had it been necessary for it to mirror so precisely the width and form of the ceiling, which also looked like a ‘slot’ sandwiched between the two upper courses of masonry?

I knew that I was not the first person to have stood at the foot of the Grand Gallery and to have been overtaken by the disorienting sense of being ‘in the inside of some enormous instrument of some sort.’25 Who was to say that such intuitions were completely wrong? Or, for that matter, that they were right? No record as to function remained, other than in mystical and symbolic references in certain ancient Egyptian

23 Ibid., p. 93; Traveller’s Key to Ancient Egypt, p. 115.

24 The Pyramids of Egypt, p. 93.

25 Traveller’s Key to Ancient Egypt, p. 115.

liturgical texts. These appeared to indicate that the pyramids had been seen as devices designed to turn dead men into immortal beings: to ‘throw open the doors of the firmament and make a road’, so that the deceased pharaoh might ‘ascend into the company of the gods’.26

I had no difficulty accepting that such a belief system might have been at work here, and obviously it could have provided a motive for the whole enterprise. Nevertheless, I was still puzzled why more than six million tons of physical apparatus, intricately interlaced with channels and tubes, corridors and chambers, had been deemed necessary to achieve a mystical, spiritual and symbolic objective.

Being inside the Grand Gallery did feel like being inside an enormous instrument. It had an undeniable aesthetic impact upon me (admittedly a heavy and domineering one), but it was also completely devoid of decorative features and of anything (figures of deities, reliefs of liturgical texts, and so on) which might be suggestive of worship or religion.


The primary impression it conveyed was one of strict functionalism and purposefulness—as though it had been built to do a job. At the same time I was aware of its focused solemnity of style and gravity of manner, which seemed to demand nothing less than serious and complete attention.

By now I had climbed steadily through about half the length of the Gallery. Ahead of me, and behind, shadows and light played tricks amid the looming stone walls. Pausing, I turned my head, looking upwards through the gloom towards the vaulted ceiling which supported the crushing weight of the Great Pyramid of Egypt.

It suddenly hit me how dauntingly and disturbingly old it was, and how completely my life at this moment depended on the skills of the ancient builders. The hefty blocks that spanned the distant ceiling were examples of those skills—every one of them laid at a slightly steeper gradient than that of the Gallery. As the great archaeologist and surveyor Flinders Petrie had observed, this had been done in order that the lower edge of each stone should hitch like a pawl into a ratchet cut into the top of the walls; hence no stone can press on the one below it, so as to cause a cumulative pressure all down the roof; and each stone is separately upheld by the side walls which it lies across.27


26 The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, p. 281, Utt. 667A.

27 The Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh, p. 25.

And this was the work of a people whose civilization had only recently emerged from neolithic hunter-gathering?

I began to walk up the Gallery again, using the 2-foot-deep central flooring slot. A modern wooden covering fitted with helpful slats and side railings made the ascent relatively easy. In antiquity, however, the floor had been smoothly polished limestone, which, at a gradient of 26°, must have been almost impossible to climb.

How had it been done? Had it been done at all?

Looming ahead at the end of the Grand Gallery was the dark opening to the King’s Chamber beckoning each and every inquiring pilgrim into the heart of the enigma.

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Chapter 38 - Interactive Three-Dimensional Game

Reaching the top of the Grand Gallery, I clambered over a chunky granite step about three feet high. I remembered that it lay, like the roof of the Queen’s Chamber, exactly along the east-west axis of the Great Pyramid, And therefore marked the point of transition between the northern and southern halves of the monument.1 Somewhat like an altar in appearance, the step also provided a solid horizontal platform immediately in front of the low square tunnel that served as the entrance to the King’s Chamber.


1 The Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh, p. 25.

Pausing for a moment, I looked back down the Gallery, taking in once again its lack of decoration, its lack of religious iconography, and its absolute lack of any of the recognizable symbolism normally associated with the archaic belief system of the Ancient Egyptians. All that registered upon the eye, along the entire 153-foot length of this magnificent geometrical cavity, was its disinterested regularity and its stark machinelike simplicity.

Looking up, I could just make out the opening of a dark aperture, chiselled into the top of the eastern wall above my head. Nobody knew when or by whom this foreboding hole had been cut, or how deep it had originally penetrated. It led to the first of the five relieving chambers above the King’s Chamber and had been extended in 1837 when Howard Vyse had used it to break through to the remaining four.


Looking down again, I could just make out the point at the bottom of the Gallery’s western wall where the near-vertical well-shaft began its precipitous 160 foot descent through the core of the pyramid to join the descending corridor far below ground-level.

Why would such a complicated apparatus of pipes and passageways have been required? At first sight it didn’t make sense. But then nothing about the Great Pyramid did make much sense, unless you were prepared to devote a great deal of attention to it. In unpredictable ways, when you did that, it would from time to time reward you.

If you were sufficiently numerate, for example, as we have seen, it would respond to your basic inquiries into its height and base perimeter by ‘printing out’ the value of pi. And if you were prepared to investigate further, as we shall see, it would download other useful mathematical tidbits, each a little more complex and abstruse that its predecessor.

There was a programmed feel about this whole process, as though it had been carefully prearranged. Not for the first time, I found myself willing to consider the possibility that the pyramid might have been designed as a gigantic challenge or learning machine—or, better still, as an interactive three-dimensional puzzle set down in the desert for humanity to solve.

Just over 3 feet 6 inches high, the entry passage to the lung’s Chamber required all humans of normal stature to stoop. About four feet farther on, however, I reached the ‘Antechamber’, where the roof level rose suddenly to 12 feet above the floor.


The east and west walls of the Antechamber were composed of red granite, into which were cut four opposing pairs of wide parallel slots, assumed by Egyptologists to have held thick portcullis slabs.2 Three of these pairs of slots extended all the way to the floor, and were empty.


2 The Pyramids of Egypt, p. 94.


The fourth (the northernmost) had been cut down only as far as the roof level of the entry passage (that is, 3 feet 6 inches above floor level) and still contained a hulking sheet of granite, perhaps nine inches thick and six feet high. There was a horizontal space of only 21 inches between this suspended stone portcullis and the northern end of the entry passage from which I had just emerged.


There was also a gap of a little over 4 feet deep between the top of the portcullis and the ceiling. Whatever function it was designed to serve it was hard to agree with the Egyptologists that this peculiar structure could have been intended to deny access to tomb robbers.

The antechamber.

Genuinely puzzled, I ducked under it and then stood up again in the southern portion of the Antechamber, which was some 10 feet long and maintained the same roof height of 12 feet. Though much worn, the grooves for the three further ‘portcullis’ slabs were still visible in the eastern and western walls. There was no sign of the slabs themselves and, indeed, it was difficult to see how such cumbersome pieces of stone could have been installed in so severely constricted a working space.

I remembered that Flinders Petrie, who had systematically surveyed the entire Giza necropolis in the late nineteenth century, had commented on a similar puzzle in the Second Pyramid:

‘The granite portcullis in the lower passage shows great skill in moving masses, as it would need 40 or 60 men to lift it; yet it has been moved, and raised into place, in a narrow passage, where only a few men could possibly reach it.’3

Exactly the same observations applied to the portcullis slabs of the Great Pyramid. If they were portcullis slabs—gateways capable of being raised and lowered.


3 The Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh, p. 36.

The problem was that the physics of raising and lowering them required they be shorter than the full height of the Antechamber, so that they could be drawn into the roof space to allow the entry and exit of legitimate individuals prior to the closure of the tomb. This meant, of course, that when the bottom edges of the slabs were lowered to the floor to block the Antechamber at that level, an equal and opposite space would have opened up between the top edges of the slabs and the ceiling, through which any enterprising tomb-robber would certainly have been able to climb.

The Antechamber clearly qualified as another of the pyramid’s many thought-provoking paradoxes, in which complexity of structure was combined with apparent pointlessness of function.

An exit tunnel, the same height and width as the entrance tunnel and lined with solid red granite, led off from the Antechamber’s southern wall (also made of granite but incorporating a 12-inch thick limestone layer at its very top). After about a further 9 feet the tunnel debouched into the King’s Chamber, a massive sombre red room made entirely of granite, which radiated an atmosphere of prodigious energy and power.

Stone enigmas
I moved into the centre of the King’s Chamber, the lung axis of which was perfectly oriented east to west while the short axis was equally perfectly oriented north to south. The room was exactly 19 feet 1 inch in height and formed a precise two-by-one rectangle measuring 34 feet 4 inches long by 17 feet 2 inches wide.


With a floor consisting of 15 massive granite paving stones, and walls composed of 100 gigantic granite blocks, each weighing 70 tons or more and laid in five courses, and with a ceiling spanned by nine further granite blocks each weighing approximately 50 tons,4 the effect was of intense and overwhelming compression.

At the Chamber’s western end was the object which, if the Egyptologists were to be believed, the entire Great Pyramid, had been built to house. That object, carved out of one piece of dark chocolatecoloured granite containing peculiarly hard granules of feldspar, quartz and mica, was the lidless coffer presumed to have been the sarcophagus of Khufu.5

Its interior measurements were 6 feet 6.6 inches in length, 2 feet 10.42 inches in depth, and 2 feet 2.81 inches in width. Its exterior measurements were 7 feet 5.62 inches in length, 3 feet 5.31 inches in depth, and 3 feet 2.5 inches in width6 an inch too wide, incidentally, for it to have been carried up through the lower (and now plugged) entrance to the ascending corridor.7


4 The Pyramids of Egypt, pp. 94-5; The Great Pyramid: Your Personal Guide, p. 64.

5 The Pyramids of Egypt, pp. 94-5.

6 The Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh, p. 30.

7 Ibid., p. 95.

Some routine mathematical games were built into the dimensions of the sarcophagus. For example, it had an internal volume of 1166.4 liters and an external volume of exactly twice that, 2332.8 liters.8 Such a precise coincidence could not have been arrived at accidentally: the walls of the coffer had been cut to machine-age tolerances by craftsmen of enormous skill and experience. It seemed, moreover, as Flinders Petrie admitted with some puzzlement after completing his painstaking survey of the Great Pyramid, that these craftsmen had access to tools ‘such as we ourselves have only now reinvented ...’9

Petrie examined the sarcophagus particularly closely and reported that it must have been cut out of its surrounding granite block with straight saws ‘8 feet or more in length’. Since the granite was extremely hard, he could only assume that these saws must have had bronze blades (the hardest metal then supposedly available) inset with ‘cutting points’ made of even harder jewels:

‘The character of the work would certainly seem to point to diamond as being the cutting jewel; and only the considerations of its rarity in general, and its absence from Egypt, interfere with this conclusion ...’10

An even bigger mystery surrounded the hollowing out of the sarcophagus, obviously a far more difficult enterprise than separating it from a block of bedrock. Here Petrie concluded that the Egyptians must have:

adapted their sawing principle into a circular instead of a rectilinear form, curving the blade round into a tube, which drilled out a circular groove by its rotation; thus by breaking away the cores left in such grooves, they were able to hollow out large holes with a minimum of labour. These tubular drills varied from 1/4 inch to 5 inches diameter, and from 1/30 to 1/5 inch thick ...11

Of course, as Petrie admitted, no actual jewelled drills or saws had ever been found by Egyptologists.12 The visible evidence of the kinds of drilling and sawing that had been done, however, compelled him to infer that such instruments must have existed.


He became especially interested in this and extended his study to include not only the King’s Chamber sarcophagus but many other granite artifacts and granite ‘drill cores’ which he collected at Giza. The deeper his research, however, the more puzzling the stone-cutting technology of the Ancient Egyptians became:

The amount of pressure, shown by the rapidity with which the drills and saws pierced through the hard stones, is very surprising; probably a load of at least a ton or two was placed on the 4-inch drills cutting in granite. On the granite core No 7 the spiral of the cut sinks 1 inch in the circumference of 6 inches, a rate of ploughing out which is astonishing ... These rapid spiral grooves cannot be ascribed to anything but the descent of the drill into the granite under enormous pressure ...13

8 Livio Catullo Stecchini in Secrets of the Great Pyramid, p. 322. Stecchini gives slightly more accurate measures than those of Petrie (quoted) for the internal and external dimensions of the pyramid.

9 Secrets of the Great Pyramid, p. 103.

10 The Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh, p. 74.

11 Ibid., p. 76.
12 Ibid., p. 78.
13 Ibid.

Wasn’t it peculiar that at the supposed dawn of human civilization, more than 4500 years ago, the Ancient Egyptians had acquired what sounded like industrial-age drills packing a ton or more of punch and capable of slicing through hard stones like hot knives through butter?

Petrie could come up with no explanation for this conundrum. Nor was he able to explain the kind of instrument used to cut hieroglyphs into a number of diorite bowls with Fourth Dynasty inscriptions which he found at Giza:

‘The hieroglyphs are incised with a very free-cutting point; they are not scraped or ground out, but are ploughed through the diorite, with rough edges to the line ...’14

This bothered the logical Petrie because he knew that diorite was one of the hardest stones on earth, far harder even than iron.15 Yet here it was in Ancient Egypt being cut with incredible power and precision by some as yet unidentified graving tool:

As the lines are only 1/150 inch wide it is evident that the cutting point must have been much harder than quartz; and tough enough not to splinter when so fine an edge was being employed, probably only 1/200 inch wide. Parallel lines are graved only 1/30 inch apart from centre to centre.16

In other words, he was envisaging an instrument with a needle-sharp point of exceptional, unprecedented hardness capable of penetrating and furrowing diorite with ease, and capable also of withstanding the enormous pressures required throughout the operation. What sort of instrument was that? By what means would the pressure have been applied? How could sufficient accuracy have been maintained to scour parallel lines at intervals of just 1/30-inch?

At least it was possible to conjure a mental picture of the circular drills with jewelled teeth which Petrie supposed must have been used to hollow out the lung’s Chamber sarcophagus. I found, however, that it was not so easy to do the same for the unknown instrument capable of incising hieroglyphs into diorite at 2500 BC, at any rate not without assuming the existence of a far higher level of technology than Egyptologists were prepared to consider.

Nor was it just a few hieroglyphs or a few diorite bowls. During my travels in Egypt I had examined many stone vessels—dating back in some cases to pre-dynastic times—that had been mysteriously hollowed out of a range of materials such as diorite, basalt, quartz crystal and metamorphic schist.17

For example, more than 30,000 such vessels had been found in the chambers beneath the Third Dynasty Step Pyramid of Zoser at Saqqara.18 That meant that they were at least as old as Zoser himself (i.e. around 2650 BC19). Theoretically, they could have been even older than that, because identical vessels had been found in pre-dynastic strata dated to 4000 BC and earlier,20 and because the practice of handing down treasured heirlooms from generation to generation had been deeply ingrained in Egypt since time immemorial.

Whether they were made in 2500 BC or in 4000 BC or even earlier, the stone vessels from the Step Pyramid were remarkable for their workmanship, which once again seemed to have been accomplished by some as yet unimagined (and, indeed, almost unimaginable) tool.

Why unimaginable? Because many of the vessels were tall vases with long, thin, elegant necks and widely flared interiors, often incorporating fully hollowed-out shoulders. No instrument yet invented was capable of carving vases into shapes like these, because such an instrument would have had to have been narrow enough to have passed through the necks and strong enough (and of the right shape) to have scoured out the shoulders and the rounded interiors. And how could sufficient upward and outward pressure have been generated and applied within the vases to achieve these effects?

The tall vases were by no means the only enigmatic vessels unearthed from the Pyramid of Zoser, and from a number of other archaic sites. There were monolithic urns with delicate ornamental handles left attached to their exteriors by the carvers. There were bowls, again with extremely narrow necks like the vases, and with widely flared, pot-bellied interiors. There were also open bowls, and almost microscopic vials, and occasional strange wheel-shaped objects cut out of metamorphic schist with inwardly curled edges planed down so fine that they were almost translucent.21


14 Ibid., pp. 74-5.
15 The Pyramids: An Enigma Solved, p. 8.

16 The Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh, p. 75.

17 The Pyramids: An Enigma Solved, p. 118.

18 Egypt: Land of the Pharaohs, Time-Life Books, 1992, p. 51.

19 Atlas of Ancient Egypt, p. 36.

20 For example, see Cyril Aldred, Egypt to the End of the Old Kingdom, Thames & Hudson, London, 1988, p. 25.

21 Ibid., p. 57. The relevant artefacts are in the Cairo Museum.


In all cases what was really perplexing was the precision with which the interiors and exteriors of these vessels had been made to correspond—curve matching curve—over absolutely smooth, polished surfaces with no tool marks visible.

There was no technology known to have been available to the Ancient Egyptians capable of achieving such results. Nor, for that matter, would any stone-carver today be able to match them, even if he were working with the best tungsten-carbide tools. The implication, therefore, is that an unknown or secret technology had been put to use in Ancient Egypt.

Ceremony of the sarcophagus
Standing in the King’s Chamber, facing west—the direction of death amongst both the Ancient Egyptians and the Maya—I rested my hands lightly on the gnarled granite edge of the sarcophagus which Egyptologists insist had been built to house the body of Khufu. I gazed into its murky depths where the dim electric lighting of the chamber seemed hardly to penetrate and saw specks of dust swirling in a golden cloud.

It was just a trick of light and shadow, of course, but the King’s Chamber was full of such illusions. I remembered that Napoleon Bonaparte had paused to spend a night alone here during his conquest of Egypt in the late eighteenth century. The next morning he had emerged pale and shaken, having experienced something which had profoundly disturbed him but about which he never afterwards spoke.22


22 Reported in P. W. Roberts, River in the Desert: Modern Travels in Ancient Egypt, Random House, New York and Toronto, 1993, p. 115.

Had he tried to sleep in the sarcophagus?

Acting on impulse, I climbed into the granite coffer and lay down, face upwards, my feet pointed towards the south and my head to the north.

Napoleon was a little guy, so he must have fitted comfortably. There was plenty of room for me too. But had Khufu been here as well?

I relaxed and tried not to worry about the possibility of one of the pyramid guards coming in and finding me in this embarrassing and probably illegal position. Hoping that I would remain undisturbed for a few minutes, I folded my hands across my chest and gave voice to a sustained low-pitched tone—something I had tried out several times before at other points in the King’s Chamber. On those occasions, in the centre of the floor, I had noticed that the walls and ceiling seemed to collect the sound, to gather and to amplify it and project it back at me so that I could sense the returning vibrations through my feet and scalp and skin.

Now in the sarcophagus I was aware of very much the same effect, although seemingly amplified and concentrated many times over. It was like being in the sound-box of some giant, resonant musical instrument designed to emit for ever just one reverberating note. The sound was intense and quite disturbing. I imagined it rising out of the coffer and bouncing off the red granite walls and ceiling of the King’s Chamber, shooting up through the northern and southern ‘ventilation’ shafts and spreading across the Giza plateau like a sonic mushroom cloud.

With this ambitious vision in my mind, and with the sound of my low-pitched note echoing in my ears and causing the sarcophagus to vibrate around me, I closed my eyes. When I opened them a few minutes later it was to behold a distressing sight: six Japanese tourists of mixed ages and sexes had congregated around the sarcophagus—two of them standing to the east, two to the west and one each to the north and south.

They all looked ... amazed. And I was amazed to see them. Because of recent attacks by armed Islamic extremists there were now almost no tourists at Giza and I had expected to have the King’s Chamber to myself.

What does one do in a situation like this?

Gathering as much dignity as I could muster, I stood upright, smiling and dusting myself off. The Japanese stepped back and I climbed out of the sarcophagus. Cultivating a businesslike manner, as though I did things like this all the time, I strolled to the point two-thirds of the way along the northern wall of the King’s Chamber where the entrance to what Egyptologists refer to as the ‘northern ventilation shaft’ is located, and began to examine it minutely.

Some 8 inches wide by 9 inches high, it was, I knew, more than 200 feet in length and emerged into open air at the pyramid’s 103rd course of masonry. Presumably by design rather than by accident, it pointed to the circumpolar regions of the northern heavens at an angle of 32° 30’. This, in the Pyramid Age around 2500 BC, would have meant that it was directed on the upper culmination of Alpha Draconis, a prominent star in the constellation of Draco.23

Much to my relief the Japanese rapidly completed their tour of the King’s Chamber and left, stooping, without a backward glance. As soon as they had gone I crossed over to the other side of the room to take a look at the southern shaft. Since I had last been here some months before, its appearance had changed horribly. Its mouth now contained a massive electrical air-conditioning unit installed by Rudolf Gantenbrink, who even now was turning his attentions to the neglected shafts of the Queen’s Chamber.

Since Egyptologists were satisfied that the King’s Chamber shafts had been built for ventilation purposes, they saw nothing untoward in using modern technology to improve the efficiency of this task. Yet wouldn’t horizontal shafts have been more effective than sloping ones if their primary purpose had been ventilation, and easier to build?24 It was therefore unlikely to be an accident that the southern shaft of the King’s Chamber targeted the southern heavens at 45°.


During the Pyramid Age this was the location for the meridian transit of Zeta Orionis, the lowest of the three stars of Orion’s Belt25—an alignment, I was to discover in due course, that would turn out to be of the utmost significance for future pyramid research.


23 Robert Bauval, Discussions in Egyptology No. 29, 1994.

24 Ibid.
25 Ibid. See also The Orion Mystery, p. 172.


The game-master
Now that I had the Chamber to myself again, I walked over to the western wall, on the far side of the sarcophagus, and turned to face east.

The huge room had an endless capacity to generate indications of mathematical game-playing. For example, its height (19 feet 1 inch) was exactly half of the length of its floor diagonal (38 feet 2 inches).26 Moreover, since the King’s Chamber formed a perfect 1 x 2 rectangle, was it conceivable that the pyramid builders were unaware that they had also made it express and exemplify the ‘golden section’?

Known as phi, the golden section was another irrational number like pi that could not be worked out arithmetically. Its value was the square root of 5 plus 1 divided by 2, equivalent to 1.61803.27 This proved to be the ‘limiting value of the ratio between successive numbers in the Fibonacci series—the series of numbers beginning 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13—in which each term is the sum of the two previous terms.’28

Phi could also be obtained schematically by dividing a line A-B at a point C in such a way that the whole line A-B was longer than the first part, A-C, in the same proportion as the first part, A-C, was longer than the remainder, C-B.29 This proportion, which had been proven particularly harmonious and agreeable to the eye, had supposedly been first discovered by the Pythagorean Greeks, who incorporated it into the Parthenon at Athens. There is absolutely no doubt, however, that phi illustrated and obtained at least 2000 years previously in the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid at Giza.

26 Traveller’s Key to Ancient Egypt, p. 117; The Great Pyramid: Your Personal Guide, p. 64.
27 John Ivimy, The Sphinx and the Megaliths, Abacus, London, 1976, p. 118.

28 Ibid.
29 Secrets of the Great Pyramid, p. 191.

At the very beginning of its Dynastic history, Egypt inherited a system of measures from unknown predecessors. Expressed in these ancient measures, the floor dimensions of the King’s Chamber (34 ft. 4” x 17 ft. 2”) work out at exactly 20 x 10 royal cubits’, while the height of the side walls to the ceiling is exactly 11.18 royal cubits. The semi-diagonal of the floor (A-B) is also exactly 11.18 royal cubits and can be ‘swung up’ to C to confirm the height of the chamber. Phi is defined mathematically as the square root of 5 + 1 + 2, i.e. 1.618. Is it a coincidence that the distance C-D (i.e. the wall height of the King’s Chamber plus half the width of its floor) equals 16.18 royal cubits, thus incorporating the essential digits of phi?

To understand how it is necessary to envisage the rectangular floor of the chamber as being divided into two imaginary squares of equal size, with the side length of each square being given a value of 1.


If either of these two squares were then split in half, thus forming two new rectangles, and if the diagonal of the rectangle nearest to the centerline of the King’s Chamber were swung down to the base, the point where its tip touched the base would be phi, or 1.618, in relation to the side length (i.e., 1) of the original square.30


(An alternative way of obtaining phi, also built into the King’s Chamber’s dimensions, is illustrated on the previous page.)


30 Ibid. See also Traveller’s Key to Ancient Egypt, pp. 117-19.

The Egyptologists considered all this was pure chance. Yet the pyramid builders had done nothing by chance. Whoever they had been, I found it hard to imagine more systematic and mathematically minded people.

I’d had quite enough of their mathematical games for one day. As I left the King’s Chamber, however, I could not forget that it was located in line with the 50th course of the Great Pyramid’s masonry at a height of almost 150 feet above the ground.31


This meant, as Flinders Petrie pointed out with some astonishment, that the builders had managed to place it ‘at the level where the vertical section of the Pyramid was halved, where the area of the horizontal section was half that of the base, where the diagonal from corner to corner was equal to the length of the base, and where the width of the face was equal to half the diagonal of the base’.32


31 The Great Pyramid: Your Personal Guide, p. 64.

32 The Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh, p. 93.

Confidently and efficiently fooling around with more than six million tons of stone, creating galleries and chambers and shafts and corridors more or less at will, achieving near-perfect symmetry, near-perfect right angles, and near-perfect alignments to the cardinal points, the mysterious builders of the Great Pyramid had found the time to play a great many other tricks as well with the dimensions of the vast monument.

Why did their minds work this way? What had they been trying to say or do? And why, so many thousands of years after it was built, did the monument still exert a magnetic influence upon so many people, from so many different walks of life, who came into contact with it?

There was a Sphinx in the neighbourhood, so I decided that I would put these riddles to It ...


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Chapter 39 - Place of the Beginning
Giza, Egypt, 16 March 1993, 3:30 p.m.

It was mid afternoon by the time I left the Great Pyramid. Retracing the route that Santha and I had followed the night before when we had climbed the monument, I walked eastwards along the northern face, southwards along the flank of the eastern face, clambered over mounds of rubble and ancient tombs that clustered closely in this part of the necropolis, and came out on to the sand-covered limestone bedrock of the Giza plateau, which sloped down towards the south and east.

At the bottom of this long gentle slope, about half a kilometre from the south-eastern corner of the Great Pyramid, the Sphinx crouched in his rock-hewn pit. Sixty-six feet high and more than 240 feet long, with a head measuring 13 feet 8 inches wide,1 he was, by a considerable margin, the largest single piece of sculpture in the world—and the most renowned:

  • A shape with lion body and the head of a man

  • A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun.2

Approaching the monument from the north-west I crossed the ancient causeway that connected the Second Pyramid with the so-called Valley Temple of Khafre, a most unusual structure located just 50 feet south of the Sphinx itself on the eastern edge of the Giza necropolis.

This Temple had long been believed to be far older than the time of Khafre. Indeed throughout much of the nineteenth century the consensus among scholars was that it had been built in remote prehistory, and had nothing to do with the architecture of dynastic Egypt.3 What changed all that was the discovery, buried within the Temple precincts, of a number of inscribed statues of Khafre.


Most were pretty badly smashed, but one, found upside down in a deep pit in an antechamber, was almost intact. Life-sized, and exquisitely carved out of black, jewel-hard diorite, it showed the Fourth Dynasty pharaoh seated on his throne and gazing with serene indifference towards infinity.


1 Measurements from The Pyramids of Egypt, p. 106.

2 W. B. Yeats, ‘The Second Coming’.
3 The Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh, p. 48.

At this point the razor-sharp reasoning of Egyptology was brought to bear, and a solution of almost awe-inspiring brilliance was worked out: statues of Khafre had been found in the Valley Temple therefore the Valley Temple had been built by Khafre. The normally sensible Flinders Petrie summed up: ‘The fact that the only dateable remains found in the Temple were statues of Khafre shows that it is of his period; since the idea of his appropriating an earlier building is very unlikely.’4

But why was the idea so unlikely?

Throughout the history of Dynastic Egypt many pharaohs appropriated the buildings of their predecessors, sometimes deliberately striking out the cartouches of the original builders and replacing them with their own.5 There was no good reason to assume that Khafre would have been deterred from linking himself to the Valley Temple, particularly if it had not been associated in his mind with any previous historical ruler but with the great ‘gods’ said by the Ancient Egyptians to have brought civilization to the Nile Valley in the distant and mythical epoch they spoke of as the First Time.6


In such a place of archaic and mysterious power, which he does not appear to have interfered with in any other way, Khafre might have thought that the setting up of beautiful and lifelike statues of himself could bring eternal benefits. And if, among the gods, the Valley Temple had been associated with Osiris (whom it was every pharaoh’s objective to join in the afterlife),7 Khafre’s use of statues to forge a strong symbolic link would be even more understandable.


4 Ibid., p. 50.
5 Margaret A. Murray, The Splendour that was Egypt, Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1987, pp. 160-1.

6 See Part VII, for a full discussion of the ‘First Time’.

7 Discussed in Part VII; see also Part III for a comparison of the Osirian rebirth cult and of the rebirth beliefs of Ancient Mexico.

Temple of the giants
After crossing the causeway, the route I had chosen to reach the Valley Temple took me through the rubble of a ‘mastaba’ field, where lesser notables of the Fourth Dynasty had been buried in subterranean tombs under bench-shaped platforms of stone (mastaba is a modern Arabic word meaning bench, hence the name given to these tombs).


I walked along the southern wall of the Temple itself, recalling that this ancient building was almost as perfectly oriented north to south as was the Great Pyramid (with an error of just 12 arc minutes).8

The Temple was square in plan, 147 feet along each side. It was built in to the slope of the plateau, which was higher in the west than in the east. In consequence, while its western wall stood only a little over 20 feet tall, its eastern wall exceeded 40 feet.9


8 The Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh, p. 47.
9 Measurements from The Pyramids and Temples of Egypt, p. 48, and The Pyramids of Egypt, p. 108.

Viewed from the south, the impression was of a wedge-shaped structure, squat and powerful, resting firmly on bedrock. A closer examination revealed that it incorporated several characteristics quite alien and inexplicable to the modern eye, which that must have seemed almost as alien and inexplicable to the Ancient Egyptians. For a start, there was the stark absence, both inside and out, of inscriptions and other identifying marks.


In this respect, as the reader will appreciate, the Valley Temple could be compared with a few of the other anonymous and frankly undatable monuments on the Giza plateau, including the great pyramids (and also with a mysterious structure at Abydos known as the Osireion, which we consider in detail in a later chapter) but otherwise bore no resemblance to the typical and well-known products of Ancient Egyptian art and architecture—all copiously decorated, embellished and inscribed.10

Another important and unusual feature of the Valley Temple was that its core structure was built entirely, entirely, of gigantic limestone megaliths. The majority of these measured about 18 feet long x 10 feet wide x 8 feet high and some were as large as 30 feet long x 12 feet wide x 10 feet high.11 Routinely exceeding 200 tons in weight, each was heavier than a modern diesel locomotive—and there were hundreds of blocks.12


10 In addition to the three Giza pyramids, the Mortuary Temples of Khafre and Menkaure can be compared with the Valley Temple in terms of their absence of adornment and use of megaliths weighing 200 tons or more.

11 Serpent in the Sky, p. 211; also Mystery of the Sphinx, NBC-TV, 1993.
12 For block weights see The Pyramids of Egypt, p. 215; Serpent in the Sky, p. 242; The Traveller’s Key to Ancient Egypt, p. 144; The Pyramids: An Enigma Solved, p. 51; Mystery of the Sphinx, NBC-TV, 1993.

Was this in any way mysterious?

Egyptologists did not seem to think so; indeed few of them had bothered to comment, except in the most superficial manner—either on the staggering size of these blocks or the mind-bending logistics of how they might have been put in place. As we have seen, monoliths of up to 70 tons, each about as heavy as 100 family-sized cars, had been lifted to the level of the King’s Chamber in the Great Pyramid—again without provoking much comment from the Egyptological fraternity—so the lack of curiosity about the Valley Temple was perhaps no surprise.


Nevertheless, the block size was truly extraordinary, seeming to belong not just to another epoch but to another ethic altogether—one that reflected incomprehensible aesthetic and structural concerns and suggested a scale of priorities utterly different from our own.

  • Why, for example, insist on using these cumbersome 200-ton monoliths when you could simply slice each of them up into 10 or 20 or 40 or 80 smaller and more manoeuvrable blocks?

  • Why make things so difficult for yourself when you could achieve much the same visual effect with much less effort?

  • And how had the builders of the Valley Temple lifted these colossal megaliths to heights of more than 40 feet?

At present there are only two land-based cranes in the world that could lift weights of this magnitude. At the very frontiers of construction technology, these are both vast, industrialized machines, with booms reaching more than 220 feet into the air, which require on-board counterweights of 160 tons to prevent them from tipping over. The preparation-time for a single lift is around six weeks and calls for the skills of specialized teams of up to 20 men.13


13 Personal communication from John Anthony West. See also Mystery of the Sphinx, NBC-TV.

In other words, modern builders with all the advantages of high-tech engineering at their disposal, can barely hoist weights of 200 tons. Was it not, therefore, somewhat surprising that the builders at Giza had hoisted such weights on an almost routine basis?

Moving closer to the Temple’s looming southern wall I observed something else about the huge limestone blocks: not only were they ridiculously large but, as though to complicate still further an almost impossible task, they had been cut and fitted into multi-angled jigsaw-puzzle patterns similar to those employed in the cyclopean stone structures at Sacsayhuaman and Machu Picchu in Peru (see Part II).

Another point I noticed was that the Temple walls appeared to have been constructed in two stages. The first stage, most of which was intact (though deeply eroded), consisted of the strong and heavy core of 200ton limestone blocks. On to both sides of these had been grafted a façade of dressed granite which (as we shall see) was largely intact in the interior of the building but had mainly fallen away on the outside. A closer look at some of the remaining exterior facing blocks where they had become detached from the core revealed a curious fact.


When they had been placed here in antiquity the backs of these blocks had been cut to fit into and around the deep coves and scallops of existing weathering patterns on the limestone core. The presence of those patterns seemed to imply that the core blocks must have stood here, exposed to the elements, for an immense span of time before they had been faced with granite.

The Sphinx and the Sphinx Temple with the Valley Temple of Khafre.


Lord of Rostau
I now moved around to the entrance of the Valley Temple, located near the northern end of the 43-foot high eastern wall. Here I saw that the granite facing was still in perfect condition, consisting of huge slabs weighing between 70 and 80 tons apiece which protected the underlying limestone core blocks like a suit of armour.


Incorporating a tall, narrow, roofless corridor, this dark and imposing portal ran east to west at first, then made a right-angle turn to the south, leading me into a spacious antechamber. It was here that the life-size diorite statue of Khafre had been found, upside down and apparently ritually buried, at the bottom of a deep pit.

Lining the entire interior of the antechamber was a majestic jigsaw puzzle of smoothly polished granite facing blocks (which continued through the whole building). Exactly like the blocks on some of the bigger and more bizarre pre-Inca monuments in Peru, these incorporated multiple, finely chiselled angles in the joints and presented a complex overall pattern. Of particular note was the way certain blocks wrapped around corners and were received by re-entering angles cut into other blocks.

From the antechamber I passed through an elegant corridor which led west into a spacious T-shaped hall. I found myself standing at the head of the T looking further westwards along an imposing avenue of monolithic columns. Reaching almost 15 feet in height and measuring 41 inches on each side, all these columns supported granite beams, which were again 41 inches square. A row of six further columns, also supporting beams, ran along the north-south axis of the T; the overall effect was of massive but refined simplicity.

What was this building for? According to the Egyptologists who attributed it to Khafre its purpose was obvious. It had been designed, they said, as a venue for certain of the purification and rebirth rituals required for the funeral of the pharaoh. The Ancient Egyptians themselves, however, had left no inscriptions confirming this.


On the contrary, the only written evidence that has come down to us indicated that the Valley Temple could not (originally at any rate) have had anything to do with Khafre, for the simple reason that it was built before his reign. This written evidence is the Inventory Stela, (referred to in Chapter Thirty-five), which also indicated a much greater age for the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx.

What the Inventory Stela had to say about the Valley Temple was that it had been standing during the reign of Khafre’s predecessor Khufu, when it had been regarded not as a recent but as a remotely ancient building. Moreover, it was clear from the context that it was not thought to have been the work of any earlier pharaoh. Instead, it was believed to have come down from the ‘First Time’ and to have been built by the ‘gods’ who had settled in the Nile Valley in that remote epoch. It was referred to quite explicitly as the ‘House of Osiris, Lord of Rostau 14 (Rostau being an archaic name for the Giza necropolis).15


14 Ancient Records of Egypt, volume I, p. 85.
15 See, for example, Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, University of California Press, 1976, volume II, pp. 85-6. 16 Ancient Records of Egypt, volume I, p. 85.

As we shall see in Part VII, Osiris was in many respects the Egyptian counterpart of Viracocha and Quetzalcoatl, the civilizing deities of the Andes and of Central America. With them he shared not only a common mission but a vast heritage of common symbolism. It seemed appropriate, therefore, that the ‘House’ (or sanctuary, or temple) of such a wise teacher and lawgiver should have been established at Giza within sight of the Great Pyramid and in the immediate vicinity of the Great Sphinx.

Vastly, remotely, fabulously ancient
Following the directions given in the Inventory Stela—which stated that the Sphinx lay ‘on the north-west of the House of Osiris’16—I made my way to the north end of the western wall that enclosed the Valley Temple’s T-shaped hall. I passed through a monolithic doorway and entered a long, sloping, alabaster floored corridor (also oriented northwest) which eventually opened out on to the lower end of the causeway that led up to the Second Pyramid.

From the edge of the causeway I had an unimpeded view of the Sphinx immediately to my north. As long as a city block, as high as a six-storey building it was perfectly oriented due east and thus faced the rising sun on the two equinoctial days of the year. Man-headed, lion-bodied, crouched as though ready at last to move its slow thighs after millennia of stony sleep, it had been carved in one piece out of a single ridge of limestone on a site that must have been meticulously preselected.


The exceptional characteristic of this site, as well as overlooking the Valley of the Nile, was that its geological make-up incorporated a knoll of hard rock jutting at least 30 feet above the general level of the limestone ridge. From this knoll the head and neck of the Sphinx had been carved, while beneath it the vast rectangle of limestone that would be shaped into the body had been isolated from the surrounding bedrock. The builders had done this by excavating an 18-foot wide, 25-foot deep trench all around it, creating a free-standing monolith.

The first and lasting impression of the Sphinx, and of its enclosure, is that it is very, very old—not a mere handful of thousands of years, like the Fourth Dynasty of Egyptian pharaohs, but vastly, remotely, fabulously old. This was how the Ancient Egyptians in all periods of their history regarded the monument, which they believed guarded the ‘Splendid Place of The Beginning of all Time’ and which they revered as the focus of ‘a great magical power extending over the whole region’.17

This, as we have already seen, is the general message of the Inventory Stela. More specifically, it is also the message of the ‘Sphinx Stela’ erected here in around 1400 BC by Thutmosis IV, an Eighteenth Dynasty pharaoh. Still standing between the paws of the Sphinx, this granite tablet records that prior to Thutmosis’s rule the monument had been covered up to its neck in sand. Thutmosis liberated it by clearing all the sand, and erected the stela to commemorate his work.18

There have been no significant changes in the climate of the Giza plateau over the last 5000 years.19 It therefore follows that throughout this entire period the Sphinx enclosure must have been as susceptible to sand encroachment as when Thutmosis cleared it—and, indeed, as it still is today.


Recent history proves that the enclosure can fill up rapidly if left unattended. In 1818 Captain Caviglia had it cleared of sand for the purposes of his excavations, and in 1886, when Gaston Maspero came to re-excavate the site, he was obliged to have it cleared of sand once again. Thirty-nine years later, in 1925, the sands had returned in full force and the Sphinx was buried to its neck when the Egyptian Service des Antiquités undertook its clearance and restoration once more.20

  • Does this not suggest that the climate could have been very different when the Sphinx enclosure was carved out?

  • What would have been the sense of creating this immense statue if its destiny were merely to be engulfed by the shifting sands of the eastern Sahara?

  • However, since the Sahara is a young desert, and since the Giza area in particular was wet and relatively fertile 11,000-15,000 years ago, is it not worth considering another scenario altogether?

  • Is it not possible that the Sphinx enclosure was carved out during those distant green millennia when topsoil was still anchored to the surface of the plateau by the roots of grasses and shrubs and when what is now a desert of wind-blown sand more closely resembled the rolling savannahs of modern Kenya and Tanzania?

17 A History of Egypt, 1902, volume 4, p. 80ff, ‘Stela of the Sphinx’.

18 Ibid.
19 Karl W. Butzer, Early Hydraulic Civilization in Egypt: A Study in Cultural Ecology, University of Chicago Press, 1976.
20 The Pyramids of Egypt, pp. 106-7.


Under such congenial climatic conditions, the creation of a semi-subterranean monument like the Sphinx would not have outraged common sense. The builders would have had no reason to anticipate the slow desiccation and desertification of the plateau that would ultimately follow.

Yet, is it feasible to imagine that the Sphinx could have been built when Giza was still green—long, long ago?

As we shall see, such ideas are anathema to modern Egyptologists, who are nevertheless obliged to admit (to quote Dr Mark Lehner, director of the Giza Mapping Project) that ‘there is no direct way to date the Sphinx itself, because the Sphinx is carved right out of natural rock.’21


In the absence of more objective tests, Lehner went on to point out, archaeologists had ‘to date things by context’. And the context of the Sphinx, that is, the Giza necropolis—a well-known Fourth Dynasty site— made it obvious that the Sphinx belonged to the Fourth Dynasty as well.22


21 Mark Lehner, 1992 AAAS Annual Meeting, Debate: How Old is the Sphinx?
22 Ibid.

Such reasoning was not regarded as axiomatic by Lehner’s distinguished predecessors in the nineteenth century, who were at one time convinced that the Sphinx long predated the Fourth Dynasty.

Whose Sphinx is it anyway?
In his Passing of Empires, published in 1900, the distinguished French Egyptologist Gaston Maspero, who made a special study of the content of the Sphinx Stela erected by Thutmosis IV, wrote:

The stela of the Sphinx bears, on line 13, the cartouche of Khafre in the middle of a gap ... There, I believe, is an indication of [a renovation and clearance] of the Sphinx carried out under this prince, and consequently the more or less certain proof that the Sphinx was already covered with sand during the time of Khufu and his predecessors ...23

The equally distinguished Auguste Mariette agreed—naturally enough since he had been the finder of the Inventory Stela (which, as we have seen, asserted matter-of-factly that the Sphinx was standing on the Giza plateau long before the time of Khufu).24 Also generally concurring were Brugsch (Egypt under the Pharaohs, London, 1891), Petrie, Sayce and many other eminent scholars of the period.25


Travel writers such as John Ward affirmed that ‘the Great Sphinx must be numberless years older even than the Pyramids’. And as late as 1904 Wallis Budge, the respected keeper of Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum, had no hesitation in making this unequivocal assertion:

The oldest and finest human-headed lion statue is the famous ‘Sphinx’ at Giza. This marvelous object was in existence in the days of Khafre, the builder of the Second Pyramid, and was, most probably, very old even at that early period ... The Sphinx was thought to be connected in some way with foreigners or with a foreign religion which dated from predynastic times.26

Between the beginning and the end of the twentieth century, however, Egyptologists’ views about the antiquity of the Sphinx changed dramatically. Today there is not a single orthodox Egyptologist who would even discuss, let alone consider seriously, the wild and irresponsible suggestion, once a commonplace, that the Sphinx might have been built thousands of years before Khafre’s reign.

According to Dr Zahi Hawass, for example, director of Giza and Saqqara for the Egyptian Antiquities Organization, many such theories have been put forward but have ‘gone with the wind’ because ‘we Egyptologists have solid evidence to state that the Sphinx is dated to the time of Khafre.’27

Likewise, Carol Redmont, an archaeologist at the University of California’s Berkeley campus, was incredulous when it was suggested to her that the Sphinx might be thousands of years older than Khafre:

‘There’s just no way that could be true. The people of that region would not have had the technology, the governing institutions or even the will to build such a structure thousands of years before Khafre’s reign.’28

23 Gaston Maspero, The Passing of Empires, New York, 1900.

24 See Chapter Thirty-five.
25 For a general summary of these views see John Ward, Pyramids and Progress, London, 1900, pp. 38-42.

26 The Gods of the Egyptians, volume I, pp. 471-2 and volume II, p. 361.

27 Interview in Mystery of the Sphinx, NBC-TV, 1993.

28 Cited in Serpent In The Sky, p. 230.

When I first started to research this issue, I had assumed, as Hawass appeared to claim, that some incontrovertible new evidence must have been found which had settled the identity of the monument’s builder. This was not the case. Indeed there are only three ‘contextual’ reasons why the construction of the anonymous, uninscribed and enigmatic Sphinx is now so confidently attributed to Khafre:

1 - Because of the cartouche of Khafre on line 13 of the Sphinx Stela erected by Thutmosis IV:

Maspero gave a perfectly reasonable explanation for the presence of this cartouche: Thutmosis had been a restorer of the Sphinx and had paid due tribute to an earlier restoration of the monument—one undertaken during the Fourth Dynasty by Khafre.


This explanation, which bears the obvious implication that the Sphinx must already have been old in Khafre’s time, is rejected by modern Egyptologists. With their usual telepathic like-mindedness they now agree that Thutmosis put the cartouche on to the stela to recognize that Khafra had been the original builder (and not a mere restorer).


Since there had only ever been this single cartouche—and since the texts on either side of it were missing when the stela was excavated, is it not a little premature to come to such hard-and-fast conclusions? What sort of ‘science’ is it that allows the mere presence of the cartouche of a Fourth Dynasty pharaoh (on a stele erected by an Eighteenth Dynasty pharaoh) to determine the entire identification of an otherwise anonymous monument? Besides, even that cartouche has now flaked off and cannot be examined ...

2 - Because the Valley Temple next door is also attributed to Khafre:

That attribution (based on statues which may well have been intrusive) is shaky to say the least. It has nevertheless received the wholehearted endorsement of the Egyptologists, who in the process decided to attribute the Sphinx to Khafre too (since the Sphinx and the Valley Temple are so obviously connected).

3 - Because the face of the Sphinx is thought to resemble the intact statue of Khafre found in the pit in the Valley Temple:

This, of course, is a matter of opinion. I have never seen the slightest resemblance between the two faces. Nor for that matter had forensic artists from the New York Police Department who had recently been brought in to do an Identikit comparison between the Sphinx and the statue29 (as we shall see in Part VII).

All in all, therefore, as I stood overlooking the Sphinx in the late afternoon of 16 March 1993, I considered that the jury was still very much out on the correct attribution of this monument—either to Khafre on the one hand or to the architects of an as yet unidentified high civilization of prehistoric antiquity on the other.30


No matter what the current flavour of the month (or century) happened to be with the Egyptologists, the fact was that both scenarios were plausible. What was needed, therefore, was some completely hard and unambiguous evidence which would settle the matter one way or the other.


29 Ibid., pp. 230-2; Mystery of the Sphinx, NBC-TV.
30 At least one orthodox Egyptologist, Selim Hassan, has admitted that the jury is still out on this issue. After twenty years of excavations at Giza he wrote,

‘Except for the mutilated line on the Granite Stela of Thutmosis IV, which proves nothing, there is not one single ancient inscription which connects the Sphinx with Khafre. So, sound as it may appear, we must treat this evidence as circumstantial until such a time as a lucky turn of the spade will reveal to the world definite reference to the erection of this statue.’

Cited in Conde Nast Traveller, February 1993, pp. 168-9.


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