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.
Pyramids of Egypt, p. 88; The Great Pyramid: Your Personal Guide,
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.
Entering the pyramid through Ma’mun’s Hole did not feel right. It
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
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
Why, then, if it was indeed a royal tomb, was the Great Pyramid so
Why did it occupy a ground area of more than thirteen
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
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.
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
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)?
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,
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
13 The Pyramids of Egypt, p. 93.
14 Dimensions from Traveller’s Key to
Ancient Egypt, p. 121, and The Pyramids of Egypt,
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
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.
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
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
‘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
The ‘something or other’ Bill Grundy’s chisel had reached turned out
‘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
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
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.
Presentation at the British Museum, 22 November 1993, by Rudolf
Gantenbrink, of footage shot in the shafts by the robot camera
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
23 Ibid., p. 93; Traveller’s Key to Ancient Egypt, p. 115.
Pyramids of Egypt, p. 93.
25 Traveller’s Key to Ancient Egypt, p.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
Wasn’t it peculiar that at the supposed dawn of human civilization,
more than 4500 years ago, the Ancient Egyptians had acquired what
like industrial-age drills packing a ton or more of punch and
capable of slicing through hard stones like hot knives through
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.
Egypt: Land of the Pharaohs, Time-Life Books, 1992, p. 51.
of Ancient Egypt, p. 36.
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
into its murky depths where the dim electric lighting of the chamber
seemed hardly to penetrate and saw specks of dust swirling in a
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
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
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
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
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
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
23 Robert Bauval, Discussions in Egyptology No. 29, 1994.
25 Ibid. See also The Orion Mystery, p. 172.
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
The huge room had an endless capacity to generate indications of
mathematical game-playing. For example, its height (19 feet 1 inch)
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
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
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.
Traveller’s Key to Ancient Egypt, p. 117; The Great Pyramid: Your
Personal Guide, p.
27 John Ivimy, The Sphinx and the Megaliths, Abacus, London, 1976,
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
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
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 ...
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:
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
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.
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
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
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
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
4 Ibid., p. 50.
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
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.
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
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
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
11 Serpent in the Sky, p. 211; also Mystery of the Sphinx,
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,
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
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
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
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
14 Ancient Records of Egypt, volume I, p. 85.
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
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?
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
Karl W. Butzer, Early Hydraulic Civilization in Egypt: A Study in
Cultural Ecology, University of Chicago Press, 1976.
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
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
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?
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
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
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
‘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.
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
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).
- Because the face of the Sphinx is thought to resemble the intact
statue of Khafre found in the pit in the Valley Temple:
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
much out on the correct attribution of this monument—either to
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
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.
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
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
Cited in Conde Nast Traveller, February 1993, pp. 168-9.
Continue to Chapter 40
to La Gran Piramide y Sus Secretos