Part VII

Lord of Eternity
Egypt 2

Chapter 40 - Are There Any Secrets Left in Egypt?

During the early evening of 26 November 1922 the British archaeologist Howard Carter, together with his sponsor Lord Carnarvon, entered the tomb of a youthful pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty who had ruled Egypt from 1352-43 BC. The name of that pharaoh, which has since resounded around the world, was Tutankhamun.

Two nights later, on 28 November, the tomb’s ‘Treasury’ was breached. It was filled with a huge golden shrine and gave access to another chamber beyond. Rather unusually, this chamber, although heaped with a dazzling array of precious and beautiful artifacts, had no door: its entrance was watched over by an extraordinarily lifelike effigy of the jackal-headed mortuary god Anubis. With ears erect, the god crouched doglike, forepaws stretched out, on the lid of a gilded wooden casket perhaps four feet long, three feet high and two feet wide.

The Egyptian Museum, Cairo, December 1993
Still perched astride his casket, but now locked away in a dusty glass display case, Anubis held my attention for a long, quiet moment.


His effigy had been carved out of stuccoed wood, entirely covered with black resin, then painstakingly inlaid with gold, alabaster, calcite, obsidian and silver—materials used to particular effect in the eyes, which glittered watchfully with an unsettling sense of fierce and focused intelligence. At the same time his finely etched ribs and lithe musculature gave off an aura of understated strength, energy and grace.

Captured by the force field of this occult and powerful presence, I was vividly reminded of the universal myths of precession I had been studying during the past year. Canine figures moved back and forth among these myths in a manner which at times had seemed almost plotted in the literary sense. I had begun to wonder whether the symbolism of dogs, wolves, jackals, and so on, might have been deliberately employed by the long-dead myth-makers to guide initiates through a maze of clues to secret reservoirs of lost scientific knowledge.

Among these reservoirs, I suspected, was the myth of Osiris. Much more than a myth, it had been dramatized and performed each year in Ancient Egypt in the form of a mystery play—a ‘plotted’ literary artifact, passed down as a treasured tradition since prehistoric times.1 This tradition, as we saw in Part V, contained values for the rate of precessional motion that were so accurate and so consistent it was extremely difficult to attribute them to chance.

1 See, for example, Rosalie David, A Guide to Religious Ritual at Abydos, Aris and Phillips, Warminster, 1981, in particular p. 121.

Nor did it seem likely to be an accident that the jackal god had been assigned a role centre-stage in the drama, serving as the spirit guide of Osiris on his journey through the underworld.2 It was tempting, too, to wonder whether there was any significance in the fact that in ancient times Anubis had been referred to by Egyptian priests as the ‘guardian of the secret and sacred writings’.3


Under the grooved edge of the gilded casket on which his effigy now crouched was found an inscription: ‘initiated into the secrets’.4 Alternative translations of the same hieroglyphic text rendered it variously as ‘he who is upon the secrets’, and as ‘guardian of the secrets’.5

2 The Gods of the Egyptians, volume II, pp. 262-6.

3 Lucy Lamy, Egyptian Mysteries, Thames & Hudson, London, 1986, p. 93.
4 Jean-Pierre Corteggiani, The Egypt of the Pharaohs at the Cairo Museum, Scala Publications, London, 1987, p. 118.
5 Ibid.; see also R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz, Sacred Science: The King of Pharaonic Theocracy, Inner Traditions International, Rochester, 1988, pp. 182-3.

  • But were there any secrets left in Egypt?

  • After more than a century of intensive archaeological investigations, could the sands of this antique land yield any further surprises?

Bauval’s Stars and West’s Stones
In 1993 there was an astonishing new discovery which suggested that there was much still to learn about Ancient Egypt. The discoverer, moreover, was not some astigmatic archaeologist sieving his way through the dust of ages but an outsider to the field: Robert Bauval, a Belgian construction engineer with a flair for astronomy who observed a correlation in the sky that the experts had missed in their fixation with the ground at their feet.

What Bauval saw was this: as the three belt stars of the Orion constellation crossed the meridian at Giza they lay in a not quite straight line high in the southern heavens. The lower two stars, Al Nitak and Al Nilam, formed a perfect diagonal but the third star, Mintaka, appeared to be offset to the observer’s left, that is, towards the east.

The three pyramids of Giza plotted against the three belt stars of the Orion constellation.

Curiously enough (as we saw in Chapter Thirty-six), this was exactly the site-plan of the three enigmatic pyramids of the Giza plateau. Bauval realized that an aerial view of the Giza necropolis would show the Great Pyramid of Khufu occupying the position of Al Nitak, and the Second Pyramid of Khafre occupying the position of Al Nilam, while the Third Pyramid of Menkaure was offset to the east of the diagonal formed by the other two—thus completing what seemed at first to be a vast diagram of the stars.

Was this indeed what the Giza pyramids represented? I knew that Bauval’s later work, which had been wholeheartedly endorsed by mathematicians and astronomers, had borne out his inspired hunch. His evidence (reviewed fully in Chapter Forty-nine) showed that the three pyramids were an unbelievably precise terrestrial map of the three stars of Orion’s belt, accurately reflecting the angles between each of them and even (by means of their respective sizes) providing some indication of their individual magnitudes.6


Moreover, this map extended outwards to the north and south to encompass several other structures on the Giza plateau—once again with faultless precision.7


However, the real surprise revealed by Bauval’s astronomical calculations was this: despite the fact that some aspects of the Great Pyramid did relate astronomically to the Pyramid Age, the Giza monuments as a whole were so arranged as to provide a picture of the skies (which alter their appearance down the ages as a result of precession of the equinoxes) not as they had looked in the Fourth Dynasty around 2500 BC, but as they had looked—and only as they had looked—around the year 10,450 BC.8

I had come to Egypt to go over the Giza site with Robert Bauval and to question him about his star-correlation theory. In addition I wanted to canvass his views on what sort of human society, if any, could have had the technological know-how, such a very long while ago, to measure accurately the altitudes of the stars and to devise a plan as mathematical and ambitious as that of the Giza necropolis.

I had also come to meet another researcher who had challenged the orthodox chronology of Ancient Egypt with a well-founded claim to have found hard evidence of a high civilization in the Nile Valley in 10,000 BC or earlier. Like Bauval’s astronomical data, the evidence had always been available but had failed to attract the attention of established Egyptologists.


The man responsible for bringing it before the public now was the American scholar, John Anthony West, who argued that the specialists had missed it—not because they had failed to find it, but because they had found it and had failed to interpret it properly.9

West’s evidence focused on certain key structures, notably the Great Sphinx and the Valley Temple at Giza and, much farther south, the mysterious Osireion at Abydos. He argued that these desert monuments showed many scientifically unmistakable signs of having been weathered by water, an erosive agent they could only have been exposed to in sufficient quantities during the damp ‘pluvial’ period that accompanied the end of the last Ice Age around the eleventh millennium BC.10

6 The Orion Mystery.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.
9 Serpent in the Sky, pp. 184-242.

10 Ibid., 186-7.

The implication of this peculiar and extremely distinctive pattern of ‘precipitation induced’ weathering, was that the Osireion, the Sphinx, and other associated structures were built before 10,000 BC.11 A British investigative journalist summed up the effect: West is really an academic’s worst nightmare, because here comes somebody way out of left-field with a thoroughly well thought out, well presented, coherently described theory, full of data they can’t refute, and it pulls the rug out from beneath their feet. So how do they deal with it? They ignore it. They hope it’ll go away ... and it won’t go away.12

The reason the new theory would not, under any circumstances, go away, despite its rejection by droves of ‘competent Egyptologists’, was that it had won widespread support from another scientific branch of scholarship—geology. Dr Robert Schoch, a professor of Geology at Boston University, had played a prominent role in validating West’s estimates concerning the true age of the Sphinx, and his views had been endorsed by almost 300 of his peers at the 1992 annual convention of the Geological Society of America.13

Since then, most often out of the public eye, an acrimonious dispute had begun to smoulder between the geologists and the Egyptologists.14 And though very few people other than John West were prepared to say as much, what was at stake in this dispute was a complete upheaval in accepted views about the evolution of human civilization.

According to West:

We are told that the evolution of human civilization is a linear process—that it goes from stupid cavemen to smart old us with our hydrogen bombs and striped toothpaste. But the proof that the Sphinx is many, many thousands of years older than the archaeologists think it is, that it preceded by many thousands of years even dynastic Egypt, means that there must have been, at some distant point in history, a high and sophisticated civilization—just as all the legends affirm.15

My own travels and research during the preceding four years had opened my eyes to the electrifying possibility that those legends could be true, and this was why I had come back to Egypt to meet West and Bauval. I was struck by the way in which their hitherto disparate lines of enquiry16 had converged so convincingly on what appeared to be the astronomical and geological fingerprints of a lost civilization, one that might or might not have originated in the Nile Valley but that seemed to have had a presence here as far back as the eleventh millennium BC.

11 Ibid.
12 Mystery of the Sphinx, NBC-TV, 1993.

13 Conde Nast Traveller, February 1993, p. 176.
14 E.g, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Chicago, 1992, Debate: How Old is the Sphinx?
15 Mystery of the Sphinx.
16 John West and Robert Bauval worked in isolation, unaware of each other’s findings, until I introduced them.

The way of the jackal
Anubis, guardian of the secrets, god of the funerary chamber, jackal-headed opener of the ways of the dead, guide and companion of Osiris ...

It was around five o’clock in the afternoon, closing-time at the Cairo Museum, when Santha pronounced herself satisfied with her photographs of the sinister black effigy. Down below us guards were whistling and clapping their hands as they sought to herd the last few sightseers out of the halls, but up on the second floor of the hundred-year-old building, where ancient Anubis crouched in his millennial watchfulness, all was quiet, all was still.

We left the sombre museum and walked down into the sunlight still bathing Cairo’s bustling Tahrir Square.

Anubis, I reflected, had shared his duties as spirit guide and guardian of the secret writings with another god whose type and symbol had also been the jackal and whose name, Upuaut, literally meant Opener of the Ways.17


Both these canine deities had been linked since time immemorial with the ancient town of Abydos in upper Egypt, the original god of which, Khenti-Amentiu (the strangely named ‘Foremost of the Westerners’) had also been represented as a member of the dog family, usually lying recumbent on a black standard.18


17 The Gods of the Egyptians, volume II, p. 264.
18 Blue Guide, Egypt, p. 509; see also From Fetish to God in Ancient Egypt, pp. 211-15; Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection, volume I, p. 31ff; The Encyclopaedia of Ancient Egypt, p. 197.

Was there any significance in the repeated recurrence at Abydos of all this mythical and symbolic doggishness, with its promise of high secrets waiting to unfold? It seemed worthwhile trying to find out since the extensive ruins there included the structure known as the Osireion, which West’s geological research had indicated might be far older than the archaeologists thought.

Besides, I had already arranged to meet West in a few days in the upper Egyptian town of Luxor, less than 200 kilometers south of Abydos. Rather than flying directly to Luxor from Cairo, as I had originally planned, I now realized that it would be perfectly feasible to go by road and to visit Abydos and a number of other sites along the way.

Our driver, Mohamed Walili, was waiting for us in an underground carpark just off Tahrir Square. A large genial, elderly man, he owned a battered white Peugeot taxi normally to be found standing in the rank outside the Mena House hotel at Giza. Over the last few years, on our frequent research trips to Cairo, we had struck up a friendship with him and he now worked with us whenever we were in Egypt.


We haggled for some time about the appropriate daily rate for the long return journey to Abydos and Luxor. Many matters had to be taken into account, including the fact that some of the areas we would be passing through had recently been targets of terrorist attacks by Islamic militants. Eventually we agreed on a price and arranged to set off early the following morning.

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Chapter 41 - City of the Sun, Chamber of the Jackal 

Mohamed picked us up at our hotel in Heliopolis at 6 a. m. when it was still half dark.

We drank small cups of thick black coffee at a roadside stall and then drove west, along dusty streets still almost deserted, towards the River Nile. I had asked Mohamed to take us through Maydan al-Massallah Square, which was dominated by one of the world’s oldest intact Egyptian obelisks.1 Weighing an estimated 350 tons, this was a pink granite monolith, 107 feet high, erected by Pharaoh Senuseret I (1971-1928 BC).


It had originally been one of a pair at the gateway of the great Heliopolitan Temple of the Sun. In the 4000 years since then the temple itself had entirely vanished, as had the second obelisk. Indeed, almost all of ancient Heliopolis had now been obliterated, cannibalized for its handsome dressed stones and ready-made building materials by countless generations of the citizens of Cairo.2

Heliopolis (City of the Sun) was referred to in the Bible as On but was originally known in the Egyptian language as Innu, or Innu Mehret— meaning ‘the pillar’ or ‘the northern pillar’.3 It was a district of immense sanctity, associated with a strange group of nine solar and stellar deities, and was old beyond reckoning when Senuseret chose it as the site for his obelisk. Indeed, together with Giza (and the distant southern city of Abydos) Innu/Heliopolis was believed to have been part of the first land that emerged from the primeval waters at the moment of creation, the land of the ‘First Time’, where the gods had commenced their rule on earth.4

1 ‘Saqqara, Egypt: Archaeologists have discovered a green limestone obelisk, the world’s oldest-known complete obelisk, dedicated to Inty, a wife of Pharaoh Pepi I, Egypt’s ruler almost 4300 years ago, who was regarded as a goddess after her death.’ Times, London, 9 May 1992; see also Daily Telegraph, London, 9 May 1992.
2 Atlas of Ancient Egypt, pp. 173-4; Rosalie and Anthony E. David, A Biographical Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, Seaby, London, 1992, pp. 133-4; Blue Guide, Egypt, p. 413.

3 The Encyclopaedia of Ancient Egypt, p. 110.

4 George Hart, Egyptian Myths, British Museum Publications, 1990, p. 11.
5 The Encyclopaedia of Ancient Egypt, p. 110; Traveller’s Key to Ancient Egypt, p. 66;

Heliopolitan theology rested on a creation-myth distinguished by a number of unique and curious features. It taught that in the beginning the universe had been filled with a dark, watery nothingness, called the Nun. Out of this inert cosmic ocean (described as ‘shapeless, black with the blackness of the blackest night’) rose a mound of dry land on which Ra, the Sun God, materialized in his self-created form as Atum (sometimes depicted as an old bearded man leaning on a staff):5

The sky had not been created, the earth had not been created, the children of the earth and the reptiles had not been fashioned in that place ... I, Atum, was one by myself ... There existed no other who worked with me ...6

Conscious of being alone, this blessed and immortal being contrived to create two divine offspring, Shu, god of the air and dryness, and Tefnut the goddess of moisture:

‘I thrust my phallus into my closed hand. I made my seed to enter my hand. I poured it into my own mouth. I evacuated under the form of Shu, I passed water under the form of Tefnut.’7

Despite such apparently inauspicious beginnings, Shu and Tefnut (who were always described as ‘Twins’ and frequently depicted as lions) grew to maturity, copulated and produced offspring of their own: Geb the god of the earth and Nut, the goddess of the sky. These two also mated, creating Osiris and Isis, Set and Nepthys, and so completed the Ennead, the full company of the Nine Gods of Heliopolis. Of the nine, Ra, Shu, Geb and Osiris were said to have ruled in Egypt as kings, followed by Horus, and lastly—for 3226 years—by the Ibis-headed wisdom god Thoth.8

  • Who were these people—or creatures, or beings, or gods?

  • Were they figments of the priestly imagination, or symbols, or ciphers?

  • Were the stories told about them vivid myth memories of real events which had taken place thousands of years previously?

  • Or were they, perhaps, part of a coded message from the ancients that had been transmitting itself over and over again down the epochs—a message only now beginning to be unravelled and understood?

Such notions seemed fanciful. Nevertheless I could hardly forget that out of this very same Heliopolitan tradition the great myth of Isis and Osiris had flowed, covertly transmitting an accurate calculus for the rate of precessional motion.


Moreover the priests of Innu, whose responsibility it had been to guard and nurture such traditions, had been renowned throughout Egypt for their high wisdom and their proficiency in prophecy, astronomy, mathematics, architecture and the magic arts. They were also famous for their possession of a powerful and sacred object known as the Benben.9

5 From Fetish to God in Ancient Egypt, p. 140.
6 Papyrus of Nesiamsu, cited in Sacred Science: The King of Pharaonic Theocracy, pp. 188-9; see also From Fetish to God in Ancient Egypt, pp. 141-3.
7 From Fetish to God in Ancient Egypt, p. 142. In other readings Shu and Tefnut were spat out by Ra-Atum.
8 New Larousse Encyclopaedia of Mythology, p. 27. The figure 3126 is given in some accounts.
9 The Pyramids: An Enigma Solved, p. 13; C. Jacq, Egyptian Magic, Aris and Phillips, Warminster, 1985, p. 8; The Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt, p. 36.

The Egyptians called Heliopolis Innu, the pillar, because tradition had it that the Benben had been kept here in remote pre-dynastic times, when it had balanced on top of a pillar of rough-hewn stone.

The Benben was believed to have fallen from the skies. Unfortunately, it had been lost so long before that its appearance was no longer remembered by the time Senuseret took the throne in 1971 BC. In that period (the Twelfth Dynasty) all that was clearly recalled was that the Benben had been pyramidal in form, thus providing (together with the pillar on which it stood) a prototype for the shape of all future obelisks.


The name Benben was likewise applied to the pyramidion, or apex stone, usually placed on top of pyramids.10 In a symbolic sense, it was also associated closely and directly with Ra-Atum, of whom the ancient texts said,

‘You became high on the height; you rose up as the Benben stone in the Mansion of the Phoenix ...’11

Mansion of the Phoenix described the original temple at Heliopolis where the Benben had been housed. It reflected the fact that the mysterious object had also served as an enduring symbol for the mythical Phoenix, the divine Bennu bird whose appearances and disappearances were believed to be linked to violent cosmic cycles and to the destruction and rebirth of world ages.12


10 Kingship and the Gods, p. 153.

11 The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, p. 246.
12 For a more detailed discussion see The Orion Mystery, p. 17. Bauval suggests that the Benben may have been an oriented meteorite: ‘From depictions it would seem that this meteorite was from six to fifteen tons in mass ... the frightful spectacle of its fiery fall would have been very impressive ...’, p. 204.


Connections and similarities
Driving through the suburbs of Heliopolis at around 6:30 in the morning I closed my eyes and tried to summon up a picture of the landscape as it might have looked in the mythical First Time after the Island of Creation13—the primordial mound of Ra-Atum—had risen out of the flood waters of the Nun.


It was tempting to see a connection between this imagery and the Andean traditions that spoke of the emergence of the civilizer god Viracocha from the waters of Lake Titicaca after an earth-destroying flood. Moreover there was the figure of Osiris to consider—a conspicuously bearded figure, like Viracocha, and like Quetzalcoatl as well—remembered for having abolished cannibalism among the Egyptians, for having taught them agriculture and animal husbandry, and for introducing them to such arts as writing, architecture, and music.14


13 The Penguin Dictionary of Religions, Penguin Books, London, 1988, p. 166.
14 E.g. The Egyptian Book of the Dead, Introduction, p. XLIX; Qsiris And The Egyptian Resurrection, volume II, pp. 1-11.

The similarities between the Old and New World traditions were hard to miss but even harder to interpret. It was possible they were just a series of beguiling coincidences. On the other hand, it was possible that they might reveal the fingerprints of an ancient and unidentified global civilization—fingerprints that were essentially the same whether they appeared in the myths of Central America, or of the high Andes, or of Egypt.


The priests of Heliopolis, after all, had taught of the creation, but who had taught them? Had they sprung out of nowhere, or was it more likely that their doctrine, with all its complex symbolism, was the product of a long refinement of religious ideas?

If so, when and where had these ideas developed?

I looked up to discover that we had left Heliopolis behind and were winding our way through the noisy and crowded streets of down-town Cairo. We crossed over to the west bank of the Nile by way of the 6 October Bridge and soon afterwards entered Giza. Fifteen minutes later, passing the massive bulk of the Great Pyramid on our right, we turned south on the road to upper Egypt, a road which followed the meridional course of the world’s longest river through a landscape of palms and green fields fringed by the encroaching red wastes of pitiless deserts.

The ideas of the Heliopolitan priesthood had influenced every aspect of secular and religious life in Ancient Egypt, but had those ideas developed locally, or had they been introduced to the Nile Valley from elsewhere? The traditions of the Egyptians provided an unambiguous answer to questions such as these. All the wisdom of Heliopolis was a legacy, they said, and this legacy had been passed to humankind by the gods.

Gift of the Gods?
About ten miles south of the Great Pyramid we pulled off the main road to visit the necropolis of Saqqara. Rearing up on the desert’s edge, the site was dominated by a six-tier ziggurat, the step-pyramid of the Third Dynasty Pharaoh Zoser. This imposing monument, almost 200 feet tall, was dated to approximately 2650 BC.


It stood within its own compound, surrounded by an elegant enclosure wall, and was reckoned by archaeologists to be the earliest massive construction of stone ever attempted by humanity.15 Tradition had it that its architect was the legendary Imhotep, ‘Great of Magic’, a high priest of Heliopolis, whose other titles were Sage, Sorcerer, Astronomer and Doctor.16

15 Tradition had it that its architect was the legendary Imhotep, ‘Great of Magic’, a high priest of Heliopolis, whose other titles were Sage, Sorcerer, Astronomer and Doctor.

16 16 Ibid., p. 158.


We shall have more to say about the step-pyramid and its builder in a later chapter, but on this occasion I had not come to Saqqara to see it. My sole objective was to spend a few moments in the burial chamber of the nearby pyramid of Unas, a Fifth Dynasty pharaoh who had reigned from 2356 to 2323 BC.17


The walls of this chamber, which I had visited several times before, were inscribed from floor to ceiling with the most ancient of the Pyramid Texts, an extravaganza of hieroglyphic inscriptions giving voice to a range of remarkable ideas—in acute contrast to the mute and unadorned interiors of the Fourth Dynasty pyramids at Giza.

A phenomenon exclusively of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties (2465-2152 BC), the Pyramid Texts were sacred writings, parts of which were thought to have been composed by the Heliopolitan priesthood in the late third millennium BC, and parts of which had been received and handed down by them from pre-dynastic times.18 It was the latter parts of these Texts, dating to a remote and impenetrable antiquity, which had particularly aroused my curiosity when I had begun to research them a few months previously.


17 Atlas of Ancient Egypt, p. 36.

18 From Fetish to God in Ancient Egypt, p. 147: ‘Judging by the Pyramid Texts, the priests of Heliopolis borrowed very largely from the religious beliefs of the predynastic Egyptians ...’ See also The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, p. 11.


I had also been amused—and a little intrigued—by the strange way that nineteenth century French archaeologists appeared almost to have been directed to the hidden chamber of the Pyramid Texts by a mythological ‘opener of the ways.’ According to reasonably well-documented reports, an Egyptian foreman of the excavations at Saqqara had been up and about at dawn one morning and had found himself by the side of a ruined pyramid looking into the bright amber eyes of a lone desert jackal:

It was as if the animal were taunting his human observer ... and inviting the puzzled man to chase him. Slowly the jackal sauntered towards the north face of the pyramid, stopping for a moment before disappearing into a hole. The bemused Arab decided to follow his lead. After slipping through the narrow hole, he found himself crawling into the dark bowels of the pyramid.


Soon he emerged into a chamber and, lifting his light, saw that the walls were covered from top to bottom with hieroglyphic inscriptions. These were carved with exquisite craftsmanship into the solid limestone and painted over with turquoise and gold.’19

Today the hieroglyph-lined chamber beneath the ruined pyramid of Unas is still reached through the north face by the long descending passage the French archaeological team excavated soon after the foreman’s astonishing discovery. The chamber consists of two rectangular rooms separated by a partition wall, into which is let a low doorway. Both rooms are covered by a gabled ceiling painted with myriads of stars.


Emerging stooped from the cramped passage, Santha and I entered the first of the two rooms and passed through the connecting doorway into the second. This was the tomb chamber proper, with the massive black granite sarcophagus of Unas at its western end and the strange utterances of the Pyramid Texts proclaiming themselves from every wall.

Speaking to us directly (rather than through riddles and mathematical legerdemain like the unadorned walls of the Great Pyramid), what were the hieroglyphs saying? I knew that the answer depended to some extent on which translation you were using, largely because the language of the Pyramid Texts contained so many archaic forms and so many unfamiliar mythological allusions that scholars were obliged to fill in the gaps in their knowledge with guesswork.20


Nevertheless it was generally agreed that the late R. O. Faulkner, a professor of the Ancient Egyptian Language at University College London, had produced the most authoritative version.21

Faulkner, whose translation I had studied line by line, described the Texts as constituting,

‘the oldest corpus of Egyptian religious and funerary literature now extant’ and added, ‘they are the least corrupt of all such collections and are of fundamental importance to the student of Egyptian religion ...’22

The reason why the Texts were so important (as many scholars agreed), was that they were the last completely open channel connecting the relatively short period of the past that humanity remembers to the far longer period that has been forgotten:

‘They vaguely disclose to us a vanished world of thought and speech, the last of the unnumbered aeons through which prehistoric man has passed, till finally he ... enters the historic age.’23

19 The Orion Mystery, pp. 57-8.
20 Traveller’s Key to Ancient Egypt, pp. 166; The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, p. V: ‘The Pyramid Texts ... include very ancient texts ... There are many mythological and other allusions of which the purport is obscure to the translator of today ...’

21 The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts.

22 Ibid., p. v.
23 James Henry Breasted, The Dawn of Conscience, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1944, p. 69.

It was hard to disagree with sentiments like these: the Texts did disclose a vanished world. But what intrigued me most about this world was the possibility that it might have been inhabited not only by primitive savages (as one would have expected in remote prehistory) but, paradoxically, by men and women whose minds had been enlightened by a scientific understanding of the cosmos.


The overall picture was equivocal: there were genuinely primitive elements locked into the Pyramid Texts alongside the loftier sequences of ideas. Nevertheless, every time I immersed myself in what Egyptologists call ‘these ancient spells’, I was impressed by the strange glimpses they seemed to afford of a high intelligence at work, darting from behind layers of incomprehension, reporting on experiences that ‘prehistoric man’ should never have had and expressing notions he should never have been able to formulate.


In short, the effect the Texts achieved through the medium of hieroglyphs was akin to the effect the Great Pyramid achieved through the medium of architecture. In both cases the dominant impression was of anachronism—of advanced technological processes used or described at a period in human history when there was supposed to have been no technology at all ...

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Chapter 42 - Anachronisms and Enigmas

I looked around the grey-walled chamber of Unas, up and down the long registers of hieroglyphs in which the Pyramid Texts were inscribed. They were written in a dead language. Nevertheless, the constant affirmation, repeated over and over again in these ancient compositions, was that of life—eternal life—which was to be achieved through the pharaoh’s rebirth as a star in the constellation of Orion.


As the reader will recall from Chapter Nineteen, (where we compared Egyptian beliefs with those of Ancient Mexico), there were several utterances which voiced this aspiration explicitly:

Oh King, you are this Great Star, the Companion of Orion, who traverses the sky
with Orion ... you ascend from the east of the sky being renewed in your due
season, and rejuvenated in your due time ...’1

Though undeniably beautiful there was nothing inherently extraordinary about these sentiments, and it was by no means impossible to attribute them to a people assessed by the French archaeologist Gaston Maspero as having ‘always remained half savage’.2


Furthermore, since Maspero had been the first Egyptologist to enter the pyramid of Unas,3 and was considered a great authority on the Texts, it was hardly surprising that his opinions should have shaped all academic responses to this literature since he began to publish translations from it in the 1880s.4 Maspero (with a little help from a jackal) had brought the Pyramid Texts to the world.


1 The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, lines 882, 883; see also, inter alia, lines 2115 and 2116.

2 The Gods of the Egyptians, volume I, p. 117.

3 He did so on 28 February 1881; see The Orion Mystery, p. 59.

4 The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, p. v.


Thereafter, the dominance of his particular prejudices about the past had functioned as a filter on knowledge, inhibiting variant interpretations of the more opaque or puzzling utterances. This seemed to me to be unfortunate to say the least. What it meant was that, despite the technical and scientific puzzles raised by monuments like the Great Pyramid at Giza, scholars had ignored the implications of some striking passages in the Texts.

These passages sounded suspiciously like attempts to express complex technical and scientific imagery in an entirely inappropriate idiom. Maybe it was coincidence, but the result resembled the outcome that we might expect today if we were to try to translate Einstein’s Theory of Relativity into Chaucerian English or to describe a supersonic aircraft in vocabulary derived from Middle High German.

Broken images of a lost technology?
Take for example some of the peculiar equipment and accessories designated for the pharaoh’s use as he journeyed to his eternal resting place among the stars:

  • The gods who are in the sky are brought to you, the gods who are on earth assemble for you, they place their hands under you, they make a ladder for you that you may ascend on it into the sky, the doors of the sky are thrown open to you, the doors of the starry firmament are thrown open for you.5

  • The ascending pharaoh was identified with, and frequently referred to, as ‘an Osiris’. Osiris himself, as we have seen, was frequently linked to and associated with the constellation of Orion.


  • Osiris-Orion was said to have been the first to have climbed the great ladder the gods had made. And several utterances left no doubt that this ladder had not extended upwards from earth to heaven but downwards from heaven to earth. It was described as a rope-ladder6 and the belief was that it had hung from an ‘iron plate’ suspended in the sky.7

Were we dealing here, I wondered, simply with the bizarre imaginings of half-savage priests? Or might there be some other explanation for allusions such as these?

In Utterance 261,

‘The King is a flame, moving before the wind to the end of the sky and to the end of the earth ... the King travels the air and traverses the earth ... there is brought to him a way of ascent to the sky ...’8

Switching to dialogue, Utterance 310 proclaimed,

‘O you whose vision is in his face and whose vision is in the back of his head, bring this to me!’
‘What ferry-boat shall be brought to you?’
‘Bring me: “It-flies-and-alights”.’9

Utterance 332, supposedly spoken by the King himself, confided,

‘I am this one who has escaped from the coiled serpent, I have ascended in a blast of fire having turned myself about. The two skies go to me.10

5 Ibid., p. 227, Utt. 572.
6 Ibid., p. 297, Utt. 688: ‘Atum has done what he said he would do for this King; he ties the rope-ladder for him.’

7 The Gods of the Egyptians, volume II, p. 241.

8 The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, p. 70, Utt. 261.

9 Ibid., p. 97.

10 Ibid., p. 107.

And in Utterance 669 it was asked, ‘Wherewith can the King be made to fly-up?’

The reply was given:

‘There shall be brought to you the Hnw-bark [italicized word untranslatable] and the ... [text missing] of the hn-bird [italicized word untranslatable]. You shall fly up therewith ... You shall fly up and alight.’11

Other passages also seemed to me worthy of more thorough investigation than they have received from scholars. Here are a few examples:

O my father, great King, the aperture of the sky-window is opened for you.12

‘The door of the sky at the horizon opens to you, the gods are glad at meeting you
... May you sit on this iron throne of yours, as the Great One who is in Heliopolis.13

O King, may you ascend ... The sky reels at you, the earth quakes at you, the
Imperishable Stars are afraid of you. I have come to you, O you whose seats are
hidden, that I may embrace you in the sky ...14

The earth speaks, the gate of the earth god is open, the doors of Geb are opened
for you ... May you remove yourself to the sky upon your iron throne.15

O my father the King, such is your going when you have gone as a god, your
travelling as a celestial being ... you stand in the Conclaves of the horizon ... and
sit on this throne of iron at which the gods marvel ...16

The constant references to iron, though easy to overlook, were puzzling. Iron, I knew, had been a rare metal in Ancient Egypt, particularly in the Pyramid Age when it had supposedly only been available in meteoritic form.17 Yet here, in the Pyramid Texts, there seemed to be an embarrassment of iron riches: iron plates in the sky, iron thrones, and elsewhere an iron sceptre (Utterance 665C) and even iron bones for the King (Utterances 325, 684 and 723).18

In the Ancient Egyptian language the name for iron had been bja, a word that meant literally ‘metal of heaven’ or ‘divine metal ’.19 The knowledge of iron was thus regarded as yet another gift from the gods ...


11 Ibid., p. 284.
12 Ibid., p. 249, Utt. 604.
13 Ibid., pp. 253-4, Utt. 610.
14 Ibid., p. 280, Utt. 667.
15 Ibid., p. 170, Utt. 483.
16 Ibid., p. 287, Utt. 673.
17 B. Scheel, Egyptian Metalworking and Tools, Shire Egyptology, Aylesbury, 1989; G. A. Wainwright, ‘Iron in Egypt’, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, vol. 18, 1931.

18 The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, pp. 276, 105, 294, 311.

19 Egyptian Metalworking and Tools, p. 17; ‘Iron in Egypt’, p. 6ff.
20 Among the many mysterious aspects of the Pyramid Texts it is perhaps inevitable that a fully qualified Opener of the Ways should put in an appearance. ‘The doors of the sky are opened to you, the starry sky is thrown open for you, the jackal of upper Egypt comes down to you as Anubis at your side.’ (The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, pp. 288-9, Utt. 675.) Here, as in other contexts, the function of the canine figure seems to be to serve as a guide to secret hoards of esoteric information often linked to mathematics and astronomy.

Repositories of a lost science?
What other fingerprints might these gods have left behind in the Pyramid Texts? 20

In my readings—here and there among the most archaic of the Utterances—I had come across several metaphors that seemed to refer to the passage of epochs of precessional time. These metaphors stood out from the surrounding material because they were expressed in what had become a clear and familiar terminology to me: that of the archaic scientific language identified by Santillana and von Dechend in Hamlet’s Mill.21

The reader may recall that a cosmic ‘diagram’ of the four props of the sky was one of the standard thought tools employed in that ancient language. Its purpose was to assist visualization of the four imaginary bands conceived as framing, supporting and defining a precessional world age.


These were what astronomers call the ‘equinoctial and solstitial colures’ and were seen as hooping down from the celestial north pole and marking the four constellations against the background of which, for periods of 2160 years at a time, the sun would consistently rise on the spring and autumn equinoxes and on the winter and summer solstices.22

The Pyramid Texts appear to contain several versions of this diagram. Moreover, as is so often the case with prehistoric myths which transmit hard astronomical data, the precessional symbolism is interwoven tightly with violent images of terrestrial destruction—as though to suggest that the ‘breaking of the mill of heaven’, that is the transition every 2160 years from one zodiacal age to another, could under ill-omened circumstances bring catastrophic influences to bear on terrestrial events.

Thus it was said that

Ra-Atum, the god who created himself, was originally king over gods and men
together but mankind schemed against his sovereignty, for he began to grow old,
his bones became silver, his flesh gold and his hair [as] lapis lazuli.23

When he realized what was happening, the ageing Sun God (so reminiscent of Tonatiuh, the bloodthirsty Fifth Sun of the Aztecs) determined that he would punish this insurrection by killing off most of the human race. The instrument of the havoc he unleashed was symbolized at times as a raging lioness wading in blood and at times as the fearsome lion-headed goddess Sekhmet who ‘poured fire out of herself and savaged mankind in an ecstasy of slaughter.24

21 See Part V for full details.
22 Ibid.
23 Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt, p. 181.

24 The pouring fire allusion is cited in Jean-Pierre Hallet, Pygmy Kitabu, p. 185.

The terrible destruction continued unabated for a long period. Then at last Ra intervened to save the lives of a ‘remnant’, the ancestors of present humanity. This intervention took the form of a flood which the lioness thirstily lapped up and then fell asleep. When she awoke, she was no longer interested in pursuing the destruction, and peace descended upon the devastated world.25

Meanwhile Ra had resolved to ‘draw away’ from what was left of his creation:

‘As I live my heart is weary of staying with Mankind. I have gone on killing them [almost] to the very last one, so the [insignificant] remnant is not my affair ...’26

The Sun God then rose into the sky on the back of the sky-goddess Nut who (for the purposes of the precessional metaphor about to be delivered) had transformed herself into a cow. Before very long—in a close analogy to the ‘shaft-tree’ that ‘shivered’ on Amlodhi’s wildly gyrating mill—the cow grew ‘dizzy and began to shake and to tremble because she was so high above the earth.’27


When she complained to Ra about this precarious state of affairs he commanded,

‘Let my son Shu be put beneath Nut to keep guard for me over the heavenly supports—which exist in the twilight. Put her above your head and keep her there.’28

As soon as Shu had taken his place beneath the cow and had stabilized her body, ‘the heavens above and the earth beneath came into being’. At the same moment, ‘the four legs of the cow’, as Egyptologist Wallis Budge commented in his classic study The Gods of the Egyptians, ‘became the four props of heaven at the four cardinal points’.29

Like most scholars, Budge understandably assumed that the ‘cardinal points’ referred to in this Ancient Egyptian tradition had strictly terrestrial connotations and that ‘heaven’ represented nothing more than the sky above our heads. He took it for granted that the point of the metaphor was for us to envisage the cow’s four legs as positioned at the four points of the compass—north, south, east and west.


He also thought—and even today few Egyptologists would disagree with him—that the simpleminded priests of Heliopolis had actually believed that the sky had four corners which were supported on four legs and that Shu, ‘the skybearer par excellence’, had stood immobile like a pillar at the centre of the whole edifice.30


25 Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt, p. 181-5.

26 Ibid., p. 184.
27 Ibid., p. 185.
28 The Gods of the Egyptians, volume II, p. 94.

29 Ibid., p. 92-4.
30 Ibid., p. 93.

Reinterpreted in the light of Santillana’s and von Dechend’s findings, however, Shu and the four legs of the celestial cow look much more like the components of an archaic scientific symbol depicting the frame of a precessional world age—the polar axis (Shu) and the colures (the four legs or ‘props’ marking the equinoctial and solstitial cardinal points in the annual round of the sun).

Moreover, it is tempting to speculate which world age was being signalled here ...

With a cow involved it could have been the Age of Taurus, although the Egyptians knew the difference between bulls and cows as well as anyone. But a much more likely contender—at any rate on purely symbolic grounds—is the Age of Leo, from approximately 10,970 to 8810 BC.31 The reason is that Sekhmet, the agent of the destruction of Mankind referred to in the myth, was leonine in form.


What better way to symbolize the troubled birth of the new world age of Leo than to depict its harbinger as a rampaging lion, particularly since the Age of Leo coincided with the final ferocious meltdown of the last Ice Age, during which huge numbers of animal species all over the earth were suddenly and violently rendered extinct.’32 Mankind survived the immense floods and earthquakes and rapid changes of climate that took place, but very probably in much reduced numbers and much reduced circumstances.


31 Skyglobe 3.6.
32 See Part IV.


The train of the Sun and the dweller in Sirius
Of course the ability to recognize and define precessional world ages in myth implies that the Ancient Egyptians possessed better observational astronomy and a more sophisticated understanding of the mechanics of the solar system than any ancient people have hitherto been credited with.33


There is no doubt that knowledge of this calibre, if it existed at all, would have been highly regarded by the Ancient Egyptians, who would have transmitted it from generation to generation in a secretive manner. Indeed, it would have ranked among the highest arcana entrusted to the keeping of the priestly elite at Heliopolis and would have been passed on, in the main, through an oral and initiatory tradition.34 If, by chance it had found its way into the Pyramid Texts, is it not likely that its form would have been veiled by metaphors and allegories?

I walked slowly across the dusty floor of the tomb chamber of Unas, noting the heavy stillness in the air, casting my eyes over the faded blue and gold inscriptions. Expressed in coded language several millennia before Copernicus and Galileo, some of the passages inscribed on these walls seemed to offer clues to the true heliocentric nature of the solar system.

33 For a detailed discussion see Sacred Science: The King of Pharaonic Theocracy.
34 The issue of priestly secrecy and the oral tradition is discussed at length in From Fetish to God in Ancient Egypt, e.g. p. 43: ‘It is impossible to think that the highest order of the priests did not possess esoteric knowledge which they guarded with the greatest care. Each priesthood ... possessed a “Gnosis”, a “superiority of knowledge”, which they never put into writing ... It is therefore absurd to expect to find in Egyptian papyri descriptions of the secrets which formed the esoteric knowledge of the priests.’ See also page 27, and Sacred Science, pp. 273-4.

In one, for example, Ra, the Sun God, was depicted as seated upon an iron throne encircled by lesser gods who moved around him constantly and who were said to be ‘in his train’.35 Likewise, in another passage, the deceased Pharaoh was urged to ‘stand at the head of the two halves of the sky and weigh the words of the gods, the aged ones, who revolve around Ra.’36

If the ‘aged ones’ and the ‘encircling gods’ revolving around Ra should prove to be parts of a terminology referring to the planets of our solar system, the original authors of the Pyramid Texts must have enjoyed access to some remarkably advanced astronomical data. They must have known that the earth and the planets revolved around the sun rather than vice versa.37


The problem this raises is that neither the Ancient Egyptians at any stage in their history, nor even their successors the Greeks, or for that matter the Europeans until the Renaissance, are supposed to have possessed cosmological data of anything approaching this quality.


How, therefore, can its presence be explained in compositions which date back to the dawn of Egyptian civilization?

Another (and perhaps related) mystery concerns the star Sirius, which the Egyptians identified with Isis, the sister and consort of Osiris and the mother of Horus. In a passage addressed to Osiris himself, the Pyramid Texts state:

Thy sister Isis cometh unto thee rejoicing in her love for thee. Thou settest her upon thee, thy issue entereth into her, and she becometh great with child like the star Sept [Sirius, the Dog Star]. Horus-Sept cometh forth from thee in the form of Horus, dweller in Sept.38

Many interpretations of this passage are, of course, possible. What intrigued me, however, was the clear implication that Sirius was to be regarded as a dual entity in some way comparable to a woman ‘great with child’. Moreover, after the birth (or coming forth) of that child, the text makes a special point of reminding us that Horus remained a ‘dweller in Sept’, presumably suggesting that he stayed close to his mother.

Sirius is an unusual star. A sparkling point of light particularly prominent in the winter months in the night skies of the northern hemisphere, it consists of a binary star system, i.e. it is in fact, as the Pyramid Texts suggest, a ‘dual entity’. The major component, Sirius-A, is what we see. Sirius-B, on the other hand—the dwarf-star which revolves around Sirius A—is absolutely invisible to the naked eye.


Its existence did not become known to Western science until 1862, when US astronomer Alvin Clark spotted it through one of the largest and most advanced telescopes of the day.39 How could the scribes who wrote the Pyramid Texts possibly have obtained the information that Sirius was two stars in one?

35 Pyramid Texts cited in The Gods of the Egyptians, volume I, p. 158.

36 Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection, volume I, p. 146.

37 Sacred Science, pp. 22-5, 29.

38 Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection, volume I, p. 93.

39 Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1991, 10:845.

In The Sirius Mystery, an important book published in 1976, I knew that the American author Robert Temple had offered some extraordinary answers to this question.40 His study focused on the traditional beliefs of the Dogon tribe of West Africa—beliefs in which the binary character of Sirius was explicitly described and in which the correct figure of fifty years was given for the period of the orbit of Sirius-B around Sirius-A.41


Temple argued cogently that this high quality technical information had been passed down to the Dogon from the Ancient Egyptians through a process of cultural diffusion, and that it was to the Ancient Egyptians that we should look for an answer to the Sirius mystery. He also concluded that the Ancient Egyptians must have received the information from intelligent beings from the region of Sirius’.42

Like Temple, I had begun to suspect that the more advanced and sophisticated elements of Egyptian science made sense only if they were understood as parts of an inheritance. Unlike Temple, I saw no urgent reason to attribute that inheritance to extra-terrestrials.


To my mind the anomalous star knowledge the Heliopolitan priests had apparently possessed was more plausibly explained as the legacy of a lost human civilization which, against the current of history, had achieved a high level of technological advancement in remote antiquity. It seemed to me that the building of an instrument capable of detecting Sirius-B might not have been beyond the ingenuity of the unknown explorers and scientists who originated the remarkable maps of the prehistoric world discussed in Part I.


Nor would it have daunted the unknown astronomers and measurers of time who bequeathed to the Ancient Maya a calendar of amazing complexity, a data-base about the movements of the heavenly bodies which could only have been the product of thousands of years of accurately recorded observations, and a facility with very large numbers that seemed more appropriate to the needs of a complex technological society than to those of a ‘primitive’ Central American kingdom.43

40 The Sirius Mystery.
41 Ibid., p. 3.
42 Ibid., p. 1.
43 See Part III.
44 The Egyptian Book of the Dead, p. cxi.


Millions of years and the movements of the stars
Very large numbers also appeared in the Pyramid Texts, in the symbolic ‘boat of millions of years’, for example, in which the Sun God was said to navigate the dark and airless wastes of interstellar space.44 Thoth, the god of wisdom (‘he who reckons in heaven, the counter of the stars, the measurer of the earth’) was specifically empowered to grant a life of millions of years to the deceased pharaoh.45


Osiris, ‘king of eternity, lord of everlasting’, was described as traversing millions of years in his life.’46 And figures like ‘tens of millions of years’ (as well as the more mind-boggling ‘one million of millions of years’)47 occurred often enough to suggest that some elements at least of Ancient Egyptian culture must have evolved for the convenience of scientifically minded people with more than passing insight into the immensity of time.

Such a people would, of course, have required an excellent calendar— one that would have facilitated complex and accurate calculations. It was therefore not surprising to learn that the Ancient Egyptians, like the Maya, had possessed such a calendar and that their understanding of its workings seemed to have declined, rather than improved, as the ages went by.48


It was tempting to see this as the gradual erosion of a corpus of knowledge inherited an extremely long time ago, an impression supported by the Ancient Egyptians themselves, who made no secret of their belief that their calendar was a legacy which they had received ‘from the gods’.

We consider the possible identity of these gods in more detail in the following chapters. Whoever they were, they must have spent a great deal of their time observing the stars, and they had accumulated a fund of advanced and specialized knowledge concerning the star Sirius in particular. Further evidence for this came in the form of the most useful calendrical gift which the gods supposedly gave to the Egyptians: the Sothic (or Sirian) cycle.49

The Sothic cycle was based on what is referred to in technical jargon as ‘the periodic return of the heliacal rising of Sirius’, which is the first appearance of this star after a seasonal absence, rising at dawn just ahead of the sun in the eastern portion of the sky.50 In the case of Sirius the interval between one such rising and the next amounts to exactly 365.25 days—a mathematically harmonious figure, uncomplicated by further decimal points, which is just twelve minutes longer than the duration of the solar year.51


45 Ibid., p. cxviii. See also The Gods of the Egyptians, volume I, p. 400.

46 The Egyptian Book of the Dead, p. 8.

47 Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection, volume II, p. 248.

48 For a full discussion see Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt, particularly pp. 328-30.

49 Sacred Science, p. 27.

50 Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt, p. 27.

51 Sacred Science, p. 172.

The curious thing about Sirius is that out of an estimated 2000 stars in the heavens visible to the naked eye it is the only one to rise heliacally at this precise and nicely rounded interval of 365 and a quarter days—a unique product of its ‘proper motion’ (the speed of its own movement through space) combined with the effects of precession of the equinoxes.52


Moreover, it is known that the day of the heliacal rising of Sirius—New Year’s Day in the Ancient Egyptian calendar—was traditionally calculated at Heliopolis, where the Pyramid Texts were compiled, and announced ahead of time to all the other major temples up and down the Nile.53

I remembered that Sirius was referred to directly in the Pyramid Texts by ‘her name of the New Year’.54 Together with other relevant utterances (e.g., 669 55), this confirmed that the Sothic calendar was at least as old as the Texts themselves,56 and their origins stretched back into the mists of distant antiquity.


The great enigma, therefore, is this: in such an early period, who could have possessed the necessary know-how to observe and take note of the coincidence of the period of 365.25 days with the heliacal rising of Sirius—a coincidence described by the French mathematician R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz as ‘an entirely exceptional celestial phenomenon’?57

We cannot but admire the greatness of a science capable of discovering such a coincidence. The double star of Sirius was chosen because it was the only star that moves the needed distance and in the right direction against the background of the other stars. This fact, known four thousand years before our time and forgotten until our day, obviously demands an extraordinary and prolonged observation of the sky.58

It was such a legacy—built out of long centuries of precise observational astronomy and scientific record-keeping—that Egypt seems to have I benefited from at the beginning of the historical period and that was expressed in the Pyramid Texts.

In this, too, there lies a mystery ...


52 Ibid., p. 26-7. For numbers of stars visible to the naked eye see Ian Ridpath and Wil Tirion, Collins Guide to Stars and Planets, London, 1984, p. 4.

53 Sacred Science, p. 173.

54 The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, p. 165, line 964. Sacred Science, p. 287.
55 The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, pp. 165, 284; Sacred Science, in particular p. 287ff.
56 The established archaeological horizon of the calendar can indeed be pushed back even further because of the recent discovery, in a First Dynasty tomb in upper Egypt, of an inscription reading, ‘Sothis, herald of the New Year’ (reported in Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt, p. 40.)

57 Sacred Science, p. 290.

58 Ibid., p. 27.
59 E. A. Wallis Budge, An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary, (2 volumes), John Murray, London, 1920.

Copies, or translations?
Writing in 1934, the year of his death, Wallis Budge, former Keeper of Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum and the author of an authoritative hieroglyphic dictionary,59 made this frank admission:

The Pyramid Texts are full of difficulties of every kind. The exact meanings of a large number of words found in them are unknown ... The construction of the sentence often baffles all attempts to translate it, and when it contains wholly unknown words it becomes an unsolved riddle. It is only reasonable to suppose that these texts were often used for funerary purposes, but it is quite clear that their period of use in Egypt was little more than one hundred years. Why they were suddenly brought into use at the end of the Fifth Dynasty and ceased to be used at the end of the Sixth Dynasty is inexplicable.’60

Could the answer be that they were copies of an earlier literature which Unas, the last pharaoh of the Fifth Dynasty, together with several of his successors in the Sixth Dynasty, had attempted to fix for ever in stone in the tomb chambers of their own pyramids? Budge thought so, and felt the evidence suggested that some at least of the source documents must have been exceedingly old:

Several passages bear evidence that the scribes who drafted the copies from which the cutters of the inscriptions worked did not understand what they were writing ... The general impression is that the priests who drafted the copies made extracts from several compositions of different ages and having different contents ...’61

60 From Fetish to God In Ancient Egypt, pp. 321-2.

61 Ibid., p. 322.

All this assumed that the source documents, whatever they were, must have been written in an archaic form of the Ancient Egyptian language. There was, however, an alternative possibility which Budge failed to consider. Suppose that the task of the priests had been not only to copy material but to translate into hieroglyphs texts originally composed in another language altogether?


If that language had included a technical terminology and references to artifacts and ideas for which no equivalent terms existed in Ancient Egyptian, this would provide an explanation for the strange impression given by certain of the utterances.


Moreover, if the copying and translating of the original source documents had been completed by the end of the Sixth Dynasty, it was easy to understand why no more ‘Pyramid Texts’ had ever been carved: the project would have come to a halt when it had fulfilled its objective—which would have been to create a permanent hieroglyphic record of a sacred literature that had already been tottering with age when Unas had taken the throne of Egypt in 2356 BC.

Last records of the First Time?
Because we wanted to cover as much of the distance to Abydos as was possible before nightfall, Santha and I reluctantly decided that it was time to get back on the road. Although we had originally intended to spend only a few minutes, the sombre gloom and ancient voices of the Unas tomb chamber had lulled our senses and almost two hours had passed since our arrival. Stooping, we left the tomb and climbed the steeply angled passageway to the exit, where we paused to allow our eyes to adjust to the harsh mid-morning sunlight.


As we did so, I took the opportunity to look over the pyramid itself, which had fallen into such a crumbling and thoroughly dilapidated state that its original form was barely recognizable. The core masonry, reduced to little more than a nondescript heap of rubble, was evidently of poor quality, and even the facing blocks—some of which were still intact—lacked the finesse and careful workmanship demonstrated by the older pyramids at Giza.

This was hard to explain in conventional historical terms. If the normal evolutionary processes that govern the development of architectural skills and ideas had been at work in Egypt, one would have expected to find the opposite to be true: the design, engineering and masonry of the Unas Pyramid should have been superior to these of the Giza group, which, according to orthodox chronology, had been built about two centuries previously.62


62 Atlas of Ancient Egypt, p. 36.

The uncomfortable fact that this was not the case (i.e., Giza was ‘better’ than Unas and not vice versa) created knotty challenges for Egyptologists and raised questions to which no satisfactory answers had been supplied. To reiterate the central problem: everything about the three stunning and superb pyramids of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure proclaimed that they were the end products of hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years of accumulated architectural and engineering experience.


This was not supported by the archaeological evidence which left no doubt that they were among the earliest pyramids ever built in Egypt—in other words, they were not the products of the mature phase of that country’s pyramid-building experiment but, anomalously, were the creations of its infancy.

A further mystery also cried out for a solution. In the three great pyramids at Giza, Egypt’s Fourth Dynasty had reared up mansions of eternity—unprecedented and unsurpassed masterpieces of stone, hundreds of feet high, weighing millions of tons apiece, which incorporated many extremely advanced features.


No pyramids of comparable quality were ever built again. But only a little later, beneath the smaller, shabbier superstructures of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasty pyramids, a sort of Hall of Records seemed to have been deliberately created: a permanent exhibition of copies or translations of archaic documents which was, at the same time, an unprecedented and unsurpassed masterpiece of scribal and hieroglyphic art.

In short, like the pyramids at Giza, it seemed that the Pyramid Texts had burst upon the scene with no apparent antecedents, and had occupied centre-stage for approximately a hundred years before ‘ceasing operations’, never to be bettered.

Presumably the ancient kings and sages who had arranged these things had known what they were doing? If so, their minds must have contained a plan, and they must have intended a strong connection to be seen between the completely uninscribed (but technically brilliant)—pyramids at Giza, and the brilliantly inscribed (but technically slipshod) pyramids of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties.

I suspected, too, that at least part of the answer to the problem might lie in the pyramid-field of Dahshur, which we passed fifteen minutes after leaving Saqqara. It was here that the so-called ‘Bent’ and ‘Red’ Pyramids were located. Attributed to Sneferu, Khufu’s father, these two monuments (by all accounts very well preserved) had been closed to the public many years ago. A military base had been built around them and they had for a long while been impossible to visit—under any circumstances, ever ...

As we continued our journey south, through the bright colours of that December day, I was overtaken by a compelling sense that the Nile Valley had been the scene of momentous events for humanity long before the recorded history of mankind began. All the most ancient records and traditions of Egypt spoke of such events and associated them with the epoch during which the gods had ruled on earth: the fabled First Time, which was called Zep Tepi.63 We shall delve into these records in the next two chapters.

63 Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt, p. 263.


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