June 14, 2012

Riddle of Ancient Egyptian Pyramid P2

Clearly it is impossible to write sensibly about the pyramids or venture to make a contribution to the subject without reference to the basic work of Egyptologists. The first three chapters are therefore largely devoted to a description of the setting in which the problem had to be approached and ultimately solved -1 hope correctly. Since we are exclusively concerned with the first few centuries of Egyptian history this period is the only one to which space could be devoted. Even so, this era could not be treated in depth, and we have had to restrict ourselves to those aspects which have a direct bearing on the history of the pharaonic sepulchres. Most of the facts used in these historical chapters have been extracted from the Egyptological literature, except for some of the con- elusions and speculations, as well as for the references to contemporary African customs, which are my personal responsibility.

Ancient Egyptian Pyramid
When dealing with the pyramids of Egypt it is inevitable that one’s thoughts should turn also to those other large pyramids which were built in Central America. Curiously enough, the pattern of pyramid development in Mexico closely parallels that in Egypt. Here again we find a relatively short, and early, period in which giant pyramids were erected, preceded and followed by rather more modest structures. Our conclusion will tend towards similar reasons for building these immense pyramids as those which obtained in Egypt. The only differences are, firstly, that the overt purpose of the pyramid in Egypt was a tomb while in Mexico it was a human sacrifice, and secondly that the two pyramid eras are separated by two and a half thousand years. I fortunately had several occasions to study the pyramids in the Valley of Mexico and in Yucatan even before seeing an Egyptian pyramid. A chapter on the pyramids in Central America and on their relation to our general thesis has therefore been appended.

Like so many detective stories the present one starts with an exotic holiday. After having spent part of the winter 1964/ 5 at the University of Kumasi in Ghana, my wife and I felt that a little holiday in Cairo might ease the transition from the steaming jungle of West Africa to an English winter. We had travelled through Egypt several years earlier and, of all the treasures to be seen and sites to be visited, the pyramids had exerted on me a peculiar fascination. It was neither their size nor their great age which intrigued me but the combination of the two. Here, almost at the dawn of our civilisation, men had erected a set of monuments so gigantic that nothing even faintly approaching their grandeur has ever been attempted again in our cultural orbit. I suddenly realised that here, on the desert plateau above the Nile, man had indulged in his first large-scale technological venture. Since there was no prototype effort, the organisation of work must have been superb to be able to achieve this astonishing success. What was behind it all and how had the whole project been designed? I felt that I wanted to go back to Egypt and have a closer look at the pyramids.

The return trip from Africa presented as good an opportunity as any, and before I left England the Professor of Egyptology at Oxford, Jaroslav Cemy, kindly gave me an introduction to the Head of the Antiquities Service in Cairo. The latter received me kindly and issued me with an impressive looking document in Arabic which I could not read and which, as I understood, counselled the custodians of ancient monuments to provide me with all the help that I might require. The custodians of the more remote pyramids usually turned out to be a couple of Bedouins with official armbands and two rifles between them.

In order to overcome the language difficulty we hired from an agency a guide, supposedly well-acquainted with the monuments in question. His name was Ali, and the qualifications set out on his visiting card might have made him eligible as Assistant Keeper of the Cairo Museum. His job was to find a reliable driver with a reliable car, but we were somewhat taken aback when Ali appeared dressed for the expedition in a black suit, white collar and pinstriped tie. He competently guided us to the Dahshur pyramids but was aghast when he realised that we were set on climbing into these edifices. He had already fallen foul of the Bedouins by brandishing our document and stressing his own importance in the enterprise. He now ordered them to take us into the pyramids. However, the Bedouins had their revenge by pointing out to Ali that he, being in charge of his important foreigners, would have to accompany them wherever it was their crazy wish to go. They kindly indicated to him a perilous looking wooden ladder, leading 12m. up into the entrance of the Bent Pyramid (plates ay, 28). Ali was fat, hot in his dark suit, and evidently subject to vertigo, but go he must! It was worse inside the pyramid, hotter and also dark, except for the light of our electric torch. Moreover, there was another, not too substantial ladder, again 12 m. high, leading to the upper chamber on which Ali got stuck, and I had to push him in order to get up myself. On the return, the Bedouins lit the way down for my wife, but when I pointed to Ali, who had remained on the top shivering with fatigue, vertigo and, probably, superstition, the Bedouins just shrugged their shoulders and went on. Finally, I succeeded in easing him down but, by mutual consent, this was the first and last trip on which we had Ali’s company.

One of my main objects was to visit the pyramid at Meidum, the only one of the great pyramids which I had not seen on my first trip. It stands rather isolated from the rest of the other great pyramids, over 50 kilometers south of Saqqara. Its impressive size is curiously enhanced by its heavily ruined state. The square shaped core rises steeply like a tower of 40 m. at an angle of over 7o° out of the surrounding rubble. Flinders Petrie and Borchardt have explained the ruin as due to the action of stone robbers. In one of his publications, Petrie mentions that fellahin came with donkeys to cart away limestone. This is a question to which we shall have to return later when we discuss the true nature of the pyramid’s ruined state.

My own reaction was that something, somewhere, was wrong, but I had no idea what it was. Stones have been taken from all pyramids, particularly from those near Cairo where cheap but durable building material was needed. Even so, none of the Giza pyramids have lost their basic shape while here, in the loneliness of Meidum, with no great city ever in its neighbourhood, a large pyramid had suffered incomparably worse. Something did not fit, but having no clue where the inconsistency lay, I resorted to the scientist’s time-honoured method in such cases: taking data. It consisted in using my camera quite indiscriminately, recording everything I could think of in the hope that some of the shots might turn out useful - sometime in the future. There was no clear idea of when and what this future use might be. After all, I was on a holiday and knew that when I returned home I should have to deal with a host of problems, none of them having anything whatever to do with pyramids and their problems.

Then, in October 1966, a disaster occurred in the small Welsh mining village of Aberfan which shocked the world. After heavy rain a large mine-tip had started to slip, burying in the space of a few minutes a school with 116 children. I suddenly realised what it was that I had been missing out at Meidum. The time had now come to get my photographic record out of storage, and to have a very close look at it.
  
Riddle of Ancient Egyptian Pyramid :
Riddle of Ancient Egyptian Pyramid P1
Riddle of Ancient Egyptian Pyramid P2

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