June 25, 2012

The Unsolved Problems about Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P6

Leaving out Zoser’s Step Pyramid, with its unique burial chambers, the nine remaining pyramids contain no more than three authentic sarcophagi. These are distributed over no fewer than fourteen tomb chambers. Petrie has shown that the lidless sarcophagus in the Khufu pyramid had been put into the King’s chamber before the latter was roofed over since it is too large to pass through the entrance passage. The sealed but empty sarcophagus of Sekhemket also was evidently brought in before the pyramid was finished. Even if we assume that the pyramids of Khaba and of Djedefre were left unfinished at an early stage, we still have to account for the disappearance of at least four, and possibly as many as eight, sarcophagi. The magnificent and large granite sarcophagus in mastaba 17 at Meidum shows that even at this early age substantial and heavy sarcophagi were customary, and this is borne out by the sarcophagi in Khufu’s and Khafre’s pyramids. One would like to know what has happened to the missing sarcophagi. The robbers might have smashed their lids but they would hardly have taken the trouble of stealing a smashed sarcophagus. In spite of careful search no chips of broken sarcophagi have been found in any of the pyramid passages or chambers. Moreover, it has to be remembered that from the Meidum pyramid onward the entrance was well above ground level. At the Bent Pyramid even the lower corridor is located 12 m. above the base and bringing a heavy sarcophagus in or out would have necessitated the use of a substantial ramp. At Khufu’s pyramid the sarcophagus had been, as we have seen, put in the tomb chamber while the monument was still under construction, and the pyramids of Khafre and Menkaure were both provided with entrances at the base, in addition to the polar passage.

Zoser’s Step Pyramid
The fact that the sarcophagi in the Khufu and Khafre pyramids were found empty is easily explained as the work of intruders, but the empty sarcophagi of Sekhemket, Queen Hetepheres, and a third one in a shaft under the Step Pyramid, pose a more difficult problem. They were all left undisturbed since early antiquity. As these were burials without a corpse, we are almost driven to the conclusion that something other than a human body may have been ritually entombed.

We have already referred to the fact that Snofru seems to have had two, or even three, large pyramids, and he can hardly have been buried in all of them. This brings us back to the awkward problem of multiple tombs which we encountered when discussing the royal burials of the first two dynasties in Chapter 1. There we came across the existence of two tombs for ma|ny of the early pharaohs with the added possibility of a third which may have sunk into the silt of the Delta. It was for this reason that, when first introducing the pyramids, we referred to them as ‘funerary monuments’ rather than as ‘tombs’. If some of the royal tombs, including the pyramids, were not the burial places of the body but 80 cenotaphs, it should be noted that nevertheless they all had tomb chambers. The question arises as to who or what was interred in them.

Most Egyptologists agree that some of the dead person’s spiritual attributes, such as the ba and the ka, were closely connected with jus eternal house. The ka, in particular, was thought to dwell in the tomb, which it could enter or leave by a false door, the closed-up replica of a real entrance. Mastaba tombs usually contain a ka chamber with a statue of the dead occupant. It is also clear that the statuary found in the valley buildings of the pyramids was not meant to be seen and did not serve the same purpose as a present- day monument. These royal statues, which were often combined with those of gods, or the royal spouse, all in an attitude of protecting the dead pharaoh, had purely ritual significance. They were to be animated by his ka, for which the pyramid may have been primarily built.

Turning again to West Africa, we find burials of the soul in proper graves whenever the person has died far away from his home. Since in a hot, humid climate the corpse tends to decompose rapidly, it has to be buried forthwith and cannot be transported. However, the corpse’s hair and fingernails are cut off and sent for burial to his home. Since these features often show some growth after death they are believed to be associated with the spirit of the dead person which is reluctant to leave the body. It is not impossible that some sort of token burial played a part in the funerary arrangements of ancient Egypt.

Even if we concede that the bodies of the pharaohs have long since disappeared, the riddle of the missing sarcophagi remains. They may, of course, not only exist but even be well-known. Who, we may ask, for instance, was the unnamed man buried in the large mastaba 17 at Meidum? His tomb stands in a prominent position in front of the pyramid which was still being built when he was laid to rest in a completely sealed tomb. He had been buried in the large granite sarcophagus which has remained undamaged in his tomb chamber to this day. It would be tempting to think that he may be the pharaoh whose pyramid - without a sarcophagus in it - rose behind his tomb, as the abode of his soul.

Thoughts like these could be dismissed as idle speculation but for a stela found by Petrie at Abydos. It records a reply of the pharaoh Ahmose, founder of the Eighteenth Dynasty to his wife, Queen Ahmose-Nefertari. The passage is important enough to be quoted verbatim in translation :

His sister spoke and answered him: ‘Why have these things been recalled? What has come into thy heart?’ The King’s own person said to her: ‘I have recalled the mother of my mother and the mother of my father, king’s great wife and king’s mother, Tetisheri, deceased. A tomb chamber and a sepulchre of hers are at this moment upon the soil of the Theban and Abydene nomes, but I have said this to thee because My Majesty has wished to make for her a pyramid and a chapel in the Sacred Land close to the monument of My Majesty1 .. . His Majesty spoke thus, and these things were accomplished at once.

We are thus faced with the contemporary statement of a New Kingdom pyramid builder that Queen Tetisheri, consort of the pharaoh Senakhtenre Tao, already possessed two tombs, in one of which she must have been buried, when a pyramid was built for her as well. For once we have the words of the pharaoh himself to state the facts.

While very few people will dispute that the pyramids had some connection with the afterlife of the pharaoh, the general statement that the pharaohs were buried in them is by no means indisputable. The complexity of the evidence before us does not, unfortunately, permit such a simple categorical statement. Quite possibly each pyramid once housed the body of a pharaoh, but there also exists, as we have seen in this chapter, an unpleasantly large number of factors that speak against it. It is on the basis of these complexities and contradictions that Egyptologists had to try and find a solution to the most difficult problem of all: why were these immense pyramids built in the first place ?

When the Step Pyramid at Saqqara was erected, pharaohs who were rulers of Upper and Lower Egypt had been buried, evidently to the satisfaction of all concerned, in palatial tombs. These, however, had demanded only a small fraction of the labour required for Zoser’s funerary complex. The true unification of the country can be cited as a good reason, but then it was in a way a false dawn as the next two pyramids were never finished. Later, with the enigmatic change of plan at Meidum, pyramid building truly got into its stride and in the space of just about one century almost 25 million tons of limestone were quarried, dressed, moved and piled up into man-made mountains. Then, within one generation, this fantastic activity was brought to an end. Pyramids were still provided for the pharaohs for another thousand years, but they were small and soon became cheap and shoddy. They were well within the ordinary budget of the country. The short spell of what 82

appears to us as the magnificent madness of the Fourth Dynasty was never repeated.

Egyptologists have looked in vain for a convincing solution of tjus riddle in a change of religious belief. Such changes did, in fact, take place, but they cannot explain the employment of up to a hundred thousand people for a century on what, on the face of it, js a useless expense of labour. The main difficulty which Egyptologists face is the re-creation of a state of mind of human society

5,0 years ago. Our own approach, which was triggered off quite accidentally, deals with constructional mishaps and their causes. The conclusions are of a purely technological nature and it is due to this nature of our approach that we enjoy a peculiar advantage over the Egyptologist. Whereas in the last 5,000 years man’s spiritual world-picture and his moral laws have changed out of all recognition, the laws of physics have remained unaltered. The knowledge that these same laws were operative and had to be obeyed 5,000 years ago in exactly the same way as today provides a reliable link between the pyramid builders and ourselves. We can follow their decisions, analyse their mistakes and recognise their corrections with absolute certainty. For the technologist a return to the mind of the Old Kingdom presents no difficulty. Whatever Imhotep’s religious beliefs and spiritual motives may have been, his work was governed by the same laws of stability to which we are subject today. It is not that the scientist sees more than the Egyptologist - he merely sees different things. His conclusions do not supplant the Egyptologist’s work but may complement and, one hopes, enrich it.

Ancient Egyptian Pyramid :
The Unsolved Problems about Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P1
The Unsolved Problems about Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P2
The Unsolved Problems about Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P3
The Unsolved Problems about Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P4
The Unsolved Problems about Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P5
The Unsolved Problems about Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P6

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