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Authors: Colin Wilson

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BOOK: From Atlantis to the Sphinx
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He had taken a boxful of slides, and when they had looked at them, and they had discussed the whole question, Schoch admitted what was worrying him. 'From the photograph, it looks like water weathering. It looks so obvious. If you’re right, I can’t believe that no one would have noticed it before.’

Clearly, he would have to go to Egypt to see for himself. But that would have to wait until he had tenure.

That finally came in April 1990. Two months later they were in Cairo. West was in a state of tension as they approached the Giza site, half-expecting Schoch to point out some geological gaffe that would destroy his whole theory. But Schoch seemed quietly impressed. At first sight, he could see nothing that undermined West’s belief in water-weathering. The Sphinx enclosure—the walls of limestone that surrounded the Sphinx on two sides—certainly showed the typical undulating pattern of rain weathering. But he felt that he needed a more detailed study, together with the aid of a geophysicist, as well as up-to-date seismographic equipment.

It seems probable that the original rock that formed the head of the Sphinx was an outcrop that once rose above the ground beside the Nile. Schoch theorised that it may have been carved into some kind of face—either human or animal (such as a lion) at some remote date when the surrounding countryside was still green. Then, at some later date, it was decided to add a body. For this purpose, its makers sliced into the softer limestone below and around the head—creating a two-sided wall or enclosure—thus giving themselves elbow room to work. The great blocks they removed—200 tons each—were used to construct two temples in front of the Sphinx. These ancient architects worked in a style that might be called ‘Cyclopean’, using absurdly large blocks—which could far more conveniently have been carved into a dozen smaller ones—and erecting them into structures as simple and undecorated as Stonehenge.

The next step was to hack out roughly the chunk of rock that would form the body of the Sphinx—which would eventually be 240 feet long, and 66 feet high, as tall as a six-storey building. From the point of view of posterity, it is a pity that the whole Sphinx was not carved out of the same type of rock, for the limestone body has eroded far more than the harder head and shoulders. The present damage to the Sphinx's head was done in 1380, by a fanatical Arab sheikh, and later by the Mamelukes, who used it for target practice.

And what evidence have we about the age of the Sphinx? Oddly enough, it is not mentioned by Herodotus, and so we must assume either that it was covered with sand when Herodotus visited Egypt around 450 BC, or that the outcrop of badly eroded rock sticking up above the surface bore so little resemblance to a face that he did not even notice it.

When the sand—which buried it up to its neck—was cleared away in 1817, a small temple was revealed between the paws. This contained the statue of a lion and three stelae; the one against the Sphinx’s breast bore the date of King Thutmose IV, who came to the throne in 1425 BC. The main stela told how King Thutmose IV had fallen asleep near the Sphinx when out hunting, and how the Sphinx—who was inhabited by the god Khepera (a form of the sun god Ra), creator of the universe—spoke to him in a dream and asked him to clear away the sand that buried him. Thutmose not only cleared away the sand, but made extensive repairs to the body. Apparently this was not the first time; the same stela bore the name of the Pharaoh Chefren—although its surrounding writing was flaked away, so that its significance was not clear. Sir Gaston Maspero assumed that Chefren had also performed the same service of clearing the sand, and possibly repaired the Sphinx—the rear of the Sphinx contains repairs that have been dated to the Old Kingdom, which lasted about 450 years (2575-2130 BC).

But this obviously raises a basic question. If the Sphinx was
built
by Chefren around 2500 BC, then why should it need repairs in the course of the next three and a half centuries? It was well protected, and was no doubt buried in sand most of the time since it was built. Dr Zahi Hawass, the keeper of the Cairo Museum and a bitter opponent of West’s theory, was to argue that the limestone of which the Sphinx was built was so poor that it began to erode as soon as the monument was completed. West’s reply was that this would involve erosion at the rate of a foot every hundred years, and that if that was the case, the Sphinx would have vanished completely about five centuries ago.

On the other hand, if Maspero was correct, then Chefren had merely repaired the Sphinx and cleared away the sand; Maspero actually stated that this was proof that ‘the Sphinx was already covered with sand during the time of Khufu [Cheops] and his predecessors’. In fact, it was a commonplace among nineteenth-centry Egyptologists to state that the Sphinx was far, far older than the pyramids. It has only been during the twentieth century, on the evidence of the name of Chefren on the stela of Thutmose IV, that Egyptologists have decided that the Sphinx was built by Chefren, and that its head is supposed to be a portrait of Chefren. They have reached that conclusion on precisely the same evidence that made Maspero decide the Sphinx was far older than the pyramids.

Another obvious question arises. Most of the Sphinx—as already stated—is below ground level, so it would have been clear to its builder that it would soon be buried in sand. (It seems to take about twenty years.) Does this not suggest that, when the Sphinx was built, the Sahara was still green, which would explain how the Sphinx came to be eroded by rainfall? We know that the Sahara
was
once green and fertile, and that it has been slowly eroded over the millennia. No one is certain when it was last green, but a conservative guess is 3500 BC.

It is, of course, even possible that it was still green in the time of Chefren;
1
but then, even if it
was
built by Chefren in a green Sahara in 2500 BC, this still fails to explain why it needed repairs so soon.

Now West had the task of trying to prove that Maspero and the other nineteenth-century scholars had been right, and that the Sphinx was already old in the time of Chefren. If he could prove that the body of the Sphinx, and the Sphinx enclosure, had been eroded by water, not by wind-blown sand, then he would certainly have taken a major step in that direction. His first task would be to set about finding the necessary finance to take a team of experts to look at it. Boris Said, a maker of videos, coordinated the project, and Thomas L. Dobecki, a geophysicist, also signed on, with two geologists, an architect and an oceanographer. After an interminable struggle to persuade the authorities to grant permission, they were finally ready to start.

Now that Schoch could study it all at close quarters, his doubts vanished. If the Sphinx was the same age as the rest of the Giza site, why was it so weathered, when nearby Old Kingdom tombs were so much less weathered—and, what is more, so obviously weathered by wind-blown sand? Surely the Sphinx
had
to be older?

The wind-weathering on these other tombs provided a convenient comparison. Limestone is a sedimentary rock, made of particles glued together; and, as everyone knows, such rocks come in strata, like layer cake. When wind-blown sand hits the side of the layer cake, the softer layers are worn away, while the harder layers stick out above and below them. The result is a series of parallel layers, with a profile of humps and hollows like the profile of a club sandwich.

When a rock face is eroded by rain water, the effect is totally different. The rain runs down in streams, and cuts vertical channels into the rock. The softer rock is still eroded more deeply than the harder, but the effect is quite distinct from wind-weathering—it can look like a series of bumps, not unlike a row of naked buttocks. The team agreed that both the body of the Sphinx and the Sphinx enclosure showed this type of weathering, not the smoother effect of wind-weathering.

The two temples in front of the Sphinx—known as the Valley and the Sphinx Temples—provided additional evidence for this thesis. If, of course, they had been left untouched, they should have exhibited precisely the same weathering as the Sphinx and its enclosure. But there is clear evidence that they were repaired by the ancient Egyptians, who set out to prevent further damage by facing them with granite slabs. Many of these granite slabs were removed by later generations, who used them in their own building. And the outer walls left exposed by this removal are so irregular that any self-respecting architect would blush with shame.

What happened seems clear. These walls
were
deeply weathered, like the Sphinx, but so that they could be repaired, they were cut back to provide convenient flat surfaces. Since they were going to be covered up with granite, it was unimportant if they looked a mess.

In fact, where the granite facing has been removed, these limestone blocks show the same undulatory weathering as the Sphinx and its enclosure. The rear sides of some of the granite facing-slabs have even been carved into an undulatory pattern to fit the eroded limestone. Again, it looks as if the people who repaired the temples found them deeply water-eroded—a relic of the earlier 'Cyclopean’ age, standing alone, except for the Sphinx, on an empty plateau.

These temples in front of the Sphinx raised another problem that has been ignored by orthodox Egyptologists. As already noted, their architecture is quite unlike that of most Egyptian temples, with their cylindrical columns and wealth of carvings. Here there are simply bleak rectangular pillars surmounted by similar blocks, bare and uncarved, as if they belonged to a completely different epoch from the great Egyptian temples.

Again, why had the ancient builders chosen to build the Sphinx temples of blocks weighing 200 tons each? The explanation that suggests itself is that, like the Sphinx, the temples were regarded as so sacred that anything smaller would have been an insult to the god for whom they were raised. King Thutmose dreamed that the ‘god’ who inhabited the Sphinx was Khepera, creator of the universe and father of all the other gods. If this was true, then it was certainly appropriate that the Valley and Sphinx temples should be plain and bare.

Finally, there was the most baffling question of all:
how
had the builders succeeded in moving and raising 200-ton blocks? West consulted various modern engineers with experience in building huge structures; they admitted to being baffled. Graham Hancock's research assistant learned that there are only three cranes in the world big enough to move such blocks.

What does that suggest? This, at least, is undeniable: that whoever carved the Sphinx and built the two temples possessed some highly sophisticated technology. Even the Great Pyramid contains no such blocks. The conclusion would seem to be that
if
the Sphinx and its temples were built centuries—or perhaps thousands of years—earlier than Cheops and Chefren, the builders were more, and not less, technically accomplished.

This brings us to another question about the ‘know-how’ of these ancient people.

In 1893, Flinders Petrie had excavated the village of Naqada, 300 miles south of Cairo, and found pottery and vases that revealed a high level of skill. The pottery showed none of the striated marks that would indicate a potter’s wheel, yet were so perfectly rounded that it was hard to believe they were made by hand. The level of workmanship led him to assume that they must date from the 11th Dynasty, around 2000 BC. They seemed so un-Egyptian that he called their creators ‘the New Race’. When some of these ‘New Race’ vases were found in tombs of the 1st Dynasty, dating from about a thousand years earlier, he was so bewildered that he dropped the Naqada vase from his chronology, on the principle that what you cannot explain you had better ignore. In fact, the Naqadans were descendants of Palaeolithic peoples from North Africa who began raising crops (in small areas) some time after 5000 BC. They buried their dead in shallow pits facing towards the west, and seem to have been a typical primitive culture of around the fourth millennium. But the vases that puzzled Petrie seemed too sophisticated to have been made by primitives.

When he examined the great red granite sarcophagus that was found in the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid (of which there will be more in the next chapter), Petrie found himself once again puzzling about ancient craftsmen. It seemed to present insuperable technical problems. Measurement revealed that its external volume—2,332.8 litres—is
precisely twice
that of its internal volume. That meant cutting with incredible precision. But with what tools? Flinders Petrie thought that it must have been sawn out of a larger block with saws ‘eight feet or more in length’. Such saws, he thought, would have to be made of bronze set with diamonds. No one has ever seen such a saw, and no ancient text describes it, but Petrie could see no other solution.

But what tools were used to hollow out its inside? Petrie makes the extraordinary suggestion that the ancient Egyptians had created some kind of circular—or rather tubular—saw which ‘drilled out a circular groove by its rotation’. This notion of tubular saws with diamonds somehow inserted into the points sounds like science fiction. And even if such saws could have been made—and the diamonds set so firmly that they did not shoot out when the saw was used, or get driven back into the bronze that held them—
how
did the Egyptians make them ‘spin’? We assume that, at this early stage of technology, drills had to be ‘spun’ by hand—or perhaps with a bowstring wound around the shaft. It sounds, quite simply, impossible.

Petrie also speaks about granite slabs and diorite bowls incised with quite precise inscriptions. The characters, says Petrie, are not ‘scraped or ground out, but are ploughed through the diorite, with rough edges to the line’. Diorite, like granite, is incredibly hard.

Graham Hancock had also seen various kinds of vessels of diorite, basalt and quartz, some dating from centuries before the time of Cheops, neatly hollowed out by some unknown technique. The most baffling of all were ‘tall vases with long, thin, elegant necks and finely flared interiors, often incorporating fully hollowed-out shoulders’. (More than 30,000 were found beneath the Step Pyramid of Zoser at Saqqara.) The necks are far too thin to admit a human hand—even a child’s—some too narrow even to admit a little finger, Hancock points out that even a modern stone carver, working with tungsten-carbide drills, would be unable to match them, and concludes that the Egyptians must have possessed some tool that is totally unknown to, and unsuspected by, Egyptologists. It sounds, admittedly, too preposterous to suggest that they had some kind of electric drill. Yet when we consider Petrie’s comment about grooves
‘ploughed
through the diorite’, it seems obvious that they must have had some means of making the bit spin at a tremendous speed. A potter’s wheel, with suitable ‘gears’, might just do it.

BOOK: From Atlantis to the Sphinx
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