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Authors: Colin Wilson

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In fact, a modern toolmaker, Christopher P. Dunn, studied Petrie’s book in an attempt to make sense of his descriptions, and in an article called ‘Advanced Machining in Ancient Egypt’, reached some astonishing conclusions. He comments:

The millions of tons of rock that the Egyptians had quarried for their pyramids and temples—and cut with such superb accuracy reveal glimpses of a civilisation that was technically more advanced than is generally believed. Even though it is thought that millions of tons of rock were cut with simple primitive hand tools, such as copper chisels, adzes and wooden mallets, substantial evidence shows that this is simply not the case. Even discounting the argument that work-hardened copper would not be suitable for cutting igneous rock, other evidence forces us to look a little harder, and more objectively, when explaining the manufacturing marks scoured on ancient granite by ancient stone craftsmen.

He discusses the puzzle of how these craftsmen cut the 43 giant granite beams, weighing between 45 and 70 tons each, and used in the King’s Chamber.

Although the Egyptians are not given credit for the simple wheel,
the machine marks they left on the granite found at Giza suggests a much higher degree of technical accomplishment. Petrie’s conclusion regarding their mechanical abilities shows a proficiency with the straight saw, circular saw, tube-drill and, surprisingly, even the lathe.

He goes on to mention the two diorite bowls in Petrie’s collection which Petrie believed must have been turned on a lathe, because they could ‘not be produced by any grinding or rubbing process’. Petrie had detected a roughness in one of the bowls, and found that it was where two radii intersected, as if a machinist had failed to ‘centre’ the bowl correctly on the lathe, and had re-centred it more precisely.

Examining blocks that had been hollowed out—with some kind of drill—in the Valley Temple, Dunn states that the drill marks left in the hole show that it was cutting into the rock at a rate of a tenth of an inch for every revolution of the drill, and points out that such a phenomenal rate could not be achieved by hand. (Petrie thought it could, but only by applying a pressure of more than a ton on the drill—it is not clear how this tould be achieved.) An Illinois firm that specialises in drilling granite told Dunn that their drills—spinning at the rate of 900 revs per minute—only cut into it at one
ten thousandth
of an inch per revolution, so in theory the ancient Egyptians must have been using a drill that worked 500 times faster than a modern drill.

Another aspect of the problem began to provide Dunn with a glimmer of a solution. A hole drilled into a rock that was a mixture of quartz and feldspar showed that the ‘drill’ had cut faster through the quartz than the feldspar, although quartz is harder than feldspar. The solution that he suggests sounds almost beyond belief. He points out that modern ultrasonic machining uses a tool that depends on
. A jackhammer used by navvies employs the same principle—a hammer that goes up and down at a tremendous speed, raining hundreds of blows per minute on the surface that has to be broken. So does a pneumatic drill. An ultrasonic tool bit vibrates thousands of times faster.

Quartz crystals are used in the production of ultrasonic sound, and conversely, respond to ultrasonic vibration. This would explain why the ‘bit’ cut faster through the quartz than the feldspar.

What is being suggested sounds, admittedly, absurd: that the Egyptians had some force as powerful as our modern electricity, and that this force was based on sound. We all know the story of Caruso breaking a glass by singing a certain note at high volume. We can also see that if a pointed drill was attached to one of the prongs of a giant tuning fork, it could, in theory, cut into a piece of granite as easily as a modern rotating drill. Dunn is suggesting, in effect, a technology based on high-frequency sound. But I must admit that precisely how this force could have been used to drive the 9-foot bronze saw blade that cut the sarcophagus in the King’s Chamber eludes my comprehension. Possibly some reader with a more technically-oriented imagination can think up a solution.

Unfortunately, the vibration theory fails to explain Dunn’s observation about the drill
five hundred times as fast as a modern drill. We must assume that, if he is correct, the Egyptians knew how to use both principles.

In the course of making a television programme, Christoper Dunn demonstrated the incredible technical achievement of the Egyptian engineers to another engineer, Robert Bauval, by producing a metal instrument used by engineers to determine that a metal surface has been machined to an accuracy of a thousandth of an inch, and holding it against the side of the benben stone in the Cairo Museum. He then applied the usual test—shining an electric torch against one side of the metal, and looking on the other side to see if any gleam of light could be seen. There was none whatever. Fascinated by the test, Bauval took him to the Serapeum at Saqqara, where the sacred bulls were entombed in giant sarcophagi made of basalt. These proved to have the same incredible accuracy. Why, Bauval asked me when telling me about all this, should the ancient Egyptians have needed accuracy
to the thousandth of an inch
for a sarcophagus? Moreover, how did they achieve it without modern engineering techniques?

The notion of ultrasonic drills at least provides a possible answer to the otherwise insoluble riddle of Hancock’s swan-necked vases into which it was impossible to insert a little finger. Dunn says that the technique is used ‘for the machining of odd-shaped holes in hard, brittle materials’. The technique for hollowing out such vases, even with a long drill, down a long and narrow neck still defies the imagination. But with Dunn’s suggestions, it begins to seem slightly less absurd.

Petrie would have been even more embarrassed about his Naqada vases if he had known that vessels of the same type had been discovered in strata dating from 4000 BC—at a time when Egypt was supposed to be full of nomads in tents, and that these include the swan-neck vases.

It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that, even if the Naqada people were not the technically accomplished super-race of our speculations, Petrie’s ‘New Race’ nevertheless really existed, and that it predated pharaonic Egypt by at least a thousand, possibly several thousand years. These vases seem to be the strongest evidence so far for Schwaller de Lubicz’s ‘Atlanteans’.

Dobecki, West’s geophysicist, was also making some interesting discoveries. One of the basic methods of studying deeper layers of rock is through vibration. A metal plate is struck with a sledgehammer, and the vibrations go down through the rock, and are reflected back by various strata. These echoes are then picked up by ‘geophones’ placed at intervals along the ground, and their data interpreted by a computer.

One of the first discoveries Dobecki made was that a few metres under the front paws of the Sphinx there seems to be some kind of underground chamber—possibly more than one. Legend has always asserted the existence of such chambers, containing ‘ancient secrets’, but they are usually cited by writers who might be dismissed as cranks—for example, a book called
Dramatic Prophecies of the Great Pyramid
, by Rodolfo Benvenides, published in 1969, contains a drawing of the Sphinx with a kind of temple underneath it. (The ‘prophecies’—based on the measurements inside the Great Pyramid—include little green spacemen landing in 1970, and a world war between 1972 and 1977.) Dobecki’s discovery at least seemed to confirm that some of the stranger legends about the Sphinx are not pure fantasy. Then, in October 1994, Associated Press reported that workers repairing the Sphinx had discovered an unknown passageway leading down below its body. The Giza plateau authorities immediately announced that further excavations by international teams would be delayed until 1996, because repairs to the Sphinx were their primary concern...

One of Dobecki’s other discoveries had momentous implications concerning the age of the Sphinx. Vibration technology can also be used to investigate ‘subsurface weathering’, the weathering that penetrates below the surface when porous rocks are exposed to the elements. Dobecki discovered a strange anomaly. At the front of the Sphinx, the subsurface weathering penetrated about eight feet. Yet at the rear, it was only four feet deep. The implication seemed to be that the front of the Sphinx had been carved out first, and the rear end thousands of years later. So even if we assume that the rear end was carved in the time of Chefren, 4,500 years ago, it would seem that the front part of the Sphinx is twice that age. And
the rear part of the Sphinx was carved long before Chefren, then the front part could be far, far older.

As far as Schoch could see, West was basically correct. The weathering of the Sphinx—compared to that of the Old Kingdom tombs only 200 yards away—meant that it
to be thousands of years older than the tombs, and therefore than the pyramids. The two Sphinx temples pointed clearly to the same conclusion; their weathering was also far more severe than that of the Old Kingdom tombs, as well as being of a different kind—rain as opposed to wind weathering.

At this point Schoch decided that the time for academic caution was at an end; it was time to go public. He submitted an abstract of his findings to the Geological Society of America, and he was invited to present his case at the annual convention of the Society in October 1992; it was being held that year in San Diego, California. Geologists are not slow to express disagreement, and he anticipated being given a hard time. To his pleasant surprise, far from raising objections, the audience listened with obvious interest, and afterwards no less than 275 enthusiastic geologists came up to him and offered to help on the project; many expressed astonishment that no one had noticed earlier what now struck them as obvious—that the Sphinx was weathered by water.

But then, they were geologists, not Egyptologists; they had no vested interest in denying that the Sphinx could be older than Chefren. Egyptologists, when the news leaked out, were indignant or dismissive. ‘Ridiculous!’ declared Peter Lacovara, assistant curator of the Egyptian Department of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, in the
Boston Globe

‘There’s just no way that could be true,’ said archaeologist Carol Redmount in the
Los Angeles Times
. Others asked what had happened to the evidence for this earlier Egyptian civilisation—its other monuments and remains. For West and Schoch, the answer to that was obvious: it was underneath the sand.

One of the sceptics was Mark Lehner, an American who had been investigating the Sphinx since 1980. Yet it was Lehner who had inadvertently encouraged West’s belief that the Sphinx predated Chefren. In the careful survey he had conducted with L. Lai Gauri, a stone conservation expert, Lehner had reached the odd conclusion that although the earliest repairs to the flanks of the Sphinx looked typical of the Old Kingdom (i.e. the time of Chefren), they were actually from the New Kingdom period, about a thousand years later. Why, West wondered, should New Kingdom repairers make their work look like Old Kingdom? What is more,
the early repairs—the first of three lots—were as recent as 1500 BC, the Sphinx must have sustained two or three feet of erosion (the depth of the repairs) in a thousand years, during most of which it had been covered in sand.

On the other hand, if those early repairs were—as they looked—Old Kingdom, this completely ruled out the notion that Chefren built the Sphinx; for even if the repairs had been at the very end of the Old Kingdom, this would still only allow a century or so for two or three feet of erosion.

And if, of course, the repairs
Old Kingdom, this meant that Chefren could not possibly be its builder. He was simply its repairer, as the stela between its paws seemed to suggest. And the Sphinx must have been built several thousand years earlier than Chefren’s reign to have eroded three feet—Schoch’s conservative estimate was 7000 BC.

This was the Estimate Schoch had put forward at San Diego, and which caught the attention of the world press: it made the Sphinx exactly twice the usual estimate: about nine thousand years old.

West also pointed out that the mud-brick tombs around the Step Pyramid of Saqqara, dating back about a century before the Great Pyramid, show none of the weathering features of the Sphinx—yet are a mere ten miles away (and so subject to the same climate) as well as being softer. Why have they not weathered like the Sphinx?

When Schoch presented his case at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Mark Lehner was chosen as the champion of the academic opposition. He raised the now familiar objection—that if the Sphinx
been built by a far older civilisation than the Egyptians, around 7000 BC, what had happened to the remains of this civilisation? ‘Show me a single potsherd.’ West was not allowed to take part in the debate; since he was not an accredited academic, he had to listen from the audience. But he was not slow to point out afterwards that Lehner’s objection was illogical. He and Schoch had demonstrated by
that the Sphinx was older than the surrounding tombs; it was Lehner’s job to refute that evidence, not to ask for more evidence which has not yet been found. It was, West pointed out, like objecting to Magellan’s plan of sailing round the world by saying: ‘Show me someone who has done it before.’

Lehner also implied that Schoch was incompetent as a geologist. ‘I don’t think he’s done his geological work yet... One of the primary pillars of his case is that if you compare the Sphinx to Old Kingdom tombs, they don’t show the same rain weathering, therefore the Sphinx must be older. But he’s comparing layers in the Sphinx to other layers.’ According to Lehner, the ‘Sphinx layers’ run
the tombs, so the tombs are made of a different limestone—Lehner implied a far harder limestone—and weather more slowly.

If this was true, then it struck a deadly blow at Schoch’s case. When the BBC decided to present the programme made by West and Boris Said, they hired an independent expert to decide whether Lehner was correct. Their expert looked closely at a tomb only a hundred yards from the Sphinx, and known to date from the same time as the pyramids. He found that the tombs were made of the very same flaky limestone as the Sphinx, and contained exactly the same types of fossil. The tomb layer
the same layer that the Sphinx was carved from. And Schoch and West had scored a major victory for their cause. It was now up to Lehner—and Dr Hawass of the Cairo Museum—to explain why the tombs had weathered so little in comparison to the Sphinx and its enclosure and temples.

BOOK: From Atlantis to the Sphinx
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