Table of Contents
ALSO BY ROBERT M. SCHOCH, PH.D. WITH ROBERT AQUINAS MCNALLY
Voyages of the Pyramid Builders
Voices of the Rocks
JEREMY P. TARCHER/PENGUIN
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Copyright © 2005 by Robert M. Schoch, Ph.D., and Robert Aquinas McNally
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Schoch, Robert M.
Pyramid quest : secrets of the Great Pyramid and the dawn of civilization /
Robert M. Schoch and Robert Aquinas McNally.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
eISBN : 978-1-101-14366-7
1. Great Pyramid (Egypt). 2. Egypt—Civilization—To 332 B.C.
I. McNally, Robert Aquinas. II. Title.
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Full West of the Citie [Cairo], close vpon those desarts, aloft a rocky leuell adioyning to the valley, stand those three Pyramides (the barbarous monuments of prodigality and vain-glory) so vniuersally celebrated.
As for the Pyramids, there is nothing to wonder at in them so much as the fact that so many men could be found degraded enough to spend their lives constructing a tomb for some ambitious booby, whom it would have been wiser and manlier to have drowned in the Nile, and then given his body to the dogs.
Henry David Thoreau
A DISTANT MIRROR
LIKE SO MANY PROJECTS, THIS BOOK ACTUALLY BEGAN with something else. When I first went to Egypt in 1990, the focus of my research was something other than the Great Pyramid. Rather, I studied a well-known structure that rests in the Great Pyramid’s shadow: the Great Sphinx of Giza. Inexorably, however, the trail of research that began with the Sphinx led me to the Great Pyramid—and to this book.
I had come to Egypt as the guest of John Anthony West, a writer, travel guide, and scholar who has long acted as burr, goad, and gadfly to the respectable academics who study ancient Egypt. West wanted to solve a riddle no other living Egyptologist had even noticed. This riddle was one that only a geologist could unravel, yet it was also one that cut to the heart of the accepted history of ancient Egypt. Did the peculiar weathering patterns visible on the Great Sphinx, West wondered, indicate that the structure was much older than conventionally thought?
Before I had my own up-close look at the Sphinx, I was sure that the answer was no. For over a half-century, scholars had agreed that this immense statue dates to the Fourth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom, specifically to the reign of the pharaoh Khafre (known in Greek as Chephren) who ruled Egypt’s Two Lands from 2520 to 2494 B.C.a
Since the Sphinx can’t be dated to a precise year, its construction is conventionally placed at circa 2500 B.C.
Only circumstantial evidence connects the Great Sphinx to Khafre and supports the 2500 B.C. date, but the clues do seem to point the same way. For one thing, the Sphinx sits closest to the second largest of the principal Giza pyramids, the one attributed to Khafre. For another, statuary likenesses of Khafre found in a nearby building add to the association of this particular pharaoh with the Sphinx. Third, there is a later, New Kingdom (c. 1400 B.C.) inscription on a pillar, or stela, that sits between the Sphinx’s paws. When originally found, the stela—since damaged by time—may have contained a portion of Khafre’s name, again linking the pharaoh to that magnificent, human-headed, lion-bodied monument. Unfortunately, the putatively Khafre-naming portion of the stela has flaked away. Fourth and finally, some authorities claim to see a similarity between the Sphinx’s face and Khafre’s features.
Still, there was a key fact all this evidence ignored: the Sphinx is made of stone. Like any stone, it offers evidence of the weather it has endured. Weather, in turn, can tell us a great deal about history.
Of all the recent scholars who have studied ancient Egypt, the only one who has paid attention to the stone reality of the Great Sphinx has been René Aor Schwaller de Lubicz (1887-1961). An Alsatian by nationality and a mathematician and philosopher by profession, Schwaller de Lubicz believed that ancient Egypt embodied an intellectual and artistic sophistication far exceeding anything we imagine. In the course of building his case for an advanced Egyptian civilization, Schwaller de Lubicz made a key observation at Giza. He noticed that the Great Sphinx was weathered differently from the other monuments at the same site, exhibiting a pattern that indicated erosion by water rather than sand (“the entire lion-like body of the Sphinx, with the exception of the head, provides indisputable evidence of erosion by water”).1
Schwaller de Lubicz asked: Did this difference in weathering also indicate a difference in history? Lacking the right scientific training to find the answer, the Alsatian could only hypothesize.
John Anthony West shared Schwaller de Lubicz’s wonder. West, who had long believed that the civilization of ancient Egypt had originated much earlier than commonly thought, knew that the climate in the eastern Mediterranean was far wetter in the millennia before 3000 B.C. than after. If the Sphinx showed evidence of erosion by water, then possibly it dated to this earlier, wetter period, proving that Egypt was home to a much older civilization.
But, like Schwaller de Lubicz, West couldn’t investigate this hypothesis himself. Evaluating the Sphinx’s erosion patterns required a geologist, and that was how West had come to me—through a mutual friend who knew I was a student of ancient history as well as a member of the science faculty at Boston University, and the holder of a doctorate from the Department of Geology and Geophysics at Yale.
When West and I met, I told him frankly that I was skeptical of his ideas. After all, a great many able scholars had studied the Sphinx, and surely they would have noticed something as obvious as water erosion. He insisted that I come to Egypt anyway and offered to pay my way. Certain that I was wasting his money only to undercut his ideas, I left for Cairo once my university duties for the spring semester of 1990 were over.
I had been in Egypt just a few days when I realized something. As capable as all those scholars who have studied ancient Egypt are, they don’t know how to look at rock, stone, and soil the way a geologist does. I had a geologist’s training, and my scientific eye told me there was something to West and Schwaller de Lubicz’s ideas. Even as a tourist who could look at the Sphinx only from a distance, I saw that the monument exhibited obvious signs of heavy rainfall and water runoff, possibly the legacy of the wetter, pre-Old Kingdom climate. I also noticed that buildings dated unquestionably to Khafre and the Fourth Dynasty showed weathering and erosion primarily from windblown sand—the pattern to be expected from the dry, desert conditions that settled on Egypt after 3000 B.C. Superficially, the evidence suggested that the Sphinx dated to an earlier, wetter period than did the Fourth Dynasty structures. Still, I needed a much closer, much more scientific look to be sure.
It took two more trips to Egypt, a detailed research proposal approved by the Egyptian authorities, a seismic study to measure the depth of weathered rock surrounding the Sphinx, and months of data analysis to put the picture together. The results indicated that Schwaller de Lubicz and West’s suspicions were correct. The oldest portions of the Sphinx were originally carved not in the reign of Khafre, circa 2500 B.C., but much earlier, somewhere between approximately 5000 and 7000 B.C., according to my best estimates. Since then, the original Sphinx has been heavily repaired and restored, both in ancient and modern times, and the pharaonic head is a recarving of an earlier one.A WIDER CONTEXT
Although my geological research focused on the Great Sphinx alone, it suggested far wider implications. For the Great Sphinx exists not as a solitary monument but as only one component in an architectural and cultural complex representing the highest expression of one of the earliest and most enduringly fascinating civilizations.