The Attribution of the Giza Pyramids

Many people, myself included, have been taken in by a lot of twaddle spouted by tour guides while visiting an archaeological site or museum. Tour guides often pad out their spiel with spicy or gory details, adding folksy particulars or even making thing up as they go along, and it was ever thus. For example, Herodotus, the "father of history,'' born in Halicarnassos in 485 BC, and author of the renowned Histories, visited Egypt, in the jolly company of priests, who recounted, among other nonsense, that Khufu had prostituted his own daughter to finish paying for the pyramid. Herodotus describes the Khufu pyramid (with inaccurate measurements) and then says that after the death of the pharaoh, Khafre inherited the kingdom and commissioned the second, slightly smaller, pyramid. The two reigns allegedly lasted a total of 106 years, during which the Egyptians fell on hard times, but the situation was turned around by Menkaure, to whom Herodotus imputes various murky goings-on, apart from the construction of the third pyramid of Giza, that is (Histories II, pp. 126-134).

But I doubt that Herodotus ever went to Giza, because much of the information he imparts is wrong, inexact, or unproven (for example, that Khufu was buried in an underground chamber touched by a branch of the Nile). Besides, how could he not have seen the Sphinx? Even if the enclosure it stands in was covered in sand, concealing most of the body, the head would undoubtedly have been visible.

Once we agree to ignore Herodotus and his guides, the evidence to support the attributions of the pyramids of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure to their respective pharaohs is shakier than one might think. We are so accustomed to giving them the credit for these pyramids that we take it for granted that these pharaohs created these monuments. For us nothing is more natural than that the creator of a great monument should give it his own name, and once the name has stuck it goes unquestioned.

The presence of these pharaohs at Giza is not open to doubt: inscriptions found in the workmen's quarters mention them, and tombs of their functionaries and priests have been found in the vicinity of the pyramids. There also exists, as we saw, the inscription in the mastaba of Qar bearing the names of the pharaohs who owned the pyramids, written about 200 years after their construction. But a lot can change in 200 years, and lapses of memory about the attribution of a monument can occur, as we shall see. The only evidence that we might consider incontrovertible, in that it is contemporary with the time of construction and written on the building in question, pertains to Khufu's pyramid: the name of Khufu is found in some phrases inscribed on stone blocks in the four upper relieving chambers over the king's chamber (see Chapter 16). These writings appear to have been made by workers when the blocks were being excavated, to indicate their destination.

The first chamber from the bottom, the one already described by

Davidson and from which Vyse started with his gunpowder-assisted exploration, does not contain any such inscription; as a consequence it has been suggested that it was Vyse himself who forged them, thus linking his name with that of Khufu for all eternity. This idea contrasts, however, with philological analyses and with the fact that some of the paintings were clearly made before the arrangement of the blocks in the ceilings; in my opinion a explanation for the lack of quarry marks in the first room might be that they were deleted by the builders during their on-the-spot inspections.

Thus, because we find the name Khufu written on the pyramid ascribed to Khufu, until the day comes when it is proved to be fake, the attribution can be considered sound. Indeed, although an inscription drawn on a monument might have been a way for a king to appropriate a preexisting monument, in the case of the Great Pyramid we can be sure this was not the case, since the relieving chambers were sealed off at the moment of their construction, and one does not pinch something from another monument, writing one's name in an invisible place. Generally speaking, however, we have to take into account the fact that preexisting buildings are sometimes taken over, and we have to consider the context in which the clues are found. There are cases where the context helps to exclude a takeover, as in Khufu's, but there are also other cases where it only makes matters worse and more confusing. As confirmation of this, one only has to move from the first to the second pyramid of Giza.

The second pyramid of Giza is glaringly, bleakly, completely anonymous. The name of Khafre or anyone else has never been found on it, and if there ever was a name on it, it must have been rubbed off. It is a possession without an owner. Likewise, the Funerary Temple, the causeway, and the Valley Temple of the second pyramid, as well as the Sphinx and the Temple of the Sphinx, are all glaringly, bleakly, completely anonymous.

So why do books and tour guides say that the pyramid of Khafre was built by Khafre? Have we been conned into buying one of Herodotus's secondhand chariots? Not exactly. Apart from a stele (lying between the Sphinx's legs) which possibly linked the name of Khafre to the statue (the pharaoh's name, however, is today not identifiable due to erosion, and it is uncertain whether it ever was), we have some finds made by the Egyptologist Auguste Mariette, including, from a ditch dug inside the Valley Temple, the splendid diorite statue of Khafre, now in the Museum of Cairo, as well as fragments of numerous other statues of the pharaoh (his name is written explicitly on the bases). Thus, the attribution of Khafre's temple is based on these finds, and the attribution of all the other elements of the complex was made by association. The Valley Temple belongs to the same complex as the causeway, the Funerary Temple, and the pyramid; ergo, everything belongs to Khafre.

Pyramid Giza Easter Island

Figure 18.5: Schematic plan of the Sphinx area: 1) The Sphinx, 2) Second pyramid causeway 3) Sphinx temple 4) Valley Temple

Similarly, the association of the body of the Sphinx with the Temple of the Sphinx is sound in that enormous blocks with which it was built definitely come from the ditch dug out for the statue. But we still have to link these two monuments to the rest of the complex; the fact they were built next to each other is no proof that they were contemporary, given that other pyramids have neither Sphinxes nor Sphinxes' temples. What is absolutely certain, however, is that the inner walls of the ditch were not excavated after the fourth dynasty, since they contain tombs dating from that time. To prove that the Sphinx could not have been built earlier, the archaeologist Selim Assan (who appears be the only one who ever really wondered about this) pointed out that, at the point where the causeway of the second pyramid intersects the enclosure, a drainage canal was blocked by pieces of granite to stop it flooding, and so the enclosure around the Sphinx must have been dug after the construction of the road.

To summarize:

1. The fact that the statue of Khafre and fragments of other statues have been found in the temple does not prove that the temple itself was constructed by this pharaoh. Khafre could easily have acquired a preexisting building, maybe refurbishing it for the occasion, or the statues could have been buried in the ditch at some unspecified time. A contextual clue, such as an object found in a building, does not in itself constitute definitive proof of attribution.

2. The attribution to Khafre would be more convincing if it could be ascertained that the Sphinx really represented the pharaoh, as most Egyptologist believe, on the grounds of an alleged similarity between the faces of the sphinx and the pharaoh. To be honest, it takes quite an effort to see such a resemblance, to the point that the German scholar Reiner Stadelman (1985) proposed rather that Khufu was the owner of the statue.

3. Even if we succeeded in identifying the face of the Sphinx, we would still be left with the problem that the Sphinx's head is too small and out of proportion compared to the body. So either the sculptor got the proportions of the head and body wildly wrong, which is unlikely, or Khafre, or whoever it was, had the original, possibly leonine, head remodeled in his image.

4. We do not know whether the second pyramid was built when the Sphinx was constructed or remodeled. The whole effort might even have taken place in the space of a very few years, without being contemporary, however.

5. The blocking off of the drainage canal does not prove a thing. It could have been the builders of the Sphinx who blocked the canal or the builders of the canal who had a reason for making the causeway oriented on that precise direction and hence were forced to block off the canal. In any case, the words "laid by Khafre'' are not conveniently inscribed on any of the blocking stones.

Adding to these doubts are several clues, themselves highly debatable and controversial, that allegedly show that the Sphinx had long been in existence by the time of the fourth dynasty.

The first to realize that there was something distinctly odd about the Sphinx, something quite illogical, was René Schwaller de Lubicz (1996), a somewhat quaint figure who studied history of religions and esotericism. Following on his heels came an independent researcher, John Anthony West (1993), closely pursued by Robert Shoch (2001), a geologist at Boston University. What West and Shoch say is that, if you just look at the sides of the enclosure around the statue and some parts of the body that are not covered with restoration bricks, you can see patterns of erosion caused by the flow of water. In Egypt, however, the arid climate prevailing today set in between the fifth and fourth millennia BC, so the body of the Sphinx should have been sculpted prior to this. In fact, Shoch asserts that the erosion on the statue would be consistent with a timeframe of about 5000 BC or earlier, thus solidly in the predynastic era. Shoch's ideas, very debatable but nevertheless based on a scientific approach, have fired the enthusiasm of legions of Atlantis freaks, who are convinced that the monument was built by "the Atlanteans before the Flood''.

I do not share the view that Egyptian civilization was imported from somewhere else, as the Atlanteans would have it. To date we have no clue about who would import it, or why or when. As far as the age of the Sphinx is concerned, the hypothesis that the Egyptians could have created these monumental works at Giza in predynastic times cannot be ruled out entirely. There is no doubt that, for instance, the builders of Ggantja in Malta (Chapter 3) were creating megalithic temples one thousand years before the fourth dynasty, and new evidence is emerging that megalithic structures (and perhaps interest in astronomy) also existed in Egypt as far back as the 5th millennium BC. This hinges on discoveries made at Nabta, now in the western desert, a few dozen kilometers from Abu Simbel: a circle of relatively

Pyramid Giza Easter Island
Figure 18.6: a side-view of the Sphinx and part of its enclosure

small stones and various burials of cows, made with huge blocks carved into mushroom shapes (Malville et al 1998). Besides Nabta, much is already known, but much has certainly to be discovered, about predynastic Egypt (see Grimal 1994); further, although the physical evidence of water erosion in the enclosure of the Sphinx cannot be denied, alternative explanations are available that avoid a strong retro-dating of the monument.

The first attempt to formulate an alternative theory to Shoch's relied on the obvious idea that the water in question may have come from the Nile. Yet the Giza builders were quite familiar with the Nile flood plain and accordingly placed their buildings well above the height reachable by floods, so the river never flooded the statue enclosure. Nowadays in Giza very little rain falls, only an occasional downpour. It is, however, known that the enclosure gets filled with sand very quickly, so one would imagine that it has remained in virtually the same state over the centuries. The geologist John Harrell (1994) takes his cue from this idea, and conjectures that the sand with which the enclosure was filled may have caused the erosion visible today through a process involving humidity. Shoch counters this suggestion by saying that this process, though present to some extent, cannot under any circumstances account for the highly conspicuous erosion we see today (Shoch and McNally 2003). Nor is another geologist, Colin Reader (2001), particularly convinced by Shoch. He puts forward yet another hypothesis to explain the waterless erosion without resorting to a drastic antedating of the monument. According to Reader, the enclosure of the Sphinx may have been created some centuries before Khufu; the morphology of the plain would have caused great quantities of rainwater to be channeled into the enclosure, filling it with water every time there was a rainstorm. Then, however, the excavation of quarries for the great pyramids, placed upstream of the Sphinx, would have interrupted the process, stopping the flow of the waters.

I am not a geologist; however, recently, I was granted permission to visit the interior of the Sphinx's enclosure (usually forbidden to tourists due to the need to safeguard the monument), together with the team of Roberto Giacobbo's program "Voyager" on Italian national television, and I can confirm personally that the walls, especially in the evening with the striking drop in temperature that occurs in the winter in the desert, really look as if they were made the day before out of wet sand.

As far as the symbolism of the monument is concerned, the Sphinx of Giza (whether it was sculpted in the reign of Khafre or previously) is the first known Sphinx. Guidebooks say that the entrance to the temple was guarded by two sphinxes, an assertion based solely on the presence of two statue bases, on which anything could have stood. So we cannot refer to any known stylistic canons here. As we saw in Chapter 4, the Egyptians of the New

Kingdom almost certainly knew the constellation of Leo, so we might suppose that this constellation had already been named in this way by the age of the pyramids, as indeed Orion had. During the age of the pyramids the summer solstice fell in Leo, hence the leonine symbolism may have originated from the sun cult aimed at a "solarization" of the pharaoh (the theory put forward by R. Bauval and G. Hancock (1997), which hangs on the idea that the Sphinx, which is oriented toward true east, did not just represent the constellation of Leo but also the Age of the Lion, that is, the period in which the spring equinox fell in Leo around 12,500 BC, is not backed up by a shred of historical or archaeological evidence, and therefore has to be rejected).

For the sake of completeness, let's look at the attribution of the pyramid of Menkaure. The third pyramid, the Funerary Temple, the causeway, and the Valley Temple are all glaringly, bleakly, completely anonymous. The name of Menkaure or of anyone else has never been found on them, and if the name ever was there, it must have been rubbed off. They are possessions without owners. The attribution to Menkaure derives from the discovery of some beautiful statues of the pharaoh, so the association is indirect, exactly as with Khafre. In fact, in 1837 Howard Vyse found an empty stone sarcophagus in the pyramid (unfortunately lost in a shipwreck shortly afterward). Vyse also unearthed fragments of a wooden coffin and the mummified remains of a male. The coffin bore the inscription "King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Menkaure, who lives for all eternity''; the only drawback is that the style of the coffin belongs to a much later period, while the human remains, after being subjected to radiocarbon dating, turn out to be from the Christian epoch.

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