The Gates of Heaven

Although the idea of chambers yet to be discovered in the Great Pyramid is tantalizing, it may also be the case that the doors at their ends only had a symbolic significance, a concrete representation of those gates that feature so prominently in the Pyramid Texts and have to be crossed by the soul of the deceased. Indeed, the fact that both shafts were terminated shows once again that the queen's chamber fulfilled a precise function within the "machine'' that was to ensure the king's rebirth. A sound interpretation of this chamber is that it is the Serdab of the tomb of Khufu, that is, the place where the rite of the opening of the mouth took place. In the Ancient Kingdom, as we saw in Chapter 4, this rite was performed on the statue of the deceased, which in this case may have been housed in the niche situated in the chamber. We learned that the rite had profound links with the stars, especially with the Bull's Foreleg constellation to which the lower north shaft points, and we are familiar with another pyramid that was equipped with a Serdab and handed down to us virtually intact: the Step Pyramid of Djoser. Actually, this Serdab too has shafts oriented toward the stars.

Djoser's Serdab is located in a small building on the north side of the pyramid and contains the statue of the pharaoh (today replaced by a copy). The room was completely sealed off, but two little holes, at eye level, had been drilled into the stone slab facing the statue, on the north side. The little structure has its walls sloping toward the top; thus, the holes enabled the statue to look in the direction of the northern sky. The orientation is not

Figure 17.5: The Serdab of Djoser Step Pyramid complex. Notice the holes which correspond to the eyes of the statue inside
Figure 17.6: Two of the three objects found by Dixon in one of the lower shafts (on display at British Museum)

toward true north, however, but 3 degrees 40 minutes east of north. This is clearly not an error (it would be far too much of an error, given the Egyptians' rigorous standards of accuracy), but rather an example of generic orientation towards north, not specifically toward the north pole, and thus similar to what we found in some temples in Chapter 4. One might reasonably think that the building is pointing to a circumpolar star, and this is confirmed by recent measures: the inclination of the room was meant to point toward the star Al Kaid, the hoof of the Bull's Foreleg (Bauval 2006), while the inclinations of the holes through which the statue looks are slightly different, in relation to each other, as well as to the building. One shaft in fact slopes more than the other; hence the eyes most likely looked in the direction of two other circumpolar stars, Dubhe and Kochab, belonging to Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, respectively (Shaltout et al. 2007). In any case, the deliberate orientation of the two shafts—which were certainly not created to give fresh air to the statue—in the direction of the northern stars cannot be questioned.

The symbolic function for which the queen's chamber was devised and built is also backed up by the discovery of three items. The story of this discovery is very curious. As we have seen, the shafts in the queen's chamber were left blocked off by the builders, and were only rediscovered in 1872, by Wyman Dixon. After his discovery, Dixon inserted sounding rods into the shafts, and in his diary he noted the discovery of three objects: a small greenstone ball, a wooden bar 13 centimeters long, and a sort of small forked metal grapnel hook.

These three artifacts are the only things ever found in the pyramid that date with absolute certainty to the time of its construction. It should be remembered that the pyramid has been completely bare since time immemorial; the other unique object found inside is the sarcophagus, which as far as I know has never been moved to see what lies underneath. Despite their evident importance, Dixon's three relics—once mentioned in an article in Nature magazine in 1873—were promptly and incredibly forgotten. Two of them, the hook and the ball, are now on display in the British Museum, thanks to the persistence of Robert Bauval, who tenaciously tracked them down. The wooded stick, alas, is lost.

These items were sealed in the shaft by the builders and seem therefore to be a sort of foundation deposit of the Great Pyramid. Yet their true meaning eludes us. It would be more straightforward if they were made of precious materials, or were works of art or bore religious depictions—not just items of everyday use and of seemingly little material value. Their true function is unclear; however, the hook is swallow-tailed in shape, and resembles the psh-kef, the forked instrument employed in the ceremony of the opening of the mouth. The ball might be a hand-hammer tool used for smoothing stones; it is similar to some found and documented by Arnold (1991), for instance. It could also be, however, the weight of a plumb line. If it is so, then it may be tempting to interpret the hook as a sighting tool, perhaps originally mounted on the stick.

In this case, the whole set of objects might be the oldest known example of Merkhet, the instrument employed by the Egyptians for performing astronomical measurements.

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