Mysteries and Discoveries of Archaeoastronomy
Figure 18.1: The Khufu solar Boat.
As we have seen, the sky is represented in the Pyramid Texts as being extremely crowded, with boats whizzing around, and the Sun God accommodating the deceased pharaoh on his boat (or "bark," to use Faulkner's more romantic term). In a large ditch parallel to the pyramid, carefully sealed with enormous limestone slabs still bearing Djedefre's cartouche (and hence, name), Mallak's team unearthed piles of cedar wood planks, neatly laid out in perfect order. It turned out to be a large boat with high broadsides, which had been dismantled into 1224 pieces, many of which were numbered and marked so that the boat could be reassembled. The chief restorer, Hag Ahmed Youssef Moustafa, and his team embarked on the exciting adventure of reassembling, after 4500 years, the boat belonging to the greatest pharaoh in history. Today, visitors to Giza have the thrill of seeing Khufu's Sun Bark—43 meters long and weighing approximately 50 tons, housed in a museum alongside the pyramid. The boat was built without the use of nails; instead, ropes of vegetable origin were slotted through holes. It has never been ascertained if the boat ever sailed, such as on the occasion of the pharaoh's funeral.
Apart from the connection of structural elements with the celestial cycles, many other architectural features of the Great Pyramid might have a symbolic rather than a functional purpose. The subterranean chamber, for instance, with its womb-like form, may have been left in the apparently odd state it is found in today (only half-carved out, longitudinally rather than transversely, and with womb-like aspect) for a symbolic reason. As we already noticed, it is curious that (in all fourth dynasty pyramids, not just Khufu's) the descending passage was always partly inside the stonework (that is, passing through the masonry and exiting on the north face), and partly inside the rock, when it would have been much easier to make the whole passage inside the rock and let it come out at the base of the pyramid (as was to be the case with most pyramids henceforth). This raises the suspicion that it was necessary to connect—physically, but also symboli-cally—access to the subterranean chamber with the very core of the stonework, almost as if wishing to betoken an artificial womb.
The structure of the so-called relieving chambers is also puzzling. As we have seen, these rooms do not fulfill the function attributed to them at all; they do not relieve. On the other hand, the construction of so many apparently useless spaces, one above the other, must have created innumerable problems, not least being the backbreaking task of lifting not one, but five granite slabs ceilings, weighing dozens of tons, up to a height of over 60 meters. Why was that done?
I maintain that the function of the chambers was structural, but that it had nothing to do with "relieving" in the proper sense. The function of
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Figure 18.2: Section of the "relieving chambers" from a 19th-century survey by Piazzi Smith.
relieving the weight is exerted by the inverted V-vault of the last chamber only. However, if such a structure had been made directly above the king's chamber, the stone slabs on the north side would be leaning dangerously on a part of the pyramid in which few blocks of the core were located, followed by the "vacuum'' caused by the presence of the great gallery. Therefore, it was thought advisable to build the relief vault higher, that is, above the level of the great gallery, and for this reason the intermediate chambers were constructed. It is, however, still unclear why the gallery was built so high, and therefore, perhaps the relieving chambers carried a symbolic significance as well. One author has suggested that the chambers may be a symbolic representation of the Djed Pillar, ff the "backbone of Osiris, stabilizer of life," an extremely ancient, possibly predynastic, symbol of Osiris (Pincherle 1980).
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