Two and two makes four

Thus, along with the gigantic but mute monuments, crammed with things we understand little about, the most exciting of these being four shafts that point to the heavens, we have texts, written down immediately after the end of the period in which the monuments were erected, but which had undoubtedly been in existence prior to that time, full of references to the heavens and voyages to the stars. Holmes would say, what remains, is to realize that two and two makes four. However, it was not until 1964 that Egyptologist Alexander Badawy and astronomer Virginia Trimble had the idea of determining how the sky would have appeared in Giza during the age of the pyramids. They soon realized that, during the years in which Khufu's pyramid was built, between 2600 and 2450 BC, the northern shaft of the king's chamber pointed toward the culmination of the "pole star'' of the time, Alpha-Draconis, while the southern shaft pointed toward the culmination of Orion's Belt (Badaway 1964, Trimble 1964).

Before 1964, there had been an important scientific question that remained unsolved: Why had the shafts in the king's chamber been created? In 1964, we had the solution: they were stellar conduits oriented toward the two regions of rebirth mentioned in the Pyramid Texts.

The shafts in the queen's chamber were universally considered to be unfinished, and, consequently, Badawy and Trimble did not manage to suggest an interpretation for them. Subsequently, however, Robert Bauval (1990) suggested that the lower northern shaft pointed to an area near the celestial north pole, probably toward the culmination of the star Kochab, while the southern shaft pointed toward the culmination of Sirius at a date around 2500 BC.

As we shall see, we now know that the queen's chamber shafts are indeed

Figure 17.2: Astronomical alignments of the "air" shafts

finished. Thus, I believe this issue is settled. The four shafts had been created with only one purpose in mind: guiding the deceased to the rebirth regions of the sky. It is important to keep in mind that the shafts start off with a horizontal section, and so it would have been impossible to frame the celestial bodies in them; these alignments, then, had a purely symbolic significance.

The stellar interpretation of the four shafts in Khufu's pyramid is, in my view, a shining example of how archaeoastronomy can provide us with a key to understanding some great riddles of the past. Further, it helps in interpreting many other structural elements of the pyramids as well. Trimble and Badaway's work answers the question of why the king's chamber was not built on the vertical from the apex. In fact, it is not possible to reconcile these three factors: (1) the stellar, hence fixed, orientation of the shafts; (2) the egress of the shafts at the same height; and (3) the chamber set on the axis. Thus, the building principle that required the exit of the shafts to be at the same height was considered to be fundamental rather than the traditional arrangement of the sepulchral chamber on the axis. Further, the stellar interpretation of the two lower shafts puts an end to a hundred years of ridiculous discussion about the queen's chamber being incomplete. In fact, given that the lower shafts were also astronomically oriented, if the chamber had been an "aborted'' sepulchral chamber, its shafts would have been oriented toward the same stars as the real sepulchral chamber (that is, the king's chamber), but this is not the case. The orientations of its shafts, different from those of the burial chamber, prove that the chamber was constructed with a different scope, a point to which we shall return later. (Given their symmetric disposition, one could refute the stellar interpretation and instead propose that the shafts served an aesthetic purpose (Dormion 2004), but such arguments are not justified on historical grounds).

The logic applied in the stellar interpretation agrees with both the humanistic approach (given that it is based on the content of the Pyramid Texts) and a rigorous scientific approach (since the likelihood of all four shafts being arranged randomly is unquestionably low) (Castellani 1998). Also, the stellar interpretation is a simple solution to a decidedly complicated scientific puzzle, and as often happens, it is the simplest, neatest solutions that are the hardest for many to accept; a memorable example is the general theory of relativity, for which Albert Einstein failed to win the Nobel Prize (he did receive it, but for his discovery of the photoelectric effect). Similarly, the astronomical orientation of the shafts is rejected even today by many archaeologists: "Of the theories so far proposed, the most probable attributes a ventilating function to them''

(Verner 2001). There are even attempts to debunk the stellar interpretation by using such things as average inclinations instead of angles of exit to show that the shafts did not all point simultaneously to their stellar targets (Wall 2007).

I will make a final comment based on my own experience. As a physicist, I have seen many attempts to debunk theories that seem strange to some people, and one of the most often "debunked" is precisely Einstein's general relativity theory. However, our galaxy (the Milky Way), just like millions of other galaxies, does not care about such debunking: stars continue to rotate slowly and safely around the galactic nucleus, allowing the solar system to exist and all of us to live, only because a supermassive black hole—an object whose existence was predicted by the general relativity theory as far back as 1917—sits quietly at its center.

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