Extracts from a new book,
"The Pyramid Builder's Handbook"
Derek K Hitchins©
Full copyright and intellectual property rights retained
First, let's see what the stars looked like in 2,500BC. In the graphic above, you can see the stars interconnected to form what, today, we call the constellation of Orion. In the centre of that constellation is the so-called Belt of Orion, made up of three stars: Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka. When first learning astronomy, children are taught to use these three stars as a pointer towards Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, which you can see bottom centre, just coming up over the eastern horizon. The grey area is the Milky Way.
Robert Bauval, a Belgian mining engineer, wrote a fascinating book, The Orion Mystery, in which he observed that the three stars in Orion's Belt are not precisely in a straight line, and he noticed, that the Pyramids of Giza were not aligned, either. He saw a similarlty between the stars and the Milky Way on the one hand, and the Pyramids of Giza and the Nile on the other. As if that was not enough, Alnitak was known to be associated with Osiris in the Osirian Legends, and Sirius with Isis, wife and sister to Osiris, and mother of Horus. So was borne the fascinating and romantic idea that the ancient Egyptians of the Old Kingdom were replicating their heaven and their legends on Earth.
Now, I know a lot of people hold to this idea as an article of faith, and it is a beautifully romantic idea, but there are one or two holes in Robert Bauval's idea. Let's look at one or two:-
- Robert Bauval believed that the three stars in Orion's Belt were misaligned in much the same way as the 3 pyramids of Giza. He deduced that the three pyramids were misaligned, because he believed that their diagonals should all be on a straight line. But, the 3 pyramids at Giza are precisely aligned, along their southeast corners. The old aerial photograph and the diagram below show the point, and it is quite clear that the alignement is intentional. Three of the 5th Dynasty pyramids at Abusir are similalry aligned, this time across their northwest corners. Incidentally, the two lines, from the two sets of pyramids, are said to cross at Heliopolis (On, in the Bible), the site of the Sun Temple, in the suburbs of present-day Cairo - but that's another story.
Supposing for the moment that they were trying to map out a group of stars on the Giza plateau, where is Sirius, by far the brightest and most conspicuous star in the sky? In the mythology, Sirius. or Sothis, was associated with Isis, a principal character in the Osirian Legends. Why would such a major star have been overlooked?
Orion the Hunter was a character in Greek mythology, who would not be invented for another 2000 years. Most of our constellation's names are of Greek origin
- At the time of Khufu's Great Pyramid there was no Orion Constellation, no Hunter, no Orion's Belt. Sure, the ancient Egyptians joined up stars to make constellations, but they joined up different stars and made different animals.
- So, no Taurus, no Leo, and no Orion. The ancient Egyptians had a bull constellation, but it was around their then Pole Star, Thuban, and not in today's Zodiac
- The left-hand star in today's Orion's Belt, Alnitak ("the Girdle"), has an Arab name given in the Middle Ages.
- While the star Alnitak, or Sahu to the ancient Egyptians, seems to have been associated with Osiris, there was no basis for the ancient Egyptians to compare the three stars in today's Orion's Belt with the then pyramids of Giza. It's an anachronism.
- By the way, the other two stars in the Belt have names with meanings, too:
- Mintaka means "Belt"
- Alnilam means "String of Pearls" - which suggests that some Arab astonomers, at least, did not see a belt.
Besides all that, there is a perfectly simple reason for the pyramids to be aligned as they are, which has nothing to do with stars or the Milky Way. The Giza Pyramids are aligned as they are so that they can be seen by people - especially kings - travelling down river from Memphis, the ancient capital, to visit their necropolis.
The sequence of pictures shows a 3-D terrain simulation of the Nile Valley, top left, filled with Nile water, top right and viewed from Memphis. The 3 pyramids of Giza can just be seen on the horizon in the top, right-hand corner. Bottom left shows the view some halfway down the river from Memphis to Giza. Bottom right shows the Sun, sinking in the West, and throwing shadows of the Pyramids on to the plateau and the river:-
- Notably, throughout the trip, the 3 pyramids appear to be equally-spaced and right on the visible horizon. This impression is gained because the 3 pyramids are aligned on the corners facing the river, and because they are right on the edge of the scarp.
- This also explains why Menkaure's Queen's Pyramids were placed to the west of the north/south line through his pyramid; by shifting them westwards, they did not obscure Menkaure's Pyramid when viewed coming down the river.
- And, of course, this also explains why Menkure's Pyramid had to be smaller than the other two, since there was only limited space on the plateau for the 3rd pyramid to be aligned. As it was, his Queens' Pyramids had to be cut into the side of the scarp.
To the ancient Egyptians, the horizon was associated with resurrection. The Sun sank below the western horizon each night, only to be resurrected on the eastern horizon each morning. Khufu even called his pyramid Akhet Khufu, Khufu's Horizon, which might be better interpreted as "Khufu's Resurrection". Could it have been that, viewed from Memphis, the pyramid was literally on Khufu's Horizon? If so, Khufu would have been able to watch the progess of his "resurrection machine" throughout the building phase, albeit from a fair distance.
So, it was about spectacle, putting the pyramids on the horizon so that they were visible to the population who were always on or near the Nile. It was also about siting the pyramids in the most propitious spot to be resurrection machines. And, if you think that is an isolated case, check out every other Old Kindom necropolis.
And finally...if you're not convinced, then perhaps these 4 views of the Giza Pyramids will clinch it for you. The first 3 show the pyramids from the River Nile, and the 3 pyramids appear evenly spaced. Note that top right and bottom left show the Inundation in full flood - a view not available today, since the Aswan High Dam prevents the Inundation. The 4th photograph, bottom right, shows the view from the desert - a view no King would normally see - the three pyramids look anything but evenly spaced, not on the horizon, and even Menkaure's Queens' Pyramids intrude at extreme right.
So, there you have it. I would dearly love Rober Bauval's idea of Orion's Belt projected down on to the Giza Plateau to be true - it's a splendid and romantic idea. But, I'm afraid it's not to be...