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The Pyramids

During the Old Kingdom in Egypt, under the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Dynasties, huge pyramids were erected at Giza, at Sakkara, and in other places of the land. That of King Khufu (Cheops of the Greek authors) is the largest, of the best workmanship, and the most famous. Alongside it is the second largest pyramid, built by the son of Khufu, Khafra (Chephren), and a smaller one built by Menkaure (Mycerinus), also a descendant of Khufu. The later pyramids are of poorer workmanship and smaller than those of Khufu and Khafra.

The Great Pyramid originally rose to a height of over 481 feet and measured ca. 756 feet at the base; it totalled 3,277,000 cubic yards of stone, or an estimated 2,300,000 blocks, which is “the largest constructed mass of stone ever erected by man.”(1) The precision of construction “equals to an optician’s work.”(2) The stones were carried from the desert quarries and ferried over the Nile.

For what purpose were the pyramids erected? No hint was found in the hieroglyphic literature. Already in antiquity Greek authors debated this question. In the fifth century before the present era Herodotos gave a detailed account of their construction, but no indication of their purpose.(3)

Not even a tale concerning the purpose of the pyramids came down from the time they were constructed. “for some reason or other, the builders of the pyramids concealed the object of these structures, and this so successfully that not even a tradition has reached us which purports to have been handed down from the epoch of the pyramids’ construction.(4)

Greek and Roman historians proposed some explanations, but they were rofessedly only hypothetical, like those advanced by historians of later times. Diodorus of Sicily(5) and Strabo(6) thought that the pyramids were tombs, but this was not the generally accepted theory. Pliny wrote: “It is asserted by most persons that the only motive for constructing them was either a determination [by the kings] not to leave their treasures to their successors . . . or to prevent the lower classes from being unoccupied.(7)

Strabo wrote that the entrance to the Great Pyramid was covered “by a moveable stone, wnd when this is raised there is a sloping passage to the vault.”(8) Pliny thought that there was a well under the Pyramid communicating with the Nile.(9)

When the Great Pyramid was entered by Caliph Al Mamoun in the ninth century, making the first break through the masonry of the pyramid since its original closing, he fund there no mummy or bones. The entrance, high over the plain of Giza, was concealed. From the entrance a corridor leads downwards and then divides itself in two: one route leads into the rock under the pyramid where a little unfinished grotto chamber is found. The ascending passage leads to the “great gallery” or the larger section of the ascending passage with steeply mounting floor, and to two chambers. One carries the name of King’s Chamber (the upper one of the two), the other of the Queen’s Chamber; these names are given by the archaeologists. The pyramid itself bears no inscription,(10) except of the name of Khufu (Cheops), painted by the quarry workers on a slab of the ceiling of the King’s Chamber, not visible to a visitor of the Chamber.

Caliph Al-Mamoun found in the King’s Chamber a stone box, not a regular sarcophagus, but rude, unfinished, without a lid and without an inscription. “He also found no trace whatever of burial, offerings, pottery, etc., and one can presume the chamber to have been emptry but for the sarcophagus itself.”(11)

King Khufu was not buried in the Pyramid. He built a cemetery next to it, and there he entombed his mother and his four queens; his sons and daughters were also buried there. The tomb of his mother was found undisturbed, well-concealed:(12) “Such care in concealment by Khufu of his mother’s tomb would suggest that his own tomb will scarcely jump to the eye.”(13)

Khufu concealed very carefully his own place of burial: “That there was a problem connected with Khufu’s burial was known in later Egyptian times . . . and the question was then put into writing as to who knew the places of burial of Im-hetep, Seneferu and Khufu, as though it were an oft-repeated query.”(14) It shows that the Egyptians did not think of the pyramids as tombs. It is possible that Khufu’s sarcophagus will be found in the royal cemetery which he built and where he concealed the tombs of his beloved ones.(15) But wherever it may be, the Great Pyramid was built for some other purpose than interment.

As the purpose for which the pyramids were built is by no means established, various other uses have been suggested. In the sixth century, before the Great Pyramid was entered, Gregory of Tours (540-594) thought that Pyramids were granaries built by the biblical Joseph in which he kept the harvest of the fat years.(16) Others in modern times thought that they were built as defences against the sands of the Great Desert;(17) and many thought that they were built to serve as astronomical observatories.(18)

If they were built for astronomical purposes only, why were they built in groups, when an unobtruded horizon requires a single elevation? And why were smaller pyramids built next to the large ones in space and after them in time? And if they were granaries, why is the space so small inside such large constructions?

But if the pyramids were intended as tombs, why were the kings who built them not entombed in them? And why was it that the kings of the great dynasties in later times, who built the imposing temples and palaces of Thebes and Memphis, did not care to build pyramid-tombs for themselves?

Some even supposed that the kings who built them did not know their purpose, which is a rather strange solution. “Cheops . . . did not intend the Great Pyramid to serve as a tomb; nor indeed, if we are to believe the reasonable deductions which are based upon historical accounts, did he [Cheops] or his Egyptian subjects know what purpose this immense edifice was intended to serve,” wrote an author.(19) To which another author remarked: “We can picture Khufu and his officials meeting with furrowed brows, and the king saying to them, ‘What on earth am I building this thing for?’”(20)

As a rational purpose was not discovered, a mystical one was suggested. A great effort was made by several inquirers to find geometrical laws symbolized or perpetuated by the pyramids. The ancient Egyptians were suspected of knowing some secrets of nature and of incorporating them into the geometrical structure of the pyramids. Even the distance from the Earth to the Sun was shown to be a clear multiple of the so-called pyramid-inch.(21) Also future events and, strangely enough, concerning mainly the British Commonwealth of the Victorian and post-Victorian days were found predicted by the geometrical figures of the pyramids. Each new generation had its own pyramid maniacs. The desperation of the rational school of scholars to discover the end for which the pyramids, the greatest structures of antiquity, were built, is expressed by Petrie: “It is almost useless to speculate about their purpose.”(22)

I shall here join the list of those who tried to solve the mystery of the pyramids and point to a purpose which, as far as I know, was never discussed, but which seems to me to be the true one.(23)

After the great catastrophes of the earlier ages the kings of Egypt, conscious of the possibility of their repetition, erected the pyramids as huge shelters for themselves and the most important persons of their household.

The pyramids as shelters have large bases and enourmously thick walls to protect the chambers inside from hurricanes, avalanches of meteorites or brimstone, poisonous gases,(24) and inundation. The pyramidal form is statically the strongest possible structure for opposing a vertically directed impact from above (meteorites), as well as lateral pressure (of floods and hurricanes). The entrance is situated not on the level of the ground but high above it; the water of a flood forty feet high would not penetrate the pyramid of Cheops. But if the water were to rise as high as the entrance and force the door, it would not reach the chambers, which were situated at a higher level. The outer surface of the pyramid was covered with smooth stones, and was not in steps as it has been since the stone facade was removed and used for other purposes during the later ages. This smooth surface was the best protection against a shower of bolides and served also to protect against the penetration of water. The entrance door was a swivel construction.(25)

Two narrow channels inclined at 31 degrees (northern) and 45 degrees (southern) to the horizon served for passage of air to the King’s Chamber. They could be closed off at their lower end. No large bolide could enter these channels. They were also placed in such a manner that from the inside of the pyramid two standard points of the sky could be observed;(26) but if the pyramids were tombs, no observation of the sky would take place there, and if they were observatories, two small fixed openings would enable the observer to see only very limited squares on two sides of the sky. But by observing two points on the sky one could judge meteorological conditions on the outside and also, in the case of a clear sky, whether the four directions remained unchanged.

Two other narrow channels, similar to the first ones, connect the lower chamber (Queen’s Chamber) of the Great Pyramid with the outside, but the last five inches of these channels were not opened, and a stone plate separated the chamber from the channels. From this and other evidences it was concluded that the work of construction had been interrupted and that there had been “an alteration in the original plan” ;(27) but it would appear that the second pair of the ventilating shafts was purposely not tunneled into the lower chamber: this precaution is understandable if we realize the purpose of the whole construction.

The constructors of the pyramids had very much in mind the possibl effects of earthquakes, and they solved their problem very satisfactorily. The sides of the Great Pyramid, which are built at an angle of 51 degrees 51 minutes to the horizon, can hardly have their stones moved from the outside; a movement to the inside is barred insofar as the pyramid is filled from the apex to the base with stones, the only exception being the chambers and the corridor to them, including the Grand Gallery. The King’s Chamber in the Cheops pyramid has five superimposed ceilings of great blocks of granite; the rest of the pyramid is built of limestone. Should one granite roof give way, the next one would absorb the shock.(28)

The tremendous shocks experienced by the entire globe, when the orbit changed and the poles were displaced in the cataclysms subsequent to the building of the pyramids, did not ruin the pyramids; though the granite roof-blocks over the chamber show the results of enormous twisting,(29) they did not collapse; also the channels leading to the chambers and the narrower ones directed toward the sky, are not obtruded. Earthquakes like the one in the first century during whih 30,000 people perished in Egypt could do no harm to the pyramids.

The real secret of the pyramids was this stability against earthquakes. No other edifice of the Old or Middle Kingdom escaped destruction.

The huge Sphinx close to the pyramids of Gizeh is a likeness of Harmachis,(30) a form of Horus: that is, the planet-god Jupiter. His figure in front of the pyramids must have served as a charm against any harm he might feel inclined to do to the refugees inside.

Did the pyramids serve well the purpose they were built for? The pyramid age belongs to the Old Kingdom. During the Middle Kingdom only a few and very insignificant pyramids were erected. Already the cataclysm which terminated the Old Kingdom proved that the pyramids, though responding to many of the tasks of a shelter, were inadequate in some respect. The catastrophe during which the Israelites left Egypt was the same which ended the Middle Kingdom. In the inscription on the shrine from el-Arish we do not find that the royal family went to seek refuge outside the palace: “nobody left the palace during the nine days of the tempest.” (31) Also the biblical story tells of casualties in the family of the king and his palace when the earth was convulsed and “the houses were smitten.” Apparently at that time the futility of the shelters had become known. This implies that during the cataclysm which put an end to the Old Kingdom the pyramids were recognized as potentially fatal traps.

The pyramids were not sufficiently protected against electrical discharges. Lightning is attracted by the vertex of the pyramid. The builders of the pyramids knew of course the fact that tall buildings attract lightning; they must have also known that lightning is abundant in the storms that accompany and follow cataclysms. It seems to me that the ancient way to protect a building from lightning must have been by building thick walls and erecting pillars around the buildings. Electrical currents travel the periphery of a cable: the enormously thick walls protect the inner chambers from electrical discharges. But this protection could be proven as sufficient only during ordinary thunderstorms. When at the close of the Old Kingdom interplanetary contacts caused tremendous discharges, some of the pyramids became electrocuting chambers.(32) The fields of saltpeter (potassium nitrate) close to the pyramids show where the bolts fell; some of the pyramids drew to themselves ramifications of the great bolt.


  1. E. B. Smith, Egyptian Architecture as Cultural Expression (New York, 1938), p. 96. [The figures are those of I. E. S. Edwards, (The Pyramids of Egypt, revised ed. [London, 1961], pp. 116, 118, 282) who uses the survey of J. H. Cole (Cairo, 1925).]

  2. F. Petrie

  3. Herodotus I. 124.

  4. R. A. Proctor, The Great Pyramid (London, 1883), p. 1.

  5. The Library I. 63. Cf. F. W. von Bissing, Der Bericht des Diodor ueber die Pyramiden (Berlin, 1901).

  6. Geography 17. 1. 33.

  7. Natural History 36. 16. [Cf. the not entirely dissimilar theory propounded by Kurt Mendelssohn, who suggests the principal motive for building the pyramids lay in “the desire to transform an agricultural village community into a centralized from of society.” (“Pyramid Technology,” Bibliotheca Orientalis 30 [1973], pp. 349-355). Mendelssohn’s technical discussion of of great value, independent of his other conclusions. Cf. his Riddle of the Pyramids (London, 1974).]

  8. Strabo, Geography 17. 1. 33. F. Petrie in his The Pyramids of Egypt (London, 1883), p. 168 interpreted Strabo’s statement as referring to a swivel door and, though any remains of it would have disappeared with the removal of the Pyramid’s outer casing, sockets, which may have served to accomodate such a moveable entrance block, were found at both the Bent Puyramid and at the Pyramid of Meidum. Cf. the discussion by Edwards in The Pyramids of Egypt, pp. 130f. For an attempt at a reconstruction of the swivel door, see P. Tompkins, Secrets of the Great Pyramid (New York, 1971), p. 3.

  9. Natural History

  10. [The outer casing of the Great Pyramid, long since removed, apparently did bear an inscription, still visible in Herodotos’ time. Herodotos’ report of its meaning, however, indicates that he was deliberately misled by his guides.]

  11. G. A. Reisner and W. S. Smith, A History of the Giza Necropolis, Vol. II., The Tomb of Hetep-heres, the Mother of Cheops (Cambridge, Mass., 1955).

  12. N. Wheeler, “Pyramids and Their Purpose,” Antiquity IX (1935), p. 179.

  13. Ibid., p. 188.

  14. Ibid., p. 182.

  15. Loc. cit.

  16. Historia Francorum I. 10. This legend was already known to Julius Honorius more than a century earlier.

  17. J. G. V. Fialin de Persigny, De la destination et utilite permanente des pyramides d’Egypte et de la Nubie contre les irruptions sabloneuses du desert (Paris, 1845).

  18. See for example R. A. Proctor, The Great Pyramid, Observatory, Tomb, Temple (London, 1883); cf. Tompkins, Secrets of the Great Pyramid.

  19. Morton Edgar, The Great Pyramid: Its Spiritual Symbolism (Glasgow, 1924).

  20. Wheeler, “Pyramids and Their Purpose,” p. 300.

  21. Piazzi Smyth, the Royal Astronomer of Scotland, calculated the perimeter of the Great Pyramid as equal to 36,562 pyramid inches.

  22. Fl. Petrie, A History of Egypt, Vol. I (London, 1907), p. 41.

  23. As Velikovky later found out, Comys Beaumont had made a similar suggestion in a book published in 1936.

  24. [Prof. Lynn Rose pointed out to Velikovsky that the ventilating shafts draw in air from the outside, and therefore atmospheric pollution would eventually penetrate inside. It is not unthinkable that filters made of perishable materials were used in the air vents.]

  25. Cf. above, note 8.

  26. Virginia Trimble, “Astronomical Investigation concerning the so-called Air Shafts of Cheops’ Pyramid,” Mitteilungen der deutschen Akademie, Berlin, Vol. 10 (1964), pp. 183-187.

  27. Edwards, The Pyramids of Egypt, p. 123.

  28. [Edwards wandered at the purpose of the ceilings: “Whether such extreme precautions were required by the character of the building may be debatable; they hav, however, been justified by subsequent events.” The Pyramids of Egypt, p. 126.]

  29. Earthquakes have been “extremely severe in wrenching, as all the deep beams of granite over the King’s chamber in the Great Pyramid are snapped through at the south end, or else dragged out in the upper chambers. The whole roof hangs now by merely catching contact. . . .” F. Petrie, Egyptian Architecture (London, 1938), p. 67.

  30. [So, at least, it was regarded by Thutmose IV of the Eighteenth Dynasty a thousand years later.]

  31. G. Goyon, “Les travaux de Chou et les tribulations de Geb d’apres le Naos 2248 d’Ismailia,” Kemi (1936).

  32. [Prof. Lynn Rose suggested to Dr. Velikovsky that it was not necessary for the entire charge to have been conducted through the stone. If the ventilating shafts contained any water, or were wet, the charge could have moved directly to the chambers.]

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