I think you have made a very convincing case …
— I. E. S. Edwards, Keeper of Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum (1954–1974), letter to author, October 1984
In my opinion your theory is not capable of independent verification …
— T. G. H. James, Keeper of Egyptian Antiquities (1974–1984), letter to author, December 1983
I The Experts Speak
Late in 1983 I prepared a brief paper with a few hand sketches and posted the Orion Correlation Theory, as I now called it, to the British Museum. I was still living in Riyadh and I knew how notoriously slow the mail was to Europe. The reply came much quicker than I thought. It was a letter from Professor T. G. H. James, then Keeper of Egyptian Antiquities. This position had previously been occupied by Dr I. E. S. Edwards from 1954 to 1974, and many other eminent names, such as Sir Wallis Budge and Samuel Birch, had held it. Dr James’s reply left me nonplussed: he told me that while he thought that my theory fitted some of the facts, it would be difficult to accept it as an explanation for the construction and placing of the Giza pyramids. He pointed out that the theory could not be applied to the two pyramids at Dashour and maintained that there is no real evidence from antiquity to support it.
I was disappointed by the apparent lack of enthusiasm. I agreed with him that many questions still needed to be answered, such as the matter of the two pyramids of Sneferu at Dashour, but I was taken aback by his seeming dismissal of the theory. I wondered what would constitute ‘independent verification’ and why he thought that ‘there is no good evidence from antiquity to support’ my theory? Were not the statements in the Pyramid Texts, the Badawy articles on the shafts in Cheops’s pyramid that pointed to Orion’s Belt, and now the layout plan of Giza, ‘good evidence’? At least sufficiently compelling to warrant a closer look at the theory? I had obviously not struck the right chords, and could only assume that Dr James’s letter was a tactful way of saying that the correlation between the three Giza pyramids and the three stars of Orion’s Belt was no more than coincidence.
My experience had taught me that collections of coincidences do not occur easily. Coicidence is a word we all use when we cannot explain why there is a convergence of certain events and facts. What is coincidence to some, is not so to those who understand the links between the events and the facts. The facts before us were not remote or detached from one another. The Pyramid Texts, compiled in the Fifth Dynasty, were surely expounding events witnessed during the Fourth Dynasty, which immediately preceded the compilation of the Pyramid Texts. These, as we have seen, told us in no uncertain terms that the departed Osiris-king became a star in the constellation of Osiris-Orion. Then there was the shaft in the Cheops pyramid which Badawy and Trimble agreed pointed to Orion’s Belt when the pyramid was built. There was also the anomalous size and offset of Menkaura’s pyramid, which could only be explained by a correlation plan with Orion’s Belt. All this — and there would be more — was ‘good evidence’ to me, especially when we were trying to solve a mystery more than 4400 years old. Indeed, considering the remoteness of the event, we were lucky to have any shred of evidence at all.
In September 1984 I took a short holiday in England. As soon as I arrived in London, I decided to pay a visit to the British Museum, meet Dr James and see what else could be done to persuade him to take the matter up seriously. Dr James, however, was not available. A young assistant, I think it was Dr Carol Andrews, was very helpful and when she saw that the subject matter concerned the pyramids, she advised me that it would be better handled by Dr Edwards, the previous Keeper of Egyptian Antiquities. Although he had retired in 1974, he was still very active in the field, and was currently the vice-president of the Egyptian Exploration Society. There was no question that Edwards was seen by most scholars as the supreme authority on the subject of Egyptian pyramids, and his views would not only be more valuable, but would carry more weight. It was agreed that I should send the relevant papers as soon as possible, which would then be forwarded to Dr Edwards. I posted these from France a week later. His reply arrived in Riyadh in October 1984, and the views he expressed certainly differed from those of his successor. The letter is reproduced with his kind permission:1
16 October 1984
Dear Mr Bauval,
Thank you for your letter dated 8th September, which reached me after being posted in France last week.
Let me say that I found your astronomical observations very interesting, and I think you will see from the enclosed article, which I wrote for the Dows Dunham Festschrift four years ago,2 that I am very much in agreement with your contention that the stars in Orion’s Belt were an important element in the orientation of the Great Pyramid. I think you have made out a very convincing case that the other two pyramids at Giza were also influenced by it. I have sent a new edition of my book (The Pyramids of Egypt) on the pyramids to the publishers (Viking Press and Penguin Books) and it is about to go out to the printer. According to present expectations, it will be out next summer and it will embody the substance of the enclosed article.
Dr Edwards then entered a brief commentary on my ideas related to the measurements of the Great Pyramid, feeling that, with such a geometric shape, a mathematician could make it fit any number of different measurements. He then gave his own conclusions about the stellar connotations which I had revealed to him:
The position of Osiris in the Fourth Dynasty is still very uncertain. Since the earliest Pyramid Texts date from the end of the Fifth Dynasty they do not provide much evidential help.
In your contention that the pyramids are intended to represent stars I wonder whether the truth is not that the pyramids were intended to enable the king to reach the stars. In my view this was the purpose of the step-pyramids and the true pyramids, which generally embodied a step-pyramid, were intended to enable the king to reach both the solar and astral heavens.
I. E. S. Edwards
Though we differed on some interpretations, Dr Edwards’s’ view that I had presented a convincing case was very encouraging and much appreciated at this stage. I was beginning to feel isolated, and it was good to discover that an authority as eminent as Edwards was highly in agreement with my contention that the stars in Orion’s Belt had played a major role in the orientation of the Great Pyramid and its two companions at Giza.
A few months later, in January 1985, I received a letter from Dr Jaromir Malek, director of the Griffith Institute of Oxford University at the Ashmolean Museum. Dr Malek surprised me by saying that he had ‘no special astronomical or mathematical knowledge and the few comments I can make are of a purely Egyptological nature’.
… I wholeheartedly agree with you that astronomical observations and mathematical calculations played an important part in the design, construction, and perhaps even siting of Egyptian pyramids … [and] … in the paper itself, I would be prepared to consider seriously the observation that the Giza pyramids were positioned or sited in a manner as to represent the three stars of Orion.3
He also commented on the ‘civil calendar’ of Ancient Egypt, and felt that my ‘putative date’ for its introduction was incorrect. These items, though, were not an important aspect of my theory and had been the subject of academic debate for many decades. Dr Malek then said, in relation to my suggestion that other pyramids should be investigated in the light of a stellar correlation siting: ‘I also fully agree that the other groups of pyramids would have to be examined bearing this in mind, and this, in my opinion, is the only path one can take to make some progress in the matter.’
Dr Malek made a final comment on the stellar correlation theory: ‘To write that “the ancient Egyptians saw the land of Egypt as being an ‘image’ of the sky” is overstating the case. To base further theories on it is unsafe, to say the least.’
I had now to let this be. For the next year I was totally occupied with more pressing concerns related to my ‘real’ work and my personal life. The company I was working with was starting a new project in Saudi Arabia and there was much to keep me fully occupied. Also, my wife Michele and I were planning to settle in Australia after our long stay in Saudi Arabia. A new member of the family had arrived in December 1984, our son Jonathan, and it was time to look for a more congenial place to raise the children. Sydney was where the rest of my family had gone after our mini-exodus from Egypt in 1967, and it seemed the logical place to consider.
I did go to England in November 1985 and met Dr Edwards in his home near Oxford. A most charming and affable man in his late seventies, Dr Edwards was on his way to London, but we had a brief conversation on the new stellar ideas in the Pyramid Texts and the pyramids. Edwards was of the opinion that scholars had neglected these Texts for more exciting subjects, and agreed that the stellar element in the Texts had been ignored. However, he reiterated his view that the true pyramids were solar symbols, and though they might have retained some stellar notions in their design, the influence, he believed, was predominantly solar. I said politely that I begged to differ. He smiled and recalled that he did not know where I came from. Alexandria, I replied. ‘Ah, I somehow thought so,’ he said. ‘A place where new ideas often came from …’. He said that should I want to publish my ideas one day, he might offer some suggestions on the matter, and I assured him that I would take him up on that. I did; two years later. In the years to come we became good friends, and though we differed on the symbolic interpretation of the true pyramids, it did not prevent us from contributing to each other’s views on the pyramids and allowed us to share many happy moments with Rudolf Gantenbrink after he made his historic discovery in 1993. But all this was still a long way off.
Michele, the two children and I arrived in Australia in September 1986. We bought a house in Sydney’s northern suburbs near my sister’s home, and settled into the gentle pace of suburban living. I decided to work part-time and return as well to the issue of the pyramids. I found, to my delight, that the Mitchell Library of the University of Sydney was well stocked with Egyptological books. Many professional journals were regularly received and outsiders, like myself, were free to make use of the library as guests of the university. I was to spend many long hours devouring all I could about the Egyptian pyramids, astronomy and religion. I consulted hundreds of books and articles and my photocopying bill was enormous. Yet once launched, I could not be stopped. I bought a second-hand computer and began the big adventure of putting my findings and theories into article form. I was not sure where or when they might be published, if at all. But I was sure of one thing: it was my responsibility, and I had to get it off my chest.
While in Australia I made the acquaintance of Dr John O’Byrne, Professor of Astronomy at the University of Sydney. He offered to do the necessary precessional calculations for me and to verify my astronomical commentaries. His calculations confirmed the accuracy of the Badawy-Trimble discovery. The southern shaft of the King’s Chamber, taken to slope 44.5 degrees, had pointed to Orion’s Belt in c. 2600BC. There was an odd discrepancy, though, which puzzled me. The calculations showed that the shaft was aimed more specifically at the central star, Al Nilam (Epsilon Orionis), than at Al Nitak (Zeta Orionis) which, according to the Giza-Orion’s Belt correlation, was the star which should correspond to the Great Pyramid. Since the precessional motion was now in its upward cycle,4 I also asked Dr O’Byrne to try for me the slightly later date of c. 2500BC. This brought the shaft target closer to Zeta Orionis, but not exactly on it. Either the date needed refining, or the slope Petrie had given needed to be verified. It was then that I remembered the southern shaft of the Queen’s Chamber. Dr O’Byrne had shown me where to find the ‘rigorous formula’ in the standard Catalogue 2000.0 to calculate precession, and had said that a good pocket scientific calculator would be adequate to get values within the arc minute level. I bought myself the most powerful one on the market: a Casio fx-8000G which could memorise the precessional formula.5
I took Petrie’s value of 38 degrees 28 minutes for the slope of the southern shaft of the Queen’s Chamber and looked at a sky map with Orion on the southern meridian. It had to be a star below Orion’s Belt. But which? I looked again. Sirius, the star of Isis! Why had I not thought of this before? Then I remembered: the shaft was supposed to be abandoned. Why bother with an abandoned shaft? I supposed that this was what Badawy and Trimble had thought. Well, it took only a few minutes on the calculator, so why not try? I chose a date of c. 2650BC, a little earlier than that of c. 2600BC which tallied with the other southern shaft higher up the pyramid. I reasoned that the lower shaft would have been started decades before, so c. 2650BC was a fair estimate. After the adjustment for the proper motions of Sirius, which are quite considerable (see Appendix 1), I got a declination of −21 degrees 20 minutes. Working the altitude for the position of Giza, I got 38 degrees 41 minutes, almost spot on to the 38 degrees 28 minutes slope given by Petrie. We now had the two southern shafts pointing respectively to Osiris-Orion and Isis-Sirius for the epoch c. 2650–2600BC. Coincidence surely had to be ruled out. I wondered what the Egyptologists would make of this now.
I was, however, still troubled by a niggling discrepancy: the southern shaft of the King’s Chamber should really have pointed precisely at Al Nitak (Zeta Orionis), the lowest star of Orion’s Belt and not the central one. The correlation was too accurate, and so was the astronomical alignment of the base of the pyramid and its slopes, to make it likely that on such an important astronomical matter the builders would have ‘missed’ the specific star corresponding to this specific pyramid, even if it was by only half a degree of arc.
I worked out the precession for Al Nitak again, this time allocating it the altitude of 44.5 degrees and working back the epoch. This gave me the date of c. 2590BC. Then I worked out the epoch for Sirius at altitude 38 degrees 28 minutes and got c. 2730BC. This meant an unrealistically long period of 140 years between the two shafts; so much time could surely not have elapsed between the start of the Queen’s Chamber and that of the King’s Chamber. About twenty years was the limit that I (and others, I was sure) considered acceptable. Something was wrong either with Petrie’s values or with the way the shafts had been constructed; the former seemed more likely, in view of the precision of the work elsewhere in the Great Pyramid. To get a date reading that made good sense, various trials with the scientific calculator indicated that the slopes should be slightly steeper for both southern shafts, with the Queen’s at nearer 39.5 degrees and the King’s nearer forty-five. Only then would a date of twenty years separating them be obtained. This would give a dating of c. 2450BC for the Great Pyramid, a century or so ‘younger’ than hitherto assumed. Could that be possible? And could Petrie’s measurements be slightly out? No one would have the answer until Rudolf Gantenbrink measured the angles again in 1993.
While preparing my articles, I decided to probe a little more with the Egyptologists, this time in the United States. I sent a brief dissertation to the University of California at Berkeley, and in August 1986 received a reply from Dr Frank A. Norick, Principal of the Lowie Museum. Dr Norick admitted that he and his colleague, James Deetz, were ‘fascinated with some of [my] correlations and conclusions’. They did not feel they were in a position to evaluate the thesis and had passed it on to Professor Cathleen Keller of the Department of Near Eastern Studies. In her reply, she said that she would rather wait for the ‘work of Mr Mark Lehner’, who was conducting a topographical survey of the Giza plateau, to be completed, but this is what she felt about my theory at present: her opinion was that while there was ample evidence in the Pyramid Texts to connect the dead king with Orion she did not feel that the layout of the Giza monuments was predetermined by the Orion constellation. She then provided confirmation of an inherent problem in Egyptology which I was beginning to suspect existed widely in the profession: namely that the serious study of the connection between astronomical phenomena and Ancient Egyptian architecture is in its infancy and that it was taking a different form from what she termed ‘the (often wild) conjectures of “pyramidiots” ’.
There followed her warning, which I have quoted earlier, that the association of celestial bodies with architecture made Egyptologists uncomfortable and ‘… more afraid that connections do exist between the orientation … of Egyptian temples and the heavens, than that they do not’. But what was telling was her comment about ‘pyramidiots’; this was the core of the problem. Mention a ‘theory’ on the pyramids, especially one that involves the stars, and Egyptologists shy away. Circulating my theory through the international circuit of Egyptologists was not getting me anywhere; the star correlation stood little chance of surfacing in those areas. The best I could hope for was encouragement from others, such as Dr Edwards.
It was high time to publish. Yet where and how? Another trip to England seemed in order. I was determined to take up Dr Edwards’s offer to recommend me to the editor of an Egyptological journal.
II A Forum: Discussions in Egyptology
In England, I rented a car and drove to the little village north of Oxford where the Edwardses had their home, and where Dr Edwards and I discussed yet again our favourite subject. Engaged in pyramid discussions, Dr Edwards radiates an enthusiasm which is refreshingly stimulating and his openness to all viewpoints and new ideas is very appealing.
He told me of a new Egyptological journal run by his friend, Dr Alessandra Nibbi, which was open to non-Egyptologists with a contribution to make. The journal was called Discussions in Egyptology. I liked the name; it had an open feeling about it. It seemed that an article had appeared not long ago by the engineer, John Legon, who had made a good case that the Giza group of pyramids was part of a unified plan, though Legon’s approach was entirely mathematical, with no mention of the Pyramid Texts or stellar ideas.6Dr Edwards promised to recommend a contribution from me to Dr Nibbi. The next day I telephoned her and she offered to take two articles, provided, of course, that they were of the style and seriousness expected by her readers. I assured her they would be, and said I would send them to her, with the accompanying photographs and diagrams, as soon as I returned to Sydney. I sent them early in June 1988, and in July Dr Nibbi told me that the articles would appear in volumes 13 and 14 of Discussions in Egyptology (DE).
Michele and I had meanwhile taken the decision to relocate to England. We left Australia in May 1989 and found a house halfway between London and Oxford. The kids went to the local school and I, too, went back to study. I had decided that a postgraduate degree in European business and marketing would come in handy in a united Europe. In the excitement of making a new home in England and the activities of the postgraduate course, I almost forgot about my articles. Then in May a large parcel was delivered by the postman: three complimentary copies of Discussions in Egyptology volume 13.
1a The authors in front of the Giza Pyramids
1b Overhead view of the Giza group
2a The Step Pyramid of Zoser at Saqqara
2b The Fifth Dynasty Pyramids at Abusir
3a The ‘Bent’ Pyramid at Dashour
3b The Red Pyramid at Dashour
4a Statue of Mariette outside Cairo Museum
4b Maspero the discoverer of the Pyramid Texts
5a Burial chamber in the Pyramid of Unas showing the Pyramid Texts
5b Pyramid Texts with group of three stars from Unas Pyramid
5c Pyramid Texts that say Unas-Osiris
6 The Giza overhead
7 The stars of Orion’s Belt
8 The constellation of Orion
9a The niche in the East wall of the Queen’s chamber
9b The empty sarcophagus in the King’s chamber
10a The authors in front of the southern shaft of the Queen’s Chamber days before the discovery of the ‘door’ by UPUAUT 2
10b UPUAUT 2
11a UPUAUT I going up the southern shaft of the King’s Chamber
11b Iron plate found in the southern shaft of the King’s Chamber in 1837 by R.J. Hill
12a Robert Bauval and Rudolf Gantenbrink in Munich
12b Dr I.E.S. Edwards and Robert Bauval on 6 April 1993 after the showing of the UPUAUT video
13a The Benben Stone from the pyramid of Amenemhet III in the Cairo Museum
13b The Sahu-Orion figure on the Benben of Ahmenemhet III
14a Oriented iron meteorite ‘Willamette’ in the Smithsonian Institute, New York
14b Oriented iron meteorite ‘Morito’ in the Institute of Metallurgy Mexico City
15a (left) Horus holding the ‘adze of Upuaut’ (Ursa Minor) aligns with the northern shaft of the Queen’s Chamber, and, simultaneously, Orion-Osiris (right) rises in the east
15b The Opening of the Mouth Ceremony depicted in the Papyrus Ani in the British Museum
16 Artist’s impression of the stellar landscape, showing Osiris (Orion) and the shaft of the Great Pyramid pointing to his belt
The Orion Correlation Theory was at last officially published, nearly six years after I had made the fateful observation in the Saudi Arabian desert. The article in DE 13 was entitled ‘A Master Plan for the Three Pyramids of Giza Based on the Configuration of the Three Stars of the Belt of Orion’, and included six pages of text, four photographs and two diagrams. It was written in academic style, lacking the excitement I really felt, sticking to facts and evidence, and heavily cross-referenced and annotated. I made no mention of pyramids other than the Giza group, and avoided a discussion on the shafts in the Queen’s Chamber. This was for later.
The second article in DE 14, was entitled ‘Investigation on the Benben Stone: was it an Iron Meteorite?’. In it I discussed the sacred relic of Heliopolis in terms of its stellar and Osirian connotations (see Chapters 11 to 13). Finally, in January 1990, Dr Nibbi accepted a third article to complete the stellar thesis, with the title ‘The Seeding of the Star Gods: a Fertility Rite Inside Cheops’s Pyramid?’ This article revealed the Isis-Sirius target of the southern shaft of the Queen’s Chamber, and put seriously into question the established consensus that it had been abandoned. It also contained my thoughts on the position of the openings of the shafts. Knowing that an important aspect of the rituals had been the flaunting of ithyphallic statues which symbolised the king’s potency and fertility, and that a fertility ritual was described in stellar terms in the Pyramid Texts, involving Isis-Sirius and Osiris-Orion with the mention of a stellar phallus (the Belt of Orion shafts?), I began to see evidence of an extraordinary fertility ritual inside the Cheops pyramid, in which the shafts played a major role. Their role was not simply in the sending of the pharaoh’s soul to the phallic region of Osiris-Orion (the Belt stars) but is for the symbolic seeding of a Horus-king. The relevant passage in the Pyramid Texts addresses Osiris-Orion:
Your sister (wife), Isis, comes to you rejoicing for love of you. You have placed her on your phallus (shaft?) and your seed issues into her, she being ready as Sothis (Sirius), and Horus-Sopd (a star) has come forth from you as ‘Horus who is in Sothis’ [PT 632]
The article pointed out that a similar fertility ritual involving the king and a high priestess was known to have taken place in ancient Mesopotamia in a chamber inside the stepped-pyramid ziggurats.7 This ritual involved the ‘Morning Star’, seen as the great cosmic goddess Ishtar apparently identified to the planet Venus, and commemorated the New Year (Akitu) and the fertility that the flooding of the Euphrates brought to the land. In parallel, the Egyptians celebrated the New Year with the heliacal rising, the annual flooding of the Nile; Sirius being the great cosmic goddess Isis (incidentally identified later with Ishtar) and also involved a ‘Morning Star’. The tentative conclusion was that ‘the contents of this present article should compel us to suppose that a fertility ritual not unlike the one performed in the ziggurats of Mesopotamia may also have been performed inside Cheops’s pyramid and possibly in other pyramids as well’.8
Little did I suspect then that in March 1993 Rudolf Gantenbrink would prove that the Queen’s Chamber and its shafts had not been abandoned as Egyptologists said but, on the contrary, may have been the most important ritualistic elements of the whole pyramid cult. Never in my wildest dreams would I have suspected that in 1990 the Isis-Sirius shaft would make the front pages and the news in a dozen international newspapers.9
In the mild spring of 1990 I deluded myself that my mission was over. I had got the theory into print and Egyptologists, astronomers and other scholars could make what they wanted of the new stellar findings. It was as if a heavy burden had been removed from my shoulders; an original idea which involves public interest was a cumbersome load to cart around. There had been many times when I felt a strange anxiety, a disquieting feeling that I would not get through, and that the Orion-Giza correlation would be lost again in a timeless zone. I was thrilled and relieved that it was over, but I also felt a curious sense of loss. I would miss the excitement of research and even those long, lonely hours in libraries, but I told myself firmly that the personal quest was over.
So, in March 1990, as one unsympathetic Egyptologist had advised me when I began my quest, I resolved to ‘abandon this subject and try to become a good engineer’. I took up freelance consulting and tried to persuade myself that the pyramids were best left to the Egyptologists. But each time I looked up at the sky and saw the stars of Orion, I wondered about those silent monuments in Egypt and could almost feel their frustration at not being understood. Try as I might I was unable to abandon the subject altogether: for one thing there was still the question of the Dashour pyramids and how they fitted into the plan. It was only a matter of time before I would be drawn back full-time into the Orion Mystery.