It seems not entirely unreasonable to be a little bit disparaging of the ideas put forward by authors and ‘alternative Egyptologists’ Robert Bauval and Graham Hancock.
Their Big Idea – well, Bauval’s Big Idea, as I understand it – has at its heart the ‘Orion Correlation Theory’; the idea that the pyramids at Giza – and possibly the entire Giza complex, or maybe even the whole Nile region – are designed and placed in order to create an earthly representation of what’s in the sky.
The very root of this notion, as wild and unsupportable as it may be, is the observation that the three pyramids at Giza – those of Menkaure, Khafre and Khufu – appear in relative size and position to match Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka, the three stars of Orion’s Belt.
And I’ve often wondered about this.
People tend to pick holes in the bulk of the theory. Sure, I would also question the later claim that the lion-like Sphinx sculpture was supposed to be an earthly representation of the constellation of Leo, the Lion – if only because I’ve no way to know that the ancient Egyptians saw that particular cluster of stars as anything even vaguely leonine. Or even whether they saw those stars as a group at all. The constellations as we learn them today are based on ancient Greek patterns, and they’re quite arbitrary. What the Greeks saw as a lion the Koreans saw as part of an emperor and part of a fence: two separate patterns, and not one constellation at all.
Greek influence hit Egypt with the rule of the Ptolemy line, beginning after the conquest by Alexander. That was in, what 600-700 BC? But the Sphinx was built during the Old Kingdom, two thousand years earlier. Just for some dizzying perspective, the Sphinx was built as far in Alexander’s past as he is in ours. There’s no way we can know what significance the Old Kingdom placed on any given light in the sky.
From there, Hancock and Bauval’s speculation runs even wilder; and most of it – while hugely entertaining and containing some intriguing and imaginative ideas – is pretty unsupportable.
I can’t help but wonder whether there’s actually any reason to dismiss out of hand the idea of a deliberate correlation between Orion’s Belt and the three pyramids. Is it so unlikely that the ancient builders of those structures might have positioned them in order to reflect some feature of the sky above? I know the objection is that the correlation doesn’t work if you don’t tamper heavily with the measurements – but, the thing is, it kind of does:
Don’t you think?
That’s an image of Orion’s Belt from my Stellarium app with Google’s map of the three pyramids superimposed over the top. I have resized the Google layer and rotated it somewhat – but I’ve made no other adjustments at all. And minor quibbles of exact scaling aside, that’s a bloody good match if we’re arguing that it’s not intentional.
Why would they do it? I’ve no idea. I’ve no idea why anyone would go to the trouble of building Stonehenge, either – but in both cases, I’m not the person who’s building it or for whom it’s being built. That I don’t understand why it’s been done only means I don’t understand why it was done. It doesn’t mean there wasn’t a good reason at the time. Which is very bad reasoning, from a rationalist point of view: it’s not up to me to claim a thing and have everyone else have to disprove it. I must provide evidence. Well, that’d be evidence; that pic up there. Exact alignment or orientation aside, it’s very precise. At least it’s precise enough not to dismiss the idea out of hand – even if you don’t buy all the talk of Atlantis, or the re-dating of the constructions back to 10,500 BC, or whatever else has got bundled into Hancock and Bauval’s books over the years.
I’m not a historian or an archaeologist of any kind. I know nothing about Old Kingdom culture or Egyptian religion or philosophical ideas. And I don’t believe Atlantis was a real place, as fun as that would be. I don’t believe the pyramids were built by aliens. And I don’t profess any knowledge of what it would mean for Egyptology or history in general if the basic idea of a match between three pyramids and three stars was accepted. That said, I suspect it probably wouldn’t be too much to cope with.