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Before The Pharaohs: The Evidence for Advanced Civilization in Egypt’s Mysterious Prehistory
Category: Ancient Egypt
There is no other place on Earth like Egypt’s Giza Plateau. Anyone with even a slight interest in history and civilisation is aware of this fact. For on this plateau there stands the Great Pyramids and their sculpted guardian, the Great Sphinx.
Although there are plenty of theories, no one really knows who built the Giza Pyramids or carved the Sphinx, or when they were constructed. Any statement as to who built them, or when they were built, is pure theory. In light of all the various theories concerning these mysterious structures, I don’t think the theoretical nature of the pyramid builders can be emphasised enough.
What stands out at Giza more than anything else is not only the magnitude of the construction of the pyramids, but the internal design of the Great Pyramid; three chambers, of which one is subterranean, and their connecting passageways. The passageway that leads to the so-called King’s Chamber rises to a height of thirty-six feet! On the other hand, all other passageways were not built tall enough to accommodate the average man or woman.
There is also the unique configuration of the King’s Chamber as well as the Queen’s Chamber. Both of these contain two shafts, one on each side of the chamber. The Queen’s Chamber contains a corbelled niche built into its east wall, and the King’s Chamber’s ceiling is composed of five granite slabs stacked one atop the other. Why these chambers were constructed in this manner is unknown.
The official theory is that the pyramids were tombs, and that King Khufu kept changing his mind where his burial chamber was to be placed; thus, the reason for three chambers in the Great Pyramid. However, in comparison to typical Egyptian burial methods (the mastaba and the tombs in the Valley of the Kings), the Giza pyramids, and particularly the Great Pyramid, do not fair well within the Egyptian concept of a tomb.
The Ancient Egyptian View of the Afterlife
The Egyptians believed in an afterlife, and the tomb was an important part of that belief. As the tomb of King Tutankhamun testifies, the deceased’s chamber of internment was to be decorated with art and filled with that person’s possessions. Why they practiced this ritual was not for superstitious reasons, as one might suspect. It was practical, according to their beliefs, and aimed at preventing that person’s energy (spirit) from being re-absorbed into Nature’s spiritual force.
For the ancient Egyptians, Ba animated a living person, whereas Ka was the energy emanating from that person. Although not an exact analogy, the Ka and the Ba are what traditional Western thought might refer as spirit and soul. Another important aspect of Egyptian belief represented immortality, the ankh, depicted as the crested ibis.
The Ka, represented in art by up-stretched arms, was believed to be the part of man’s consciousness and energy (man’s spirit or inner quality) that related to the immediate world. It is the part of us connected to the physical body; where it lived, its possessions, as well as the people he or she was acquainted with. The Ka can be likened to one’s personality, which upon death is separated from the body, and naturally seeks a way to once again take form. The Ba, represented by a winged human head, or sometimes a human-faced bird, represented the part of consciousness that is immortal.
When someone passed away, it was their goal as well as the hope of the family, that the deceased’s Ka would seek a way to remain united with their Ba. To help accomplish this eternal union, the possessions of the deceased were gathered together by the family and placed in the tomb with the mummified body. Mummification prevented the body from decomposing and returning to the soil of the Earth, whereas the tomb, with the deceased’s possessions, served as a ‘home’ for the Ka. As a result, the Ka maintained its identity in the spiritual world and could seek out its Ba in order to achieve ankh, which resulted in the resurrected and glorified form of the deceased beyond the limits of an earthly realm.
Pyramids and the Concept of the Egyptian Tomb
Like the pharaonic tombs carved into the Valley of the Kings, royal mastabas built during the early dynasties – some as early as 3000 BCE – were also designed with ‘home’ in mind, as that home relates to a person’s Ka. Case in point: from the sixth dynasty, Mereruka’s mastaba was crafted in mansion-like proportion with thirty-two rooms and adorned with statues and art depicting, for example, scenes of wildlife along the Nile River.
The traits of Egyptian domestic life, so beautifully incorporated into the design of their tombs, are not found in the Giza pyramids. The Giza pyramids contain no art or hieroglyphics of any kind, very uncharacteristic of Egyptian tombs. So why is it the case that the Giza pyramids are generally considered to be tombs of fourth dynasty Pharaohs? The reason is because of an association of the Giza complex with another development ten miles south at Sakkara where the Egyptians really did build tombs as pyramids.
At Sakkara in 1881, the French Egyptologist, Gaston Maspero (1846–1916) discovered that the subterranean chamber of the Pepi I Pyramid (second ruler of the sixth dynasty) was engraved with hieroglyphics. Over the course of subsequent explorations, it was discovered that a total of five pyramids at Sakkara also contained inscriptions, from the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth dynasties of the Old Kingdom. In 1952, Dr. Samuel A.B. Mercer (1879–1969), Professor of Semitic Languages and Egyptology at the University of Toronto, published a complete English translation of “The Pyramid Texts” in a volume of the same name. According to Mercer, The Pyramid Texts contained ‘words to be spoken’ concerning funerary ritual, magical formulae, and religious hymns, as well as prayers and petitions on behalf of the deceased king.1
With the pyramids at Sakkara being confirmed as tombs the associative logic came to be that all pyramids must be tombs. Furthermore, since there are two cemeteries (mastaba fields) to the east and west of the northernmost Giza pyramid, assuming that all pyramids are tombs was a likely conclusion. However, the condition of the Sakkara pyramids – most of which are believed constructed after the Giza pyramids – poses serious problems in this logical association. Of the pyramids at Sakkara only Djoser’s ‘Step Pyramid’ is in good condition, although not really a true pyramid. (The Step Pyramid was originally a mastaba that was modified into a pyramid.) All other pyramids at Sakkara, most of which belong to the fifth and sixth dynasties are in ruins today and resemble mounds of rubble.
According to a consensus of Egyptologists, Djoser’s Step Pyramid at Sakkara was constructed during the third dynasty and was the forerunner to the fourth dynasty pyramids on the Giza Plateau. After pyramid development at Giza, for whatever reason, the focus of pyramid building shifted back to Sakkara.
The Great Pyramid – A Device
The easily observable and obvious differences in the Giza pyramids and the Sakkara pyramids, which were all supposed to have been built during the same era, are a problem. Clearly, the construction techniques, as well as materials, for the Giza pyramids were different than those at Sakkara, or else we would expect pyramids at both sites to have stood the test of time in a similar manner. They did not. The important point is why. Did the engineers and construction workers of the Old Kingdom not pass along their methods from the fourth to the fifth dynasty? It seems they did not, which is a very curious occurrence given the stability of Egyptian civilisation. It may also be the case that the fourth dynasty Egyptians did not build the Giza pyramids.
No other pyramid in Egypt (the world for that matter) is like the Giza pyramids, and in particular the Great Pyramid. Additionally, there is no direct evidence to support the claim that the Great Pyramid, or the other Giza pyramids were tombs. Nor is there any record left by its builders as to what it was for or when it was built. This creates a problem of explanation. If the Great Pyramid was not a tomb, then what was it? A mystical temple for initiation ritual, or a public works project designed to unify the country? Or, was it something else entirely? Theories are abundant, but the only theory I am aware of that covers all aspects of the Great Pyramid’s interior design, is Christopher Dunn’s theory that it was a device. According to Dunn, the Great Pyramid was a machine for producing power by converting tectonic vibration into electricity.
There are a number of reasons to accept Dunn analysis. First, he explains the interior design and all other evidence within the Great Pyramid in a cohesive manner. Second, he demonstrates the technical skills required to accomplish precision construction. Third, Dunn’s expertise and career is in the precision fabrication and manufacturing industry, which makes him uniquely qualified to express a professional opinion on the techniques and tools of the Giza pyramid builders.
The fact is, modern construction companies could not build the Great Pyramid today without first inventing specialised tools and techniques in order to deal with blocks of stone that vary in weight from ten to fifty tons. Such an endeavour would be on a magnitude equivalent to building a hydroelectric dam or a nuclear power station requiring tens of billions of dollars in resources. Although our modern economy is different than that of the ancient world, the resource required now as compared to then is the same! The stone must be quarried and moved and the workers must be paid. The fact that an extremely large amount of resources were dedicated to Giza pyramid development over a long period of time demands, in my opinion, that pyramid building was utilitarian, and not for any fourth dynasty pharaonic vanity of having the largest headstone in the world.
Prehistory – Evidence and Perspective
For me, the evidence clearly tells a very different story of early dynastic Egypt. Sometime around 3000 BCE, the establishment and growth of permanent settlements in the Lower Nile Valley led to the development of civilisation. Why Giza and the surrounding area were chosen as the focal point for early Dynastic Egypt was because ‘civilisation’ had been there before, as the three pyramids and the Great Sphinx testify. Without knowing what the pyramids were designed for, the early Egyptians also assumed they must have been tombs. As a result, they rejuvenated the Giza Plateau and turned it into a Necropolis, then expanded to Sakkara where they built tombs in pyramid form, albeit of lesser quality and not brandishing the skills the original builders of the Giza pyramids demonstrated. Pyramid building, even the smaller ones at Sakkara, was resource intense, so the Egyptians reverted to burying their nobility in the traditional mastaba.
This scenario, which calls for an earlier civilisation with advanced technical skills, poses another problem. It does not fit the standard model of history. However, the notion that an earlier civilisation existed does not rest on the Giza pyramids alone. There is also the Sphinx, which in 1991 was geologically dated to between 7,000 and 9,000 years old by the team of John Anthony West and geologist Dr. Robert Schoch. Add to that the megaliths of Nabta Playa in southwestern Egypt, which is believed to have been a star viewing diagram, according to astrophysicist Dr. Thomas Brophy, that relates not only the distance from Earth to the belt stars of Orion, but their radial velocities as well. Another ‘head scratching’ discovery is the 1260-ton foundation stones of the Baalbek temple, west of Beirut in Lebanon, one of which was left in its quarry.
Clearly history has its secrets, but there is enough evidence to validate, as theory, that civilisation is much older than we have previously believed. History, according to the ancient Egyptians themselves, confirms this. According to the Papyrus of Turin, which is a complete list of kings up to the New Kingdom, before Menes (before 3000 BCE) the:
…venerables Shemsu-Hor, [reigned] 13,420 years
Reigns up to Shemsu-Hor, 23,200 years2
These two lines in the king’s list are explicit. According to their documents, the total years of Egyptian history goes back 36,620 years. The argument that the years in the king’s list do not represent actual years, but some other, shorter, measurement of time seems more of an attempt to explain away than to explain. The ancient Egyptians employed a sophisticated calendar system that involved a 365-day year, which was periodically corrected through the predictable and cyclical nature of the star Sirius. Every 1,461 years, the heliacal rising of Sirius marked the beginning of the new year. A single Sirius cycle corresponds to 1,461 years, where each year is equivalent to 365.25 days. In essence, the marking of the New Year at the heliacal rising of Sirius was the ancient Egyptian’s ‘leap year.’ Of course, determining the length of Sirius’ cyclical nature requires stellar observation over thousands of years which means the origins of pharaonic Egypt, or its source of knowledge, must originate in the remote past.
Late twentieth century Egyptologist Walter Emery seems to have agreed in principle that the origins of ancient Egypt date well into prehistory. Emery believed that ancient Egypt’s written language was beyond the use of pictorial symbols, even during the earliest dynasties, and that signs were also used to represent sounds, along with a numerical system. When hieroglyphics had been stylised and used in architecture, a cursive script was already in common use. His conclusion was that:
All this shows that the written language must have had a considerable period of development behind it, of which no trace has as yet been found in Egypt.3
Ancient Egyptian religion also testifies to a considerable period of development. Their religion, which is more of a philosophy of nature and life than it is a ‘religion,’ is based on a level of sophistication that, in all respects, appears more scientific than it does mythical.
Symbolism and Nature: The Method of Egyptian Thought
From a modern Western perspective their religion has been billed as primitive and polytheistic, and appears as a mythological menagerie of gods. Nothing could be further from the truth. The source of this misunderstanding stems from the Egyptian word neter being translated into Greek as ‘god,’ which later took on the Westernised meaning of deity. The true meaning of neter was to describe an aspect of deity, not a deity to be worshipped. In essence, neters referred to principles of nature in a practical scientific way.
Yet, the meaning of a specific neter was communicated in a visually symbolic manner. When a human was depicted with an animal head, this signified the principle as it occurs in man. If the whole animal was depicted it was a reference to a principle in general. Alternatively, a human head depicted on an animal represented that principle as it relates to the divine essence within mankind, not any person in particular, but the archetypal; as the immortal Ba is represented by a human-faced bird.
Another example is Anubis (the jackal), who presided over the process of mummification. He did so as a representation of the decomposition or fermentation process. In nature, the jackal keeps its prey and allows it to decompose before consumption. Therefore, he who presided over the mummification ritual was depicted in art as a man with the head of the jackal, thereby representing man’s death as the digestive principle found in nature. From a universal perspective, the decomposition of a body is, to Nature, digestion. Hence, those organs associated with digestion, after being removed from the deceased, were placed in a Canopic jar with a lid shaped in the image of the jackal’s head.
Before the Pharaohs
The sudden emergence of Dynastic Egypt, at the beginning of the third millennium BCE, is one of civilisation’s greatest mysteries. How did this supposedly primitive North African culture organise itself into a civilisation of such magnificence? One aspect that I believe has been overlooked is that mankind – anatomically modern humans – has been around for a very long time. According to recent genetic studies, all people today are the descendents of a single African woman who walked the Earth 150,000 years ago. According to geneticists, her mitochondrial DNA exists in all of us.
This is a long time, 147,000 years, for our ancestors to have remained in a relatively primitive state. In my opinion, the evidence, some of which is incredibly anomalous (in particular the Great Pyramid) suggests they did not remain primitive. Given the evidence of ancient Egypt’s technical abilities (their monument, temples, and other crafted artifacts still exist), as well as their sophisticated symbolism in describing Nature, it appears that in establishing a dynastic society, the Egyptians of the third millennium BCE benefited from a legacy of knowledge.
Skeptics of this approach to history, of course, would want to know where the evidence of this technical and prehistoric civilisation is. If such a civilisation existed, surely there would be overwhelming evidence to support its existence. If an exclusively uniformitarian approach to geologic formation were generally accepted as fact, I would agree with the skeptic.
However, mass extinctions, as a result of environmental catastrophism because of volcanism, asteroid or comet impact, or stellar (gamma) radiation, now seems to be a reality.
According to geologists there have been five large mass extinctions in Earth’s history: the Ordovician (440–450 mya), Devonian (408–360 mya), Permian (286–248), Triassic (251–252 mya), and Cretaceous (144–65 mya). Although all of these cataclysms occurred well before the modern human form, there are two global disasters that occurred relatively recently.
Approximately 71,000 years ago Mount Toba, in Sumatra, erupted spewing an enormous amount of ash into the atmosphere. It was the largest volcanic eruption in the last two million years, nearly 10,000 times larger than the Mount St. Helen’s explosion in 1980. The resultant caldera formed a lake 100 kilometres long by 60 kilometres wide, with devastating and lasting climatic consequences. A six-year long volcanic winter followed, and in its wake an ice age that lasted for a thousand years. With its sulfuric haze, the volcanic winter lowered global temperatures, creating drought and famine decimating the human population.
According to geneticist’s estimates, the population was reduced to somewhere between 15,000 and 40,000 individuals. Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Utah, Lynn Jorde, believes it may have been as low as 5,000.4
Even closer to our time is the mysterious cataclysm at the end of the Ice Age, only 10,000 years ago. No one really knows if it was the result of natural phenomenon or an asteroid impact. What is known is that the climate drastically altered life for those who lived at that time. It is a known geologic fact that at the end of the Ice Age many North American species became extinct, including the mammoth, camel, horse, ground sloth, peccaries (pig-like hoofed mammals), antelope, American elephant, rhinoceros, giant armadillo, tapirs, saber-toothed tigers and giant bison. It also affected the climates of lower latitudes in Central and South America, as well as Europe in a similar way. Those lands have also revealed evidence of mass extinction. Yet, the mechanism that brought on this Ice Age ending cataclysm remains a mystery.
If an ancient technical civilisation existed during the remote past, what would be the likelihood of that civilisation surviving a global catastrophe intact? Estimates from the Toba eruption are not encouraging. Neither are the scenarios that astronomers and climatologists build today for a theoretical asteroid impact.
According to the archeological evidence, anatomically modern man (Cro-Magnon) appeared in Western Europe 40,000 years ago. Where they came from has been a long-standing mystery. The logical deduction is that they migrated from Africa. However, such a migration requires a host culture, of which there is no evidence.
Nevertheless, a likely location for this host culture would have been along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, which were likely a series of fresh water lakes during the remote past.
If ancient civilisation existed in the region of the Mediterranean, it would not have survived the conflagration that turned those lakes into a salt-water sea.
If that were indeed the case, the remnants of those who lived on the perimeter of that civilisation would appear to us, today, as anomalies such as the Giza pyramids and the giant stones of Baalbek.
Cro-Magnon cultures of Western Europe, although once a part of a great Mediterranean civilisation, would also appear as an anomaly. For us, it would be as if they appeared from nowhere.
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1. Samuel A. B. Mercer, The Pyramid Texts, Longmans, Green and Co., 1952, p.2.
2. René Schwaller de Lubicz, Sacred Science: The King of Pharaonic Theocracy, Inner Traditions, 1982, p.86.
3. Walter B. Emery, Archaic Egypt, Penguin Books, 1961, p.192.
4. ‘Supervolcanoes’, BBC2, 3 February 2000, also see www.bbc.co.uk/science/horizon/1999/supervolcanoes_script.shtml.
About the Author
EDWARD MALKOWSKI is the author of Ancient Egypt 39,000 BCE, Sons of God–Daughters of Men, Before the Pharaohs, and The Spiritual Technology of Ancient Egypt. He is a historical researcher in Lincoln, Illinois.
The above article appeared in New Dawn No. 97 (July-August 2006).
© New Dawn Magazine and the respective author.
© Copyright New Dawn Magazine, http://www.newdawnmagazine.com. Permission granted to freely distribute this article for non-commercial purposes if unedited and copied in full, including this notice.
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