Did the Ptolemaic Egyptians know how old the Pyramids were?

Did the Ptolemaic Egyptians know how old the Pyramids were?

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By the beginning of the Ptolemaic dynasty, the Pyramids of Giza were already some 2200 years old. Significant cultural differences separated the Hellenistic Ptolemies from the Old Kingdom.

Were the Ptolemies still able to accurately date the Pyramids (did they even know who built them)? That is, would Ptolemy I have been able to say that the Great Pyramid was completed by Pharaoh Khufu, 2237 years before he himself became king?

In Greek times the authority on the pyramids was Herodotus who visited Egypt about 100 years before Ptolemaic rule began. Even at that time the pyramids were a tourist attraction surrounded by a lot of mythology. According to Herodotus the Great Pyramid was built by "Cheops" about 600 years previously (circa 1000 BC).

Modern scholars presume that by Cheops, Herodotus is referring to "Khufu", but there is no proof of this.

I think that if there had been a desire by a Ptolemaic king to know the history of the pyramids, it is possible they would have received a more accurate answer than what information is available to us now, however, in that time the Macedonians occupying Egypt were not interested in such things.

(If I were you, I would not assume, as you apparently have, that the dates and builders of the pyramids are so well established as you apparently think.)

Just for completeness:

Peter Diehr is correct, Manetho, who lived during the Ptolemeic era (which has several kings named Ptolemy) wrote a book about the royal dynasties of Egypt. His sources must have been royal annals, which would record the name of the pharaohs and how long they reigned.

The original book is lost, and only shortened and inaccurate transcripts of transcripts have survived, but those are the source of the division of the pharaohs into dynasties which are used in Egyptology today.

Manetho assigns the Great Pyramid to the 2nd king of the 4th dynasty, who he names Suphis. The overwhelming majority of the available evidence today seem to confirm that and point to Khufu.

So yes, one of the Ptolemaic kings could have known who built the pyramid. And since the Egyptians, including Manetho, counted the length of the reign of each pharaoh, he could have added those together and would have had an idea when they were built.

There where many possible sources of errors of course: Some pharaohs have been excluded from the royal annals for political reasons ("damnation of memory"), the way the reigning years have been counted could have changed ("cattle counts"), scribes made copying errors, having completely accurate lists was not the primary purpose of the annals and there were two long periods of unrest and chaos, during which several pharaohs appeared and vanished in a short time and the royal annals had trouble counting those.

In summary, a learned one could have told a Ptolemy (after studying the archives) a number like "2337 years" as an answer, but that number would likely be not 100% correct, although it might have been close.

Egyptian astronomy

Egyptian astronomy begins in prehistoric times, in the Predynastic Period. In the 5th millennium BCE, the stone circles at Nabta Playa may have made use of astronomical alignments. By the time the historical Dynastic Period began in the 3rd millennium BCE, the 365 day period of the Egyptian calendar was already in use, and the observation of stars was important in determining the annual flooding of the Nile.

The Egyptian pyramids were carefully aligned towards the pole star, and the temple of Amun-Re at Karnak was aligned on the rising of the midwinter Sun. Astronomy played a considerable part in fixing the dates of religious festivals and determining the hours of night, and temple astrologers were especially adept at watching the stars and observing the conjunctions and risings of the Sun, Moon, and planets, as well as the lunar phases.

In Ptolemaic Egypt, the Egyptian tradition merged with Greek astronomy and Babylonian astronomy, with the city of Alexandria in Lower Egypt becoming the centre of scientific activity across the Hellenistic world. Roman Egypt produced the greatest astronomer of the era, Ptolemy (90–168 CE). His works on astronomy, including the Almagest, became the most influential books in the history of Western astronomy. Following the Muslim conquest of Egypt, the region came to be dominated by Arabic culture and Islamic astronomy.

The astronomer Ibn Yunus (c. 950–1009) observed the Sun's position for many years using a large astrolabe, and his observations on eclipses were still used centuries later. In 1006, Ali ibn Ridwan observed the SN 1006, a supernova regarded as the brightest stellar event in recorded history, and left the most detailed description of it. In the 14th century, Najm al-Din al-Misri wrote a treatise describing over 100 different types of scientific and astronomical instruments, many of which he invented himself.


In the 18th century, Constantin François de Chassebœuf, comte de Volney, wrote about the controversy regarding the race of the ancient Egyptians. In one translation, he wrote "The Copts are the proper representatives of the Ancient Egyptians" due to their "jaundiced and fumed skin, which is neither Greek, Negro nor Arab, their full faces, their puffy eyes, their crushed noses, and their thick lips. the ancient Egyptians were true negroes of the same type as all native born Africans". [8] [9] In another translation, Volney said the Sphinx gave him the key to the riddle, "seeing that head, typically negro in all its features", [10] the Copts were "true negroes of the same stock as all the autochthonous peoples of Africa" and they "after some centuries of mixing. must have lost the full blackness of its original color." [11] : 26

Another early example of the controversy is an article published in The New-England Magazine of October 1833, where the authors dispute a claim that "Herodotus was given as authority for their being negroes." They point out with reference to tomb paintings: "It may be observed that the complexion of the men is invariably red, that of the women yellow but neither of them can be said to have anything in their physiognomy at all resembling the Negro countenance." [12]

A few years later, in 1839, Jean-François Champollion stated in his work Egypte Ancienne that the Egyptians and Nubians are represented in the same manner in tomb paintings and reliefs, further suggesting that: "In the Copts of Egypt, we do not find any of the characteristic features of the ancient Egyptian population. The Copts are the result of crossbreeding with all the nations that successfully dominated Egypt. It is wrong to seek in them the principal features of the old race." [13] Also in 1839, Champollion's and Volney's claims were disputed by Jacques Joseph Champollion-Figeac, who blamed the ancients for spreading a false impression of a Negro Egypt, stating "the two physical traits of black skin and kinky hair are not enough to stamp a race as negro" [11] : 26 and "the opinion that the ancient population of Egypt belonged to the Negro African race, is an error long accepted as the truth. . Volney's conclusion as to the Negro origin of the ancient Egyptian civilization is evidently forced and inadmissible." [14]

Foster summarized the early 19th century "controversy over the ethnicity of the ancient Egyptians" as a debate of conflicting theories regarding the Hamites. "In ancient times, the Hamites, who developed the civilization of Egypt, were considered Black." [15] Foster describes the 6th century CE curse of Ham theory, which began "in the Babylonian Talmud, a collection of oral traditions of the Jews, that the sons of Ham are cursed by being black." [15] Foster said "throughout the Middle Ages and to the end of the eighteenth century, the Negro was seen by Europeans as a descendant of Ham." [15] In the early 19th century, "after Napolean's expedition to Egypt, the Hamites began to be viewed as having been Caucasians." [15] However, "Napolean's scientists concluded that the Egyptians were Negroid." Napoleon's colleagues referenced prior "well-known books" by Constantin François de Chassebœuf, comte de Volney and Vivant Denon that described Ancient Egyptians as "negroid.". [15] Finally, Foster concludes, "it was at this point that Egypt became the focus of much scientific and lay interest, the result of which was the appearance of many publications whose sole purpose was to prove that the Egyptians were not Black, and therefore capable of developing such a high civilization." [15]

The debate over the race of the ancient Egyptians intensified during the 19th century movement to abolish slavery in the United States, as arguments relating to the justifications for slavery increasingly asserted the historical, mental and physical inferiority of black people. [ citation needed ] For example, in 1851, John Campbell directly challenged the claims by Champollion and others regarding the evidence for a black Egypt, asserting "There is one great difficulty, and to my mind an insurmountable one, which is that the advocates of the negro civilization of Egypt do not attempt to account for, how this civilization was lost. Egypt progressed, and why, because it was Caucasian." [16] The arguments regarding the race of the Egyptians became more explicitly tied to the debate over slavery in the United States, as tensions escalated towards the American Civil War. [17] In 1854, Josiah C. Nott with George Glidden set out to prove: "that the Caucasian or white, and the Negro races were distinct at a very remote date, and that the Egyptians were Caucasians." [18] Samuel George Morton, a physician and professor of anatomy, concluded that although "Negroes were numerous in Egypt, but their social position in ancient times was the same that it now is [in the United States], that of servants and slaves." [19] In the early 20th century, Flinders Petrie, a professor of Egyptology at the University of London, in turn spoke of "a black queen", [20] Ahmose-Nefertari, who was the "divine ancestress of the XVIIIth dynasty". He described her physically as "the black queen Aohmes Nefertari had an aquiline nose, long and thin, and was of a type not in the least prognathous". [21]

Modern scholars who have studied ancient Egyptian culture and population history have responded to the controversy over the race of the ancient Egyptians in different ways.

At the UNESCO "Symposium on the Peopling of Ancient Egypt and the Deciphering of the Meroitic Script" in Cairo in 1974, the Black Hypothesis met with "profound" disagreement by scholars. [22] Similarly, none of the participants voiced support for an earlier theory where Egyptians were "white with a dark, even black, pigmentation." [11] : 43 The arguments for all sides are recorded in the UNESCO publication General History of Africa, [23] with the "Origin of the Egyptians" chapter being written by the proponent of the black hypothesis Cheikh Anta Diop. At the 1974 UNESCO conference, most participants concluded that the ancient Egyptian population was indigenous to the Nile Valley, and was made up of people from north and south of the Sahara who were differentiated by their color. [24]

Since the second half of the 20th century, most anthropologists have rejected the notion of race as having any validity in the study of human biology. [25] [26] Stuart Tyson Smith writes in the 2001 Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, "Any characterization of race of the ancient Egyptians depends on modern cultural definitions, not on scientific study. Thus, by modern American standards it is reasonable to characterize the Egyptians as 'black', while acknowledging the scientific evidence for the physical diversity of Africans." [27] Frank M. Snowden asserts "Egyptians, Greeks and Romans attached no special stigma to the colour of the skin and developed no hierarchical notions of race whereby highest and lowest positions in the social pyramid were based on colour." [28] [29]

Barbara Mertz writes in Red Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt: "Egyptian civilization was not Mediterranean or African, Semitic or Hamitic, black or white, but all of them. It was, in short, Egyptian." [30] Kathryn Bard, Professor of Archaeology and Classical Studies, wrote in Ancient Egyptians and the issue of race that "Egyptians were the indigenous farmers of the lower Nile valley, neither black nor white as races are conceived of today". [31] Nicky Nielsen wrote in Egyptomaniacs: How We Became Obsessed with Ancient Egypt that "Ancient Egypt was neither black nor white, and the repeated attempt by advocates of either ideology to seize the ownership of ancient Egypt simply perpetuates an old tradition: one of removing agency and control of their heritage from the modern population living along the banks of the Nile." [32]

Frank J. Yurco, an Egyptologist at the Field Museum and the University of Chicago, said: "When you talk about Egypt, it's just not right to talk about black or white, That's all just American terminology and it serves American purposes. I can understand and sympathize with the desires of Afro-Americans to affiliate themselves with Egypt. But it isn't that simple [..] To take the terminology here and graft it onto Africa is anthropologically inaccurate". Yurco added that "We are applying a racial divisiveness to Egypt that they would never have accepted, They would have considered this argument absurd, and that is something we could really learn from." [33] Yurco writes that "the peoples of Egypt, the Sudan, and much of North-East Africa are generally regarded as a Nilotic continuity, with widely ranging physical features (complexions light to dark, various hair and craniofacial types)". [34]

Barry J. Kemp argues that the black/white argument, though politically understandable, is an oversimplification that hinders an appropriate evaluation of the scientific data on the ancient Egyptians since it does not take into consideration the difficulty in ascertaining complexion from skeletal remains. It also ignores the fact that Africa is inhabited by many other populations besides Bantu-related ("Negroid") groups. He asserts that in reconstructions of life in ancient Egypt, modern Egyptians would therefore be the most logical and closest approximation to the ancient Egyptians. [35] In 2008, S. O. Y. Keita wrote that "There is no scientific reason to believe that the primary ancestors of the Egyptian population emerged and evolved outside of northeast Africa. The basic overall genetic profile of the modern population is consistent with the diversity of ancient populations that would have been indigenous to northeastern Africa and subject to the range of evolutionary influences over time, although researchers vary in the details of their explanations of those influences." [36] According to Bernard R. Ortiz De Montellano, "the claim that all Egyptians, or even all the pharaohs, were black, is not valid. Most scholars believe that Egyptians in antiquity looked pretty much as they look today, with a gradation of darker shades toward the Sudan". [5]

Near-Eastern genetic affinity of Egyptian mummies

A study published in 2017 by Schuenemann et al. described the extraction and analysis of DNA from 151 mummified ancient Egyptian individuals, whose remains were recovered from a site near the modern village of Abusir el-Meleq in Middle Egypt, near the Faiyum Oasis. [37] [38] The area of Abusir el-Meleq, near El Fayum, was inhabited from at least 3250 BCE until about 700 CE. [39] The scientists said that obtaining well-preserved, uncontaminated DNA from mummies has been a problem for the field and that these samples provided "the first reliable data set obtained from ancient Egyptians using high-throughput DNA sequencing methods". [38]

The study was able to measure the mitochondrial DNA of 90 individuals, and it showed that the mitochondrial DNA composition of Egyptian mummies has shown a high level of affinity with the DNA of the populations of the Near East. [37] [38] Genome-wide data could only be successfully extracted from three of these individuals. Of these three, the Y-chromosome haplogroups of two individuals could be assigned to the Middle-Eastern haplogroup J, and one to haplogroup E1b1b1 common in North Africa. The absolute estimates of sub-Saharan African ancestry in these three individuals ranged from 6 to 15%, which is significantly lower than the level of sub-Saharan African ancestry in the modern Egyptians from Abusir el-Meleq, who "range from 14 to 21%." The study's authors cautioned that the mummies may be unrepresentative of the Ancient Egyptian population as a whole. [40]

A shared drift and mixture analysis of the DNA of these ancient Egyptian mummies shows that the connection is strongest with ancient populations from the Levant, the Near East and Anatolia, and to a lesser extent modern populations from the Near East and the Levant. [38] In particular the study finds "that ancient Egyptians are most closely related to Neolithic and Bronze Age samples in the Levant, as well as to Neolithic Anatolian populations". [39] However, the study showed that comparative data from a contemporary population under Roman rule in Anatolia, did not reveal a closer relationship to the ancient Egyptians from the same period. furthermore, "Genetic continuity between ancient and modern Egyptians cannot be ruled out despite this sub-Saharan African influx, while continuity with modern Ethiopians is not supported". [38]

The current position of modern scholarship is that the Ancient Egyptian civilization was an indigenous Nile Valley development (see population history of Egypt). [41] [42] [43] [44]

Keita, Gourdine, and Anselin challenged the assertions in the 2017 study. They state the study is missing 3000 years of Ancient Egypt's history, fails to include indigenous Nile valley Nubians as a comparison group, only includes New Kingdom and newer Northern Egyptian individuals, and incorrectly classifies "all mitochondrial M1 haplogroups as "Asian" which is problematic." [45] Keita et al. states, "M1 has been postulated to have emerged in Africa many M1 daughter haplogroups (M1a) are clearly African in origin and history." [45] In conclusion, Keita/Gourdine state due to the small sample size (2.4% of Egypt's nomes), the "Schuenemann et al. study is best seen as a contribution to understanding a local population history in northern Egypt as opposed to a population history of all Egypt from its inception." [45]

Professor Stephen Quirke, an Egyptologist at University College London, expressed caution about the researchers’ broader claims, saying that “There has been this very strong attempt throughout the history of Egyptology to disassociate ancient Egyptians from the modern population.” He added that he was “particularly suspicious of any statement that may have the unintended consequences of asserting – yet again from a northern European or North American perspective – that there’s a discontinuity there [between ancient and modern Egyptians]". [46]

Ancient Egyptian genetic studies

A number of scientific papers have reported, based on both maternal and paternal genetic evidence, that a substantial back-flow of people took place from Eurasia into North-east Africa, including Egypt, around 30,000 years before the start of the Dynastic period. [47] [48] [49] [50] [51] [52] [53] [54] [55] [56] [57] [58] [59]

Some authors have offered a theory that the M haplogroup may have developed in Africa before the 'Out of Africa' event around 50,000 years ago, and dispersed in Africa from East Africa 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. [60] : 85–88 [61] [62] [63]

Today the issues regarding the race of the ancient Egyptians are "troubled waters which most people who write about ancient Egypt from within the mainstream of scholarship avoid." [64] The debate, therefore, takes place mainly in the public sphere and tends to focus on a small number of specific issues.


Several scholars, including Diop, have claimed that Tutankhamun was black, and have protested that attempted reconstructions of Tutankhamun's facial features (as depicted on the cover of National Geographic magazine) have represented the king as "too white". Among these writers was Chancellor Williams, who argued that King Tutankhamun, his parents, and grandparents were black. [65]

Forensic artists and physical anthropologists from Egypt, France, and the United States independently created busts of Tutankhamun, using a CT-scan of the skull. Biological anthropologist Susan Anton, the leader of the American team, said the race of the skull was "hard to call". She stated that the shape of the cranial cavity indicated an African, while the nose opening suggested narrow nostrils, which is usually considered to be a European characteristic. The skull was thus concluded to be that of a North African. [66] Other experts have argued that neither skull shapes nor nasal openings are a reliable indication of race. [67]

Although modern technology can reconstruct Tutankhamun's facial structure with a high degree of accuracy, based on CT data from his mummy, [68] [69] determining his skin tone and eye color is impossible. The clay model was therefore given a coloring, which, according to the artist, was based on an "average shade of modern Egyptians". [70]

Terry Garcia, National Geographic ' s executive vice president for mission programs, said, in response to some of those protesting against the Tutankhamun reconstruction:

The big variable is skin tone. North Africans, we know today, had a range of skin tones, from light to dark. In this case, we selected a medium skin tone, and we say, quite up front, 'This is midrange.' We will never know for sure what his exact skin tone was or the color of his eyes with 100% certainty. Maybe in the future, people will come to a different conclusion. [71]

When pressed on the issue by American activists in September 2007, the Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass stated "Tutankhamun was not black." [72]

In a November 2007 publication of Ancient Egypt magazine, Hawass asserted that none of the facial reconstructions resemble Tut and that, in his opinion, the most accurate representation of the boy king is the mask from his tomb. [73] The Discovery Channel commissioned a facial reconstruction of Tutankhamun, based on CT scans of a model of his skull, back in 2002. [74] [75]

In 2011, the genomics company iGENEA launched a Tutankhamun DNA project based on genetic markers that it indicated it had culled from a Discovery Channel special on the pharaoh. According to the firm, the microsatellite data suggested that Tutankhamun belonged to the haplogroup R1b1a2, the most common paternal clade among males in Western Europe. Carsten Pusch and Albert Zink, who led the unit that had extracted Tutankhamun's DNA, chided iGENEA for not liaising with them before establishing the project. After examining the footage, they also concluded that the methodology the company used was unscientific with Putsch calling them "simply impossible". [76]


The race and skin color of Cleopatra VII, the last active Hellenistic ruler of the Macedonian Greek Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt, established in 323 BCE, has also caused some debate, [77] although generally not in scholarly sources. [78] For example, the article "Was Cleopatra Black?" was published in Ebony magazine in 2012, [79] and an article about Afrocentrism from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch mentions the question, too. [80] Mary Lefkowitz, Professor Emerita of Classical Studies at Wellesley College, traces the origins of the black Cleopatra claim to the 1872 book by J.A. Rogers called "World's Great Men of Color." [81] [82] Lefkowitz refutes Rogers' hypothesis, on various scholarly grounds. The black Cleopatra claim was further revived in an essay by afrocentrist John Henrik Clarke, chair of African history at Hunter College, entitled "African Warrior Queens." [83] Lefkowitz notes the essay includes the claim that Cleopatra described herself as black in the New Testament's Book of Acts – when in fact Cleopatra had died more than sixty years before the death of Jesus Christ. [83]

Scholars identify Cleopatra as essentially of Greek ancestry with some Persian and Syrian ancestry, based on the fact that her Macedonian Greek family (the Ptolemaic dynasty) had intermingled with the Seleucid aristocracy of the time. [85] [86] [87] [88] [89] [90] [91] [92] [93] [94] Grant states that Cleopatra probably had not a drop of Egyptian blood and that she "would have described herself as Greek." [95] Roller notes that "there is absolutely no evidence" that Cleopatra was racially black African as claimed by what he dismisses as generally not "credible scholarly sources." [96] Cleopatra's official coinage (which she would have approved) and the three portrait busts of her which are considered authentic by scholars, all match each other, and they portray Cleopatra as a Greek woman. [97] [98] [99] [100] Polo writes that Cleopatra's coinage presents her image with certainty, and asserts that the sculpted portrait of the "Berlin Cleopatra" head is confirmed as having a similar profile. [98]

In 2009, a BBC documentary speculated that Cleopatra might have been part North African. This was based largely on the claims of Hilke Thür of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, who in the 1990s had examined a headless skeleton of a female child in a 20 BCE tomb in Ephesus (modern Turkey), together with the old notes and photographs of the now-missing skull. Thür hypothesized the body as that of Arsinoe, half-sister to Cleopatra. [101] [102] Arsinoe and Cleopatra shared the same father (Ptolemy XII Auletes) but had different mothers, [103] with Thür claiming the alleged African ancestry came from the skeleton's mother. To date it has never been definitively proved that the skeleton is that of Arsinoe IV. Furthermore, craniometry as used by Thür to determine race is based in scientific racism that is now generally considered a pseudoscience that supported "exploitation of groups of people" to "perpetuate racial oppression" and "distorted future views of the biological basis of race." [104] When a DNA test attempted to determine the identity of the child, it was impossible to get an accurate reading since the bones had been handled too many times, [105] and the skull had been lost in Germany during World War II. Mary Beard states that the age of the skeleton is too young to be that of Arsinoe (the bones said to be that of a 15–18-year-old child, with Arsinoe being around her mid twenties at her death). [106]

Great Sphinx of Giza

The identity of the model for the Great Sphinx of Giza is unknown. [107] Most experts [108] believe that the face of the Sphinx represents the likeness of the Pharaoh Khafra, although a few Egyptologists and interested amateurs have proposed different hypotheses. [ citation needed ]

An early description of the Sphinx, "typically negro in all its features", is recorded in the travel notes of a French scholar, Volney, who visited Egypt between 1783 and 1785 [109] along with French novelist Gustave Flaubert. [110] A similar description was given in the "well-known book" [15] by Vivant Denon, where he described the sphinx as "the character is African but the mouth, the lips of which are thick." [111] Following Volney, Denon, and other early writers, numerous Afrocentric scholars, such as Du Bois, [112] [113] [114] Diop [115] and Asante [116] have characterized the face of the Sphinx as Black, or "Negroid".

American geologist Robert M. Schoch has written that the "Sphinx has a distinctive African, Nubian, or Negroid aspect which is lacking in the face of Khafre". [117] [118] but he was described by others such as Ronald H. Fritze and Mark Lehner of being a "pseudoscientific writer". [119] [120] David S. Anderson writes in Lost City, Found Pyramid: Understanding Alternative Archaeologies and Pseudoscientific Practices that Van Sertima's claim that "the sphinx was a portrait statue of the black pharoah Khafre" is a form of "pseudoarchaeology" not supported by evidence. [121] He compares it to the claim that Olmec colossal heads had "African origins", which is not taken seriously by Mesoamerican scholars such as Richard Diehl and Ann Cyphers. [122]


Ancient Egyptians referred to their homeland as Kmt (conventionally pronounced as Kemet). According to Cheikh Anta Diop, the Egyptians referred to themselves as "Black" people or kmt, and km was the etymological root of other words, such as Kam or Ham, which refer to Black people in Hebrew tradition. [11] : 27 [123] A review of David Goldenberg's The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity and Islam states that Goldenberg "argues persuasively that the biblical name Ham bears no relationship at all to the notion of blackness and as of now is of unknown etymology". [124] Diop, [125] William Leo Hansberry, [125] and Aboubacry Moussa Lam [126] have argued that kmt was derived from the skin color of the Nile valley people, which Diop claimed was black. [11] : 21,26 The claim that the ancient Egyptians had black skin has become a cornerstone of Afrocentric historiography. [125]

Mainstream scholars hold that kmt means "the black land" or "the black place", and that this is a reference to the fertile black soil that was washed down from Central Africa by the annual Nile inundation. By contrast the barren desert outside the narrow confines of the Nile watercourse was called dšrt (conventionally pronounced deshret) or "the red land". [125] [127] Raymond Faulkner's Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian translates kmt into "Egyptians", [128] Gardiner translates it as "the Black Land, Egypt". [129]

At the UNESCO Symposium in 1974, Sauneron, Obenga, and Diop concluded that KMT and KM meant black. [11] : 40 However, Sauneron clarified that the adjective Kmtyw means "people of the black land" rather than "black people", and that the Egyptians never used the adjective Kmtyw to refer to the various black peoples they knew of, they only used it to refer to themselves. [130]

Ancient Egyptian art

Ancient Egyptian tombs and temples contained thousands of paintings, sculptures, and written works, which reveal a great deal about the people of that time. However, their depictions of themselves in their surviving art and artifacts are rendered in sometimes symbolic, rather than realistic, pigments. As a result, ancient Egyptian artifacts provide sometimes conflicting and inconclusive evidence of the ethnicity of the people who lived in Egypt during dynastic times. [131] [132]

In their own art, "Egyptians are often represented in a color that is officially called dark red", according to Diop. [10] : 48 Arguing against other theories, Diop quotes Champollion-Figeac, who states, "one distinguishes on Egyptian monuments several species of blacks, differing. with respect to complexion, which makes Negroes black or copper-colored." [10] : 55 Regarding an expedition by King Sesostris, Cherubini states the following concerning captured southern Africans, "except for the panther skin about their loins, are distinguished by their color, some entirely black, others dark brown. [10] : 58–59 University of Chicago scholars assert that Nubians are generally depicted with black paint, but the skin pigment used in Egyptian paintings to refer to Nubians can range "from dark red to brown to black". [133] This can be observed in paintings from the tomb of the Egyptian Huy, as well as Ramses II's temple at Beit el-Wali. [134] Also, Snowden indicates that Romans had accurate knowledge of "negroes of a red, copper-colored complexion . among African tribes". [135]

Conversely, Najovits states "Egyptian art depicted Egyptians on the one hand and Nubians and other blacks on the other hand with distinctly different ethnic characteristics and depicted this abundantly and often aggressively. The Egyptians accurately, arrogantly and aggressively made national and ethnic distinctions from a very early date in their art and literature." [136] He continues, "There is an extraordinary abundance of Egyptian works of art which clearly depicted sharply contrasted reddish-brown Egyptians and black Nubians." [136]

Barbara Mertz writes in Red Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt: "The concept of race would have been totally alien to them [Ancient Egyptians] [..]The skin color that painters usually used for men is a reddish brown. Women were depicted as lighter in complexion, [137] perhaps because they didn’t spend so much time out of doors. Some individuals are shown with black skins. I cannot recall a single example of the words “black,” “brown,” or “white” being used in an Egyptian text to describe a person." She gives the example of one of Thutmose III’s “sole companions”, who was Nubian or Cushite. In his funerary scroll, he is shown with dark brown skin instead of the conventional reddish brown used for Egyptians. [30]

Table of Nations controversy

However, Manu Ampim, a professor at Merritt College specializing in African and African American history and culture, claims in the book Modern Fraud: The Forged Ancient Egyptian Statues of Ra-Hotep and Nofret, that many ancient Egyptian statues and artworks are modern frauds that have been created specifically to hide the "fact" that the ancient Egyptians were black, while authentic artworks that demonstrate black characteristics are systematically defaced or even "modified". Ampim repeatedly makes the accusation that the Egyptian authorities are systematically destroying evidence that "proves" that the ancient Egyptians were black, under the guise of renovating and conserving the applicable temples and structures. He further accuses "European" scholars of wittingly participating in and abetting this process. [138] [139]

Ampim has a specific concern about the painting of the "Table of Nations" in the Tomb of Ramesses III (KV11). The "Table of Nations" is a standard painting that appears in a number of tombs, and they were usually provided for the guidance of the soul of the deceased. [131] [140] Among other things, it described the "four races of men" as follows: (translation by E.A. Wallis Budge) [140] "The first are RETH, the second are AAMU, the third are NEHESU, and the fourth are THEMEHU. The RETH are Egyptians, the AAMU are dwellers in the deserts to the east and north-east of Egypt, the NEHESU are the black races, and the THEMEHU are the fair-skinned Libyans."

The archaeologist Karl Richard Lepsius documented many ancient Egyptian tomb paintings in his work Denkmäler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien. [141] In 1913, after the death of Lepsius, an updated reprint of the work was produced, edited by Kurt Sethe. This printing included an additional section, called the "Ergänzungsband" in German, which incorporated many illustrations that did not appear in Lepsius' original work. One of them, plate 48, illustrated one example of each of the four "nations" as depicted in KV11, and shows the "Egyptian nation" and the "Nubian nation" as identical to each other in skin color and dress. Professor Ampim has declared that plate 48 is a true reflection of the original painting, and that it "proves" that the ancient Egyptians were identical in appearance to the Nubians, even though he admits no other examples of the "Table of Nations" show this similarity. He has further accused "Euro-American writers" of attempting to mislead the public on this issue. [142]

The late Egyptologist Frank J. Yurco visited the tomb of Ramesses III (KV11), and in a 1996 article on the Ramesses III tomb reliefs he pointed out that the depiction of plate 48 in the Ergänzungsband section is not a correct depiction of what is actually painted on the walls of the tomb. Yurco notes, instead, that plate 48 is a "pastiche" of samples of what is on the tomb walls, arranged from Lepsius' notes after his death, and that a picture of a Nubian person has erroneously been labeled in the pastiche as an Egyptian person. Yurco points also to the much more recent photographs of Dr. Erik Hornung as a correct depiction of the actual paintings. [143] (Erik Hornung, The Valley of the Kings: Horizon of Eternity, 1990). Ampim nonetheless continues to claim that plate 48 shows accurately the images that stand on the walls of KV11, and he categorically accuses both Yurco and Hornung of perpetrating a deliberate deception for the purposes of misleading the public about the true race of the ancient Egyptians. [142]

Fayyum mummy portraits

The Roman era Fayum mummy portraits attached to coffins containing the latest dated mummies discovered in the Faiyum Oasis represent a population of both native Egyptians and those with mixed Greek heritage. [144] The dental morphology of the mummies align more with the indigenous North African population than Greek or other later colonial European settlers. [145]

Black queen controversy

The late British Africanist Basil Davidson stated "Whether the Ancient Egyptians were as black or as brown in skin color as other Africans may remain an issue of emotive dispute probably, they were both. Their own artistic conventions painted them as pink, but pictures on their tombs show they often married queens shown as entirely black [20] being from the south." [146] Yaacov Shavit wrote that "Egyptian men have a reddish complexion, while Egyptian women have a clear yellowish cast and moreover there are almost no black women in the many wall paintings." [147]

Ahmose-Nefertari is an example. In most depictions of Ahmose-Nefertari, she is pictured with black skin, [148] [149] while in some instances her skin is blue [150] or red. [151] In 1939 Flinders Petrie said "an invasion from the south. established a black queen as the divine ancestress of the XVIIIth dynasty" [152] [20] He also said "a possibility of the black being symbolic has been suggested" [152] and "Nefertari must have married a Libyan, as she was the mother of Amenhetep I, who was of fair Libyan style." [152] In 1961 Alan Gardiner, in describing the walls of tombs in the Deir el-Medina area, noted in passing that Ahmose-Nefertari was "well represented" in these tomb illustrations, and that her countenance was sometimes black and sometimes blue. He did not offer any explanation for these colors, but noted that her probable ancestry ruled out that she might have had black blood. [150] In 1974, Diop described Ahmose-Nefertari as "typically negroid." [11] : 17 In the controversial book Black Athena, the hypotheses of which have been widely rejected by mainstream scholarship, Martin Bernal considered her skin color in paintings to be a clear sign of Nubian ancestry. [153] In more recent times, scholars such as Joyce Tyldesley, Sigrid Hodel-Hoenes, and Graciela Gestoso Singer, argued that her skin color is indicative of her role as a goddess of resurrection, since black is both the color of the fertile land of Egypt and that of Duat, the underworld. [148] Singer recognizes that "Some scholars have suggested that this is a sign of Nubian ancestry." [148] Singer also states a statuette of Ahmose-Nefertari at the Museo Egizio in Turin which shows her with a black face, though her arms and feet are not darkened, thus suggesting that the black coloring has an iconographic motive and does not reflect her actual appearance. [154] : 90 [155] [148]

Queen Tiye is another example of the controversy. American journalists Michael Specter, Felicity Barringer, and others describe one of her sculptures as that of a "black African". [156] [157] [158] Egyptologist Frank J. Yurco has examined her mummy, which he described as having 'long, wavy brown hair, a high-bridged, arched nose and moderately thin lips." [157]

Since the second half of the 20th century, typological and hierarchical models of race have increasingly been rejected by scientists, and most scholars have held that applying modern notions of race to ancient Egypt is anachronistic. [159] [160] [161] The current position of modern scholarship is that the Egyptian civilization was an indigenous Nile Valley development (see population history of Egypt). [41] [42] [43] [44] At the UNESCO symposium in 1974, most participants concluded that the ancient Egyptian population was indigenous to the Nile Valley, and was made up of people from north and south of the Sahara who were differentiated by their color. [24]

Black Egyptian hypothesis

The Black Egyptian hypothesis, which has been rejected by mainstream scholarship, is the hypothesis that ancient Egypt was a Black civilization. [10] : 1,27,43,51 [162] Although there is consensus that Ancient Egypt was indigenous to Africa, the hypothesis that Ancient Egypt was a "black civilization" has met with "profound" disagreement. [163]

The Black Egyptian hypothesis includes a particular focus on links to Sub Saharan cultures and the questioning of the race of specific notable individuals from Dynastic times, including Tutankhamun [164] the person represented in the Great Sphinx of Giza, [10] : 1,27,43,51 [165] [166] and the Greek Ptolemaic queen Cleopatra. [167] [168] [169] [170] Advocates of the Black African model rely heavily on writings from Classical Greek historians, including Strabo, Diodorus Siculus, and Herodotus. Advocates claim that these "classical" authors referred to Egyptians as "Black with woolly hair". [171] [10] : 1,27,43,51,278,288 [172] : 316–321 [162] : 52–53 [173] : 21 The Greek word used was "melanchroes", and the English language translation of this Greek word is disputed, being translated by many as "dark skinned" [174] [175] and by many others as "black". [10] : 1,27,43,51,278,288 [162] : 52–53 [173] : 15–60 [176] [177] Diop said "Herodotus applied melanchroes to both Ethiopians and Egyptians. and melanchroes is the strongest term in Greek to denote blackness." [10] : 241–242 Snowden claims that Diop is distorting his classical sources and is quoting them selectively. [178] There is dispute about the historical accuracy of the works of Herodotus – some scholars support the reliability of Herodotus [10] : 2–5 [179] : 1 [180] [181] [182] [183] while other scholars regard his works as being unreliable as historical sources, particularly those relating to Egypt. [184] [185] [186] [187] [188] [189] [190] [191] [192] [193] [194]

Other claims used to support the Black Hypothesis included testing melanin levels in a small sample of mummies, [11] : 20,37 [10] : 236–243 language affinities between ancient Egyptian language and sub-saharan languages, [11] : 28,39–41,54–55 [195] interpretations of the origin of the name Kmt, conventionally pronounced Kemet, used by the ancient Egyptians to describe themselves or their land (depending on points of view), [11] : 27,38,40 biblical traditions, [196] [11] : 27–28 shared B blood group between Egyptians and West Africans, [11] : 37 and interpretations of the depictions of the Egyptians in numerous paintings and statues. [10] : 6–42 The hypothesis also claimed cultural affiliations, such as circumcision, [10] : 112, 135–138 matriarchy, totemism, hair braiding, head binding, [197] and kingship cults. [10] : 1–9,134–155 Artifacts found at Qustul (near Abu Simbel – Modern Sudan) in 1960–64 were seen as showing that ancient Egypt and the A-Group culture of Nubia shared the same culture and were part of the greater Nile Valley sub-stratum, [198] [199] [200] [201] [202] but more recent finds in Egypt indicate that the Qustul rulers probably adopted/emulated the symbols of Egyptian pharaohs. [203] [204] [205] [206] [207] [208] Authors and critics state the hypothesis is primarily adopted by Afrocentrists. [209] [210] [211] [212] [213] [214] [215] [216]

At the UNESCO "Symposium on the Peopling of Ancient Egypt and the Deciphering of the Meroitic script" in Cairo in 1974, there was consensus that Ancient Egypt was indigenous to Africa, but the Black Hypothesis met with "profound" disagreement. [163] The current position of modern scholarship is that the Egyptian civilization was an indigenous Nile Valley development (see population history of Egypt). [41] [42] [43] [44]

Asiatic race theory

The Asiatic race theory, which has been rejected by mainstream scholarship, is the hypothesis that the ancient Egyptians were the lineal descendants of the biblical Ham, through his son Mizraim. [ citation needed ]

This theory was the most dominant view from the Early Middle Ages (c. 500 AD) all the way up to the early 19th century. [217] [218] [15] The descendants of Ham were traditionally considered to be the darkest-skinned branch of humanity, either because of their geographic allotment to Africa or because of the Curse of Ham. [219] [15] Thus, Diop cites Gaston Maspero "Moreover, the Bible states that Mesraim, son of Ham, brother of Chus (Kush) . and of Canaan, came from Mesopotamia to settle with his children on the banks of the Nile." [10] : 5–9

By the 20th century, the Asiatic race theory and its various offshoots were abandoned but were superseded by two related theories: the Eurocentric Hamitic hypothesis, asserting that a Caucasian racial group moved into North and East Africa from early prehistory subsequently bringing with them all advanced agriculture, technology and civilization, and the Dynastic race theory, proposing that Mesopotamian invaders were responsible for the dynastic civilization of Egypt (c. 3000 BC). In sharp contrast to the Asiatic race theory, neither of these theories proposes that Caucasians were the indigenous inhabitants of Egypt. [220]

At the UNESCO "Symposium on the Peopling of Ancient Egypt and the Deciphering of the Meroitic Script" in Cairo in 1974, none of the participants explicitly voiced support for any theory where Egyptians were Caucasian with a dark pigmentation.". [11] : 43 [23] The current position of modern scholarship is that the Egyptian civilization was an indigenous Nile Valley development (see population history of Egypt). [41] [42] [43] [44]

Caucasian / Hamitic hypothesis

The Caucasian hypothesis, which has been rejected by mainstream scholarship, is the hypothesis that the Nile valley "was originally peopled by a branch of the Caucasian race". [221] It was proposed in 1844 by Samuel George Morton, who acknowledged that Negroes were present in ancient Egypt but claimed they were either captives or servants. [222] George Gliddon (1844) wrote: "Asiatic in their origin . the Egyptians were white men, of no darker hue than a pure Arab, a Jew, or a Phoenician." [223]

The similar Hamitic hypothesis, which has been rejected by mainstream scholarship, developed directly from the Asiatic Race Theory, and argued that the Ethiopid and Arabid populations of the Horn of Africa were the inventors of agriculture and had brought all civilization to Africa. It asserted that these people were Caucasians, not Negroid. It also rejected any Biblical basis despite using Hamitic as the theory's name. [224] Charles Gabriel Seligman in his Some Aspects of the Hamitic Problem in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan (1913) and later works argued that the ancient Egyptians were among this group of Caucasian Hamites, having arrived in the Nile Valley during early prehistory and introduced technology and agriculture to primitive natives they found there. [225]

The Italian anthropologist Giuseppe Sergi (1901) believed that ancient Egyptians were the Eastern African (Hamitic) branch of the Mediterranean race, which he called "Eurafrican". According to Sergi, the Mediterranean race or "Eurafrican" contains three varieties or sub-races: the African (Hamitic) branch, the Mediterranean "proper" branch and the Nordic (depigmented) branch. [226] Sergi maintained in summary that the Mediterranean race (excluding the depigmented Nordic or 'white') is: "a brown human variety, neither white nor Negroid, but pure in its elements, that is to say not a product of the mixture of Whites with Negroes or Negroid peoples". [227] Grafton Elliot Smith modified the theory in 1911, [228] stating that the ancient Egyptians were a dark haired "brown race", [229] most closely "linked by the closest bonds of racial affinity to the Early Neolithic populations of the North African littoral and South Europe", [230] and not Negroid. [231] Smith's "brown race" is not synonymous or equivalent with Sergi's Mediterranean race. [232] The Hamitic Hypothesis was still popular in the 1960s and late 1970s and was supported notably by Anthony John Arkell and George Peter Murdock. [233]

At the UNESCO "Symposium on the Peopling of Ancient Egypt and the Deciphering of the Meroitic Script" in Cairo in 1974, none of the participants explicitly voiced support for any theory where Egyptians were Caucasian with a dark pigmentation." [11] : 43 [23] The current position of modern scholarship is that the Egyptian civilization was an indigenous Nile Valley development (see population history of Egypt). [41] [42] [43] [44]

Turanid race hypothesis

The Turanid race hypothesis, which has been rejected by mainstream scholarship, is the hypothesis that the ancient Egyptians belonged to the Turanid race, linking them to the Tatars.

It was proposed by Egyptologist Samuel Sharpe in 1846, who was "inspired" by some ancient Egyptian paintings, which depict Egyptians with sallow or yellowish skin. He said "From the colour given to the women in their paintings we learn that their skin was yellow, like that of the Mongul Tartars, who have given their name to the Mongolian variety of the human race. The single lock of hair on the young nobles reminds us also of the Tartars." [234]

The current position of modern scholarship is that the Egyptian civilization was an indigenous Nile Valley development (see population history of Egypt). [41] [42] [43] [44]

Dynastic race theory

The Dynastic race theory, which has been rejected by mainstream scholarship, is the hypothesis that a Mesopotamian force had invaded Egypt in predynastic times, imposed itself on the indigenous Badarian people, and become their rulers. [41] [235] It further argued that the Mesopotamian-founded state or states then conquered both Upper and Lower Egypt and founded the First Dynasty of Egypt.

It was proposed in the early 20th century by Egyptologist Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, who deduced that skeletal remains found at pre-dynastic sites at Naqada (Upper Egypt) indicated the presence of two different races, with one race differentiated physically by a noticeably larger skeletal structure and cranial capacity. [236] Petrie also noted new architectural styles—the distinctly Mesopotamian "niched-facade" architecture—pottery styles, cylinder seals and a few artworks, as well as numerous Predynastic rock and tomb paintings depicting Mesopotamian style boats, symbols, and figures. Based on plentiful cultural evidence, Petrie concluded that the invading ruling elite was responsible for the seemingly sudden rise of Egyptian civilization. In the 1950s, the Dynastic Race Theory was widely accepted by mainstream scholarship. [42] [237] [238]

While there is clear evidence the Naqada II culture borrowed abundantly from Mesopotamia, the Naqada II period had a large degree of continuity with the Naqada I period, [239] and the changes which did happen during the Naqada periods happened over significant amounts of time. [240] The most commonly held view today is that the achievements of the First Dynasty were the result of a long period of cultural and political development, [241] and the current position of modern scholarship is that the Egyptian civilization was an indigenous Nile Valley development (see population history of Egypt). [41] [42] [43] [242] [44]

The Senegalese Egyptologist Cheikh Anta Diop, fought against the Dynastic Race Theory with their own "Black Egyptian" theory and claimed, among other things, that Eurocentric scholars supported the Dynastic Race Theory "to avoid having to admit that Ancient Egyptians were black". [243] Martin Bernal proposed that the Dynastic Race theory was conceived by European scholars to deny Egypt its African roots. [244]


In 1994-1995 the David H. Koch Foundation supported us for another round of radiocarbon dating.

We broadened our sampling to include material from:

  • The 1st Dynasty tombs at Saqqara (2920-2770 BC).
  • The Djoser pyramid (2630-2611 BC).
  • The Giza Pyramids (2551-2472BC).
  • A selection of 5th Dynasty pyramids (2465-2323 BC).
  • A selection of 6th Dynasty pyramids (2323-2150 BC).
  • A selection of Middle Kingdom pyramids (2040-1640 BC).

We also took samples from our Giza Plateau Mapping Project Lost City excavations (4th Dynasty), where we discovered two largely intact bakeries in 1991. Ancient baking left deposits of ash and charcoal, which are very useful for dating.

The 1995 set of radiocarbon dates tended to be 100 to 200 years older than the Cambridge Ancient History dates, which was about 200 years younger than our 1984 dates.

Two historians claim the Ancient Egyptians did not build the Pyramids

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The historians and authors of a ‘controversial’ forthcoming book firmly believe there is a strong possibility a second ‘Great Sphinx’ remains buried at the Giza plateau and suggest the Great Pyramid at Giza were built thousands of years earlier than previously thought, and not by the ancient Egyptians.

Two historians have questioned whether the ancient Egyptians built the great pyramid of Giza or the pyramids of Giza for that matter. Instead, the two researchers say, these monuments could have been built by a lost civilization that existed on Earth which we are yet to identify.

The authors of an upcoming book that investigates the only remaining wonder of the ancient world cast doubt on the conventional thinking that it was the ancient Egyptians who built the pyramids at Giza in about 2,500 BC.

In fact, this isn’t the first time authors have questioned the idea that the ancient Pyramids built these massive structures.

The two historians Gerry Cannon and Malcolm Hutton affirm that the great Sphinx of Giza, positioned in front of the pyramids must have been carved from a natural rock long before any sand covered the area, which means that at that time, long ago the area had to be fertile.

In an interview with Express.uk Mr.Cannon said:

“The Sphinx must have been carved when there was no sand there. You can not carve a rock when it is under the sand. ”

“When it was not under sand was about 12,000 years ago and the Egyptians weren’t there.”

This would mean, according to the research of experts, that the pyramids and the Sphinx were built at least 12,500 years ago and could have been standing there before the beginning of the Ice Age.

The significant time difference would mean that the massive ‘tombs’ were not built by the ancient Egyptians, according to Mr. Cannon.

The historian, though not completely convinced, believes these massive structures may have been built long ago by an advanced ancient civilization that existed somewhere in the region—perhaps Atlantis—which was eventually consumed by the great flood.

“I have done some research and there is a direct line from the pyramids to a submerged continent with a mountain in the sea and on the mountain of the sea, there are two pinnacles that resemble the pyramids. It may be Atlantis, when Atlantis sank they went to another place, probably Egypt and they had the technology to build those pyramids. There is no one else who could have done it, they did not have the technology.”

No one knows who or what was there 12,000 years ago.

The three smaller pyramids in Giza were probably built by the Egyptians as they could be built by man.

However, it is impossible for the three largest pyramids—that have 2,250,000 blocks in them and some blocks weigh up to 250 tons—to have been built by the Egyptians.

We could not even move it with all the equipment we have today, so they had to have been made by a civilization that was more advanced than we are today.

The words of Mr. Cannon and others who have raised doubts about the Egyptians and the construction of the pyramids have come across a brick wall by the Egyptian authorities who maintain the ancient Egyptians as the actual builders of the pyramids.

Second Sphinx

In addition to the idea that the pyramids were not constructed by the ancient Egyptians, the authors argue there is a great chance there was s SECOND Sphinx at the Giza plateau.

Did Roman or Egyptian historians in 100 BCE know how old the Great Pyramid of Giza was, or perhaps details that we no longer know today?

I have always wondered if the people of this era of ancient history were aware of the history of their own ancient monuments. How old the pyramids were, why they were build and by whom, is there any evidence that they perhaps knew more than we do today?

I don't know if they knew specific dates, (they probably didn't, although the Egyptian records were known to Greeks) but they knew they were very old.

Book II of Herodotus' Histories is devoted to Egypt and North Africa. In it, he tells of the first Pharaoh, and states that there were 330 Pharaohs from that point to the Persian conquest. Herodotus' understanding of Egyptian culture is very shaky, but he conveys an understanding that Egyptian culture was very old.

In Plato's Timaeus/Critias, Critias tells the story of Solon in Egypt, where Solon hears from the Egyptians the story of Atlantis. In this story, there is a belief expressed that Egypt was a very old culture, much older than Greece:

On one occasion, wishing to draw them on to speak of antiquity, he began to tell about the most ancient things in our part of the world-about Phoroneus, who is called "the first man," and about Niobe and after the Deluge, of the survival of Deucalion and Pyrrha and he traced the genealogy of their descendants, and reckoning up the dates, tried to compute how many years ago the events of which he was speaking happened. Thereupon one of the priests, who was of a very great age, said: O Solon, Solon, you Hellenes are never anything but children, and there is not an old man among you. Solon in return asked him what he meant. I mean to say, he replied, that in mind you are all young there is no old opinion handed down among you by ancient tradition, nor any science which is hoary with age. And I will tell you why. There have been, and will be again, many destructions of mankind arising out of many causes the greatest have been brought about by the agencies of fire and water, and other lesser ones by innumerable other causes. There is a story, which even you have preserved, that once upon a time Paethon, the son of Helios, having yoked the steeds in his father's chariot, because he was not able to drive them in the path of his father, burnt up all that was upon the earth, and was himself destroyed by a thunderbolt. Now this has the form of a myth, but really signifies a declination of the bodies moving in the heavens around the earth, and a great conflagration of things upon the earth, which recurs after long intervals at such times those who live upon the mountains and in dry and lofty places are more liable to destruction than those who dwell by rivers or on the seashore. And from this calamity the Nile, who is our never-failing saviour, delivers and preserves us. When, on the other hand, the gods purge the earth with a deluge of water, the survivors in your country are herdsmen and shepherds who dwell on the mountains, but those who, like you, live in cities are carried by the rivers into the sea. Whereas in this land, neither then nor at any other time, does the water come down from above on the fields, having always a tendency to come up from below for which reason the traditions preserved here are the most ancient.

According to Plato's chronology, Egypt was 8000 years old (in c. 400 B.C.). This is an exaggeration, but shows you what the Greek attitudes towards Egypt were.

So, yes, the Greeks (and, by extension, the Romans) understood that Egyptian civilization was very old, substantially older than theirs. However, their understanding was often spotty and was based on poor translations and misinterpreted sources.

Are the pyramids mentioned in the Bible?

The first settlers in Egypt migrated from the area of Shinar, near the Euphrates River, the location of the attempted construction of the Tower of Babel. The Tower of Babel itself was probably a ziggurat, pyramidal in shape, and made of baked bricks mortared with pitch (see Genesis 11:1-9). Given their engineering experience, it is easy to see how these settlers would begin building smaller pyramids of mud bricks and straw, called mastabas, beneath which the early pharaohs were buried.

As time passed, the Egyptians began constructing large, impressive edifices entirely of stone. These are the structures that typically come to mind when one thinks of pyramids, such as the Great Pyramid at Giza. The granite blocks used for these pyramids were quarried near Aswan and transported down the Nile on barges.

Later, during the so-called Middle Kingdom, the royal tombs were smaller and made of millions of large, sun-dried mud-and-straw bricks. These bricks were faced with massive slabs of smooth granite to give the appearance of traditional stone pyramids. During this period, which lasted approximately 1660 to 1445 BC, the Israelites took up residence in Egypt (see1 Kings 6:1). Pharaoh, concerned that they might turn on the Egyptians, enslaved them at some point after the time of Joseph (Exodus 1:8).

The Bible tells us that during that period the Israelite slaves were forced to make mud bricks (Exodus 5:10-14). This detail is consistent with the type of brick used to construct pyramids. In fact, according to Exodus 5:7, Pharaoh told the taskmasters, “You shall no longer give the people straw to make brick as before. Let them go and gather straw for themselves.” While we are not told specifically that the bricks were used for pyramids, it seems plausible that they were. The Jewish historian Josephus supports this theory: “They [the Egyptian taskmasters] set them also to build pyramids” (Antiquities, II:9.1).

The slavery of the Israelites ended abruptly at the Exodus. According to archeologist A. R. David, the slaves suddenly disappeared. She admits that “the quantity, range and type of articles of everyday use which were left behind in the houses may indeed suggest that the departure was sudden and unpremeditated” (The Pyramid Builders of Ancient Egypt, p. 199). The Egyptian army that was destroyed at the Red Sea was led by Pharaoh himself (Exodus 14:6), and this could account for the fact that no burial place or mummy has been found for the 13th-dynasty Pharaoh Neferhotep I.

Pyramids are not mentioned as such in the canonical Scriptures. However, the Apocrypha (approved as canonical by Catholics and Coptics) does mention pyramids in 1 Maccabees 13:28-38 in connection with seven pyramids built by Simon Maccabeus as monuments to his parents.

Pre-Alexandrian Jews would not have used the word pyramid. However, in the Old Testament, we do see the word migdol (Strong’s, H4024). This word is translated “tower” and could represent any large monolith, obelisk or pyramid. Migdol is the Hebrew word used to describe the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:4, and it is translated similarly in Ezekiel 29:10 and 30:6. In describing a “pyramid,” this is the word the Hebrews would have most likely used. Furthermore, Migdol is a place name in Exodus 14:2, Numbers 33:7, Jeremiah 44:1, and Jeremiah 46:14 and could mean that a tower or monument was located there.

The Bible does not explicitly state that the Israelites built pyramids nor does it use the word pyramid in association with the Hebrews. We may surmise that the children of Israel worked on the pyramids, but that is all we can do.

Did the Ptolemaic Egyptians know how old the Pyramids were? - History

One of the earliest advanced civilizations, Ancient Egypt, had a rich religious tradition which permeated every aspect of society. As in most early cultures, the patterns and behaviors of the sky led to the creation of a number of myths to explain the astronomical phenomena. For the Egyptians, the practice of astronomy went beyond legend. Huge temples and pyramids were built with specific astronomical orientations. Thus astronomy had both religious and practical purposes.

Creation and protection came from the gods. Today we associate these gods with Ancient Alien Theory and Reality as a Consciousness Hologram.

The Egyptian gods and goddesses were numerous, pictured in many paintings and murals with celestial alignments. Certain gods were seen in the constellations, and others were represented by actual astronomical bodies. The constellation Orion, for instance, represented Osiris, who was the god of death, rebirth, and the afterlife. The Belt Stars of Orion align with the three pyramids on the Giza Plateau.

The Milky Way represented the sky goddess Nut giving birth to the sun god Ra.

The stars in Egyptian mythology were represented by the goddess of writing, Seshat, while the Moon was either Thoth, the god of wisdom and writing, or Khons, a child moon god.

The horizon was extremely important to the Egyptians, since it was here that the Sun appeared and disappeared daily. A hymn to the Sun god Ra shows this reverance: 'O Ra! In thine egg, radiant in thy disk, shining forth from the horizon, swimming over the steel firmament.' The Sun itself was represented by several gods, depending on its position. A rising morning Sun was Horus, the divine child of Osiris and Isis. The noon Sun was Ra because of its incredible strength.

The evening Sun became Atum, the creator god who lifted Pharoahs from their tombs to the stars. The red color of the Sun at sunset was considered to be the blood from the Sun god as he died. After the Sun had set, it became Osiris, god of death and rebirth. In this way, night was associated with death and day with life or rebirth. This reflects the typical Egyptian idea of immortality.

The center of Egyptian civilization was the flooding of the Nile River every year at the same time and provided rich soil for agriculture. The Egyptian astronomers, who were actually priests, recognized that the flooding always occurred at the summer solstice, which was also when the bright star Sirius rose before the Sun. The priests were therefore able to predict the annual flooding, which made them quite powerful.

Many Egyptian buildings were built with an astronomical orientation. The temples and pyramids were constructed in relation to the stars, zodiac, and constellations. In different cities, the buildings had different orientations based on the specific religion of that place. For instance, some temples were constructed to align with a star that either rose or set at harvest or sowing time. Others were oriented toward the solstices or equinoxes. As early as 4000 B.C., temples were built so that sunlight entered a room at only one precise time of the year.

An alternative building method was to gradually narrow successive doors into a specific room, in order to concentrate the sunbeams onto a god's image on the wall. The designs sometimes became quite complex. At the temple of Medinet Habu, there are actually two buildings which are slightly off-kilter. It has been suggested that the second one was built when the altitude of the other temple's orientation stars changed over a long period of time.

The Egyptians were a practical people and this is reflected in their astronomy in contrast to Babylonia where the first astronomical texts were written in astrological terms. Even before Upper and Lower Egypt were unified in 3000 BCE, observations of the night sky had influenced the development of a religion in which many of its principal deities were heavenly bodies.

In Lower Egypt, priests built circular mud-brick walls with which to make a false horizon where they could mark the position of the sun as it rose at dawn, and then with a plumb-bob note the northern or southern turning points (solstices). This allowed them to discover that the sun disc, personified as Ra, took 365 days to travel from his birthplace at the winter solstice and back to it. Meanwhile in Upper Egypt a lunar calendar was being developed based on the behavior of the moon and the reappearance of Sirius in its heliacal rising after its annual absence of about 70 days.

After unification, problems with trying to work with two calendars (both depending upon constant observation) led to a merged, simplified civil calendar with twelve 30 day months, three seasons of four months each, plus an extra five days, giving a 365 year day but with no way of accounting for the extra quarter day each year. Day and night were split into 24 units, each personified by a deity.

A sundial found on Seti I's cenotaph with instructions for its use shows us that the daylight hours were at one time split into 10 units, with 12 hours for the night and an hour for the morning and evening twilights. However, by Seti I's time day and night were normally divided into 12 hours each, the length of which would vary according to the time of year.

Key to much of this was the motion of the sun god Ra and his annual movement along the horizon at sunrise. Out of Egyptian myths such as those around Ra and the sky goddess Nut came the development of the Egyptian calendar, time keeping, and even concepts of royalty.

An astronomical ceiling in the burial chamber of Ramesses VI shows the sun being born from Nut in the morning, traveling along her body during the day and being swallowed at night.

During the Fifth Dynasty six kings built sun temples in honor of Ra. The temple complexes built by Niuserre at Abu Gurab and Userkaf at Abusir have been excavated and have astronomical alignments, and the roofs of some of the buildings could have been used by observers to view the stars, calculate the hours at night and predict the sunrise for religious festivals.

Claims have been made thatprecession of the equinoxes was known in Ancient Egypt prior to the time of Hipparchus. This has been disputed however on the grounds that pre-Hipparchus texts do not mention precession and that "it is only by cunning interpretation of ancient myths and images, which are ostensibly about something else, that precession can be discerned in them, aided by some pretty esoteric numerological speculation involving the 72 years that mark one degree of shift in the zodiacal system and any number of permutations by multiplication, division, and addition."

Note however that the observation that a stellar alignment has grown wrong does not necessarily mean that the Egyptians understood or even cared what was going on. For instance, from the Middle Kingdom on they used a table with entries for each month to tell the time of night from the passing of constellations: these went in error after a few centuries because of their calendar and precession, but were copied (with scribal errors) for long after they lost their practical usefulness or possibly the understanding of them.

Nabta Playa

Egyptian astronomy begins in prehistoric times, in the Predynastic Period. In the 5th millennium BCE, the stone circles at Nabta Playa may have made use of astronomical alignments. By the time the historical Dynastic Period began in the 3rd millennium BCE, the 365 day period of the Egyptian calendar was already in use, and the observation of stars was important in determining the annual flooding of the Nile. The Egyptian pyramids were carefully aligned towards the pole star, and the temple of Amun-Re at Karnak was aligned on the rising of the midwinter sun. Astronomy played a considerable part in fixing the dates of religious festivals and determining the hours of the night, and temple astrologers were especially adept at watching the stars and observing the conjunctions, phases, and risings of the Sun, Moon and planets.

In Ptolemaic Egypt, the Egyptian tradition merged with Greek astronomy and Babylonian astronomy, with the city of Alexandria in Lower Egypt becoming the centre of scientific activity across the Hellenistic world. Roman Egypt produced the greatest astronomer of the era, Ptolemy (90-168 CE). His works on astronomy, including the Almagest, became the most influential books in the history of Western astronomy. Following the Muslim conquest of Egypt, the region came to be dominated by Arabic culture and Islamic astronomy.

The astronomer Ibn Yunus (c. 950-1009) observed the sun's position for many years using a large astrolabe, and his observations on eclipses were still used centuries later. In 1006, Ali ibn Ridwan observed the SN 1006, a supernova regarded as the brightest steller event in recorded history, and left the most detailed description of it. In the 14th century, Najm al-Din al-Misri wrote a treatise describing over 100 different types of scientific and astronomical instruments, many of which he invented himself.

In the 20th century, Farouk El-Baz from Egypt worked for NASA and was involved in the first Moon landings with the Apollo program, where he assisted in the planning of scientific explorations of the Moon.

Egyptian astronomy begins in prehistoric times. The presence of stone circles at Nabta Playa dating from the 5th millennium BCE show the importance of astronomy to the religious life of ancient Egypt even in the prehistoric period. The annual flooding of the Nile meant that the heliacal risings, or first visible appearances of stars at dawn, was of special interest in determining when this might occur, and it is no surprise that the 365 day period of the Egyptian calendar was already in use at the beginning of Egyptian history. The constellation system used among the Egyptians also appears to have been essentially of native origin.

The precise orientation of the Egyptian pyramids affords a lasting demonstration of the high degree of technical skill in watching the heavens attained in the 3rd millennium BCE. It has been shown the Pyramids were aligned towards the pole star, which, because of the precession of the equinoxes, was at that time Thuban, a faint star in the constellation of Draco. Evaluation of the site of the temple of Amun-Re at Karnak, taking into account the change over time of the obliquity of the ecliptic, has shown that the Great Temple was aligned on the rising of the midwinter sun. The length of the corridor down which sunlight would travel would have limited illumination at other times of the year.

Astronomy played a considerable part in religious matters for fixing the dates of festivals and determining the hours of the night. The titles of several temple books are preserved recording the movements and phases of the sun, moon and stars. The rising of Sirius (Egyptian: Sopdet, Greek: Sothis) at the beginning of the inundation was a particularly important point to fix in the yearly calendar.

From the tables of stars on the ceiling of the tombs of Rameses VI and Rameses IX it seems that for fixing the hours of the night a man seated on the ground faced the Astrologer in such a position that the line of observation of the pole star passed over the middle of his head. On the different days of the year each hour was determined by a fixed star culminating or nearly culminating in it, and the position of these stars at the time is given in the tables as in the centre, on the left eye, on the right shoulder, etc. According to the texts, in founding or rebuilding temples the north axis was determined by the same apparatus, and we may conclude that it was the usual one for astronomical observations. In careful hands it might give results of a high degree of accuracy.

Macrobius Ambrosius Theodosius (floruit AD 395-423) attributed the planetary theory where the Earth rotates on its axis and the interior planets Mercury and Venus revolve around the Sun which in turn revolves around the Earth, to the ancient Egyptians. He named it the "Egyptian System," and stated that "it did not escape the skill of the Egyptians," though there is no other evidence it was known in ancient Egypt.

Greco-Roman Egypt

The Astrologer's instruments (horologium and palm) are a plumb line and sighting instrument. They have been identified with two inscribed objects in the Berlin Museum a short handle from which a plumb line was hung, and a palm branch with a sight-slit in the broader end. The latter was held close to the eye, the former in the other hand, perhaps at arms length. The "Hermetic" books which Clement refers to are the Egyptian theological texts, which probably have nothing to do with Hellenistic Hermetism.

Following Alexander the Great's conquests and the foundation of Ptolemaic Egypt, the native Egyptian tradition of astronomy had merged with Greek astronomy as well as Babylonian astronomy. The city of Alexandria in Lower Egypt became the centre of scientific activity throughout the Hellenistic civilization.

The greatest Alexandrian astronomer of this era was the Greek, Eratosthenes (c. 276-195 BCE), who calculated the size of the Earth, providing an estimate for the circumference of the Earth.

Following the Roman conquest of Egypt, the region once again became the centre of scientific activity throughout the Roman Empire. The greatest astronomer of this era was the Hellenized Egyptian, Ptolemy (90-168 CE).

Originating from the Thebaid region of Upper Egypt, he worked at Alexandria and wrote works on astronomy including the Almagest, the Planetary Hypotheses, and the Tetrabiblos, as well as the Handy Tables, the Canobic Inscription, and other minor works. The Almagest is one of the most influential books in the history of Western astronomy. In this book, Ptolemy explained how to predict the behavior of the planets with the introduction of a new mathematical tool, the equant.

A few mathematicians of late Antiquity wrote commentaries on the Almagest, including Pappus of Alexandria as well as Theon of Alexandria and his daughter Hypatia. Ptolemaic astronomy became standard in medieval western European and Islamic astronomy until it was displaced by Maraghan, heliocentric and Tychonic systems by the 16th century.

Arabic-Islamic Egypt

Following the Muslim conquest of Egypt, the region came to be dominated by Arabic culture. It was ruled by the Rashidun, Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates up until the 10th century, when the Fatimids founded their own Caliphate centered around the city of Cairo in Egypt. The region once again became a centre of scientific activity, competing with Baghdad for intellectual dominance in the medieval Islamic world. By the 13th century, the city of Cairo eventually overtook Baghdad as the intellectual center of the Islamic world.

Ibn Yunus (c. 950-1009) observed more than 10,000 entries for the sun's position for many years using a large astrolabe with a diameter of nearly 1.4 meters. His observations on eclipses were still used centuries later in Simon Newcomb's investigations on the motion of the moon, while his other observations inspired Laplace's Obliquity of the Ecliptic and Inequalities of Jupiter and Saturn.

In 1006, Ali ibn Ridwan observed the supernova of 1006, regarded as the brightest stellar event in recorded history, and left the most detailed description of the temporary star. He says that the object was two to three times as large as the disc of Venus and about one-quarter the brightness of the Moon, and that the star was low on the southern horizon.

The astrolabic quadrant was invented in Egypt in the 11th century or 12th century, and later known in Europe as the "Quadrans Vetus" (Old Quadrant).

In 14th century Egypt, Najm al-Din al-Misri (c. 1325) wrote a treatise describing over 100 different types of scientific and astronomical instruments, many of which he invented himself.

In the 20th century, Farouk El-Baz from Egypt worked for NASA and was involved in the first Moon landings with the Apollo program, where he was secretary of the Landing Site Selection Committee, Principal Investigator of Visual Observations and Photography, chairman of the Astronaut Training Group, and assisted in the planning of scientific explorations of the Moon, including the selection of landing sites for the Apollo missions and the training of astronauts in lunar observations and photography.

Did the Ptolemaic Egyptians know how old the Pyramids were? - History

The mention of the word conjures up images of pyramids and temples, hieroglyphs and elaborately carved tombs, and the golden treasures of King Tutankhamun.

However, as we begin our story of Cairo, we see that the world of Ancient Egypt does not have a great impact on the Cairo area.

Though the Pyramids at Giza, Sakkara and Dahshur are located just outside of Cairo, these vast monuments were not temples visited by the living they were temples to the dead. They stood guard over vast "cities of the dead," or necropoles (singular: necropolis).

The pyramids at Giza are part of the largest remaining necropolis, which included funerary temples as well as the Sphinx. These structures were built by a chain of successive pharaohs in a line from grandfather to great-grandson.

The Cairo area was not deserted during the Ancient Egyptian period, however. Let us learn the story:

Legend has it that, from the time of creation, Egypt was divided into two vast kingdoms: Upper Egypt (which is in the south of the country) and Lower Egypt (which is the northern part of the country, including the Nile delta).

The 'small' pyramid of Menkaura (Mycerinus) and tributary pyramid

Why is "Upper Egypt" south and "Lower Egypt" north? Shouldn't it be the other way around?

The answer to this question is related to the Nile River. The Greek historian Herodotus once said that "Egypt is the gift of the Nile," a phrase which describes how much Egypt relied - and still relies - on the Nile. Since the days of the Pharaohs, the Nile has been the main source of Egypt's water for agriculture. The yearly flooding of the Nile was the most important factor in ensuring a good harvest. The Nile was also an important trade route - boat travel up and down the river was the easiest way to get people and things from one place to another very quickly.

Egyptian civilization developed along the river. The vast majority of the cities were located on the east side of the river, whereas the majority of the tombs were built on the west side of the river. The east side, where the sun rose, was associated with birth and life, while the west side, where the sun set, was associated with death. Because the Nile would flood every year, temples and palaces and most of the important constructions were built at the edge of the desert, so that they would remain dry during the flood. It was after the ancient period came to an end that the practice of building on the fertile land began. The ancient Egyptians considered it too precious to use for anything other than growing crops.

The Nile River is actually the result of the confluence of two tributaries: the Blue Nile, which has its source at Lake Tana in Ethiopia, and the White Nile, which has its source at Lake Victoria in southeastern Africa. The two tributaries join at Khartoum, in the Sudan, and from there the river flows from south to north until it reaches the Mediterranean Sea in northern Egypt. Ancient Egyptians who sailed the river did not have our concept of south and north. To them, the direction of the river's flow was the easiest means of orientation: hence, Lower Egypt is down river and Upper Egypt is upriver, even though Lower Egypt is north of Upper Egypt. Makes sense, right?

The ancient Egyptian legends speak of the first Pharaoh, named Menes, who unified Upper and Lower Egypt and established his capital at a place just a few miles to the southwest of modern Cairo. This site was chosen because Menes, not wanting to look like he was favoring Upper or Lower Egypt, decided to build the new capital on the border between the two. The city was called Men-nefer, or, as the Greeks later called it, Memphis.

Reconstructed ruins of the old Pharaonic capital of Memphis.

Ruined foundation of pharaonic-era building at Memphis

Modern village near the site of Memphis

The city of Memphis was one of the largest and most important cities in its day. Some archaeologists think that as many as 100,000 people may have lived in it at the height of its power, which lasted for almost one thousand years during the Old Kingdom period. During this time, the pharaohs erected monuments to themselves, starting at a site just to the west of Memphis. This place is called Sakkara, and the first pyramids ever built were constructed here.

Before the pharaohs began to construct pyramids as monuments, they were buried in long, low lying brick buildings called mastabas. In these mastabas, the pharaohs would prepare lavish tombs with all the possessions they would need for the afterlife. Legend says that the Old Kingdom Pharaoh Djoser, who ruled from about 2670-2650 B.C.E., did not think that the mastaba would be good enough to remind future generations of his brilliance and power. He wanted something bigger and better, and he called upon his royal court to think of something that would be more suitable for him.

The answer came from his royal vizier, or adviser, a man by the name of Imhotep. Imhotep had the idea to build one of these low mastabas, and then build no less than five more on top of it, each smaller than the one before, creating a staircase to the heavens. The result was the Step Pyramid, which so impressed Zoser that he issued a royal decree stating that Imhotep, upon his death, would be worshipped as a god.

The idea of the pyramid quickly caught on with the Old Kingdom Pharaohs, who followed Imhotep's original idea, but improved on it, removing the stair-step appearance and replacing it with a more smooth appearing edge. The most enthusiastic builder of all the Pharaohs was the Pharaoh Sneferu (2575-2551 B.C.E.), who had at least four pyramids built during his reign. In Sneferu's day, the engineers were still trying to figure out how to make a pyramid that would not fall over, and they were not always successful. At a place called Meidum, about 75 miles southwest of Cairo, one of Sneferu's pyramids collapsed. Another, at a site near Sakkara called Dahshur, began to sag during construction, so the workers quickly changed the angle of the edges, giving this pyramid a "bent" appearance, which gave it the name that it has to this day: "The Bent Pyramid."

It was Sneferu's son who started the most famous pyramid complex in the world. The Pharaoh Khufu (also called Cheops) selected an imposing site above a rough escarpment in the desert, where the Nile plain rises to meet the Sahara. The ancient name for this place is now lost, and the site is called by the name of the suburb of Cairo where the pyramids are located: Giza. When Khufu's pyramid was completed, it was simply the most exquisite, elegant and massive structure ever built. Over 2.5 million stone blocks, weighing 2.5 tons each, rise to a height of 450 feet above the desert floor, which had to be leveled to create a flat building surface. The sides angle inwards at a precise measurement for their entire length to a carefully centered point. The entire pyramid was covered in white limestone slabs so carefully fitted together that it appeared that the entire pyramid was one solid piece of stone. The limestone was so fine that the residents of medieval Cairo used it as building material for their lavish palaces, so that--of the three major pyramids at the site--only the limestone cap of the second great pyramid, that of Khufu's grandson Khafra, remains in place.

Left - right: The "second" pyramid of Khafra, the Sphinx of Djedef-ra, and the pyramid of Khufu.
To the right are the funerary temples that once met canals coming from the Nile.

It is believed that Khufu's son, Djedef-ra built the Sphinx, and Djedef-ra's son Khafra built the second pyramid, which is directly behind it. The third pyramid on the plateau, that of Khafre's son Menkaura, was covered in granite, which was a more expensive and harder-to-find material. Although the pyramid may appear less impressive due to its smaller size, the granite coating would have made a statement of wealth equal to that of the pyramids built by Menkaura's father and great-grandfather.

Who Really Built the Pyramids?

Ever since the day that the finishing touches were put on the Great Pyramid at Giza, there has been all sorts of speculation about who really built the pyramids, and how they were built. The ideas range from the possible (the pyramids were built by the Jewish slaves who were later freed by Moses in the story of the Exodus) to the really ridiculous (the pyramids were built by any or all of the following: the flying saucer people the inhabitants of the lost continent of Atlantis some previously unknown civilization that predated ancient Egypt by hundreds of thousands of years the Egyptians, but using the power of the Ark of the Covenant / the flying saucer people / the lost magic of the people of Atlantis).

The Greek historian Herodotus (who, though very prolific and well respected, was also wrong about a lot of things) was told on his visit to Egypt that it took 100,000 men working year round for twenty years to build his pyramid. He was also told that Khufu was a horrible tyrant who saw to it that these workers were subjected to the most horrible conditions: they were beaten, not fed well, and many of them died while working on the pyramids.

The real story, however, is probably a lot less interesting. Most modern archaeologists think that the real number of workers needed to build the pyramids was only around one third of the number given by Herodotus. Most of the laborers were farmers, who were recruited to work during the annual flooding of the Nile, when their fields were underwater. During that time, it would have been easy to send the large limestone blocks across the Nile from the quarries on the east bank all the way to the construction site on the west by barge. Demonstrations have shown that it takes only one six-man team to move blocks even bigger than those used in the construction of the pyramids using technology that the Egyptians had available to them. And, while the story that it was the Jewish slaves who built the pyramids seems plausible, the fact is that the pyramids were built about a thousand years too early for there to have been any Jews involved in the construction at all.

Over time, Memphis fell from prominence. As the dynasties progressed, new capitals were built, and though Memphis remained important as a trade center almost until the time of the birth of Christ, it never regained its prominence as a political center. The construction of pyramids was phased out in favor of vast temple complexes and tombs carved in the solid rock at a place called Thebes in Upper Egypt.

Egypt's political power weakened as well. In 1080 BCE, the priests who served the pharaoh seized power for themselves. They ruled badly, and their power weakened. Although the country was still technically united, most local rulers governed however they wanted and paid little attention to the pharaohs. The royal line changed two more times &ndash first in 950 BCE, and then in 720 BCE, when a group of Egyptianized Nubians, from modern-day Sudan, took over the country. Although the Nubians considered themselves Egyptian, the Egyptians considered them foreigners and continued to rebel against them throughout their short rule.

In 671 BCE, the Assyrians, a powerful and militaristic group from Mesopotamia, invaded Egypt. At first they tried to convince the Egyptian people to peacefully accept their rule, but when that failed to work they turned to destruction and oppression. The same thing happened to the Persians, who conquered in 525 BCE.

In 332 BCE, Greek forces led by Alexander the Great came to Egypt after a series of victories over Persia that had sent the Persians into a quick retreat back to Iran. The Egyptians, tired of Persian rule, welcomed the Greeks. Alexander set up a new government for Egypt, and a new capital city on the Mediterranean: Alexandria. Alexandria became a new center for learning and scholarship that further sent the settlements around Memphis into a decline.

Alexander's arrival brought an interesting new innovation: an alphabet. Until this time, the Egyptians had used a system of writing based on hieroglyphs. Hieroglyphs are a series of pictures, each of which has a particular meaning as well as a particular sound, and the Egyptians used thousands of different ones to write their language. The Greeks, by comparison, had just twenty four different symbols, each of which represented a specific sound, and could be easily combined to create words. The Greek alphabet was much easier to learn, since it could take many years to become a qualified scribe of hieroglyphs. Egyptian scribes adapted the Greek alphabet, adding seven more letters to represent sounds that did not exist in Greek. The result of this was a new alphabet that became known as Coptic. The language also became known as Coptic, and although it is no longer spoken, it is still used in Egyptian church services today.

After the fall of Alexander's empire, one of his generals, named Ptolemy, took control of Egypt. His dynasty was called the Ptolemaic dynasty. The Ptolemies governed Egypt independently, although Egypt became an ally of Rome. Alexander had built a great city on the sea called Alexandria, which became the center of Egyptian culture. The story of how Egypt lost its independence is legendary. The last Ptolemaic Pharaoh, Cleopatra VII, was able to govern the country independently, but found herself involved in a power struggle between the Roman general Marc Antony and the Roman Emperor, Ceasar Octavian. Octavian won, killing Marc Antony in battle, and then came to Egypt to take his revenge on Cleopatra for supporting his enemy. Rather than face Octavian, Cleopatra committed suicide, supposedly by allowing an asp to bite her.

After Cleopatra's death, Egypt became a Roman colony. As Rome declined, so did Egypt. Alexandria waned, and the city of Memphis was abandoned in favor of a nearby small fortress town called Per-hapi-on, which plays an important role in the next chapter of the story of Cairo.

All photographs copyright 1995 by Christopher Rose,
except panorama of Giza plateau, copyright 2005 by Christopher Rose.

Archaeologists To Ben Carson: Ancient Egyptians Wrote Down Why The Pyramids Were Built

Yesterday, November 4, marked 93 years to the day that the tomb of King Tutankhamen was opened in Egypt, revealing spectacular artifacts and a magnificent mummy of the boy king. The celebration was somewhat marred, at least here in the U.S., by a leading Republican candidate for president, former neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who confirmed a statement he'd made in 1998 -- that he believes the Egyptian pyramids were grain silos, not tombs.

The collective reaction from archaeologists and historians, who have command of literally centuries' worth of research into the artifacts and literature of the ancient Egyptians, is. Wait, what now?

Carson said in his 1998 talk at Andrews University, a Seventh-Day Adventist-affiliated university, "And when you look at the way that the pyramids were made, with many chambers that are hermetically sealed, they'd have to be that way for various reasons. And various of scientists [sic] have said, 'Well, you know there were alien beings that came down and they have special knowledge and that's how, you know, it doesn't require an alien being when God is with you.'"

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson gestures during a news conference during a campaign . [+] stop, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015, in Lakewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Just to be clear, no scientists think that aliens built the pyramids. There is a small but vocal contingent of people who believe in pseudoarchaeological explanations, but archaeologists have dismantled those harebrained theories at every possible turn. (See, for example, my piece, "What Archaeologists Really Think about Ancient Aliens, Lost Colonies, and Fingerprints of the Gods.") So while it may look good for Carson to deny alien involvement in pyramid building, he also attributes them to some dude who may or may not have existed rather than, well, the ancient Egyptians.

As a Seventh-Day Adventist, Carson appears to subscribe to the idea that the book of Genesis is literal history. And therefore that the Joseph of the Old Testament, who was sold into slavery in Egypt, built the pyramids to store grain during the seven years of abundance mentioned in Genesis. As Carson specifically said in the 1998 talk, "My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids in order to store grain."

My favorite tweet on this comes from ecologist Jacquelyn Gill:

Ben Carson thinks the pyramids were used to store grain, not buried rulers. 1) pyramids aren't hollow, and 2) ancient Egyptians could write.

— Jacquelyn Gill (@JacquelynGill) November 5, 2015

We know what the pyramids were built for because the ancient Egyptians tell us what they were built for (see, for example, the Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts). Denying ancient people the capability of building monumental structures is not new, though, and not confined to Egypt -- plenty of people over the years have denied that Native Americans could have built the massive earthwork mounds across the U.S. and that the Maya could have built their pyramids without help from aliens, Europeans, or a higher religious power.

It might be nice to think that Carson has learned since his talk, nearly two decades ago, more about the ancient Egyptian civilization. But no Carson affirmed this belief in Joseph and his amazing technicolor grain silo to CBS News last night, doubling down on a profound, willful ignorance of science.

In the end, does it really matter what Carson thinks about the Egyptian pyramids? There will always be science deniers, there will always be people swayed by pseudoarchaeology, and there will always be people who believe what they want no matter the facts. It does matter, though, because Carson is vying for the job of representing the United States. So it matters that Carson casually rejects hundreds of years' worth of research because in denying science, he throws the U.S. back into the past. It matters that he brazenly denies the Egyptian people their rightful history because this marginalizes an entire culture and makes the U.S. look like an ignorant bully.

Aside from the massive, collective sigh that has gone out among my colleagues' Facebook and Twitter feeds over the Carson brouhaha, there have also been links shared to honor the history of the Egyptian people, my favorite of which is this series of color photos of the discovery of the tomb of King Tut in 1922. There's no denying that humans are -- and have always been -- very clever at using and creating their environment and culture. So let's stop pretending more complicated explanations are needed for the creation of ancient monuments.

[Update: 11/6 - Since many commenters have asked for more specific explanations of the consensus on the purpose for the pyramids, I am going to post some links here. Science Alert - Here's How Scientists Know The Pyramids Were Built to Store Pharaohs, Not Grain. AP/Yahoo News - Experts Dismiss Carson's Belief Pyramids Used to Store Grain. Jason Colavito - The Long, Strange History of the Pyramids as the Granaries of Joseph]


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