"Fringe" Egyptology

An article in the latest Skeptical Enquirer, http://www.csicop.org/si/9909/fox.html , talked about the pseudoscience-laden Fox TV special Opening the Lost Tombs: Live From Egypt. It aired some months ago, and Fox had the gall to report on some of its wackier claims as “news”.

This reminded me of something that disturbed me last June. My brother played a videocassete of the Fox Live-From-Egypt special for me, after commenting that we don’t know for sure that there wasn’t some ancient Atlantis-like civilization that got wiped out and that mainstream Eqyptologists poo-poo the fringe theories out of hand because they’re afraid of having their own pet mainstream theories dethroned.

My brother is normally a very rational person. He’s rejected any and all religious trappings. He thinks Scientology is a cult scam, and even uses several of L. Ron Hubbard’s lesser-known books to debunk it. He rejected our father’s belief in Wilhelm Reich’s Orgone Energy (partly, but not completely, because the therapist our dad made us go to was a jerk).

And yet, he accepts the rantings and ravings of people like Richard Hoagland at face value! (No pun intended.) So long as the “alternative” Egyptologists whine about how the mainstream archaeologists are suppressing their work, he sits up and listens to their fantastic tales with rapt interest.

Are there any good books or (preferably) webpages out there that do more than just “poo-poo the frunge theories out of hand” and actually address the evidence against each one? (Such as, the theory that the erosion on the Sphinx could “only” have been caused by floods?)

Quick-N-Dirty Aviation: Trading altitude for airspeed since 1992.

Go to dejanews.com, and search for ‘Sphynx Erosion’. There have been dozens of threads about this in alt.archaeology and sci.archaology, and along in there was a reference to a very good website that debunks the water erosion theory. There is another common form of erosion for that type of material that shows results exactly like those on the sphynx.

I think a lot of otherwise skeptical people are drawn in by the Egypt theories because to them the new theories don’t seem all that outlandish, and because we are still discovering new things about ancient Egypt all the time. And, there are lots of modern archaological digs that have discovered cities or other artifacts that were previously thought to be mythical. So it’s not beyond credibility that there are some fairly significant things about Egypt that we still don’t understand.

Unfortunately, this says nothing about the current crackpot theory that the Sphynx is 12,000 years old, etc. The guys doing the ‘research’ into this (mainly Bauval and Hancock) are using terribly bad science, playing games with numerology, and making wild leaps of association. If you listen to what they have to say, alarm bells should go off because they use a lot of typical crackpot arguments, and because they publish their material in the popular press and bypass peer reviewed journals.

OK, I saw something on this a couple of years ago. The gist of the program was that the “rock” out of which the sphinx arises has actually been sculpted multiple times over thousands of years with various modifications.

Were these the same people who also said that it was first carved 12,000 years ago? The alleged ancient age of the “first cut” notwithstanding, is it implausible to believe that it might have undergone a number of modifications over time?

You want fringe Egyptology? I had to room for two months in the barracks here with a nutcase who chanted a good portion of the “Book of the Dead” every freaking night!

I do remember seeing something on television about the sphinx, that it predated the civilization that built the pyramids. The evidence for it was:

  1. The Sphinx is out of alignment with the pyramids, presumably because of a small shift in the earth’s position with respect to the stars over time.

  2. There is erosion on the sphinx which resembles water erosion more than sand erosion, suggesting that it was built when a rainy climate dominated the area.

So, is this bunk or what?

It’s probably bunk. Certainly the science in the show was very bad. And there are other types of erosion that can cause this effect. For example, salt exfoliation.

The original weathering argument came from a Geologist named Shoch. He published a paper in which he claimed that the weathering patterns on the Sphynx are consistent with water-induced erosion. Which is true. He also points out that the last wet period in Egypt was 7000 years ago, which is true. Conventional theory places the age of the Sphynx at about 4500 years. If it really is 7000 years old, then much of the Egyptian historical chronology we have come to accept is wrong.

So here is the problem for scientists - we have a huge collection of corroborating data which places the age of the sphynx at 4500 years. And we have one rogue piece of data indicating it is much older. When that happens in science, the first thing you do is re-examine the data which doesn’t match to see if any other theories could explain the result. In this case, there are several. Salt exfoliation is a type of erosion where salt particles in the rock absorb moisture when dew forms (or just from relatively high humidity), go into solution, then re-crystallize. The forces on the rock from this process are similar to what happens when water flows into cracks and freezes. Apparently, this type of breakdown can cause a profile almost exactly like that seen on the Sphynx.

Another type of erosion that can account for the shape on the Sphynx is sand flow, which operates pretty much like water flow.

An argument against the ‘water erosion’ theory is that it would have stopped 7000 years ago, and the normal desert-condition erosion since should have obliterated it or at least marred it. It didn’t, so you have to believe that it’s a fairly modern mechanism causing those patterns.

Finally, Bauval and Hancock took Shoch’s water erosion theory and used it to claim that the Sphynx was 12,000 years old to match up with their ‘Orion’ theory. Shoch himself doesn’t buy that. That’s just one example of the ‘junk science’ that B and H are using.

What is the deal with the Orion theory? I remember seeing a PBS or Discovery channel program where they talked about how the three great pyramids appeared to have the same alignment as the three belt stars of the Orion constallation - only precessed 10,000 or so years back.

It sounded really cool, which is mostly why I’m trying to be skeptical. It’s never that cool.

Any two objects on the ground can always be claimed to “match” the pattern of any two stars in the sky. Two points always form a straight line. The only significant thing with the Giza pyramids is that, when the third pyramid is added to the mix, its position relative to the first two looks remarkably like the position of the 3rd star in Orion’s belt relative to the first two. (Or at least, relative to the first two belt stars 10,000 years ago.)

If you allow the stars in the sky to be precessed backward or forward any number of years, there are probably even more coincidences. I wouldn’t be surprised if the pyramids matched the arrangement of the stars in the Big Dipper’s handle, say, 10,000 years from now.

Quick-N-Dirty Aviation: Trading altitude for airspeed since 1992.

Archaeology seems to have the ability to attract fringe theories, more than other scientific fields. For one thing somebody on the fringe will say that the Pyramids or Easter Island is evidence of being visited by aliens in the past. A real archaeologist will say that there is no proof to support. The argument goes back and forth…does a lack of evidence mean that something didn’t happen? Of course not. That is the feelings of the “researchers” on the fringe. They will however, tend to overlook overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Graham Hancock is not much more than a modern day Erich Von Daniken. Lots of fanciful claims with no substantial evidence to back it up. For example, in “Fingerprint of the Gods” he keeps talking about all the evidence of an ancient civilization that predates the Egyptians and Sumerians and Indus Valley civilizations. But he offers none of this proof. Not one pot sherd, not one stone tool, nothing.

That’s because this pre-civilization civilization didn’t USE pottery or stone tools, obviously. They all used super-advanced bio-engineered computer chips that could turn matter directly into energy, which bio-degrade into dirt after 5 years of disuse. And you can’t prove me wrong! :slight_smile:

The Sphinx age thing is really sort of goofy: The entire thing is carved out of a knoll which was left in place while the builders of the pyramids there quarried out around it for rock to use in building them. So all that weathering on the lower portion must postdate Khefren’s pyramid at least (of course which we have recorded historical dates for-- this stuff is NOT mysterious). The Sphinx is not built ‘up’, it’s carved out. The whole “mystery” of how they transported the stone is also nuts-- The quarry is right there, so they didn’t have to bring rock from anywhere. These guys capitalize on people who are lacking some information, telling them that this is all unexplained, but damnit, it is. Ugh.

I really liked that episode of Nova some years ago titled “This Old Pyramid.” They got a professional stoneworker to come out to the Giza Plateau and build a small pyramid of his own, using only the tools available to the Egyptians at the time of Khufu.

And simply because he was actually doing it, he single-handedly came up with an inexpensive way to transport stone blocks up to the pyramid’s upper levels, which none of the other Egyptologists there had thought of! (Or at least, that’s how Nova had made it look.)

Quick-N-Dirty Aviation: Trading altitude for airspeed since 1992.

Note: What I am about to say is what I heard on a show about the Pyramids.

On that show where they superimposed a picture of the pyramids over a picture of orions belt and it seemed to match up. The third and slightly off center pyramid is just slightly smaller around it’s base than the other two pyramids are. Also, the third, off center star in the belt of orion is less brighter than the other two.

There also are these odd tunnels in the walls of the pyramid that lead to the outside, but were originally closed off (the openings inside the sarcophagus room were chiseled open when Napoleon was in Egypt i hear).On that show, they showed a computer graphic of the pyramid, cut down the middle with the tunnels ‘exposed’. They then moved the sky back to it’s position when the pyramids were built, and the tunnels (the main one) pointed right at Sirius.

I wouldn’t find it odd that the Egyptians did all of that to simulate orion’s belt. I hear that they thought Orion was Osiris, and Sirius was Isis. I heard that they also believed that when a king died, his soul became a star in the heavens, and the tunnels in the pyramid were to ‘launch’ him into the sky.

“When there is something to be done, an engineer will find a way to do it.”
– the (sadly late, and sorely missed) G. Harry Stine

Ok, I know I’m gona take some heat for this, but I’m going to stand up and say a word about our view of “history”

I’ve read most of the fringe theories about Egypt and the Maya and how they were too advance to have built the things they built.
They’re kinda interesting, and they allow us to look outside of “known” facts.

I think that sometimes, archaeologist tend to start with one fact, and do a lot of supposition(sp?) from that point.
Sort of like saying “this branch looks like it tied to a rock, so they must have had an understanding of tools, so they must have made wepons, then they made war, then they killed themselves off, and that’s why they’re not here anymore”…an extreme example, but it gives you the idea.

I first started thinking this way when I was preparing a term paper on the Ironclad Warships of the civil war period. I had been taught previously, that the famouse battle was between the Moniter and the Merrimack, the Monitor designed be Mr. Erikkson(sp?)for the North and the Merrimack built by the South(don’t remember the guy’s name right now). However, as I researched this paper, I found out that the actual name of the Merrimack was the CSS Virginia. Because the ironclad ship had been built on top of the sunken hull of a Northern ship called the Merrimack, that’s what the north refered to it as when the history book were written. It didn’t matter that it had been almost totally re-built and re-christened by the South, it was their ship, they won the war, they’d call it by it’s right name.

Now this was only about 130 years ago, and there is confliction in our own history, how much more might the actual history of 3000 years ago differ from what we suppose it is?

I’m not supporting the alien theory, or the Atlantis theory, but I do think that we make a lot of assumptions that may not be correct, and we should be open to other opinions.

“Some drink at the fountain of knowledge…others just gargle.”


No one is arguing that historians are perfect–the vast majority of history is lost, and will be lost forever, and much is open to interpretation. Only the smallest facts of history are definite: “313–Battle of Malvern Bridge”. The bigger picture–how we put these little facts together and how we fill in the missing pieces-- is interpretation, and refining that interpretaion is what historians DO.

The reason fringe Mayanists/Eygptologists are irritaing is because they state (usually bluntly) that historians have accepted one view and are just to stubborn to change thier it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Historians refine and sometimes radically shift thier viewpoint all the time as new evidence is uncovered or new interpretations just occur.

In the last 25 years alone I can think of several major reinterpretations of history:
Peter Brown shifted our way of thinking about the fall of Rome–We now rarely think of it as a fall at all.
Susan Renolds has called the whole idea of Manorialism into question.
The Mayan writting system has been deciphered, and or view of the Maya has changed completly.

History is very amieniable to new ideas–Historians are iconoclasts. In fact, the only thing I know of that makes Historians sometimes act conservativly is when there is some fringe group that they have to try and distance themselves from.

By the way, the whole Monitor thing wpud not be considered an error by most historians, but rather a convention. All the Roman Emporers were called “Ceasar” We call them by thier secondary names–Nero, Caligula, etc., to avoid confusion. Furthermore, you found out the truth by going to a history book, no? So it was your textbook, not historians, that skimmed over the details.

There are lots of accepted historical theories that were ‘fringe’ at one time. As the message above said, historians are more than willing to listen to new evidence.

The problem with many of the ‘fringe’ theories that we are talking about here is not that they are on the fringe, but that they use bad science. Like the “Bible Code” and other popular theories, they often sound good to lay people, but people with training can see simple faults that make the theory untenable.

One of the problems for Hancock’s theory is that there is simply zero evidence for a civilization that existed 12,000 years ago. There have been no artifacts uncovered in that area that dated to anywhere near that time. In geologic terms, 12,000 years isn’t that long a time. If there was a significant civilization then (especially one that built large rock structures like the Sphynx), there should be some evidence. There isn’t.

This doesn’t prove anything, but it makes scientists suspicious. So then they look at the methodology used. They examine the evidence for ‘water erosion’, which is really the only thing that would date the Sphynx to that time, and find all kinds of problems with it. They also find several alternative explanations equally probable that date the Sphynx to the accepted historical date. File the theory away under ‘interesting, but inconclusive’, and continue doing other science. Now the original fringe theorist gets his panties in a bunch because the scientific world didn’t bow down at his feet, and starts scouring the earth for more ‘evidence’, using extremely bad science. Go to a Mayan city, and start measuring distances between a Pyramid and every structure you can find. Ooh, here’s one that’s close to a distance he found in a similar way in Egypt! More Proof! Now reporters (who have no scientific training) get interested, and TV specials are produced. Now in the limelight, and with a travel budget, this guy really goes to town. Now he’s in Angkor Wat, counting the steps to various objects. Here’s one that matches the number of rocks on the side of the Pyramid! More proof. Everyone’s excited. Whee.

About this time, some statistician looks at the data and figures there’s about a 90% chance that those numbers are just random, and the fringe guy was ‘data mining’ by sifting through mounds of numbers until he found the ones he wants. But man, is that information boring. Let’s leave it out of the TV special. After all, it’s not proof that the fringe guy is wrong, is it?

This goes on, and on, and on… I remember Hancock making some impressive-sounding pronouncement about how an empty Sarcophagus in the King’s Pyramid was EXACTLY twice as long as it was wide, which we now know is an important ratio but the Egyptians didn’t! More proof! I almost puked my Shreddies at that one.

Hancock is a great showman. He sounds respectable, has that educated British accent, and knows where the line is before even the public won’t buy what he’s saying. He may even believe this stuff himself, because it’s hard to be objective about a piece of ‘evidence’ after you’ve travelled 12,000 miles to find it.

Doobieous wrote:

Except that the wacko fringe theory is that the pyramids match the position of Orion’s belt stats 10,000 years ago, while the main tunnel matches the position of Sirius 5000 years ago.

Quick-N-Dirty Aviation: Trading altitude for airspeed since 1992.

Er, Orion’s belt STARS. Not stats.