This is a recent article contemplating the ancient repairs that have been carried out to the Bent (Vega) Pyramid. When and by whom were these repairs carried out and what can this tell us of this pyramid's history.
There has been much debate of late as to the true age of the pyramids. Perhaps we have all heard about the discussions and arguments that have erupted in books and on the internet regarding the era in which the Sphinx at Giza was constructed. John Anthony West and Robert Schoch have made a veritable industry out of speculation regarding the amount of weathering that is present on the Sphinx itself and its enclosure, and how the era of its construction can be gauged by this observation. It is an interesting discussion and one that apparently has much life left in it - I am sure it will run and run. But erosion of the Sphinx is only one small aspect of the evidence available when assessing the age of the pyramids, there are plenty of other examples of erosion that also point towards an earlier date for the pyramid's construction. Personally, I think that many of the early dynastic monuments in Egypt have a tale to tell in the weathering patterns that scour their fabric, and in the book "Thoth, Architect of the Universe" I try to explore many of these telltale features. So let us indulge ourselves in a quick tour of Lower Egypt and see what evidence is there to support the concept of a very early construction date for the pyramids.
The first example of pyramid erosion that I want to look at lies a little south of the Dahshur pyramids - at Meidum. The pyramid at Meidum is the one that looks as though it has collapsed and the prime clue to the true age of this pyramid can be derived from those very upper pyramidal cladding stones that are now missing from this pyramid - what exactly happened to them? Various authors have argued that these upper cladding stones, the remaining lower portions of which are still apparent under the piles of rubble around the pyramid, have either been stolen in subsequent eras or they have collapsed in a kind of pyramidal avalanche. But perhaps this was not actually the case. From a later excavation of the rubble surrounding the pyramid in the early 1990s, it was quite apparent that the pyramid had simply been eroded away by the weather, like so many of the less well-made pyramids in the area. Unfortunately for the builders, while the central core of the pyramid was made of a fairly durable limestone, the attempt to turn the edifice into a true pyramid used a very weak and friable stone. This stone has proved about as durable as mud-brick and although initially quite solid looking, the blocks that have been exposed to the elements are extremely fragile.
The fact that the pyramid has eroded and not collapsed, can be clearly seen in the rubble around the pyramid, which consists of layer upon layer of small stones. These stones form the type of strata that are always associated with eroded and deposited materials. It can also be seen that, where the rubble has protected the base of the pyramid, the cladding stones there survive intact. But higher courses, which were exposed to the elements for a longer period, have been successively eroded more and more, until at about six meters up there is complete erosion.
Clearly this is due to exposure to the elements with the stones at the lowest levels, which were first covered with rubble descending from above, being preserved the most. Yet one still wonders how long it takes to erode a complete pyramid, even if the stone was a little friable, for in places some ten meters of stone have eroded away at Meidum. The current shape of the pyramid, results from the fact that the upper flat section at the top of the rubble marks the start of another step of harder limestone just under the surface; the present layout is therefore quite stable and may not have changed for some considerable time. Is is possible, however, that so much of a solid stone construction was eroded in just under 5,000 years? Personally, I think not, and the supporting evidence I was looking for became apparent while strolling around the Giza pyramids.
I was trying to explain some of the technical details of the pyramids to my wife and it is one of those facts of life that one never really knows a subject until it has been successfully explained to a novice. The novice does not always understand the first time and so the topic has to be explained again from another perspective. Then, just when you think that there is no more to say on the subject, the novice hits you with a question that you were neither expecting nor can easily explain. The thick limestone paving slabs upon which the pyramids were constructed comes right into that category. My wife asked, 'Why is there a line running down this pavement?'
The initial answer to this was easy for, when fully finished, the casing blocks of each of the pyramids invariably stopped short of the pavement edge, such that one particular pavement slab was partly covered by the casing and also partly exposed to the elements. The exposed portion of this slab was therefore beginning to erode over the years, slowly but surely, more and more as the years went by, as exposure to weather and the feet of millions of pilgrims took its toll. But the stone masons were normally wise in their choice of stone and the amount of weathering is minimal in comparison to what we find at Meidum. As we can see from the remaining cladding stones that still cover the Bent Pyramid and the upper portions of the Khafre Pyramid, in the sub-desert climate, good quality stone usually weathers quite slowly.
Fig. 1a Pavement covered. Fig. 1b Pavement exposed
Then, after many millennia, someone came along and started pilfering the cladding stones from the pyramids, something that is usually ascribed to the eighth or ninth century AD. From this time onwards, the whole of the paving slab was now exposed to the elements and started to weather, hence a line was formed in the paving stones between the two periods of weathering. But there was a curious anomaly here that made me sit and think for a while.
When looking at both the Dahshur and the Giza pyramids, there would appear to be a large differential between the pavement that has been covered for a while and the portion that has always been exposed. This is true within one single slab of stone, this is not a case of dissimilar stone strengths. Then there was a little pause in the discussion, for it was obvious now that this little line in the pavement could now be used to date the pyramids, but what would it tell us?
With ruler in hand, I tried to estimate the extent of the erosion, using the base of the remaining facing blocks as a guide to the original surface of the pavement. It was not the most precise of experiments, given the tools at my disposal, but luckily the amount of erosion was easily visible. At Dahshur the amount of erosion on the covered half of the slab was approximately five millimeters, the sort of erosion one might expect in such a climate over 1,000 years of weathering, yet on the exposed portion of the stone there was about 50 mm of erosion. At Giza the differential was even greater. The amount of erosion on the covered portion of the stone was again about five millimeters, and the exposed had between 50 mm and a massive 200 mm of erosion.
In general, it would appear that there was a minimum of ten times as much erosion on the exposed section of each block as on the portion that had been covered with the cladding stones, and this would give us a direct indication of the true age of these pyramids. If a constant erosion rate is presumed and if the time elapsed since the cladding was stolen is about 1,000 years, then the time required for the erosion of the exposed sections of each slab would equate to about 10,000 years and quite possibly much much longer.
Remember that this is true within a single slab of stone, it is not a case of dissimilar stone strengths. Indeed, some of the softer slabs in the pavement have been eroded more than usual on both the covered and the exposed sections, and this weathering is in direct proportion on both sides of the divide. This would seem to indicate that this erosion process is a valid tool for dating the pyramids, for each stone tells the same history, no matter how hard or soft it is. While a 10,000-year history for the pyramids agrees quite well with John West's Sphinx argument, it conflicts strongly once more with the traditional history of the region. Nevertheless, this era is in agreement some more interesting and quite persuasive evidence that lies a little south of Giza - it has been carved into the fabric of the Dahshur pyramids.
Passing through the small military area and onto the Dahshur plateau, the vast bulk of the Red pyramid (Draco pyramid in the book "Thoth") lies before you. The casing blocks have, of course, been removed and what is visible are the rough-hewn sandstone core blocks. The sandstone is relatively friable, but its high iron-stone content seems to form a tough oxidised ruddy layer on the surface of the blocks, hence the usual appellation for this pyramid.
That most of the pyramids are in this parlous state is a great shame, we would know so much more of the era and methods for their construction if they were still in pristine condition. But there is a pyramid that can give us some clues here, take a look around the corner of the Draco pyramid and the curious form of the Bent pyramid looms into view (Vega pyramid in "Thoth", each being named after the stellar location they represent). Firstly, it is my contention that the Vega pyramid was not hastily finished off, it was deliberately made in this fashion with a bent upper portion. For if you extend the line of the upper outer casing down to the ground, the shape, size and volume so created is exactly the same as its northern partner, the Draco pyramid. This shape is also directly formed from the Pythagorean 20-21-29 triangle, with cubit measurements of 200, 210 and 290 forming the sides of the pyramid - a sure indication that the designer knew what he/she was doing.
More importantly, though, the Vega pyramid retains much of its outer casing, which forms an impressively smooth, straight surface all the way to the top of the construction. Approaching the base of the pyramid, the fine workmanship of the massive casing blocks is easy to see. Other items are not so obvious - the core of this pyramid, despite being right next to the Draco pyramid, is made from a different material; rough limestone instead of sandstone blocks, with a mud mortar in between form the basic shape. For the casing blocks, however, the mortar is replaced by a fine pink mastic, apparently so strong that many of the casing blocks have split into two before the mortar itself gave way.
But this is not all, the basis of this new evidence for the age of the pyramids is another curious feature - the surface of the stones. At some time in the long history of these pyramids, a long forgotten pharaoh looked at the Vega pyramid and said to his chief of public works "We must do something about the condition of this pyramid!" The chief acted immediately on these orders and started erecting scaffolding all over the four faces of the pyramid. This was no mean feat, for wood is not a readily available commodity in Egypt and convoy after convoy of Lebanese cedar had to be brought in to provide the working materials. Slowly but surely a great lattice work of poles covered the entire face of the pyramid - right to its very apex.
A team of several thousand artisans, some skilled, some not quite so, started chipping away at the casing blocks. Stone is not a uniform material, of course, and small fault-lines, cracks, and shoals (sand inclusions) within the limestone blocks each weather at a different rate. Over the years the Vega pyramid had become pockmarked with thousands of small patches of erosion in the casing blocks. Some were minuscule, only a few centimeters across, some required the removal of the face of an entire stone (not the entire stone as the casing blocks are some 2m thick, only the outer face was taken away and replaced). Each and every defect was chipped smooth and a new piece of limestone was neatly placed in the hole and smoothed down to a perfect surface. The pyramid then began to look like it had acne, with the fresh white of the repair blocks contrasting strongly with the older surface. So the entire face of the pyramid was scrubbed clean of the sandy coloured patina that had developed over the years, to display the brilliant white Tura limestone casing as it was in its new condition. Pharaoh looked at his achievement with pride - the pyramids were as new again, sparkling in the ruby glow of a bloated setting sun. He truly must be one of the greatest of pharaohs to have achieved such a feat and the gods must have been pleased. As a record of his great achievement the pharaoh dared the almost sacrilegious, he carved his cartouche in the lower casing blocks to the pyramid and within the mortuary temple.
The description above is of my own invention, but the fact that something very like this has occurred in the distant past is self-evident by the thousands and thousands of little repairs that have been made all over the Vega pyramid, from the bottom to the very top. The question is, though, who made them? The records not only fail to mention the actual construction of these pyramids, they also fail to mention the repairs that were made to them. It has to be pointed out that the repairs are not due to manufacturing errors, as the face of the pyramid that was protected by the adjacent mortuary temple has no repairs on its surface. Clearly the repairs were made to a surface that had been eroded over many millennia, but when was this done?
Personally I think that if such a feat were achieved in the relatively well documented New-Kingdom era onwards (c 1500 BC), we would have heard about it. There are records that document the repairs made to the Sphinx by Tuthmoses IV during the New Kingdom era, yet the surface repairs to the Dahshur pyramids was a far greater undertaking than this. This tends to indicate that the repair-work was actually completed in the ancient past - earlier than the New Kingdom. Remember that the present condition of the pyramids is due to their deliberate destruction in relatively recent history, had this not taken place the major pyramids at Giza and Dahshur would have been in good condition to this day. So if these pyramids have lasted so well in the 3500 years since the New Kingdom and not needed much in the way of repairs, as the evidence from the Vega and Khafre pyramids indicates - why did these pyramids need repairing so quickly after their supposed construction by Snorferu in the 4th dynasty (c 2600 BC).
There is a deep conundrum here that is presented by something as mundane as an inserted repair block, just when was this major feat of repair work carried out? As the Vega pyramid appears to have lasted for the last 3500 years without any repairs, my solution is simple, if rather unorthodox - the Vega (Bent) pyramid must be much greater than 3,500 years old. In fact the evidence from the current state of the Vega pyramid points towards it requiring another surface repair in the not too distant future, which would tend to suggest that the surface has survived for just over double this 3,500 year time-period. Thus if the repairs we see today were carried out some 3,500 years ago, then a sensible argument is that the pyramid would have been constructed some 7,000 years ago.
As has been speculated in many previous works, including my own book "Thoth, Architect of the Universe", this simple observation seems to indicate once more that these high quality pyramids (those at Dahshur and Giza) were actually built in the distant past. To refine this date further, though, all we require is the date of the repair work. Can such a date be found in the records?
Egyptology has attributed the Dahshur pyramids of Vega and Draco to the pharaoh Snorferu and they indicate that he built both of these plus the pyramid at Meidum, all in the space of some 25 years. But not only does this seem illogical and physically impossible, the pyramids themselves have no inscriptions within them to confirm this proposal - just a few cartouches on the outer casing and in the mortuary temple. A much simpler solution, that will help considerably with the dating process above, is that Snorferu is intimately associated with these three pyramids not because he built them all, but because he REPAIRED them all. If one is prepared to accept this, then these pyramids have apparently lasted some 4,600 years without further repairs to their fabric and therefore the actual construction era for these particular pyramids must have been many thousands of years BEFORE the reign of Snorferu.
Once more the true age of the pyramid depends on how many years passed before it was decided that repairs were necessary to the casing blocks. We can now speculate that the repairs we can see seem to have lasted the last 4,600 years without further attention; thus it would be sensible to assume that 4,600 years would be the minimum time required before the pyramid began to look shabby and the first repairs were made. If this is so, then the minimum age for the pyramid is some 9,200 years ago. The extent of the repairs, however, indicate that much more time passed before the first repairs were made. If the time period to the first reapairs were double the 4,600 years, then the construction of this pyramid would have been 13,800 years ago.
Such a scenario may be based on an amount of guesswork, but it does make a great deal of sense and the underlying evidence is irrefutable. Taken together with the data from Meidum, Giza and at the Sphinx - does this not all tend to reinforce the evidence that is emerging that these pyramids are indeed much older than we have traditionally been taught? The weight of evidence appears to be mounting relentlessly, the pyramids would seem to be as much as double or treble the orthodox age, it is no wonder the orthodoxy would resist such an interpretation of the facts.
l© 1998, 1999 by R. Ellis
R. Ellis has asserted his rights, in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.