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It is in Egypt that Graham Hancock’s search for his ‘lost civilisation’ begins, with his support for a controversial attempt to redate the Great Sphinx of Giza. Boston geologist weathering on the Sphinx was to become a major element in its redating, as he identified the main factor in the considerable weathering over most of the body as precipitation. Given that the rainfall of Egypt has remained at a low (if variable) level in historic times, Schoch suggested that the weathering ought to have occurred at a date considerably earlier than the conventional date of the monument, c 2530 BCE. Schoch’s preferred date was the Neolithic Subpluvial of 7000-5000 BCE for the weathering, meaning that the Sphinx would have to be at least 2,500 years older than conventional Egyptologists believe.

The Great Sphinx of Giza in 1988

The Great Sphinx of Giza in 1988

However, Hancock would like to push the date back yet further and he does so via a few poorly disguised falsifications. He claims that the Sphinx is a symbol of Leo and that, because it is facing precisely due east, it was designed to face the rising sun when it was in the constellation of Leo at the vernal equinox. He does not explain why this should be the case and presents no evidence to show that the Egyptians ever regarded the Great Sphinx as a symbol of the constellation Leo (indeed, he fails to demonstrate that they even recognised a constellation the same as Leo). However, according to Hancock, the sun rose in Leo at the vernal equinox between 10,970 and 8830 BCE.

Hancock also believes that the three principal pyramids at Giza were built to represent the stars of Orion’s belt. The belt of Orion also reached its lowest point in the sky during this time, although Hancock fails to explain why this might be considered important. By combining these two elements of astronomical non-data he dates the layout of the whole complex to c 10,450 BCE. This is fully eight thousand years older than the conventional dating. It is worth noting, incidentally, that by this point, the three principal pyramids of the Giza plateau – those of Khufu, Kha‘efrē‘ and Menkaurē‘ (Cheops, Chephren and Mycerinus in their Latinised Greek forms) – have also been redated to this remote period.

The Valley Temple that occupies a site immediately south of the Sphinx is next drawn into the argument. Hancock points to the stark simplicity of the temple, with its square sectioned columns, lack of inscriptions or reliefs and its construction techniques and suggests that it cannot be contemporary with the certainly Fourth Dynasty mastaba tombs scattered across the plateau. These tombs show greater architectural elaboration and were profusely decorated. In his view, the Valley Temple must be immeasurably older and therefore contemporary with his redated Sphinx. He does not justify his equation of ‘simple’ decoration with an earlier date and he ignores the evidence of archaeological dating.

To the rear of the New Kingdom temple at Abydos is a structure that Hancock has compared with Kha‘efrē‘’s Valley Temple at Giza (due to some architectural similarities). The Osireion – Shrine of Osiris – has square sectioned pillars devoid of bas reliefs and hieroglyphic inscriptions, like the Valley Temple, to be sure, but it does have inscriptions on walls and lintels that name Seti I (Pharaoh c 1290-1279 BCE), who is known to have been the founder of the main temple at Abydos. Hancock prefers to regard these inscriptions as later impositions – not an impossible hypothesis. However, he goes far beyond what can be deduced by ordinary archaeological means and assumes (for the consistency of his unique chronology) the temple to be earlier than known Egyptian civilisation.

Problems with the early dating

Around 10,450 BCE, when Hancock proposes that the Great Sphinx (and, by implication, the Valley Temple of Kha‘efrē‘’s pyramid and the Osireion at Abydos were built) the Western Desert was still in its period of greatest aridity. Even in the Nile valley, rainfall was minimal. This would have made life difficult for humans. During what is known as the Late Palaeolithic Alluviation, beginning before 20,000 BP and lasting until about 10,500 BCE, the Nile brought less water than today. This was caused by two main factors: firstly, the world-wide dryness caused by the ‘locking up’ of water in the huge ice caps of the Pleistocene glaciation and secondly, because the White Nile did not drain into the Nile valley at this time, its northward path blocked by sand dunes in the Sudd. At the same time, the slower river carried more sediment, which built up the floodplain until it was some 25-30 m higher than today. The river was sluggish and would have flowed in numerous braided channels. As the ice caps shrank after c 10,500 BC, an increase in rainfall at the headwaters of the Blue Nile in East Africa, combined with the White Nile breaking through the dunes in the Sudd, led to a brief period of exceptionally high floods, known to geologists as the ‘Wild Nile’. This increased flow, probably starting c 10,000 BCE, eroded the sediments that had accumulated during the previous eight thousand years. Within a few centuries, the Nile had become a powerful stream, flowing in a single deeply incised channel, with a narrow floodplain that was prone to heavy flooding. Nevertheless, rainfall in the Nile valley itself remained low until about 9000 BCE, making settled life in the valley difficult.

These unfavourable climatic conditions virtually preclude the use of the Nile valley by the remnants of Hancock’s ‘lost civilisation’; hunter gatherers would have found few plants or animals to exploit, while farmland would have devastated by frequent floods and the shifting of the numerous braided river channels. Population levels would have been small and communities necessarily mobile. Moreover, the sites of the Great Sphinx, the Valley Temple and the Osireion were covered by a considerable depth of alluvial deposits at this time; if they had been built in the eleventh millennium BCE, they would have been at the bottom of pits 25 to 30 m deep! This geological evidence makes archaeological questions irrelevant. It is difficult to see how a society capable of building monuments designed to be permanent could have flourished in such an environment and why, in such an unstable landscape, they would seek or expect to build permanent monuments.

13 Responses to Hancock’s Egypt

  • Anonymous says:

    The relevance the astrological alignments of the Sphinx and the Pyramids have is found when you examine the rest of Hancock’s work around the world. Which shows various other structures and sites that also had many astrological alignments. When you consider that he thinks all these sites to be linked, you can see why he felt this to be important.

    Surely if they were descendants of a supposed paradise-like civilisation then these inhabitants would have some means of surviving in somewhat harsh conditions. Also, did the conditions of the area change to suit the Ancient Egyptians who thrived in the area thousands of years later? On this last point, I don’t mean to be challenging, I’m genuinely curious!

  • Ivan says:

    An argument I see made often is that evidence from workers’ settlement and the adjacent temples should be dismissed because they are of a date later than the pyramids. Is there evidence other than carbon dating to prove the connection between the pyramids and the rest of the Giza complex?

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  • Nik Kelly says:

    Three comments…
    1) IIRC, there’s recent evidence that the workers’ settlement was repeatedly subject to flash-floods, so rebuilt again and again. This would make the original establishment date hard to determine. Hopefully, the occupants got out alive…

    ( Having your workers’ facilities demolished with some regularity might provoke a popular notion that the Gods are *not* happy with your schemes. Puts a spoke in the logistics, too. Perhaps these prompted abandonment of the Giza Plateau ?? )

    2) My understanding of Egyptian religion / mythology is that the priority was to have a worthy pyramid / tomb and temple ready by the time mummification was complete. Expanding the necessary temple complex to what we find on the ground may have taken generations of additions and rebuilding.

    3) Regarding the Sphinx and its ancient weathered back-side, the same skewed logic would make US’ Mt Rushmore mega-sculptures millions of years old…

    • Adrian says:

      “Regarding the Sphinx and its ancient weathered back-side, the same skewed logic would make US’ Mt Rushmore mega-sculptures millions of years old…”

      That’s a silly argument. The Sphinx was created by cutting out the limestone around what would eventually become its body. Different story with Mount Rushmore.

      Use your common sense. The head and the body of Sphinx show different levels of erosion. The “Lost Civ” types are unto something, but then they go into ridiculous speculations about mystical energies, 12.000 year old cultures, UFOs and what not.

      The Sphinx really remains a mystery. But egyptologists rarely admit that. Possibly because they are are afraid that they will give credence to Hancock & Co

      I’m reminded of a brief conversation that I once had with a physicist (really, a science nerd). I told him how fascinated I am by the fact that cave paintings and wooden figurines seem to appear “only” about 40.000 ago, although the human race is around 100-200.000 years old. His reaction was: “No, no, the theory of evolution has been proven to be correct!”

      • Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews says:

        The differential erosion of the Sphinx isn’t that much of a mystery: for long periods, it’s been buried up to its neck in sand that left only the head exposed. It suffers from groundwater that seeps out from the limestone into which it was carved: seepage at times when it was buried may have been more rapid than when exposed, or vice versa.

        The Sphinx may be difficult to date, but its context needs to be taken into account. There is nothing at the Giza plateau before the Fourth Dynasty (and, indeed, nothing before its second king, Khufu). What would be the purpose of the Sphinx if there was nothing else there? It is in an abandoned quarry. What was the stone quarried to make? We know from the other quarries of Giza that they provided the blocks from which the various masonry structures of the plateau were constructed (not just the pyramids, of course!). That being the case, if the Sphinx quarry really were earlier than the Fourth Dynasty, there ought to be some sort of contemporary masonry structure nearby using stone from the quarry. Where is it? And remember that the Egyptians themselves credited the invention of building in stone to Imhotep, vizier of Djoser of the Third Dynasty: the archaeological evidence backs this up. That’s a real problem for Hancock and his followers.

        • Adrian says:

          “It suffers from groundwater that seeps out from the limestone into which it was carved: seepage at times when it was buried may have been more rapid than when exposed, or vice versa.”

          Robert Schoch’s argument is that such a degradation could only have been caused by – falling – water. He says that the top part of the Sphinx’s body, made out of harder limestone, is more eroded than the lower part, made out of softer limestone. Which can only make sense if you have precipitation. Now, the guy’s a geologist, so it’s beyond my area of expertise. There has been an interesting debate between Robert Schoch and another geologist – Colin Reader. Reader wants to redate the Sphinx to Early Dynastic/ Predynastic times. I have found a compendium of the debates surrounding the Sphinx on this website “http://www.davidpbillington.net/sphinx2.html”

          “There is nothing at the Giza plateau before the Fourth Dynasty”

          I believe there are some mudbrick mastabas dating from the 2nd and 3rd dynasties. At least on the south field. Besides, the Saqqara necropolis isn’t far off. Add to that the possibility that whatever mastabas were near the pyramids or the Sphinx would probably have been removed. I can’t remember exactly which 5th or 6th dynasty pharaoh built his pyramid right on top of a tomb of a second dynasty pharaoh! If I remember correctly, there were jars and other artifacts from previous dynasties found inside Djoser pyramid complex (which means that they were removed from somewhere else i.e. tombs could simply be “moved”, especially if the previous ones had been desecrated).

          “What would be the purpose of the Sphinx if there was nothing else there?”

          Good question! Well, obviously religious. But that doesn’t say much:-).

          “What was the stone quarried to make?”

          I’d say that Schoch would argue that the limestone blocks were used to make the Sphinx temple. I think he claims that it was built contemporaneously with the Sphinx.

          “And remember that the Egyptians themselves credited the invention of building in stone to Imhotep, vizier of Djoser of the Third Dynasty: the archaeological evidence backs this up. That’s a real problem for Hancock and his followers.”

          Mmmm… debatable, to say the least. Recent excavations have dated the Gisr el-Mudir structure to the time of the 2nd dynasty. But that’s still mere decades or at most a couple of centuries before Djoser’s time.

          As a conclusion: I really can’t understand this “we’ve got all the answers” attitude. As someone who’s passionate about late roman/early middle ages history, I know how you can build complex theories upon the flimsiest of evidences. People don’t know this, but a large part of the discipline that we call history works this way. I credit Hancock with a certain popularization of history. His speculations may be “wild”, but I’d be willing to wager that a lot of young people took up history or more specifically Egyptology because they were intrigued by Hancock’s thesis. There are unsolved mysteries in history.
          For example, was there a real “King Arthur”? If not, was he based on a real person? What would that person have been like? A Briton? A Roman? A bit of both? Did he manage to defeat the Saxon invaders? If so, how? Did the Britons send word for help to Aetius or to Aegidius?
          It is speculated that the native Britons finally lost ground to the Anglo-Saxons because of a plague. Was this the bubonic plague known as “Justinian’s plague”? How did it reach Britain? Was there contact or trade between Britain and Gaul? Or between Britain and the Eastern Roman Empire?

          Or what exactly did Constantine see before the battle of the Milvian Bridge? Was he hallucinating? Was it a sign from God? Was it a meteor? A strange weather phenomenon?

          For me, personally, this is fascinating stuff.

          Or let’s take Egypt. How great was the influence of Mesopotamia upon Early Dynastic/Pre-dynastic Egypt? We know that the niches which decorated the early mastabas, temples and palaces bear striking a resemblance to structures from the same period found in Mesopotamia. Were the first pyramids inspired by Sumerian Ziggurats? Was Egyptian writing inspired by Sumerian writing? There is of course that famous flint knife dated to 3450 BC which shows (what appears to be) a Sumerian god holding two lions. How does that fit into the history of Predynastic Egypt?

          Now, I don’t want to be misunderstood. I do believe there is value in disproving “bad archeology”. Ancient aliens theories and the like may be fascinating, but they also pull the general public ever deeper into… what I would call “historical ignorance”. At the same time, historians and archeologists must keep an open mind, lest we learn nothing from history. Remember that historians had for centuries thought that the Trojan War was merely a myth, before amateur archeologist Heinrich Schliemann proved them wrong. Same thing with the Mycenaean civilization. Arthur Evans discovered the mythical palace of Knossos and with it, a whole unknown civilization – the Minoans. And I haven’t even gotten into all the cities and cultures that were previously only known from a few verses written in the Bible.

          Well, I have extended my train of thought more than I intended to. This is the original documentary (that aired almost exactly 20 years ago) which presented (among other stuff) Schoch’s erosion theory: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtK4hHzB4Bs
          It has entertainment value, and if you ignore the “sci-fi stuff”, it makes some interesting points.
          Schoch’s main points in short form: http://www.robertschoch.com/sphinxcontent.html
          Honestly, I don’t think that you’ve paid close enough attention to his arguments. Personally I don’t trust Schoch when he talks about “10.000 year old civilizations”, but I do pay close attention when he speaks about geology. Remember, this guy has a PhD in Geology from Yale University.

          • Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews says:

            Thanks for the detailed reply. Yes, I know that Schoch believes that the erosion can only have been caused by falling water, but many other geologists disagree. This is an argument that can’t be resolved by archaeological means (although Tom Aigner demonstrated as long ago as 1980 that at least some of the blocks from the quarry were used in the Sphinx Temple). The implications of the geological data are archaeological, though. What is intriguing is that Rudolph Kluper and Stefan Kröaut;pelin have suggested that the pluvial Schoch believes responsible for the supposed water erosion may not have ended until as late as c 1500 BCE. This allows it to have been carved in the Fourth Dynasty and still show evidence for erosion caused by rain. They have also shown a shift in population from the Western Desert to the Nile Valley in the period c 5300-3500 BCE: the implication is that at the time Schoch would have the Sphinx constructed, the main focus of population lay to the west, not in the Valley.

            That’s interesting about the 2nd/3rd Dynasty mastabas on the plateau: I’ll look into those, but they are mudbrick and wouldn’t be the destination for blocks from the Sphinx quarry. The idea that the core blocks of the Sphinx Temple came from the quarry seems to have been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt and has been known for more than thirty years; they could also have provided the core blocks of Kha‘efre‘’s Valley Temple. It occurs to me that the southern wall of the Sphinx Temple runs parallel with the northern wall of Kha‘efre‘’s Valley Temple and causeway. Had the Sphinx Temple been earlier than Kha‘efre‘’s Valley Temple and causeway, there would have been no need for this design feature, given the symmetrical nature of the rest of the building. It’s usually assumed to be a Fourth Dynasty structure, but I wonder if it might be later than the time of Kha‘efre‘ (even if only by a few years).

            I don’t believe that we have all the answers, nor do I believe that we ever will. There will always remain intriguing questions about the past, as you rightly point out. Arthur as a leader of the Britons? Possible. Britons wiped out by a plague during the period of Anglo-Saxon settlement? Less plausible, I think (there is actually good skeletal evidence for Britons “becoming” Anglo-Saxons: recent studies in eastern England by David Klingle suggest that some of those buried in “Anglo-Saxon” cemeteries are the descendants of those buried in earlier “Romano-British” cemeteries). I could go on, but I won’t. All I want to do is show that I am perfectly willing to embrace new ideas that go against what I have previously accepted; this is something that Bad Archaeologists seem incapable of doing.

          • Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews says:

            I also forgot to say that the reason I mentioned Imhotep is that the commenter I was responding to, Chris haft, accused me of ignoring what the Egyptians said about their own past. If he wants to be consistent, he has to explain why they believed that there was no building in stone before Djoser’s Step Pyramid complex. On which subject, I still wonder about the date of the Great Enclosure, which appears to be associated with jar sealings of Kha‘sekhemwy. If I had lots of money to spend, that would be my excavation site of choice…

            The irony of these arguments about Graham Hancock is that the inspiration for creating this site was his Fingerprints of the Gods. I picked up a copy at Manchester Airport whilst waiting to fly to a holiday in Gran Canaria. The weather was appalling in the Canaries and I did a lot of reading, including Hancock’s book. It made me so cross that he used evidence whose misinterpretations by previous Bad Archaeologists has been so thoroughly debunked in print over the years that I decided I would do something about it when I got home. I started work on a website but rapidly became diverted from Hancock’s work because I went back to earlier misuses of some of the things he wrote about. One day, I will get round to writing proper refutations of his arguments!

  • Chris haft says:

    The most compelling evidence you have offered is the weathering on the sphinx which I have also had my own questions about however you are ignoring the fact that there is a mountain of evidence given to us by the Egyptians that tell us that they are a much older civilization than what we believe do you just ignore this fact or just view it as them spouting bull shit?

    • Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews says:

      Well, if you want to follow what the Egyptians claimed about themselves, you have to remember that they believed that there was no building in stone before the second king of the Third Dynasty, Djoser. Archaeology agrees with this.

  • kitkat says:

    I do not disagree with your critique of Hancock´s ideas. That said, I also do not agree with the orthdox view of ancient Egypt…why no mummies, it helps to have some evidence to back up your proposals. Additionally, if Egypt was a civilization and they did build the pyramid then they were first ordeer magicians because they skipped right on past the need for gaining architectural, engineering and stonemasonry….should we not find cities where they learned and plied their trade? So, no I do not buy into the idea tha the Egyptians were special humans transcendent to all other cultures…both the alternative and the orthodoxy yarn spinners have no proofs at all…

    • Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews says:

      You say “if Egypt was a civilization and they did build the pyramid then they were first ordeer magicians because they skipped right on past the need for gaining architectural, engineering and stonemasonry”. What about the early pyramids built in the century before the Great Pyramid? What about the millennium of architectural development before the Great Pyramid? The Egyptians of the Fourth Dynasty had long experience of manoeuvring large blocks!

Agree or disagree? Please comment!