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In the book by Robert Bauval and Adrian Gilbert, The Orion Mystery - Unlocking the Secrets of the Pyramids, Mandarin, 1997, the authors have presented evidence of a close association between the ancient Egyptian constellation of Sahu or the present day constellation of Orion and the Giza Pyramids. I've been to the same excellent library in Sydney that Robert Bauval used during his years here in Australia after leaving Alexandria. In Greek mythology, Orion once stupidly boasted that he would be able to kill all wild beasts. Hearing this, the earth-goddess Gaea punished Orion for his arrogance by sending the scorpion to kill him by stinging him on the heel. This is shown in the motions of the constellations across the sky. As Scorpio ascends on the eastern horizon, Orion dies and sets in the west. However, Asclepius (identified with the constellation Ophiuchus) healed Orion and crushed the scorpion underfoot - reflected by Orion again rising in the east, restored to vigour, as Asclepius (Ophiuchus) grinds Scorpio into the earth in the west. To the Greek's, in the sky Orion brandishes his club in his right hand and he holds a lion's skin trophy aloft in his left hand.
The coloured illustration on the left comes from the charming ceiling of the Sala del Mappamondo of the Palazzo Farnese in Caprarola, Italy, about 30kms (20 miles) north of Rome. This was painted by an unknown artist in 1575. To see where this fits in, more of the exquisitely painted ceiling is shown below. These coloured illustrations come from the beautifully illustrated book The Glorious Constellations - History and Mythology by Guiseppe Maria Sesti, Abrams, 1991.
The major stars of the Orion constellation are as follows. Alpha Orionis is the cool red first-magnitude slightly variable supergiant star Betelgeuse at a distance of 425 light years away. Betelgeuse has a diameter 300 to 400 times that of our Sun and its name, rather prosaically, derives from from the Arabic for "armpit of the central one" - see where it is located in the constellation. Estimates indicate that Betelgeuse would fill the area somewhere between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Beta Orionis is the blue-white first-magnitude supergiant star Rigel at a distance of 1000 light years away and its name means "giant's leg" - again see where it is located. Rigel is about 40 times the size of the Sun and it would fill most of the area inside the orbit of Mercury. Gamma Orionis is the pale yellow second-magnitude star Bellatrix and its name means "female warrior", which derives from a rather loose medieval translation of the Arabic Al Najid meaning "the conqueror". In the middle of Orion's sword is the diffuse vibrant red nebula M42 at a distance of 1500 light years and around 15 light years in diameter. Within M42 a star cluster is in the process of formation.
Orion is visible from all parts of the Earth in the night sky at some time of the year because it straddles the celestial equator and its stars are useful pointers to other constellations. In the southern hemisphere this is all upside down. Orion is to the south-east of the Taurus (the Bull) Constellation, with Orion's belt of three stars slanted just below the celestial equator. The line of three bright stars in Orion's belt point to the north-west towards Aldebaran in the Taurus Constellation and to the south-east directly towards Sirius, the Dog Star, the brightest star in the sky in the Canis Major (Big Dog) Constellation. In Greek myth, Canis Major and Canis Minor are the faithful hounds with which Orion hunted and Orion's prey were Taurus, the Bull, and Lepus, the Hare. Canis Major keeps a watchful eye on the hare Lepus, a minor constellation at Orion's feet. A line through Rigel and the middle star of Orion's belt, Alnilam, brings you to the Gemini Constellation and the twin stars of Castor and Pollux.
Robert Bauval and Adrian Gilbert try to show that the three main Giza pyramids are laid out in relation to one another on the Giza plateau in a manner that reflects the three stars making up Orion's belt (Zeta Orionis or Alnitak, Epsilon Orionis or Alnilam and Delta Orionis or Mintaka), with the Nile River mirroring the Milky Way, as they would have appeared in about 10,500BC, even though they accept the orthodox view that they weren't actually built until 8000 years later. Bauval and Gilbert disagree only with the orthodox chronology for the Sphinx and we shall return to this later. The underlying rationale for choosing 10,500BC is hard to elucidate and I suspect that apart from the fact that this date was mysteriously predicted back in 1932 by Edgar Cayce, they just conveniently used this date from their unsustained arguments about the date of the Sphinx. They appear to claim that in 10,500BC the angles formed by the Orion's belt stars when they are at their culmination on the meridian on the southern horizon matches what we now see on the ground formed by the alignments of the Giza Pyramids with the Nile. Calculations show that the desired angle formed by the Orion's belt stars when they are at their culmination on the meridian on the southern horizon occurred in 12,500BC, not 10,500BC when the angles are not even close. The rotational motion of Orion around the sky ensures that the required angle is regularly achieved at other times of the day and night and thus Bauval and Gilbert are trying to be unduly highly selective and catching themselves out in the process. How did the ancient Egyptians supposedly know the layout of the sky in 10,500BC? There is no extant evidence that I know of the ancient Egyptians being around in 10,500BC and we shall return later to what the ancient Egyptians have recorded about the layout of the sky. I know that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence but for starters there is the big problem of passing this information down.
Actually the Giza Pyramids do not exactly reproduce the arrangement of the Orion's belt stars. The ratio of the separation of the Giza Pyramids (Khufu-Khafre : Khafre-Menkaure) is 10 percent larger than the corresponding ratio of their counterparts in Orion (zeta - epsilon : epsilon - delta). Also the angular deviation of the smallest pyramid from the line connecting the peaks of the two largest pyramids is 32 percent larger than the deviation of Delta Orionis from the line connecting Zeta and Epsilon Orionis. These discrepancies cannot be resolved by the relative movement of the stars involved because all three stars have very low proper motions. All of this is shown in the picture below where the ground plan of the Giza Pyramids is superimposed on a photograph of Orion's belt stars.
As the Egyptians appear to be adept at astronomy and masonry, this discrepancy goes against Bauval's and Gilbert's hypothesis, just like their attempts to do similar things with other nearby pyramids and stars near Orion's belt. The sizes of the Giza Pyramids do not follow the visual magnitudes of the Orion's belt stars of 2.05, 1.70 and 2.23 (all these stars are variable stars and vary slightly from these values over time), as the above photograph shows. The greater the magnitude of a star, the less bright the star is. On this basis we would expect the Second Pyramid to be larger than the Great Pyramid by roughly the same amount as the latter would be larger than the Third. Further, why would the intervening Pharaohs Djedefre and Nebka depart from the ground plan at Giza if it was of supposedly great significance and locate their pyramids elsewhere? These Pharaohs surely had the technology and resources at their disposal that was available to build the Khufu and Khafre pyramids. It has been suggested that the building of Djedefre's Pyramid not at Giza indicates a split between the sons of Khufu and conflict over the succession. However, Djedefre's cartouche was found on the limestone beams covering Khufu's boat pit, which shows that he oversaw his father's funeral. Djedefre was perhaps motivated by religious reasons when he built his pyramid at Abu Roash on a hillock 8km (5 miles) to the north of Giza which overlooked the Giza plateau. By moving his pyramid to this spot, Djedefre's pyramid was nearer to and due west of Heliopolis than Giza. Heliopolis (Greek for "Sun city") was the centre of an emerging sun cult at that time, as indicated by the names Djedef-re (Enduring like Re), Khaf-re (Appearing like Re) and Menkau-re (Eternal like the souls of Re). The most damning practical objection to Bauval's and Gilbert's hypothesis is that there is significant evidence in the internal layouts of the Second and Third Pyramids which suggests that they were replanned to a very significant degree in terms of size and/or position AFTER their construction began. Khafre's pyramid was either shifted a long way to the south or, more likely, trebled in size from a consistent northern edge, while Menkaure's pyramid was doubled in size around a consistent centre point. If the Giza pyramids were supposed to represent the relative size and position of Orion's belt stars from the outset, then surely such replanning would not have been done. A far more likely explanation for the layout of the Giza Pyramids is that they are built on the strike of the Mokattam Limestone Formation, the shape of the regular ridge surface being ideal for building on. A clear view to the north also had to be allowed for to align the pyramid to the north. The southeast corners of the three Giza Pyramids are nearly aligned on the great Giza diagonal that runs about 43° east of true north.
These Orion's belt stars had great importance for the ancient Egyptians who used them in hieroglyphs as the symbol for the first king of Egypt, Osiris or Sahu. Osiris was the legendary bringer of civilization to the Nile Valley in the remote epoch referred to as Zep Tepi, the "First Time". The Inventory Stela makes a reference to the "House of Osiris, Lord of Rostau" or Giza. I wonder if what we now see at Giza was built as a memory of something from an earlier time? Bauval and Gilbert also find that the southern air shafts of the Great Pyramid, which angle upward from the King's Chamber at 45° and from the Queen's Chamber at 39.5° would have pointed to respectively the stars Zeta Orionis or Alnitak (Osiris) and Sirius, the Dog Star in Canis Major, (Isis, Osiris's consort) at the time of their meridian transits (highest culmination) in 2500BC, which is about the time that Egyptologists say that the Great Pyramid was built. Because of the proper motions of these stars, these star positions probably will not be repeated during each precessional cycle. This supports their star map conclusion since Zeta Orionis is the same star that the Great Pyramid would be representing in Giza's Orion's belt map. In ancient Egypt Orion represented the Egyptian god of the dead and the first king of Egypt, Osiris. After death, the Pharaoh was thought to mystically inseminate these stars to ensure that, through Osiris, Horus the Sun-god would be reborn in his successor.
Sirius was associated with the goddess Aset or Isis, the cosmic mother of the kings of Egypt. The ancient Egyptian astronomical calendar was based upon Sirius, which they called Sopdet. The annual rise of Sopdet in the heavens ushered in the Nile's inundation. This occurred when Sirius rose on the horizon together with the Sun, and remained visible for a few moments until its sparkle faded with the advance of dawn. We refer to this as the heliacal rising of Sirius (from the Greek helios, "the Sun"). The length of the Sothic year was computed from one heliacal rising of Sirius to the next and is about 365.25 days. The beginning of the year was not set at the heliacal rising of Sirius because Sirius traces out an elliptical position in the sky as it orbits around its binary white dwarf companion and there is the theoretical possibility of another star in this system which so far hasn't been seen. The ancient Egyptians also used a lunar calendar and a civil calendar of 365 days. It used to be thought that the civil year gradually shifted in relation to the Sothic year and they coincided every 365 / .25 = 1460 years and these coincidences should give us absolute dates to work with. Strictly speaking, the length of the tropical solar year does not contain exactly an odd quarter of a day, but currently .242190 days, so that the Sothic and civil calendars would coincide every 365 / .242190 = 1507.08 years from the tropical solar year. The tropical solar year is the time from one fixed point in the Earth's revolution around the Sun, such as a solstice or equinox, to the next. Its length is currently 365.242190 days, but it varies. Around 1900 its length was 365.242196 days, and around 2100 it will be 365.242184 days. The reason for this is that the Earth's position in its orbit at the time of solstices and equinoxes shifts slightly each year (taking approximately 21,000 years to move all the way around the orbit). This, combined with the fact that the Earth's orbit is not completely circular, causes the equinoxes and solstices to shift with respect to each other. However, as we are dealing with star positions we should really be dealing with a sidereal solar year. A sidereal solar year is the period of revolution of the Earth around the Sun with respect to the stars and is of length 365.25636 days, so the Sothic and civil calendars will coincide every 365 / .25636 = 1423.8 years by the stars. The sidereal solar year is 20 minutes 23.5 seconds longer than the tropical year because of the precession of the equinoxes; for this reason, the sidereal year does not stay in step with the seasons and that is why the tropical year is used for the Gregorian calendar. The double dating of Sothic and civil years appears in many Egyptian documents, so that it has been possible to reconstruct the years in which the sothic and civil calendars new years coincided and to establish that sothic cycles began in 140AD, 1320BC, 2780BC and 4240BC. Four mentions of the rising of Sirius (generally known as Sothic dates) are preserved in texts from the third to the first millennia, but by themselves these references cannot yield an absolute chronology. Such a chronology can be computed from the larger numbers of lunar dates and cross-checked from solutions for the observations of Sirius. There is the possibility that the civil calendar may have been adjusted to keep it inline with what was happening astronomically and this now complicates things. I've mentioned before that the ancient Egyptians knew the length of the solar year to high precision and thus one wonders why they would adopt an inflexible civil calendar of 365 days.
There are interesting articles on Orion and the Teotihuacan complex in Mexico in National Geographic, December 1995. The Teotihuacan Pyramids display about the same layout as the Giza Pyramids with regard to Orion's belt. The size of the base of the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan nearly matches that of the Great Pyramid at Giza. Interestingly, a Mayan creation myth has its origin in the glowing fire pit of the Great Orion Nebula (see the article E C Krupp, "Igniting the Hearth", Sky & Telescope, February 1999, pages 94-5). All of these pyramids are dwarfed by the Chinese Pyramids.
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Last modified 20 September 2002.
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