PYRAMIDS AND GEOPOLYMERS
BOOK: THE PYRAMIDS AN ENIGMA SOLVED
Prof. Joseph Davidovits
The Mudbrick Pyramids of the Middle Kingdom
Like those of previous structures, the sacred monolithic sarcophagi, canopic chests, and rooms of limestone, granite, and other varieties of stone were often found intact in Middle Kingdom pyramids and are of superb quality. In the Twelfth Dynasty yet another remarkable feature was introduced into pyramid construction. Egyptologists are hard pressed to explain it.
All technologies have some degree of historical impact, and the great stonemaking technology is hardly an exception. A severe decline in any important technology strongly affects social evolution. To understand how the abatement of stone-making technology affected Egyptian civilization, one needs only to imagine how radically a prolonged shortage of oil would affect us in modern times.
The decline of one technology yields to the rise of another. In ancient Egypt, metallurgy, used to produce improved stonecutting implements, gradually replaced alchemical stonemaking. In the light of the abatement of the old science, once misunderstood historical developments make perfect sense.
The Heracleopolitan dynasty was defeated around 2000 BC. It is generally assumed that no rival ideologies were involved in the power struggle that led to this war.A statement to this effect can be found in an authoritative Encyclopaedia Britannica discussion of Egyptian history. The Heracleopolitan defeat marked a critical point in history between factions fostering two distinctly different ideologies and also two different technologies. An overview shows that the history of Egypt actually takes on a whole new dimension.
The ruling family of Heracleopolis claimed to be the legitimate successors of the last great pharaoh, Pepi II. As such, their plan was to perpetuate ancestral religious traditions. Their goal was thwarted when the rival Theban prince, Mentuhotep, became the first king in more than 200 years to rule over a united Egypt.
The new king, born in the south, was devoted to southern culture with its Nubian influence. At this point in history, Mentuhotep’s royal residence was a small provincial town, Waset, which the Greeks later called Thebai or Thebes. Memphis, the capital of Egypt since Archaic times, was replaced by this small, underdeveloped community. Mentuhotep concentrated building operations at Thebes and other parts of the south during a lengthy reign of fifty-one years. Though only a few monuments of Thebes can be dated to the latter part of the Old Kingdom, the town would rise to prominence during the Eleventh Dynasty.
As Mentuhotep’s administration restored tranquillity throughout the land, the cult of the minor, local, Theban god, Amun, gained in influence. Though Thebes was Amun’s only significant center of worship during early times, great antiquity could be claimed for the god. In line 558 of the Pyramid Texts of Unas’s pyramid,Amun’s name is surrounded by those of gods of remote antiquity, placing Amun among the primeval gods.
The Heracleopolitan rivals of the north preserved the ancient worship of Khnum. Various forms of Khnum were revered in Egypt, including Khnum-Ra, Khnum-Hapi, and Hershef Heracleopolis, the setting for a number of significant mythological events, was the center of Khnum worship in the form of Hershef.
The doctrines of Khnum and Amun fostered fundamentally different religious philosophies. Documents dating from the Old Kingdom depict Khnum’s doctrine, comparable to the biblical tradition advocating that humankind was created through an agglomeration of earth. In Khnum’s tradition, the eternal bodies, or ka, represented by the king’s statues, were produced like the sacred eternal pyramids and temples, through an agglomeration of stone.
Nothing is known about the attributes or the form of Amun worship during the Old Kingdom. The doctrine of the Amun clergy, which was either preserved or which developed and emerged as the priesthood became Egypt’s most powerful in later times, advocated a creative process different from that of Khnum, carving.
According to Theban mythology, sandstone and pink granite represented the body of Amun. Blocks of sandstone were quarried with great care so as not to injure the body of the deity. Obelisks made of Aswan granite were sometimes referred to as The Finger of Amun. After the introduction of bronze tools by the New Kingdom, statues were so piously quarried that the vivid chisel impressions in the quarries actually allowed Egyptologists to match statues to their place of origin.
In the soft sandstone hills of the western bank, opposite Karnak (el-Tarif),the Theban princes of the First Intermediate Period emulated their ancestors as they hollowed out their tombs. In the Memphite tradition, only common people were buried in a hollowed-out pit tomb.With Egypt under Theban rule, the common custom was followed to bury the new king elaborately. Mentuhotep’s chief architect selected the royal burial site in the northern part of the Theban necropolis at Deir el-Bahari. In a large, deep bay in the cliffs, the workers began hollowing out a vast tomb.Architects altered the plans several times until the final outcome was a new form of royal tomb, a mastaba temple.
The monument was approached by an open causeway about 1,200 meters (0.75 mile) long, extending through a formal grove of sycamore and tamarisk trees planted in rows of circular pits. A ramp approached the temple. Basically a large, rock-cut platform with some masonry filling, the tem- ple rises in three terraces, the first two of which are partially furnished on the exterior with colonnades. The third terrace is surmounted by the remains of the most predominant feature, a ruined structure believed to have been a mastaba. It consisted of a core of rubble and flint boulders and was cased with two outer layers of limestone.
Initially, the structure was assumed to be the remains of a pyramid devoid of chambers or passages. Calculations by Dieter Arnold, however, determined that the terrace could not have withstood the weight of a pyramid. The mastaba temple style can be classified as a synthesis of Theban portico tombs and the ancient mastabas of Abydos. Abydos was an important burial ground beginning in the early dynastic period. It bordered the two rival territories and changed hands several times during fighting until recaptured by Mentuhotep.
Unlike Memphite burials, no mastabas were built for officials and nobles. Their tombs were hollowed from the soft rock of the vicinity. Instead of limestone, the statues of the king are sandstone. Certain features, including the mastaba, indicate a carry-over of the old tradition. This suggests a certain amount of religious compromise between the Thebans and Heracleopolitans and perhaps explains Mentuhotep’s expeditions in the Sinai. Reliefs adorn the base of the temple, and some are crude whereas others are sophisticated, the latter believed to have been done by Memphite artisans. It is likely that some of the reliefs were carved and others agglomerated.
It was in this time that sculptor Irtysen claimed on his funerary stele (see in a previous chapter) (Stele C14 in the Louvre Museum, Paris):
“ ... I know the parts belonging to the technique of molding (with castable) fluid (stone), namely the weighing (of the ingredients) according to the exact receipt; the (making) of mold parts that must be introduced inside (during casting and hardening) and withdrawn before demolding so that a member come in its place... This (secret) knowledge was not revealed to anyone except (to) me alone and my eldest son of my body; the god (Pharaoh Mentuhotep) had commanded that he stands before him, and took the revelation about it... ”
Casting statues was a secret religious technique and was to be authorized by Pharaoh Mentuhotep himself.
Towering above the site is an unusual feature. On top of the western cliffs stands a naturally formed pyramid. Anciently the pyramid was called the Holy Mountain or the Peak of the West. Today it is known as el-Quern, meaning “ the horn ” in Arabic. The curious pyramid overlooks the tombs of Deir el-Bahari and the Valley of the Kings.
No other tombs of the dynasty were completed. After the death of Mentuhotep’s successor, a brief dark period of history passed when Egyptian again opposed Egyptian.When the confusion cleared, it appears that the last king of the Eleventh Dynasty around 1900 BC, also named Mentuhotep, employed a man named Amenemhet (Amenemmes in Greek) as his vizier and as commander of the army. There are few clues about Amenemhet’s knowledge and affiliations. However, he may have been associated with alchemical stonemaking, because he was chosen to obtain hard stone for the king’s sarcophagus and its lid from quarries at Wadi el-Hammamat. He is believed to come from a prominent family of Elephantine and, therefore, would have been devoted to Khnum.
Almost nothing is known of the circumstances that brought him to the throne, although 10,000 men were under his command and the change was accompanied by some violence. Although his name shows an association with the Theban god, Amun, it appears that Amenemhet took the name to gain political acceptance. Once he was crowned king, Amenemhet I immediately re-established dominion over most of the nome governors and moved the royal residence to a town near the old capital of Memphis called Ithtawi, not far from modern el Lisht, which is in the vicinity of the Faiyum. He mined in the Sinai and built his pyramid in the nearby necropolis, returning as far as politically possible to Old Kingdom traditions.
His classical pyramid and complex are highly decorated in Old Kingdom style. The pyramid is called a museum of Old Kingdom art because it exhibits so many decorated blocks removed from monuments of Saqqara, Dahshur, and Giza. Some Egyptologists surmise that certain blocks were taken from the valley temples of Khufu and Khafra. The mortuary temple was decorated with relief drawings copied from the Old Kingdom.
Like the Sixth Dynasty pyramids, Amenemhet I’s pyramid is made of masonry walls and a loose filling of rubble and sand, all reinforced with a casing of fine limestone. Today it is in ruins with its enormous granite plugs remaining in situ and its burial chamber hopelessly submerged in water, caused by a significant rise in the level of the Nile bed.
Amenemhet I apparently promoted religious compromise, and Egyptologists recognize in his pyramid layout an influence of Mentuhotep’s tomb because the causeway has no roof and the pyramid was built on rising ground. Its buil- dings are on two separate levels, the upper level supporting the pyramid itself. The levels have rows of tombs. About 100 mastabas of nobles and officials were built around the pyramid in the age-old tradition.
In addition to the design compromise, which in any case economized on the amount of stone required, Amenemhet I founded the great temple of Amun at Thebes and greatly increased Egypt’s internal development. His name remained associated with Amun. Even with this level of com- promise, the power struggle was not over.
In about the thirtieth year of his reign, Amenemhet I was murdered in his sleep one night by his chamberlains. At the time, his son, Senusert (Sesostris in Greek), was on a campaign in Libya. Realizing the conspirators’ attempt to overturn the dynasty, Senusert gave orders to silence the news, then raced to the capital. Senusert successfully halted the takeover through swift action. After twenty years of rule, Amenemhet I had made his son co-ruler, and they had already ruled together for ten years.Amenemhet was the first to enact such a policy, which was adopted by Twelfth Dynasty successors and also by New Kingdom kings to help safeguard the dynasty during these times of political rivalry. Senusert I, who would reign for another thirty-five years, sent expeditions to the Wadi Kharit mines in the Sinai and had his pyramid built near his father’s at el-Lisht. The causeway was built of fine white limestone and the mortuary temple replicated those of the Sixth Dynasty. The remarkable interior of the pyramid is made of walls that radiate like spokes from the center of the structure to form compartments. These are reinforced with mud brick and stone rubble. Two layers of heavy casing of fine limestone reinforced the entire structure, some of which remains on the western side. The passage descending to the burial chamber, also submerged in water, is lined with perfectly fitting red granite slabs. Near the pyramid are two interesting mastabas belonging to high priests of Memphis and of Heliopolis; the latter carried forth the name Imhotep and was probably a descendant.
Sensusert I carried on the religious compromise. He beautified Heliopolis with a magnificent Sun temple and obelisks. One of the latter is the only thing standing at the site. His architects energetically built monuments throughout the land, not neglecting Thebes. Investigations to determine which monuments were carved and which were cast would provide relevant insight about this political period.
His son, Amenemhet II, also maintained the old tradi- tions at Dahshur, but there was further critical decline in stonemaking technology. It is believed that casing blocks were taken from the Northern Pyramid of Seneferu in the vicinity, because roads dating from Amenemhet II’s time link the two monuments. However, not a single casing stone was found during excavation. The pyramid is in such total ruin that its dimensions can only be estimated.
The next ruler was Senusert II (Sesostris II) around 1870 BC, who introduced a revolutionary element. Overlooking the channel that leads to the entrance of the Fayum basin near the village of el-Lahun, his pyramid is made almost entirely of mud-brick. Some 800 years after Khasekhemwuy's mudbrick enclosure, it is the first of the giant mudbrick pyramids built by the rulers of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Dynasties (Fig. 88). Entering the granite burial chamber, Petrie found an exquisite red granite sarcophagus that amazed him. He called it one of the finest pieces of work ever executed in such a difficult, hostile material. He calculated its parallelism to be almost perfect, with errors in form equaling no more than 0.01 cubit .
Figure 88: the mud-brick pyramid of Senusert II at el-Lahun (Faucher Gudin).
The king’s successor, Senusert III, was one of the greatest pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom. He built his mudbrick pyramid at Dahshur. The structure, now in ruins, was cased with limestone blocks and red granite was used for its exquisite burial chamber and sarcophagus.
This pharaoh energetically expanded Egypt’s southern territory and completed several projects started by his great- great-grandfather, Amenemhet I. In the First Cataract region, Senusert III expanded channels for the passage of ships, and in the region of the Second Cataract he enlarged a series of mudbrick forts to help secure the southern borders. Above the Third Cataract, he established permanent garrisons and customs ports. He fortified Egypt’s usual routes in and out of the country along the northeastern frontier with large mudbrick walls to regulate the entry of foreigners.
Since the beginning of the dynasty, the kings’ envoys made regular trading missions to Syria. Contact with Syria, Palestine, and parts of Asia were mostly peaceful. Trade flourished, but there was also some conflict. The need arose for the pharaoh to enact sweeping government reforms, which secured the power of the throne and the administrative capital at Ithtawi.
It was a time of prosperity when literature and the arts flourished. Agricultural progress increased, with much effort spent on irrigating large tracks of land in the Faiyum. The land recovery program converted the district into one of Egypt’s most bountiful. Like his father and grandfather before him, Senusert III mined vigorously in the Sinai, expending more effort but obtaining far less mafkat even though during this era metal tools replaced flint for ore extraction. Docu- ments show that several expeditions were unsuccessful.
Senusert III is also known for defeating a stronghold of rival monarchs at Hermopolis, the town where Amun was one of the primeval group of eight deities, or ogdoad. Like the pharaohs, the defiant monarchs of Hermopolis dated Egyptian events to their own years of rule. They maintained fleets of ships and armed forces. Artisans of this town, carrying on their religions tradition, carved the great colossus of their ruler Djehutihotep from soft alabaster quarried at Hatnub. It is a bas-relief in the tomb of this ruler, depicting the transport of the great colossus, that I call false proof of Egyptology 2. We see that the techniques of rivals of the pyramid-building pharaohs have been used as proof of how the pyramids were built.
Favorable conditions had been set up for the brilliant forty-six year reign of the next pharaoh, Amenemhet III. This great pharaoh is not remembered for campaigns or reforms but for outstanding art and construction. The classical historians credit him with producing the large Lake Moeris in the Faiyum region. Though it is not as large today, the lake gleamed silver with fish and was so large that it tempered hot winds blowing in from the west, creating a balmy climate. The lake transformed the surrounding area into a garden paradise of lush vegetation. Scholars wonder if the lake existed earlier, but they do not question the pharaoh’s involvement with one of Egypt’s truly great memorials, the fabulous Labyrinth in the Faiyum, at Hawara.
At the end of the Labyrinth was the finest pyramid ever made of mud brick, the pyramid of Amenemhet III. This pyramid has a truly remarkable feature. Unlike other mudbrick pyramids, Amenemhet III’s pyramid at Hawara has not decomposed, although 3,800 years have passed. Why? Because there was an innovation in Khnum’s technology. Khnum was held in the highest religious regard by Amenemhat III, as shown by a text attributed to one of his administrators :
“ ... I am addressing these important words to you and I count on you to understand them....Venerate the King in your body, that he might live forever, and be faithful in your souls to His Majesty. He is the intelligence in the hearts (of men) and his gaze penetrates all bodies. He is Ra by the rays by which one sees. Iris he who illuminates the two earths (better still than) the solar disc.... He feeds those who serve him and he submits to the needs of those who follow his road. The King is Ka and his word is life. Whosoever be born is his work, for he is (the god) Khnum from whom come all the bodies, the progenitor.... ”
At this point in history, Amun’s clergy had not gained sufficient power to proclaim Amun as the progenitor. It was Khnum who created mankind, through an agglomeration process. To perpetuate the ancient rite of agglomeration, bricks were made for the eternal pyramid by mixing caustic soda (natron, lime, water) with mud from Lake Moeris. Partly because of the mineralogical composition of the mud, their efforts were most effective.
In the interior of the pyramid, a complex system of galleries concealed access to the burial chamber. The architects designed uncanny corridor arrangements, with dummy corridors leading to dead ends. Enormous sliding slabs, a trap door, and false burial shafts were incorporated to hide any structural clues that could reveal the true burial chamber entrance.
Petrie entered the pyramid and made his way through the devious maze of corridors. Much water had entered the pyramid and the passages were so blocked with mud that he had to slide through naked, all the time feeling for artifacts with his toes. He was astounded at what he found when he reached the burial chamber. This extraordinary structure was made of a single piece of yellow quartzite. If the block was carved, it would have weighed originally about 110 tons. Petrie wrote:
“ The sepulchre is an elaborate and massive construction.The chamber itself is a monolith 267.5 inches [6.8 meters] long, 94.2 inches [2.4 meters] wide and 73.9 inches [1.9 meters] high to the top of the enormous block with a course of bricks 18.5 inches [0.5 meters] high upon that. The thickness of the chamber is about 25 inches [0.6 meters]. It would accordingly weigh about 110 tonnes [metric tons]. The workmanship is excellent; the sides are flat and regular and the inner corners so sharply wrought that — though I looked at them — I never suspected that there was not a joint there until I failed to find any joints in the sides. ”
Petrie was referring to the original mass when he estimated the weight of the block, because the chamber itself weighs seventy-two metric tons. If this chamber was carved, the work would have required precision tooling, inside and out, on a solid mass of hard quartzite, the hardest type of rock. This is the type of artifact that has added fuel to theories advocating the existence of ultramodern machinery and super Space Age sciences during antiquity. Petrie could not explain its manufacture. Lowering the enormous structure into the confined space would have been the least of the difficult problems. If the mass had been quarried, the quarry site should remain. Egypt’s quartzite quarries show no signs of quarrying blocks or statues according to members of the Napoleonic expedition, who made a thorough investigation of Egypt’s quartzite ranges. On the other hand, loose, weathered quartzite is available in great quantities near all quartzite quarries, and was ready for agglomeration.
Following the extravagant use of stone by the builders of the Old Empire, the return to mudbrick is a severe shock for anybody involved in the study of pharaonic architecture. One would have expected stone carving with bronze tools. This paradox is illustrated in Fig. 89. In Zoser's pyramid, Imhotep's limestone bricks were made in a way similar to the mudbricks in Khasekhemwuy's enclosure. Then, the dimensions of the limestone bricks (and of the molds) increased little by little. Fourth Dynasty pyramids introduced blocks cast in place with huge temple blocks weighing several hundred tonnes. In the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties the mortuary chamber was protected by enormous beams. In Twelfth Dynasty pyramids the hard stone mortuary chamber became monolithic and the core evolved from rubble to mudbrick.
Figure 89: The paradox of pyramids construction. 700 years after the invention of limestone bricks by Imhotep, the pyramid material of the 12th. and 13th Dynasties returned to mud-brick.
The mudbrick pyramids seem to be aberrations unless one considers the agglomeration of mudbrick as being part of the alchemical stonemaking. This being the case, Herodotus' statement (Book II, chapter CXXXVI) on the mudbrick pyramids becomes relevant:
“ ... This prince [Amenemhet III) wishing to surpass all the kings who had reigned in Egypt before him, left as a monument a pyramid of bricks, with this inscription engraved in a stone: do not scorn me in comparing me with the pyramids of stone; I am as high above them as Jupiter is above the other gods, for I was built of bricks made from the silt from the bottom of the lake... ”
Amenemhet III also built another mudbrick pyramid at Dahshur with a similar interior design, which is still standing though now in ruins. Its summit was crowned by a magnificent pyramidion made of lovely dark-gray granite and now in the Cairo Museum. Some Egyptologists surmise that because of structural weaknesses, Amenemhet III abandoned the structure at Dahshur and built a second pyramid at Hawara, where he was presumably buried. His death marked the end of the Middle Kingdom.
Another mudbrick pyramid with a complex interior arrangement, called the Unfinished Pyramid, was tentatively assigned to one of Amenemhet III’s successors. If carved, the monolithic block used to produce the burial chamber would originally have weighed a massive 180 tons. Yet, it is this pyramid that contained the small models of copper tools mentioned earlier.
At Mazghuna, about three miles south of Dahshur, two ruined mudbrick pyramids are attributed tentatively to Amenemhet III’s Twelfth Dynasty successors. Reasons for the Twelfth Dynasty overturn are uncertain. Pharaohs of the Thirteenth Dynasty maintained their capital in the north, and a few managed to build mudbrick pyramids. One pyramid attributed to Khendjer, built at Saqqara, contains a monolithic burial room made of hard quartzite that would have weighed about sixty tons if it were carved from a single block.
In the Thirteenth Dynasty, which lasted about 150 years, about seventy kings ruled in rapid succession. At the end of the Thirteenth Dynasty, or perhaps a little later, the land again passed through a severe, dark time, known as the Second Intermediate Period. This period differed from the former anarchical period. This time trouble erupted from political division coupled with foreign intrusion.