In the 19th century, antiquary and photographer, Augustus Le Plongeon (1825 – 1908), who had lived on Mayan sites for many years, suggested that the pyramids of Central America were thousands of years older than those of the Middle East. He also suggested that America was therefore one of the first civilizations. Like so many antiquarians and proto-archaeologists of his era, Le Plongeon had been forced to construct theories in the absence of carbon dating technology. (An analogy might be poor Henry O'Brien (1808–1835) who died tragically at 27, but not before he had written a long book called The Round Towers of Ireland. It was the product of a young lifetime's work, and his classical self-education. If only he had been provided with carbon dates, he would have seen that the mysterious round towers which adorn various churchyards, often the most impressive feature of any monastery, are in fact medieval. He thought they were thousands of years old, the product of a deeply Pre-Christian world.)
One may sympathise with Le Plongeon's point of view. With the tools available at the time, I have tried to relate to some of his possible reasoning. He evidently saw the Mayan pyramids as civilized. In examining the ruins, he would have seen that evidently they had been a literate people. In comparing this with European vestiges of a former great civilization, such as Stonehenge, or even Giza in Egypt, he saw a difference. Evidently those structures, impressive as they were, were more barbaric, devoid of writing, perhaps the workings of the corrupted descendants of an earlier and greater literate culture. He looked also at the jungle which surrounded and which had overtaken the ruins. There were also few people around the American ruins, no great cities. This would have contrasted to the proximity of Cairo to the Giza Complex, perhaps suggesting to him, a more recent tradition in Egypt, and an older one in America. I am not sure if this was his actual point of view, it is mere speculation. Take it for the inference it is.
I will skip over the Pyramidologists. Their work represents a particular point of specialisation centered upon the Giza Plateau. No doubt they did some useful measurement work. They made some interesting observations, which future generations will pour over, despite the storm cloud of religious dogma overhanging some of their works. I wish to proceed in the opposite direction, however. The pyramidologists treated Giza as an independent unit, divorced from other pyramids, as if other Egyptian and worldwide ideas were not as relevant towards understanding the Giza situation, as were the greater `meanings' behind minute measurements.
Again, one of the failings was that they did not know when the Giza pyramids were built, but decipherments had suggested a great antiquity. A further mistake, if I may call it that, was in applying, not Egyptian mythology to the pyramids, but their own 19th- and even early 20th-century vision of Biblical ideas and world events. The reasoning was circular. Since Giza was so different, and evidently perfect, it had to have been built by God. Having been built by God, it was automatically different from every other monument and could only be interpreted by Biblical studies, and miniature measurements. They started from square one, with the ruler, to unveil God's grand plan. They certainly could not consider the pagan Egyptian or other mythological documents, or the writings about Isis and Osiris, by Plutarch, then readily available to them, as of any great value. These were mere tales of pagan idols.
Instead of looking almost categorically at Giza, as pyramidologists did, let us continue to look at the overall picture, and what it might be telling us about itself.
In the mid-20th century, the Norwegian ethnologist and explorer, Thor Heyerdahl (1914 – 2002) came up with the idea that the Central American pyramids, then found to be of newer date than the pyramids of Egypt and Ziggurats (step-pyramid moon temples), are based upon links with the Old World. Everyone knows about his famous expeditions, on papyrus reed boats across the Atlantic, as well as earlier, upon a wooden raft to Easter Island, which rose over every wave. Much lesser known, and probably unknown to the public, was a piece of knowledge given to him in Iraq, which I read in his The Tigris Expedition, 1984. He was simply told by the Marsh Arabs that the reeds for his boat needed to be cut in August. If done thus the boat would float for years. Any other month and it would sink after a month or so. He lamented that he had not been made aware of this, back in the 60s, for his earlier voyages, which utilised quickly water-logged reed boats. Those, not having been made by the Marsh Arabs, whom he suggested to be descendants of Sumerians, sank into the Atlantic. If they had been cut in the right season, it would have suggested to many that the passage to America would have been far easier than hitherto imagined.
Heyerdahl spent some of his last years investigating strange pyramid platforms in the Canaries, at Guimar. He was no-doubt disappointed to find that they had been built upon a 19th-century layer, however, implying they were recent, possible agricultural platforms. To me, they look like a supreme folly, unless they were built for some display purpose. Heyerdahl himself had been adamant that they were ancient structures. The archaeological park in place today around the ruins, honours Hererdahl's memory.
Since Heyerdahl's death, there has been a welcome miniature explosion of research into the worldwide pyramid phenomenon. Perhaps Heyerdahl was looking in the wrong place, and even the wrong time, but as a scientist he was open to many ideas. He was looking for the Canary pyramids to date to hopefully the third millennium, or great pyramid-building age. It would have suggested a convenient trans-Atlantic bridge to the New World, a very early link between the Old Kingdom, Sumer in particular, and the Americas. Perhaps even the third millennium was too late for this spread, and we need to look even earlier.
Since the 1990s, strange and unprecedented things have started happening in archaeology, which make the dramatic discovery of Troy and its treasures, almost pale into comparison. Firstly we have had the dating of Potbelly Hill (Göbekli Tepe) in Turkey, dating to 9000 BC. This was a religious complex on top of a mountain. In addition we have had the discovery of many new pyramids in America, some dating now, to the third millennium BC, which was the great pyramid-building age in Egypt. That would explain something. Schoch points out that the pyramids and civilizations of the Old World and the New World seemingly relate to each other, but are not seemingly inspired by each other. That is quite a quandary, which would suggest a common ancestor between them, rather than direct migration or contact.
Many of the ideas regarding the new worldwide discoveries of pyramids are covered well in a book by the late Philip Coppens, entitled The New Pyramid Age, 2007, which asks what we have been missing. It seems we have been overlooking not only lost pyramids, but also a lost religion of the third millennium BC, whose adherents spread their culture across the Earth, building them.
After having read several of Heyerdahl's works, I was re-introduced to this fascinating topic lately, by a splendid book entitled Voyages of the Pyramid Builders, 2004, by Dr Robert M. Schoch. The book is radical, and dares to suggest the pyramids are based upon the mythology of a dispersed stone-age culture. Schoch's work is influenced considerably by that of another author, Stephen Oppenheimer, who wrote a book called Eden in the East: The Drowned Continent of Southeast Asia, 1999, who suggested a drowned civilization. Indonesia is today an archipelago of twenty thousand islands. Formerly it was something else. The book suggests Sundaland, formerly Indonesia, as responsible for ideas of Atlantis among other old mysterious legends. Among other techniques, he uses comparative mythology to try to prove it, in a well-researched book.
Schoch does not categorically suggest that Sundalanders were pyramid builders themselves. Rather he states that they harboured a mythology, which spread, and which the refugees from this drowned land would later associate with the comet, or serpent, a destroying sky god. Later disparate survivors may have independently and later chosen to remember destruction from the sky in terms of possible impacts, or other disasters originating in the heavens. Thence, they would build early pyramids as sky platforms, in order to worship the sky. In this way the worldwide spread of pyramids is partly explained.
One support for Schoch's argument is the deep antiquity of the flooding. This would explain the spread of pyramids in relation to the spread of the flood story.
Another strength of his theory would be that Thailand was indeed a very early source of impressive copper-making, perhaps even preceding Sumer, and among the first such culture in the world. This might relate to an advanced metal-working culture (and hence a civilisation) possibly originating out of nearby drowned Indonesia, before the advent of the Sumerian period, and therefore later taking this to Sumeria. (Sumerian lore claims they came across the sea from the East) A weakness in the argument, however, would be the lack of Sundaland archaeological sites to explore. How populous was this land? Schoch writes that these would have been coastal, and are therefore now submerged.
I have studied the worldwide pyramid topic, and have developed a different theory to Schoch. Instead of just looking up, to the cosmic serpent which so many write of as a comet, I think we should down, into the World Mound itself, and its inhabitants, for the serpent is not really a sky god, in mythology, despite ideas of dragons, which may indeed be based upon comets, as well as snakes. I think pyramids were built to venerate stories about all gods, but even more importantly, the pyramid or world mound from which it was derived, was an expression of pregnant Mother Earth, representing trapped or resident underworld gods. These gods would have included such figures as the joker, or various Prometheus-like joker figures who created mankind from clay. They may perhaps have been seen to have done this in slight opposition to more powerful sky and world gods, who did not want the world polluted by the newer invention of mankind. Man has never fit into the Earth as the other animals. He has always sought to change things. In the last ten thousand years he has moved to the city, and overwhelmed native eco-systems around him.
The underworld artificer gods were punished by the sky gods, thrown from heaven, or placed underground, to share the Earth with mankind, their creation. From the perspective of the first millennium BC, these gods were seen as evil or devils. (I am usually hesitant about etymologies, which can seemingly be interpreted in any way one pleases, but the word d-evil seems to comes from `De', the deity and `Eve', an Earth Mother.) From the perspective of the earlier religion however, which was less monotheistic, these devilish deities were not really `evil', but simply crafty, as humans are, and simply aspects of fertility stories about creation. I suggest that building any pyramid would have re-created creation on a local, and annual level, helping the crops to grow, in their minds. I have written about this in a recently completed work, to be entitled Centering Creation (in which I have tried to be clever with the title!) and which will be released in 2015.
In 1912, James Breasted suggested that the pyramid is based upon the idea of the World Mound. Egyptology in general tends to agree, but never really gets into (or mentions) the fact that the world mound is an aspect of mythology which is almost as widespread, worldwide, as the story of the primordial flood. It may be mentioned in Egyptian mythology, but it is certainly not unique to Egypt. The flood story was encountered by early explorers in almost every place between Ireland and the Americas, as are pyramids and huge pyramid-like turf mounds, such as Silbury Hill, and also built in the general Great-Pyramid era. I believe these may too have been inspired by stories of the world mound, from where ancient conceptions of creation perhaps ensued.
Part travelogue, part detective investigation, my upcoming book, Centering Creation, traces an antiquarian's journey (me) to various ancient sites not usually connected with the pyramid builders, uncovering various structures, (mounds, mysteriously lacking any burial), which I define as `pyramids,' rather than simple burial mounds for humans.
There is a long-creeping move towards awareness regarding what the pyramid phenomenon actually represents, and too much simmering dissatisfaction regarding the egomaniac-Pharaoh explanation for their existence. (A similar `egomaniac' possibly existed in England, at Avebury, a century or so earlier, and like Khufu, also chose not to be buried in his pyramid.) This semi-dormant desire to understand the pyramid will increasingly reach an apex, (pun caused by too much pyramid thinking) in the near future, given that pyramid research is now accelerating towards a new paradigm of understanding.
I have noticed also an increasing academic trend towards the interdisciplinary in certain historical publications of the past decade. In my PhD work I tackled the murky origins of Robin Hood, through a degree in a department of history. Nevertheless I had to incorporate mythological stories found in a wide variety of stories from monks' chronicles to jesters' ballads, as well as political history, and the study of the transmission of oral tradition. It was a difficult and little-tried mix, but necessary in order to formulate an overall image of reality and the evolution of myth from different perspectives. Until the 1960s, for the previous century, Robin Hood studies had been largely shunned until a recent crop of authors, beginning with the distinguished professor James Holt, began to consider him a topic of historical merit as well as of mythological literary merit, worthy of investigation. Hitherto no-one who took himself seriously enough had dared to suggest a mythological and therefore unhistorical character could be investigated by reference to court records into individual criminals. What is required is more the right mix of historical and literary analysis to track the development of legends, possibly inspired around various historical figures. Such a pathway, tracking phylogeny of a myth or legend, would help us get closer to the source.
What if we consider pyramids as objects of archaeological as well as mythological merit? I feel that one day pyramids as a world phenomena of the millennium BC stone builders will one day become a respected and trendsetting university subject. This will possibly be as an extension of an anthropology school, as there seems to be a good deal of mythology behind it, but little history, which only begins around 3100 BC, and is exceedingly scant regarding the third millennium.
A pyramid is obviously not just a tomb (as perhaps 70% of Giza-pyramid authors enjoy pointing out, repeatedly and with good reason). It is something far larger, and grander: a place for primordial fertility rites, and a representation of the underworld. I think it is a home or tomb for the underworld gods, which I hazard to name in my book, though that is partly speculation and partly archaeology evidence-backed. Pyramids and associated complexes are also a religious representation of stone-age mythology stories. This is the gist of my argument, but it is similar to that of various pyramid authors who for instance have suggested a link between Giza and Osiris, a fertility god. According to this methodology, I treat the pyramid builders as having been partly of a nomadic stone-age culture, who spread to Egypt, mixing their ideas with those of Egypt. I base this on research from a variety of recent authors, and with a view towards Mesolithic mythological stories. (otherwise not hitherto associated with Egypt, yet of relation to stone-age cultures).
In my upcoming book, I eventually try to tackle the older and definitively Stone-age meaning and purpose of the Giza complex, or at least what or who was or were once worshipped on the Giza plateau, even perhaps before the building of the Giza pyramids. (I present some evidence, a mixture of material and circumstantial, that the Giza pyramids may have been built in honour and remembrance of some earlier deities, perhaps worshipped upon the plateau.)
The Great pyramid itself may be in part a successor monument to an earlier structure on its site, (a view I believe was first put forth by Robert Schoch) incorporating mathematical and other information from that earlier structure, in order to honour its memory. It is sort of like a typical twelfth-century case of a larger, grander church having been built upon the site of an earlier dark-ages chapel).
In pursuing this interesting course, I come to some surprising but congruent conclusions which parallel other mythological representations of the underworld, in landscape, built about the same time. That is, the great pyramid-building era of the third millennium before Christ.
Philip Coppens, The New Pyramid Age, O-books, 2007.
Michael Dames, Silbury: Resolving the Enigma, The History Press, 2010.
Thor Heyerdahl, The Tigris Expedition, Doubleday, 1984.
Nicholas R. Mann, The Isle of Avalon, Llewellyn, 1996.
Robert M. Schoch, Voyages of the Pyramid Builders, Tarcher, 2004.
G. A. Wainwright, The Sky Religion in Egypt, Cambridge University Press, 1938.
If you would like to read more about some of my ideas regarding all this, please have a look at my book, In Search of the Origin of Pyramids and the Lost Gods of Giza, available cheaply in Kindle edition. It is also available in paperback edition for those who wish to make notes. I guarantee you will see info found no-where else.)