Image by Karin Henseler via

(Image: Karin Henseler, pixabay)

Astronomical Integrity at Giza

In 1999, Robert Bauval, coauthor of The Orion Mystery and The Message of the Sphinx, enlisted the astronomical support of astronomer Dr. Archie E. Roy in an effort to diminish the impact of the astronomical analysis I had performed on Bauval’s interpretation of the layout and meaning of the monuments on the Giza plateau. Dr. Roy’s comments on one element of my analysis have been quoted by Robert Bauval, and those who have encountered them would naturally be interested in an assessment of their validity and relevance. This report is intended to respond to that interest.

I am addressing the remarks Robert Bauval attributes to Dr. Roy. I have not discussed these matters directly with Dr. Roy and cannot confirm that Robert Bauval has accurately quoted him.

I first detected logical conflicts in The Orion Mystery in 1995, when I was writing Skywatchers, Shamans, & Kings: Astronomy and the Archaeology of Power, and I described one of those contradictions-directional inversion-briefly in a section about pyramids in that book. I also offered a condensed presentation of the argument in the February, 1997, instalment (“Pyramid Marketing Schemes”) of my monthly column on astronomy and culture for Sky & Telescope magazine. I dealt with another aspect of the Bauval/Hancock Giza mapping in a second Sky & Telescope column, “The Sphinx Blinks,” in March, 2001.

From 1997 through the present I committed additional commentary in e-mail, correspondence, and various Internet discussions, primarily the HASTRO-L (History of Astronomy) netlist.

In May, 1998, allied with Zahi Hawass, I participated in the Visions Travel “The Pyramids, the Sphinx, the Mystery” cruise through Alaska’s Inside Passage. The Visions Travel group had been put together with the promise of a Giza Mystery “debate,” with Hawass and me on one side and Robert Bauval, Graham Hancock, John Anthony West, and others on the other. Robert Bauval, however, was not able to make the trip. In my shipboard presentation, I spotlighted seven serious astronomical problems with the Bauval/Hancock interpretations of Giza. Most of the subsequent coverage has focused, however, on one issue – my complaint that Bauval, and later Hancock, made Giza map Orion by turning Egypt upside-down. There are, however, other serious astronomical problems as well.

Dr. Roy’s remarks about my criticism of Bauval’s work involve only the question of directional inversion. In The Orion Mystery, Robert Bauval and Adrian Gilbert identified the three main pyramids at Giza as a symbolic representation of the three stars in the Belt of Orion. They fortified this conclusion by pairing an aerial photograph of the three pyramids, which appear as a diagonal line across the page, with a telescopic photograph of Orion’s Belt. Those stars follow a similar diagonal across the page. In pondering the two photographs, I realized the image of Giza is presented with south at the top of the page. In the picture of Orion’s Belt, north is at the top of the page. Because Bauval and Gilbert treated Giza as a map of the sky, the matching of north in the sky with south on the ground seemed odd. Bauval and Gilbert did not treat Giza in isolation from the rest of the northern antiquities and the Nile, and any interpretation that involves the notion of mapping sky to earth could be affected by the treatment of direction in a correspondence between stars and monuments.

For example, a direct projection of stars to earth cannot produce the pattern of monuments encountered on the ground at Giza. When you project the stars from the sky directly to the earth, the “Belt” of pyramids is angled the wrong way. Obviously this kind of mapping, which preserves the directional relationship between earth and sky, can’t work at Giza. The geometry is compromised.

Bauval, Gilbert, and Hancock automatically bring directionality into the discussion, because their configuration involves Orion on the meridian. The meridian is a great arc that extends from cardinal north on the northern horizon through the north celestial pole (from which the sky’s directionality originates), through the zenith (the point directly overhead), and to cardinal south on the southern horizon. To map the sky on the ground in a way that matches the pattern of stars we see in the sky (and so preserves the geometry), it is necessary to invert north in the sky with respect to north on the ground. In a sense, this can be accomplished by “sliding” Orion down the meridian to the southern horizon and pulling it north, feet first (south) across the ground. This procedure is, in fact, what Robert Bauval, Graham Hancock, and Dr. Roy do when they say “Just look south” to make Orion’s Belt look like the plan of Giza. This is why the two photographs in The Orion Mystery put north on opposite sides of the pages.

You can, then, match Orion to Giza by looking south, but you invert the cardinal directions of one map or the other to do it. In this kind of mapping (just face south), the angle of the “Belt” of pyramids is okay, but north in the sky is mapped to the south on the ground. This is equivalent to turning Egypt upside-down, and that is what I have said in publications, correspondence, lectures, and on television.

In response to my analyses, Bauval and Hancock have argued we should allow artistic license into the representation of stars by pyramids on the Giza plateau and beyond. Originally, however, Bauval and Gilbert did not treat Giza with artistic license, and they did not suggest the pyramids occupied the ground in isolation from the sky. In fact, their argument emerged from, and relied on, the Badawy/Trimble stellar alignment interpretation of the King’s Chamber shafts. I first brought this interpretation to wider attention in 1978 in In Search of Ancient Astronomies, and Bauval and Gilbert quoted and referenced me in The Orion Mystery in that connection.

Had Bauval and Gilbert ignored the shaft alignments and simply said three pyramids in a line equal three stars in a row, their argument would have been unfalsifiable and logically uninteresting. I would have left it alone. Instead, however, Bauval and Gilbert first anchored the Giza pyramids with clearly designated directional attachments to the sky. The north shaft, they agreed, was targeted on the upper culmination (meridian occupation, cardinal north) of Thuban, near the north celestial pole. The south shaft, they agreed, was targeted on the transit (meridian occupation, cardinal south) of the Belt of Orion. If you accept the stellar alignment of the shafts – and Bauval/Gilbert/Hancock do – it means the Old Kingdom Egyptians deliberately associated cardinal north on the ground at Giza with north in the sky and cardinal south on the ground at Giza with south in the sky. Of course, you can invert the directionality of the plan on the ground with respect to the sky’s distinctive directionality, but doing so contradicts the original premise. Bauval et al, however, embraced that premise.

On Bauval’s behalf, Dr. Roy explained that he checked the orientation of Orion when it is:

on the south meridian, when an observer at Giza looks southwards from the Giza complex.

Dr. Roy also confirmed the obvious: Dr. Roy continued to describe the relative positions of the Giza monuments and demonstrated that the three pyramids make a fair Belt and that the Nile fulfills the role of the Milky Way on the ground. According to Bauval, Dr. Roy added:

The accusation that the maps were placed upside down is therefore unfounded.

This conclusion is actually a different issue. Dr. Roy began his remarks to Robert Bauval with this reference to the presentation of maps in The Orion Mystery:

I find it astonishing that you have been accused of fudging the maps of Egypt and particularly the Pyramid complex to make your theory ‘fit.’ In particular, that the maps were deliberately placed upside down. This is a serious accusation.

This is not an accusation but a simple fact. I have noted that the maps in The Orion Mystery are presented with south at the top and also that direction is not indicated on these maps. This presentation preserves the configural resemblance between Orion’s Belt and the three primary pyramids. That evidence is available for any reader of the book.

Of course, the directional orientation of a map is a matter of convention and arbitrary. Nothing requires us to place north at the top. The substantive content of a map is not compromised by putting south at the top. By convention, however, we usually put north at the top, and in any case, we usually indicate direction on maps, however they be oriented on the page. In The Orion Mystery, an unconventional directional inversion is introduced but not identified. Bauval and Gilbert published their maps with south up, but they did not indicate the orientation or alert the reader to the reason for the inversion.

Because The Orion Mystery was written as a trade book for the general reader, it is reasonable to conclude most readers would assume normal map orientation. Had the orientation of the maps been indicated, I think some readers would have wondered why Bauval and Gilbert defied the usual convention. The contradictions of their approach would have been evident sooner, I think, because the system of correspondence of stars to pyramids extended well beyond Orion’s Belt.

There is, then, no question that Bauval and Gilbert matched north on the ground with south in the sky and vice versa. This is evident in the photographic presentation in the book, in the diagrams, and in the orientation of all of the maps with south at the top (unmarked). Whether or not it makes a difference, it did confuse people. Most people, in fact, thought Bauval and Gilbert simply projected the stars down onto the ground. If you take a look at the artwork on page 136 of The Secret Language of the Stars and Planets by Geoffrey Cornelius and Paul Devereux, you will see that this sympathetic report of the Bauval/Gilbert Orion Mystery impossibly projects the stars to earth to show the Orion Mystery relationship between the pyramids and the stars.

The same erroneous projection is included as Plate 15 in Adrian Gilbert’s new book, Signs in the Sky (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2000). The diagram shows a projection of stars to earth that is geometrically impossible.

Cardinal directions, which are astronomical in origin and derive their meaning from the sky, are inverted by Bauval, Gilbert, and Hancock to achieve the Orion mapping on Giza. Dr. Roy does not contradict that. His description actually confirms it. Orion’s head, which is north in the sky, is toward the south when Orion is mapped in pyramids on the ground. The facts are not in dispute. The question is, “Does this matter?”

Yes, it does, because Bauval and Hancock rely on that same cardinal directionality and directional links between earth and sky when they embrace the astronomical meaning of the so-called “air shafts” that extend toward cardinal north and cardinal south from the King’s Chamber and the Queen’s Chamber. In effect, Bauval and Hancock say a directional match between earth and sky does not matter when you are mapping stars into pyramids but it does matter when you are aligning shafts to stellar targets. This is a contradictory use of evidence.

My concern is establishing the rules of evidence. Bauval and Gilbert, and later Hancock and Bauval, have said the stars are mapped onto Giza. To test this claim, we must know what is meant by mapping. There are two ways to get the stars onto the ground, but neither is valid because other elements of the Bauval/Hancock portrait of astronomy at Giza are contradicted by what they have done.

We know the Egyptians invested in the sky’s distinctive directionality, in the pyramids and elsewhere. There is also other textual evidence that confirms the symbolic significance of cardinality in Old Kingdom Egypt, but it is not required for this analysis. It simply supports it.

In this discussion, however, I am not as interested in establishing what the Egyptians did or didn’t do at Giza as I am in understanding and evaluating accurately the Orion mapping assertion Bauval and Gilbert originally developed in The Orion Mystery and that Hancock and Bauval extended in The Message of the Sphinx. Because the record of the past is always incomplete, I try to be judicious about the difference between proposal and assertion. Guided by that instinct, I evaluated the Orion’s Belt mapping in the context of Bauval’s and Gilbert’s handling of it.

I said directionality does matter because Bauval and Gilbert embraced the defined directionality of the King’s Chamber shafts. Bauval and Hancock bypassed that argument and referred to “artistic license,” as if accuracy and precision are alien to artists. It is especially ironic, then, that Bauval later claimed Kate Spence appropriated his earlier research and precedence for a stellar dating of the Great Pyramid. To support his claim, he argued again for the significance of the King’s Chamber shafts and the Queen’s Chamber shafts, particularly the north shaft of the Queen’s Chamber, which he says was targeted on Kochab. In fact, as part of his claim, he billboarded an illustration of Kochab and Mizar on the Giza celestial meridian, a picture he had originally included in The Orion Mystery. This again means Bauval still thinks north means north and south means south at Giza…except when he wants north to mean south. I have argued that this is a logical contradiction, and for me it constitutes a fatal flaw in the Orion mapping argument. It’s easy to see it. You just look north.

Dr. Roy’s comparison of the Giza configuration with the disposition of the stars and Milky Way confirms another fundamental contradiction in the Bauval/Hancock interpretation of Giza. I described this problem in the March, 2001, issue of Sky & Telescope, and it involves the relative placement of the three Giza pyramids, the Nile, and the Sphinx, as terrestrial stand-ins for Orion’s Belt, the Milky Way, and the constellation Leo the Lion (which is not an indigenous Egyptian constellation and not represented in archaic Egyptian star lore). Bonding the Giza layout to vernal equinox sunrise in 10,500 B.C., they assert these correspondences represent the astronomical intent of the builders. If these identifications be correct (and I don’t think that they are), then the celestial arrangement is not correctly mapped or mirrored on the ground. Here’s why.

Dr. Roy correctly notes that the Milky Way is east of Orion but fails to note that Leo is east of the Milky Way. That means the Milky Way separates Leo from Orion. On the ground, however, Leo (the Sphinx) separates the Milky Way (the Nile) from Orion (the pyramids). The Sphinx is on the wrong side of the river.

If we say the monuments were intended to map the night sky but then impose no rules for mapping, we are engaged in a meaningless enterprise. We should instead, I think, start with a simple premise: If we are talking about mapping, then we are talking about one-to-one correspondence.

If the Giza pyramids were intended to represent the stars of Orion’s Belt, we might expect the size of each pyramid to bear some relationship to the appearance of each star. In particular, size might correspond to brightness. In any case, it is odd that the brightest of the Belt stars is not represented by the largest of the pyramids.

Although Bauval has emphasized the importance of the slight bend we see in Orion’s Belt and linked this with a displacement of the pyramid of Menkaure with respect to the line that connects the pyramids of Khufu and Khafre, the oldest graphic representation of Orion’s Belt from Egypt (Tomb of Sennemut, Deir el-Bahri, New Kingdom era, Eighteenth Dynasty, ~1498-1493 B.C. ) does not replicate this distinctive detail.

Bauval and Gilbert mapped more than Orion’s Belt onto the ground in northern Egypt. Other pyramids provided additional elements of the constellation we now know as Orion. The proportions of the figure imposed on the ground do not match well the proportions of the pattern of stars in the sky. As a drawing of Orion, the pyramids are not very good. Also, while Bauval and Gilbert represented the stars Saiph and Bellatrix with pyramids, the two brightest stars in Orion, Betelgeuse and Rigel (two of the brightest stars in the sky), do not have any corresponding monuments. This is odd.

Bauval and Gilbert extended the celestial map to the pyramids at Dashur, which they equated with the Hyades, the star cluster that forms the face of Taurus the Bull (another Mesopotamian constellation). They advocated this correspondence with a map of monuments that shows a tight resemblance to a map of the sky. Their star map is dramatically incorrect, however. It shows that the line formed by the stars Saiph and Bellatrix points to Aldebaran and the rest of the Hyades. In the real sky, the Belt points toward Aldebaran and the Hyades. The orientation of Orion to the Hyades on this map (page 222 The Orion Mystery) is about 45 degrees off, a huge discrepancy.

Leo the Lion, and other familiar constellations of the zodiac do not appear in ancient Egyptian astronomical texts and representations until the Graeco-Roman era and the figural depictions on the famed astronomical ceiling at Dendera. Leo the Lion originated in ancient Mesopotamia and does not belong to Old Kingdom Egypt, the era of pyramid construction. There is a celestial lion in New Kingdom star lore, but it can be demonstrated it is not the stars of Leo.

Along with the fundamental directional inversion, which the Old Kingdom Egyptians could have easily avoided had they wanted to do so, and with the astronomically mislocated Sphinx, these astronomical considerations argue against the idea that the sky was deliberately mapped in monumental architecture at Giza.

Although I have presented all of these arguments, with additional supportive detail, on several occasions, Dr. Roy offered only a brief and mistargeted commentary on one of them, the directional inversion.

I think, then, it is unlikely the three pyramids of Giza are stand-ins for the stars. For all I know, they may symbolize the Three Blind Mice, the Three Graces, the Three Musketeers, the Three Wise Men, or the Three Stooges. But I don’t think they are the three stars of Orion’s Belt.

Ed Krupp
October 2001
Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles