The ancient Egyptians believed that after mortal death the soul or spirit would continue life in another dimension. They buried their Pharaoh kings, whom they regarded as living Gods, with all the treasures and objects needed to survive in comfort in the afterlife. They also embalmed their bodies to ensure that their mortal remains would be mummified and preserved for whatever fate awaited them. Crucially, they built impressive burial structures to demonstrate the dead person?s importance and to aid their ascendancy to the next dimension in the heavens. The most famous and enigmatic of these buildings are Egypt?s pyramids, and the most mystical of all these is the Great Pyramid of Cheops at Giza. However, many people question whether the structure really is just a simple, albeit awesome, tomb or whether the design holds one of the great secrets of civilisation.
The pyramids were erected between 2800 BC and 2200 BC; the first was built by King Zoser in Saqqara near Memphis. Although the structure was created with six stepped tiers, and is not a strict pyramid as such, it was the first building designed exclusively to house the property and remains of the king. In the following centuries King Seneferu built his own trio of pyramids. One at Maidum was called the ?False Pyramid? because it was abandoned mid-project due to a structural weakness. One at Dahshur was known as the ?Bent Pyramid? because of another design problem which meant the gradient of its sides had to be reduced as it was constructed. The final one, called the ?Northern Pyramid of Seneferu?, was built close to the ?Bent Pyramid?, and is recog?nised as the first true pyramid.
The most impressive structure, however, was completed around 2500 BC for King Cheops at a site in Giza, ten miles south of the city we now know as Cairo. Using an estimated 4000 builders, and tens of thousands more manual labourers, the ?Great Pyramid? stands 481 feet high. It is believed it may have taken up to 30 years to quarry and assemble the two and a half million blocks of limestone, which weigh a total of six million tonnes. The base of the pyramid covers an area just over 30 acres. It appears that great care was lavished on Cheops? structure, and although later pyramids were built for King Chephren and King Mycerinus alongside, neither is of the same quality.
Certainly, there are many fascinating aspects of the Great Pyramid?s design. Its sides run perfectly north to south and east to west to within a tenth of a degree. The base is an almost exact square, with an error margin of just seven inches, whilst the pavement around the structure is level to within an inch. Unlike other pyramids, this one houses a great number of chambers and corridors, with the lengthy 345 feet long Ascending Passageway running directly north. It had been widely assumed that the pyramid stood as a great monument to hold the body and treasures of King Cheops, although when the structure was first opened by Caliph Abdullah al Mamun in AD 820 nothing was found inside. Al Mamun discovered the King?s Chamber blocked by three huge granite plugs, which he and his men circumvented. But when they arrived in the great room, there simply stood an empty stone sarcophagus.
The mystery of what had happened to the pyramid after its completion, if its assumed use is correct, has continued to this day. In the absence of real evidence of burial ceremonies in the structure, many fantastic other theories have grown. Some people believe it was built by God either as a stone version of the Bible, or as a record containing references to all events past, present and future. They believe that the various passageways represent historical time-lines, and intersections between them mark great happenings. The birth of Christ and the two World Wars are supposed to be signified along these routes. Some experts who advocate this theory said it also showed a Second Coming in 1881 and the end of the world in 1953. Other mathematical studies of the Great Pyramid claims it demonstrates knowledge of the true value of pi, and was built using the ?sacred inch?.
A popular theory originating in the latter part of the last century is at the Great Pyramid was constructed by alien visitors. It has been proposed that these aliens did everything from creating Mankind to erecting the pyramid as a landing beacon for their next visit to Earth. Another well-known idea is called the Orion Theory and was created by Robert Bauval and Adrian Gilbert. They believe the pyramids at Giza are an earthly representation of the three stars in the Orion Nebula. The shafts found in the Great Pyramid are supposed to correlate with important astronomical features visible at the time of the building?s construction. The Orion Theory states that the Ancient Egyptians were direct descendants of alien visitors, and retained some of their knowledge. The purpose of these important design features in their tombs was to help point the spirits of the dead back towards the stars from whence they came.
Many of these ?ancient astronaut? theories suggest the pyramids were built around 10,000 years ago, rather than the 5,000 supported by historians. Other theories state that the instigating race may not have been aliens, but a now-lost civilisation. One writer, Edgar Cayce, was convinced the pyramids were built around 10,000 BC by travellers from Atlantis. However, his assertion that the Atlanteans also recorded the Second Coming of Christ in 1998 in the design of the pyramid, is somewhat flawed. Some theories even suggest that our conception of the chronology of the pyramids is wrong. Some people believe the build quality of the pyramids actually deteriorated, rather than improving, as the initial knowledge brought by the instigating race was lost over time.
Although the Great Pyramid has been explored and studied more than any other ancient structure in Egypt, new discoveries are constantly being made. In 1954 a previously unknown sealed pit was found on the south side, containing a 140 ft long cedar boat, which may have been buried to help the king travel to the after-life. In recent years, space equipment and remote controlled probes have been used to examine the building in ways never before possible. However, NASA?s refusal to publish underground readings taken by the space shuttle, and the Egyptian government?s unhelpful attitudes towards deeper exploration, has only increased conspiracy theories and myths of hidden secrets. For the world?s interested public, the mystery of the Great Pyramid at Giza is as unknown today as when Caliph Abdullah al Mamun first reopened it over a millennium ago.