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Pyramids Said 'Modelled' On Shapes Of Nearby Sahara Desert Hills


The answer to the riddle of the great pyramids and the Sphinx at Giza could lie in the sands of the Sahara. Scientific studies have prompted claims that the monuments are copies of natural rock formations found in the desert.

Farouk El-Baz, who heads the Centre for Remote Sensing at Boston University, believes that the pyramids - which rank among the seven wonders of the ancient world - were inspired by similar shaped hills that stretch for hundreds of miles west of the Kharga oasis in southern Egypt.

El-Baz claims that knowledge of the formations was carried to the Nile valley - where the great pyramids stand - by nomads fleeing a severe drought about 5,000 years ago.

Although their original homeland is today one of the driest places in the world, El-Baz has used satellite imagery and carbon dating of plant remains and ostrich eggshells to show that it was once savanna, with tall grasses and trees that flourished around numerous lakes.

"The farmers who lived along the Nile had no idea what a pyramid looked like," said El-Baz, an American of Egyptian origin who used to work for Nasa, the space agency. "It was the nomads who knew them as giant billboards in the desert, as markers that they could see from a vast distance and that told them where to go.




The Great Sphinx, like several pyramids, was probably built on top of a large limestone rock. The Egyptians reshaped its head in the image of their king, and gave it a lion-like body, inspired by what they had seen in the desert.

The natural "pyramids" are believed to have been formed over tens of thousands of years by water and wind erosion from what was once flat-topped rock. Their shape has altered little in the 5,000 years since the nomads left.

The first known stone pyramid was built by the pharaoh Djoser in Saqqara in the third millennium BC. Both the Sphinx and the pyramids at Giza are thought to date from a little more than a century later.

El-Baz's claims, published in the American Review of Archaeology, have produced mixed reactions from other academics.

Stephen Quirke, assistant curator at London's Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, said the theory addressed an unresolved issue concerning the pyramids: why the Egyptians had chosen to build structures of that shape.

"The big question is always why the ancient Egyptians chose the pyramid," Quirke said. "For me it comes from a tradition that is not visible in the archeological record, and part of that may well be the set of beliefs that the nomads brought with them from the western desert."

Richard Parkinson, assistant keeper at the British Museum's ancient Egypt department, is sceptical. He remains convinced by the traditional explanation of the pyramids as a form of step that symbolised the ascent into the sky of the pharaoh buried within.


By John Follain

(This news update is courtesy of News Service,  which has a complete daily news service from around the world)

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