Said 'Modelled' On Shapes Of Nearby Sahara Desert Hills
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
claims, published in the American Review of Archaeology, have
produced mixed reactions from other academics.
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.
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."
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