Murder and forgery inside the Great Pyramid?
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by Philip Coppens Few writers in the field of alternative history/archaeology are as controversial as Zecharia Sitchin. For one, he has been largely responsible, via René Andrew Boulay, for carving out the ideological framework dear to some of the more outlandish conspiracy theorists, such as David Icke: that there are extra-terrestrial controllers living on Earth, which are reptilian in nature, who have and continue to use Mankind as a slave race.
You either hate or adore Sitchin; there does not appear to be a middle ground. His fame – or distaste – is largely derived from his alternative decipherment of the Sumerian legends, which for Sitchin point towards the existence of a twelfth planet in our solar system, whose inhabitants colonised the Earth – and genetically engineered Mankind to work the Earth’s goldmines. Faced with such extraordinary claims, few if any historian have taken Sitchin seriously. Once heralded as one of the few people on this planet who could read the Sumerian script, today, he is more generally introduced as a “journalist” or a “New York writer”.
But amidst all the controversy and the spectacular claims, it is less known that Sitchin has created an enduring legacy that is seldom attributed to him directly, by arguing that the famous pyramid explorer Howard Vyse forged an inscription in the Great Pyramid. If true, it would mean that the only available hard evidence that the pyramid was built by Khufu would be reduced to an archaeological fraud – and one of the most famous explorers to a common criminal. In Sitchin’s “The Stairway to Heaven”, published in 1980, the chapter entitled “Forging The Pharaoh’s Name” argues that Colonel Richard Howard Vyse did not discover, but forged a cartouche containing the name of Pharaoh Khufu inside the Great Pyramid, in one of the relieving chambers above the King’s Chamber. Vyse was credited with this groundbreaking discovery that placed his name in the annals of Egyptology in his book “Operations Carried on at the Pyramids of Gizeh in 1837”. These relieving chambers were never meant to be entered and had in fact been sealed at the time of the pyramid’s construction. Hence, they dated back to the time the pyramids were built. The discovery of Khufu’s name inside thus provided definitive evidence this Pharaoh was responsible for the Great Pyramid.
For someone, like Sitchin, who believes that the pyramids are far older than the Fourth Dynasty (ca. 2400 BC) and constructed by alien overlords, the cartouche thus posed evidentiary problems for their theories. And whereas some chose to ignore the problem, Sitchin argued that the cartouche was a fraud. Indeed, Sitchin said that it had not been seen by previous visitors to the relieving chamber in question. How could they have missed what Vyse so easily found? Furthermore, Sitchin writes: “Wasn’t it odd, I thought, that for centuries no markings of any kind were found by anyone, anywhere, in the pyramid, not even in Davison’s Chamber above the King’s Chamber – and only Vyse found such markings where only he first entered?”
Next point of debate: the cartouche was executed in red paint. The experts had difficulty distinguishing it from other – recent – inscriptions and its possible status as a recent addition wasn’t helped with claims that people had been seen entering the structure with red paint. Perring’s memoirs “The Pyramids of Gizeh” do state that the red paint “was a composition of red ochre called by the Arabs moghrab which is still in use. […] Such is the state of preservation of the marks in the quarries that it is difficult to distinguish the work of yesterday from one of three thousand years”.
But the best evidence, Sitchin argued, was that the name of Khufu was misspelled – and conform to a notorious misspelling in a book to which Vyse had access. It is particularly the latter allegation of misspelling the Pharaoh’s name that has been hotly contested by experts in the field; so when they argue Sitchin was wrong, they conveniently wipe the other doubts under the carpet too.
Sitchin claims that the inscription reads Ra-ufu, not Khufu. This mistake would have been unthinkable for ancient Egyptian writers to make, but it is explainable if the inscription was done in 1837. That year, an academic book about hieroglyphics had been published, “Materia Hieroglyphica”, in which the name of Khufu was erroneously entered: the lines of the sieve were so close together, that they appeared in the print like a massive disc, which is in fact another way of writing “Ra”. It is known that Vyse had this book with him. Definitely, Vyse had the opportunity to commit this fraud. But in any crime, motive is an important consideration… and Sitchin is able to provide one: Vyse’s expedition was running short of funding, and had largely not uncovered any major revelation that would grab headlines, which is what he needed to receive more funding. The discovery of the cartouche was therefore a gift from heaven. Too good to be true?
Perhaps, though it seems that accusations of forgery work both ways. Sitchin’s opponents have pointed out that the visual evidence for the misspelling that Sitchin provides is erroneous at best, and some claim Sitchin has actually forged evidence in support of his conclusions of forgery! His opponents point out that various other photographs, including those circulated by Rainer Stadelmann when he was working on the ventilation system in the Great Pyramid in the 1990s, reveal that the correct sign was used in the writing in the relieving chamber – hence, Ra-ufu is in fact Khufu. In their opinion, Sitchin, not Vyse, is guilty of forgery. The Queen’s Chamber, Great Pyramid In Sitchin’s possible defence, when he first published his accusation in 1980, several photographs now in existence, including Stadelmann’s, had not yet been made; only drawings existed, and perhaps these showed the inaccuracy as well? Unfortunately for Sitchin, that is not the case: a sketch of the cartouche appears in Perring’s book, published in 1839. Sitchin gives no precise source where he got the cartouche from, but as Perring is listed in the bibliography, most assume it was his book that provided Sitchin with a drawing of the cartouche. And, as such, the conclusion drawn by those antagonistic towards Sitchin is that he purposefully faked the story of a forgery – in an attempt to predate the pyramid to several millennia before Khufu – and have the evidence conform to his theory. Discovery of the Casing Stones by Colonel Vyse (Drawing by J.S. Perring) More than a quarter century after the original allegation, Sitchin nevertheless sticks to his original charge. Sitchin adds that in 1983, Walter M. Allen of Pittsburgh, Pa. contacted him, stating that his great-grandfather, Humphries W. Brewer, had been one of the stonemasons employed by Vyse. Allen said that he possessed family documents in which Brewer said he witnessed Hill, a man working for Vyse, go into the pyramid with red paint and a brush. He said that Brewer objected to such forgeries, but was then fired and banned from the site. Allen was unable to provide first-hand evidence to his claim, but, to his credit, he did have written family accounts written in the 1950s that said as much; he furnished Sitchin with copies of those entries.
Interestingly, Brewer later worked for the German Egyptologist Lepsius and tried to examine the marks inside the pyramid, but was refused permission by Vyse. So irrelevant of the allegations made by Sitchin, namely that the copying of Khufu’s name was erroneous, the suspicion cannot be entirely shaken that someone in Vyse’s entourage (correctly) added a cartouche with Khufu’s name to the fabric of the Great Pyramid.
Sitchin has brought in circumstantial evidence, by drawing the attention to the discovery of a coffin lid bearing the name “Menkaure” that was discovered inside the Third Pyramid in 1837, again, by Howard Vyse and John Perring. He argues that Vyse twice tried to link the structures of the Gizeh plateau with the Fourth Dynasty, and twice got what he wanted by committing fraud. However, the case for fraud in regards to the Third Pyramid is a rather loose allegation.
The story of the coffin lid is indeed interesting. Originally seen as genuine, more than a century after its discovery, carbon dating techniques revealed that the coffin lid was not from 2600 BC (but 660 BC) and that the skeleton inside dated from the first or second century AD. It was, in short, not Menkaure at all, as Vyse had promoted the find. The discovery was therefore dropped and the British Museum removed the coffin lid from its catalogue. But the link between Menkaure and the Third Pyramid has remained intact and though Vyse could easily have been merely mistaken in his conclusions, Sitchin sees this rather as further evidence of guilt and fraud. Sitchin’s interest in the pyramids does not end there. In “Journeys to the Mythical Past”, largely a collection of travel reports he performed in recent years, Sitchin claims that on one visit to the Great Pyramid, in 1997, he was “almost killed” and seems to allege that forces within the Egyptological establishment tried to kill him for his views and opinions.
Of more interest – and less dramatic, though more sensational – are allegations, supported by signed affidavits and several photographs, of the existence of an unknown room behind the niche in the Queen’s Chamber. The main character in this saga is John Cogswell, a member of Sitchin’s travel party. The account of his discovery is the subject of an affidavit dated January 28, 2004, relating to events of February 1995.
It states that when Sitchin and Cogswell entered the Queen’s Chamber, they found a different niche covering was in place than seen on previous visits. They opened the cover, to look inside. There, they found plastic pipes and bottles, suggesting someone had either used the niche as a garbage dump… or something else was occurring further along the niche.
Cogswell was tasked with crawling inside, to see what could lay ahead. And what he found, was a secret chamber. To quote from the affidavit: “I crawled along for about 15 feet when a tunnel veered to the left. Along this way, I noted some old black plastic pipe that was badly damaged. The tunnel during this first stage of the journey was approximately 2.5 feet square. […] After the first 15 feet, the tunnel veered to the left approximately 30-45 degrees and continued for about another 15 feet. As I went on, the tunnel got roomier. At the end, I entered into an area roughly circular in nature and approximately 10-12 feet in diameter from the waist up and approximately 12 feet high. It was not a finished room but appeared to be a room created by the removal of building stones.”
Photographs of the room reveal a relatively small place, rough, with a blackened ceiling. Though it appears to harbour no great secret, the question is why no-one has catalogued it – or announced its discovery. Furthermore, it is this area that is one of the areas of interest to the French architect Gilles Dormion, who believes that the niche – which many believe was meant to hold a statue of the Pharaoh – instead betrays signs – as does the floor of the Queen’s Chamber – of having been reworked. Dormion speculates that the true King’s Chamber – containing Khufu’s sarcophagus – might be hidden underneath the floor of the Queen’s Chamber. Sitchin’s revelation, as surprising as it may be to many, is not groundbreaking news as such. Indeed, Sitchin should be commended for having the gusto to let his party crawl where few others dared to go and come back with photographic evidence in support of their exploits. The question is whether we are confronted with a room which Egyptologists are purposefully keeping secret, or something else. And Sitchin once again argues or a cover-up.
In truth, the hole and room in the back of the niche is known about. Though seldom discussed (and one does wonder why), it is not a secret. It is subject of mystery, though the most common explanation is that it was done by treasure seekers at some moment in the paast and Caviglia is often identified as the most likely suspect, apparently in an effort to reach the King’s Chamber (above) via another route. That the “room” was created by treasure seekers could explain the roughness of the chamber’s look, as well as the blackening of the ceiling – the possible result of the treasure hunters’ torches. In conclusion, it is clear that Sitchin is a controversial character when it comes to the Great Pyramid. Though often having been pushed out of the limelight by Robert Bauval and Graham Hancock – both of whom often relied on pieces of Sitchin’s material – he has been a powerful force in the debate as to the true nature of the Great Pyramid, and specifically attempts to predate it by several millennia and link it with alien or lost civilisations. Though the jury is definitely out whether Vyse carved the Pharaoh’s name inside the relieving chamber, Sitchin has carved out a name for himself by continuing the Pyramid debate, at a time when some of the others, like Bauval and Hancock, seem to have given up.