Arabs and Pyramids

When trying to shed light on historical mysteries, the standard advice is to use sources based as close to the original events as possible, both in time and location. Obviously, the source best placed for clearing up some of the mysteries surrounding the pyramids would therefore be a document written by an Egyptian involved in either planning or building the pyramids.
Unfortunately, no such sources exist: or, at any rate, if they do, they still await discovery. For descriptions of the construction of the Great Pyramid, therefore, we have only two sources. The first is the peripatetic Greek author, Herodotus, who visited Egypt around 470 BC (2,000 years after the pyramids of Giza were built). He was told by temple priests still working in the pyramid complexes that the pyramids were built with the help of simple, wooden portable machines (admittedly, that isn’t altogether accurate; what he actually said was that the casing blocks alone were transported in this way).[1]
The second collection of sources providing extensive descriptions of pyramid construction was supposedly a group of writers working in a much earlier period, namely, Arab authors, viewed by many as guardians of lost knowledge. Unlike Herodotus, described as a “liar” because he uncritically wrote down everything that he was told, the Arabs were deemed to be serious researchers constitutionally incapable of any form of mendacity. The time has therefore come to take a very close look at these Arab sources.

Egypt after the pharaohs

Egypt was conquered by the Arabs in 642 AD, although the ancient Egyptian civilization had effectively gone into a decline long before this time.
After the New Kingdom had come to an end in about 1100 BC, Egypt never recovered its former might, the throne being occupied by a succession of foreign rulers: Nubians, Assyrians, Libyans, Greeks and finally Romans. This era witnessed various cultural changes, including the introduction of new gods, new cults, and even new forms of writing. Fascinated and impressed by Egyptian hieroglyphs, the Greeks and Romans took the Egyptian script to dizzy heights, inventing several thousand hieroglyphs of their own. Within a few hundred years, the once clear script, limited to a few hundred characters, had morphed into an unmanageable monster of some 8,000 hieroglyphs. Unfortunately, the foreign rulers became increasingly uninterested in learning the language and script of the conquered country (and still less their own unwieldy additions to it); and the hordes of colonists who had migrated from Greece and Rome were equally indifferent. Government decrees were therefore often written in several languages; and, ironically, we owe our ability to understand the Egyptian language to various examples of these multi-lingual inscriptions, such as the Rosetta Stone and the Canopus Decree, which early Egyptologists found to consist of identical texts in Egyptian hieroglyphs and in Greek.
In isolated regions, remnants of the older civilization still clung on, although there is no known hieroglyphic inscription after 394 AD. After this time ancient Egyptian script to all intents and purposes became defunct, the civilization itself having effectively breathed its last some time before.

Although the Greeks and the Romans used Egyptian motifs for their temples in Egypt, such motifs, as we can see from the example on the Dendera ceiling, were sometimes taken out of their original context and used in modified form in a new setting. When Christianity became the official religion of Rome and its colonies - by about 320 AD, more than half of the population was Christian - many "heathen" monuments in those colonies were destroyed;. When the Copts, who had separated from the Roman Orthodox Church, settled in Egypt, this resulted in a rather strange blend of half-forgotten Egyptian fables and distorted Christian symbolism – as, for example, in the image of Jesus as Horus, child of Isis and Osiris.

So this was the situation that met the Arabs when they conquered Egypt. Awestruck, the conquerors halted in front of monuments breathtaking in their grandeur and size, and sought to know from the people living there what these constructions were. But the inhabitants just shrugged: that knowledge had disappeared long ago.  The last person who could read the inscriptions had died centuries ago; temple service for the pharaohs had ended more than 1,000 years earlier; the last Egyptian pharaoh had ruled over 1,500 years before. So, since they were unable to obtain any information from their Egyptian subjects, the Arabs were forced to devise explanations of their own.
However, of one thing they were perfectly sure: the edifices had been built by infidels, and were therefore not entitled to any form of religious protection. And why should the conquerors toil away in quarries breaking up stone for construction material for fortifications and city walls, if there were already blocks of expensive hard limestone from the pyramids and temples freely available throughout the land? So began the second wave of destruction.[2]

Nevertheless, the Arabs continued to be curious about the history of these great edifices, and, in the absence of any other explanation, they produced their own version of the events that had given rise to the monuments. According to the Prophet Mohammed, the only “truth” about the distant past was to be found in the religious texts of the Holy Koran, and the Old Testament, which the Arabs - a previously non-literate nomadic culture - had adopted from their Jewish precursors. Any form of history not described in either the ancient Jewish texts, or the Arabs’ own sacred texts, was unthinkable. In these ancient texts alone, therefore, was any credible explanation for the presence of these huge monuments to be found; the people responsible for the edifices could only be individuals mentioned in the Old Testament, or early Arabian kings.
But, because Islam is a monotheistic religion, recognizing only one God, ancient deities from other traditions, such as ancient Greek mythology, were transformed into biblical prophets. The god Hermes, for example, the ancient Greek equivalent of the Roman Mercury (and Egypt had, after all, been colonised by the Greeks and Romans for a long time), was assimilated to the biblical prophet Enoch, despite the fact that the two figures had absolutely nothing in common.
Many of these stories were written down in the 15th century by the religious scholar Muhammad al-Makrizi (1364-1442). Other stories were collected in the early 19th century by Howard Vyse, who summarised them in vol. II of "Operations carried on at Gizeh," (pg 179) the book mentioned in earlier pages of this site.
The Hitat, the work written by Makrizi, has become something of an icon for fringe authors. Luckily, the part dealing with pyramids has been translated into German, and I refer to this official translation[3] to examine the various claims.

Alternative authors claim that the Arab authors are a more trustworthy source, on the grounds that they approached their work much more systematically than Herodotus (who, so alternative authors would have us believe, gullibly noted what anyone and everyone, even camel herdsmen, had to say). The Arabs studied all obtainable written sources, and noted their findings with scrupulous attention to detail. Since many of them these Arab authors were physicians, architects or other scholars, their work was therefore viewed as more reliable than that of some jumped-up Greek tourist like Herodotus.

The accuracy of al-Kaisi

One Hitat source held in particular veneration by countless German authors is Abu Abdallah Muhammed bin Abd ar-Rahim al-Kaisi (referred to henceforth as "al-Kaisi." :-) ) This particular contributor to the Hitat, who died ca. 1170 AD, was a doctor. And, because medical doctors today are all serious men of science who approach their research with proper scientific rigour, it follows that al-Kaisi, too, must have adhered to similar scientific principles … according to the authors who rely on his accounts, at any rate.
Al-Kaisi relates many marvels connected with the subterranean chamber in the Great Pyramid, in the centre of which is a small, square, vertical shaft. There are four doors in the chamber, he writes, leading to four rooms. In these rooms are hundreds of dead bodies, all well preserved, resting in translucent, glowing sarcophagi - like something out of a sci-fi-movie.
Unfortunately, nobody has ever succeeded in finding these doors. Admittedly, there IS a square, vertical shaft or pit in the middle of the subterranean chamber, and, with such stories in mind, early excavators like Howard Vyse tried to locate the doors in question. Vyse cleared out the shaft, but found to his disappointment that it was only about 1.5 m deep. To begin with, he thought that this might be simply a clever piece of camouflage, or some form of plug, and so ordered his workers to dig further down, to a depth of about 12 metres. But they found nothing other than solid rock, and there was no evidence of the shaft having been any deeper in antiquity. The last exploratory attempt took place in the mid 1980's, several holes being drilled to depths of about 6 m further down; but, again, nothing other than bedrock came to light.
Reactions to this have been rather varied. Most authors are unaware of these attempts at digging and drilling, and continue to demand that Egyptologists carry out more exhaustive searches for the doors. Confronted with the facts, the more critical thinkers begin to question al-Kaisi’s reliability, whereas others immediately start spawning conspiracy theories. Because, as we have to keep in mind, Al-Kaisi cannot POSSIBLY be wrong.

Fortunately, al-Kaisi did not confine himself to writing about objects that continue to defy all attempts at discovery; the main part of his work is concerned with describing the exteriors of various Egyptian pyramids and other structures that still exist today – which gives us an opportunity of checking the accuracy of his work. If his descriptions of things still visible today are correct, we can safely assume that his other stories are, most probably, also true.

"In "Gift to the insight"Abu Abdallah Muhammed b. Abd ar-Rahim al Kaisi writes: The pyramids, of which there are eighteen, all have four sides, each side forming a triangle. Opposite of Misr al-Fustat (Cairo, FD) stand three pyramids."
Well: even this first sentence is already problematic enough. There are eleven pyramids in Giza alone, and, if we count the step mastaba of Khentkaus as another, then there would be twelve: the three great pyramids, two of which (Khufu, Menkaure) with three satellite pyramids each; and two (Khufu and Kafre) with a cult pyramid. The width of the bases of the satellite pyramids is almost 50 metres, so they are hardly to be classed amongst the smallest. When al-Kaisi mentions only three pyramids on the other side of Cairo, he is obviously not counting the smaller ones in with them.
So let us count up the larger pyramids still standing today. (Once, in al-Kaisi’s time, there were more, but they have now vanished because, as mentioned above, the Arabs quarried them for their own construction projects.) Our inventory will include only the main pyramids, since, as we have just said, al-Kaisi obviously did not count satellite pyramids. Our list consists of: one in Meidum; four in Dahshur; three in Lisht; three in Abusir; five in Saqqara; three in Giza; and two in Fayum. So, altogether, that makes twenty-one large pyramids standing today. And, since al-Kaisi lived before large-scale quarrying began at the end of the 12th century, the pyramids in Abusir and Abu Roash would have been largely intact, adding between two and five pyramids to the total of twenty-one. So there were at least twenty-three to twenty-six clearly visible LARGE pyramids in Egypt in the time of al-Kaisi: which means that the first real information with which he provides us, apart from the inconsequential statement that pyramids have four triangles as sides, is wrong.
This gives us
Total correct pieces of information: 0
Total incorrect pieces of information / fictional statements: 1

Al-Kaisi continues:

"The largest of them (i.e., the pyramids at Giza, FD) has a circumference of 2000 ells [cubits], each side measuring 500 ells; its heigth is also 500 ells."
Wrong again, no pyramid in Egypt is as high as it is wide.
Total correct pieces of information: 0
Total incorrect pieces of information / fictional statements: 2

Every stone (of th Great Pyramid) is 30 ells in width and 10 ells in height, and is prepared and fitted to the highest specifications."
From the quote above, we can calculate the length of the ell that al-Kaisi was using. The Great Pyramid is 230 m wide, and measures 500 ells, which means that one ell is 46 cm long (a reasonable enough standard for ells or cubits as used around that time). Applying this ell measure, each block of the pyramid would be 13.8 m long and 4.6 m thick. If we assume a square cross section, each stone would have a volume of 292 cub. m., and, with a specific weight of 2.6 t per cub. m. for limestone, a total weight of 760 tons. But no block in any pyramid reaches even a fraction of this hypothetical weight; a standard block from Khufu's pyramid weighs about 1/300 of the supposed weight, and even the heaviest block in the relieving chambers come to no more than 1/11 of that weight. This description is pure fantasy! Total correct pieces of information: 0
Total incorrect pieces of information / fictional statements: 3
(Admittedly, some authors claim, that al-Kaisi described the blocks correctly, but that these particular blocks have since vanished. But, in that case, where are these blocks today?)

But things reach even dizzier heights:
“Near the city of the Pharaoh (mentioned in the account of the Biblical Joseph) is a pyramid much larger even than the Great Pyramid. Its perimeter measures 3,000 ells; its height is 700 ells. The length of each of the building blocks is 50 ells."
Well, using the ell measure we calculated above, this fantasy pyramid would have had a base length of 345 metres on each side, and a height of 322 metres. Such a pyramid simply does not, and did not, exist. And stones with a length of 50 ells = 20 23 m do not exist in any pyramid; such stones would have weighed more than 1,000 tons.
Since both descriptions are wrong, I am adding two points to the non-factual total:  Total correct pieces of information: 0
Total incorrect pieces of information / fictional statements: 5

"Near the city of the Pharaoh Moses are some pyramids even larger and mightier, and one pyramid, called the pyramid of Meidum, as large as a mountain, consists of five layers."
Really? Even larger and mightier that the non-existent 322 m pyramid? And Meidum supposedly as large as a mountain? The Meidum pyramid is not one of the largest, and is in fact considerably smaller than the two large ones at Giza, or those at Dahshur. Another two minus points:
Total correct pieces of information: 0
Total incorrect pieces of information / fictional statements: 7

Now the relevant passages about the Great Pyramid: “Al-Mamun opened the largest of the pyramids beyond al-Fustat, and entered a passageway leading to a very large square chamber with a domed ceiling. In the middle of this chamber was a square pit 10 ells in depth. Those who climbed down into the pit found that it had a door on each of its four sides …
Yes: Al-Mamun HAD opened the pyramid, although the fact was so well known that it was hardly worth mentioning – but the statement is notable for being the sole fact in this description. Al-Kaisi (who goes on to indicate that he had actually visited the location in question) writes that he was in a square chamber with a domed ceiling – but there is no such chamber to be found throughout the length and breadth of Egypt.
But there are two locations within the Great Pyramid that might be described as having a square pit or shaft. One is in the subterranean rock chamber, which, according to the general consensus, was the place that al-Kaisi was actually describing. But the chamber is not square, and nor does it have a domed ceiling. And there is definitely nothing at all at the bottom of the shaft.
I am convinced that what al-Kaisi is describing is in fact another location altogether: specifically, an amalgamation of two locations within the pyramid that are very close together. Although these particular locations could not in any way be described as a chambers, there are nevertheless many points of similarity with al-Kaisi’s description. What I have in mind is
1. the place where the so-called “grave robbers’ tunnel” meets up with the "descending passage" (the passage leading down to the subterranean chamber), and also intersects the "ascending passage", and
2. the junction where the “ascending passage” itself imeets the Grand Gallery, leading to the burial chamber (the King’s Chamber).
The Grand Gallery might, at a pinch, be described as a "domed chamber" ; it is at this junction that the so-called "well shaft" begins, running down for almost 60 metres through the pyramid core and the rock below, before finishing in the descending passage a few metres before the subterranean chamber.
About 20 metres further down, the shaft reaches the so called "Grotto", a natural cavity in the limestone, which can be entered through a hole in the shaft wall. Almost certainly it it this Grotto that al-Kaisi is describing – with the addition of a few details designed to give his account a bit of pizazz.
Moreoever, there are further points in favour of this location. At the intersection of the passage and the shaft, a few meters below, is another hole in the ground, with some rough hewn steps leading down into the descending passage. Taken as a whole, this particular part of the construction could conceivably be described as a "shaft with four doorways": :

intersection ascending/descending passage
Fig. 1 - Intersection ascending/descending passage

To the right is the shaft leading down to the subterranean chamber. On the left is the shaft leading to the original pyramid entrance. Al-Kaisi jumbled together several details associated with this location; and, since the roof where the two shafts meet up at this point is hewn out in a roughly domed form, I believe that what he is describing is this part of the pyramid, and not the subterranean chamber. Even here, however, his description is inaccurate, since there is no "chamber" as such, and the assortment of shafts is far from being square on the ground. So I can award one point for a correct description, but two points for exaggeration and pure invention.
Total correct pieces of information: 1 N.B., the first correct piece of information so far)
Total incorrect pieces of information / fictional statements: 9

Now we come to some general descriptions of mummies and animal mummies which are not of any particular relevance to our theme.

Then follows al-Kaisi’s final description of the pyramids: ”In the domed chamber is an opening into a passage 5 spans (about 1 metre) wide that, although containing no steps, leads up to the highest point of the pyramid.” .
This is further evidence that what al-Kaisi has in mind is the intersection of the passages with his "chamber". From this point, the ascending passage continues up to the burial chamber, and the passage really is about one metre wide there. There is no other location in the pyramid where all his descriptions fit.
“It is said that, in the time of el-Mamun, someone went up the passage until they reached a small gabled chamber where they found the statue of a man.” Now follows an unverifiable description of a “statue”, or, more probably, a malachite sarcophagus containing a mummy:
Yet again, al-Kaisi’s other descriptions are incorrect. The highest chamber is neither small (at 10m x m x 5m, it is actually quite large) nor domed or gabled (it has a flat roof). And he makes no mention of what surely be amongst the most striking features of the Great Pyramid, namely, the Queen's Chamber and the Grand Gallery. He therefore provides two factual pieces of information, but misleads the reader on four points. So the analysis ends with a total of three correct facts to thirteen incorrect facts.
Total correct pieces of information: 3
Total incorrect pieces of information / fictional statements: 13

Al-Kaisi has certainly been inside the Great Pyramid, that much is obvious. But it appears that he only went through the so-called “grave robbers’ tunnel” as far as the intersection of the passages: the rest is pure invention. The identification of this particular spot shows that the long sought location with the doorways has been there all along. It's nothing more than a combination of the Grotto and the shaft leading to the descending passage, with a dash of gothic horror thrown in for good measure.

So this is al-Kaisi’s "accurate and uncomplicated" description? Although it is possible to identify some of the locations that al-Kaisi describes, his description is in no way precise. If this is an accurate source, then so is Max Eyth’s “The Fight for the Pyramid of Cheops”, or Agatha Christie’s "Death on the Nile".
Nevertheless, as indicated above, al-Kaisi’s brief descriptions are cited by many authors as one of the central pieces of evidence pointing to conspiracy, concealment and inferior thought processes. If al-Kaisi is describing a completely different pyramid from the Great Pyramid that we know today, then what it means is that we just haven’t yet found the one that al-Kaisi actually was describing! Oh, if only things were that simple …
In conclusion: since we have been able to identify the site of al-Kaisi’s shaft, the argument used by some authors – that al-Kaisi was describing a location that we have not found yet - can be dismissed. Let's now turn our attention to a subject that many alternative authors evidently find all-absorbing: Arabs, pyramids and The Flood.

Remarks / Sources:
[1] Herodot; Historien, Book 2 §125
[2] A good overview about this periode can be found in Egypt after the Pharos by Alan K. Bowman.
[3] Graefe, Erich; Das Pyramidenkapitel in Al-Makrizi's "Hitat", Leipziger semitistische Studien Band V 1911/1968, p. 48-95
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