Forging the Pharaoh's name?

by Martin Stower

Above the so-called King's Chamber in the Great Pyramid is a series of five compartments:

Great Pyramid, section looking West

Their function seems to be to protect the roof of the King's Chamber from the pressure exerted by the overlying core masonry. The first of these `relieving chambers' was discovered by Nathaniel Davison in 1765. The narrow passage from the top of the Grand Gallery to Davison's Chamber already existed; its origin is unknown.

The four remaining compartments were discovered by Colonel Howard Vyse, and his assistants, in 1837; the diagram includes the names he assigned to them. Having a purely structural function, they had been sealed since the pyramid was built, and were reached only by tunnelling; this was done by hired quarrymen, using gunpowder.

Inside the chambers, on undressed limestone surfaces, were quarry marks or mason's marks, painted in red ochre. The marks include royal names, written in cursive hieroglyphics; one of these names is `Khufu':

(Image © Rainer Stadelmann; reproduced with permission)

Note especially how the `kh' (of `Khufu') is rendered:


(See a bigger image here . . .)

The discoverers made two main sets of drawings of the marks - including this facsimile copy, by J. R. Hill, made on May 30, 1837:

``Khufu'' - Hill's facsimile
(Image © British Museum; reproduced with permission)

Similar inscriptions have been seen elsewhere on the pyramid.

Zecharia Sitchin - a writer in the `Ancient Astronaut' genre - is by no means the first to see the problem these marks pose for `alternative' accounts of the Great Pyramid. They show that the pyramid was built by Ancient Egyptians, for the Pharaoh Khufu. It was not built by aliens . . .

This is the real logic of Sitchin's position: the quarry marks refute his pet theory; to save that theory, he has to discredit the quarry marks.

Sitchin's second book, The Stairway to Heaven, was published in 1980 by St. Martin's Press. In a chapter entitled Forging the Pharaoh's Name he set out the `perfect' solution to his problem: the quarry marks were forged by J. R. Hill, one of the Colonel's assistants.

(Several other authors - including Graham Hancock and Erich von Däniken - have adopted Sitchin's forgery claim, using it to immunise their own pyramid theories. Hancock now rejects the forgery theory - see his Position Statement . . .)

For negative comments on the quarry marks, Sitchin relies heavily on a contemporary report by Samuel Birch. Birch had a long career at the British Museum; when first appointed, in 1836, he was just 23 years old. Sitchin doesn't tell us where he found Birch's report, but Howard Vyse, and one of his assistants, John Shae Perring, both reproduced it in their respective publications:

Howard Vyse, R. W. H.
Operations Carried on at the Pyramids of Gizeh in 1837.
James Fraser, London, 1840-1842.

Perring, J. S.
The Pyramids of Gizeh, by Actual Survey and Admeasurement.
James Fraser, London, 1839-1842.
This would seem an odd thing to do, if Birch's report even resembled the damning critique alleged by Sitchin. Sitchin misrepresents Birch. He quotes isolated phrases which, taken out of context, can be made to suggest an unfavourable opinion. On reading the report itself, it becomes clear that Birch expressed no doubts about the authenticity of the quarry marks.

Note that Sitchin isn't challenging Birch. His argument presupposes Birch's authority.

This in itself is odd. Sitchin treats a report written in the 1830s as if it were the last word on the topic. Birch himself was more cautious. In his concluding paragraph he stated that

Hieroglyphics are at present so imperfectly understood, that it is difficult to give an explanation of the whole of these signs, many of which may after all have been merely appropriate to masonry; . . .
and Sitchin is otherwise keen to emphasise that
. . . in the 1830s, Egyptology was still in its infancy; . . . [The Stairway to Heaven, p.271]
In fact, the most important analysis of these quarry marks was done nearly a hundred years later, and is reported in a work which Sitchin himself cites: Reisner's Mycerinus. Many quarry marks (including the name `Menkaure') were discovered in the temples of the Third Pyramid at Giza. Reisner's assistant Alan Rowe analysed them in parallel with the quarry marks in the Great Pyramid. (See Appendix E of Mycerinus.)

A careful study of Birch's report reveals something far more important than Sitchin's mere misrepresentation of it. In 1837, even Samuel Birch couldn't have faked the quarry marks. They have features which even experts didn't understand, but which have become clear since. In fact they fit in perfectly with later discoveries and later analyses.

A simple example: the chambers contain not two but three names of Khufu. (The Pharaoh usually had five names in all.)

Birch thought that a Pharaonic name could only appear in a cartouche. This doesn't apply to the so-called Horus name. The name `Horus Medjedu' (or `Medjeru') appears in the same chambers as the name `Khnum-khufu'; other inscriptions show it to be the Horus name of Khufu.

Whoever wrote the quarry marks had a very good knowledge of what they were doing. The only serious candidates (I suggest) are the Ancient Egyptians themselves. Sitchin claims that a man with no knowledge of hieroglyphics was responsible.

In 1983, The Stairway to Heaven was published by Avon Books. In the same year, a reader of that book wrote to Sitchin, claiming that his great-grandfather was a witness to the forgery.

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Martin Stower