- 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
- 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 likely
built on top of a large limestone rock. The Egyptians reshaped its head
in the image of their king, and they 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 Archaeology,
have produced a mixed reaction 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
- 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.