One of the mysteries of Giza is the missing pyramidion or capstone of the Great Pyramid of Khufu. Since modern recorded history the Great Pyramid has been topless, with several meters of its apex missing. Egyptologists have assumed that the pyramid was originally capped by a small pyramid called a pyramidion. If that is true, then what happened to it, and what could it have looked like?
In October 1900 the guards of the Egyptian Antiquities Organisation (EAO) in the area of Dashur, a site on the western desert that is some 20 kilometers south of modern Cairo, were attacked by a group of armed brigands. A few days later, Gaston Maspero, the head of the EAO went to inspect the site. It was then that he was taken to see an amazing and rather unique artifacts that had been found embedded in the sand near a pyramid of the 12th Dynasty belonging to the pharaoh Amenemhet III. There, sticking partially out of the sand, was a magnificent pyramidion made of black granite. Maspero could hardly believe his eyes at the amazing preservation of this 4000 years old artifacts which, in his excitement, he described as “polished like a mirror”. The pyramid, which measured 1.85 meters at the base and had a height of 1.40 meters, was decorated with wonderful inscriptions. On one face was a winged solar-disk flanked by two ureus (sacred cobras), and under the solar-disk were two large eyes. Under the eyes were three lutes with a large sun disk underneath. On each side of the sun-disk were the royal cartouches bearing the names of Amennemhet III, and at the base of the triangular face were two lines of hieroglyphs. In an article published in the Annales Du Services Des Antiquités in 1902, Maspero gave this translation:
“May the face of the king be opened so that he may see the Lord of the Horizon when he crosses the sky; may he cause the king to rise as a god, lord of eternity and indestructible… Horakhti has said I have given to the king of Upper and Lower Egypt the beautiful horizon who takes the inheritance of the two lands…so that you may unit with the horizon…the horizon has said that you rest upon it, which pleases me.”
In view of the mention of Horakhti (Horus of the Horizon) who was regarded as the symbol of the rising sun in the east, Maspero concluded that this face with the winged sun-disk was the East face of the pyramidion. Maspero did not give a full translation of the other threes faces which also bore two lines of inscriptions each, but nonetheless adds that “the invocation is similarly addressed on the South face to Anubis; on the West face to Ptah-Sokar-Osiris; on the North face to Sah-Orion.”
The same view was later expressed by the American Egyptologist James Henry Breasted in 1912. Breasted wrote:
“On the side which undoubtedly faced the east appears a winged sun-disk, surmounted by a pair of eyes, beneath which are the words ‘Beauty of the Sun’, the eyes of course indicate the idea of beholding which is to be understood with the words, ‘beauty of the sun’. Below is an inscription of two lines beginning: ‘The face of king Amenemhet III is opened, that he may behold the Lord of the Horizon when he sails across the sky’…”
In 1964 the American Egyptologist Alexander Piankoff, renowed for his translation of the Pyramid Texts, gave the translation of part of the East face which mentioned the constellation of Orion:
The sou) of Amenemhet is higher than the heights of Orion, and it unites itself with the Duat…”
Piankoff interpreted the above by writing that “here, as in the Pyramid Texts, Orion is the visible manifestation of Osiris who, like this constellation, descends to the Netherworld (Duat) and then appears again in the sky.”
In 1946 the British Egyptologist Sir I.E.S. Edwards, an authority on the pyramids of Egypt, gave his own translation of the East face:
“May the face of the king be opened so that he may see the Lord of the Horizon [i.e., Harakhte] when he crosses the sky; may he cause the king to shine as a god, lord of eternity and indestructible, (Harakhte replies that he has) given the beautiful horizon to the king”
Today Egyptologists agree that the pyramids of ancient Egypt represented the dead kings. Indeed, the pyramid was regarded as an actually personification of the dead king. Indeed the name given to the pyramids show clearly that these monuments were considered to be the afterlife form of the king himself. According to A. Piankoff, for example,
“The embalmed body of the king lay in or under the pyramid, which together with its entire compound, was considered his body.”
Yet Egyptologists also agree that in the Pyramid Texts, the afterlife form of the king is said to be a ‘star’ in the sky. This, then, may explain why in the case of at least three pyramids, the monuments were given stellar names while also personifying the dead king, such as “Djedefre is a Star in the Sky”, “Nebka is a Star” and the pyramid of Djoser being called “Horus is the Star at the head of the Sky”. All this leads us to conclude that the pyramidion on top of the king’s pyramid was regarded as the stellar-transfigured king or his star-soul. It is only when we view it as such that the inscriptions on the East side of the pyramidion of Amenemhet III makes any sense: “May the face of the king be opened so that he may see the Lord of the Horizon…”
But two questions now must be also considered. For if indeed the pyramidion represented the form of the king as a star, then what could possibly have given the ancient Egyptians the idea that a star had the physical shape of a ‘pyramid” and, furthermore, that it was composed of very hard “black stone” such as black granite?
Most Egyptologists agree that the shape of pyramids was inspired by the Benben Stone that was venerated in the ‘Mansion Of The Phoenix’ at the city of Heliopolis. Many scholars claim that the Benben was symbolic of the sun. In 1912 the eminent American Egyptologist James H. Breasted noted the similarity of the word ‘Benben’ with the word ‘Benbenet’ –the pyramid-shaped apex of an obelisk– and concluded that “an obelisk is simply a pyramid upon a lofty base which has become a shaft… the obelisk, as is commonly known, is a symbol sacred to the Sun-god…[it followed that] the king was buried under the very symbol of the Sun-god which stood in the holy of holies in the Sun-temple at Heliopolis” This conclusion by an authority of the caliber of Breasted was quickly embraced by other authorities such as Sir I.E.S. Edwards who also proposed that the occasional sight of an immaterial triangle formed by the sun’s rays striking downwards through low clouds at sunset could have been the inspiration for the Benben’s shape “and its architectural derivative, the true Pyramid”. Edwards quoted several passages from the Pyramid Texts that seem to support this idea:
“I have laid down for myself this sunshine of yours as a stairway under my feet…”
“May the sky make the sunlight strong for you, may you rise up to the sky…”
According to Edwards “the temptation to regard the true Pyramid as a material representation of the sun’s rays and consequently as a means whereby the dead king could ascend to heaven seems irresistible.” Yet it is also true that the Pyramid Texts give many other means for the dead pharaoh to ascend to the sky: on a ladder ( “The king climbs to the sky on a ladder”); on the wind (“the king is bound for the sky on the wind” (pyr. 309); on a storm-cloud/thunderbolt (“The king is a flame before the wind…there is brought to him a way of ascent to the sky”); on a hailstorm (“the hailstorms of the sky have taken me”); on a reed-floa: (“the reed-floats of the sky are set in place for me…I am ferried over to the eastern sky”); by climbing a rope (“set the rope aright, cross the Milky Way…”); on the thighs of Isis: (I ascend [to the sky] upon the thighs of Isis” ). So the Pyramid Texts are full of such metaphors, and thus the idea of the dead king climbing on the sun’s rays is only another to describe poetically the celestial ascent, and cannot be taken as evidence for the shape of the Benben or the pyramid. There is, however, in the Pyramid Texts a passage which directly equate the actual pyramid to the king and Osiris: “This king is Osiris, this pyramid of the king is Osiris, this construction of his is Osiris, betake yourself to it, do not be far from it in its name of pyramid…”.
In the rebirth rituals of the Pyramid Texts the dead king’s name is compounded with the name of Osiris, showing that after his death the king became “an Osiris”. Now Osiris in the Pyramid Texts was a star-god whose soul was identified to the constellation of Orion:
“Behold Osiris has come as Orion”
“O king, you are this Great Star, the companion of Orion”
Could, therefore, the Beben Stone, and its derivatives the pyramid and the pyramidion, be regarded as ‘star’ symbols? It is true that the ‘Mansion Of The Phoenix’ in which was kept the Benben Stone was in the City of Iunu, later called Heliopolis (City of the Sun) by the Greeks, an association of the Benben with the sun does not necessarily follow. Why, one must wonder, was a pyramid or conical shaped stone would be regarded as a manifestation of the sun when in all ancient Egyptian art the sun is represented as a disk or circle? Egyptologists have argued that the reason for this was because the Benben Stone may also have been a symbol of the so-called “Primeval Mound” in the Pyramid Texts on which it is said that the first sunrise took place, implying that the shape of the pyramid was inspired by the idea of a sacred mound. Edwards rejects this idea by pointing out that the Primeval Mound was linked to the much older Mastaba tomb structure of the first three Dynasties, which was not pyramid-shaped but rather in the form of a rectangular slab. Clearly, another more plausible explanation for the pyramidal or conical shape of the Benben Stone must be sought.
It is known that a sacred pillar was worshipped at Heliopolis before the Benben. The phallic symbolism of a pillar needs no emphasis; and its association to the “phallus” of Atum is implied in the Pyramid Texts
“Atum is he who once came into being, who masturbated in Heliopolis. He took his phallus in his grasp that he might create orgasm by means of it…”
“O Atum, the rising sun (-khoprer, the sacred beetle), you became high on the heights, , you rose as the Benben Stone in the Mansion Of The Phoenix in On…”
The Egyptologist Henry Frankfort made the plausible suggestion that the Benben was placed atop the sacred pillar, giving rise to the idea of the obelisk with a Benbenet/pyramidion at its top, and that the pyramidion may thus represent the “semen” or “seed” being ejaculated from a cosmic phallus associated to Atum. There are several well-known depiction of the Earth-God Geb (the son of Atum) laying down with an exaggeratedly long phallus pointing to the Sky-Goddess Nut, the “mother of Osiris”:
“…make the womb of Nut pregnant with the seed of the spirit which is in her”
“Pressure is in your womb, O Nut, through the seed of the god which is in you; it is I [the Osiris-king] who am the seed of the god which is in you…”
“…the king is an imperishable star, son of the sky-goddess Nut…”
“The king was fashioned by his father Atum…”
“O Atum, this king comes to you, an imperishable spirit (star)…your son comes to you, this king comes to you”
In my opinion, then, the idea of a pillar surging skywards and on top of which was the Benben Stone, is highly symbolic of a giant phallus offering its “star-seed” to the sky-goddess in order to gestate it in her womb and cause the departed king to be “reborn”. Bearing this in mind, it comes as no surprise to discover that the word “Benben” is often given the meaning to “copulate” or “seed a womb” confirmed by the hieroglyphic sign of an erect phallus shown ejaculating semen. Indeed, there are several words in the ancient Egyptian language that use the root word ‘Ben’ to describe sexual acts. Also in the famous Turin Papyrus which depicts sexual scenes, one image shows a beautiful naked woman inserting the tip of a pyramidion into her vagina, making clear that such objects were regarded phallis or capable of seeding a womb. The stellar aspect of these “seeding” rituals are depicted in the following passages of the Pyramid texts, where the departed king is somehow put into the womb of the sky-goddess (the ‘sarcophagus’) and is gestated there to eventually be reborn as star:
“The king is your seed”
“…the king comes to you, O mother of the king, he has come to Nut, that you may bring the sky to the king and hang the stars for him…”
“the sky-Goddess Nut conceives you with Orion…”
“Recitation by Nut, the greatly beneficent: the king is my eldest son who splits open my womb…”
“…O King, you are this Great Star, the companion of Orion…the sky has borne you with Orion…” (pyr.882-3).
“The King is a star brilliant…the King appears as a star…”
“You [Nut] have set this King as an imperishable Star who is in you…”
“The King is a star”
“I [the king] am a soul …a star of gold…”
“I [the king] am a star which illumines the sky…”
As we have said earlier in this article, the names of several monumental pyramids were given stellar names such as ‘Djedefre is a sehed star’; ‘Nebka is a star’. Also the ‘ba’ i.e. soul, of the dead king is clearly to be regarded as a s ‘star’ in the Pyramid Texts, which indirectly also gives a stellar name to many other pyramids such as ‘The soul (ba) of Sahure gleams’ and ‘Neferirkare has become a soul (ba)’. The compounding of the pharaoh’s name with his pyramid implies, if not proves, that the monument (or perhaps mostly the pyramidion at the top) is to be regarded as the transfigured form of the king into a star-soul.
Still, why did the ancient Egyptians imagine that the star were shaped like a pyramid or a cone?
In antiquity the sight of “shooting stars” or “falling stars” is, of course, a meteorite. Meteorites are debris from outer space, mostly from broken up asteroids, which enter the gravitational pull of the Earth and fall down to the ground –as opposed to meteors which completely burn up during atmospheric transit. Meteorites are either iron-meteorites (about 90% iron and 10-12% nickel) or stone meteorites. The largest that survive impact are the iron-meteorites for obvious reasons. Most meteorites are very small, but occasionally a large meteorite enters our atmosphere. If it is very large it will retain most of its cosmic velocity, thus compressing the air in front of it as it approaches the ground, causing it to explode with dramatic effect. But if the meteorite is of medium size, somewhere between 10 and 60 tons, its cosmic velocity is slowed down by the earth’s atmosphere, causing the meteorite to eventually free fall and hit the ground almost intact. Some of these medium size meteorites retain their orientation as they speed through the earth’s atmosphere, which causes only the front part to melt and flow toward the rear. The result is a iron object having the shape of a rough pyramid or cone.
Bearing this in mind, I also discovered that the ancient Egyptians believed that iron actually came from heaven, which is clearly an allusion to the meteoritic origin of iron before the Iron Age. In other ancient cultures there were many sacred stones such as the Benben which were believed to have ‘fallen from heaven’. The Ephesians (see Acts xix-35 of the Bible) worshipped such a stone in the temple of Diana “that symbol of her which fell from heaven”. In Delphi a stone shaped like a cone was believed to have come from the sky. A conical iron-meteorite was also worshiped by the Phrygian in the 7th century BC. There was also the famous conical “black stone” called Elagalabus that was worshipped in Emessa. A modern example of such “stone from heaven” is the black stone of the the Ka’aba in Mecca in Saudi Arabia which is a meteorite that was recovered in antiquity. The British Egyptologist Gerald Wainwright has shown how iron in early Egypt was obtained from iron-meteorites. The ancient Egyptian word for iron was ‘bja’ which was called “material of which heaven was made”. Significantly, in the Pyramid Texts we are told that,
“The king’s bones are iron and the king’s members are the imperishable stars…”
“I [the king] am pure, I take to myself my iron bones…my imperishable limbs are in the womb of Nut”
“…my bones are iron and my limbs are the imperishable stars”.
It is not very hard to see that chunks of meteoritic iron, which generally have a luster black appearance, were classified by the ancient Egyptians along with other hard black or dark stones such as diorite, basalt and granite. To a people unfamiliar with iron and its chemical properties, the resemblance of basalt to a rough iron meteorite can be uncanny. Not surprising then, black basalt was called ‘black iron’ (bja kam), suggesting that basalt, and possibly black granite, were associated to meteoritic iron, and consequently to the ‘bones’ of star-gods. Most pyramidions that were once placed on the top of pyramids were made of dark granite, such as the fine example of Amenemhet III. Also the hieroglyphic sign for ‘pyramid’ was a pyramid often with a yellow pyramidion, suggesting that the latter may have been covered with gold leaf. An inscription on the pyramid of queen Udjebten (6th Dynasty) speaks of the golden capstone on her pyramid. In the Pyramid Texts we read,
“O King, raise yourself upon your iron bones and golden members, for this body of yours belongs to a god… may your flesh be born to life and may your life be more than the life of the stars in their season of life…”
“I [the king] row Ra when traversing the sky, even I a star of gold…”
“…be a soul like a living star”.
Could the idea of the pyramidal shape of a “living star” made from golden flesh and black iron bones and shining high up in the sky, have been the reason for the pyramidion made of black granite covered in gold leaf and raised high up the pyramid? Was this how the lost pyramidion of Khufu looked like? And what could have happened to it? Could it have been removed by the priests when the pyramid was violated and hidden somewhere? Where? In a ‘secret chamber’ inside the Great Pyramid?
No one knows.
Robert Bauval is running an exciting new tour to Egypt 16th – 26th of September 2013 http://www.robertbauval.co.uk/tours.html
For information on Robert Bauval’s latest radio interviews and conference appearances please visit http://infinite-connections.co.uk/