Pyramids and rockets

Pyramids and Rockets

Children, even adults, often ask me if I believe the theory that the pyramids were build by aliens from outer space. The answer is that I do not. The more I learn about Ancient Egypt the greater is my admiration for the Ancient Egyptian people, and the less believable is the idea that they were incapable of building the pyramids without help from technologically more advanced beings.

Nevertheless a remark made by some Year Six children at a local Junior School made me realise that there is a link between pyramids and rockets: the pyramids were not just tombs but a part of almost a small town, which included not only the pyramid but also a mortuary temple and store houses, and to understand why all these were built we can think of a pyramid as the Ancient Egyptian equivalent of the rocket which puts a communications satellite into space.

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The story of a rocket

Without communications satellites to give us satellite tv and carry tv pictures round the world, to allow us to telephone people in Australia and e-mail people in South America, civilisation as we know it might not be impossible but it would certainly be very different. But a communication satellite does not just appear in the sky: it needs a rocket to put it there.

Years before the rocket is launched people start planning. Mission Control Centres are built and thousands of people are employed in them and in the factories building the satellite and rocket. The satellite must be prepared for its journey and millions of pounds must be spent.

Eventually the launch day comes and the rocket is fired. Thousands of people hope that the satellite is placed in the right orbit.

The rocket is absolutely essential for the launch, but the success of the mission depends not only on the rocket but also on the satellite and the whole of the Mission Control Centre.

Even after the rocket has done its work and the satellite is in orbit the Mission Control Centre is still needed, and hundreds of people must go on working there to ensure that it stays in the right orbit, that its solar panels are pointing in the right direction and the on-board computers are always using the latest software.

Now try explaining this to a man from Ancient Egypt. He comes into our living room and watches a film on tv in which a man who died fifty years ago is walking around and talking. We can talk about modems, and tanks full of liquid oxygen, and satellite dishes pointing to an object in the sky forty thousand kilometers away, and models to test separation procedures, and thermodynamicists and computer programmers. But he will be unable to understand anything we are talking about. He will just say

It's all just magic

Well, wouldn't he?

After a few years however a newer and better satellite is needed and a bigger and more powerful rocket is needed. So the old Mission Control Centre is closed down and the people who worked in it given new jobs, and all the computers and other equipment taken away for scrap and all the materials in them recycled. And we call this progress and think it is good....

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The story of a pyramid

Now we go back nearly five thousand years, to the time of the pyramids.

The Ancient Egyptians believed that it was the prayers and offerings of their King that made the River Nile flood each year, made the Sun rise, protected them from their enemies.We might think of him as the Chief Magician of Egypt, but to them he was a God. While he was alive he was the God Horus and when he died he became the God Osiris. So the living King would be called the Horus King and any dead Pharaoh the Osiris King. Unless Pharaoh became the Osiris King after he died he could not continue to work his magic: the River Nile would cease its annual inundation and foreigners would rule the land. But the transformation into Osiris was not automatic: it had to be made to happen.

Years before Pharaoh's death the preparations began. The great Mortuary Temple and House of Eternity (pyramid) had to be built, and the right objects gathered together to put into them. The inside of the Mortuary Temple had to be covered with the correct carvings and paintings and the outside of the House of Eternity had to be faced with the finest white limestone. Thousands of people and vast amounts of gold and other rare and beautiful things were needed.

Once Pharaoh had died his body had to be prepared and placed in the House of Eternity.This had now done its job but the work in the Mortuary Temple was not over. Hundreds of priests and other people were still needed to make the daily offerings and prayers needed to ensure the continued well-being of the Osiris King.

Now let a man from Ancient Egypt try to explain that to us. He can talk about bas and kas and ankhets, about hieroglyphs and papyri, about the alignment of secret passages with the stars, and Anubis and Ammet and Thoth, about the weighing of a man's heart against a feather, about mummification and shabti. And we would probably not understand anything he was saying, and we certainly would not believe it was true. We would say

It's all just magic

Well, wouldn't we?

But when Pharaoh is dead there is another Pharaoh, and after him another, and another, and eventually there will be a Pharaoh who says

Why do we need so many people to look after Great Great Grandad's Mortuary Temple? He died more than two hundred years ago and no one remembers anything about him.

So all the people who were working in the Pharaoh's Great Great Grandad's Mortuary Temple are set to work in his, and the old Mortuary Temple is pulled down so its stones and all the precious things in it can be used somewhere else, and all the beautiful white limestone covering the House of Eternity is stripped off and carried away. And then the sands of the desert blow over it and bury it all except just the tip of the House of Eternity.

And then nearly five thousand years later we dig it up again and say how beautiful it is and call the people who destroyed it robbers and vandals....

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© Barry Gray September 2005

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