Polly Toynbee

Polly Toynbee
Graham Hancock

Reproduced from theRT Logo

If you already know very little about the precise dating of ancient civilisations,Hancock's theory is unlikely to astonish.

There are all kinds of cranks.They come in many shapes and sizes and the believe any number of impossible things. We all came from Mars.Invisible angels are all around us. Shakespeare didn't actually write Shakespeare.The world is flat,and so on.Once in a while,of course,one of these "cranks" turns out to be a genius who is absolutely right,like Galileo.But how can you tell the difference?
In the good old days,if someone was given a television programme of their own to host,beautifully produced with lots of travel thrown in,you could reckon that their theory was true,or at least pretty orthodox.But no longer.These days all sorts of weird theories find their way on to the respectable screen,with little hint as to whether we are not to take them seriously or not.
It's no longer easy to tell the difference between a documentary by a bona fide expert and one by a plausible crank with a telegenic idea.So how are we to know what they know what are talking about,or if it's all bunk?

Quest for the Lost Civilisation (Mondays C4) falls into this unknown territory for me.Any ancient history buffs will have less difficulty in accessing where bestselling author and presenter Graham Hancock [Ref: Horizon] comes from. The rest of us are left guessing.The trouble is,if you already know very little about the precise dating of ancient civilisations,then his theory is unlikely to astonish.But,as an above averagely ignorant viewer on this subject,I'd say,by the pricking of my thumbs,it looks rum to me.
Hancock starts his three-part series diving underwater in Japan where there is a structure that looks as if it might be a man - made ruined temple under the sea.(Though it might not be.After all,Fingal's Cave looks as if ancient sculptors have been at work.) If he's right,then that piece of land has been under water since 10,000 BC,and that would mean a whole civilisation existed some 6,000 years earlier than conventional historians think.(Unless they were fish?)
He suggests that there was in pre-history an extraordinary sophisticated civilisation with an amazing understanding of astronomy.They were able to calculate the tilt of the Earth and its shifting movement over thousands of years.
Egyptian mythology writes in hieroglyphics of a golden age,of the "first time",when the god Osiris was first on Earth and imparted his great knowledge.Hancock believes this to be the literal truth;that there was a "first time",around 10,500 BC,and it left its mark in places as far apart as Egypt,Cambodia and Mexico.All three countries have pyramids, and all have temples aligned to the sun and the stars.All three had similar belief systems,and Hancock believes they are all built on ideas,and on sites,far older than currently dated.
Most controversial of all,he says the Sphinx itself was built in the "first time",because geologists find on it rain weathering that could only have been caused when Egypt was green and wet,which dates it back to those days.
Out comes his laptop computer which produces star maps that go back to the heavens of 10,000 BC.He looks for signs in these temples that point to the stars,not as they are now,but as they were then.Windows in the pyramids point to constellations of significance to the kings within them.The Sphinx now gazes at Taurus,which doesn't make much sense,but in 10,500 BC,it would have gazed at Leo,and Leo is,after all,more or less,a lion.The number of statues at Cambodia's Angkor Wat match the key number in calculating one bit of the cosmos.And there's a lot more of this.
Well,ho hum.It looks to me like one of those clever ideas that is entirely circular.First find your star map,then measure things that give you figures that seem to match it.Whether counting statues,or measuring certain well-chosen lines,it all looks like numerology to me -clever number crunching that feeds back on itself as you choose which numbers to feed in.
But how am I to know? What am I looking at here? How I longed for the guidance of an alternative voice with a good knowledge of ancient history to take us through Hancock's "discovery",with comments from all sides ,a balance of probabilities,and a bit more background for beginners.I admit something Philistine and Luddite kept nagging away at the back of my mind saying 3,000, 5,000, 10,000 BC? Does it matter? Once we are into telephone-book numbers,time gets out of focus,beyond understanding.
I fear Hancock means to link it all up to something supernatural:he has that ominous eerie,holy note of awe in his voice that warns of the"other worldly".
To me,however,there is awe enough in beholding the temples before our eyes,things of uncanny beauty and strangeness,testimony to man's unfathomable artistic endeavour.
Who needs gods,when we have this evidence of man's infinite capabilities,stretching back to the dawn of time - whenever that was?

Letters to RT

Thankyou, BBC, for two really excellent Horizon programmes on Atlantis (28 October and 4 November, BBC2). At last, the archaeological and scientific arguments were put forward to counteract the many programmes in recent years on lost civilisations, sphinxes on Mars and buildings from ancient cultures being maps of the heavens!
Hopefully anyone who watched will realise that the claims put forward by many are based on extremely selective use of evidence and a vivid imagination. Author Graham Hancock may call it nit-picking, but these were very big nits.
Bob Partridge, Egyptologist
Knutsford, Cheshire

Some 22 years ago, Erich von Daniken was enjoying huge sales of his books to a mystery-hungry public.Then the BBC's Horizon featured him and wiped the floor with his reputation to the extent that his books virtually vanished from sale.
Of course, humanity never learns.Soon enough a new generation proves itself receptive to ideas that "audaciously challenge conventional knowledge". Yet again false science is lapped up by people for whom real science is not sufficiently wondrous.
Horizon on Atlantis was another of those marvellous broadcasting events that help reassure us our licence fee is being spent sensibly. We were treated to a calm and methodical dismantling of all these postulations, one by one, until Mr Hancock was reduced to mumbling lame excuses. Congratulations.
Andrew Stephenson
Lyng, Norfolk

I was appalled at the biased way Graham Hancock's theories were treated. For example,astronomer Ed Krupp rejected the theory that the Giza pyramids mirrored the constellation of Orion on the grounds that the correlation was upside down.
However, this reversal of orientation is an inevitable result of transferring a celestial pattern on to the ground. If an ancient Egyptian were to look south towards Orion and sketch what he saw in the sand,the head of Orion at the top of his drawing would point away from him to the south, whereas the head in the sky actually points north.
To argue that this negates the correlation, because both should point north, is just illogical, and, as Mr Hancock pointed out, pedantic.
John Grigsby (former researcher to Graham Hancock)
Barham, Canterbury, Kent

Civilisation but not as we know it (Radio Times 10-16 Oct 1998)

Polly Toynbee rightly suspects that Graham Hancock's Quest for the Lost Civilisation on Ch4 is untrue and bemoans the lack of any counter opinion in the series.
The programme makers did initially approach specialists, myself included,until it became clear that our contribution would simply contradict all of Hancock's claims.
The series marks a return to a brand of imagined history which is immune to rational debate.
For what it's worth,pyramids are not the "fingerprint",of a mysterious,star-gazing, master - race.People in Egypt, Cambodia and Mexico independently discovered that it was easier to build big structures broad at the bottom and narrow at the top than the other way around.
The flamboyant and sometimes shocking story of ancient civilisations is actually more interesting when factual.
Dr Timothy Taylor Lecturer in Archeology University of Bradford

Peter Dale,commissioning editor,Channel 4 documentaries replies:"Quest for the Lost Civilisation is seen by Ch4 as a chance for Graham Hancock to expound his theories and contribute to the long-running debate about the origin of ancient structures and beliefs around the world.Graham has already engaged in public debate with previously doubting Egyptologists who are beginning to take some of his theories seriously,and he is due to address a similar congress soon."

And Finally... (Radio Times 31 Oct-6 Nov 1998)

Having watched with interest Graham Hancock's interpretation of numerous ancient phenomena (Quest for the Lost Civilisation), I would like to reveal that the molehills that appeared in my lawn on the night of the recent full-moon lined up exactly with next door's overgrown leylandii,when viewed from the microwave in the kitchen. Which, incidentally, is where the mole will finish up if I ever catch it.
Christine Parkin Staveley,North Yorkshire

My Letter to Dr Taylor:-
Date: 10/10/98 15:35
Dear Dr Taylor,
Reading the Radio Times (10-16 October) I came across your letter about Graham Hancock's Quest for the Lost Civilisation.I too,read Polly Toynbee's article,and watched the series with about the same attitude that she had adopted,and was not disappointed to find the usual half-baked theories about cosmic connections with old civilisations and arbitrary mathematical computations, anything will connect with anything if one looks hard enough.
I was thinking about writing to the Radio Times myself, making very much the same points that you did,but you saved me the trouble,so thankyou.
Both my wife and myself independently concluded that the obvious shape for simple structures is a pyramid, since its ground base is easy to construct,and then,as you said, tapering to a point is eminently practical,and so is liable to be adopted by civilisations independently;a case of convergent behaviour. At this moment in time there seems to be a blossoming of what might be called,for want of a better term "New- Ageism",where people are looking for quasi-religious explanations for almost everything,and scientific rationality is being subdued by wanton ignorance and a need to believe,egged on by producers of programmes like Mr Hancock's, because they know it will be watched and swallowed whole,by a gullible audience,who don't understand scientific methodology.Immediately after the Nazka lines section of Quest for the Lost Civilisation my wife rather whimsically suggested that maybe they had used a giant pantograph to scale up the drawings and therefore they needn't have been viewed from above,this of course is about as likely as Mr Hancock's theories,but it is possible,and would scupper any idea of intervention from without.
Shortly after watching this series,in the Equinox strand,I witnessed the furore surrounding Kennewick Man who may or may not be a Eurasian person pre-dating the red-indian indigenous population of America,which seemed to lend some credibility to Hancock's bearded man from another place,but it seems that Jim Chatters is being foiled in his attempts to pin down the origin of Kennewick man because of the red-indians belief that his spirit is being violated,they don't actually know if he is a red-indian (or if there is such a thing as a soul),but the current political situation rendered the bones of Kennewick man the property of the US armed services,where he is under wraps.The original site has been rendered impossible to trace any other artifacts that might have helped scientific analysis. In the programme Jim Chatters was clearly upset by the fact that analysis of this man was being witheld because of a groups beliefs,and seemed to feel that scientific study was under threat,much as it was in Hillsboro during the Monkey trial.
It seems to me that there are a lot of individual professional scientists,who on single occasions take it upon themselves to speak out against the contrived nonsense,of those people who seek to promulgate their pet theories without any of the usual checks and balances that scientifc scrutiny is subject to.Science is already held in disrepute by a certain part of the populace,and without the kind of redress sought by people like Richard Dawkins in educating the public as to why science is not just another viewpoint,but a way which seeks to be objective and wary of subjective interpretation,it is apt to become undermined,and the basis for our current society dissolved. I agree that facts are more interesting than ignorant speculation,but unfortunately there seems to be an undercurrent in our society of people becoming disenchanted with what are seen as "cold facts",and to prefer mysterious connections between things that with a little understanding would be obvious and explainable.It is my opinion that people such as yourself and Jim Chatters,who have a vested interest in maintaining a rational interrogation of facts should form an alliance to work positively to stem the tide of unreason,before we fall back into the dark ages and scientists are seen as heretics to be burnt at the stake.
I would love to be the instigator of such a group,or at least contribute to it in some practical way,but not being a professional person makes this quite difficult.It pains me to see the likes of Richard Dawkins,Jim Chatters and yourself, speaking up for something that ought to be held in regard,only to be chided or held in contempt as arrogant or pompous,much as Henry Drummond might have been,for trying to maintain the right to think. I hope you do not see this letter as an intrusion or that the suggstion is unfounded or unwarranted,like as not you will probably think that there is little that you can do personally,short of wrting to the Radio Times,but if nothing else I felt that you ought to know that there are some people who would like to hear the rebuttal side of such assertions as Mr Hancock's,as there are many areas where I found his ideas wanting and there was no one on the programme to put them forward,not least was the idea that tectonic plate movements might have interfered with his "perfect alignments",by moving the strata of the Earth as far as I could calculate some 12km during his 10500 years. I'm not sure if the angular displacement to the stars would be miniscule,or if the plates do not cause land mass movement,but he claimed that people could have crossed the Baring Strait and therefore the land masses must have been different in the past,did he allow for this? We were not told.
Thankyou for at least speaking out for those people who don't come to knee-jerk conclusions on the basis of what they would like to see.
Yours sincerely,
Tel: 01274-233537 Postcode: BD7 1DP
Email T.F.Taylor@bradford.ac.uk

My Letter to Peter Dale:-
Date: 10/10/98 15:35
Dear Mr Dale,
I read the Radio Times (10-16 Oct 98) with interest, having read Dr Timothy Taylor's letter and your reply, which seemed to suggest that you considered the commissioning of Graham Hancock's programme legitimate. As Dr Taylor and Polly Toynbee have both pointed out,not having a rebuttal opinion as part of the programme means that Mr Hancock is free to foist his half-baked ideas on a gullible public who will swallow this kind of material whole, without any question as to whether it makes any sense.
I watched The Quest for the Lost Civilisation in the same frame of mind as Polly Toynbee,hoping that there would be some proof,or at the very least the lack of a need to make cosmic connections,but of course all that was shown was Mr Hancock's hearsay and opinion which is not expert,and contrived nonsense about supposed "perfect alignments" (or should that be "near perfect",what use is near perfect? If it's not perfect then what is his point?) with the stars.Even though I am not a professional,I found multiple instances where Mr Hancock's theories fell at the first hurdle and there was no one on the programme to voice them.
You allude to the fact that some previously doubting Egyptologists are taking Mr Hancock seriously,more fool them. In science facts have to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt,something which neither Mr Hancock,nor yourself seem to be to aware of. Speculation and guesswork hold no place in trying to investigate the world,nor does retrofitting data to suit your pet theories,something at which modern day self proclaimed non-experts like Mr Hancock seem to excel. I'm sure I could find a right-angled triangle somewhere in my local vicinity that just happens to be there and has no significance whatsoever,and I'm sure it must align with one of the myriad star systems,does that mean I can have a programme commissioned too? That would be stupid wouldn't it?
If Mr Hancock took the time and trouble that people such as Dr Taylor,and other scientists do,to check and validate their work and have it scrutinised by their peers,maybe he would merit a TV programme.As it is,Dr Taylor says that specialists were turned down from being involved in the programme because they didn't agree with Hancock's personal beliefs. Surely this can be construed as biased reporting?
If people such as Mr Hancock are to be given carte blanche to expound these dismally simple excuses for investigation then either involve someone who disagrees or allow everybody the same chance to expound what maybe contrary opinion, or more to the point scientific and mathematical facts,things that were certainly missing from Hancock's programme.
More to the point by giving credence to these post-Daniken self-made investigators,without any rebuttal from a rational standpoint,the idea that the world and his wife has a personal soapbox from which to vent their unsubstantiated claims becomes prevalent.The tide of unreason is already making heavy inroads into our society with "New Ageism","New Medievalism",praying to aliens,and millennium fear,not to mention Uri Geller writing in a computer magazine.
So please,if you have to commission programmes such as these because the public enjoys the mysterious,and you have to make programmes which the public likes,at least be cognisant of the undermining effect it has on our technological society,which for all its so-called incapabilities when compared with the Egyptians or Mayans or Aztecs is the only society to have claimed outer-space as part of its territory,and not to have a balanced outlook when reporting on the bizarre and outlandish claims of those who have little scientific training and vested interests in proclaiming there own assertions (like selling books),means that the public are liable to think it is something more than a personal fairy story.
If "The Truth is Out There",only rational scientific investigation will find it.
Yours sincerely,

Peter Dale's reply:-
Dear Mr Borrell,
Thank you for taking the trouble to write about your observations on The Quest For The Lost Civilisation and Channel 4's decision to commision it.I found your comments helpful.
As you yourself said,there were a number of occasions in the series where Graham Hancock's theories appeared tenuous.But since I'm sure you'll agree it's all pretty harmless fun,I don't see why people like Graham Hancock shouldn't be allowed to air theories without being constantly checked in their wilder flights of fancy by other experts with other theories.
I tend to believe that our viewers,like you,can make up their own minds about what makes sense in programmes like these.
Best Wishes
Peter Dale

My 2nd letter to Peter Dale:-
Date: 20/10/98 17:00
Dear Mr Dale,
Thankyou for responding to my letter,I'm sure that if you had read it carefully it would be obvious that I don't consider Hancock's theories to be "all pretty harmless fun".I would be very interested to hear Mr Hancock's appraisal of your whimsical suggestion,as I'm sure he wished the programme to be broadcast in all honesty as a valid point of view,did he not discuss this with you?
If in your opinion such programmes are harmless and a bit of fun,then I suggest that you study real life,or alternatively broadcast such programmes with a red triangle logo carrying the wording "Do not take the theories in this programme seriously,as they are merely harmless fun",as some people seem to think that they are real,and orientate their whole life and philosophies around them.
I'm sure that David Koresh did not think that his theories were a bit of harmless fun,certainly the FBI didn't seem to think so.It is because of the irresponsible view that you express in your letter,of "I don't see ......",which allows any fruitloop to have as much credibility as the truth which scientific analysis seeks to uncover.By NOT SEEING,I assume that you mean that you do not understand why you can't have free reign to broadcast any old rubbish to a public that will readily accept it without the kind of decision making that seems to be your idea of Channel 4's viewers.If you really think that people can make up their own minds,especially when they are given one-sided,biased views such as Mr Hancock's without any checks being made by contrariwise opinion,then you must be the kind of naive person that I believed was in control of giving air time to any old baloney.
Not seeing why something should be the case is not a reason to do the opposite,if you actually apprised yourself of scientific methodology,it would be immediately apparent as to why such flights of fancy should not have the same credence as information that has been checked and double checked by peer group review.If tenuous theories have not gone through such a process then they are just so much hot-air,and as such,should not be broadcast as if they had the same credibility as thoroughly tested assertions that follow a scientific methodology,as to assessing whether they have any validity.Your "not seeing" (blindness) is analagous to those who chide scientists for arrogantly asserting that their point of view necessarily has more credence,and say that a scientific standpoint is just another view.
They also say "I don't see why I shouldn't be able to speak my peace" however ludicrous it may be.Of course to silence them would be an insidious lapse of the right to free-speech. But by giving anyone carte-blanche,to utter as much nonsense as they please,without any kind of rebuttal argument based on rational interrogation of the facts,is doing the exact opposite,and is just as offensive for the same reason.
Rational debate where all parties are allowed a voice,is what makes our society what it is,and by silencing the critics of Mr Hancock this is tantamount to subverting their right to voice their dissent.Moreover,if it is all just a bit of fun as you say,and people such as Tim Taylor would have liked the right of redress,then surely it is no skin off your nose if he is allowed to present a counter argument?
Where is your responsibility to make sure that what you are broadcasting is of any quality? Or more to the point factual? I would like to believe that Channel 4 is above "Double decker bus found on moon" type stories,and in the past it has shown itself to try to adopt a mature and adult approach to things which might offend.This type of insidious broadcasting of one person's hearsay,without any rebuttal is more dangerous than broadcasting pornography.
Pornography is a matter of personal tastes, ideas are the very core of what is considered truthful,and if Mr Hancock is to be allowed to foist his arbitrary happenstance connections onto your viewers,then at least run an Equinox strand on why such ideas are not cogent or rational,allow the other side of the coin to air its views,if for nothing else,but for balance.
I am touched by your faith in human nature that assumes that people will make up their own minds in a democracy, and decide for themselves whether material they are faced with is real or not.But if your own opinion is that Mr Hancock's theories are just "flights of fancy" then surely it would be pertinent to explain the nature of the strand to the viewer,lest they get the mistaken impression,as it was easy to do,and it did seem that,it was broadcast in all seriousness.
I don't think that you are stupid enough not to realise that there is a large viewing populace that are very gullible and impressionable,and I know why you cannot hold this view,otherwise you would seem to be condescendingly treating the viewer with disrespect,but I am sure that TV people are a tad more cynical and comprehend the real world in which they live.That being said broadcasting a programme and then denying any responsibility for any effects which it might have on the public is the act of an "agent provocateur",and if honestly you do really believe that it is all just a merry jape and doesn't have deleterious effects on our society,then you are in the wrong job.
You state that it is your BELIEF that your viewers can make up their own minds.As with Mr Hancock,what you believe and what can be proved are two different things.Scientists have to go beyond what is their personal BELIEF,and what they would like to be the case,and try to find out what is ACTUALLY the case,this is why you do not see why people like Mr Hancock should be checked by experts (something which he stated that he was not),if he were his ideas would be shown to be the circus act that they are,and that wouldn't make very good viewing would it?

A cursory dip into the internet reavealed that there is one Martin Stower at Sheffield University who has myriad reasons as to why Graham Hancock is utilising what he called "Intellectual Chicanery",where he asserts: [Hancock achieves the distinction of being mistaken even about the mistake that Sitchin mistakenly alleges.] I have reproduced what I could of his opinion which might have been used for research purposes before the programme was aired,if such a thing had been done it is less likely that Mr Hancock's ideas would have received the air time that they did.
I will be seeking to get Mr Hancock's assessment of your view of his programme,in case he thought that you were treating his ideas as if they were credible,I am very interested in his view too,some of us have to be balanced in our approach to what is tenable.
Yours sincerely,
[If anyone has a contact address for Graham Hancock please pass this page to him,as I'd love to know what he makes of Peter Dale's reply -LB]

Inside the chamber of secrets One of the mysteries of the ancient Egypt could be solved this week when a robot is sent into the heart of the Great Pyramid

In the powerful late summer heat of the desert, a large Egyptian and a skinny American, both wearing Indiana Jones-style bush hats, are talking animatedly about what we are about to see. In fact, what we are about to see is nothing much at all: a square hole cut in one of the walls of the Queen's Chamber, the smaller of two rooms at the core of the Khufu, or Great Pyramid. But Dr Zahi Hawass and Dr Mark Lehner are already thinking ahead to this Tuesday morning, when a robot-mounted camera will be sent up a steep shaft behind the hole, sending back footage to be shown live on the National Geographic television channel. These pictures, they hope, will solve one of the many mysteries of the pyramids. Although the shaft, which measures 8in by 8in, was discovered 130 years ago, it was only in 1993 that an exploration with a robot revealed it to be blocked 70 yards up, by what appeared to be a stone with two copper handles. Since then debate has centred on what lies above the stone, and whether it was placed there deliberately or simply fell into place. "We have been studying the possibility of doing this for years," Dr Hawass tells me. "It is incredibly exciting that it is finally happening." Some Egyptologists believe that behind the stone may lie the long-sought "Khufu papyrus", a fabled document first referred to by ancient observers, which is said to detail exactly how and why the pyramid was built. Others think the stone may conceal a statue of the pharaoh Khufu, for whom the pyramid is believed to have been built as a tomb during the time of the "old Kingdom" (2700-2150 Bc). If so, this would be the first statue found in the pyramid, the rest of the interior having been stripped bare by ancient tomb robbers. Alternatively, the blocking stone could hide a network of passages. Certainly the Egyptians loved building secret chambers and passages - and especially doors - in their pyramids: one passage might lead to a chamber, while another would come to an abrupt end. In this instance, however, Dr Lehner tells me a secret chamber would be "structurally impossible. There is 20 metres from the blocking stone to the edge of the pyramid. The structure could not support a chamber in the location." What everyone agrees is that the shaft - together with three other unblocked shafts in the pyramid - must have had a particular purpose. The construction of the pyramid was a demanding project, and the shafts would have called for additional expertise and labour. But while the open shafts could have been for a purpose as simple as letting air into the interior, what about the blocked shaft? As Dr Lehner observes: "It would be just like the ancient Egyptians if the most inaccessible and particular place proved to be the raison d'etre of the whole site." There are over 100 pyramids in Egypt, most of them small and unspectacular. By far the most famous are the trio beside the Sphinx on the Giza plateau, once a peaceful and remote outpost of the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, now a surreal adjunct to the suburban sprawl of modern Cairo. Turn left at a Pizza Hut and you find yourself face to face with the Sphinx. Continue on past the car park - tourist coaches and camels side by side - and you are in front of the three Giza pyramids. Originally faced with smooth, brilliant white lime-stone, up close the Khufu pyramid - the largest of the three - is showing its (considerable) age. Its rows of great stone slabs (each weighing on average 17 tonnes on the lower levels, 1/2 tonne towards the top) are chipped and crumbling with the effects of erosion, considerable pollution, and the passing of a few thousand years.
ZAHI HAWASS, Mark Lehner and I clamber up the first four banks of stones and pass through what looks like the entrance to a cave. Inside, both men remove their hats before we crawl through a series of tunnels, the most perilous of which are set at a diagonal with steep steps. After what feels like a very long time, we reach the King's Chamber. The temperature is oven-like, as if the stone of the pyramid around us has somehow magnified the power of the sun into this one dark room. The air is thick with the heat, and with a strange, low roar, like the grinding of a giant millstone. It is easy to imagine what it must feel like to be buried alive. Even Napoleon, who spent a night alone in the pyramid after he conquered Egypt in 1798, was said to have emerged shaken. In the centre of the room is a pink granite sarcophagus where, it is believed, the pharaoh's mummified body would originally have lain. Dr Hawass - who gained worldwide recognition in 1999 when he excavated the Valley of the Golden Mummies at Bahariya Oasis - shows me two shafts leading up out of the chamber. Unlike in the Queen's Chamber, neither of these are blocked. Could the shaft in the Queen's Chamber simply have become blocked by accident? I ask Dr Hawass. "Yes, that is certainly possible. One theory I am interested in is that the stone was actually used for polishing the inside of the shaft, in order to make it easier for the soul of the pharoah to ascend. The copper handles might have been designed to tie ropes to, in order to pull it further down the shaft. Then it simply became stuck." On the other hand, Dr Lelmer points out that nothing has yet been discovered, in terms of pyramid-building, which is without symbolic significance. Every aspect of construction was meticulously planned: there were no "accidents". He adds that the point in the shaft at which the blocking stone is stuck appears to have been narrowed with an extra 6cm layer of stone. Once we are in the Queen's Chamber, he puts forward another theory. "I wonder whether this was a serdab, or statue room - which would explain the empty alcove in one wall. If the King's Chamber held the body, or mummy, in the sarcophagus, the Queen's Chamber might have held a statue of the pharaoh. "Mummification was founded on, the concept of the ka, or soul, which is everywhere, and the ba - the personality and status of the dead person - which was depicted as a human-headed bird which came and went continually, provided offerings to the pharaoh were made. "The open shafts in the larger chamber allow the ba to come and go from the mummified body. But the statue represents a substitute body, a repository for the ka force, and the blocked shalt symbolically stops the ka from leaving." The robotics team - busy setting up in the chamber as Dr Lehner talks - seem more interested in fibre optics and antennae than all this talk of the soul. This group of former researchers from the Artificial Intelligence Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are lussing around a small unprepossessing piece of equipment with caterpillar tracks as if it were an opera diva about to go on stage. This, they inform me in hushed voices, is the Pyramid Rover (a scaled-down version of the four robots used last September to search for survivors in the ruins of the World Trade Centre). The robot will climb up the shaft, gripping the ceIling where necessary, and negotiating the 6cm-deep step referred to by Dr Lehner. Once at the stone the robot will use its ground-penetrating radar antennae, the smallest ever developed, to image what is on the other side of the stone. Depending on what the robot sees, Dr Hawass, acting in his capacity as Head of Egypt's Antiquities, will decide how to proceed; whether or not, for example, the stone should be cut. Outside the pyramid, Hawass seems undaunted by such responsibility. He is already telling me about his other field of enquiry, a sealed sarcophagus - the oldest found by modern archaeologists - which belonged to an Overseer of the Works at the Khufu pyramid. It, too, will be opened live on Tuesday's programme, and he hopes it will answer other questions about the pyramids, and perhaps ask a few new ones, too. Dr Lehner, meanwhile, tells me enthusiastically about an excavation he is directing, of an extensive settlement near the Sphinx which he believes would have housed the builders of the pyramids. "I started thinking in terms of people -if 20,000 people were needed to bulld the pyramids, where did they come from, where did they end up?" His discoveries so far suggest that far from being a slave-labour workforce, as had been assumed, they were well fed and looked alter - eating large amounts of expensive beef and drinking beer, and receiving surprisingly advanced medical care. "Most of the settlement is still unexcavated - it covers around six square kilometres, making it an example of a very early city. The excavation is a lifetime's project" Dr Hawass nods sympathetically. "I believe we've only found about 30 per cent of Egyptian monuments," he says. "The rest lie buried under ground. You never know what the sand will hide in the way of secrets." And with that they put their hats back on and disappear into the heat of the desert.
· Egypt:Secret Chambers Revealed will be shown as a live broadcast on the National Geographic Channel, lam on Tuesday; repeated at 9pm.
[ Sunday Telegraph 15 Sep 2002]





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