THE DAILY MAIL, Saturday June 21st, 2003: 'GOD'S VIBRATIONS'
Primitive power station... air raid shelter against meteorites... landing beacon for aliens. There have been many bizarre theories about the Great Pyramid. Now an intriguing new book suggests that it was built as a giant amplifier for the ancient gods...
AN ANCIENT traveller across the desert would probably have picked up the sound from miles away. It was just a vague hum at first, but then a deep bass note boomed out over the Egyptian plain, perhaps accompanied by another, slightly higher note, the two of them forming an eerie, resonating chord.
As it grew louder and more persistent in his ears, the listener would have been filled with awe and wonder. It must have sounded like the voice of the Great God, the Lord of the Universe himself.
Then, as he got nearer to the source, the pilgrim would have discovered the greatest wonder of all that the sound was pouring from a vast stone edifice towering nearly 500 ft high above the Nile valley.
There on the Giza plateau, outside what we now call Cairo, the Great Pyramid was sending out a musical message across the sands. Extraordinary as the idea seems, it was 'singing'.
The ingenious design of the pyramid built from up to four million blocks of stone, and weighing a total of between five and ten million tons had turned it into a huge amplifier, picking up vibrations from the earth and turning them into sound.
Broadcast from a chamber deep within its walls, along specially created shafts, it was a music rich in religious symbolism an echo from the moment of creation. To hear it must have been one of the most moving experiences imaginable.
This, I believe, may be the strangest untold secret of a structure that has baffled the minds of scholars and laymen alike for thousands of years.
Foremost among the Egyptian pyramids in its size, and unique in the precision and complexity of its construction, the Great Pyramid has generated endless speculation.
Conventional opinion insists it was nothing but a tomb for the pharaoh King Khufu (also known as Cheops). But its sheer scale and complex array of chambers and passages have convinced many people that it must have been something more.
For nearly two millennia, it was claimed it was the granary of Joseph, the Israelite who saved Egypt from famine in Old Testament times. Its design hardly suggested a repository for corn, but the legend proved enduring.
Then in the 20th century came a deluge of wild new suggestions about its purpose: it was said to be a giant water pump to irrigate Egyptian crops; a power plant that provided electricity for long-forgotten technology; a sundial; an almanac; an observatory for studying the stars; an air raid shelter against meteorites; and even a navigation beacon for aliens.
I have no interest in such fantasies. My theories are based on a careful examination of the evidence and a desire to move beyond the glaring inadequacy of what has become conventional wisdom.
The idea of the 'singing pyramid' is just one aspect of my work, and I readily admit that it is the most speculative. But I firmly believe that it is entirely plausible and that it has much to tell us about the pyramid's true meaning.
The size of the Great Pyramid is mind-boggling. It has a volume of 91 million cubic feet large enough to contain Westminster Abbey and St Paul's Cathedral as well as the cathedrals of Florence, Milan and Rome. More stone was used in its construction than in all the cathedrals, churches and chapels built in England since the time of Christ.
One estimate suggests that if this stone was sawn into one-foot cubes and placed end to end, it would stretch two-thirds of the distance around the equator.
It was easily the biggest pyramid ever built, and was constructed with unique attention to detail. At their bases, its four sides are around 755ft long but match each other to a matter of inches.
Many of the stones are cut to precise 90 degree angles, and the east and west sides are precisely aligned to the compass direction for true north.
All four faces, a total area of about 22 acres, were once clad from top to bottom in a mantle of polished limestone fitted together with such accuracy that the joints were almost invisible to the naked eye.
When the sun shone, the pyramid must have blazed like a single precious stone. To step inside it as I have done many times since I was first taken to see it as a 14-year-old schoolboy is to enter what seems like a giant puzzle or maze. In no other Egyptian pyramid does one encounter such a baffling system of rooms, corridors and tunnels.
From the entrance, 60ft up on one of the sides, a narrow passage leads down into the bowels of the earth, while another branches steeply upwards into the pyramid's very heart.
There, an extraordinary corbelled gallery a unique and astonishing work of architecture and engineering in itself provides access to the most mysterious place of all, the so-called King's Chamber.
Unlike the rest of the pyramid, which is largely made from limestone, the King's Chamber was built with red granite. In the middle of the room, there is now a lidless granite box, 7ft 6in long.
WHATEVER treasures the room contained were plundered in antiquity. And unlike those of its smaller rivals, the walls of the Great Pyramid bear no inscriptions. Any suggestions about the chamber's purpose are pure supposition.
According to orthodox Egyptologists, it was the burial place of King Khufu, for whom the pyramid was built in 2550BC. The granite box was supposedly his sarcophagus. But the harsh truth is that there is no evidence to back up these assumptions. No trace of Khufu's mummy has ever been found here, and no evidence exists of a human burial in the chamber. Indeed, no reliable record has been unearthed of Khufu having been buried in, or removed from, either the sarcophagus or the pyramid itself.
I'm also troubled by a more fundamental problem. Why would the Egyptians have wanted to bury their king in a chamber 140ft above the ground?
There is much we do not understand about the religious beliefs of ancient Egypt, but one thing is certain that the body of a king had to be placed in the earth when he died, back in the element from which he, like all men, had come.
It's a fact that makes nonsense of the burial chamber theory.
And when one thinks of the obstacle course that any funeral cortege would have had to follow to get there scrambling through impossibly narrow tunnels and up steep slopes, with no steps or handholds the idea seems even more far-fetched.
Another problem that orthodox theorists struggle to explain is the existence of two small shafts cut into the chamber's sides.
Just eight inches wide, they shoot up through many layers of masonry and emerge on the pyramid's outer walls. One is 235ft long, the other 174ft. Neither is straight but twists and turns.
Their function has always flummoxed the experts. Some say they were ventilation shafts, providing air to the chamber.
Others argue the shafts had a religious purpose to allow the dead king's spirit to leave his body and travel uninterrupted up to the heavens. Yet no such shafts are to be found in other Egyptian tombs, and religious writings of the time make it clear that the soul of a king can easily travel through rock.
My belief is that the king was buried somewhere else almost certainly underneath the pyramid.
But in that case, what was the real purpose of the so-called King's Chamber? Incredible as it seems, I believe it was the centre of the pyramid's amplifying sound system.
IT HAS been known for centuries that the King's Chamber has special acoustic properties. A Frenchman who visited the Great Pyramid in 1581 reported that when struck, the granite sarcophagus 'sounded like a bell'. Other travellers used the same phrase, and it became a favourite trick of the local Arab guides to hit the coffer and make it ring.
But it wasn't just the sarcophagus. Every transient sound, be it a murmur or a footstep, can make the room resonate in harmony throughout its 34ft length.
In recent years, the effect has been investigated by researchers as diverse as a professional flautist and an acoustics consultant to the space agency Nasa. Their tests have established that the chamber is especially responsive to very low frequencies.
At its strongest, the effect can be truly startling. When the Nasa expert played deep bass notes through a system of amplifiers, he reported that the resonance was so strong that it 'scared the wits out of several crew members' and 'made everyone get up and run to the exit'. Part of the explanation lies in the room's granite walls, floor and ceiling. Granite is a quartz-bearing rock, renowned for the way it vibrates.
Experts such as English acoustics engineer John Reid have speculated that the stone was deliberately chosen 'as an experimentation in reverberation enhancement'. His own theory is that it was intended to enrich the chanting of priests interring the dead king.
Some scholars go as far as to argue that the sort of vibrations the stones give out can induce an altered state of consciousness, and that the chanting was used in a mind-bending religious initiation ritual. However, the frequencies the chamber responds to most strongly are far below those of the human voice. And the chamber's structure suggests far bigger and grander ambitions.
BESIDES its visible granite ceiling, it actually has a further four raised and stacked roofs, formed by huge granite beams with a combined weight of 1,200 tons. From an engineering point of view, there is no structural need for them. So what was their purpose?
I believe the answer may again lie in the resonant properties of granite. These beams vary in width and height for no obvious reason except that this is a way of altering their resonance, 'tuning' them, as it were, in the same way as a guitarist lengthens or shortens a string with his fingers. Some of the beams also have deep grooves cut into them, which would have a similar effect.
Equally astonishing is that this entire set-up is essentially free-standing, fitted between two huge limestone walls but not locked into the masonry of the pyramid.
According to one expert who has surveyed the chamber with high-tech sensors, it has its own distinct foundations going all the way down to the ground, entirely separate from the rest of the pyramid's stonework. In effect, this means that the chamber can vibrate without any interference from the rest of the building.
Even its floor seems to have been specially designed to the same end. Rather than the flat masonry one might expect, the 21 floor stones sit on a bumpy underlay, rather like an upturned egg carton, allowing them maximum freedom to vibrate.
The combined result is to turn the King's Chamber into a kind of giant soundbox. But if human voices were too weak to trigger its full power, what could? I believe the answer incredible as it sounds is the Earth itself.
TO UNDERSTAND how, we have to grasp that the planet we live on resonates and vibrates, though at an extremely low frequency that none of us notices.
It does this because it is bombarded from outer space by electromagnetic radiation from the sun and by other cosmic rays, which are actually high-energy particles, as well as by solid objects such as meteorites.
As one scientist says, we should picture the earth as a gigantic bell. Just as a church bell vibrates when it is hit by a hammer, so does the earth when it is struck. 'Our planet sings to the rhythm of the cosmos.'
So, it appears, did the Great Pyramid. As the American engineer Christopher Dunn has observed, the Pyramid, covering such a large land area, would have acted as an acoustic horn like an old fashioned wind-up gramophone for collecting and replaying what amounts to the heartbeat of the world.
The vibrations will have travelled up through the foundations of the King's Chamber, then set those huge granite blocks singing in sympathy.
This sounds like magic, but it is elementary schoolbook physics.
If my "singing pyramid" theory is correct, the granite beams above the King's Chamber were calibrated to match the vibration of the planet and set the chamber humming, just as one tuning fork sets off another if they are tuned to the same frequency. The sound in that darkened room would have been phenomenal.
I'm not suggesting that the ancient Egyptians had advanced scientific knowledge of acoustics just that they mastered the practicalities through observation of nature.
No doubt there will have been a lot of trial and error, perhaps using a test pyramid that was later dismantled or incorporated into one of the other pyramids at the Giza site.
We now come to those mysterious shafts shooting out from the walls of the chamber and a clear purpose for a feature that conventional Egyptologists simply can't explain.
I am convinced that the real reason for the shafts was to convey the sounds emitted by the chamber to the outside world. They would have acted in a similar way to organ pipes and, given their different lengths and contours, each would have probably modified the sound and sent a different note out across the desert.
Imagine the effect. As he approached Giza, that ancient traveller we began with would have witnessed the world's first 'son et lumiere' display.
HE WOULD have seen the sun striking the pyramid's polished sides. Then he would have heard a hum, a rumble, as the sound of the Earth's vibrations travelled up the shafts from the King's Chamber before bursting out into the open air as a profoundly beautiful deep bass note.
We do not know for certain the exact frequencies involved. Nor do we have any way of estimating the volume of the sound. Would it have been heard only on the Giza plateau, or for many miles around?
According to one acoustic expert, the sound might well have been audible in the entire area around the plateau, as low-pitched sounds tend to travel long distances.
The questions this theory raises are endless. Would the sound have varied in tone between the day and the night, with the motions of the moon, or at times of high tectonic activity?
For now, I have no answers. Only a full working model would be able to resolve these points. But one thing is certain.
If the pyramid did function in this way, then it would have been the most revered religious site in the entire ancient world, a wonder to surpass all others.
WHY, you will ask, would the builders of the pyramid have invested so much time and trouble in creating this immense sound-generator?
The answer lies in what I consider to be the true purpose behind the building. It is commonly believed that the Egyptians worshipped the Sun God, and much of the detailed interpretation of the pyramids has been made on that basis.
Their very shape is alleged to have been chosen because it resembled shafts of light slanting down from the sun.
But I have a radically different theory, that the real focus of Egyptian religion was the creation of the world and the universe.
In surviving Egyptian texts, the creation story is a particularly lurid one. Unlike, say, the Genesis account, it is full of sexual energy.
The Great God and the Great Goddess unite, and in that moment just as in the Big Bang of modern science the earth and the skies are created in a great trembling and quaking. The material for the sun, the moon and the stars is spat up into the sky.
I believe that the pyramids were nothing less than a physical representation of that process soaring up from the ground and into the sky. It has long been known that the layout of Egyptian temples symbolised the same mythical event.
Seeing the pyramid in this way, rather than as just a king's tomb, gives us for the first time a suitable explanation for its vast scale, the care lavished upon it, and its inestimable economic cost.
No king, however mighty, could justify such extravagance. But far from being a mausoleum, a monument to the dead, we can now see that the pyramid, in all its soaring grandeur and impenetrable mystery, was a celebration of life itself.
This was the message that I believe was booming out across the desert from the King's Chamber. Here were the sound effects to go along with the pyramid as the symbol and re-enactment of the moment of creation.
ANCIENT Egyptian literature testifies to the importance of sound at the time of the creation. In several versions of the myth, the Creator-God's emergence from the earth is accompanied by a great noise and commotion. The gods shout. The Earth resounds.
The final question is: why does the pyramid no longer emit its song?
By common consent, the King's Chamber appears to have suffered serious structural damage within a few hundred years of its construction. The roof beams were cracked and dislodged, the walls were forced outwards and the floor stones shaken and dislodged. Egyptologists ascribe this to an earthquake.
The oddity is that of all the chambers in the pyramid, only the King's Chamber and its antechamber were affected. No other room or passage sustained any subsidence damage or cracking.
I believe that this only goes to support the idea that the chamber had a unique sensitivity to the vibrations of the Earth. While the rest of the pyramid was unaffected by this mysterious shock, it seems that the King's Chamber suffered a vibrational overload.
Indeed, rather than an earthquake, I wonder whether the damage was done by a large meteorite impact, believed to have occurred in the Middle East around 2350BC, just 200 years after the pyramid is thought to have been built.
This impact, or series of impacts, would have injected a huge amount of energy into the Earth's crust and triggered a sudden, massive surge in tectonic vibration. It is all too possible that the wave of energy was simply beyond the capacity of the pyramid's sound system.
If so, it will have been a sadly premature end for a hugely ingenious and ambitious work of architecture.
ADAPTED from Pyramid of Secrets¹ by Alan F. Alford, published by Eridu Books, Walsall, England, in May 2003. Copyright 2003 Alan F. Alford. This article first appeared in THE DAILY MAIL, London, England, Saturday June 21st, 2003. Pyramid of Secrets¹ and its companion volume "The Midnight Sun".