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Sat 6 Dec 2008 04:00 AM

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A civilised theory

Robert Bauval has enraged Egyptologists by suggesting the Giza pyramids mirror Orion's belt.

Robert Bauval has enraged Egyptologists by suggesting that Egypt's Giza pyramids are a mirror of the stars forming Orion's belt. Melissa Sleiman meets him at Dubai's artificial pyramids.

Robert Bauval doesn't look impressed, standing in front of one of Wafi's pyramids. "This is wrong," he says, while pointing at the entrance to the shops and shaking his head. "The Anubis statues aren't supposed to be there."

The tall adventurer, who has Belgian, French and Maltese blood flowing through his veins and was born in Alexandria, clearly knows his stuff. He's flying from country to country to share his ideas about early Egyptian civilisation and is meeting me directly after coming to Dubai from his home in Spain. To date, he's written seven books, most of them about Egypt.

Bauval switched from being a construction engineer to an expert and writer about Egyptian civilisation in the mid-1990s when he published the book ‘The Orion Mystery'. His hypothesis, that the three fourth-dynasty pyramids of the Giza Plateau were laid out to mimic the three stars of the constellation of Orion's belt, caused a huge public interest as well as provoked absolute outrage.

"It all started in 1983," Bauval tells me over a cup of coffee in the lobby of Raffles Dubai. He'd visited the Cairo museum and saw an aerial photograph of the three pyramids there.

"I was working in the construction industry back then and had done a lot of setting out, you know, aligning buildings. What seemed strange to me was that the two pyramids of equal size were along the diagonal and the smaller one was offset from it." It stuck in his mind.

Years later came up with the famous theory, after he'd gone camping with friends in the desert outside of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. "One friend was a navigator who had a boat and he said he often used the stars to know the way. He showed me the belt of Orion. That's when I saw the plan of the pyramids. The Egyptians had tried to create a heaven on earth.

"What really clinched it was that years before, tunnels in the pyramids pointing to these stars had been discovered. I also remembered once reading in a book that pyramids of the fifth dynasty had inscriptions on them, mentioning that the king would go to the stars, particularly to the constellation of Orion, in his afterlife."

Bauval got obsessed. He contacted a leading pyramids expert, former director of the British Museum Sir Ivan Edwards, who came to support his theory and published his first book shortly after. It became a bestseller, but also caused controversy as Egyptologists refused to believe the hypothesis. They believed that there was nothing at the time Bauval had suggested one of the pyramids was built (11500 BC).

But new archaeological discoveries suggest that there was an ancient civilization at the suggested date. Bauval is currently writing up his theories about that, which will be published in the book ‘Black Genesis'. He refers to discoveries, among them rock drawings of animals that could only have existed when the desert was fertile. That period is estimated to have been around 12000 to 8000 BC.

"Curiously enough, it's when these people disappeared when the Pharaonic civilization appeared. It looks like they were its precursor, because they'd moved to the Nile valley after the desert became difficult to live in."

Therefore, Bauval thinks that we should consider a "much earlier origin" of the Egyptians. "If my hypothesis is correct, then Egyptian civilisation has a black origin. The evidence of the people of the Sahara is clearly of a black race. They were tall, slender, wore beautiful garments and walked around with tamed cattle. It's going to cause a lot of controversy, but in science we just look at the facts and they are very strong."

However, Bauval has been wrong in the past. He no longer believes in a theory mentioned in his book ‘The Mars Mystery', published in the late 90's. It suggested that ancient civilisations had built artificial pyramids on Mars, after NASA had taken photographs on its surface in 1976. Some researchers claimed they saw artificial pyramids and a giant face on Mars.

The discovery in late '96, when a micro-organism was found in a meteorite, appealed to Bauval, and many others with him. "Maybe there had been living creatures on Mars, who had built these monuments, I thought. But a couple of years after I wrote the book, they took high res photos of Mars and it turned out they're natural mountains."

Bauval looks a bit embarrassed about his slip-up, but finds comfort in the fact that he's not the only one who's made mistakes. "I have a really thick book of the Institute of Expertology. It's amazing how many people were convinced they were right while they were wrong. Also, every single scientist was against Galileo when he said the earth was a globe."

He doesn't appear afraid of the controversy likely to ensue after he publishes his newest book either. "I always say that truth is not democratic. Argument by authority doesn't count. Truth is truth, no matter how many experts say you're wrong."

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Kenneth 11 years ago

The journalist forgot to mention why Bauval was in Dubai. Surely not to wander around Wafi but to speak at an international conference on Ancient Studies that was held at the Raffles. I must say, that was quite amazing.