There is little doubt that the first, giant pyramids built by our ancient ancestors were used as tombs. No doubt about it. There is evidence aplenty from human bone fragments, mummy wrappings, sarcophagi, remains of wooden coffins and yes, even mummies found in-situ within the pyramid. We also have ancient records from the dynastic period of ancient Egypt that records the punishments given to pyramid tomb robbers. The real question that should be asked, however, is not whether these first pyramids were used as tombs but whether they were originally conceived as tombs and whether the evidence found within them supporting the tomb theory is original to the pyramid or the result of much later intrusive burials?
Egyptologists would tell us that the first pyramids were clearly conceived as tombs right from the beginning because of a very important piece of evidence—the stone box they believe to be a ‘sarcophagus’ found in the main chamber of the Great Pyramid of Giza (figure 1).
The key point to note about the so-called sarcophagus of the Great Pyramid is its dimensions—this granite box is simply too large to fit through the narrow entrance to the chamber and, as such, must be original to the structure as it could only have been set in place as the pyramid structure (and the internal King’s Chamber) was built, level by level, around the ‘sarcophagus’ (figure 2).
This is Egyptology’s ‘slam dunk’. The ‘sarcophagus’ could never have been intrusive to the Great Pyramid, was built as an integral part of the pyramid’s design and, therefore, the Great Pyramid must have been conceived as a tomb right from the beginning.
Appearances, however, can be deceptive and this belief of the Egyptologists fails to acknowledge other key evidence which contradicts their belief that these granite boxes in these chambers are sarcophagi.
Figure 2 – The ‘Sarcophagus’ was Original to the Great Pyramid
But if not sarcophagi what else might they be? To answer this question requires us to take a brief look at the ancient Egyptian language. When we do this what we find is that there is no such word as ‘sarcophagus’ in their language—this is a Greek word. The ancient Egyptians actually had three different words to represent a stone box. These words are dArwEt, qArsEw and nEb-Anx. Egyptologists make no distinction between these three different names the ancient Egyptians used for a stone box, regarding all of them as simply another name for ‘sarcophagus’ (Greek ‘flesh eater’) intended for human burial. But is this correct? Were these differently named stone boxes made by the ancient Egyptians all intended for human burial?
The physical evidence suggests not. Let us consider briefly the granite boxes found in the pyramids at Giza that we are told served as the burial tombs of the Egyptian kings and compare these with the stone boxes found in the mastaba tombs around these pyramids, some of which belonged to the sons/daughters and brothers/sisters of these Giza kings.
Let us consider, first of all, the sarcophagus of Kawab (figure 3a), son of Khufu (builder of the Great Pyramid) and Crown Prince of Egypt who died unexpectedly before ever ascending the throne.
Figure 3a – The Inscribed and Decorated Sarcophagus (qArsEw) of Kawab, a Son of Khufu
Figure 3b – The Inscribed and Decorated Mastaba Tomb of Kawab
Figure 4 – The Plain, Undecorated Pyramid ‘Tomb’ of Khafre
We can clearly observe that his granite sarcophagus has been inscribed with his name and his various titles which read:
“…priest of Selket, Kawab… the king’s son of his body, Kawab… king’s eldest son of his body, officiant of Anubis, Kawab.”
“Her son, her beloved, Ka-wab, the daughter of her god, she who is in charge of the affairs of the jmAt, Meritites, his mother, who bore (him) to Khufu.”
We also find that Kawab’s mastaba tomb (figure 3b) is lavishly decorated with inscriptions and images of the prince and scenes from every day Egyptian life.
Contrast this with the so-called ‘burial chamber’ and ‘sarcophagus’ of his father, Khufu, within the Great Pyramid. Here we find a stark, bleak, anonymous chamber with not a single inscription upon any of the walls or ceiling; no scenes of daily life like that we observe in his son’s tomb. Nothing. And the same is true for Khufu’s granite ‘sarcophagus’ – a roughly cut granite box without a single inscription anywhere; no name and no titles—entirely anonymous.
And this ‘theme’ continues. When we consider the ‘burial chamber’ of the second pyramid at Giza which Egyptologists attribute to Khufu’s son and (eventual) successor, Khafre, we find much the same; a soulless chamber without any decoration or a single inscription anywhere of the deceased (figure 4).
And, once again, when we contrast this with the mastaba tombs of Khafre’s siblings Meresankh II (figure 5a) and Minkhaf I (figure 5b), we find an entirely different picture with both the mastaba tomb and the stone box inscribed with the deceased’s name and titles:
“King’s Daughter of his body, Meresankh”
Minkhaf held the titles Eldest king’s son of his body, Chief Justice and Vizier and these inscriptions, including his name, were found in four niches within his mastaba tomb. His sarcophagus (qArsEw) was highly decorated with numerous inscriptions – see figure 5.
An important point to understand here is that the ancient Egyptian concept of ‘soul’ was multi-faceted, comprising of numerous elements. The most important aspects of this were Ka (the vital life spark), Ba (an individual’s personality), Akh (an effective being of light) and Ren (an individual’s birth name),. At this early period of ancient Egypt only the king’s soul would ascend to the stars and the Afterlife. This ascension was thought to occur when the Ka and Ba united in the pyramid tomb to form Akh – a being of light that could travel through the Duat. This ‘alchemy’ occurred in the pyramid tomb every day and night for eternity. Each day the Ba would fly off to the land of the living and each night it would return again to its eternal roost—the tomb. But if the Ba, on its return, came to the wrong tomb then it could not unite with its Ka, the King’s Akh could not then be created and he would die a second and permanent death, potentially bringing chaos to the kingdom. To assist the Ba in finding the correct tomb the Ren (the deceased’s name) would be placed somewhere in the tomb and even upon the sarcophagus of the deceased to help the Ba identify the correct tomb.
And in this, we have the great contradiction. We find the names and titles within mastaba tombs and upon sarcophagi where the deceased expected no afterlife and in the tombs where the deceased did expect an Afterlife (i.e. the King’s pyramid) and where it was really important that the correct tomb was found by the Ba, there are no inscriptions whatsoever; no Ren to assist the Ba to identify the correct tomb. So what’s going on?
A quick look at some ancient Egyptian texts show us that, in the Old Kingdom period, the word qArsEw was used for mastaba burials. Here, for example, is a piece of text from the Mastaba tomb of Senedjemib Inti, a vizier from the Fifth Dynasty of Egypt, whose son, Senedjemib Mehi is seeking permission to bring a stone box (qArsEw) from Tura for his father’s burial:
“I begged from my lord that a sarcophagus [qArsEw] be brought for him from Tura; the majesty of my lord had an overseer of the expedition and an overseer of officials cross (the river) with the specific aim of bringing back this sarcophagus [qArsEw] from Tura in a great cargo vessel of the Residence.”
Figure 5a – Sarcophagus (qArsEw) of Meresankh II
Figure 5b – Sarcophagus (qArsEw) of Min-Khaf
There is little doubt then that the term ‘qArsEw’ was the ancient Egyptian word used to refer to the stone box placed in mastaba tombs and, as we have already seen, these stone containers would usually be inscribed with the deceased’s name and titles. In short, the ancient Egyptian word qArsEw most definitely was what today we would call a ‘sarcophagus’.
But what of the other terms the ancient Egyptians used for a stone box – dArwEt and nEb-Anx? What do we know about these terms?
In Ägyptisches Wörterbuch, I. Altes Reich und Erste Zwischenzeit by Rainer Hannig, we are told (p. 613) that the ancient Egyptian term ‘dArwEt’ is used only briefly in the Old Kingdom to describe a stone box. Why would this be? Perhaps because, of the first 16 pyramids built by the ancient Egyptians, only three of these pyramids—the three main pyramids at Giza—were found to contain a stone box and, as we have already noted, the stone boxes in Khufu and Khafre’s pyramids were undecorated, plain, anonymous containers without a single inscription, distinctly different from those found in mastaba tombs of the same period. Given the anonymous nature of these containers and the limited number of them in these first sixteen pyramids, this may be why the term ‘dArwEt’ is only briefly used at this time. These containers clearly were not qArsEw (i.e. containers for human burial) but may well have been ‘dArwEt’ containers and intended for some other purpose. But what could this other purpose be?
This other purpose may be observed if we consider the discovery of Giovanni Belzoni in 1818 within the granite container of Khafre’s pyramid at Giza. In his subsequent book describing this discovery, Belzoni writes:
“The sarcophagus is eight feet long, three feet six inches wide, and two feet three inches deep in the inside. It is surrounded by large blocks of granite, apparently to prevent its removal, which could not be effected without great labour. The lid had been broken at the side, so that the sarcophagus was half open. It is of the finest granite; but, like the other in the first pyramid, there is not one hieroglyphic on it.
Looking at the inside, I perceived a great quantity of earth and stones, but did not observe the bones among the rubbish till the next day…” – G. Belzoni, Narrative, p.271.
Figure 6 – Artists Impression of the Earth-Filled Stone Box Discovered in Khafre’s Pyramid by Giovanni Belzoni in 1818. (Note: the original contents found in this granite box have long since been removed).
Figure 7 – A nEb-Anx Stone Box (Note: Egyptologists refer to these small stone containers as ‘Osiris Bricks’)
It should be stated here, for clarity, that the bone fragments discovered by Belzoni among the earth and stones in this granite container were later found to come from a bull. Egyptologists simply dismiss this find of Belzoni’s (figure 6) as a later intrusive ‘burial’, asserting that the king’s body was stolen by tomb robbers at some remote point in antiquity and the stone box filled instead with earth as an ‘offering to the gods’. It should be said also that this view is merely asserted by Egyptologists without any actual proof that any of what they assert ever happened. An anonymous stone box filled with earth simply does not fit into their tomb narrative with regards to these first pyramids and so, in their opinion, it must be intrusive. But the Egyptologists overlook (or ignore) a very important cultural clue that strongly suggests that this anonymous earth-filled stone box found in Khafre’s pyramid by Belzoni in 1818 was, in fact, what the ancient builders actually placed in this pyramid—it was the original content.
During the Festival of Khoiak (‘Khoiak’ is the final month of flood season when the flood waters of the Nile begin to recede), the ancient Egyptians commemorated the death of Osiris (his body being cut into sixteen pieces and scattered across the land of Egypt by his evil brother Seth) and then celebrate his rebirth or revivification through the work of his wife, Isis, the ‘Mistress of the Pyramid’. At this festival, the ancient Egyptians would make small wooden, granite or fired stone boxes which they would then fill with earth. Although these small containers would remain completely anonymous, an outline of the god Osiris would be pressed into the earth, showing his distinctive Atef crown and crook and flail, the royal symbols of power (figure 7).
Into the Osiris earth would then be placed grain and other seed types. Sometimes a lid would be placed on these small stone boxes before they were placed into the ground and a large stone (symbolizing the pyramid) placed on top.
Here then we have the ancient Egyptians of later dynasties replicating with miniature versions exactly what Belzoni found in the main chamber of Khafre’s pyramid—anonymous stone (or wooden) containers filled with earth with a large stone (the pyramid) placed on top. What this tells us is that the ancient Egyptians of this period knew exactly what the large stone boxes within the giant pyramids at Giza contained—a stone container filled with earth. And, as stated, this is precisely what Belzoni discovered in 1818. We have a clear connection between the two and it seems safe to say that Belzoni’s discovery of a granite box of earth was original to the pyramid.
The ancient Egyptian term nEb-Anx is believed to mean ‘container of life’. Intriguingly, one of the many appellations for Osiris is the title ‘Lord of Life’, a name which also means nEb-Anx. Given that Osiris was the god of rebirth, regeneration, revivication, the Afterlife then it is perfectly understandable why a small stone or wooden box filled with earth molded into the shape of Osiris could be regarded as a ‘container of life’ and ‘Lord of Life’.
What we have then is three ancient Egyptian terms for a stone box and three different types of stone box found in the evidence. The stone boxes identified by the ancient Egyptians as ‘qArsEw’ were clearly used for human burial (i.e. these stone boxes were sarcophagi). The anonymous, plain stone boxes found filled with earth and stones within the giant Giza pyramids were likely referred by the ancient Egyptians as ‘dArwEt’’ and likely served as the center piece of a deep chthonic ritual relating to the rebirth/revivication, not of the king, but of the kingdom—the Earth. The sixteen pyramids scattered along the banks of the Nile would, in time, become the metaphorical ‘body of Osiris’ (cut by Seth into sixteen parts), each of them filled with grain and other useful items to help ensure the rebirth of the kingdom after an anticipated flood the ancient Egyptians believed would destroy their civilization. The ‘dArwEt’ stone box filled with earth (and likely also with some grain seed) in Khafre’s pyramid possibly symbolized the ‘soul’ of Osiris within the metaphorical ‘pyramid body’ of Osiris. In later dynasties this tradition would be carried forward with the creation of small, ceremonial ‘dArwEt’ boxes that would come to be known as nEb-Anx—containers of life.
And so, even although it is perfectly clear that the granite box within the Great Pyramid was original to the structure, simply because it has some of the characteristics of an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus, there are very clear and distinct differences with actual sarcophagi and, as such, it should not be assumed to be a sarcophagus. The available evidence strongly suggests that this granite container is more likely to have been a ‘dArwEt’ container, placed in the pyramid as part of a deep chthonic ritual and not a qArsEw (sarcophagus). This interpretation of the granite boxes in the Khufu and Khafre pyramids is plainly erroneous and the failure by mainstream Egyptology to properly collect, interpret and connect all the evidence has resulted in Egyptology making a wrong turn that began with Belzoni almost two hundred years ago. Had Belzoni known of the smaller ceremonial stone boxes filled with earth, he may not have been so quick to dismiss his own discovery as an intrusive burial and may have realized this container and, by extension, the pyramid itself, served an entirely different function.
Contrary to conventional assertions, not all stone boxes found in ancient Egypt were ‘sarcophagi’ for the purposes of human burial and mainstream Egyptology needs to understand that simple fact.
About the Author: Scott Creighton is an engineer whose extensive travels have allowed him to explore many of the world’s ancient sacred sites. The host of the Alternative Egyptology forum on AboveTopSecret.com, he lives in Glasgow, Scotland. This article is based on Scott Creighton’s previous book, ‘The Secret Chamber of Osiris’ (Bear & Co, 2014). Look out also for his next book, ‘The Great Pyramid Hoax’ (Bear & Co., Dec 2016).