Demythologizing the Giant Stone Boxes of Egypt

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The belief that otherworldly beings with intelligences superior to that of humans were responsible for designing and constructing great works of architecture in the distant past is one of the most persistent and common forms of the argument from Personal Incredulity. Such beliefs are symptomatic of a cynical view of humans as incapable of amazing architectural feats. This cynicism in turn stems from the desire of people to believe that our species has not been alone in our sojourn as the only intelligent animals on earth.

Instances of the belief in superiorly-intelligent aliens aiding lowly humans in building monuments to ingenuity is everywhere to be found on the Internet. Here I offer my critique on just one instance that recently came to my attention, a claim concerning giant underground stones that exist beneath the pyramids of Egypt. These massive stones have stimulated the personal incredulity of Brien Foerster, an author and self-described “adventurer” who has appeared multiple times on the History Channel show Ancient Aliens.

In a YouTube video titled “Giant Underground Stone Boxes near the Pyramids in Egypt,” Foerster takes his viewers along on a trip to Egypt, where he visits the Serapeum of Saqqara. Situated to the northwest of the Pyramid of Djoser, this particular serapeum is an underground tomb or necropolis located near Memphis, Egypt. It was built in the 13th century BCE during the reign of Ramesses II. The word “necropolis” derives from an ancient Greek word literally meaning “city of the dead.”

In the video under consideration, Foerster is filming a walkthrough of the Serapeum of Saqqara. This is not a secret underground cavern worthy of an intrepid adventurer. The Serapeum is a public attraction open to tourists. There are a large number of people walking around in the necropolis with Foerster and his friends. The latter apparently imagine that they are about to share an astounding discovery that has evaded the notice of all the other tourists. This enigmatic find turns out to be large stone “boxes” made out of granite blocks weighing between 50 and 100 tons. These huge masses of granite once served as very large coffins (sarcophagi), larger than is necessary to contain the average human body.

Foerster films as his colleague Christopher Dunn measures the interior of one of the boxes and finds that they are extremely precise. As Foerster states in the video, “The interior surface of this is within a few ten-thousandths of an inch in terms of being perfectly flat.” The interior’s surface is also polished to a mirror-like finish. Foerster is also intrigued by the corners of the stone boxes:

The corners are 90 degrees – not 89, not 91. But he [Dunn] has a precision square that he uses in the manufacturing industry. That’s what he used, and he found that the corners were exactly-ish 90 degrees.

Yes, Foerster really does say “exactly-ish” in the video.

During the course of this measuring exposition, text is flashed over the video: “This precise to bury a bull?” According to historians and Egyptologists, the Serapeum of Saqqara was used to bury bulls in reverence to the bull-deity Apis. Foerster’s personal incredulity kicks in, and he finds it insane that ancient Egyptians would go to such great trouble to create painstakingly precise granite boxes just to hold dead bulls. “The idea that it was made for bulls, no matter how special they were, is just ridiculous,” he says.

Skeptical activist Rebecca Watson, founder of the Skepchick Network and co-host of the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast, did a fine job of refuting Foerster’s implications in a recent Popular Science article on the subject. She shows that Foerster is clearly ignorant of ancient Egyptian culture and mythology:

The Apis bulls were incredibly sacred creatures to many ancient Egyptians, having been one of the first cults in Egyptian history. Bulls represented strength, determination, and virility, and so were often associated with pharoahs [sic]. The Apis bull was both a deity and manifestation of the pharaohs.

If there’s one thing the ancient Egyptians loved, it was post-mortal conspicuous consumption, so it’s impressive but not exactly beyond belief that they would spend so much time and effort to build elaborate tombs for the beings they worshipped.

Indeed, Foerster and his colleagues seem oblivious to the fact that throughout human history, people are prone to undertake elaborate rituals just for their belief system. The fact that such human behavior is unthinkable to him is indicative of a severely limited parochial mindset. And believers say us skeptics are unimaginative!

Foerster is also unappreciative or ignorant of the level of understanding and knowledge the ancient Egyptians had attained in the fields of applied mathematics and geometry more than 500 years before the Serapeum of Saqqara was built. Watson points this out in her article as well:

It’s also not surprising that they could create a flat surface or angles that are exactly-ish 90 degrees. The Egyptians boast some of the earliest known texts on geometry, like the Rhind Papyrus (from around 1650 BCE) and the Moscow papyrus (from about 1850 BCE). The latter papyrus indicates that the Egyptians could approximate pi (as 3.16049) and find the volume of a truncated pyramid. It stands to reason that 500 years later, they would be able to carve a flat surface and make a corner of exactly-ish 90 degrees.

“Aww, what’s in the Box?”

If Foerster does not believe that the ancient Egyptians were capable of pulling off these architectural feats, and denies that the Saqqara stone boxes were intended to hold bulls, what does he believe the purpose of these sarcophagi to have been? He does not tell us his views on the matter in the video, being content to allow the fringe blogosphere to provide their own speculations and assertions. And this they have been willing and eager to do. Searching Google with the title of Foerster’s video turns up a number of blogs and forums that feature breathless and bizarre commentary on the video.

By far, the most common answer as to the stone boxes’ origin is that ancient aliens built them. The tinfoil-hat views expressed on the blog 2012: The Big Picture is representative of this line of thought:

I think you’ll find that these boxes underscore the fact that ancient man alone—as described in the Illuminati-approved history books— could not possibly have constructed these boxes, nor the pyramids themselves.

If the Egyptians had the technology to do this many thousands of years ago, where would they—and we—be now in our ability to construct buildings and excavate and relocate stone?

The answer I believe to be true: that technology came from the stars, and when the star beings left, or died off, their technology went with them, or was destroyed by those who wished to control us.

What did the ancient aliens of Egypt intend to bury in these sarcophagi? One claim, propagated on the forums of the online conspiracy/UFO believer community Godlike Productions, is that they were used to entomb the giants which roamed the earth back in those days.

Other fringe bloggers hold different views concerning the origin of the Saqqara boxes. Some implicate ancient angels in their construction. This strikes me as not much different than the alien hypothesis. After all, what criteria distinguish aliens from angels? If the celestial beings called angels really exist, wouldn’t they qualify as aliens under most modern definitions? But apparently the more biblically intoxicated woo-blogs, such as Tim Clark’s NoWorksSalvationApocalypseNow, have firmly-held doctrinal reasons for preferring angels to aliens. Clark describes himself as a “retired biblical archaeologist” and writes,

I think that this type of archaeology is amazing especially when you consider history based on the Bible. It is obvious that the technology displayed in Egypt was not from the local Egyptians. The world wants to give credit to Ancient Aliens to avoid discussing the Bible. However, If you believe the Bible and the story of the Fallen Angels, you will look at things differently. . . . I think that a case can be made for these giant boxes as being made for Nephilim hybrids, possibly the hybrid gods of ancient Egypt like Anubis. Of course, there are no remains in these tombs but who is to say what was in these sites before the public was allowed to view them.

“Who is to say” indeed? In the absence of any confirming evidence of Clark’s extraordinary claim, the reasonable and rational approach is to opt for the null hypothesis. The lack of any remains in the Saqqara tombs does not justify filling that gap in our knowledge with Nephilim hybrids.

For those who don’t follow Bible mythology or Christian UFOlogy, “Nephilim” are the giant offspring of fallen angels who are said to have come to earth in the distant past to copulate with human women in order to produce a hybrid race. There is, of course, no archaeological, paleontological or biological evidence of any kind to indicate that giant Nephilim once roamed our planet. I refer interested readers to Brett Palmer’s excellent 4-part documentary series on YouTube titled Giants of the Bible, which skeptically examines claims made by believers regarding biblical giants.

It makes orders of magnitude more sense to conclude that the Serapeum of Saqqara and the giant stone boxes it contains were built by humans who had a fondness for bulls and were about as intelligent as humans are known to be. There is no anomaly that rationally justifies invoking the existence of ancient aliens or angels. Not only is such a postulation too extraordinary in the absence of confirmatory evidence, it also demeans and belittles the ingenuity and creativity of human effort, which is far more awe-inspiring than the infantile notion that aliens or angels were compelled to think and act for us.

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20 comments

  • Ben Ringer

    You mild ad hominem argument is typical of pseudoskeptics who will not consider any evidence that challenges their view. Brien.Foersters approach to Egypt is based on two investigative sources: Khemitology, the native oral tradition. The typically biased approach of Western academia has been to ignore indigenous history, for example the native history states that the Great Pyramid was not a tomb.
    The second source, is the research of engineers like Christopher.Dunn, who are far more qualified to discuss the evidence and implications of precision manufacturing in Eygpt than you are. Your article suggests that you have not familiarized your self with the research of Christopher.Dunn who presents the obvious evidence and argument that the Eygptians would not of been capable of working granite to such precision with copper and stone tools. It’s axiomatic to any one who is capable of critical thinking and who is DISINTERESTED in the implications that can be drawn from such an analysis. The fact that engineers and scienctists are still confounded about how the Great Pyramid was built is loaded with implications, it’s time for an honest assessment of the evidence not ignorant rebuttals.

    • I am sufficiently familiar with the work of Christopher Dunn, enough to know that he is not taken seriously by any reputable archaeologists. The argument that “the Eygptians [sic] would not of [sic] been capable of working granite to such precision with copper and stone tools” is “obvious” only to those who, like Dunn, have approached the question with a preset conclusion already in mind. And no, there is no evidence for such a claim.

      “It’s axiomatic to any one who is capable of critical thinking and who is DISINTERESTED in the implications that can be drawn from such an analysis.”

      Wrong. I do not think you understand what “axiomatic” means. There is no logical, axiomatic progression from amazing ancient architecture to “It must have been the work of superior beings.” The implications drawn by Foerster and Dunn and others like them do not represent the work of a disinterested analysis. Again, they have approached the subject of Egyptian history and culture with a pre-formed conclusion and then tried to fit the data to that foregone conclusion.

      “The fact that engineers and scienctists [sic] are still confounded about how the Great Pyramid was built is loaded with implications, it’s time for an honest assessment of the evidence not ignorant rebuttals.”

      Wrong again. Engineers and scientists are NOT confounded about the building techniques that went into building the Pyramids. You are obviously not familiar with the work done by qualified researchers demonstrating that using ONLY ancient technology and muscle, human beings can move large stone blocks and set them in place piece-by-piece. Read Penn State University’s findings at the following link: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080328104302.htm.

      Brien Foerster’s approach to the origins of Egyptian architecture is not based on honest evaluation and unbiased analysis. His approach is the same as yours: a glaringly obvious Argument from Ignorance / Argument from Personal Incredulity. You are essentially asserting that just because YOU cannot figure out how ancient Egyptians could have accomplished their architectural feats, therefore this means NO ONE can figure it out. In addition to being demonstrably wrong, this “aliens-of-the gaps” approach betrays an arrogant mindset that is borderline solipsistic in its subjective self-referential bias.

  • Ben Ringer

    I’m well aware of the work of Professor Michel Barsoum but as that article notes:

    “Although these findings answer some of the questions about the pyramids, Barsoum says the mystery of how they were built is far from solved. For example, he has been unable to determine how granite beams — spanning kings’ chambers and weighing as much as 70 tons each — were cut with nothing harder than copper and hauled in place….and

    ….The type of concrete pyramid builders used could reduce pollution and outlast Portland cement, the most common type of modern cement.”

    It begs the question of how a culture that was just out of the Stone Age had the chemical knowledge to make geo polymers better than we can now; we’re actually learning from them!

    I would add that they also moved the 70 ton granite from a quarry 500 miles away, raised it up the structure of the pyramid to a height of 140 feet+ and aligned the Great Pyramid to true north to within .05 degrees. The great pyramid is aligned as accurately as the Paris observatory.

    There is no evidence that the Eygptians could work granite with stone and copper tools, to precision that is within modern industrial standards; as attested by engineers like Chris.Dunn et al who have discovered tolerances comparable to a human hair by measursing the surface and corners in granite boxes with a modern precision square. There is plenty of evidence that is being ignored because it dose not fit our understanding of history, and the principal of Occam’s razor dose not hold when the simplist explanation dose not satisfy the evidence of superlative workmanship. This is the most plausible theory on the Great Pyramid and the sophistication in Giza:

    http://sentinelkennels.com/Research_Article_V41.html

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  • Ben Ringer

    And one more thing, who mentioned aliens?

  • What do the hieroglyphs say, on the sides of the stone boxes? Why does no one mention it?

  • Phil Retford

    I too would like to know what the hieroglyphs say.

  • Clearly you have not been able to comprehend that technologically speaking, the dynastic Egyptians could not have made the boxes in the Serapeum. I have never referred to the actual creators of these boxes being aliens or Nephilim.

    • And have you actually been to Egypt yourself?

    • Brien, notice that I never implied that you yourself have made reference to aliens or Nephilim. I am aware of your consistent vague and noncommittal approach on the subject of who or what you think built all the structures featured in your videos. The second part of my post is simply a commentary on the fringe belief in alien/Nephilim, the adherents of which are attracted to your content, whether you knowingly cater to them or not.

      Also, your name is associated with the “Ancient Aliens” pseudohistory series. Without having to peg you as a believer in that sort of thing, that association does make one wonder.

      Why couldn’t the dynastic Egyptians have made the Serapeum boxes? As I pointed out in the article, there is no real anomaly that requires us to take credit away from the dynastic Egyptians in this case. They were not stupid or intellectually inferior just because they lived a long time ago. That is what you have been unable to comprehend.

      I have never been to Egypt myself, but it doesn’t matter. My research and fact-checking suffices for the scope of what I discuss in this article. But more importantly, you are the one making the extraordinary claim. The burden of proof is yours.

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  • All i can take from this article is that in the end – everyone has postulated their opinions (including the armchair critics) – and basically no one has a clue or knows what the 50-100 Ton Serapeum carved boxes with lids were for… it is another mystery our so called ‘modern civilization’ will never comprehend like so many others in ancient history…

  • Kester Fernando

    I am very interested to hear Nathan’s point of view in terms of Ben Ringer’s last post. Nathan what are your thoughts please?
    Additionally I am extremely interested also on your analysis of how you believe the Dynastic Egyptians were able to insert those boxes into an underground chamber? I am also not subscribing to Angels nor Aliens, however, I do believe that from documented and scientifically accepted historical evidence and facts that the Egyptians did not possess the relevant enabling technology. Therefore if the Egyptians themselves were unable to do so then Brian’s point of enquiry is a valid one which does not yet have a satisfactory answer.
    So in terms of getting to the bottom of the matter I think we ought to be exploring the answer to the question he poses.

  • Brien is not quick to say “Aliens” as he mainly points out lost technology…. But here’s a most interesting short Video that make a lot of sense on how these big stone were worked and moved:

  • FattyZ

    Giants with laser cutting tools.

  • derp

    it where they store their beer mate

  • Doc Lemm

    No one knows it all about what was going way back in the early dynasties, Brien may offer his rendition but it’s nothing get riled about… Your attack on Brien is way over done.

    The Stone Aphis Bull Coffins at Giza, were machined and there is no denying that… Or else show us how it was done. In other words, prove your point. If you ever had any precision manufacturing experience you would understand what Dunn and Brien are talking about. I got years of it, made parts to a ten thousandths of an inch. You need special equipment to do that and even measure it. Don’t be so thick headed please.

    The so called Ancient Astronaut theories very and mostly are presented in the form of speculation and postulations because “science” itself is speculating. To this day the experts are still guessing. Anyone guess is as good as another until you add up the evidence.

    The Annunaki, are the most famous group of “aliens” and they created man as a work slave and if you doubt that then you haven’t been paying attention to what the Sumerians themselves wrote.
    The “Gods” didn’t build anything, they had the humans do it. Understand?

  • hashish

    what was the point of this blog, other than a huge rant and waste of everyones time.

    that cant be built even today is the point, you don’t explain how they were made, all points are irrelevant regarding what was it used for by the egyptians, as they may have just found them and used them for other purposes.

    I am all for debunking but actually bring something to the table.

  • Philbert

    What a waste of time this article is. It does nothing to de-mythologize anything, or to expand our knowledge or even address the questions about the Serapeum and the giant granite boxes. After misunderstanding & insulting Ben Ringer in an adolescent youtube comments battle type fashion, in conclusion Nathan Dickey goes on to support the official sad story that consistently ignores the fact that it is impossible to cut rose granite with the bronze tools of the dynastic Egyptians. Evidence shows also that the boxes that were blasted open in 1850 with dynamite held nothing – no bulls, in any of them. There is no evidence offered for the construction of the narrow tunnels, how the boxes were dragged 400 miles and placed underground in these narrow chambers, or why the hieroglyphics are merely scratched into the surface, instead of being impressively cut deeply into it.
    It would be nice for a change to see someone who intelligently allows for the fact that it is possible for someone to be unconvinced by the official story, whilst not automatically being an avid ancient alien believer – it is possible to be open and undecided, especially in the face of the facts.
    As for the burden of proof – it applies more to the archaeologists who claim and offer very little evidence for their bull story.
    The facts themselves are proof, and they may be a burden – but you just can’t dismiss them offhand by hiding behind the mainstream.

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