Vandals for Pseudoscience


Some people believe that the technologies and religions of many ancient civilizations were bequeathed to them by extraterrestrial beings who were welcomed as gods at the time. As evidence of this extraordinary claim, such believers cite artifacts and monuments they say were left behind by these extraterrestrials, such as Stonehenge in Britain, the humanoid Moai statues of Easter Island, and the Nazca lines in Peru, which allegedly served as landing strips for extraterrestrial vehicles. Perhaps the most famous example of ancient architecture cited in support of the ancient alien thesis is the pyramids of Egypt.

But for some believers, merely talking about such amazing architectural feats is not enough. Some feel they must go farther to validate their deeply-held belief system. If a person believes strongly enough, he or she might go as far as two German men named Dominique Goerlitz and Stefan Erdmann. A tip of my hat goes to Benjamin Radford for publishing an article on on this story:

Two German men who visited the Egyptian pyramids in April 2013 now face criminal charges for their attempt to prove their “alternative history” conspiracy theories through vandalism. The men, Dominique Goerlitz and Stefan Erdmann, were joined by a third German, a filmmaker who accompanied them to document their “discoveries.”

The men were allowed to enter the inner chambers of the Great Pyramid at Giza normally off-limits to the public and restricted to authorized archaeologists and Egyptologists. The group reportedly took several items from the pyramids, including taking samples of a cartouche (identifying inscription) of the pharaoh Khufu, also known as Cheops. Goerlitz and Erdmann, who are not archaeologists but have instead been described as “hobbyists,” allegedly smuggled the artifacts out of the country in violation of strict antiquities laws, according to news reports.

Goerlitz and Erdmann vandalized the site and stole the artifact with a view to conducting their own tests on the inscription material, which was scraped off the cartouche and pocketed. Their purpose in carrying out these acts was apparently to prove to the world that the inhabitants of the legendary city of Atlantis built the pyramids over 20,000 years ago.

Six Egyptians are being held in connection with this case, including some guards and inspectors working for the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry who are responsible for giving the Germans and their cameraman access to the pyramid. In his article, Radford suggests that this case reflects a larger social problem besetting the tourism industry in Egypt. “Tour-agency owners — including one of the men recently arrested in connection with this case — are often willing to bend or break the rules if it means satisfying wealthy foreigners, news reports suggest. The German government expressed outrage over the acts, and categorically stated the men were private citizens and not in any way affiliated with its German Archaeological Institute.”

The German hobbyists were not caught red-handed at the time of their trespass or even during their vandalism and theft. Instead, they were caught because they documented all their activities on video with the help of the cameraman who accompanied them in their illegal access to the pyramid’s chambers. These two clever men went on to make their activities public by posting this video documentation on YouTube and other sites.

The Cheops Project

The title of the “documentary” Goerlitz and Erdmann are involved in producing is Das Cheops Projekt. The project’s website describes in detail what their film is about. The project’s stated position can be summarized as follows: In 1837, the British pyramid researcher Howard Vyse discovered the cartouche of Cheops in the relieving chambers of the Great Pyramid. The inscriptions found on this cartouche confirm Cheops/Khufu as the principal client, but the authenticity of this cartouche has been a point of contention among scholars for a long time. While most Egyptologists are confident that the cartouche is indeed authentic, Vyse came under suspicion shortly after his 1837 “discovery” of having faked the artifact himself in order to claim the sensational discovery for himself. If this deception could be proven, then many provocative questions would be added to the already numerous speculations as to who built the Giza pyramids.

Goerlitz and Erdmann are convinced that the cartouche is a fake. According to their thesis, Khufu’s name was inscribed on the cartouche by someone else at a later time. Khufu was thus given the credit for building the pyramids that were actually built thousands of years earlier by people from Atlantis. They also claim that mainstream archaeologists and Egyptologists have been covering up or intentionally overlooking evidence of the pyramids’ non-Egyptian origin.

Debunking the Projekt

Pursuant to proving their theory that the Khufu cartouche is thousands of years younger than the Giza pyramids in which it was found, Goerlitz and Erdmann want to apply a new examination and dating method on the pigment of the cartouche sample they smuggled out of Egypt. The sample is now supposedly located in a laboratory in Germany undergoing analysis.

But such dating analysis constitutes a great waste of time and reveals the scientific ineptitude of Goerlitz and Erdmann. Carl Feagans points this out in a write-up he posted on his website A Hot Cup of Joe: Archaeology, Anthropology, Science, and Skepticism. He writes, “There are other cartouches and other writings that correlate Khufu to the pyramid. But, more importantly, the pyramids at Giza are well-dated already.” In other words, Das Cheops Projekt wants to spend time and energy performing tests on one ill-gotten data point while completely ignoring mountains of other evidence which they must confront and account for if they are to be taken seriously.

Furthermore, even the pigment sample Goerlitz and Erdmann illegally appropriated cannot be dated to any high degree of accuracy. Feagans goes on to explain the problems with dating pigment in his article:

I honestly don’t know if anyone has tried to date the pigment of the cartouche. I doubt it. Pigment is extremely difficult to date. In fact, one doesn’t date the pigment at all. Instead, what you have to do is get enough of a sample that you can separate the pigment from the binder and emulsifier in hopes that one of these is organic. Red pigment is often iron oxide or red ochre which cannot be carbon dated. But the binder or emulsifier is often gum, egg, or glycerin (all organic binders) or animal fats. These things can be dated if an uncontaminated sample can be obtained.

In vandalizing and stealing from the pyramid site, Goerlitz and Erdmann were attempting to make an end-run around the legitimate process of science, a process which exists for a good reason. If they have a legitimate case to be made, then they should make that case by doing the scholarship, publishing the papers, and submitting their conclusions to expert review. Even if they did not convince the entire community of Egyptologists that they are right, the least we can expect of them is to make the effort to present a case compelling enough that they would be granted research access. If they can convincingly demonstrate scientifically that the inscriptions on the Cheops cartouche date to a time much younger than the Giza pyramids in which it was found, such a finding would force a transparent reevaluation of everything Egyptologists thought they knew.

But Goerlitz and Erdmann are not interested in transparency. They have not even earned the right to gain access to the artifacts they are interested in as armchair archaeologists. The fact that they damaged and stole artifacts shows a clear lack of any legitimacy to their methods. Even if their crackpot theory turned out to be correct, who can they expect to believe the results of a laboratory that is willing to run experiments on stolen and ill-gotten goods? By their own actions, Goerlitz and Erdmann have doomed their entire endeavor to failure from the beginning.

Besides, the illegitimate efforts of Goerlitz and Erdmann are being directed toward a theory that is not only demonstrably wrong but also nonsensical on its face. For one, their claim stands opposed to the fact that the empire of Atlantis does not and never did exist. The city was first described in two fictional dialogues (the Timaeus and the Critias) written by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato around 330 BCE. Plato’s Atlantis does not refer to any real ancient civilization.

Also contrary to the claims made by Das Cheops Projekt, there is a substantial archaeological record showing beyond any reasonable doubt that the Egyptians did in fact build the pyramids. We have ample documentation of the development and evolution of the techniques used by the ancient Egyptians to perfect their art, including archaeological records of architectural failures made during their learning curve. One famous example of such failure is the “Collapsed Pyramid” of Snefru at Meidum. This structure collapsed in on itself because the angle at which it was built was too steep, causing cracks to form along the core:

ImageThe takeaway point here is that what I like to call “archaeological creationism” is not a viable hypothesis. The pyramids of Egypt did not just appear out of nowhere. Intermediary steps are generally required for the perfection of the art of amazing architectural feats such as pyramid building, and we can trace the progression of these steps in the archaeological record of the ancient Egyptians.


  • IIRC the Meidum pyramit broke down in the Roman era due to stone looting. Amidst the rubble a stela temple was found wit graffitti from the New Kingdom praising the beauty and perfection of that pyramid, so it must have been OK then, more than 1000 years after it was built..
    The “fatal collaps”-idea comes from hobby Egyptologist Mendelssohn and it was outdated before he publishet it, he was ignorant of that temple.

  • This claim sounds to me like an attempt to rationalize away clear evidence of trial-and-error progression of the ancient Egyptians’ pyramid building. Can you provide any reputable sources and photographs in support of this claim about the New Kingdom graffiti?

    Kurt Mendelssohn was not ignorant of the Meidum pyramid as you assert. While he was not an Egyptologist, he was a reputable physicist who studied the physics and engineering techniques of pyramid-building for many years. His credentials more than qualified him to apply his area of expertise to pyramids. If you want to show that Mendelssohn was wrong about the collapse of Meidum, you are going to have to counter his actual arguments.

    You are also going to have to counter the consensus of modern Egyptology and archaeology as a whole. It is not as if Mendelssohn was the sole promoter of the much more natural and plausible explanation of collapse. Finally, the pyramid at Meidum is not the only example of a failed pyramid reflecting human trial-and-error. Archaeologists have found several such failed attempts dating from early in the history of pyramid-building.

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