Cracking the Egypt Code, with Robert Bauval

Robert Bauval turned Egyptology upside down in the mid-1990s when he put forth his ‘Orion Correlation Theory’ – the hypothesis that the three pyramids of the Giza Plateau in Egypt were laid out to mimic the three stars of the constellation Orion’s belt. His ideas provoked both genuine interest and absolute outrage within academia, and his theory remains controversial. Now, twelve years on, Bauval is back with a new book, 'The Egypt Code' (Amazon UK), which not only revisits the Orion Correlation Theory, but goes even further by proposing that the sky was of ultimate importance to the Ancient Egyptian conception of cosmic balance. He kindly gave us some time to discuss the new book, and also his thoughts on numerous related issues.

SR: Hi Robert, and welcome back! It's been a while - over six years since your last solo outing, with Secret Chamber, and a few years since Talisman with Graham Hancock. Has all this time been devoted to the writing of the new book The Egypt Code?

RB: Hi Greg. Yes, it's been quite a while since Secret Chamber was published. Time does indeed fly. In February of 2005 I moved from England to Egypt with my wife Michele. My publishers, Century Books (Random House) had fixed the publication date of The Egypt Code to October 2006, which was great because it gave me the chance to write the book at a pace that allowed me to also bring into it the experience of being on location. Writing this genre of books is not solely sitting at a desk and typing, as you know. The final draft was completed in early 2006 and the editing and production stage was wrapped up this summer. The Egypt Code is now ready to go public.

SR: It's been more than a decade since the 'alternative Egypt ' genre really hit the mainstream with The Orion Mystery, Fingerprints of the Gods and the 'Age of the Sphinx' controversy. Since that time, things have settled down quite a bit, with few new discoveries or theories. Do you think The Egypt Code may spark a bit of a revival of these topics in mainstream discussion?

RB: The controversies that were generated in 1990s have been debated to the hilt. It's now time to move the discussion onwards. The Orion Correlation Theory (OCT) remains controversial. So be it. The Egypt Code takes the thesis forward to fit the notion of a sky-ground correlation into the overall context and timeframe of pharaonic Egypt. It takes on board many issues that were not dealt with in my previous books, and seeks the common denominator that motivated the 3000 years of pyramid and temple building along the Nile.

The Egypt Code, as the title implies, looks for the 'code' or 'law' which could explain the astronomical alignments, specific locations and sky symbolism of the main religious monuments, and also the migration of religious centres along the Nile. Although it is well known that the 'law' of Maat (the 'cosmic order and balance') was the basis of pharaonic rule, The Egypt Code argues that it was actually 'read' in the sky as a sort of 'astrology' in the short and long-term cycles of the celestial bodies. More to the point, it shows how the ancients may have attempted to create a social order that would respect and be in perfect tune with the cosmic order, and consequently how they integrated the celestial cycles into those of their earthly realm as a counterpart of the visible cosmic world.

Now will this cause a 'revival' in discussions of these controversial topics in mainstream Egyptology? I very much hope so. But really The Egypt Code was not written with this in mind. The intention is to show to all how once, long ago, a people had devised and put into practice a system of social order that was in full harmony with Nature and acknowledged its integral connection to the larger cosmic environment. Such a system induced awe and respect for Nature and its cycles and the wonders of the cosmos, and provided the basis for responsible rule, Maat, based on a sense of stability and permanence that lasted several millennia.

SR: Indeed, the new book covers many aspects of astronomical observations which appear to corroborate the Ancient Egyptian fascination with 'staying in tune' with the sky. For those who haven't read the book yet, could you give a quick and simple summary of what you've uncovered?

RB: Yes. There are two interlocking themes. The first expands the thesis (from my previous books) that the ancient Egyptians regarded the beginning of time – which they called Zep Tepi – at the first appearance of the star Sirius in c. 11,500 BC, and shows how the landscape of the Memphite-Heliopolis region mimics the sky landscape that contains Orion and Leo at that epoch.

A new idea is introduced: that a section of the sun's path (ecliptic) from the Pleiades to Leo is also incorporated in the sky-ground scheme. The second theme involves the hypothesis that the myth of the returning 'phoenix' to Heliopolis can be explained by the so-called Sothic Cycle of 1460 years of the Egyptian calendar, and the Sothic cycle that began/ended in c. 1320 BC was a major contributing factor to the dramatic events that are related to Akhenaten and his solar city at Tell El Amarna. All in all, I try to show that the Egyptians 'followed' the changes in celestial landscape which, in their way of thinking, was following or adhering to the law of Maat, the cosmic law.

SR: Speaking of this need to 'stay in tune' - The Egypt Code marks somewhat of a return to your research from The Orion Mystery, into pyramid and temple complexes on the ground mimicking constellations in the sky – most notably the similarity of the layout of the Giza pyramid complex to the constellation Orion. However, in that earlier work, you tentatively tied the Dashur pyramids to the stars in the Hyades, and the Abu Sir pyramids to the Pleiades. In The Egypt Code, there is no mention of a Dashur correlation – is this a weakness in your thesis that the pyramids were built to mimic the stars in the sky?

RB: The pyramids of Dashur have always been the odd ones out. Evidence has convinced Egyptologists that the two Dashur pyramids, as well as that at Meydum further south, belonged to the pharaoh Snefru, founder of the 4th dynasty and father of Khufu. But three pyramids for one king is a serious "weakness" to the tomb theory of Egyptology. I do not mention Dashur in The Egypt Code because I have discarded my previous hypothesis that they may represent stars in the Hyades. It's true that this is also a "weakness" in the star-pyramids theory. In any case, in The Egypt Code a case is made that the 'star-correlation' scheme included only pyramids and temples in the Memphite region that are located immediately north of Abusir.

SR: If the Egyptian architects were truly aware of precession, as you surmise, why build temples which aligned with the rising of stars, only to have to continually adjust that alignment over time with the effects of precession by modifying the building? Of course, it's also an argument that could argue completely the reverse – surely over time, these necessary changes in alignment informed them of precession. Your thoughts?

RB: I remain convinced that the ancient Egyptians were aware of precession. Changing the alignments of temples to 'follow' the change in azimuth of a star such as Sirius created, as it were, a calendrical 'fingerprint' to mark the epochs – perhaps in the minds of the Egyptians this was another means to 'follow' Maat, the cosmic order.

SR: The Egypt Code seems to steer well clear of the really controversial 'alternative history' ideas – for instance, you mention the Giza alignment to what you term 'Zep Tepi' (circa. 11,500 BC), but do not advocate a lost civilisation from that time - rather, you describe its importance in astronomical terms only. Similarly, you discuss redating the Sphinx, but mention only Colin Reader's theory, and not the West-Schoch dating. Was this a conscious decision, perhaps in order to get more Egyptological recognition for your theories?

RB: I do not advocate a 'lost civilisation', nor have I done so in the past (although, of course, my colleagues, including Graham Hancock, have done so). Zep Tepi is a concept that, in ancient Egyptian ideologies, meant the 'beginning' or 'the first time'. I advocate that this concept was defined in the celestial landscape by the first appearance of Sirius in c. 11,500 BC.

I have not wanted to repeat the many discussion involving the West-Schoch case because I have done so at length in my previous books, as indeed many others also have. I highlighted Colin Reader's theory not because I seek Egyptological 'recognition' for my theories but because Reader makes a very good case that the Sphinx's causeway dates from the early dynastic period which, as it happens, agrees with my conclusion that it defines a date in the solar year of c. 2800 BC, which I have coined the 'jubilee date'.

SR: On your theory that the Egyptians built the pyramid complexes – in the third millennium BC – in the image of the sky at 'Zep Tepi' (in the 12th millennium BC): wouldn't this almost be an impossibility, to 'shift the sky' over that period of time and be able to picture how it would look, without the use of computers? Astronomy software makes it easy for us in the modern age, but was such a feat beyond the Ancient Egyptians?

RB: We do not need computers to visualise the effect of precession. Precession has been know for centuries, if not millennia, when no computers were around. There are two possibilities for the ancients: either they kept long term records, or they had some simple means to compute it. To be honest, I have no answer to this. All I can say is that the date '11,500 BC' is highlighted with astronomical as well as symbolic means in the Memphite-Heliopolis region developed by the pyramid builders. We can either ignore it or explore why and how it finds itself there. The scientific process says we should pursue the investigation, even if it defies some of our pre-established views.

SR: Despite the apparent hostility of Egyptology's orthodoxy towards yourself and others, like Graham Hancock, it seems that there has been more emphasis in Egyptology over the last decade on considering astronomical influences on the Ancient Egyptians (Kate Spence's work for example). Do you think this sea change in the orthodox view can be put down mainly to your work, even if only through the high profile that the controversy took?

RB: It is obvious that, at long last, astronomical influences – and especially stellar ones – have now crept into Egyptological orthodoxy. I would like to think that my theories have had something to do with it. Perhaps, as you say, because of the controversies that were created. If so, then this is a good thing and more controversy is probably needed.

SR: Lastly, to move away from the central topic: besides your research into ancient Egypt, are there any other 'alternative' topics that interest you? Any particular books or theories that you recommend taking a look at?

RB: My interest outside ancient Egypt – although linked to it – has been the Hermetic and Gnostic traditions. Although nothing very new has emerged in recent years, what is of particular interest is how ideologies linked to these traditions are being revived with a vengeance not in academic or historical books but rather in fiction novels such as Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.

This, of course, is an area where fiction meets facts, where myth meets history, and where speculation meets proof. But isn't this the new way to liberate research from the yoke of academia and draw everyone into the discussion? Perhaps less known is the novel by the Spanish author Javier Sierra, The Secret Supper, which revives and brings to dramatic attention that gentle form of Cathar Christianity and how this may be the true 'code' in Da Vinci's masterpiece of The Last Supper (La Cena). I highly recommend this book because it shows how the dissemination of radical and controversial ideas can be better brought to the general public in the decades to come.

This interview originally appeared in Issue 6 of Sub Rosa magazine (free PDF download).