The Orion Mystery

In their book The Orion Mystery (1994), authors Robert Bauval and Adrian Gilbert made popular the idea that the pyramids of Giza, and other pyramids to the north and south, are laid out in a plan to reproduce the pattern of the stars in the constellation Orion. They propose that there existed a unified "master plan" that originated thousands of years before the pyramid age of the Fourth Dynasty (pp. 50-55; 193-196). The Giza layout is an expression of this plan, the authors assert.

Are the three Giza pyramids situated to reproduce the pattern of the stars in Orion's belt? Although it is certainly possible, a "grand master plan" for all three pyramids would not have been necessary for the pattern to result. That the pyramids of Khufu and Khafre were near each other was enough of a start. The two pyramids, no matter how they were oriented with respect to one another, would form a straight line. Only the position of the third pyramid would be necessary to set the "Orion's belt" pattern. Thus, regardless of the relative locations of the first two pyramids at Giza, it is possible that Menkaure alone conceived the idea to position his pyramid to set the pattern, if this was indeed the case.

Some have made the point that the three Giza pyramids don't reproduce exactly the pattern of the three stars in the sky; that is, the pattern is flipped over. Before arguing this point, one must take into consideration Menkaure's options. Where else could he have built his pyramid to reproduce the pattern? Not to the northeast of Khufu's pyramid -- it would have been off the plateau. Nor could he have built it to the southeast of Khufu's pyramid -- the Eastern Cemetery is situated there. Nor could he have built it to the west of Khafre's pyramid -- there would have been no place for his mortuary temple and causeway. Menkaure had only one place he could have put his pyramid in order to imitate the three stars: in its present location.

Bauval and Gilbert, and later Graham Hancock, have tried to fit other pyramids into the scheme of the Orion constellation. Both The Orion Mystery (pp. 222-223) and The Message of the Sphinx (Hancock and Bauval, 1996, p. 229) include comparisons of a star chart of the Orion constellation and a map of the locations of pyramids. They find a "fit" between major stars and Abu Roash and Zawiyet el-Aryan (the unfinished "Layer Pyramid").

The stars (red) and the pyramids (black).
Stars and pyramids

I tested their conclusion by copying a map of the pyramid sites (Baines and Málek, Atlas of Ancient Egypt, 1980, p. 135) and a map of the Orion constellation (Pasachoff and Menzel, Stars and Planets, 1992, p. 255). I inverted the latter, and reduced it until the stars of Orion's belt matched exactly with the three pyramids at Giza, then I superimposed it upon the map of Egypt. The result (see chart above) shows that there is no fit at all. The nearest star to Abu Roash is more than 3 miles to the southeast, and the nearest star to Zawiyet el-Aryan is nearly 1.5 miles northwest. These are hardly "fits," considering the precision with which the Egyptians were supposed to have mapped out this plan. Even with a little twisting and turning to account for precession, the match is unsatisfactory.

The stars of what we know as Orion played a part in the Egyptian's concept of the afterlife:

O King, you are this great star, the companion of Orion, who traverses the sky with Orion, who navigates the Netherworld with Osiris; you ascend from the east of the sky, being rejuvenated at your due season and rejuvenated at your due time." (Pyramid Texts, § 882-883.)

It may well be that the similarity between the layout of the Giza pyramids and the arrangement of the stars in the belt of Orion was intentional. But a "master plan" would hardly have been necessary. One king alone, Menkaure, could have set the pattern. Evidence of a master plan is lacking.

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