Ancient studies conference in Dubai

Time Out talks Egypt and the ancients with history expert Robert Bauval.

Robert Bauval was gazing at a clear night sky above the Arabian Desert when a stunningly simple idea occurred to him.

‘I had once seen an aerial photo of the three pyramids of Giza and the smaller offset pyramid always puzzled me,’ he recalls. ‘I knew nothing about Egyptology, but I was an engineer so I knew about building alignments. Then in 1983, I was working in Saudi Arabia and a friend showed me how to navigate using Orion’s Belt. The similarities struck me immediately.’

Subsequent research persuaded him to abandon his day job to pursue what rapidly turned into an obsession. He delved deeper into the subject and wound up writing a book – Orion’s Mystery – that went onto sell millions.

‘The ancient monuments are aligned to celestial bodies because they believed in astral rebirth,’ he explains. ‘We know this from the pyramids texts. There are also shafts from the burial chambers of the Great Pyramid that shoot towards the sky and Orion’s belt. The Pharaohs were basically attempting to propel themselves back to the stars and to immortality.’

These theories were already common knowledge. What Bauval did, however, was to join the dots in a way that no one had ever quite done. ‘The big debate is whether this is all coincidence,’ he explains. ‘But put these factors together and a picture emerges – they were building a kind of heaven on earth.’

It’s not hard to see why his freewheeling ideas captured the imagination of the public – this was just the start of a journey of ideas that took Bauval back to the dawn of human civilisation, contradicting many established theories. And the Orion’s Belt theory was just the start of it.

‘Let me explain as simply as I can,’ he says. ‘As the earth travels round the sun, spinning every 24 hours, it also wobbles slowly on its own axis in 26,000 year cycles. This is called precession and it slowly changes our view of the stars. The interesting thing is this: the layout of the pyramids doesn’t quite match the stars as they would have been at the accepted construction date of 2,500 BC. But go back to 10,500BC and it’s a perfect match.’ So why the discrepancy?

‘The ancient Egyptians speak of Osiris, the star god who came to establish civilisation in the beginning of time. What the Pharaohs seem to have done is to build monuments to the past, based on these early measurements.’

This kind of thinking has not always endeared him to more conventional Egyptologists and historians. Nevertheless he is not alone in believing that advanced civilisation goes back way further than is commonly accepted. His friend and co-author Graham Hancock – also dismissed as a mere storyteller by academics – wrote a 12 million bestseller Fingerprints Of The Gods which attempted to explain why ancient people in far-flung parts of the world who seemed to have had no contact with each other were doing very similar things – like building pyramids and studying the stars.

Fact or fiction they are brilliant attempts at understanding our past. And now Bauval thinks he is a step closer to discovering the ancestors whom the Pharoahs immortalised.

‘Evidence is now emerging from deep in the Sahara region of another, older civilisation,’ he says. As far back as 12,000BC these people had mastered astronomy, agriculture and the domestication of animals – thousands of years earlier than the accepted dates.’ Bauval’s lecture will reveal his new findings from recent visits where he has discovered rock paintings, and evidence of this race of people lost to time. ‘Gradually these lands, which had been fertile, became more arid, forcing these people to navigate their way across the desert to water sources using the stars. Eventually they seem to have moved altogether around 4,000BC – which is when the Pharaonic civilisation began.’

Could this be the key to understanding these great monuments? Bauval thinks so. ‘The builders knew what had gone before,’ he says. ‘They understood history and the patterns of stars better than anyone for thousands of years to come. Their star charts handed down over thousands of years are like a code which contains the secrets of their civilisation. When you think about it, it is really quite brilliant.’

International Conference on Ancient Studies, Raffles Dubai Sat 29-Sun 30. From US$210 (Dhs765) for both days, with lunch.

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