Although Egypt’s pyramids have been studied since the 19th century, new discoveries are almost constantly in the news. Yes, even today, archaeologists are making crucial breakthroughs and unearthing intriguing items at the ancient landmarks. And it turns out that we still have much to learn about the pyramids – as these 20 spectacular finds all prove.
20. A secret void in the Great Pyramid
Without a doubt, the best known of the more than 100 pyramids in Egypt are the three at Giza. These massive monuments include the famous Great Pyramid – otherwise known as the Pyramid of Cheops or the Pyramid of Khufu. And even though the site has been the subject of intensive study for over a century, archaeologists were still able to find something startling there in 2017.
Using the advanced exploratory method of muon radiography, researchers revealed a previously unknown space inside the Great Pyramid. This enigmatic hollow – which extends for around 100 feet – looks like a passageway, although its true purpose remains a mystery. And while speaking to National Geographic in 2017, Egyptologist Yukinori Kawae said, “This is definitely the discovery of the century. There have been many hypotheses about the pyramid, but no one even imagined that such a big void is located above the Grand Gallery.”
19. The Giza pyramid town
Of course, the pyramids required a huge amount of toil in their construction. And, naturally, the many ancient Egyptians who labored on this astonishing project – from architects to laborers – all needed somewhere to live while the building work was being carried out. Researchers have seemingly found such a place, too, situated near to the Pyramid of Menkaure. Menkaure ruled from around 2530 B.C., and he claimed the last of the tombs erected at Giza.
Archaeologists discovered the town – dating from the time of Menkaure – during excavations that began in 1988. And in the area, there appeared to have been both military barracks and a large house for high-ranking officials. There was also once a harbor on the River Nile where supplies for the townsfolk and building materials for the pyramids’ construction may have been transported.
18. The Great Pyramid papyri
In 2013 archaeologists uncovered a trove of papyri, or ancient Egyptian documents written on paper made from papyrus plants. The team had been exploring an extraordinary 4,500-year-old port – the oldest ever discovered – on the shores of the Red Sea when they came across the texts. And one of the topics the records discussed was the Great Pyramid at Giza.
The journal of Merrer, a port administrator, was among the papyri, and according to the documents he had been closely involved in the Great Pyramid’s construction. As Pierre Tallet, a University of Paris-Sorbonne Egyptologist, told Discovery in 2013, “[Merrer] mainly reported about his many trips to the Tura limestone quarry to fetch blocks for the building of the pyramid. This diary provides for the first time an insight on this matter.”
17. The Khufu ship
Egyptian archaeologist Kamal el-Mallakh spent 14 years of his life excavating around the monuments of Giza. And all that work paid off, as one of the discoveries he made during that period was truly spectacular. In 1954 el-Mallakh opened a sealed rock-hewn chamber near the base of the Great Pyramid to find a full-size ship from around 4,500 years ago.
It’s believed that this 143-foot-long vessel had been built for Khufu – the pharaoh interred in the Great Pyramid – in order to take the ruler on his voyage to the afterlife. The cedarwood craft may also have doubled as a water-borne hearse for Khufu’s final journey along the Nile to his tomb in Giza.
16. The Bent Pyramid
The so-called Bent Pyramid derives its strange nickname from the abrupt shift in angle towards its summit. The huge structure – which is located in the royal necropolis of Dahshur – was built for Pharaoh Sneferu, who ruled Egypt around 4,600 years ago. And researchers believe that the pyramid acts as evidence of an important transition in the building of these massive feats of masonry – principally, the shift from smooth to stepped faces.
Various theories have also sought to explain the Bent Pyramid’s bizarre change in direction. It’s been said, for example, that the initial steep angle of the structure may have made it unstable – a problem that was ultimately rectified by flattening the trajectory of the pyramid. Alternatively, it may have been that Sneferu was close to dying, and so the variation allowed for quicker completion of the tomb.
15. The Red Pyramid
The Red Pyramid – also known as the North Pyramid – is one of three large structures at the Dahshur necropolis on the River Nile’s west bank. At a height of 344 feet, it’s the tallest of the trio and takes its name from the red tint on its exterior. And while in antiquity white limestone from the Tura quarry actually covered the pyramid’s faces, most of this material was removed during the Middle Ages for reuse in other construction projects.
Like the Bent Pyramid, the Red Pyramid was built during Sneferu’s reign. And, interestingly, researchers at the site discovered an inscription about periodic cattle counts there, indicating in turn that the pharaoh may have ruled for at least 27 years. Yet this conclusion remains controversial, and some Egyptologists give wildly differing estimates about the length of Sneferu’s time on Egypt’s throne.
14. A possible construction ramp
While exactly how the Egyptian pyramids were built remains a mystery, a potential hint emerged at an ancient alabaster quarry at Hatnub. During a dig in 2018, you see, researchers noticed a ramp at the site. But, curiously, this slope – dating from about 4,600 years ago – appeared to be too steep to handle the massive blocks of stone needed to erect the tombs.
Ultimately, then, it was what was found beside the ramp that clued the team in. Speaking to Live Science, archaeologist Dr. Yannis Gourdon explained, “This system is composed of a central ramp flanked by two staircases with numerous post-holes. Using a sled which carried a stone block and was attached with ropes to these wooden posts, ancient Egyptians were able to pull up the alabaster blocks out of the quarry on very steep slopes.”
13. The unfinished Pyramid of Djedefre
Experts believe that a ruined pyramid at a site called Abu Rawash was originally built for the pharaoh Djedefre. He was the son and heir of Khufu – the ruler for whom the Great Pyramid at Giza was constructed. And some researchers reckon that this tomb, with its facings of highly burnished limestone and granite, was one of the most exquisite ever created by the ancient Egyptians. It’s also thought that the Romans eventually destroyed the monument and plundered its stone for their building works.
Yet there is an alternative narrative. In 2010 Dr. Michael Baud, an expert from Paris’ Louvre Museum, suggested that the Pyramid of Djedefre was never completed – even though work may have been at an advanced stage. According to a report by the Archeology News Network website, Baud explained, “There are such huge piles of granite that [this], of course, means that this monument was at least half-finished – and probably more.”
12. An Egyptian princess’ face is revealed
In 2017 archaeologists hit the jackpot when they unearthed the coffin of a bona fide princess called Hatshepset. Researchers from Cairo’s American University had made the discovery at Dahshur as they investigated a wasteland of broken stone that had once been a pyramid. But, unfortunately, it appears that ancient grave looters had ransacked the area – smashing the wooden receptacle, stealing the valuables within and then scattering Hatshepset’s remains as they went.
Nonetheless, experts painstakingly analyzed the contents of the nearly 4,000-year-old coffin – and created a stunning image of Hatshepset in the process. Speaking of the endeavor, Dr. Yasmin El Shazly of the American University told the Daily Mail in 2019, “Coffins normally had features that were similar to the owner but idealized, because that’s what they would look like for eternity. Why would I want to look ugly for eternity?”
11. The recipe for Egyptian mummification
The mummification process by which the Egyptians preserved their dead is actually remarkably complex. In fact, scientists are still working to fully understand the sophisticated methods that ancient people used on royal corpses before committing them to pyramid tombs. But a major breakthrough came in 2018.
In that year, scientists carried out advanced forensic analysis on a mummy that had been interred around 5,000 years ago. And over the course of these investigations, the team discovered that oil, resin, some form of root extract and a gum that was likely from acacia trees were all utilized in the preservation process. Archaeologist Dr. Stephen Buckley told the BBC that this recipe “literally embodies the embalming that was at the heart of Egyptian mummification for 4,000 years.”
10. The oldest tattoos
Plenty of modern Americans have tattoos, but how far back in human history can we trace inked body art? A very long way, as it turns out, to the time of the ancient Egyptians. This fact came to light in 2018, when scientists found a pair of 5,000-year-old mummies that both appeared to sport tats.
One of the mummies, a man, had two tattoos on his upper arm that depicted a sheep and a bull. The second, a woman, had designs in the form of the letter S on her shoulder and upper arm. And Daniel Antoine of the British Museum, who worked on the project, later told the BBC, “Only now are we gaining new insights into the lives of these remarkably preserved individuals. Incredibly, at over 5,000 years of age, they push back the evidence for tattooing in Africa by a millennium.”
9. Who built the pyramids?
It’s widely believed that the massive royal tombs of ancient Egypt could only have been constructed using slave labor. But experts know differently. Speaking to The Guardian in 2010, Dieter Wildung, the one-time director of the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, said, “The myth of the slaves building pyramids is only the stuff of tabloids and Hollywood. The world simply could not believe [that they] were built… out of loyalty to the pharaohs.”
And a 2010 analysis of a 1990 discovery went some way to proving Wildung’s assertion. Having excavated a 4,500-year-old cemetery near Giza’s pyramids, researchers discovered multiple graves belonging to those who had toiled on the monuments. These contained jars of bread and beer – essential but lavish supplies for the afterlife. Reflecting upon the people laid to rest in the area, Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s chief archaeologist, told The Guardian, “No way would they have been buried so honorably if they were slaves.”
8. Thermal scans unveil pyramid anomalies
In 2015 an international team of scientists started to analyze the Giza pyramids using a technique new to archaeology. And while speaking to newspaper Al-Ahram, Mamdouh Eldamaty – Egypt’s minister of antiquities at the time – explained the innovative methods. “The survey will be implemented through invasive – though non-destructive – scanning techniques using cosmic rays in cooperation with scientists and experts from Japan, France and Canada,” he claimed.
Furthermore, the thermal scans revealed something unexpected in the inner depths of Giza’s Great Pyramid. At various points in the monument’s interior, there were strange irregularities in temperature that point to potential voids within. It’s possible, too, that those empty spaces may actually be secret chambers or passages. Speaking to HuffPost in 2015, archaeologist Beth Ann Judas said, “At the very least, this anomaly will shed additional light on the construction techniques of the 4th dynasty Egyptians.”
7. Astrology may be able to date the pyramids
Back in 2000, University of Cambridge archaeologist Dr. Kate Spence suggested that the ancient Egyptians relied on the constellations to line up their pyramids. Specifically, it’s said that they used the positions of both the Big and Little Dipper to place the monuments on a north to south axis. And that alignment is claimed to be astonishingly accurate, too, being within 0.05 of a degree.
This knowledge allows us to more accurately estimate when certain pharaohs ruled over ancient Egypt. Then, once we’ve calculated the historic positions of stars in the night sky, we can work out when the Egyptians were making their measurements for north to south alignment. And as a consequence, this means we can figure out when the monuments were built to within five years.
6. The talented Imhotep
Ancient Egyptian official Imhotep, who lived around 4,700 years ago, has long been thought of as the probable designer of the Pyramid of Djoser. And he was clearly revered at the time, as he remains one of only two non-royals to have been deified following their deaths. Yet research published in 2007 indicates that Imhotep was actually far more than a skilled administrator and architect.
When scientists from Britain’s University of Manchester studied texts from around 1500 B.C., they revealed a startling new addition to Imhotep’s achievements. It appears, you see, that he was responsible for formulating a range of medical treatments – thus making him something of a pioneer. Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, Dr. Jackie Campbell said of Imhotep’s work, “Many of the ancient remedies we discovered survived into the 20th century. And, indeed, some remain in use today – albeit that the active component is now produced synthetically.”
5. A robot reveals the Great Pyramid’s secrets
Nowadays, researchers deploy cutting-edge technologies to unlock the secrets of Egypt’s ancient tombs. And these techniques have distinct advantages, as non-invasive methods diminish the risks of destroying invaluable archaeological material. In 2011 a remotely controlled robot was even used to explore a narrow passageway that leads to a small chamber in Giza’s Great Pyramid.
This device – dubbed Djedi after an Egyptian sorcerer – crept along a tunnel in the 4,500-year-old monument. And thanks to the robot’s camera, experts were able to sight ancient graffiti that seemed to have been left by the pyramid builders. Explaining the red-colored writings to New Scientist in 2011, Harvard Egyptologist Peter Der Manuelian said, “They are often masons’ or work-gangs’ marks, denoting numbers, dates or even the names of the gangs.”
4. Graffiti shows who worked on the pyramids
The ancient quarry at Hatnub has proved to be an invaluable resource for archaeologists – not least because of those stone-hauling ramps. And in 2018 two researchers revealed some surprising new finds that they’d uncovered there among graffiti written on the walls at the site.
Among the more than 100 formerly undiscovered pieces of writing, there was information both about the stone used to build the pyramids and the men who labored in the quarry. And in an article for website The Conversation, one of the researchers, Roland Enmarch, said, “At Hatnub, we have an actual Bronze Age wall whose texts speak across the years and create a solidarity among those who came to work in the quarry – generation after generation.”
3. Two new tombs
The area around the three iconic pyramids at Giza is, as we mentioned, the subject of extensive investigation. Yet it continues to yield fascinating finds. And in May 2019 the particularly compelling results of an excavation there came to light. A team led by Mostafa Waziri of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities had uncovered the 4,500-year-old graves of two high officials named Behnui-Ka and Nwi at a newly discovered cemetery.
Both men, it appears, had served the pharaoh Khafre, with Nwi acting as the king’s Chief of Great State and Behnui-Ka having held the important positions of priest and judge. And according to Live Science, an inscription in the vicinity claimed that Nwi was also “the purifier of kings: Khafre, Userkaf and Niuserre” – suggesting, in fact, that he had worked for three pharaohs. Interred in ornately painted coffins, the notable pair were surrounded by masks and stone carvings.
2. A queen’s jewelry
Queen Weret II was the most important of the four wives of pharaoh Senwosret III, who ruled Egypt for 41 years from 1879 B.C. But while her tomb was known to be at the Dahshur royal necropolis, sand concealed the entrance to the monument for hundreds of years until a team from New York’s Metropolitan Museum eventually uncovered it in 1994.
Under Senwosret III’s pyramid, the archaeologists then found the underground burial chamber where the queen had been interred. And researchers were astonished to find that a stash of Weret’s jewelry had been left behind by ancient looters. The stunning collection – which included bracelets, a girdle made with gold shells and a pair of amethyst scarabs – had therefore stayed concealed in the entrance shaft for almost 4,000 years.
1. Lost pyramids are revealed
Modern technology came up trumps in 2011 when satellite imagery revealed 17 previously unknown Egyptian pyramids, along with 3,000 lost settlements and over 1,000 tombs. And during an 11-year study led by University of Alabama archaeologist Sarah Parcak, these pictures were analyzed using both infra-red and thermal techniques.
Researchers then confirmed the accuracy of the satellite images after an excavation at Saqqara found physical evidence of one of the pyramids revealed by the study. And while talking about the use of tech to uncover the hidden secrets of Egypt, Professor Parcak told the BBC in 2011, “Indiana Jones is old school. We’ve moved on from Indy. Sorry, Harrison Ford.”
But these are far from the only exciting finds to have ever been made in Egypt. And when the Serapeum of Saqqara was unearthed back in the 19th century, that in itself was cause for celebration. Inside the necropolis, though, something strange and extremely baffling lurked…
It’s 1851, and French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette strides up to an imposing tower of boulders, ready to blast them with explosives. When the dust clears from the detonation, though, an extraordinary subterranean labyrinth from more than 3,000 years ago finally reveals itself. And the mysterious stone boxes that Mariette finds within the structure are astonishing – even if they present a seemingly unsolvable puzzle.
Specifically, Mariette had unearthed an ancient burial ground known as the Serapeum of Saqqara. This landmark lies about 15 miles south of Giza, which plays host to Egypt’s best-known pyramid site. And the structure of the underground burial chamber is basically that of a tunnel bored into the rock of a mountain. Positioned off that passageway, meanwhile, are a series of chambers or alcoves.
Then, within those chambers, there are the huge stone boxes that make the Serapeum truly special. The receptacles are hewn from granite and are truly massive, with the largest among them weighing in at nearly 90 tons. What’s more, they boast yet another extraordinary feature: an almost faultless symmetry. All the edges and surfaces of the boxes have been carved in painstaking straight lines, in fact.
When Mariette discovered these enigmatic containers, though, sadly all but one of the 25 had been previously looted by graverobbers. And owing to this state of affairs, one question still remained: what had these monumental boxes been used for? It would have taken a great deal of effort to make them, after all, and the Egyptians would hardly have gone to all that trouble without a specific purpose in mind. But what was it?
We’ll get back to the perplexing items shortly, but first let’s find out a little more about Mariette himself. The Egyptologist came into the world in 1821, and he was born in Boulogne-sur-Mer – a French seaside town in the north of the country that overlooks the English Channel.
In 1850, however, the French government commissioned Mariette to travel to Egypt in search of the best examples of historic manuscripts from the Arabic, Syriac, Coptic and Ethiopic traditions. Then, once he had found the texts, he needed to purchase them. You see, the French wanted these artifacts for their museum collections, which were already recognized as among the best in the world.
Yet while Mariette set out on his first journey to Egypt in 1850, his mission did not meet with success. For one, he simply could not track down the sort of manuscripts that he’d been told to collect. And, in essence, his lack of experience at performing such a task was at the root of his failure. Still, Mariette could not contemplate the shame of returning to France empty-handed.
So, the Frenchman now looked around for an alternative prize – some find that could earn him similar respect in his homeland. Ultimately, then, he became friendly with people from some local Bedouin tribes. And as it turns out, those desert Arabs led Mariette to a fantastic discovery that would ensure his name endured throughout the ages.
In particular, the Bedouin directed Mariette to a place called Saqqara, which lies to the south of Cairo. This massive site was once the necropolis, or burial ground, for the city and for Memphis – the one-time capital of ancient Egypt. And Saqqara is where many of Egypt’s best-known buildings from antiquity stand, with the famous Pyramid of Djoser and its distinctive stepped structure among them.
But when Mariette was guided to the site by the friendly Bedouins, he was less than impressed. All he saw at first was a bleak desert landscape punctuated only by sand dunes. In time, though, he did spot the head of one sphinx peeking out above ground. And according to legend, this statue had previously been one of a magnificent array of 600 such sculptures.
This spectacular row of sphinxes had then led, it’s been said, to the Serapeum of Saqqara. Understandably, Mariette therefore believed that it was worth looking for this ancient structure. And he began his search not far from the Pyramid of Djoser, tracing an envisioned line of statues to what could be the entrance to the Serapeum.
It seems, in fact, that Mariette had a fairly clear idea of what he was looking for – and that may all be down to a Greek historian called Strabo. In his 1882 book Le Sérapéum de Memphis, you see, the French adventurer quoted Strabo’s description of the Serapeum of Saqqara and its surroundings.
Strabo wrote, “One finds a temple to Serapis in such a sandy place that the wind heaps up the sand dunes. Beneath [these], we saw sphinxes – some half-buried, some buried up to the head – from which one can suppose that the way to this temple could not be without danger if one were caught in a sudden wind storm.”
Then, commenting on Strabo’s text, Mariette opined, “Did it not seem that Strabo had written this sentence to help us rediscover, after over 18 centuries, the famous temple dedicated to Serapis? It was impossible to doubt it. This buried Sphinx – the companion of 15 others I had encountered in Alexandria and Cairo – formed with them, according to the evidence, part of the avenue that led to the Memphis Serapeum.”
Mariette continued, “It did not seem to me possible to leave to others the credit and profit of exploring this temple whose remains a fortunate chance had allowed me to discover and whose location henceforth would be known. Undoubtedly many precious fragments, many statues [and] many unknown texts were hidden beneath the sand upon which I stood.”
But to complete his excavations at the location, Mariette needed a team of workers. Even once he had recruited 30 local men for the task at hand, though, he decided that more than just human labor was needed. You see, after Mariette had identified what he believed was the entrance to the Serapeum, he was met by an impenetrable wall of rock. And, unfortunately, this obstacle could not be removed by hand.
Eventually, then, the ingenious Frenchman decided that a good-sized explosion was the answer. That may seem dangerous, and blasting your way into a rare and ancient site would hardly meet the exacting standards of modern archeology, either. But this was the mid-19th century, and archeology in Egypt at the time was fraught with competition.
So, in 1851, Mariette finally stood at the entrance of the Serapeum of Saqqara. Then, on November 12, he entered the tunnel that had been bored into the mountain, where he came across an incredible treasure trove of ancient bronze tablets, statues and tombs. Frustratingly for Mariette, though, graverobbers had beaten him to these finds, and only one sarcophagus had been left undamaged.
Yet there was also an almost intact tomb – one that belonged to Prince Khaemweset. Born in about 1303 B.C., Khaemweset had reigned as pharaoh from 1279 B.C. until his death at the age of about 90 in 1213 B.C. And his sarcophagus had actually been found under the pile of rock that the blast had created; thankfully for Mariette, though, the item had emerged practically unscathed.
Inside the coffin, meanwhile, were the mummified remains of Khaemweset, who had been adorned in a spectacular manner. The face of the pharoah had been covered in a gold mask, for instance, while his body sported opulent jewelry. The tomb contained many lavish grave goods, too. But what of those strange stone boxes?
Well, those mysterious objects were of course discovered within the Serapeum of Saqqara, which is separated into two distinct parts. The principal corridor and chambers of the Serapeum are the Greater Vaults, while a second passage complete with alcoves is known as the Lesser Vaults; both areas are hewn from the solid sandstone bedrock. The Greater Vaults hallway, which runs for well over 1,100 feet, also has an adjoining series of chambers, and it’s there that the boxes were found.
What’s more, it was Khaemweset himself who ordered the building of the Lesser Vaults. At that time, the pharoah was just a prince, as his father, Ramesses II, was ruling over ancient Egypt. Then, some 600 years later, Pharaoh Psamtik I ordered the construction of the Greater Vaults.
And the boxes – complete with removable lids – typically weighed from 60 to 80 tons or more, with each having been hewn from a single slab of granite. The carving is incredibly precise, too, with the lids – which each weigh 30 tons – all fitting virtually perfectly onto the stone below.
Since the large sarcophagi that Mariette found were empty, however, it wasn’t immediately apparent what they could once have contained. Ultimately, though, a study of Egyptian religious beliefs and practices at the time when the vaults were built has revealed the true purpose of those huge boxes. In particular, it seems that they served as coffins for the ritual interment of deceased bulls.
These were not just any old cattle, though; they were Apis bulls, making them sacred. You see, people at the time believed that bulls were reincarnations of the god Ptah. In death, then, the animals took on the identity of a synthesis of the gods Osiris and Apis and became immortal. This combination of Osiris and Apis was known as Serapis, from which the word “Serapeum” is derived.
So, the Serapeum at Saqqara could be a place where not only humans but also animals were buried. And, interestingly, the cult of Serapis was carried over from the ancient Egyptian dynasties into the Hellenic era when the Greeks took control of Egypt. This period is known as the Ptolemaic Kingdom.
Indeed, Pharaoh Ptolemy I Soter ordered that both the Egyptians and their Greek conquerors should worship Serapis. This command came in the third century B.C., at a time when the ruler was keen to unite the different peoples. And insisting that the two factions both bow to the same god was one way of doing this. Another serapeum was even built in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria to reinforce the power of this cult.
But these bulls that were buried had to have very particular characteristics. To be worshipped as part of the Serapis cult, the animals needed to both be black and white and to have a particular pattern on their hides. And writing on her website Gigal Research, French explorer Antoine Gigal gives a detailed account of what exactly made an Apis bull.
Gigal explains, “The bull had to be black and white with a white belly. It [also] had to have a white triangular mark on its forehead, an eagle with spread wings on its back, a crescent moon on its side, a scarab-shaped mark under its tongue and a tail with long hairs parted in two. So, it was a bull that was predestined for the role.”
Only a single sacred bull was worshipped at any one time, though. During that period, priests would also study the animal’s behavior in a bid to determine the will of the gods. Then, after an Apis bull died, it would be ceremonially mummified and taken from its home in the city of Memphis to Saqqara to be entombed.
And we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of these sacred bulls to the Egyptians. When one of them died, you see, there was an obligatory country-wide day of mourning. After that, the hunt for a replacement bull with just the right physical attributes would begin. Priests would be dispatched around the entire country, in fact, in the search for a bull with the correct markings.
The ancient Egyptians believed, moreover, that a true Apis bull had to be born from a cow that would be unable to produce any more calves. In time, though, a bolt of lightning would strike the mother to produce a sacred child. And after this revered animal was discovered, it would be carried along the Nile to Memphis resplendent in a golden shelter.
But what happened to Mariette after his discovery of the Serapeum of Saqqara? Well, that monumental find marked a decisive turn in his fortunes. The Egyptians created a job especially for him, in fact, making the Frenchman the official conservator of Egyptian monuments. And from then on, Mariette enjoyed a highly successful career as a leading Egyptologist until his death in 1881. He also managed to unearth many more buildings and artifacts from the ancient era of the Pharaohs.
But not everyone believes that those giant granite boxes were once sarcophagi for the sacred Apis bulls. And one of those who has doubts is Gigal herself. She has visited the tombs, you see, and there are aspects of both these and the stone boxes that she finds puzzling. For one thing, Gigal thought that the size of the boxes was strange, as they were all much larger than needed to house mummified bulls.
Gigal has also pointed out that Mariette only found empty boxes, and she has verified their lack of contents in person. Ultimately, then, this means that no one has actually seen the mummified remains of a bull inside one of those supposed sarcophagi. Gigal therefore contends that there is no conclusive evidence the boxes ever contained any sacred animals.
And while Mariette did actually discover mummified bulls at the Saqqara site, they were not in those stone containers. Instead, the 28 cattle that he found were contained in much smaller wooden coffins. It’s interesting to note, too, that as of yet, no written Egyptian records about the boxes have been discovered.
Gigal has also pondered how the massive granite receptacles even made it into the Serapeum of Saqqara. She points out on her website, “We know also that these sarcophagi are proof of an incredible technology, and one wonders how they could have been brought here in these narrow underground passageways where cranes cannot go.”
But while Gigal doesn’t venture to offer an opinion about an alternative purpose for the granite boxes, others have been happy to do just that. And in January 2018 the British newspaper the Daily Express reported one particularly bizarre theory. It’s said, you see, that as the coffins are so precisely made, they could not have been fashioned by human hand. Instead, it’s claimed, beings from another planet must have left the boxes on Earth for reasons unknown.
Yet another off-the-wall explanation has come by way of the website Ancient Origins. In his 2018 article for the site, Konstantin Borisov not only states that the boxes were much bigger than necessary for bulls, but he also asks why no mummified animals had actually been discovered inside. Both of these points are ones that Gigal has also made, of course. But Borisov has gone even further, speculating that the boxes may actually have been giant electrical batteries.
So, were these huge stone boxes deposited on Earth by aliens? Were they actually ancient prototypical batteries? Or were they indeed sarcophagi used by the ancient Egyptians to entomb their sacred bulls? It seems most likely that the taurine explanation is the correct one. But it’s undeniable that an air of mystery still surrounds these monumental granite artifacts.