The Fake Cartouche?

The Great Pyramid at Giza, Egypt is hard to miss.  It juts out from a mostly barren sand landscape towering over the other two pyramids located on the plateau with it and even towering over the Sphinx that sits near it.

School tells us it was built by the Pharaoh Cheops (Khufu, depending on your teacher), but not every scholar agrees on that.  And Egyptologists are even more divided than historians on the creator of the Great Pyramid.

The Greeks and Romans treated Egypt like Disney Land.  Many of the monuments were defaced with Greek and Roman graffiti.  Especially the large monuments like the Great Pyramid.  Some of the damage can still be seen if you tour it.

Unlike most tombs in Egypt, the Great Pyramid is not filled with dozens of cartouches explaining what Pharaoh it belongs to.  This has lead to questions about whether it was actually a tomb or not, and while that has lead to a lot of conspiracy theories, it is not without merit and it is not something that academics agree on, which is kind of odd, since academics tend to agree with each other just out of habit.

In my home library, I have a reprint of a book originally printed in the early 1800s called The Monuments of Egypt As Commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte, it’s basically an inventory of all the monuments found by the French in Egypt after they conquered the area and that book states that the pharaoh associated with the Great Pyramid is a mystery.  So either the archaeologist that wrote the book was just lazy or the origin of the Great Pyramid was a mystery into the 1900s.

In the 1900s, shortly after the discovery of Pharaoh Tutankhamen’s tomb, an amateur British Egyptologist miraculously discovered and translated a cartouche inside the Great Pyramid that belonged to the Pharaoh Khufu (Cheops… So many names…).  He never recanted the finding, but in his twilight years, he hinted that the cartouche may not have been as historical as other hieroglyphics in the Great Pyramid.

People who knew him, claimed he faked the cartouche because he was seeking fame and acknowledgement, which worked, by the way.  He was given an honorary doctorate of Egyptology for finding it.

Now, the story gets weird… because most of history is weird… and a little extraordinary.  Since the almost admission of the fake cartouche, Egyptologists have been debating it, because they say it could be possible.  They have been mostly guessing at these things based on records from Ancient Egypt and other civilizations about who might have seen it.

Jump to 2013, more than 100 years after the finding of the cartouche.  German non-archaeologists actually vandalized the cartouche in an attempt to test it.  Around the same time, explorers found a sealed cave on the coast of the Red Sea that contained a whole lot of papyri scrolls that amounted to the diary of a builder.  When the scrolls were found, it was announced that they dealt with the day to day life of a builder.  We learned that pyramids didn’t rely on slave labor nearly as much as we had once thought and that the primary labor force were mostly the unemployed and criminals and that the system was basically indentured servitude.

After the discovery of the scrolls the tests run by the vandals supposedly revealed that the cartouche was most likely fake and that it had been carved not into the limestone rock itself but into plaster that had been used to repair some of the inner parts of the pyramid.

Shortly after this announcement, it was revealed the papyri were not so boring as to just supply the day to day life of a builder, but the actual engineering feats of pyramid building and the papyri announced that the Pharaoh Khufu had indeed commissioned the Great Pyramid as his final resting place…  It even went on to give credit on the Great Sphinx to Khufu’s son, another hotly debated monument on the Giza plateau.

We have found Ancient Egyptian texts that state that Khufu made repairs to the Great Sphinx, which should be impossible if his son had it built, because it would have been built after Khufu’s death.  Also, why does Khufu’s name only appear once in the Great Pyramid, while other pyramids that have been discovered have contained the pharaoh’s name repeatedly.

The Smithsonian did an excellent feature on the subject of the papyri scrolls, it was the first place I read about them.  However, they did not tackle the question of whether the scrolls are authentic.  If they were, awesome.  If they weren’t, do we have two hoaxes on our hands when it comes to the Great Pyramid?

The problem is that before the cartouche was found, it was suspected the Great Pyramid was commissioned by Khufu and built by the great engineer Imhotep.  We got that and the name Cheops from the graffiti happy Romans.  What we also got, was the Romans talking about how they didn’t believe the Great Pyramid was a tomb for a pharaoh and that the structure was empty and in need of repair by 50 B.C.E.  One Roman vandal that wrote about it, said it seemed much older than it would have been if Cheops had built it in around 2,400 B.C.E.

Also, the notes of the Romans are very distinct in saying that Imhotep was the royal architect and engineer on the project, but the papyri diary found in 2013, gives credit to a different engineer and architect, referring to him as the royal architect on the project.  And while names don’t always translate well from Egyptian to Roman to Modern Languages, Imhotep does not even remotely translate to the name of the other architect in Roman, Egyptian, or English or any other language.  It is possible the Romans got it wrong, but it seems weird that it was repeatedly incorrectly for more than 2,000 years.

It just makes you wonder what is correct and what isn’t and if we will ever have it figured out.


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