Yesterday, Tom DeLonge of To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science announced that the History Channel had renewed TTSA’s Unidentified series for a second season. The final episode of the first season drew just 926,000 viewers, or 0.28% of the U.S. population. For all the people not watching the show—some 99.72% of Americans—the series and its media co-conspirators have an outsize influence on public discourse thanks to the complicity of the news media.
Over at Graham Hancock’s website, Freddy Silva has a new article recycling two classic claims. He repeats Hancock’s claim from the middle 1990s that the Osirion at Abydos in Egypt, typically considered a temple built by Seti I, is actually an antediluvian structure from the Ice Age, and he marries it to Andrew Collins’s belief that most ancient, well, everything reflects the constellation of Cygnus as it appeared at the end of the last Ice Age, around 10,500 BCE. Since neither of these claims is original, it is hardly worth examining them in detail, but I was interested in the way that mistakes from centuries past keep finding their way back to the surface.
To dispense with one bizarre idea, Silva starts by suggesting that Diodorus Siculus recorded that the Osirion and the surrounding region had once been a wet oasis destroyed by the climate change of the terminal Ice Age. He cites Diodorus at 3.55, where he says “A small saltwater lake at Siwa is all that remains. Referring to an older source, Diodorus of Sicily describes how it ‘disappeared from sight in the course of an earthquake, when those parts of it which lay toward the ocean were torn asunder,’ leaving behind the Sahara.” That’s not at all what Diodorus said. He was referring to the Atlanteans—not from Atlantis, but from the Atlas Mountains of what is now Morocco. As you might note from the “torn asunder” phrasing, he is speaking of the myth that part of the coast of Africa collapsed into the ocean. The reference to a marsh in 3.55 refers back to a discussion of the marsh in 3.53, where Diodorus describes it as being the infamously mythical Lake Tritonis (from the Argonaut legend, among others) in “Libya” (i.e. north Africa) and adjacent to the ocean. However you define it, it isn’t the Osirion at Abydos, nor does the story refer to desertification of Egypt or even north Africa.
But in recycling Hancock’s discussion of the Osirion’s allegedly anomalous megalithic architecture, Silva accidentally lays bare the origins of the argument:
In this regard, the Osirion has two counterparts downriver at Giza—the Sphynx Temple and the Valley Temple, all constructed with identical megalithic blocks of red granite (those of the Sphynx Temple were looted for building material) using the same clean, graphic layout, devoid of inscription. The Giza temples were also reached by boat when the waters of the Nile lapped at their respective entrances. The intermediate walls of the Valley Temple are made from massive blocks of limestone quarried from the Sphynx enclosure next door and are clearly eroded by water, lots of water. Since it has been convincingly argued that the Sphynx itself was carved to face its counterpart in the sky, the constellation Leo on the spring equinox c.10,400 BC, ostensibly the two sites are contemporaries of each other. Furthermore, during the epoch prior to 10,000 BC, the enclosure in which this lion sits was also weathered by extensive flooding and rainfall, when northeast Africa had a pluvial climate. Thus by weathering and design alone, the Osirion, Sphynx Temple and Valley Temple were built contemporaneously.
He goes on to repeat the idea put forward by Hancock and Robert Bauval in Keeper of Genesis (a.k.a. Mystery of the Sphinx) that the builders were the Followers of Horus, the Shemsu Hor, before the Ice Age meltdown remembered as the Great Flood.
What amazes me is that all of this is Victorian leftovers born of a mistake by French archaeologists in the middle 1800s. In the 1850s, Auguste Mariette uncovered the famous Inventory Stela while conducting excavations near the Sphinx. Although the stela had been carved around 670 BCE, Mariette mistook it for a genuine record of the Old Kingdom. Because it referenced the Sphinx as existing prior to Khufu, and suggested that one of the ancient temples beside the Sphinx had been dedicated to Osiris, Mariette came to believe that the Sphinx and the temples beside it were pre-dynastic. His successor, Gaston Maspero, adopted these beliefs and added that the people responsible for the construction of these pre-dynastic wonders were the Followers of Horus. It was from Maspero that R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz learned of the supposed pre-dynastic date for the Sphinx, leading him to imagine that the statue had been eroded by water as a way of justifying Maspero’s claims. John Anthony West got the idea from Schwaller de Lubicz and Robert Schoch got it from West.
In case you are wondering about the Osirion, it came into the same constellation of nineteenth century speculation a little later, in the years leading up to World War I, when the Swiss archaeologist Henri Édouard Naville excavated at Abydos. The Osirion itself had been discovered in the early 1900s by Witch Cult in Western Europe author Margaret Murray and Flinders Petrie. A Francophone, Naville was familiar with Mariette’s and Maspero’s ideas and therefore concluded that the stylistic similarity between the Osirion on the temples near the Sphinx meant that the Osirion was of the same heritage. He decided that it (or, more accurately, the semi-subterranean pool within it) was “probably one of the most ancient constructions” still preserved in all of Egypt. He made the claim in 1914, when he had finished excavations of the Osirion. However, he explicitly attributed it to the Fourth Dynasty--not the predynastic period—because he accepted the internationally recognized dating of the Giza temples.
There is a whole subtext not worth going into about British and Continental rivalry, both between Britain and France competing to find the oldest and greatest Egyptian sites in general and the personal animosity between Naville and Petrie (the latter thought the former’s field methods to be destructive) who nevertheless had to work together because they were funded by the same organization. This international rivalry helped keep Mariette’s wrongheaded hypothesis alive in France long after the rest of the world recognized the error. It also helped keep alive some bad ideas that continue to circulate among pseudo-history writers today.
The reason we have this claim about the Osirion banging around today, more or less, is that David Childress copied a newspaper article about Naville’s claim into his 1989 book Lost Cities & Ancient Mysteries of Africa & Arabia, which gave it new life among the pseudo-history crowd despite (or because of) its widespread rejection by professional Egyptologists. You see, the Illustrated London News excerpted parts of Naville’s report as published in the English-language press, such as Scientific American, but left out key details, including the identification of the site with the Fourth Dynasty. Thus, the oldest “preserved” site became the most ancient temple in Egypt, and combined with Maspero’s ideas to back-date the Osirion to the mistaken pre-dynastic date of the Sphinx and Valley Temples.
Weirdly, Childress quotes parts of Naville’s report not given by the News while citing the News, suggesting he intentionally withheld information after checking the source. My guess is that he was plagiarizing from Edward Bacon’s 1976 book The Great Archaeologists and looking for a way to get around copyright restrictions.
Here are the various versions as quoted so you can see for yourself. Note that he full version I have comes from a U.S. reprint in Scientific American of a British reprint of a still earlier British edition:
Illustrated London News, May 30, 1914
Childress intentionally omitted the Fourth Dynasty reference to make Naville look as though he supported a pre-dynastic date for the Osirion, because Childress has always been a deceitful opportunist.
The long and short of it is that this is another case where authors build houses of cards atop pillars of sand and rely on dubious Victorian authorities to prop it all up.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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