Thank you all for the well wishes for my cat. He has started on medication, and he had some food, which is a good sign.
I want to call your attention today to an article in the new issue of Smithsonian magazine outlining what archaeologists have learned over the past two years from the discovery of a set of Fourth Dynasty papyri in the ruins of a port at Wadi al-Jarf in 2013. According to the article, the papyri include the diary of Merer, an overseer who helped to transport goods. He describes working for Ankh-haf, the half-brother of Khufu, who was revealed to be the overseer in charge of some of the construction of the Great Pyramid. The journal also describes picking up material from the same town where the limestone for the Pyramid’s outer casing came from. When the diary and other documents were combined with the archaeological remains found at the site—from blocks inscribed with Khufu’s name to boats and copper tools—it quickly became clear that this site, located near the largest source of copper, in the Sinai, was an important supply station for moving the copper needed to carve the Pyramid’s stones. This find, in connection with the large worker’s village that once housed as many as 20,000 workers, offers key insights into how the Egyptians built the pyramids.
One of the most interesting details is that Merer reports taking limestone blocks to the “Horizon of Khufu,” almost certainly the Great Pyramid, by ship, implying, according to archaeologist Mark Lehner, that a canal had been drawn from the Nile to the Pyramid for easier transportation of blocks.
The author of the article, Alexander Stille, dryly notes that this new information undercuts fringe claims that the Pyramids were magically constructed by space aliens or a lost civilization. No wonder Graham Hancock has been singing a new tune recently, arguing now that Khufu did indeed build the pyramid (he wasn’t sure in the past) but that he got the plans from a lost civilization’s secret library—an unprovable claim, and one that evidence won’t easily contradict.
It will be interesting to see how those who have advocated for the Great Pyramid being as much as 12,500 years old manage to incorporate these findings into their elaborate conspiracies. Certainly, these findings should make it harder to support the notion that the Arab pyramid myths setting the building of the Pyramid before the Great Flood (i.e., the Ice Age melt-off) have any basis in fact.
But something I would like to share is this interesting detail from a map of Africa published in 1802.
What you see are the Mountains of the Moon, identified as the source of the Nile River. This map detail remained unchanged from Late Antiquity, and was widely accepted as the geography of inner Africa among the Arabs. The story was first told by a man named Diogenes, and reported by Ptolemy, from whom the story was taken up by the Arabs. The Akhbār al-zamān discusses it in these words around 1000 CE:
Al-Wālīd, continuing to move forward, reached the lake(s) whence the waters of the Nile discharge themselves; they are fed by the rivers that flow from the Mountain of the Moon. The Mountain of the Moon is a steep mountain, very wide and very long. It received this name because the moon rises in relation to it, because of the position it occupies far below the equator. (my trans.)
In 1154 al-Idrisi drew it in his world map (here oriented with south at top):
I am astonished at the persistence of myth from Ptolemy down to the nineteenth century. The mountain source of some of the White Nile in the Rwenzori Mountains wasn’t found until 1889.
That said, I would be remiss if I did not share what has to be the greatest image of prehistory I have ever found in a Victorian book. I stumbled across it the other day, and it amused me greatly. Our selection comes from W. E Webb’s Buffalo Land (1872), and, according to the title page, it was drawn by Henry Worrall. It depicts what the author assumed to be the first Americans, a primitive race of monkey-people who battled dinosaurs. Note carefully that even these primitive pre-humans anticipated YouTube by a million years: They have a cat picture hanging on the wall!
Sadly, Victorian images like this have shaped the popular understanding of prehistory more than we might like to admit. These sorts of depictions are to this day the types of images many reach for when trying to imagine the past.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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