© Ian Lawton 2000

The publication of Kate Spence's paper Egyptian Chronology and the Astronomical Orientation of Pyramids in Nature magazine has stirred up a hornet's nest in the Orion Correlation debate at a time when it is already fairly agitated. As usual there is a fair bit of obfuscation of the issues going on, so a few explanatory comments may be useful.

Firstly, Spence is hardly Robert Bauval and Graham Hancock's favourite person because, along with Ed Krupp, she appeared on the Horizon programme arguing against the Orion Correlation Theory. This she did purely from the perspective that the layout was dictated by practical issues of topography, and this argument is entirely independent of and not at all inconsistent with her new astronomical orientation theory. In any case Bauval, Hancock and their supporters are now expressing outrage that Spence's theory plagiarises work already performed by Bauval himself, and fails to give him any credit. Let us firstly examine the merit or otherwise of these claims.

They are quite right to point out that Bauval attempted to use the "star shafts" in the Great Pyramid to date the edifice in his Orion Mystery. In fact, as he admits, he was only picking up on work already performed in the 1960's by Alexander Badawy and Virginia Trimble. But whereas they were attempting to prove that the King's Chamber shafts pointed to important stars, and used the approximate chronology already worked out by Egyptologists as a datum for their precessional calculations, Bauval turned it around and attempted to use Rudolf Gantenbrink's supposedly more accurate data on the shaft angles to pinpoint a date. It is true that he was the first to suggest stellar alignments for the Queen's Chamber shafts, which had only just been explored by Gantenbrink's Upuaut robot. However, as we point out in Giza: The Truth (pp. 352-67), Bauval completely failed to account not only for the sometimes huge variations in the angles of the shafts from the horizontal, but also their lateral deviations from the vertical plane - the latter best exemplified by the fact that the still only partially explored northern Queen's Chamber shaft was last seen by Upuaut's camera heading in an extremely north-westerly direction. By any standards his attempt at dating the monument from the shaft alignments was fraught with problems and inconsistencies.

However, their attempts to suggest that Spence's theory of cardinal alignment is also culled from Bauval's work are suspect to say the least. Way back in the mid-1800's, the great astronomer Sir John Herschel had performed detailed calculations to show how circumpolar stars would have been used to maintain the cardinal alignment and straightness of the Descending Passage in the Great Pyramid as it was being dug out of the bedrock, and the idea that the ancient Egyptians used circumpolar stars to cardinally align their monuments has been an accepted part of Egyptology for a very long time. Now it is true that for the most part it has been thought that they used one circumpolar star and marked its eastern and western-most positions, then bisected them to locate true north. To the extent that both Bauval and Spence use pairs of stars when they are in vertical alignment this could mean that the latter has picked up on the work of the former, and Bauval certainly claims this in his response to Spence's work. However, what is clear is that the way they use this analysis is entirely different.

Spence's suggestion that there is a high degree of correlation between the precessional movement of the two circumpolar stars she believes the Third and Fourth Dynasty architects used and the variations in the alignments of the major pyramids from true north is an entirely new piece of analysis. As Bauval himself admits it does not copy previous work by him or anyone else, and in my view it appears to be sufficiently rigorous that it should at least be taken seriously and discussed in more detail. Moreover, there is a somewhat hidden issue in this new theory that has potentially fatal implications for the Orion Correlation theory: the ancient Egyptians knowledge of precession itself. Although she does not mention this directly in her paper, I wrote to her briefly asking for clarification and this is her response:

"I do not think that the Egyptians of this period understood precession - otherwise they would have used a more accurate method of alignment."

If Spence's theory is correct, and of course it is still a big "if", then it drives yet another nail into the coffin of the real lynchpin of the Orion Correlation theory, the principle that the Plateau was laid out to reflect the stars of Orion's belt as they looked in 10,500 BC. Because of course the pyramid builders could only have achieved this, or even wanted to, if they knew all about precession and its effects over a prolonged period of time. And of course this has implications not just for the relatively narrow perspective of the Orion Correlation theory. There are a great many alternative historians who place huge emphasis on the advanced astronomical knowledge of all the ancient cultures of the world, and any proof that they did not in fact understand precession would be a severe blow. It is perhaps for this reason more than any other that Spence's work is important and needs further serious evaluation.