The belief that otherworldly beings with intelligences superior to that of humans were responsible for designing and constructing great works of architecture in the distant past is one of the most persistent and common forms of the argument from Personal Incredulity. Such beliefs are symptomatic of a cynical view of humans as incapable of amazing architectural feats. This cynicism in turn stems from the desire of people to believe that our species has not been alone in our sojourn as the only intelligent animals on earth.
Instances of the belief in superiorly-intelligent aliens aiding lowly humans in building monuments to ingenuity is everywhere to be found on the Internet. Here I offer my critique on just one instance that recently came to my attention, a claim concerning giant underground stones that exist beneath the pyramids of Egypt. These massive stones have stimulated the personal incredulity of Brien Foerster, an author and self-described “adventurer” who has appeared multiple times on the History Channel show Ancient Aliens.
In a YouTube video titled “Giant Underground Stone Boxes near the Pyramids in Egypt,” Foerster takes his viewers along on a trip to Egypt, where he visits the Serapeum of Saqqara. Situated to the northwest of the Pyramid of Djoser, this particular serapeum is an underground tomb or necropolis located near Memphis, Egypt. It was built in the 13th century BCE during the reign of Ramesses II. The word “necropolis” derives from an ancient Greek word literally meaning “city of the dead.”
In the video under consideration, Foerster is filming a walkthrough of the Serapeum of Saqqara. This is not a secret underground cavern worthy of an intrepid adventurer. The Serapeum is a public attraction open to tourists. There are a large number of people walking around in the necropolis with Foerster and his friends. The latter apparently imagine that they are about to share an astounding discovery that has evaded the notice of all the other tourists. This enigmatic find turns out to be large stone “boxes” made out of granite blocks weighing between 50 and 100 tons. These huge masses of granite once served as very large coffins (sarcophagi), larger than is necessary to contain the average human body.
Foerster films as his colleague Christopher Dunn measures the interior of one of the boxes and finds that they are extremely precise. As Foerster states in the video, “The interior surface of this is within a few ten-thousandths of an inch in terms of being perfectly flat.” The interior’s surface is also polished to a mirror-like finish. Foerster is also intrigued by the corners of the stone boxes:
The corners are 90 degrees – not 89, not 91. But he [Dunn] has a precision square that he uses in the manufacturing industry. That’s what he used, and he found that the corners were exactly-ish 90 degrees.
Yes, Foerster really does say “exactly-ish” in the video.
During the course of this measuring exposition, text is flashed over the video: “This precise to bury a bull?” According to historians and Egyptologists, the Serapeum of Saqqara was used to bury bulls in reverence to the bull-deity Apis. Foerster’s personal incredulity kicks in, and he finds it insane that ancient Egyptians would go to such great trouble to create painstakingly precise granite boxes just to hold dead bulls. “The idea that it was made for bulls, no matter how special they were, is just ridiculous,” he says.
Skeptical activist Rebecca Watson, founder of the Skepchick Network and co-host of the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast, did a fine job of refuting Foerster’s implications in a recent Popular Science article on the subject. She shows that Foerster is clearly ignorant of ancient Egyptian culture and mythology:
The Apis bulls were incredibly sacred creatures to many ancient Egyptians, having been one of the first cults in Egyptian history. Bulls represented strength, determination, and virility, and so were often associated with pharoahs [sic]. The Apis bull was both a deity and manifestation of the pharaohs.
If there’s one thing the ancient Egyptians loved, it was post-mortal conspicuous consumption, so it’s impressive but not exactly beyond belief that they would spend so much time and effort to build elaborate tombs for the beings they worshipped.
Indeed, Foerster and his colleagues seem oblivious to the fact that throughout human history, people are prone to undertake elaborate rituals just for their belief system. The fact that such human behavior is unthinkable to him is indicative of a severely limited parochial mindset. And believers say us skeptics are unimaginative!
Foerster is also unappreciative or ignorant of the level of understanding and knowledge the ancient Egyptians had attained in the fields of applied mathematics and geometry more than 500 years before the Serapeum of Saqqara was built. Watson points this out in her article as well:
It’s also not surprising that they could create a flat surface or angles that are exactly-ish 90 degrees. The Egyptians boast some of the earliest known texts on geometry, like the Rhind Papyrus (from around 1650 BCE) and the Moscow papyrus (from about 1850 BCE). The latter papyrus indicates that the Egyptians could approximate pi (as 3.16049) and find the volume of a truncated pyramid. It stands to reason that 500 years later, they would be able to carve a flat surface and make a corner of exactly-ish 90 degrees.
“Aww, what’s in the Box?”
If Foerster does not believe that the ancient Egyptians were capable of pulling off these architectural feats, and denies that the Saqqara stone boxes were intended to hold bulls, what does he believe the purpose of these sarcophagi to have been? He does not tell us his views on the matter in the video, being content to allow the fringe blogosphere to provide their own speculations and assertions. And this they have been willing and eager to do. Searching Google with the title of Foerster’s video turns up a number of blogs and forums that feature breathless and bizarre commentary on the video.
By far, the most common answer as to the stone boxes’ origin is that ancient aliens built them. The tinfoil-hat views expressed on the blog 2012: The Big Picture is representative of this line of thought:
I think you’ll find that these boxes underscore the fact that ancient man alone—as described in the Illuminati-approved history books— could not possibly have constructed these boxes, nor the pyramids themselves.
If the Egyptians had the technology to do this many thousands of years ago, where would they—and we—be now in our ability to construct buildings and excavate and relocate stone?
The answer I believe to be true: that technology came from the stars, and when the star beings left, or died off, their technology went with them, or was destroyed by those who wished to control us.
What did the ancient aliens of Egypt intend to bury in these sarcophagi? One claim, propagated on the forums of the online conspiracy/UFO believer community Godlike Productions, is that they were used to entomb the giants which roamed the earth back in those days.
Other fringe bloggers hold different views concerning the origin of the Saqqara boxes. Some implicate ancient angels in their construction. This strikes me as not much different than the alien hypothesis. After all, what criteria distinguish aliens from angels? If the celestial beings called angels really exist, wouldn’t they qualify as aliens under most modern definitions? But apparently the more biblically intoxicated woo-blogs, such as Tim Clark’s NoWorksSalvationApocalypseNow, have firmly-held doctrinal reasons for preferring angels to aliens. Clark describes himself as a “retired biblical archaeologist” and writes,
I think that this type of archaeology is amazing especially when you consider history based on the Bible. It is obvious that the technology displayed in Egypt was not from the local Egyptians. The world wants to give credit to Ancient Aliens to avoid discussing the Bible. However, If you believe the Bible and the story of the Fallen Angels, you will look at things differently. . . . I think that a case can be made for these giant boxes as being made for Nephilim hybrids, possibly the hybrid gods of ancient Egypt like Anubis. Of course, there are no remains in these tombs but who is to say what was in these sites before the public was allowed to view them.
“Who is to say” indeed? In the absence of any confirming evidence of Clark’s extraordinary claim, the reasonable and rational approach is to opt for the null hypothesis. The lack of any remains in the Saqqara tombs does not justify filling that gap in our knowledge with Nephilim hybrids.
For those who don’t follow Bible mythology or Christian UFOlogy, “Nephilim” are the giant offspring of fallen angels who are said to have come to earth in the distant past to copulate with human women in order to produce a hybrid race. There is, of course, no archaeological, paleontological or biological evidence of any kind to indicate that giant Nephilim once roamed our planet. I refer interested readers to Brett Palmer’s excellent 4-part documentary series on YouTube titled Giants of the Bible, which skeptically examines claims made by believers regarding biblical giants.
It makes orders of magnitude more sense to conclude that the Serapeum of Saqqara and the giant stone boxes it contains were built by humans who had a fondness for bulls and were about as intelligent as humans are known to be. There is no anomaly that rationally justifies invoking the existence of ancient aliens or angels. Not only is such a postulation too extraordinary in the absence of confirmatory evidence, it also demeans and belittles the ingenuity and creativity of human effort, which is far more awe-inspiring than the infantile notion that aliens or angels were compelled to think and act for us.