Pyramids – a global phenomenon
From time out of mind pyramids have been fascinating mankind. The reason could be the shape of the pyramid, which symbolizes a metaphysical connection between earth and heaven. The purposes of these grandiose monuments on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean were possibly in part different, the mystical majestic flair is, however, common to nearly all pyramids. For millennia pyramids have influenced the imagination of us human beings all over the world. Worldwide? Yes indeed, for pyramids do not only exist in Africa or on the American continent but also in Asia and in Europe. There are indications that even Australia once had a stepped pyramid, which was about 30 metres high.
We do not know for certain, why people built pyramids on all continents though there are many theories. One of them says that different peoples built pyramids at a certain time of their cultural evolution out of a religious need to get closer to heaven. In many cultures mountains were sacred and for some peoples they are sacred even today. The pyramid thus could have been an artificially erected mountain with a touch of the sacred. Maybe this is the least common denominator for all pyramids.
Strictly speaking these sacred buildings had different functions in several cultures, but theses differences are not as strong as some academics want to make us believe. There are some scholars who totally deny any resemblance between the pyramids, e.g. in Egypt and in America. In this case only the differences in shape und function are stressed, the analogies, however, neglected. These scholars are supporters of isolationism, a doctrine which nowadays has the most followers saying that each culture is developing independently.
On the contrary the disciples of diffusionism think that culture has spread from one or more centres via contacts between different peoples. In the 19th century some diffusionists thought that Egyptians had built the pyramids in Central America. This of course is absurd because three thousand years lie between the Old Kingdom of Egypt and the heyday of the Mayan Empire in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras. The time factor is one of the arguments for the supporters of isolationism to deny any contact between the Old and the New World. Well, I think things are not as easy as both sides try to make us believe. The “truth” in this dogmatic discussion could be somewhere in between. I personally believe that most cultures can develop to an advanced civilization on their own in the context of their region and their environment. But I don’t think that highly advanced civilizations like Mesopotamia or Egypt at the time of transition between the Neolithic to the Bronze Age existed in a cultural vacuum and didn't know of one another. Of course, Bronze Age civilizations were less populated and had not the technological skills of today. The world at this time was no global network like nowadays but the civilizations then were certainly not totally isolated from one another. On the one hand there were civilizations in contact with other ones and on the other hand there existed civilizations which were more separated. Even today, in the 21st century, there are indigenous tribes in South America who don’t have the slightest idea of our Western civilization. Of course this is the great exception. In the Mediterranean Bronze Age, for example, people were not exclusively restricted to the region they lived in. The Greek-speaking Mycenaeans e.g. traded and expanded in all directions. Mycenaean sherds were found not only in Greece or Asia Minor, but also in Egypt, in the Levant, in Italy and even in Central Europe and England. Once a classical scholar compared the wide distribution of Mycenaean sherds in the Mediterranean with the omnipresence of the trade mark Coca Cola in our days.
Now let us return to the pyramids. Well, if people of the Mycenaean Bronze Age (about 1600 to 1100 B.C.) had contact with other peoples by land and by sea, could this also be true of the pyramid builders who had lived a thousand years earlier? It remains an open question. But must new ideas like building pyramids be realized solely within a certain period of time? I think this can also happen in a deferred manner. The pyramids of Meroe in Sudan were definitely influenced by the Egyptians but they were built two thousand years after Cheops/Khufu, at a time, when in Egypt no pyramids were erected any more. Of course Egypt and the Sudan are neighboring countries and the pyramids of Meroe are “only” about 1500 kilometres distant from Gize; the distance between Africa and America or China, however, where there are pyramids too, is enormous. Nevertheless, one has to consider that pyramids exist on the long way from Africa to America or to China. It may well be that sailors in ancient times did not manage such a long distance in a single effort. They presumably sailed stage by stage. And no one can tell us that these stages were done by one people alone. There could have been more seafaring nations who managed the distance in a kind of relay race. If we start our search for pyramids form East to West, there are pyramids in China, Russia, Korea, Indonesia, in Mesopotamia (today Iraq), where the Ziggurats strongly resemble the Central American pyramids, on the Arabian peninsula, in Egypt and Sudan, in Libya and Tunisia, in Greece, Bosnia-Herzegovina, in Italy, Germany, Austria, France and England as well as on the Canary Islands. In the Mediterranean and European regions one can imagine that contacts possibly existed between e.g.
Egypt and Italy. It is more difficult to believe in expeditions via Gibraltar to the Canary Islands, and for some people it is nearly impossible to imagine that in those distant times people could have sailed the long distance from Africa to America. But this is not totally impossible because of the East-West current which leads ships coming from Africa to the Caribbean Sea. Nevertheless, if such a passage really took place, it certainly was no fun at all; one cannot, however, totally reject the possibility of a Bronze Age Trans-Atlantic expedition. The late Norwegian researcher and adventurer Thor Heyerdahl proved by means of his RA-2 expedition from Morocco to the Caribbean that crossing the Atlantic in a prehistoric boat is not impossible. In this context the rise of the Olmecs in Mexico is an interesting item. First traces of this mysterious people were found at the shore of the Caribbean in Mexico. And this is exactly the region where boats coming from the East are driven to by wind and current. The moment, at which the Olmecs probably left first traces in Central America around 1200 B.C. is telling. This date characterizes the very period in the Old World, when radical changes took place in the Mediterranean. The “Peoples from the Sea” invaded the Eastern Mediterranean and nearly defeated the Egyptians, the Trojan War (if it ever really happened) took place and the Super Power of Hatti (the Hittite Empire) declined. Because of these social, political and economic changes migrations started in all directions. So it is possible that some dispersed ethnical groups from Europe and Africa could have sailed from the Old to the New World. Hints for this theory can be found in the Olmec sculptures. There are huge human stone heads depicting men looking like black Africans and people from the Near East. Other sculptures strongly resemble Nubian and Egyptian rulers. Men with beards are also depicted, but the indigenous Indios didn’t wear beards. In the old legends of the Aztec and Maya a white god wearing a beard (Quetzalcoatl/Kukulkan) is mentioned who came from the East and brought peace as well as new social skills to the Indies. He also told them to live together as husband and wife. One day this god left them and sailed away in an Eastern direction from where he had come. Since that time the Aztec and Maya had been waiting for their worshipped white god to come back to them. Ironically at the end of the 15th century they considered the Spanish conquerors to be their gods. This mistake had fatal consequences for the indigenous people and last but not least led to the downfall of their culture.
As mentioned before the use of pyramids in various regions of the world was different; in Egypt and presumably also in China, they served as monumental tombs for the rulers. Pharaohs like Djoser, Snofru, Cheops and Chephren became immortal due to their colossal graves. Their Chinese counterparts are not so famous for having built pyramids with the exception of the Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi (3rd. century B.C.) whose pyramid rises to about 50 metres.
The stepped pyramids of Central America generally were no tombs. On top of the uppermost platform ceremonies were held. Ill-famed are the cruel human sacrifices of prisoners of war and even of children. The theory, that American pyramids were used solely as temples, was defeated by finding the wonderful tomb of the Mayan ruler Pakal beneath the pyramid of Palenque in Mexico. Also under the Pyramid of the Moon in Teotihuacan a tomb was found; but most American pyramids hid no graves as far as we know today.
Quite similar are the stepped pyramids of Mesopotamia, the Ziggurats. Theses towered temples were built in the centre of the cities. They had three or more terraces and were made of clay bricks. On top of the highest platform stood the temple. The most famous Ziggurat was the Babylon Tower. Today one can see only the foundation wall of this wonder of the world. Other ziggurats like that of Borsippa (Iraq) or Choga Zanbil (Iran) are still visible today. I can recommend to visit the Ziggurat of Monte d’Accodi on the island of Sardinia; this Ziggurat is much smaller than the Mesopotamian ones but is in good shape because it was built of stone instead of mud-bricks. And this leads us already to the mostly unknown European pyramids. Alas, most of them don’t exist any more because they became victims of “important” building projects. As they are not so colossal and impressive as their Egyptian or Mexican counterparts nearly nobody seemed to be interested in these structures and so most of them were destroyed. The biggest and most beautiful pyramid-like structures on Sicily don’t exist any more, there are only a few smaller ones left.
Very exciting are the pyramids in Visoko in Bosnia. Recently I could listen to a report of Semir Osmanagić in Vienna about the Bosnian pyramids of the Sun, the Moon and the Dragon. Semir showed a photograph of the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, how it had looked like before being freed from grass and earth, and I must admit that it looked less a pyramid than the Bosnian pyramid of the Sun. I am looking forward to the coming years in which further excavations will take place there. Similar structures were found in Montevecchia near Milan in Lombardy.
All these discoveries are highly fascinating and lead us to never ending questions about the age of all these wonderful pyramids and to the problem: who built them? Did there exist an old civilization thousands of years ago which influenced others? Was the technique of pyramid building spread by seafarers all over the world? Is there a grain of truth in the myth of Atlantis and Lemuria?
Finally, I want to refer to my book “W. Lösch: Pyramiden – Zeugen vergangener Kulturen”, which was published in German and to my homepage. http://wolfgang62.beepworld.de/index.htm
All pictures are from collection of © Wolfgang Lösch