From: The New Pyramid Age, Philip Coppens, 2007; p.43


25-01-1971 – 30-12-2012

In memoriam Philip Coppens, a close and true friend since 1993.



In 2000, the Dutch engineer Willem Zitman proposed that there was a Master Plan at the foundation of the Pyramid Age. Rather than look at single pyramids in isolation, he looked at the entire collection – just like a project manager, a job role he performed within the building industry, would do.

In Egypt: “Image of Heaven”, he argued that all pyramids were positioned in predefined locations, so that the overall image revealed one particular part of the sky. To quote Zitman: “the ancient Egyptians were the first geographical planners to develop a system in order to establish an “image of heaven” on Earth.” He placed this project firmly within an astronomical framework, arguing that certain portions were built at certain times, to coincide with – i.e. mark – celestial events that the ancient Egyptians considered to be of great importance. In Zitman”s approach, the ancient Egyptians coupled the observation of the heliacal rising of the star Sirius as the basis for their solar calendar. The places where these observatories were carried out would later become the prehistoric capitals of Egypt. But Zitman went further: he noticed that 365 arch-minutes exist between the two locations, one for each day of the year. From this basis, he was able to conclude that both the ancient Egyptians and Sumerians used the constellations in the sky to map the Earth as an “image of Heaven”. His hypothesis stretches many”s power of visualisation, if not imagination, as it implies that the ancient Egyptians possessed an advanced knowledge of geography and mapping. But the Greek grammarian Agatharchides of Cnidus, who lived in the 2nd century BC and tutored the pharaoh”s children, was told that the base of the Great Pyramid was precisely one eight of a minute of a degree of the Earth”s circumference, suggesting that such knowledge was indeed available at the time of the building of the Pyramid.

For Zitman, the “Pyramid Field” along the western side of the River Nile brought to life a specific portion of this “Heaven mapping on Earth-proj ect”. He argues that the design was based on two images. The first image dates back to the Old Kingdom and is the rendering of the ritual pose of “smiting the enemy”. The second image dates from the Middle Kingdom and represents the “Hennu boat”. Due to the many boat pits that were found (e. g. near the tomb of Pharaoh Khasekhemwy and near the pyramids of Gizeh), we may even consider the alternative possibility that work was undertaken during the Old Kingdom to create this image of the boat, a design that was completed during the Middle Kingdom and adapted to the style of this subsequent period. Still, the two images complement each other and jointly make up the completed “Hennu boat”. To let Zitman speak for himself: “The outline of this Hennu boat, harbouring Osiris, is formed by the pyramids in Abu Rawash, Giza, Zawyet el Aryan, Saqqara, Dahshur, Mazghuna, E1 Lisht, Meidum and Seila respectively. The raised stem is marked out separately by the pyramids of Lahun and Hawara. The pyramids of Mazghuna and El Lisht form the belly of the ship. The location of the southern pyramid of El Lisht catches the eye because of its  rather south-westerly position. It is striking how these two images complement each other to form a unity, in which the first image (from the Old Kingdom) serves as the prow while the second one (from the Middle Kingdom) contributes the belly and the stem. The stem had, to a large extent, already acquired its shape during the Old Kingdom by the pyramids of Meidum and Seila. This boat was imagined to sail on the Nile, the river Hapi, which is synonymous with Osiris.”

Zitman argues that the Pyramids mapped on Earth a depiction of the souls’ voyage to the Afterlife, which it made on the Hennu Bark: “Various Pyramid Texts […] endorse the striking image of this region that was ruled from Sokar (i.e. Saqqara): “But you shall bathe in the starry firmament, you shall descend upon the iron bands on the arms of Horus in his name of Him [Osiris] who is in the Hnw [Hennu]-barque.” And: “O, Osiris the King, you are a mighty god, and there is no god like you. Horus has given you his children that they may bear you up; he has given you all the gods that they may serve you, and that you may have power over them; Horus has lifted you up in his name of Hnw-barque; he bears you up in your name of Sokar.” “O Osiris the King, Horus has lifted you into the Hnw-barque, he raises you into the Barque of Sokar, for he is a son who raises up his father.” These Pyramid Texts show that, in the region of Sokar, Horus carried his father Osiris into the Sokar boat or Hennu boat.”


As simple as the approach may be, connecting the dots of the various pyramids does indeed reveal an outline of a bark, sailing on the river Nile. It is simple, convincing, and Zitman has’ argued his case in such depth that Egyptologists will once again be confronted with two possibilities: leave it aside, or adopt it. His theory may become the straw that breaks the camels’ back, but seeing how strong-headed Egyptologists are, it is highly unlikely to happen in his lifetime. Though I would dearly love to be wrong!


So where does it leave us? Chris Ogilvie–Herald and Ian Lawton concluded their investigation of the Gizeh complex as follows: “To sum up, despite reservations about initiations and ongoing rituals, we feel that as well as having a burial function the pyramids clearly did have a far deeper symbolic function specifically connected with the king”s journey to the afterlife. In this context it is worth mentioning that the original Egyptian word for the Greek name “pyramid” is mer, which may be derived from components that translate as “the Place of Ascension”. It is the perfect foundation from which to continue our quest for pyramids elsewhere… and the only hope we can take with us into a later chapter, in our search for the meaning of the Egyptian pyramids.