The entrance to the Serapeum Ground plan of the Serapeum after the original drawings by Auguste Mariette Left: Auguste Mariette. Right: On top of and next to the sarcophaguses, tons of stone and rubble are piled up. Ink drawing from the 19th century When Mariette entered the Serapeum, the niches with the sarcophagi were still stonewalled. Ink drawing from the 19th century The huge niches. Ink drawing from the 19th century Amazed visitors in front of the huge coffin. Ink drawing from the 19th century When Auguste Mariette entered the crypt, the niches with the sarcophagi were still hidden behind thick walls This sarcophagus is 7.5 feet wide, 10.5 feet high, 13 feet long and weighs about 70 tons Were only bull mummies buried in these giant sarcophagi? This bull mummy is 2,3 feet wide, 3,4 feet high and 5,6 feet long. Much too small for such giant coffins Measuring all 24 sarcophagi The only closed sarcophagus was blown up by Auguste Mariette with dynamite Like all other sarcophagi, the one blown open by Mariette was empty The Serapeum is criss-crossed by tunnels and corridors In these niches there were once hundreds of stone tablets whose mysterious inscriptions could not be deciphered by anyone

Why I do research in the Serapeum in Saqqara

Nagib, an old grave robber who in 1988 showed me the chopped-off finger of a humanoid giant, gave me a clue as to the true purpose of the Pyramid of Khufu. In the course of my investigations, I found out that the roughly-hewn stone blocks in the rock chamber below the pyramid are similar in size to the sarcophagi in the Serapeum.


Discovery of the Serapeum

In the first half of the 19th century, researchers weren’t squeamish when it came to achieving their goals. One was only considered successful if one brought home from his expedition as many valuable treasures as possible. Dynamite as a door opener was part of an explorer’s standard equipment. The risk of losses would be shrugged off. The French treasure hunter, excavator, and Egyptologist Auguste Mariette was no different.


A valuable treasure

In 1851, Auguste Mariette discovered in Saqqara the entrance to a tomb, in which he suspected precious treasures. Generations of tomb raiders had searched in vain for this entrance. Mariette therefore believed to be the first in about 3,000 years to enter the enormous, seven kilometers (four miles) long underground burial place. His belief seemed to be confirmed, because at the entrance, he was received by the statue of an Apis bull. Next to it were other statues and stelae with the image of the bull. The Apis bull was revered by the ancient Egyptians as an embodiment of the main creator-god Ptah, who was said to have molded man out of clay. Mariette assumed that this place was the Serapeum — a millennia-old cult and burial site for the sacred Apis bulls, which Greek scholars had already reported on around the year 25 BCE. The Frenchman investigated the extensive complex and first came across the tomb of Khaemweset, a son of Pharaoh Ramesses II. Mariette had the precious treasure, consisting of an intact mummy and over 7,000 grave objects, shipped to Paris, where it can still be admired in the Louvre today. After clearing out Khaemweset’s crypt, Mariette devoted himself to the lower vault, where he hit on 24 walled-up niches.


Tomb of giants

Without thinking twice, the excavator had the walls torn down. The niches that appeared behind them were filled with rubble. Once the debris was removed, Mariette and his assistants were looking at 24 huge sarcophagi. 22 were made of extremely hard granodiorite, the other two of limestone. Mariette calculated that each sarcophagus had to weigh about 70 to 80 metric tons (80 to 90 U.S. tons).
The find was an absolute sensation. But something didn’t seem right. The coffin lids, at 25 tons as heavy as the vault doors of Fort Knox, were open a crack. One look was enough to realize that the coffins were empty. Mariette was taken aback, because there wasn’t the slightest indication that the site had been looted.
Only one sarcophagus seemed untouched. Mariette made short work of it and forced it open with dynamite. The astonishment was great — because this box was empty as well. The Frenchman wondered whether the contents of the coffins could have been moved to some other location. If there was an explanation for this, he would find it on the numerous stone tablets embedded in the wall recesses in the vestibule of the complex. But even though Auguste Mariette had studied hieroglyphic writing in great depth, he was unable to decipher the strange symbols on the stone tablets. It is said that the Frenchman puzzled until the end of his life about the untouched and yet empty tomb of the giants.


Scientific theories and my objections to them

Theory 1: The Serapeum was once used to worship the sacred Apis bulls that lived in above-ground stables. After their death, the bulls were embalmed and buried in the underground necropolis.
Objection: Not a single bull mummy was found in the sarcophagi. Unknown actors had pushed the lids back just far enough that they could take a look inside the coffins.
Theory 2: The Roman emperor Honorius shut down the Serapeum. Monks from the nearby Monastery of St. Jeremiah then removed the bull mummies from the sarcophagi and destroyed them in order to end the bull cult for good.
Objection: The bull mummies would never have fit through the narrow slots in one piece. If the monks had cut them up beforehand, leftovers would have to be visible in the sarcophagi — but there isn’t one shred. Except for dust buildup, the boxes are spotless.
Conclusion: There currently exists no scientific evidence regarding the true purpose of the complex.


Open questions

(1) Bull mummies are relatively simple bundles, brought into shape with straw and linen bandages. The sarcophagi, conversely, were made with unbelievable effort and utmost precision out of extremely hard and heavy granodiorite, which had to be brought in from Assuan, 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) away. How does this fit together?

(2) Why would the Egyptians use such enormous sarcophagi to bury the bulls? Bulls would be mummified in a lying position. Their mummies are on average 1.7 meters (5½ feet) long, 0.7 meters (2¼ feet) wide, and 1.2 meters (4 feet) high. The sarcophagi are 4.0 meters (13 feet) long, 2.3 meters (7½ feet) wide, and 3.2 meters (10½ feet) high. A huge discrepancy.

(3) The Apis bulls were sacred to the Egyptians. There was no reason to bury the animals as if they were monsters. The lids of the sarcophagi alone weighed around 25 tons each. In addition, massive stone blocks were layered on top of the lids, and the niches were filled up with tons of rubble and walled up. The sarcophagi were also partly built into the ground, which is completely at odds with ancient Egyptian burial customs.

(4) What happened to the ominous stone tablets that used to be located in the wall recesses of the complex’s vestibule? Were they destroyed or moved somewhere else? What information or messages were carved into the tablets?

(5) Could there be a connection between the tomb of the giants in Saqqara and the tomb of the giants in Giza?


Visiting the Serapeum

The complex has been open to visitors since 2011. Unfortunately, many of the original features were lost during the renovation. For example, the original floor has been covered with ugly parquet, and crude, green-painted steel scaffolding has been installed in the niches to keep them from collapsing.

error: © Gregor Spörri. All rights reserved