The Serapeum at Saqqara, Egypt

Pukajay Productions recently visited the Serapeum at Saqqara with Yousef Awyan from the Khemit School of Ancient Mysticism.

Check out the video on youtube and ensure you watch in HD!

Yousef Awyan in the Serapeum

Although not our first visit to the site, it continues to inspire awe and appreciation every time you enter the underground structure.

The Serapeum is a fascinating site. Located at Saqqara, Egypt, it’s a short drive from Giza through mazy Cairo streets and congested traffic.

Outside the entrance with Yousef Awyan

The Serapeum is a unique underground complex of passages with recessed depressed alcoves, most of which house giant precision-carved boxes made from Syenite (with porphyritic diorite) or in some cases Rose (or Red) granite.

The site is officially dated to around 1300 BCE, during the reign of Khaemweset, (the son of Ramesses II) due to the style of the writing found on three of the boxes. (And a supposed further chamber never found again, more on that later). Egyptology maintains this site was hollowed out of the bedrock at that time, and used for symbolic burials of the Apis bulls. A later dynasty under Psamtik I then excavated and reused it.

There are some problems with this assessment, however.

Like other ancient sites around the world, we can see that there are multiple inheritances of the same site. The Greco-Roman style writings are likely from the Ptolemaic era, the era when it was rediscovered by Psamtik I.

poor quality hieroglyphs on a high quality box…

This writing presents 98% of the case for the dating of the site,and of the 25 sarcophagi in the Serapeum, only 3 have writings. But, as you will see in the video and photographs, the writing on the boxes barely scratches the surface. It’s uneven, the lines aren’t straight, or parallel. Indeed, it’s some of the worst work you are likely to see.

This is very odd, since clearly with the unused shen rings in the box, it was being created to sell or trade to a high ranking individual. If you can carve the boxes out, with near perfect right angles, and you can polish the box to such an incredible finish still almost perfect thousands of years later, you can surely carve a few symbols clearly and cleanly into the exterior of the box? The evident lack of ability to carve hieroglyphs into the box is problematic.

You can see the evident difficulty just trying to make a straight line

The black boxes are made out of Syenite riddled with a porphyritic diorite conglomerate.

At 5.5 – 6.5 on the mohs scale of hardness, syenite is already much too hard for copper or even iron tools to be effective, but in this particular case the syenite is harder, due to the conglomerates within it (comprised of the porphyritic diorite). Iron will probably barely scratch the surface, indeed, it’s likely the chicken scratch ‘hieroglyphic graffiti’ was done using iron.

So this is a problem, how is it that you are removing that volume of stone from the interior of the boxes, including the near right angles etc? With iron or copper tools and pounding stones?

How are you excavating and positioning that weight in stone blocks?

How are you polishing such a difficult sub vitreous surface to such a long lasting high sheen? How are you keeping that polish consistent in the inside of the hollowed out crack or fracture lines?

These after all are the tools Egyptologists are stuck with, the copper (and later iron) chisels, the pounding stones, the rock and sand granule hand polishing.

Very often we see the early dynasties obsessed with using certain types of stone in very specific ways, often stone they are not supposed to have the ability to quarry, move or shape with the tools and level of craftsmanship attributed to them, and brought in from great distances. The Serapeum fits this modus operandi, in fact syenite takes its name from Syene, the Greek name for the ancient Egyptian city Swennet, which became Aswan, the location of the granite quarries some 900km distant from Cairo and the Serapeum.

The next issue we come across is the burrowing into the bedrock to create this site. It’s entirely underground,  hollowed out rather than built, and the boxes moved into place along corridors that are so narrow in comparison, that in many cases there is less than six inches room on either side of the boxes. These boxes were then lowered into recessed alcoves, some of which again are barely wider than the boxes they house.

This is a smaller box. You can see that it almost entirely blocks the passage, with barely room to squeeze by…


There is also evidence that the boxes were at least completed underground, if not entirely processed.

The smallest of these boxes weighs an estimated 50 tons. The largest is over 100 (with lid). How were ancient Egyptians maneuvering 100 ton boxes in the dark underground with no room on either side, and only room for 4 or 5 people across?

How the ancients were lighting the Serapeum is not clear either. There is no soot or flame residue on the ceilings, and fire would likely create oxygen problems, especially with the presumed amount of manpower necessary for the task of excavation and moving 50 – 100 ton boxes.

Some people have mentioned mirrors for reflection of light. First we must remember that until the 19th century there was no known method for blowing straight glass, so glass mirrors prior to that time were very small curved glass pieces that gave a distorted image. So they would have used polished metal mirrors. The reflective abilities of polished silver would likely struggle to light more than the closest area to the doors, let alone the depths of this complex.

Another problem is that the site is clearly being renovated, either by the dynasty supposedly building it or sometime during or after Psamtik I’s reign. This is not an uncommon discovery, the Sphinx also clearly has early dynastic a time it was supposedly new. Here we find recycled floor tiles with hieroglyphs on, being used to redo the floors. But these renovations happen around the boxes, the floor under the boxes is left in its original state. Suddenly you realize: The renovators couldn’t move the boxes! They can’t write on the boxes, they can’t move the boxes..what is really going on here? Have later dynasties lost the abilities of earlier dynasties? Or is the history of these objects longer and more auspicious than we currently accept?

A tunnel to a further (unexplored?) chamber

All the boxes except one were open when the Serapeum was found again. In 1850 Auguste Marriete found a sphinx’s head sticking out of the sand, excavated it and followed the path to the Serapeum. He excavated most of the current site and dynamited his way into the remaining box. Inside he reportedly found the mummified remains of an Apis bull. (If you look in the Agriculture museum you see the non-mummified remains of three bulls presented as what he found). His excavation notes were subsequently ‘lost’.

The high polish inside the dynamited box is still evident

Another way the site is dated (via connection to Khaemweset,  Ramesses II’s son),  is by the account of Mariette’s discovery and identification of three sarcophagi in a chamber that was supposedly ‘too dangerous to excavate’. This chamber was never found again, or examined by anyone else.

Since all the boxes save one were open, Egyptologists consider the site as robbed, or looted. Considering the tight spaces,and the fact that in 1850 with much available manpower they were reliant on dynamite to get into the box, who it was supposedly looted by and how is an interesting question to consider.

We would struggle today to remove the larger boxes down there. Short of excavating the site through the bedrock ceilings and craning them out, it seems an almost impossible task.

Lastly, the polish on the boxes. As mentioned earlier, and as we discover in the video, Yousef Awyan first noticed a liquid residue on the underside of protruding lid edges. On closer examination, this liquid trail seems to leave a polished surface behind it when it runs across an unfinished surface, such as the underside of the lid. This is seen in several different instances. The writings are done after the polish, and the interior spaces of the writings, sometimes quite large, are not polished.You also see this in the Cairo museum on statues and boxes with similarly poor dating techniques used. After a while you start to wonder: were the dynastic Egyptians creating these pieces, or just writing on them?

here you see the liquid substance that seems to leave a high degree of polish behind, first noticed by Yousef Awyan of KSAM

***In modern times, Egypt commissioned the “Egypt Rising” statue and sent it to Italy to achieve a high quality polish. Less than 100 years later, the statue is already losing its finish. Compare this to ancient Egyptian works, many sitting in the sun for thousands of years that still have an amazing finish…..


Yousef and the Khemit School can be found here:

~Luke, December 2016

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