The pyramids of Egypt have inspired all kinds of tales, from the mummy’s curse to the exploits of the archeologists who explored them. People love to speculate about the enormous edifices because they are so old. And since the first European wrote about them, people come up with ideas they just “know” about them. Were they built as grain silos, the ones Joseph told Pharaoh to build in the book of Genesis? Were they built by aliens? Or were they part of ancient Atlantis? The answers seem so obvious to those who believe them. Maggie Koerth-Baker talked to professor Ethan Watrall, who studies both Egyptology and pseudoarchaeology.
You only have to turn on the History Channel to see how this thread stretches into our own time period—despite the fact that the actual ancient Egyptians flat-out told us both why and how the pyramids were built.
“They were prolific bureaucrats. Building it was a massive state undertaking, a public works project,” Watrall says. “The logistics and ideology are clearly documented in thousands and thousands of texts.”
So why would anyone believe in Atlanteans or think the Egyptians stored grain in pyramids? We are, after all, talking about one of the most self-documented ancient civilizations in the world. Why not listen to what they say about themselves?
There are two basic reasons, Watrall explains. Read how those reasons led so many people to declare themselves enlightened about the Pyramids at Atlas Obscura.