Ancient Fire and Lightning

Could Solar Outbursts Once Have Scorched the Giza Plateau?

While in Egypt this summer (2016), my colleagues Yousef Awyan and Mohamed Ibrahim pointed out to me a very curious phenomenon on the Giza Plateau, which Katie (my wife, Catherine Ulissey) and I explored further. In places, particularly in the vicinity of the Second Pyramid and its “Mortuary Temple,” the limestone bedrock is blackened and has a charred or burnt appearance, as if it had been subjected to incredibly high temperatures. It looks like it may have been melted and re-congealed, resembling slag, scoria, or low-grade vitrified rock. If indeed the rock in places has been subjected to high temperatures, what could be the source? Might it simply be the result of human-produced fires? This seems unlikely given that some of the “burnt” features extend deep into the rock, cover a broad area, and the temperatures to create such features would most likely be well in excess of those of a typical surface fire. Another possibility is lightning strikes. Indeed, it is recorded on the ancient dynastic “Inventory Stela” (discussed below) that the Great Sphinx was struck by lightning!

Ordinary atmospheric lightning can melt sediment and produce mineralogical changes, forming structures known as fulgurites (colloquially, “fossilized lightning”). Typical fulgurites, however, are very different than the features I inspected on the Giza Plateau. Fulgurites generally form long and narrow glassy tubes of fused sediment and sand grains that extend vertically into the soil, sand, or rock. In size they can be on the order of centimeters to meters long. In contrast, the features on the Giza Plateau are massive areas of apparently burnt rock and, if the interpretation that they formed due to heat is correct, as I propose, then something other than conventional lightning must have created them—but what?

Two other sources of intense and extreme heat that geologists often consider when faced with burnt and fused rock are volcanic activity and extraterrestrial impacts (such as meteorites, comets, and asteroids). Neither of these applies to the Giza Plateau. Giza is composed of sedimentary limestone, not igneous or volcanic rocks, and there is no indication of the intrusion of hot molten rock into the area from deep below the surface. What about a possible meteorite, asteroid, or other extraterrestrial object impacting on, or exploding over, the Giza area? Theoretically such an event could create intense heat on the surface that could burn and melt rock. However, this seems highly unlikely in the case of the features at Giza. One would expect to see evidence of either a crater or a widespread circular pattern of destruction, neither of which is found at Giza. Instead, the “burnt” features appear at various spots as if a series of lightning strikes hit. But, as already pointed out, the evidence does not support conventional lightning strikes. We need to search for another explanation.

For a number of years I have advocated the theory, based on solid evidence, that the last ice age ended circa 9700 BCE due to a major solar outburst (see my book Forgotten Civilization, 2012). As Thomas Gold (1920–2004, professor of astronomy at Cornell University) pointed out, during a large solar outburst (including solar flares and major coronal mass ejections) electrically-charged gases (“plasma”) could penetrate our atmosphere and hit the surface of Earth in various spots. These strikes would resemble conventional lightning—but would be much more powerful by orders of magnitude. Gold suggested searching for areas of burnt rock, surface melting and fusing of rock and sediment, and vitrification (the turning of rock into crude glass), as evidence of an ancient solar outburst hitting Earth. It appears that this may be exactly what we have on the Giza Plateau!

The solar outburst that ended the last ice age nearly 12,000 years ago dramatically warmed the climate: high-latitude glaciers melted, sea levels rose, and torrential rains and flooding occurred. The solar outburst caused other forms of havoc, chaos, and cataclysms as well. The ozone layer was most likely depleted and the magnetosphere compromised, allowing dangerous levels of radiation to penetrate to the surface of Earth. Release of pressure from suddenly melted glaciers set off a cascade of earthquake activity around the globe, as well as increased volcanic activity. And, returning to the type of evidence seen at Giza, in some areas plasma discharges hitting the surface literally incinerated all they touched, melted the rock, and initiated widespread fires. This was truly a catastrophe of immense proportions, and it devastated the high cultures of the time.

In Egypt sophisticated civilization existed prior to the end of the last ice age. Physical remnants of this earlier cycle of civilization, the pre-catastrophe civilization, are preserved at Giza —most notably in the core-body of the Great Sphinx (the head is a dynastic re-carving). In my opinion the current pyramid structures seen at Giza are built on top of and over older structures. The earlier civilization came to an end with the solar outburst catastrophe of circa 9700 BCE, and it was only after a solar-induced dark age (SIDA) lasting over six millennia that civilization re-emerged in Egypt, taking the form that we now commonly refer to as “dynastic” or “pharaonic” Egypt. The dynastic Egyptians reused and re-appropriated older structures, structures that they considered to belong to “the first time” (Zep Tepi), the “time of the gods” prior to the catastrophe. These ancient structures, and the Giza Plateau where they are located and which the gods had struck with “lightning” and “thunderbolts,” were indeed sacred.

The Inventory Stela records that thunderbolts (or what we now would call plasma discharges from a solar outburst) hit the Giza Plateau in distant ancient times. Although the physical stela probably dates to the seventh or sixth century BCE, it purports to be a copy of a text that goes back to Old Kingdom times, some two thousand years earlier. Importantly, the stela states that the Great Sphinx was already in existence during Khufu’s reign (also known as Cheops; twenty-sixth century BCE, reputed builder of the Great Pyramid) and Khufu repaired the statue. These repairs were necessary because the Great Sphinx, according to the stela, had been hit by lightning. The great Egyptian Egyptologist Selim Hassan (1887–1961), who carried out excavations at the Great Sphinx in the 1930s, had this to say about the Inventory Stela:

“If we could believe its inscriptions, we should have to credit Khufu with having repaired the Sphinx, apparently after it had been damaged by a thunderbolt. As a matter of fact, there may be a grain of truth in this story, for the tail of the nemes head-dress is certainly missing, and it is not a part, which, by reason of its shape and position, could be easily broken off, except by a direct blow from some heavy object, delivered with terrific force. There is actually to be seen on the back of the Sphinx the scar of this breakage, and traces of the old mortar with which it was repaired… Therefore, it is perhaps likely that the Sphinx was struck by lightning, but there is not a particle of evidence to show that this accident happened in the reign of Khufu.” (Selim Hassan, 1949, The Sphinx: Its History in the Light of Recent Excavations, pp. 224-225.)

The relevant portion of the inscription on the stela reads as follows: “The plans of the Image of Hor-em-akhet [“Horus in the Horizon”, a name for the Great Sphinx, or the god the statue represents] were brought in order to bring to revision the sayings of the disposition [that is, Khufu wanted to refurbish the statue] of the Image of the Very Redoubtable [the Great Sphinx]. He [Khufu] restored the statue all covered in painting, of the Guardian of the Atmosphere [the Great Sphinx], who guides the winds with his gaze. He [Khufu] made to quarry [he had new blocks cut and put into position] the hind part of the nemes headdress, which was lacking, from gilded stone, and which had a length of about 7 ells [about 3.7 meters]. He [Khufu] came to make a tour, in order to see the thunderbolt, which stands in the Place of the Sycamore, so named because of a great sycamore, whose branches were struck when the Lord of Heaven [the Lord of Heaven may refer to the Sun, or Re/Ra the “Sun god”] descended upon the place of Hor-em-akhet [the god of the Great Sphinx], and also this image [the statue of the Sphinx], retracing the erasure [damage to the statue] according to the above-mentioned disposition… ” (Translated by Selim Hassan, 1949, pp. 223; comments in brackets by R. Schoch.)

Based on the information above, I believe we can piece together a reasonable scenario along the following lines. During Old Kingdom times the core of the statue we now know as the Great Sphinx was already extremely ancient and showed damage from the ages, including being struck by what was recollected as “lightning.” But, given the severe damage this “lightning” caused, it seems probable that it was not atmospheric lightning, but rather a solar plasma strike when the “Lord of Heaven” (the Sun) descended to Earth and struck the statue and the Giza Plateau more generally. This, I suggest, occurred during the major solar outburst and associated catastrophe that ended the last ice age, circa 9700 BCE, and devastated the early civilizations of the time, including the civilization that had carved the proto-Sphinx.

When Khufu went to view the “thunderbolt”, as described on the Inventory Stela, what was he looking at? Real thunderbolts are ephemeral—they do not remain to be viewed. I believe that Khufu went to see the result of the “lightning” (plasma strike) that was recorded in stone (“fossilized lightning”) where a “thunderbolt” had hit directly and left its signature of burnt, charred, fused, and vitrified rock. That is, Khufu went to see the very same type of feature pointed out to me on the Giza Plateau. The Old Kingdom dynastic Egyptians recognized such features as the scars and marks of an ancient solar outburst.

Turning to modern science, there is evidence that Egypt (and Earth more generally) was hit by a number of solar outbursts in the past. Such solar events may constitute recurring phenomena with a rough periodicity of about 10,000 to 15,000 years. Indeed, some have suggested that these events may be correlated with the precessional cycle (the changing “world ages,” such as the Age of Aries, Age of Pisces, Age of Aquarius, and so on). A complete precessional cycle currently takes on the order of 26,000 years; perhaps, it has been speculated, catastrophes occur approximately every half cycle. Others believe that there is an internal cycle to the Sun, during which it undergoes periods of relative quiescence and stability punctuated by periods of agitation and volatility. Based on isotope data, the Sun was unstable, incredibly active, and volatile during the last catastrophe, circa 9700 BCE (I. G. Usoskin, S. K. Solanki, and G. A. Kovaltsov, 2007, Astronomy and Astrophysics, vol. 471), and all indications are that our Sun has entered such a volatile period once again (marked by “mood swings” of appearing to almost “shut down” or go dormant followed suddenly by major solar eruptions). It has also been suggested that external factors, such as comets or asteroids diving into the Sun, could cause solar eruptions, or perhaps even factors external to our solar system might trigger solar events. For instance, the Vela supernova is believed to have exploded around 11,000 to 12,300 years ago. Could high-speed particles and various forms of radiation from this supernova hitting the solar system and our Sun have helped to set off major solar events?

On the ground in Egypt we have physical evidence, beyond that at Giza discussed above, which may pertain to past solar events and associated plasma strikes on the surface of Earth. Here I highlight two such occurrences (see W. U. Reimold and C. Koeberl, 2014, Journal of African Earth Sciences, vol. 93). 1) Libyan Desert Glass: it stretches across 2,500 square kilometers of sand dunes in the vast Libyan Desert (the Great Sand Sea) in western Egypt. Consisting of chunks and fragments of vitrified rock, LDG has been dated to 28 to 30 million years ago. 2) Dakhleh Glass: fragments of burnt, melted, and vitrified rock found over an area of 400 square kilometers in the region of the Dakhleh Oasis, central-western Egypt. It has been dated to 100,000 to 400,000 years ago.

Traditionally Libyan Desert Glass and Dakhleh Glass have been attributed to meteorite or asteroid surface impacts or atmospheric airbursts; however, there is no direct and definitive evidence that such is the case in either instance. Neither Libyan Desert Glass nor Dakhleh Glass is associated with an impact crater, and neither shows the classic mineralogical and textural characteristics that are found in rock samples associated directly with known impact craters or meteorite/asteroid explosions. It seems that these natural glasses have been attributed to extraterrestrial impacts by default, because no other mechanism to create them has been proposed and/or seriously considered. Interestingly, Michael L. Joseph, in his 2012 thesis (University of South Florida) on fulgurites, has pointed out that Dakhleh Glass in particular, as well as certain other glasses that have been traditionally attributed to meteorite or asteroid impacts, shows many characteristics found in fulgurites produced by lightning. But how can typical atmospheric lightning produce widespread burnt and vitrified rock (glass) spread over hundreds or even thousands of square kilometers? I suggest we are not looking at the products of atmospheric lightning but, rather evidence of electrical plasma strikes associated with major solar events in the past. Based on the dates cited above (if indeed they are correct), Libyan Desert Glass and Dakhleh Glass are evidence of major solar outbursts and plasma strikes prior to the solar event of 9700 BCE that ended the last ice age and destroyed the early civilizations of that time. Our Earth has been hit by a series of solar outbursts over the eons.

Consulting some of the very ancient myths of Egypt (see George Hart, Egyptian Myths, British Museum Publications, 1990), these may also record recollections of solar events and plasma strikes. According to one early Egyptian cosmogony, the world originated when a burst of energy was suddenly released forming an “Isle of Flame” from which the sun god (Re/Ra) was born. In another myth, the Eye of Re, the solar eye or disk, which could act independently of the sun god Re, wreaked havoc on humankind.

Putting all of the evidence together (in Forgotten Civilization I discuss “plasma petroglyphs,” Easter Island’s rongorongo texts, ice core and sediment core data, and other lines of evidence), there is no doubt in my mind that our planet has on multiple occasions in the distant past been hit by electrical plasma strikes originating from the Sun. And what has happened in the past is sure to happen again. We would do well to heed the warning the rocks at Giza convey.


        CAPTIONS: Robert Schoch examining apparently burnt rock near the base of the Second Pyramid (Photo: Catherine Ulissey). Closer view of ‘burnt’ rock near Second Pyramid (Photo: Robert Schoch). The Mortuary Temple on the eastern side of the Second Pyramid; in the lower right foreground can be seen apparently burnt rock (Photo: R.S.). Egyptian Fulgurite (“fossilized lightning”) about 3.5 c. long (Photo: R.S.). Closer view of apparently burnt rock near the Mortuary Temple of the Second Pyramid (Photo: R.S.). Libyan Desert Glass now in Egyptian Geological Museum, Cairo (Photo: R. S.). Dakhleh Glass; Scale in centimeters (Photo: R. S.).

        Robert M. Schoch, Honorary Professor at the Nikola Vaptsarov Naval Academy and a full-time faculty member at Boston University, earned his Ph.D. in geology and geophysics at Yale University. Best known for re-dating the Great Sphinx, he is the author of books both technical and popular, including Forgotten Civilization: The Role of Solar Outbursts in Our Past and Future. W

By Robert M. Schoch, Ph.D.