The recent discovery of a massive sarcophagus in Egypt, in the city of Alexandria, led to a new wave of claims that Egypt is home to ancient tombs of giants. The sarcophagus discovered in Alexandria measured 8.6 feet in length, with its height being six feet. It dates to the Ptolemaic period (332-30 BC). The tomb also included a crude but clear bust of a human head, presumed to be of the occupant of the sarcophagus. The find was announced by “Dr. Mostafa Waziri, general secretary of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities” (Fox News).
The announcement was followed by numerous video and blog posts about how the sarcophagus (Figure 1) was yet another tomb of a giant (Nephilim) who had lived in ancient Egypt. Unfortunately, when it was opened, there was no giant—but there were three normal-sized human skeletons. The sarcophagus had apparently been used for a family burial.
Tombs of Giants in Ancient Egypt? Where Does the Idea Come From?
The idea that Egypt is home to tombs of ancient giant humans is not new. The current discovery illustrates that the contention that ancient Egypt has many tombs of giants is primarily based on the size of the sarcophagi.
Popular online sources are fond of quoting the eminent Egyptologist and archaeologist Flinders Petrie as saying pharaoh Khasekhemwy was “5 cubits and 3 palms high, which would be about 8 English feet.” Petrie was actually quoting an ancient source, Manetho, on this point (Petrie). While Manetho’s accuracy has been criticized on a number of points (he lived in the Ptolemaic era, thousands of years after Khasekhemwy), it is possible that he was only speaking of the pharaoh’s sarcophagus. The sarcophagus is known to archaeologists, but no mummy of Khasekhemwy has been found.
The most current sarcophagus discovery is like many other sarcophagi in Egypt. They are quite a bit larger than the coffins that we’re accustomed to. At the famous Serapeum in Saqqara, for example, sarcophagi can be twice the size of the recent example from Alexandria.
A serapeum is “a temple or other religious institution dedicated to the syncretic Greco-Egyptian deity Serapis, who combined aspects of Osiris and Apis in a humanized form.” Like Saqqara, Alexandria is also the location of a Serapeum.
The belief that these temples contain tombs of giants is also presupposed from the way pharaohs are portrayed as disproportionately large in Egyptian art. For example, in the famous depiction of Ramesses at the Battle of Kadesh (Figure 3), it’s easy to see how much larger the pharaoh is than the rest of the warriors his chariot is trampling in the scene:
Ramesses was, we are told, descended from the gods in the manner of the biblical story of the Nephilim (Gen 6:1-4). He was a god incarnate in Egyptian religion. He and other pharaohs were giants, so we should expect to find the tombs of giants in ancient Egypt.
Tombs of Giants in Ancient Egypt? An Analysis
The idea that large sarcophagi are evidence for giant humans is demonstrably flawed. Burials in ancient Egypt utilizing such sarcophagi were “layered”—that is, a large sarcophagus such as the recent item from Alexandria is only the external sarcophagus. Burials (and hence sarcophagi) in ancient Egypt were like Matryoshka dolls (the dolls that fit inside each other). You can’t tell the size of the occupant by the size of the outer sarcophagus. Each level gets smaller until you get to the actual coffin, in which lay the occupant of the tomb.
Proof for this is available from multiple burials discovered in, and excavated from, ancient Egypt. The famous King Tut(ankhamun) is an instructive example, as his sarcophagus and body were both found intact in his tomb when discovered by Howard Carter in 1922. Tut’s outer sarcophagus measured 8.25 feet. Here are Howard Carter’s hand-written notes and measurements for the sarcophagus: the lid was 250.7 cm (8.25 feet). King Tut wasn’t a giant. His mummy has been X-Rayed by radiologists. The boy king was 5 feet 11 inches tall—nowhere near a giant. The same is true for all the mummies found in Egypt. Egyptologists and other professionals have examined and measured these mummies. Their height never matches the size of the outer sarcophagi.
What about the sarcophagi at the Serapeum? Nephilim hunters like Brien Foerster misinform their audience by claiming the Serapeum was a place where giant humans were buried. It is well-known among historians, archaeologists, and Egyptologists, that the Serapeum of Saqqara was a mausoleum for burying bulls sacred to the bull-deity Apis. Foerster and other Nephilim hunters think this is ridiculous and claim there is no supporting Egyptian evidence for the consensus, going as far as to claim that no bulls were ever discovered buried in a Serapeum.
They are in fact ignorant of the evidence from Egypt. The cult of the Apis Bull is well-known in Egyptology (Dodson, Jones, Davies). There is in fact a papyrus from ancient Egypt that described the procedure for embalming the Apis Bull. That papyrus (labeled P [=“papyrus”] Vindob 3873) has been published and was the subject of a detailed 1992 dissertation, which has also been published (Vos). In 1851, Auguste Mariette discovered an intact burial of an Apis Bull at Memphis (Mariette). As one mummy specialist notes, “The complex dates only to the time of Ramesses II, but we know of burials long before this time. Undoubtedly, several more serapeums await discovery” (El Mahdy, 166).
Lastly, the idea that the depiction of pharaohs as disproportionately large indicates giantism is deeply flawed. Taking the example of Ramesses II depicted above, the reason ought to be obvious: we have the mummy of Ramesses II and know how tall he was. Ramesses II was not a giant. Neither are any of the pharaohs depicted in ancient art. Mummies and coffins (the internal part of the burial) discovered from ancient Egypt allow us to know this fact beyond any doubt. In the case of Ramesses II, his mummy measured 170cm, or 66.92 inches (5 feet 7 inches; Hawass and Saleem, 222). The average height of pharaohs in all periods of ancient Egypt was in the mid-160cm range (Habicht).
Specialists in Egyptian art know that disproportionate size of pharaohs in Egyptian art is not an indication of literal height, but of superiority. The pharaohs were Horus incarnate—they were divine. Divine beings are greater than normal humans. Consequently, they were depicted as “larger than life” to convey their superior status (Robins, Teeter; Metropolitan Museum, 44).
Tombs of Giants in Ancient Egypt? A Modern Myth
The notion that giants roamed ancient Egypt and are buried in complexes and tombs throughout Egypt is a modern myth. There are simply no data from primary sources that support the idea. Neither sarcophagi, art, nor mummies provide evidence.
James Rogers, “Mysterious Giant Sarcophagus Discovered in Egypt,” Fox News (online), July 9, 2018
Aidan Dodson, “Bull Cults,” in Divine Creatures: Animal Mummies in Ancient Egypt (ed. Salima Ikram; American University in Cairo Press, 2005): 72-105
Michael Jones, “The Temple of Apis in Memphis,” The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 76.1 (1990): 141-147
René L. Vos, The Apis Embalming Ritual: P. Vindob. 3873 (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 50; Leuven: Peeters, 1992)
Sue Davies, The Sacred Animal Necropolis at North Saqqara: The Main Temple Complex: The Archaeological Report (Excavation Memoir 75; London: Egypt Exploration Society, 2006)
Sue Davies, The Sacred Animal Necropolis at North Saqqara: The Mother of Apis and Baboon Catacombs: The Archaeological Report (Excavation Memoir 76; London: Egypt Exploration Society, 2006)
Auguste Mariette, Le Sérapeum de Memphis decouvert et décrit par Aug. Mariette. Ouvrage dédié à S. A. I. Mgr. le Prince Napoléon et publié sous les auspices de S. E. M. Achille Fould, ministre d’état (Paris: Gide, 1857); English translation of the title: The Serapeum of Memphis discovered and described by Aug. Mariette. Work dedicated to S. A. I. Mgr. Prince Napoleon and published under the auspices of His Excellency Mr. M. Achille Fould, Minister of State
Christine El Mahdy, Mummies, Myth, and Magic (Thames and Hudson, 1989)
Zahi Hawass and Sahar N. Saleem, Scanning the Pharaohs: CT Imaging of the New Kingdom Royal Mummies (American University in Cairo Press, 2017)
Gay Robins and Ann S. Fowler, Proportion and Style in Ancient Egyptian Art (University of Texas Press, 1994)
Michael E. Habicht, et al.,”Body height of mummified pharaohs supports historical suggestions of sibling marriages," American Journal of Physical Anthropology 157.3 (2015): 519-525
Metropolitan Museum of Art, “The Art of Ancient Egypt: A Resource for Educators,” (Metropolitan Museum of Art, no date)
Emily Teeter, “Egyptian Art,” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 20.1 (1994): 15-31
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