Sunday, September 6, 2009

Soot and Lamps

Soot and Lamps

Before I go into the details of Dendera, I will examine some of the circumstantial evidence. That's because some points several authors use to prepare the "light mystery" are in contrast to what I have seen personally. Here are two of many quotes:

"Krassa and Habeck are telling us, that torches, oil lamps or candles are emitting soot on a large scale, which must be detecteable on walls and ceilings. But that is not the case."


"In the Roman and Greek world torches and oil lamps were used to light the buildings. Wherever places are left where such devices were positioned, we can find traces of soot on the walls and ceilings. But in ancient Egypt ... we can find these combustion traces nowhere."

Well, I have been in Egypt several times now, and I never had a problem to detect soot in pyramids and tombs. As an example here the soot covered burial chamber walls of the Red Pyramid of Dahschur:

Soot in burial chamber

This chamber is completely above ground, built by Snofru, father of the builder of the Great Pyramid, Khufu. The soot seems to be millimeters thick, and if one goes through the pyramid passages in Egypt a look at the ceiling is enough to find soot in abundance.

The oldest comment known to me about soot in the Great Pyramid is from John Greaves, in a book from 1638!![ 3 ]

The passages and chambers in Egyptian pyramids were built with a few exceptions in open ditches like the example of Abu Roasch below. A large dugout was furnished with several layers of floor- and wall blocks, the sarcophagus was lowered into the open chamber, ornamented wall parts, finished outside, were lifted down and put in place, the roof was positioned, and then the ditch was refilled. The whole construction process took place in broad daylight.

Abu Roasch - Trench for burial chamber

The great chambers of the red pyramid, and the passages in the great Pyramid, also were built in full daylight. The whole time, until the last ceiling block was positioned years after the chamber was begun, all tasks like polishing and furnishing the walls and roof beams could be done in daylight. Why should there be soot in such constructions? In the pyramid age only very few construction projects needed artificial light, like the Djoser-labyrinth and the underground passage and chamber in Khufu's pyramid.

It's the same with the decorated chambers of the pyramids of the 5th and 6th dynasty. All decorations could be put to the wall blocks in broad daylight which were then covered afterwards. Even most of the private mastaba tombs could be finished with no artificial light. So missing soot in all these constructions would be no mystery at all.

Well, but what IS funny: In all these buildings which did not need any artificial lighting, soot can be found. Even the walls of the crypts where those supposed light bulb reliefs were found are covered with soot, as this picture shows::

Dendera - Soot on lamp relief

The original white color of the lime stone can be seen on the edges of the re-set block...

The book quotes from above have now been falsified twice. For one, many of the passages needed no artificial lighting, and second they also contain lots of soot.

The source of the soot is pretty clear: almost all buildings have been opened in antiquity and were tourist attractions through the centuries, even millenia. For example: Greek writings were found in the subterran chamber of the Great Pyramid.

There were thousands of visitors in them, and every single one of them, until the beginning of the 20th century, had to use oil lamps, candles or open flame torches to get light. And all those people spent a much larger amount of time in those buildings than the original builders

Preliminary evaluation

One of the major foundational arguments for the lamp idea has disappeared. We now see that that the "no soot" argument is definitively untrue, as even buildings which did not need light during construction time have soot in them. A bad situation which can even get worse... Let's take a look at

Smoking lamps

This was my first lesson in how slow riddles are dying in alternative science. Because the first time I discussed this topic was even before I had connection to Usenet: in 1989!

I hadn't written anything critical about Dendera or even Daeniken yet - that was still five years in the future. But Daenikens new book "In den Augen der Sphinx" had just been published, and the passage I quoted on top of the page was discussed in one group of the so called "Maus-Netz".

Well, if Daeniken was right, then all churches, houses and palaces before the invention of electric light must have been soot holes, because they all had candles or oil lamps as primary light sources. I hadn't noticed that, so there was a chance, that Daeniken was wrong. So I concluded that an experiment was necessary here.

I took an ash tray, filled it with olive oil, formed a wick out of cotton wool, and soaked it with oil. Then I put the wick onto the side of the bowl so that it stuck out about 5 mm over the rim. I lit it - and it produced a steady, smokeless flame. Only an extremely long wick lead to an emission of soot.

I put a white dish over the flame, about 50 cm high, but I was unable to detect any trace of soot even after a long time. And it was nice to find out after some years that even experts like the famous material experts Clarke/Engelbach shared my opinion:

"Many visitors to the monuments express surprise that the painting could have been carried out in the darkness of the tombs and in the dim light of the temples. The Egyptian lamp was of the simplest type, merely a wick floating in oil. It is not infrequently represented in the scenes in the tombs, where it usually takes the form of an open receptacle mounted on a tall foot which, in the smaller examples, can be grasped in the hand. In the pictures, there arise from the receptacle what we may assume to be wicks or flames, always curved over the top as if blown by a current of air. Stand lamps in limestone have been found in the pyramid of El-Lahun, and representations of them in stone in the 'Labrinth' at Hawara. In Egyptian houses, small dishes were also used as lamps. They usually have their rims pinched into a spout ...

The absence of smoke-blackening in the tombs of the kings is also no difficult explanation. If olive-oil is used, there is very little smoke, and a suitable covering over the lamp, for which various methods readily suggest themselves, would very easily prevent carbon being deposited on the ceiling."

And even from the region where artificial light was most necessary we have notes from the Egyptians themselves: The many 100 m long tombs in the Valley of the Kings were definitively lighted with oil lamps and wicks, since we have protocols about wicks and lamps handed out to the workers each day from the Valley of the Kings - where it was carefully documented how many wicks of what length, and how much oil was given to each worker - there is no mystery at all how these tombs were illuminated. There is no place for pharaonic flash lights.

After I posted my results to the "Maus" I made first contact with the wide spread unwillingness in alternative science to accept unpleasant results. "Bullsh*t", "nonsense", "I don't believe you", were the comments to my sootless lamps. I wrote back "People, you mustn't believe me, just try it out for yourselves.". Again I drew a blank: "I don't need to try it out, I know what happens and it's not what you are posting here" was the only reaction.

Yes, and THAT is precisely the reason why the "mystery of the soot" is still part of every new publication and of at least one "mystery park"....


Well, as Mr. Spock would say. "Fascinating". None of the premises of the soot fans are correct. There is soot, although the Egyptian lamps were almost sootless and even buildings in no need of artificial illumination contain soot. This whole argument is as wrong as an argument can be. But just because we are sure that the soot comes from non-Egyptian sources it is still no evidence that can be used to propose alternative lighting methods.

BTW: It is possible to reduce soot from oil lamps by putting salt into the oil. I didn't try it out because I couldn't get soot even without salt in the oil...

Remarks given by

[1] Däniken, Erich von; Die Augen der Sphinx, Ullstein 1989, P. 215
[2] Ercivan, Erdogan; Das Sternentor der Pyramiden, Bettendorf 1997, P. 83
[3] explained in in: Lauer, Jean-Phillipe; Das Geheimnis der Pyramiden, Herbig 1980, P. 37 f
[4] Clarke, Somers & Engelbach, Reginald; Ancient Egyptian Masonry, London 1930, P. 201
[5] Brunner-Traut, Emma; Alltag unter Pharaonen, Herder 1998, P. 245

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