Membre du Collège royal de Physiciens de Londres, diplômé des universités de Cambridge et Édimbourg, connu pour ses positions abolitionnistes, William Holt Yates (1802-1874) a publié, en 1843, l'ouvrage The Modern History and Condition of Egypt. Les textes ci-dessous sont extraits du volume II de cet ouvrage.
Les pyramides, "livre scellé" : "nous pouvons, selon l'auteur, admirer leur beauté, leur symétrie et leur grandeur ; nous pouvons spéculer sur leur utilisation, mais leur origine reste un mystère. (...) "Elles ont suscité l'admiration de toutes les classes, à chaque période depuis le Déluge. Guerriers, sénateurs et sages ont tous été attirés vers ce site."
Le procédé selon lequel les matériaux de construction ont été transportés sur le site a notamment fait l'objet de conjectures, mais nous sommes encore loin d'avoir tout compris.
Les pyramides prenant rang parmi les "Chroniques du monde" : William Holt Yates les considère en effet comme un lieu de mémoire où les Égyptiens ont inscrit leurs connaissances, notamment en astronomie, et, plus globalement, sur le "système général de l'Univers".
Des événements plus récents prennent également place dans l'histoire de ces monuments, à savoir toutes les opérations menées pour tenter de les mieux connaître.
Je relève plus particulièrement ce que Yates écrit du colonel Vyse, dont on sait l'importance des découvertes qu'il réalisa sur le site de Guizeh :"Je suis heureux de constater que le colonel Vyse persévère dans ses recherches sur les pyramides ; il a donné la preuve qu'il comprend le sujet. Il faut espérer que les Autorités lui fourniront toute l'aide qui est en leur pouvoir." Sommes-nous autorisés à transposer ce souhait dans un contexte plus actuel ? Suivez mon regard...Je note finalement cette observation de Yates : deux trous profonds dans le coin nord-ouest de la Chambre du Roi, supposés avoir été prévus pour recevoir des momies, mais qui étaient probablement des réservoirs d'eau. Pour quelle utilité ? La "conjecture" de l'auteur ne va pas plus loin.
Illustration extraite de l'ouvrage de YatesTradition informs us that a certain Ruler, imagining that the Pyramids contained treasure, conceived the idea of taking one of them down : that to accomplish this end, he commenced breaking away the stones at one corner, and having thus prepared a causeway or passage to the top, contrived to dislodge eight or nine layers of stone from the apex ; but that when he had extended his operations so far, he abandoned the undertaking in despair.
(...) The origin of the Pyramids is still a mystery, and always may remain so ; but there can be no doubt, that whatever was the precise object of their founders, they were associated, in a great degree, with the religion of the country.
(...) Before us, lay two avenues ; one a low, narrow passage of about 100 feet, terminating in the "Queen's Chamber" ; the other, a continuation of the sloping passage which we had just left, taking the same direction upwards, to about 120 feet, and leading to the " King's Chamber," which is larger than the former, and situated immediately above it, although a considerable mass of stone intervenes. The roof and sides of these apartments are lined with single pieces of red granite, and there are holes communicating diagonally with the external air, for the purpose of ventilation. At the western end of the "King's Chamber", there is a red granite sarcophagus, placed with the head towards the north ; it is equal in width to the main door of the Pyramid, and could not have been brought, by any contrivance, through the narrow passages which lead from it. It has neither ornament, inscriptions, nor hieroglyphics. There are in the N.W. corner, two angular pits of great depth, which are supposed to have been intended to receive mummies, but it is much more probable that they were tanks for water. We have no proof that any human body was ever interred in either of the Pyramids. It has been ascertained that the " King's Chamber" is, as nearly as possible, in the centre of the building. Above it, is what has been called "Davison's Chamber", very similar to it in all respects. The entrance was ingeniously concealed. Colonel Vyse suspecting from the hollow and unequal sound produced in different parts of this chamber, that there must be some more cavities not far off, set some engineers to work, and by boring through the roof, discovered four, one above the other ; they presented no object of interest, and are supposed to have been intended merely to relieve the lower apartments of a portion of the superincumbent weight. Before quitting "Davison's Chamber", we fired a pistol, which occasioned an echo like thunder.
The two larger Pyramids were opened by the Saracens, and most industriously closed up again by them ; for what reason, no one can tell ; and all the passages were found to be obstructed by fragments of stone and rubbish, so that they could only be explored upon the hands and knees, until Captain Caviglia and Mr. Davison, in their zeal for Egyptian literature, caused them to be cleared.
The Pyramid of "Cephrenes", the next in situation and in size, does not differ much from that of "Cheops". Herodotus imagined that it contained no apartments, merely because it was closed in his time, and tradition so reported ; but it is surprising that such a man should subscribe to such an opinion. We are indebted to the indefatigable exertions of Mr. Belzoni, for a knowledge of the contrary. That enterprising individual was not to be put off with "on dits" (*) he carried on his laborious investigations under the auspices of H. B. M.'s Consul, Mr. Salt, and was guided entirely by philosophic principles. He strictly observed the situation of the entrance to the large Pyramid : he reflected that the passage leading from it, ran in a direct line to the east side of the "King's Chamber", that this chamber was nearly in the centre of the entire mass, and, that consequently, the entrance must be as far from the mid-way portion of the facade as the centre of the chamber was from the east side of it. Previous investigations had proved that the Egyptians, in the planning and building of their temples, invariably observed the same scientific rules in every instance, and that they gave strong indication of their knowledge of astronomy, and the general system of the Universe. That they believed the earth to be round, and the planets to follow a direct course in the heavens, is proved beyond all doubt : and they also imagined the tides to be under the immediate influence of the moon. In constructing the Pyramids, they selected the ground, and determined their relative bearings, in direct accordance with astronomical principles ; they made the four sides correspond with the four Cardinal Points ; and the most important of them to face the North or Polar Star : in all the Pyramids which have been opened (amounting, I believe, to five, that is, of any consequence) the principal passage is found to preserve the same inclination of 26° to the horizon, being directed also to the polar star : again, the obliquity of the Pyramids is precisely so adjusted, as to make the north-front coincide with the obliquity of the sun's rays at the summer solstice - the four sides are therefore strongly associated with the four seasons : - moreover, the Egyptians connected astronomy with their religious ceremonies, and their funereal obsequies ; - for Zodiacs are found, not only in their temples, but on the walls of their tombs: - they buried their dead also to the westward, in reference to the sun's course in the heavens, and the return of chaos, as poetically exemplified in the return of night, and by death.
(...) The Pyramids of Egypt may justly be ranked among the "Chronicles of the world" - whose volumes are filled with the most eventful history ; nevertheless, as regards themselves, they are a sealed book. We may admire their beauty, symmetry, and grandeur, and speculate concerning their uses, but their origin is involved in mystery ; they have excited the wonder of all classes, in every period since the flood, and the
warrior, the senator, and the sage, have alike been attracted to the spot.
(...) The method by which the materials were conveyed to the spot, and raised to such an elevation when brought, has only been surmised. It was, for a long while, a matter of ingenious speculation with the French, what plan could be devised for removing, even the obelisque of Luxor to Europe ! and the undertaking was accomplished at last, at an expense of about a million of francs (40,000 L.), from which it appears, that notwithstanding the progress made by us in the arts and sciences, the ancient Egyptians, the Chaldeans, and the people of India, had resources within themselves of which we have no notion.
(...) I am glad to find that Colonel Vyse is persevering in his researches among the Pyramids ; he has given proof that he understands the subject ; and it is to be hoped that the Authorities will render him all the assistance in their power.
(*) lire "on-dit" - invariable