Mark Lehner, Egyptologist

Mark Lehner, Egyptologist

by Jimmy Dunn writing as John Warren

Mark lehner in the field

Today, as always, there remains considerable debate over such matters as the age of the Great Sphinx, the means in which the Great Pyramids were constructed, as well as many other topics related to ancient Egypt. Some theories border on the fantastic, while others clearly step over that threshold. Of course, there are always arguments within the scope of scholarly investigation, but sometimes it seems that "alternative theories" receive the bulk of the media attention.

While many traditionally trained Egyptologists might consider themselves to be the guardians of reasonable scientific Egyptology, none is better equipped than one of the modern living legends of that discipline, Mark Lehner. Today, his is considered to be one of the foremost experts on the Giza Pyramids, having devoted most of his life to their study.

Originally, Mark Lehner traveled to Egypt as a tourist in 1972. However, he was at that time a devotee of the ideas of Edgar Cayce (the Sleeping Profit) who is will known by ancient Egypt enthusiasts. Edgar Cayce was a mystic who believed that the civilization of Atlantis had entrusted their knowledge and technology to the ancient Egyptians. In fact, Cayce believed that he had lived in ancient Egypt under the name Ra-Ta. He might be considered one of the founders of modern "alternative though" on matters of Egyptian antiquity. For example, it was he who believed that there was an Atlantian "Hall of Records" buried beneath the right paw of the famed Sphinx, a theory that sometimes surfaces amongst the fringe elements of ancient Egyptian enthusiasts even today. In his youth, Mark Lehner traveled to Egypt in order to further that claim, as well as other visions of Edgar Cayce. He even published at least one book in support of Edgar Cayce's claims (The Egyptian Heritage, 1974). It is perhaps interesting that fringe elements continue today to reference this early work of Dr. Lehner, because long ago he became a convert to more traditional Egyptology.

A recent photograph of the Egyptologist

Mark Lehner first enrolled in the American University in Cairo in 1973, a year after making his initial journey to Egypt. However, by 1977, on his way to a party with his good friend Zahi Hawass who is now the director of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), Mark Lehner reportedly told his fellow Egyptologist that "I no longer believe in [Edgar] Cayce's theories. Now that I've studied Egyptology I can see strong evidence proving the Sphinx was a creation of the fourth dynasty [about 2500 BC] and not 10,000 years old as Cayce said."

His formal academic study of Egyptology apparently altered his concepts of this ancient land, and in fact, were it not for his championship of traditional Egyptology against modern proponents of alternative thought regarding the Great Sphinx and the Giza Pyramids, he might not be as well known to us as he is today. He was first bought to the attention of many of us during the debates that raged over the age of the Sphinx during the early 1990s.

Today, Mark Lehner is perhaps not as visible as he should be considering his stature in the world of Egyptology. He has been described as a quite man, and regardless of his connection with the grandest of Egypt's ancient monuments, he remains somewhat elusive. Historic Egyptologists were often a flamboyant lot, but like some of the very best, such as William Petrie, Mark Lehner seems really more interested in his digs then the limelight. Unlike many of his high profile contemporaries, he has no web site about himself, and even within sites such as the Giza Mapping Project which he directs, he remains obscure.

Another view of Mark Lehner

We know that after attending the American University in Cairo, where he received his BA in Anthropology in 1975, he spent the next thirteen years in Egypt doing archaeological fieldwork for American, French, British, German and Egyptian projects. In 1979 became Field Director of the Sphinx Project sponsored by the American Research Center in Egypt.

In 1990 he received his Ph.D in Egyptology from Yale University studying under Williams Kelly Simpson. He was Assistant Professor of Egyptian Archaeology at the University of Chicago from 1990 until 1996. Today, he remains a research associate of both the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, as well as of the Semitic Museum at Harvard University.

Since its founding in 1985, Mark Lehner has been the president of Ancient Egypt Research Associates (A.E.R.A.), which was established for the purpose of funding and facilitating the research of the Giza Plateau Mapping Project From 1988 until present he has been the Director of the Giza Plateau Mapping Project excavations south of the Great Sphinx. At first this work was under the auspices of Yale University and the American Research Center in Egypt. From 1990, the work continued under the banner of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, and since 1994, the Harvard Semitic Museum has been a cosponsor.

This work is uncovering the remains of a royal urban production center. An area of three hectares has been exposed. Dating from the time the Giza Pyramids were under construction 4,500 years ago, this orthogonally planned settlement includes one of the oldest known paved streets, Egypt's oldest known hypostyle hall, and oldest copper working facility.

However, Mark Lehner probably, at least in the public eye, remains most notable for his work with the great pyramids. He is often called upon by media outlets such as the Discovery Channel, PBS (NOVA), the National Geographic Society and the BBC for his vast knowledge of pyramids and the Giza Plateau in general. One of his projects, in which he and others built a small pyramid using ancient techniques, has shown that the Great Pyramid may not have required either the time span, nor the vast number of laborers to traditionally thought for its completion.

Today, Mark Lehner is considered to be a pioneer in the use of state-of-the-art computer graphics and remote sensing technology to model the ancient configuration of the Giza Plateau. He remains a Research Associate and Visiting Assistant Professor of Egyptian Archaology at the Oriental Institute and the Harvard Semitic Museum.


  • The Egyptian Heritage, A.R.E. Press, March 1974

  • The Complete Pyramids: Solving the Ancient Mysteries, Thames & Hudson, November 1997






Reference Number

Complete Pyramids, The (Solving the Ancient Mysteries)

Lehner, Mark


Thames and Hudson, Ltd

ISBN 0-500-05084-8

Pyramids, The (The Mystery, Culture, and Science of Egypt's Great Monuments)

Verner, Miroslav


Grove Press

ISBN 0-8021-1703-1