Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Mystery of How The Pyramids Were Built

In 1989 I visited the world’s most famous pyramids on the Giza plateau just at the edge of Cairo, Egypt.

What the pictures never show you is that there is a plaza with restaurants and parking and city streets, etc. directly in front of the pyramids. The edge of the parking lots come almost to the edge of the Sphinx. Of course, you never see that in photographs because people always either stand in that parking lot itself taking pictures of the pyramids from the eastern side so that you do not see the city of Cairo in the background (that is where this picture was taken from), or else they take the road through between the two larger pyramids to another parking area just south of them (to the left in the picture above) and take pictures facing north, which also excludes the city.
If you have never been there, you might think they are far out in the middle of the Sahara, because all the photos make it seem so by showing nothing but desert sand all around.

Not everything is known about who made the pyramids and why or even when. Most Egyptologists believe that they were built by the early Egyptians during the earliest times of the Old Kingdom, around 2478 BCE based on alignment with the stars as they were at that time. That would make them about 4500 years old now. There are some who believe they are much older, however, and they have their theories to support that.
The Sphinx is much older than the pyramids and built by another civilization that pre-dates them. There are no hieroglyphics showing the construction of the Sphinx, and so experts assume the Egyptians found it there as it is. But they disagree widely on the exact age of the monument. In fact, some experts think that the Sphinx is about 8,000 yrs old, others think it is 15,000 years old, and some even believe the Sphinx could be as old as 55,000 years and made by a culture that pre-dates all other cultures known to date.
Clearly, by the erosion on it’s body, the Sphinx was built before the seas which once covered all that part of northern Africa. During a major climatic change, those earlier deserts were covered by seas, possibly during a great flood, and then the Earth changed again and the seas were gone and the deserts were uncovered again but now revealing the effects of the water on the Sphinx. The Earth went through two major changes in the lifetime of that monument.

The Mystery
There is a mystery surrounding the question of how the pyramids were made. The problem is that the stones used in building them are not found locally, but rather were created 100 miles away up the Nile in a quarry discovered north of Cairo. The problem is that the stones are huge and heavy, and difficult to transport at all, let alone that distance. When I was there, the tour guide (An Egyptologist with a PhD) told us that the stones mostly weigh about 115,000 lbs. That far exceeds the capacity of carts, etc. of that time.

Possible Suggestions of Others
Some thought that the stones were pulled by ropes over rolling logs. If you saw the classic epic film, The Ten Commandments, with Charleton Heston, then you would have seen how they could have done this. The slaves pull on the ropes and the giant block slides along the rolling logs, as it leaves behind the last logs, the slaves quickly pick them up and lay them down on the road in front of the block so that it can roll on them again.
There are three main problems with this approach:
1) If they are trying to roll the logs on sand, the weight of the stone would grind the logs into the sand and bury them, and they would stop.

2) If the road is hard enough to allow the logs to roll, then the weight of the huge stones would easily crush the logs

3) There are very few trees in that area to get wood from. When I was there, there were only a very small number of palm trees – and they do not have a high-strength hardwood trunk with bark. They are basically tall plants - softer than softwoods. They would never do. The only other trees I saw in all the Mediterranean were olive trees, and they are short, soft, and bent in wild shapes – not suitable for creating long straight logs to roll the blocks along.

Others have suggested that the stones were floated down the Nile on boats, but that presents other problems:

1) A boat can only hold the weight that it can displace in the water without breaking a seal. It is highly unlikely that boat-building at that time would allow a weight of that magnitude to be brought on board and sustain it for a single trip let alone multiple trips.

2) They would need to have built some sort of crane to load the stones on and offload them from the boats. They lack the materials or the engineering skills and knowledge to build such cranes.

3) Even if they did use boats, the Giza plateau is not beside the Nile river. They would still need some method of moving them across the land from the Nile to the worksite at Giza which is many miles. So that puts us back to the problems of the first solution.

Others have suggested everything from Druidic magic to Alien spacecraft, however, I think I may have a solution that seems more likely.

My Suggested Solution
I think the easier solutions are the best, and when I got to the pyramids I looked at them for a while, studied them from all angles, and then thought to myself, “If I were the Pharoah’s Chief Architect, how would I do it?” Then the answer came to me for the way I would approach this.

I believe we need to change how we think about the stones themselves. We have assumed all along that they were quarried in their current form in the quarries up north and then brought down here as they are.

But I would have simply carved them not into blocks, but rather into the shape of cylinders – and rolled them from the quarry to the work site. This could be accomplished with holes in various places along the surface and wooden pegs inserted to create handles that the slaves would pull and push on, and the pull out the handles and put them in the next holes, and so on as the stone rolled. There is evidence of long ramps leading up to the pyramids to the top level as it rose, as they were built. I believe they rolled the stone up the ramp to just before the place where it will rest. Then, the stone workers would chop off a piece to make a flat side, the flip it over onto the flat side resting in place. Then they could simply chip away all the rest of the rounded portions to leave it as a flat-faced stone. In fact, that would allow them to make the stones fit together and match so well – because they were carved in place to match each other in height, length, depth, etc. Also, the excess stone rubble that was chipped off could be added to the ramp to help build it higher so the next level of stone could be rolled into place at the next higher level.

This solves a number of problems. It allows for the lack of wood, it allows for the ability to not crush the wood under it’s weight, the larger circumference allows for it to roll over sand without burying itself, and it explains where the material came from to build the ramps strong enough to hold all the stones during construction.

So there you have it. That is how I would have done it, had I been there at the time, and so that is how I think they did it. The simple solution works best, I believe.


At 6/11/2006 12:02 PM, Anonymous igor said...

now, that's really smart thinking, Val!

At 6/11/2006 7:22 PM, Blogger Val Serrie said...

Well, thanks very much, Igor.

At 11/03/2008 11:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The entire area was flooded. Yes, the blocks or boulders were brought via water transport. Look at the topography and where the lakes were -- at the time -- and how it was possible to direct that water to the area of the pyramids to submerge that area above the height of the pyramids today.


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