The ancient Egyptian pyramids are still one of the most intriguing mysteries in the field of archaeology. Nobody really knows how they were built. Egyptologists and archaeologists who have studied approximately 120 pyramids in Egypt have not been able to solve this mystery. Although researchers argue that the Great Pyramid of Giza was constructed as the tomb of the Fourth Dynasty’s Pharaoh Khufu, numerous scholars and authors have argued over the years that it and other pyramids were more than just tombs for the mighty pharaohs and kings.
Anyway, there are theories that attempt to explain how and why the pyramid was built. There has not yet been a single piece of ancient writing recovered from anywhere in Egypt that explains the process that the ancient builders followed to quarry, transport, and eventually build the pyramids. Even though the ancient Egyptians were very good at keeping records, they left no papyri or inscriptions that tell us what the pyramid was used for. However, an ancient text written in 440 BC, which is more than 2,000 years after the pyramids were built, may tell us something about how they were built.
Interestingly, in 2013, archaeologists discovered the oldest ancient harbor installation in the world at Wadi el-Jarf in Egypt’s Eastern Desert on the Gulf of Suez. They discovered a stockpile of the oldest known inscribed papyri there (c.2607-5 BCE). And in that, scientists discovered “unique and unprecedented testimony relating to the Great Pyramid of Giza, which has fascinated and confounded visitors for almost five millennia.” (Source)
More than six hectares of rock had to be hand-sculpted by King Khufu’s quarrymen to level the plateau and construct a fundamental foundation for the Great Pyramid, with legendary degrees of accuracy with respect to the Earth and the heaven. Only the block-hauling ramps themselves may have reached one-fifth of the way up the structure, but they may have held as much as 400,000 cubic meters of sand and rock. The masons dressed precisely “67,127 square meters of the outer surface of the pyramid casing with copper chisels the width of an index finger.”
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The funerary complex of the Great Pyramid was so big that it included other pyramids. The building site also had a whole administrative city, which was called “‘a kind of Old Kingdom Egyptian equivalent of Versailles.” It had an artificial inland port that used the Nile flood to its advantage. In their book “The Red Sea Scrolls,” Pierre Tallet and Mark Lehner talk about once-in-a-lifetime discoveries made by archaeologists (the loss of documentary record from the Old Kingdom is almost total: by extrapolation, there should be thousands of these scrolls, just for the Great Pyramid). But they even do not claim to know how 2.3 million huge blocks were put on top of each other, so it’s a pity that they talk about “secrets” to please the pyramidiots.
The majority of what is known about the Great Pyramid and its surrounding structures was not discovered within the pyramid itself, but rather around it. Due to the fact that the pyramids are surrounded by ancient Egyptian tombs, archaeologists discover organic artifacts such as reed, wood, and wooden coffins within them. This is the material that can be radiocarbon dated. However, it provides no direct information regarding the pyramid.
Archaeologists date the pyramids primarily based on their place in the evolution of ancient Egyptian architecture and material culture over a span of more than 4,000 years. In other words, the dating of the pyramid relies on our basic knowledge of Egyptian history and archaeology. The age of the Great Pyramid has been roughly calculated using the boat that was found buried in the footsteps of the pyramid. Radiocarbon testing placed the origin of this wood at roughly 2,600 B.C., during the reign of the Egyptian pharaoh Khufu. Everything we have is circumstantial. But under the golden sands, there are signs and clues.
Aside from the so-called Merer’s Journal, an ancient text that mentions the transport of stones from Tura to Giza, there is not a single ancient text that explains how the stones were quarried, transported, and positioned to form a pyramid with an original estimated height of 146.7 meters, including the pyramidion on top.
Some of the stones used to build the Great Pyramid of Giza came all the way from Aswan. About 800 kilometers to the south of the Pyramids is where the quarries of Aswan are. How the builders managed to move the stones over such long distances around 4,500 years ago is still a big mystery.
Herodotus was able to provide some insight into how the Egyptian pyramids were built around 440 BC after visiting Egypt and talking to scholars, priests, and historians of the time. He did this after meeting with people in Egypt. Despite the fact, what Herodotus wrote down is not nearly enough for us to understand how the ancient Egyptians did it. It is the only reference we have about the construction process of the pyramids and how the extremely massive stones were raised in ancient times to the height that we see today.
Herodotus explains that the Great Pyramid, and possibly all pyramids, were constructed altar-wise in steps. After laying the stones for the structure’s foundation, the core was lifted into place using machinery made of wooden planks. Intriguingly, it is believed that Leonardo da Vinci drew the machine described by Herodotus, which the ancient pyramid builders may have utilized.
“The pyramid was built in steps, battlement-wise, as it is called, or, according to others, altar-wise. After laying the stones for the base, they raised the remaining stones to their places by means of machines formed of short wooden planks. The first machine raised them from the ground to the top of the first step. On this, there was another machine, which received the stone upon its arrival, and conveyed it to the second step, whence a third machine advanced it still higher. Either they had as many machines as there were steps in the pyramid, or possibly they had but a single machine, which, being easily moved, was transferred from tier to tier as the stone rose – both accounts are given, and therefore I mention both. The upper portion of the pyramid was finished first, then the middle, and finally, the part which was lowest and nearest the ground,” Histories by Herodotus