The Smithsonian Institution does not have a specialist
in the study of ancient Egypt and our collection of artifacts in this area is
relatively small. However, our staff in the Department of Anthropology receive
many inquiries concerning the pyramids and have prepared the following text and
bibliography to answer some fundamental questions.
The pyramids of Egypt fascinated travellers and conquerors in ancient times
and continue to inspire wonder in the tourists, mathematicians, and
archaeologists who visit, explore, measure and describe them.
Tombs of early Egyptian kings were bench-shaped mounds called mastabas.
Around 2780 B.C., King Djoser's architect, Imhotep, built the first pyramid by
placing six mastabas, each smaller than the one beneath, in a stack to form a
pyramid rising in steps. This Step Pyramid stands on the west bank of the Nile
River at Sakkara near Memphis. Like later pyramids, it contains various rooms
and passages, including the burial chamber of the king.
The transition from the Step Pyramid to a true, smooth-sided pyramid took
placed during the reign of King Snefru, founder of the Fourth Dynasty (2680-2560
B.C.). At Medum, a step pyramid was built, then filled in with stone, and
covered with a limestone casing. Nearby at Bahshur, construction was begun on a
pyramid apparently planned to have smooth sides. About halfway up, however, the
angle of incline decreases from over 5l degrees to about 43 degrees, and the
sides rise less steeply, causing it to be known as the Bent Pyramid. The change
in angle was probably made during construction to give the building more
stability. Another great pyramid was built at Dahshur with its sides rising at
an angle of somewhat over 43 degrees, resulting in a true, but squat looking
The largest and most famous of all the pyramids, the Great Pyramid at Giza,
was built by Snefru's son, Khufu, known also as Cheops, the later Greek form of
his name. The pyramid's base covered over 13 acres and its sides, which rose at
an angle of 5l degrees 50 feet, were over 755 feet long. It originally stood
over 481 feet high. Scientists estimate that its stone blocks average over two
tons apiece, with the largest weighing as much as fifteen tons each. Two other
major pyramids were built at Giza, for Khufu's son, King Khafre (Chephren), and
a successor of Khafre, Menkaure (Mycerinus). Also located at Giza is the famous
Sphinx, a massive statue of a lion with a human head, carved during the time of
Pyramids did not stand alone but were part of a group of buildings which
included temples, chapels, other tombs, and massive walls. Remnants of funerary
boats have also been excavated; the best preserved is at Giza. On the walls of
Fifth and Sixth Dynasty pyramids are inscriptions known as the Pyramid Texts, an
important source of information about Egyptian religion. The scarcity of ancient
records, however, makes it difficult to be sure of the uses of all the buildings
in the pyramid complex or the exact burial procedures. It is thought that the
king's body was brought by boat up the Nile to the pyramid site and probably
mummified in the Valley Temple before being placed in the pyramid for burial.
There has been speculation about pyramid construction. Egyptians had copper
tools such as chisels, drills, and saws that may have been used to cut the
relatively soft stone. The hard granite, used for burial chamber walls and some
of the exterior casing, would have posed a more difficult problem. Workmen may
have used an abrasive powder, such as sand, with the drills and saws. Knowledge
of astronomy was necessary to orient the pyramids to the cardinal points, and
water-filled trenches probably were used to level the perimeter. A tomb painting
of a colossal statue being moved shows how huge stone blocks were moved on
sledges over ground first made slippery by liquid. The blocks were then brought
up ramps to their positions in the pyramid. Finally, the outer layer of casing
stones was finished from the top down and the ramps dismantled as the work was
Most of the stone for the Giza pyramids was quarried on the Giza plateau
itself. Some of the limestone casing was brought from Tura, across the Nile, and
a few of the rooms were cased with granite from Aswan. Marks of the quarry
workers are found on several of the stone blocks giving names of the work gangs
such as "craftman-gang." Part-time crews of laborers probably supplemented the
year-round masons and other skilled workers. The Greek historian Heroditus
reported in the fifth century B.C. that his Egyptian guides told him 100,000 men
were employed for three months a year for twenty years to build the Great
Pyramid; modern estimates of the number of laborers tend to be much smaller.
Pyramid building was at its height from the Fourth through the Sixth
Dynasties. Smaller pyramids continued to be built for more than one thousand
years. Scores of them have been discovered, but the remains of others are
probably still buried under the sand. As it became clear that the pyramids did
not provide protection for the mummified bodies of the kings but were obvious
targets for grave robbers, later kings were buried in hidden tombs cut into rock
cliffs. Although the magnificent pyramids did not protect the bodies of the
Egyptian kings who built them, the pyramids have served to keep the names and
stories of those kings alive to this day.
Specifically on pyramids:
- Edwards, I.E.S. The Pyramids of Egypt. Rev. 196l. First published
in 1947. Baltimore: Penguin Books.
- This is a basic, detailed description illustrated with drawings and
photographs. It includes a list of major pyramids, index, and an extensive
- Fakhry, Ahmed. The Pyramids. Chicago: University of Chicago
- A readable account, well illustrated with drawings and photographs. It
contains an index but no bibliography.
- On ancient Egypt, with good chapters on pyramids:
- Aldred, Cyril. Egypt to the End of the Old Kingdom. New York:
Thames and Hudson, Inc., 1965.
- This book covers the history and culture of Egypt from the earliest
settlement to about 2000 B.C. Illustrated with both black and white and
colored photographs and drawings. Also includes a bibliography and index.
- Casson, Lionel and the Editors of Time-Life Boos. Ancient Egypt.
New York, 1965.
- This book is filled with photographs, drawings, charts, and maps, as well
as a bibliography and extensive index.
- For younger readers:
- Macaulay, David. Pyramid. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1975.
- Illustrated with detailed drawings., this book describes the construction
of an imaginary but typical Egyptian pyramid.
- Weeks, John. The Pyramids. (A Cambridge Introduction to the
History of Mankind Topic Book, General Editor, Trevor Cairns.) New York:
Cambridge University Press, 197l.
- This short book explains how pyramids were built, their technology,
materials, and workers. A brief but good background, well illustrated with
drawings and photographs.
The above text Published
courtesy of the:
Construction of the Giza Pyramids
By Burke Thomas
"Man fears time, yet time fears the pyramids." - Arab Proverb
Table of Contents Page
II. Developmental History
A. Early Pyramid Development Through Imhotep 3
B. The Great Failure at Meidum and its Consequences 5
C. The Greatest Pyramid 7
D. The Decline of the Pyramid Age and Graverobbing 9
E. Steps to Building a Pyramid 11
F. Quarrying 12
G. Transport and the Inclined Plane 12
H. The Final Product 14
IV. Appendix 15
V. Bibliography 18
The Egyptian Pyramids are the greatest engineering achievement in the
history of the world. Five thousand years ago, before the invention of
computers, electronics, steam engines, iron, screws, or pulleys, and without
knowledge of electricity, calculus, or hydraulics, a civilization for a hundred
years devoted itself to the task of building mountains in the sand with the
singular purpose of serving as a resting place for their pharaohs. During the
years 2600-2500BC roughly 20,000 workers served year-round as skilled workers,
engineers, carpenters, cooks, and masters of stone (or under slavery as a
prisoner of war) while for three months during the annual flooding of the Nile
hundreds of thousands, more than was enlisted in their entire army, would flock
voluntarily from the Delta to aid as unskilled laborers. In all they pulled over
25 million tons of limestone and granite from their quarries to their eventual
resting place as pyramids in the middle of the desert. The Chinese did the same
in pulling together to build the Great Wall of 1500 miles to protect their
civilization from a Mongol destruction. But the Egyptians built their pyramids
in a time of peace, after the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under one
crown. Never before has a society been as motivated as in the ancient Egyptians
lusting after the completion of pyramid after pyramid simply to serve as resting
place for their deified ruler. And indeed, “Nothing more perfect mechanically
has ever been erected since that time,” (Ferguson 92).
II. Developmental History
A. Early Pyramid Development Through Imhotep
Burial has been a human custom for at least twenty thousand years. Caves
in France have been found with shallow graves containing human skeletons in the
fetus position. Later archeological sites demonstrate deeper graves, face-up
burial, and simple markings perhaps used to mark the person’s final resting
place. Ancient history shows a trend towards more ornate burial, including the
introduction of grave goods, as society progressed and in general, the more
significance the person has, the more elaborate his or her tomb has been (Jurmain
335-336). Simple gravestone markers evolved to larger and larger rock mounds,
where eventually graves began to become a structural concern for the ancient
Egyptians, around six thousand years ago. Because of the Egyptian belief in the
afterlife and the ability to take one’s grave goods with them, tombs started to
grow larger to accommodate more of one’s worldly possessions. The more important
the person, the bigger tomb they would have constructed, for the more goods they
could bury with them. Food, statues, furniture, jewelry, even boats have been
found in and around these tombs. These ancestors of the pyramids, rectangular
mastabas, were made of mud bricks. The tombs of high officials in pharaoh’s
court are still erect as large, football-field size mastabas today, (Figure A).
The pharaoh Zoser around 2630BC commissioned a court official to design
and build him a unique burial tomb. The building of such a pyramid required two
things which had never been done before: “the first was provided by a pacified
and united country while for the second a unique human genius was required,”
(Mendelssohn 35). The engineer’s name was Imhotep. Although not of royal blood,
his official title as a purely self-made man was “Chancellor of the King of
Lower Egypt, First after the King of Upper Egypt, Administrator of the Great
Palace, Hereditary Nobleman, High Priest of the Heliopolis, Builder, Sculptor
and Maker of Vases in Chief”, and he was an engineer before the word ever
Rarely has the world seen such genius as existed in this man. He developed
and controlled the logistics of turning an uneducated group of thousands of men
into a well-organized workforce capable of producing what was to be the world’s
tallest pyramid by a factor of twenty. He solved many of the problems that even
later architects had difficulty with, including the balance of the lateral
forces associated with a gigantic pyramidal weight pressing down on a square
base. His masons slanted the inner stones of Zoser’s pyramid towards the apex to
help balance this out (Figure B), a technique that was grossly overlooked in the
later Meidum pyramid. Imhotep’s step pyramid was the first completely stone
structure in the history of the world, and it is the oldest surviving one today.
The precursors to this step pyramid were almost trivial: a few tons versus
a million of quarried stone. “One important innovation was the use of stone,
which had been used sparingly in previous times,” ((Fakhry 5). Imhotep built
Zoser’s pyramid entirely of blocks and stone. This fact alone, and the fact that
Zoser’s pyramid is still standing, means that Imhotep encountered and solved
problems that, as most likely the first to attempt this in history, were unique
to him. The problems of building on a larger scale were later reflected in
Galileo’s observation that a working model does not necessitate a working
structure; smaller mastabas did not necessarily need this lateral-support
buttressing, but the stacked mastabas of Zoser’s pyramid did. He also was a
master of logistics, for pyramid construction of this magnitude required a
similarly huge workforce. As F.M Barber puts it, “few men could have had a more
difficult task since the world was created.” (70).
Unfortunately his organizational specifics are still unknown, because,
except the structure itself, any records of his thoughts are either destroyed or
as of yet undiscovered. What little information we have on organization is from
inscriptions on pyramidal blocks designed to be unseen from the outside, which
dismantling of the outer limestone casing has revealed. When completed, Zoser’s
step (Figure C) had a base of 125 by 110 meters, rose to a height of 60 meters,
had a burial chamber 28 meters deep, and was completed around 2630BC, just 75
years before the Great Pyramid. This was the first significant pyramid in
B. The Great Failure at Meidum and its Consequences
The next structure of interest in the development of the Egyptian pyramid
is the Meidum pyramid, which around the year 2600BC collapsed during the third
stage of construction, the alignment of the outer walls [construction stages are
mentioned in detail later in this paper]. When a structure fails it fails
because of an error in design, and oftentimes this design flaw can be recognized
and fixed so that the next structure is less likely to fail in this same way.
The Meidum was a true pyramid, in that its outward shape was a tetrahedron.
Unfortunately, whether by reason of carelessness or laziness or simple lack of
knowledge, the interior support for the pyramid partially collapsed and part of
at least one pyramidal face was shorn off and to this day there are massive
rubble mounds beneath the base of the pyramid. As the infamous Hyatt-Regency
Hotel taught us in 1981, with even a seemingly small change, such as changing
the position of the screws on a catwalk, or adding an outer casing to a step
pyramid, you must recalculate the system.
Another key piece of evidence of this great failure is in the construction
of the so-called “Bent” Pyramid (Figure D). This pyramid was being built at
virtually the same angle, 54 degrees, as the pyramid at Meidum, but then
abruptly tapers off to a shallower angle of 43 degrees 50 meters in the air.
Although none of this can be absolutely proven, this would certainly be great
circumstantial evidence that the catastrophe at Meidum caused the architects of
the Bent Pyramid to reassess their construction and change the angle of ascent.
A smaller angle would mean less height and weight, both of which are factors
that contribute to greater instability. Many people would consider this
irregularity in angle less structurally impressive than a uniform pyramid rising
to the heavens. Through this point, coupled with the fact that there are no
known collapses of pyramids built after Meidum, we can surmise that something
changed structurally to allow the building of the three great pyramids at Giza.
Indeed, something did. Imhotep’s buttresses, while always at the base step
pyramid of other true pyramids [discussed later], were not extended to include
the buttressing of the structurally significant outer casing. Pyramids built
later than Meidum demonstrate this slanting of the outer casing. Later foremen
seem to have understood that the beautiful limestone covering of their pyramids
held significance in structure as well as architecture.
C. The Greatest Pyramid
The Great (Khufu’s) Pyramid at Giza is one of mankind’s most monumental
legacies (Figure E). Caliph Malek al Azis Othman in 1215AD ordered the
destruction of the Great Pyramid, but gave up after eight months with progress
that wasn’t even noticeable (Mendelssohn 85). It is necessary to understand the
size of the Great Pyramid to appreciate its structural greatness, and Ahmed
Fakhry puts it best in his study The Pyramids when he notes:
“Many persons feel that no mere description can do the Great Pyramid
justice or even convey an idea of its enormous size. Statisticians have
worked out several painstaking calculations in order to compare its height and
bulk with other well-known monuments. According to their estimates, the area of
the base of the Great Pyramid could contain the Houses of Parliament and St.
Paul’s Cathedral and still leave a large space unoccupied. Other calculations
reveal that the area of the base would contain the cathedrals of Florence
and Milan, St. Peter’s in Rome, and St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey
in London. If all the stone in the pyramid were sawed into blocks 1 foot square
and these blocks laid end to end, they would stretch two-thirds of the way
around the earth at the equator. During his campaign in Egypt, Napoleon
calculated that the Great Pyramid and its neighbors contained enough stone to
build a wall 3 meters high and 1 meter thick which would entirely surround
France. A mathematician among the various savants accompanying the expedition
confirmed Napoleon’s calculations.”
Ahmed Fakhry, The Pyramids (117)
Truly the Great Pyramid is a man-made mountain.
Herodotus said that the Great Pyramid took 30 years to build, (ten for the
causeway), with “100,000 men labored constantly, and were relieved every three
months by a fresh lot”. This is the first written reference to the Egyptian
pyramid, one that might have been shoddy after over 2,000 years of oral
tradition. The first sign that this quote may be a misconstruction is the word
“constantly”: although possible it seems impractical for such a group to work at
night for the issues of safety and, obviously, light. The fine points of loading
and unloading would have proved more difficult in the dark of night as opposed
to under the bright midday sun. Also, it is unlikely that such labor would
remain constant from season to season. (Mendelssohn 145). The more likely
explanation of Herodotus’ observations is the allowance that it makes more sense
that the three months he was referring to is seasonal rather than cyclical. As
an agricultural people, the Egyptians for three months a year came to a
standstill when the Nile delta flooded. The famous flooding, crucial in
providing the soil with a year’s worth of fresh nutrients, did not allow
agriculture during a quarter of the year.
This lack of food, coupled with the sudden idleness, no doubt compelled
men to seek out sustenance for their families. This is the cornerstone of the
theory that there was little slave labor involved in the pyramids. In fact,
“ancient Egyptian history provides no evidence at all to support these stories”
of slavery of workers, at least besides prisoners of war (Fakhry 103). Khufu
reigned during a time of relative peace, when a standing army was less
necessary. In fact, if most of the pyramid laborers worked voluntarily, there
would be only a small demand on society for any army at all except defense. In
other words, the workers of the pyramid were a group of citizens coming together
in time, under their own free will, one of their purposes being to construct a
monument worthy of their pharaoh. The praise of the ingenuity and work ethic of
this force is great. F.M. Barber states that, “Unlimited human labor being
given, the appliances of the present time would be of small advantage to the
architect” (Barber 51). i.e. the Egyptians did it the best way possible. The
Great Pyramid was planned and built in thirty years – five thousand years later
a much smaller project, the Brooklyn Bridge, took fourteen. Not only were the
unskilled incredibly industrious in carrying out the brute work, but the skilled
stone masons also were more than commendable. Art Bell claims that “modern
technology cannot place such 20-ton stones with greater accuracy than those in
the Pyramid”, an accuracy so great that you can’t fit a hair in between the
limestone casing blocks (http://www.europa.com/~edge/pyramid.html).
Khufu’s pyramid is 230 m square and 150m tall, with 6.5 million tons of
limestone. Geometrically this gives an angle of 51 degrees 52’, with its
circumference and its height being in a ratio of 1/2pi, accurate to the fifth
decimal place, 3.14159.
It was not that an entire civilization came together to build these
monuments, but instead that an entire civilization came together because of
building these monuments. The building of the pyramids were unifying for Egypt:
“working together, under one administration, their differences and mutual
suspicions were bound to lessen” (Mendelssohn 153). This was voluntary work for
a common goal and it ushered in an enlightenment in Egypt. Never before had a
society advanced to this state in government.
“These man-made mountains are a monument to the progress of man into a
new pattern of life, the national state, which was to become his home for the
next 5000 years,” (Ibid).
The organization and completion of the pyramids changed the face of the
D. The Decline of the Pyramid Age and Graverobbing
The Pyramid Age thrived proportionately with the size of its workforce.
The fervor and pride in building larger and larger pyramids depended on it and
without workers, pyramids construction no longer became a national pastime.
Egyptians instead focused their efforts on more immediate things, like the
governance of its newly birthed nation-state. Ironically, the industrial fervor
seems just to have faded away. Perhaps this was due to an intense feeling of
pride, or the notion that if it took thirty years to build the Great Pyramid,
another generation didn’t want to start work on a larger pyramid, never to see
its fruition. And with the trend towards smaller pyramids (and thus smaller
workforces) after the completion of the Giza Pyramids, the Pyramid Age ended
just three hundred years after its arrival.
Because of grave- and stonerobbing, unfortunately we are left with little
information regarding the Egyptian pyramids and their construction today. When
the architects of the pyramids built their elaborate false passages and hidden
entrances, they were designed to befuddle a pack of mischievous
treasure-seekers. The architects “evidently had not envisaged any long period of
lawlessness during which local chiefs had leisure to mount sustained and
large-scale operations” (Mendelssohn 58). The governance of the new nation state
was not strong enough to keep the throne untainted by controversy and around the
year 2000BC, upon the death of a pharaoh who had been ruling for over ninety
years, chaos for rule ensued. This presents a huge problem in terms of people
dedicated enough to one possible king to work solely on his burial chamber.
Lawelessness ensued after the sixth dynasty collapsed and there was no longer
any clear ruling power. Thus most graverobbing happened 4000 years ago, for a
span of 200 years. This proves problematic because it destroys much construction
evidence and/or any blueprints that may have existed. The true mystery of the
pyramids stems from graverobbing. The systematic deconstruction of the Giza
pyramids around 2000BC left few tombs undisturbed and few limestone blocks in
place. White limestone from quarries in Tura encased the Giza pyramids at one
time, and supposedly allowed one to see them from the mountains in Israel. Now
the only Tura limestone that remains is the cap of Khafre’s tomb (Figure F), the
majority of which long ago was hauled off to build the infrastructure of
This is not to say that the pyramids will ever be deconstructed. Kurt
Mendelssohn relates a story where in 1215 AD the Caliph Malek al Azis Othman
ordered the destruction of the Merkura pyramid. The Merkura pyramid is that of
Khufu’s grandson, and is the smallest of the Giza pyramids by a factor of ten.
After collecting a large group of countrymen, the Caliph ordered the task
abandoned after eight months, reporting that the stones were “scarcely missed”.
In fact, the Arabian historian Abd al Latif said that ‘only on one of its sides
can be noticed any trace of the impression which it was attempted to be made,’
(Mendelssohn 85). It seems despite the best efforts of many, the pyramids will
be with us for a long time to come.
E. Steps to Building a Pyramid
The success of Zoser’s step and the failure of the pyramid at Meidum laid
out a blueprint followed rather regularly for the remainder of pyramid
construction in Egypt. The first problem was quarrying: stone had to be removed
from the earth and shaped into workable blocks. The second, transport: the
Egyptians drew much precedence for their pyramid-stone transport from their
earlier work with colossuses and obelisks. There was then the problem of raising
the stones up a certain height. This was accomplished by two simple machines:
the lever and the inclined plane. Workers then erected a structurally sound step
pyramid to act as a base for building the outer case. To help align the outer
walls as they were built towards an apex, a pole, probably of iron, was placed
to signal the desired meeting place for the four converging walls. Then white
limestone was cut to size and placed on the outside to form a beautiful,
shining, stable pyramid.
As aforementioned, the workforce of the pyramids contained thousands of
skilled workers in additional to the seasonal muscle brought on by the rainy
season. Many of these artisans were involved with stonework. Without the use of
jackhammers or drills, these talented specialists separated stone blocks from
the earth with amazing precision. Since stone can hold under intense compression
forces but becomes brittle under far lesser tension forces, the stones were
broken by pushing them apart. Stonemasons would, with iron or copper chisels
(Figure G), hammer out a chunk of rock and inserted a wooden wedge in the crack.
When the wood was wetted, it would expand and, if the grooves and wood were
strategically placed, snap off a desirable chunk of stone. The same types of
machines used to raise the blocks to the top of the pyramid were probably used
to transport the stone up and out of the quarry.
G. Transport and the Inclined Plane
Egyptians understood the later principles of Archimedes involving
buoyancy, as evidenced by their transport of obelisks weighing as much as 350
tons before the construction of the pyramids (as an interesting engineering
note, eight hundred years later they were effective in transport of the statue
of Ramses II, which was made of a single piece of stone and weighed over 1000
tons). The Egyptians are no stranger to the transport of stone, and no doubt
they found quite quickly that barges were far more efficient than dragging in
terms of human power. The quarries most likely had an inclined plane, or at
least a causeway, leading to adjacent harbors on the Nile. The barges and their
precious cargo were maneuvered down the Nile River to another harbor close to
the current pyramid project. It was there they were ready to begin their ascent
up the inclined plane.
Most writers agree that the Egyptians had no knowledge of the pulley (Fakhry
9): the only two machines recorded in their mosaics are the lever and the
inclined plane. After their journey down the Nile, the stone blocks were
offloaded from their barges onto an inclined plane built right up to the dock.
This inclined plane, with a slope as little as 1 in 3,000 (Barber 96), led all
the way up to the pyramid of interest (Figure H). The ramp was made at least
partially of mud brick, the same which had been used to construct the earlier
mastabas, and Herodotus mentions that construction of the Great Pyramid’s ramp
took ten years – fully one-third of the time it took to complete the entire
project. As the pyramid grew, so did the necessity for a higher ramp, and dirt
or bricks could simply be mounded on top of the existing one to reach these new
As mentioned before, humans were the primary source of labor for these
efforts. F.M. Barber dryly mentions, “Why employ an ox when five men can live on
the same amount of food?” In terms of economy, however, “man power would be
cheaper than oxen power for a twenty years’ contract in hauling such stones”
(37) - remember too that humans would have to be set aside to watch over the
ox’s efforts. Stones would be moved onto sleds to make this long journey to the
pyramid. As few as 70 or as many as 1400 men are estimated to have been
necessary to pull a given block forward (Barber 30). Mosaics have shown liquid
being poured on or under the rudders, because not only was friction a problem,
but also was the wooden rudders catching on fire from the force! These liquids
could have been oil or grease to act as a lubricant, or milk or water to act as
a flame retardant (Fakhry 12). Regardless, we know that Egyptians understood the
fundamental concept of friction and sought to lower the sled’s coefficient of
H. The Final Product
The pyramid was then erected in what was hoped to be a structurally sound
way. Imhotep understood that the buttressing must be inward, towards the apex,
to account for the lateral pressures of a huge weight resting in such a shape.
The builders at Meidum were lax on this technique, and they paid for it. But
luckily somebody in history figured out how to construct a pyramid in a method
that has been structurally safe after five thousand years. At the end of the
inclined plane it is hypothesized that a lever-crane was positioned so that
workers could pull with many ropes on one side and lift up the attached block
with the other (Figure I). This would allow one central gathering place for the
stones, with the ability to maneuver them to other positions in the pyramid. And
as credit to the genius of the stonemasons the final blocks, the white Tura
limestones, were so carefully cut that today not even a postcard can fit between
The end product can be seen from the moon. From the rows of desert
mastabas to the mountains in the sand, the evolution of the Egyptian pyramids
was a process that changed the landscape and destiny of the world forever. How a
society accomplished this five thousand years ago still boggles the mind to the
extent that many answers can only be surmised by even the most learned experts.
As a nation Egypt accomplished a feat as of yet unparalleled in human history,
one that transcends engineering and time to remain the only surviving wonder of
the ancient world.
B) Interior Buttressing of Zoser’s Step Pyramid
C) Zoser’s Step
D) Bent Pyramid
E) The Great Pyramid
F) Khafre’s (Great) Pyramid
G) Quarrying with metal tools
1. Mendelssohn, Kurt. The Riddle of the Pyramids. University Printing
House, Cambridge, 1974.
2. Barber, F. M. Mechanical Triumphs of the Ancient Egyptians. Chiswick Press,
3. Grinsell, Leslie. Egyptian Pyramids. John Bellows Limited, Gloucester, 1947.
4. Fakhry, Ahmed. The Pyramids. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1961.
5. Fergusson, James. A history of architecture in all countries from the
earliest times to the present day. Boston: S. E. Cassino, 1883.
6. Jurmain, Robert, et al. Introduction to Physical Anthropology: Ninth Edition.
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