Construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.  Explore Ancient Stone Technology and various theories on the movement of heavy stones
which could have been used during construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, Stonehenge, and similar sites.











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Pyramids - Construction Theories 

Note: Don't miss these subject related articles:
 | Theory 1Theory 2  |  Theory 3  | Theory 4 | More Theories |
 | More about Construction |

In Control at the Pyramids - an architect's and builder's answer
to how the pyramids were built

There are many theories about how the pyramids were built. One of the most outrageous theories it that aliens built the pyramids. Fortunately we have proof that the Ancient Egyptians built the pyramids. Unfortunately there are many theories about how the Egyptians built the pyramids. Below we present few of the most popular ideas about how were the pyramids built.


Holscher Style Ramp for pyramid construction
Isler Style Lifts for pyramids construction

Various Ramp Styles

Jean-Pierre Houdin Theory >>

Simple ramp style.
Click here to view the construction sequence.

Another example: Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan

In Control at the Pyramids - an architect’s and builder’s answer
to how the pyramids were built

Domenic A. Narducci III and Michael T. Lally

In its purest form, a true pyramid consists of four identical triangles, which “spring” from a square base and culminate at a common point.  When reduced to its plane geometric components, it is an easy form to comprehend.  It is a far more daunting task to create the form in the built environment.

Imagine that you are charged with the construction of a true pyramid, whose square base will cover 13 acres.  Perhaps your most daunting task will be ensuring that after decades of construction, the pyramid’s four sides will meet precisely at a point almost fifty stories above the ground.  Imagine further that as the builder you have no laser levels, transits or other sophisticated measuring devices at their disposal to aid in the construction process.  Well, don’t worry; it’s already been done! Almost 5000 years ago, the ancient Egyptians accomplished this very feat at the Great Pyramid in Giza.  

This paper discusses the construction control procedures used in modern building and how important the same control would have for the building of the Egyptian pyramids.  Also included is a step-by-step formula that puts forth a set of specific, simple control procedures that illustrate how those ancient Egyptians could have done.   This paper is keenly focused on how and where to position the stones in order to create the pyramidal geometry.  It is not interested in the quarrying, transporting or handling of stones or in the myriad of other issues regarding pyramid development.  

To date, many pyramid researchers have acknowledged in their work that “control” of the pyramidal form would have been a most important aspect of the construction process.  I.E.S. Edwards wrote “… imperfections in the setting of the stones would not only mar the outside appearance, but, unless counteracted, would lead to irregularity in the pyramidal form”1.  Yet, few have put forth any theories which “standup” when subjected to practical construction analysis.  Besides presenting the fundamental concepts, our step by step “how to” formula specifically shows the control procedures which “counteracted” the potential affects of the “imperfections” as stated by Edwards.  These solutions are grounded in an understanding of the construction process (which basically has not changed from ancient times to today) and an enthusiasm for problem solving.  Surely, those are human qualities, which were as prevalent among the Egyptian pyramid builders as they are among the builders of today.

Read the entire article >>

Transport Theories

One of the most elegant pyramid building theories has been suggested by Polish engineer and inventor Andrzej Bochnacki. In his book Different Story about Pyramids,
he proposes very ingenious technology used to move the pyramid blocks from the quarries to the construction site.

NOTE: The following quotations from the book Different Story about Pyramids  are Copyright by Andrzej Bochnacki. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission of the author.

”Light, made out of papyrus, boats were put on the top of blocks and tided up with ropes. These transport boats ware waiting for raising water of the Nile and they could be easily towed to a chosen destination. The simplest way was to haul them to the west side of the Nile where water flooded the fields. Here they were left in the mud to be transported on the land after the flood was over”.

"How, in ancient times, the difficult problem of boats loading and unloading process was solved explains the animation and drawing below”.

Animation showing phases of transporting stones from the tunnel to the ramp.
Copyright 2005-2006 by Andrzej Bochnacki.
Presented with permission.

 >>>

Was the Nile used in construction of the Pyramids? 

Is it possible that the pyramids were built with help of the river Nile?

This image is based on information from David Jeffreys, Institute of Archeology, University College, London; Oriental Institute Computer Laboratory, University of Chicago and Archeological Graphic Services. NOTE: Vertical scale exaggerated to show ancient Nile river channel (on the left).

This computer generated image shows probable course of Nile in Old Kingdom (the left channel). Note that Nile at flood stage pushed very close to the feet of major pyramid sites. This would make transportation of huge stone blocks from the quarries to the construction sites much easier. 

Construction of the Great Pyramid according to Herodotus

The following description of the construction of the pyramids comes from a Greek historian Herodotus (484?-425 BC): 

Till the death of Rhampsinitus, the priests said, Egypt was excellently governed, and flourished greatly; but after him Cheops succeeded to the throne, and plunged into all manner of wickedness. He closed the temples, and forbade the Egyptians to offer sacrifice, compelling them instead to labour, one and all, in his service. Some were required to drag blocks of stone down to the Nile from the quarries in the Arabian range of hills; others received the blocks after they had been conveyed in boats across the river, and drew them to the range of hills called the Libyan. A hundred thousand men laboured constantly, and were relieved every three months by a fresh lot. It took ten years' oppression of the people to make the causeway for the conveyance of the stones, a work not much inferior, in my judgment, to the pyramid itself. This causeway is five furlongs in length, ten fathoms wide, and in height, at the highest part, eight fathoms. It is built of polished stone, and is covered with carvings of animals. To make it took ten years, as I said - or rather to make the causeway, the works on the mound where the pyramid stands, and the underground chambers, which Cheops intended as vaults for his own use: these last were built on a sort of island, surrounded by water introduced from the Nile by a canal. The pyramid itself was twenty years in building. It is a square, eight hundred feet each way, and the height the same, built entirely of polished stone, fitted together with the utmost care. The stones of which it is composed are none of them less than thirty feet in length.
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. There is an inscription in Egyptian characters on the pyramid which records the quantity of radishes, onions, and garlic consumed by the labourers who constructed it; and I perfectly well remember that the interpreter who read the writing to me said that the money expended in this way was 1600 talents of silver*. If this then is a true record, what a vast sum must have been spent on the iron tools used in the work, and on the feeding and clothing of the labourers, considering the length of time the work lasted, which has already been stated, and the additional time - no small space, I imagine - which must have been occupied by the quarrying of the stones, their conveyance, and the formation of the underground apartments.
The wickedness of Cheops reached to such a pitch that, when he had spent all his treasures and wanted more, he sent his daughter to the stews, with orders to procure him a certain sum - how much I cannot say, for I was not told; she procured it, however, and at the same time, bent on leaving a monument which should perpetuate her own memory, she required each man to make her a present of a stone towards the works which she contemplated. With these stones she built the pyramid which stands midmost of the three that are in front of the great pyramid, measuring along each side a hundred and fifty feet.
Cheops reigned, the Egyptians said, fifty years, and was succeeded at his demise by Chephren, his brother.

Chephren imitated the conduct of his predecessor, and, like him, built a pyramid, which did not, however, equal the dimensions of his brother's. Of this I am certain, for I measured them both myself. It has no subterraneous apartments, nor any canal from the Nile to supply it with water, as the other pyramid has. In that, the Nile water, introduced through an artificial duct, surrounds an island, where the body of Cheops is said to lie. Chephren built his pyramid close to the great pyramid of Cheops, and of the same dimensions, except that he lowered the height forty feet. For the basement he employed the many-coloured stone of Ethiopia. These two pyramids stand both on the same hill, an elevation not far short of a hundred feet in height. The reign of Chephren lasted fifty-six years.

Thus the affliction of Egypt endured for the space of one hundred and six years, during the whole of which time the temples were shut up and never opened. The Egyptians so detest the memory of these kings that they do not much like even to mention their names.

* 41,884 kilograms

From The Histories
by Herodotus
Translated by George Rawlinson

Read the entire book online:

It is interesting to note that Herodotus makes reference to an underground burial chamber, but no reference to the "King's Chamber" or "Queen's Chamber" as burial chambers. Four centuries after Herodotus, the historian Diodorus of Sicily (1st century B.C.) visited Egypt. His account speaks of all three pyramids which he presents as being a funerary ensemble of the fourth dynasty. He also evaluated the sum spent on horse-radish, onions and garlic for the labourers on the Great Pyramid at 1600 talents. He disagreed with Herodotus in that he believed the pyramids did not contain the bodies of the pharaohs, which according to him, had been buried in safe and secret hiding places. 

"Machines formed of short wooden planks" for raising the stones

Polish engineer, Andrzej Bochnacki, proposes the following interpretation of the method of raising pyramid's stone blocks described by Herodotus:

Copyright 2005 by Andrzej Bochnacki.
Presented with permission.

"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."                                                                             -- Herodotus

An introduction (in English) to an e-book about construction of the pyramids:
A NEW SLANT ON THE PYRAMIDS by Andrzej Bochnacki and the Polish version of the entire e-book (PDF) are available here>>

Related links:

More great links on this subject:

A New and Unique Theory on the Movement of Heavy Stones

A pyramid can be constructed without the use of ramps, heavy stones can be moved without dragging them along and with 75% less manpower than is presently thought necessary. This article reveals how. It has been compiled as a result of actual experiments conducted in backyard of Gordon Pipes with a 4 ton block of concrete made expressly for this purpose and hopefully it will lead to properly conducted experiments that will prove this theory beyond doubt.

  • How to elevate a 50ton stone to the upper levels of a pyramid 
    without the use of ramps, ropes or extensive manpower.

  • How the ancient Britons could have transported the sarsen stones 
    to Stonehenge without dragging them along.

  • How to erect a 40 ton stone without the use of ramps, ropes 
    or 'A' frames and with less than 25 men.

  • How to place the lintel stones on the uprights at Stonehenge 
    with less than a dozen men.

READ MORE >> (local link)

Another movement theory by Robert Rossi >>

More theories about pyramid building >>

The Forgotten Technology?

The following segment is © 2003-2004 Wallace T. Wallington All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. The use or republication of this content is forbidden without the written consent of the author.  


I am a retired carpenter with 35 years experience in construction. In my work experience, over the years, many times I had to improvise on tools that were not at hand in order to get the job done.

At one of these times, about 12 years ago, I had to remove some 1200 lb. saw cut concrete blocks from an existing floor. The problem was that we did not have a machine that could reach some of the blocks. The only obvious answer was to break the blocks into smaller pieces with a sledgehammer and load them into a wheelbarrow. To me, this seemed to be too much labor at the time, so I improvised.

Using a few rocks and leverage, I removed the blocks from below the floor to an area that the machine could reach them for removal. After doing this several times, the technique became very easy and quick. This experience had me consider the possibility that people may have used this technique before modern day equipment was available.

I have found that ancient legends from around the world are true. Some megaliths could have been set in place by as few as one man. I could build The Great Pyramid of Giza, using my techniques and primitive tools. On a twenty-five year construction schedule, (working forty hours per week at fifty weeks per year, using the input of myself to calculate) I would need a crew of 520 people to move blocks from the main quarry to the site and another 100 to move the blocks on site. For hoisting I need a crew of 120 (40 working and 80 rotating). My crew can raise 7000 lb. 100 ft. per minute. I have found the design of the pyramid is functional in it’s own construction. No external ramp is needed.

I have began to build a replica of Stonehenge with eight 10 ton blocks on end and 2 ton blocks on top. One man, no wheels, no rollers, no ropes, no hoist or power equipment, using only sticks and stones. In the future, either myself, sons, or grandsons will be able to show this and other forms of The Forgotten Technology to the world. I believe that I have learned to use the laws of physics to my advantage.


© 2003-2004 Wallace T. Wallington
The main block tips the scales at 19,200 lbs, the counter weight
block, which is needed to move the main block, weighs 2,400 lbs.
The small counter, counter weight block weighs 300 lbs.

© 2003-2004 Wallace T. Wallington
In order to stand the block on end, I first needed to raise it 3 feet vertically.

© 2003-2004 Wallace T. Wallington
 The block standing on end.


Upcoming Project Spring 2004

The Egyptian Hoist: During experiments, I have found that a ramp constructed with a unit rise of one and a unit run of two gives me an advantage in hoisting or dragging a sled. This ramp has an ideal angle of slightly more than twenty-six degrees, and can be laid out with a string and a stone. Hoisting alone, I could raise one hundred eighty-five pounds at the speed of one hundred vertical feet per minute with little effort. It is more difficult to return to the start position than the actual hoist itself. I could easily drag a one-ton block on a sled over a flat and level surface at one hundred feet per minute.

Theorizing: If this hoisting technique was used at the Great Pyramid during construction, it would take twenty seven men one minute to hoist a five thousand pound block at a rate of one hundred vertical feet per minute. The external ramp that a block would ride on is the same angle as the outside of the pyramid.

I believe that there is enough room in the Grand Gallery (if ropes were strong enough) to hoist fifteen-ton blocks at a rate of one hundred feet per minute. Larger blocks could use the walking technique described earlier.

In phase one of construction, the descending ramp would have been used until the ramp in the Grand Gallery was completed. Then the air shafts in the King’s chamber and anti-chamber were used to transfer power to the outside. A serviceable roller would be necessary at the bend in the air shaft leading from the king’s chamber. In order for hoisting to be continued, the rope had to be cycled through the queen’s chamber and through the air shafts therein to return to the outside.

A raised floor is also necessary in the Grand Gallery to accommodate the workmen and give access to cycle the work force below the floor and back to the start position. In order to use this ramp, the start position is at the top. The workmen can use a harness around the lower back to attach to the main rope, which runs between their feet. The workmen must face the top of the ramp and lean backward to apply pressure to the main rope. Now the workmen simply walk backwards down the ramp while maintaining pressure to move the loads. The headroom in the descending ramp is adequate for this.

I have found that one man, myself, can produce as much as .56 horsepower using this technique. Using this number, the total number of men needed to move stones from the quarry to their place in the Great Pyramid is eight hundred. (Side note: The aide of levitation or extra terrestrial assistance is not necessary.)

I will be constructing my second and larger hoist in the spring of 2004. I quit working outside in the Michigan winter when I retired.

The hoist requires two ramp angles that appear to me to be the same as The Great Pyramid.

The segment above (text and images) is © 2003-2004 Wallace T. Wallington.
All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. The use or republication of this content is forbidden without the written consent of the author.  

To find more about lifting and moving heavy stone blocks using
methods suggested by Wallace T. Wallington, visit his web site:

The Following articles are © 2000 by Larry Orcutt,  Catchpenny Mysteries
Reprinted with permission

How were the Pyramids built?


Moving a limestone block
© Copyright Dieter Arnold, Building in Egypt, p. 278

The pyramid blocks were hewn from quarries using stone and copper tools. There are examples of each stage of block extraction at existing ancient quarries. Granite was quarried using pounding stones of dolerite, some of which have been found laying about the quarries. The blocks were transported to the pyramid site from remote quarries using barges, and from local quarries using wooden sleds. The Egyptians did not use the wheel during the Pyramid Age, an invention that would have been of limited used on softer ground under heavy loads. The sleds were dragged manually, sometimes with the help of beasts of burden, over smoothed roads. Some of the existing pathways were equipped with transverse wooden beams to lend support to the sled. A lubricant may have been poured upon the road to reduce friction. (For more information, see Moving Large Objects.)

wooden sled
Cedar sled from Lisht.
© Copyright Dieter Arnold, Building in Egypt, p. 276

How the massive blocks were raised to the height of the rising pyramid is not understood for certain. Earthen ramps were used at least in the initial stages of construction. Extant ramps have been found at the pyramids of Amenemhat I and Senwosret I at Lisht (see photos below), as well as at several other sites. Traces of disassembled ramps at pyramid sites are even more common. The ramps were made of brick or earth and rubble dressed with brick for strength. They were built up as the pyramid progressed upward, and removed as the pyramid was finished downward.

 construction ramp construction ramp
Inclined brick construction ramps with transverse
timbers at the pyramids of Amenemhat I and Senwosret I.

© Copyright Dieter Arnold, Building in Egypt, pp. 87, 88

The ramps likely took the form of an inclined plane at the beginning of work, but the configuration in later stages has long been a matter of conjecture. Some Egyptologists propose a straight, gently sloping, linear ramp, some propose a steep staircase ramp, and others propose a ramp that spiraled up the four sides of the pyramid. In most ramp scenarios, the volume of the ramp exceeds the volume of the pyramid structure itself, raising the possibility that the stones of the upper reaches were placed using levers, or perhaps a modified ramp of some sort. In the case of the Great Pyramid at Giza, the upper half of the total vertical pyramid height represents only 12.5% of the mass of the entire pyramid. The mass of the top quarter of the pyramid's height is a mere .0386% of the whole. Thus the mass of the ramp is in inverse proportion to the mass of building material it is meant to convey. Extending a ramp to the upper reaches of a pyramid to service such a small volume of stone would appear to be inexpedient.

But whatever the configuration of the ramps, the fact remains that the Egyptians successfully completed the most massive building projects in all of history. There is nothing magical or supernatural in the means by which they achieved their goals. By all indications, they retained their knowledge of construction throughout their history, but they were limited after the Fourth Dynasty not by the lack of technology but rather by the lack of the abundant resources that were previously available. More than two thousand years later, the Romans would move huge stones, some weighing nearly 1,000 tons, using similar techniques at Baalbek.

More impressive than the mechanics of moving huge masses of building material are the logistics involved: choreographing teams of foremen, multitudes of workers, and a profusion of supplies, all within the rigid constraints of a blueprint for design and a timetable for completion. It is hard to imagine that such a feat could be possible, but the pyramids themselves provide mute testimony that it was not only possible but actually accomplished. There remains no known written record hinting at how the pyramids were built, nor have any reliefs depicting the procedure been found. Most of what Egyptologists believe to be true of the methods involved is based on tangible archaeological evidence. Some is based on theory and is open for debate. What is known for certain is that the Egyptians used simple but effective tools to quarry the stones, to move them to the pyramid site, and to place them in the desired location.

For a more detailed and technical treatment of pyramid construction techniques, see Bonnie Sampsell's articles on the role of accretion layers in pyramid design and on how the Egyptians managed to control the shape of the pyramid while building it.

© 2000 by Larry Orcutt,  Catchpenny Mysteries
Reprinted with permission

Other related link: Building the Great Pyramid

Who Built the Pyramids?

Giza pyramids
© Photo copyright Larry Orcutt

The Egyptians built the pyramids. The best of the pyramids, erected in the Fourth Dynasty, were built during a small window in history when the means, motive, and opportunity were all present, a situation that would not be repeated for the remainder of Egypt's history. Tombs before this time evolved from archaic-period pit tombs covered by simple mounds to underground tombs with rectangular superstructures, the prototype of the grander "mastaba" tombs. By the Second Dynasty, mastaba tombs had developed into low but massive rectangular structures. At least one of these, mastaba 3038 at Saqqara, has sides made up of eight steps rising at a 49° angle, lending to it a definite pyramid appearance. It was not a great leap in architecture to decide to stack mastabas one atop the other to form a stepped pyramid, and thereafter to smooth the sides into a true pyramid shape.

Most of the common labor force that worked on the pyramids were Egyptian citizens. Because Egypt had a non-monetary economy, taxes had to be paid in kind. If not livestock, produce, or manufactured goods, taxes were extracted by a demand of corvée labor. Most of the brute pyramid workforce was comprised of such laborers, working off their obligation to the king. These "peasant conscripts" were divided into teams and divisions and were provided with the basic necessities of life during their term of duty. Skilled builders and craftsmen were in the permanent employ of pharaoh and lived together in villages near the pyramid site. Slavery was rare in Egypt before the Ptolemaic Period. The class usually referred to as serfs existed throughout Egypt's history of course. These might have variously been born into their common position, captive foreigners, or even prisoners serving their sentence. The serfs served as workers for pharaoh, as helpers in the temples, and as servants for wealthier citizens. True slaves in the classical sense owned nothing at all and were considered chattel to be bought and sold at will. They did not play a part in the building of the pyramids.

stone workers
Egyptian workmen dressing limestone blocks
(from the tomb of Rekhmira, TT100).

© Copyright Percy E. Newberry, The Life of Rekhmara, plate XX

There is ample evidence throughout Egypt's history that the Egyptians themselves designed and built the monuments that still stand today. To ascribe these feats to some other people, Atlanteans or Martians or whomever, is both a denial of an overwhelming body of data and an attempt to rob the ancient Egyptians of what is among their most enduring accomplishments.

© 2000 by Larry Orcutt,  Catchpenny Mysteries
Reprinted with permission

Why were the Pyramids built?


In about 450 B.C. the ancient historian Herodotus reported that there were underground chambers beneath the Great Pyramid at Giza. "These chambers," he wrote, "King Cheops [Khufu] made as burial chambers for himself ..." (History, 2:124). Diodorus (c.80-20 B.C.) added more detail:

And though the two kings [i.e. Khufu and Khafre] built the pyramids to serve as their tombs, in the event neither of them was buried in them; for the multitudes, because of the hardships which they had endured in the building of them and the many cruel and violent acts of these kings, were filled with anger against those who had caused their sufferings and openly threatened to tear their bodies asunder and cast them in despite out of their tombs. Consequently each ruler when dying enjoined upon his kinsmen to bury his body secretly in an unmarked place. [Library of History, 1:64]

Strabo also wrote that the pyramids served as "tombs of kings" (Geography, 17.1.33). After the Arab conquest, knowledge that royal burials were accompanied by a wealth of gold and jewels motivated treasure-hunters to invade the pyramids using any measure necessary. Apocryphal tales of pyramid riches abound, such as Masoudi's description of early plunderers of the Great Pyramid: "They also discovered, in a large hall, a quantity of golden coins put up in columns, every piece of which was of the weight of 1,000 dinars [c. 9 lbs. or 4 kg.]. They tried to take the money, but were unable to move it." (In Vyse, Operations Carried On at the Pyramids of Gizeh in 1837, Vol. II, p. 329)

Most Egyptologists also believe that the pyramids were meant to serve as tombs for the pharaohs. There are many reasons why they hold this to be true. One is that the pyramid structure represents just one point in the long continuum of the evolution of tomb design. Long before dynastic kings ruled Egypt, tombs were little more than open pit graves. In time, modifications were made. The pit was lined with crude brick and roofed with wood, and the number of chambers increased. The tomb was surmounted by a modest superstructure: a mound of gravel with an outer layer of mud, probably in imitation of the Primal Mound, the epitome of creation and regeneration. By the 2nd Dynasty, brick corbel roofs had been introduced as building technique advanced. Such a roof took the appearance of a dome or vault. At this time, the "mastaba" superstructure (so called because of its bench-like shape) was common. These were rectangular in plan, with flat roofs and walls that slope outward to the ground. By the end of the 2nd Dynasty, royal tombs were subterranean chambers cut deeply into the stone, accessed by stairways, with mastaba structures above them. The 3rd Dynasty saw the true pyramid-shaped superstructure take form, first as a stepped pyramid (successive tiers of mastabas built upon one another and descending in size to the top; see photo above) and then as a true pyramid with smooth sides. The "Pyramid Age" reached its apex at the beginning of the 4th Dynasty with the construction of the pyramids at Dashur and Giza, but by the end of that dynasty, pyramids had become smaller until its last pharaoh, Shepseskaf, reverted to the mastaba shape for his tomb. Though pyramids would again be built in the 5th Dynasty, they would be of inferior quality and materials. Pyramid tombs remained popular through the 13th Dynasty, though none would rival those of the Pyramid Age in size or endurance. By the 18th Dynasty and on, following several pyramid revivals, royal tombs had largely become underground tombs with no superstructure.

The pyramid did not exist as an isolated structure. It represented only one element, though a primary one, of the pyramid complex. Other elements commonly included a satellite pyramid, other small pyramids for queens, a mortuary temple, a valley temple, and a causeway between them, and also offering shrines, funerary boat pits, and mastaba tombs for other family members and nobles. The main complex was surrounded by a temenos wall and was frequently a part of a larger necropolis, or "city of the dead." Thus, its location was another indication that the pyramid was intended as a tomb.

In the 5th Dynasty, beginning with perhaps Unas, the walls of pyramid chambers were decorated with the Pyramid Texts, a collection of utterances that served as spells with certain functions for the dead (such as protection from harm, various rituals performed at the royal funeral, etc.) These text would later become the Coffin Texts and finally the Book of the Dead that was placed with the deceased. The purpose of these utterances, wrote W. Stevenson Smith, were "to aid the king in the transition between his earthly functions and the position which he was to assume amongst the gods after death." (The Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt, p. 440 n. 31). Such texts are clear indications of the pyramid's funerary function. Smith added that "the function of the pyramid temple, on the basis of its architecture, wall reliefs, statuary, and relevant inscriptions, is the promotion of the corporeal afterlife of the dead king through the funerary cult, his continued victories over his enemies in the hereafter, the continuance of his kingship, and his deification, all achieved through the building and decoration programme of the pyramid complex." (P. 440, n. 31)

Another reason why Egyptologists believe that pyramids were tombs is because the ancient Egyptian record explicitly states as much. For example, the Papyrus Abbott describes the inspection of "sepulchers of former kings" under Ramesses IX. The pyramid of 17th Dynasty Sobekemsaf II was inspected:

It was found, that the thieves had broken into it by mining work through the base of its pyramid, from the outer chamber of the tomb of the overseer of the granary of King Menkheperre (Thutmose III), L.P.H., Nebamon. The burial-place of the king was found void of its lord, L.P.H., as well as the burial-place of the great king's-wife, Nubkhas, L.P.H., his royal wife; the thieves having laid their hand upon them. The vizier, the nobles, and the inspectors made an examination of it, and the manner in which the thieves had laid their hands upon this king and his royal wife, was ascertained. [Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, IV.517]

Much has been made of the fact that of all the pyramids of Egypt that have ever been explored, never once has the mummy of a pharaoh been found within. Mummy parts have been found in pyramids. Such discoveries include part of a mummified foot in the pyramid of Djoser; a right arm, skull fragments, and various other bones in the pyramid of Unas; an arm and shoulder in the pyramid of Teti; fragments of a mummy in the pyramid of Pepi I; mummy wrappings in the pyramid of Pepy II, and charred bones in the pyramid of Amenemhet III. In the center satellite pyramid of Menkaure, Perring and Vyse found a skeleton of a young woman in the sarcophagus within. They also found, in the main pyramid, part of a wooden coffin believed to be Menkaure's along with some mummy fragments. But never has an extant mummy been found in any pyramid, nor have any parts of a mummy been identified with certainty as those of a king. Critics of the pyramid-as-tomb theory claim that such mummy parts, rather than being detritus left after the robbers hacked away the mummies for jewels and gold, represent parts left from intrusive burials made long after the pyramid was built. Burials of this type are common in areas and tombs around the various pyramids.

The absence of mummies has invited all manner of odd theories about the pyramids' function. It has been claimed that they served as power plants, water pumps, astronomical observatories, sources of ill-defined "pyramid power" energy vortices, guidance beacons for alien spacecraft, and sites of mystery initiation ceremonies. In order to hold such a view, however, it is necessary to ignore the provenance of the pyramid and its place in the context of the overall pyramid complex and necropolis.

"To suppose that the pyramid's only function in ancient Egypt was as a royal tomb," wrote Miroslav Verner, "would be an oversimplification." (The Pyramids, p. 45) Alexander Badawy observed that "The main incentive in the evolution of the tomb was the fear from plunderers." (A History of Egyptian Architecture, p. 37) It is notable that some kings had more than one tomb; indeed, some had more than one pyramid. Amenemhet III, for example, had two pyramids built for himself, one at Dahshur (containing his granite sarcophagus) and one at Hawara (containing his quartzite sarcophagus). There is a type of tomb called a cenotaph (from the Greek kenotaphion, or literally, "empty tomb"), a symbolic false tomb never intended to be a repository for the king's actual material body. The cenotaph served every function as a real tomb, and also provided an additional location for the perpetuity of the king's funerary cult. Taking all these factors into consideration, one might be tempted to conclude that, if the pyramids were not meant to be the literal tombs of the pharaohs, they were meant to be cenotaphs, and the king's mummy was buried elsewhere.

In any case, that the pyramids were tombs is clear, and to deny this observation is to ignore a substantial body of corroborating evidence.

© 2000 by Larry Orcutt,  Catchpenny Mysteries
Reprinted with permission

Some Alternative Theories of Pyramid Construction


There are many who feel that the theories of "mainstream" Egyptologists on how the pyramids were built are in error, or perhaps even deceptive. This is usually based on the supposition that it would have been impossible for the ancient Egyptians to have built the pyramids themselves with the primitive means that are generally ascribed to them. Based on this premise, rather than on archaeological or historical evidence, interesting theories on how the pyramids were built have been proposed. Unfortunately, all of these theories are based on assumption and speculation, and have little or no tangible support. Even so, many of these theories have found some degree of popular support.

cement mixers
Workmen pouring blocks.
© Copyright Davidovits & Morris, The Pyramids: An Enigma
, p. 72. Some details of the relief have been omitted and
altered by the authors to better suit their theory.

Perhaps the most prosaic of these theories was described in detail in The Pyramids: An Enigma Solved by Dr. Joseph Davidovits and Margie Morris (Dorset Press, 1988; see also Pyramid Illusions: A Journey to the Truth by Moustafa Gadalla, 1997). Davidovits provides a brief summation:

I will demonstrate that the pyramid blocks are actually exceptionally high-quality limestone concrete -- synthetic stone -- cast directly in place. The blocks consist of about ninety to ninety-five percent limestone rubble and five to ten percent cement. They are imitations of natural limestone, made in the age-old tradition of alchemical stonemaking. No stone cutting or heavy hauling or hoisting was ever required for pyramid construction. [p. 68]

The blocks were not quarried but rather made of a geopolymeric cement. Limestone blocks did not have to be cut, finished, or even moved at all. Instead, buckets of slurry were simply toted up the pyramid by men who poured it into a wooden mold. Davidovits writes:

One of the characteristics of geopolymeric concrete is that there is no appreciable shrinkage, and blocks do not fuse when cast directly against each other. Although it would have been impossible to achieve the close fit (as close as 0.002 inch) of the 115,000 casing stones originally on the Great Pyramid with primitive tools, such joints are easily achieved when casting geopolymeric concrete. Once cast, within hours or even less, depending on the formula (minutes using today's formula), a block hardened. The mold was removed for reuse while a block was still relatively soft. [p. 75]

The theory is very nice and well-described. Unfortunately, it totally ignores a huge body of evidence. Davidovits works hard to explain away the existing quarries, the abundance of tools found during the Third and Fourth Dynasties, and the decrease in pyramid quality after the Fourth Dynasty. He ultimately declares that "This issue, however, is a matter of hard science, which must be confirmed or disputed by qualified scientists. It is not ultimately for Egyptologists, who are specialized historians, to approve or reject." (p. 239) He adds that he finds no support for his thesis among other geologists for two reasons. One, his sampling of pyramid limestone was very small. He used a single specimen of questionable provenance: Jean-Phillipe Lauer told him that it came from the Great Pyramid at Giza. Two, some of Davidovits' information is "highly confidential" thus preventing him from sharing certain of his technical details with others. (These reasons are related on p. 239.) The geological evidence against the geopolymeric concrete theory are too complex for this forum; for details see a series of articles by R.L. Folk and D.H. Campbell, J.A. Harrell and B.E. Penrod, and Margie Morris in Journal of Geological Education, vols. 40 (1992), 41 (1993), and 42 (1994).

There are a few obvious questions that Davidovits and his theory cannot answer. If wooden molds were used and reused, why are the dimensions of the pyramid blocks so varied? Wouldn't they be expected to be of somewhat uniform shape? Where is the evidence of the molds? None have ever been found or depicted on reliefs (save the small molds used for mud brick). The core stones of the pyramids are sloppily and roughly finished, many with well-defined tool marks, as they were meant to be hidden by the casing stones and never seen. They are loosely packed, often with rubble in between them. These stones were obviously not "cast." Why not? Why did the Egyptians bother to quarry and hoist these stones to the height of the pyramid if they could have instead been cast? Wouldn't ramps have had to have been built anyway for these stones? The theory just does not conform to known details.

pyramid-building machine
Ron Wyatt's "machine" used to raise pyramid blocks.
Photo © copyright Ron Wyatt, Wyatt Archaeological Research

In about 450 BC, the historian Herodotus wrote of the Great Pyramid:

This is how the pyramid was made: like a set of stairs, which some call battlements and some altar steps. When they had first made this base, they then lifted the remaining stones with levers [lit. machines] made of short timbers, lifting them from the ground to the first tier of steps, and, as soon as the stone was raised upon this, it was placed on another lever, which stood on the first tier, and from there it was dragged up to the second tier and on to another lever. As many as there were the tiers, so many were the levers; or it may have been that they transferred the same lever, if they were easily handleable, to each tier in turn, once they had got the stone out of it. I have offered these two different stories of how they did it, for both ways were told me. [History, 2.125]

The theory that levers were used to lift pyramid stones is perhaps the most tenable of the alternate theories on how the pyramids were built (see Martin Isler, "On Pyramid Building," JARCE 22:129-142, 1985, and "On Pyramid Building II," JARCE 24:95-112, 1987; also Peter Hodges, How the Pyramids Were Built, Element Books, 1989). That the Egyptians used levers would be very difficult to refute. Large stone blocks had recesses, or sometimes projecting bosses (that were later removed) built into them to facilitate the use of levers. Even with the use of construction ramps, blocks would have had to have been levered on and off the sleds. But as a means of raising large numbers of blocks vertically up tiers of stone in as short a time as possible, levers do not appear to be as practical as ramps. Personally, I believe that ramps were used to perhaps ½ or so of the pyramid's total vertical height, after which levers may have been of more use for the smaller volume of material.

Two antennae between which a solitron
field (or "vortex") levitated pyramid stones.

solitron field
© Copyright Hardy & Killick, Pyramid Energy, p. 165.

According to the authors of Pyramid Energy: The Philosophy of God, the Science of Man (Delta-K, 1987), the above pictured "Caduceus Coil" was used to levitate the stone blocks that were used to build the pyramids. Pathways were built, flanked by rows of sphinxes, along which a solitron field spiraled, powered by coil generators. Priests used tuned coils (misidentified by Egyptologists as djed pillars), one passive (on the left, above) and one active (on the right, above). The active coil was grounded to a "Sacred Spot" and tapped into the planetary energy grid. The reason present-day scientists cannot duplicate this simple feat is because "they have not studied the power source called the world grid." Hardy & Killick further explain:

The ancient people used the grid to achieve levitation and worldwide communication. This is why pyramids are found all over the world. The Cheops pyramid in Egypt is a coil generator and was built to tap into the grid. The main control panel for this grid was the Ark of the Covenant. [p. 169]

This theory may sound silly but an amazing number of people propose similar explanations. Andrew Collins, author of Gods of Eden: Egypt's lost legacy and the genesis of civilisation (Headline, 1998), cites a 10th-century Arab historian who recorded a folk tale about the origin of the Great Pyramid. According to the story, the builders struck the stone blocks with a special rod, causing them to levitate and float through the air for the distance of "one bowshot." Collins insists that "the ancient Egyptians were able to set up some kind of sustained sound vibration that enabled the building blocks to defy gravity." He adds, "Although simply a legend, there are traditions from all around the world that speak of the movement of stone blocks and the construction of walls and buildings by sonic levitation."

Of course, there is no archaeological or historical evidence that any of this activity occurred at all. Such fancies are based on folk tales and undisciplined speculation.

Map of Atlantis.
© Copyright Richard Ellis, Imagining Atlantis, p. 50.

If ancient Egyptians couldn't have built the pyramids, why not attribute the feat to some advanced, but vanished, race? When Plato wrote Timaeus and Critias in the fourth century BC, he made used of a literary device called allegory and invented an island nation to illustrate his thesis of social ideals. He called this island "Atlantis." Unfortunately, time has sanctified Plato's fiction in some people's minds, and many read it as Gospel Truth. Had Jonathan Swift been his contemporary, expeditions would be launched searching for Brobdingnag, Luggnagg, and Glubbdubdrib.

Whether or not Plato's idea was inspired by a real event (such as the volcanic catastrophe at Thera) is quite beside the point. Atlantis never existed until it sprang forth from Plato's fertile imagination. This is based on the material remains found in the area in which Atlantis was supposed to have existed. One would expect an advanced civilization to have left quite a noticeable mark, particularly in trade goods. Not a single shard of "Atlantean" pottery has ever been found. There are no ruins of an Atlantean outpost, there is no mention of Atlantis in the historical record, there remains no hint of an Atlantean language. There is no evidence at all of such a civilization until Plato wrote of it. Yet for reasons unknown, there are those who would have had the fictitious inhabitants of a fictitious continent sail to Africa to build towering pyramidal structures of stone that had no contemporary counterpart anywhere else in the world, only to mysteriously abandon them and leave them for a primitive race of indigenous savages to drool in wonder over.

The face on Mars (Viking 1 Orbiter).
© Photo copyright NASA

If ancient Egyptians couldn't have built the pyramids, and if there was no vanished, technologically superior human race that could, then why not attribute the feat to Martians or some other interplanetary extraterrestrial beings? There has been a continuing abundance of books that have put forth this very theory: The Morning of the Magicians by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier (Stein and Day, 1964), Chariots of the Gods? by Erich von Däniken (GP Putnam's Sons, 1970), The Stairway to Heaven by Zecharia Sitchin (St. Martin's Press, 1980), Mars Mystery: The Secret Connection Between Earth and the Red Planet by Graham Hancock (Three Rivers Press, 1999), and Gods of the New Millennium: Scientific Proof of Flesh & Blood Gods by Alan F. Alford (Hodder & Stoughton, 1999).

Again, these theories are not based on any scientific evidence or on the known archaeological record, but rather on fantasy firmly grounded on false supposition. Many of the above authors agree with von Däniken when he wrote, "If we meekly accept the neat package of knowledge that the Egyptologists serve up to us, ancient Egypt appears suddenly and without transition with a fantastic ready-made civilization." (Chariots of the Gods?, p. 74.) Obviously, Mr. von Däniken has never studied the prehistory of Egypt, of which much has been written. "There are many problems connected with the technology of the pyramid builders and no genuine solutions," von Däniken added (p. 75), referring to what could only have been the inferior knowledge of the natives of Africa. "With what power, with what 'machines,' with what technical resources was the rocky terrain leveled off at all?" he cried in wonder at the Giza Plateau, awed at the thought of a level surface (p. 77-78). Then, as a coup de grâce to conventional Egyptology, von Däniken proclaimed that "Today, in the twentieth century, no architect could build a copy of the pyramid of Cheops, even if the technical resources of every continent were at his disposal." (p. 78) An absurd comment, of course, but he can smugly rest assured that it can never be put to the test, and he likely hopes that in consequence we will be naive enough to accept his words as axiomatic. Unfortunately for von Däniken and others, most of us are still capable of critical thought.

The face on Mars (Mars Global Surveyor).
© Photo copyright NASA

© 2000 by Larry Orcutt,  Catchpenny Mysteries
Reprinted with permission

Moving Large Objects

The heaviest known blocks to be brought from Aswan to Giza were the massive granite stones used for the roof of the King's Chamber in the pyramid of Kufu. Each weighed about 50 tons. 5th and 6th Dynasty pyramids included gabled roofs with blocks weighing up to 90 tons. The mortuary temple of Menkaure included limestone blocks weighing 200 tons. In the 18th Dynasty, two colossal statues of Amenhotep III (the "Colossi of Memnon"), each weighing more than 700 tons, were moved an overland distance of 700 km. Fragments of statues in the Ramesseum (built under Ramesses II) suggest an original weight of 1,000 tons. How was it possible for objects of this size to have been moved?

Hatshepsut's obelisk barge.

Herodotus described moving the 580 ton "Green Naos" under Nectanebo II: "This took three years in the bringing, and two thousand men were assigned to the conveying of it ..." (History, 2.175) Pliny wrote of the transportation of an "eighty cubit" obelisk under Ptolemy II:


According to some authorities, it was carried downstream by the engineer Satyrus on a raft; but according to Callixenus, it was conveyed by Phoenix, who by digging a canal brought the waters of the Nile right up to the place where the obelisk lay. Two very broad ships were loaded with cubes of the same granite as that of the obelisk, each cube measuring one foot, until calculations showed that the total weight of the blocks was double that of the obelisk, since their total cubic capacity was twice as great. In this way, the ships were able to come beneath the obelisk, which was suspended by its ends from both banks of the canal. The blocks were unloaded and the ships, riding high, took the weight of the obelisk. (Natural History, 36.14)

moving a statue
Moving a statue in 12th Dynasty Egypt.

Moving large stones over land was more involved. Sledges and rollers (the latter being of a more limited value) were available in pharaonic times, and workers were in great supply. Friction was the main obstacle. An 800 ton block measuring 4x4x20 m would create a ground pressure of 1 kg over each square centimeter of its base. A force of at least 400 tons would be required to overcome the friction. Modern engineers working under primitive conditions found that, while moving blocks weighing 6 tons on a sledge, friction could be reduced to nearly zero by wetting the track with a lubricant (in this case, water). In the relief pictured above, from the tomb of Djehutihotep, a man can be seen on the leading end of the sledge pouring a liquid on the ground in front of it. Modern reenactments also demonstrated that a friction "seal" is formed beneath a static load that is broken when the load begins to move. An Assyrian relief (below) shows the use of a lever at the back of the sledge, possibly used to break such a "seal," or perhaps to propel it forward.

moving a stone
Moving a stone in Assyria.

It has been estimated that a ratio of two men per ton would be required for moving loads over flat surfaces; nine men per ton would be required for moving loads up a 9° slope. Practical experiments moving loads on a sledge over a lubricated track have shown that one man could pull one ton. Thus, the 1,000 ton colossus of Ramesses II could have been moved by 1,000 men (or 200 oxen).

The movement of large stones was not confined to Egypt in ancient times. The Romans moved the so-called Trilithon, weighing 800 tons, from the quarry to the Temple of Jupiter at Baalbek (in eastern Lebanon) in the first century AD. Another stone weighing 1,200 tons, the Hajar el Hibla ("Stone of the Pregnant Woman"), was never separated from its base and lays abandoned. Though the Romans left no record of their methods, it is obvious that the Egyptians did not have a monopoly on any "secret" technique of moving large stones.

Baalbek stone
The "Stone of the Pregnant Woman,"at the quarry near Baalbek.
© Copyright Friedrich Ragette, Baalbek, p. 114

It has been claimed by some that moving the largest of the Egyptian blocks would be beyond our modern-day technological capacity, even with the use of cranes and other heavy equipment. Such arguments are false. In 1999 it became necessary to move the 208-foot tall Cape Hatteras lighthouse to a location more than a half-mile away. The lighthouse weighs 4,830 tons and had to be moved in one piece in its upright position. How was this achieved?

Moving the Cape Hatteras lighthouse.
moving a lighthouse
Moving the Cape Hatteras lighthouse.
© Copyright U.S. Department of Transportation

The use of cranes was impractical, and the actual technique used was very similar to that ascribed to the ancient Egyptians. First, the lighthouse was undercut and shored using timber (see photo below). One hundred hydraulic jacks were installed on rollers to slide along steel track beams placed beneath the lighthouse. A road was made by compacting the natural sands, overlaid with crushed stone, and finished with steel mats. Five hydraulic push jacks slowly shoved the lighthouse along the track beams in five-foot increments. The track was lubricated with soap shavings to reduce friction. The move, from start to finish, took 23 days.

wood shoring
Wood shoring beneath lighthouse.
National Park Service photo

With hydraulic machinery to replace human and animal muscle, and hardened steel substituting for wood, it is well within our modern-day ability to perform the mechanics of constructing the Great Pyramid. What we lack today is the motivation to put the plan into effect and the resources to carry it out, both abundant in ancient Egypt during the Pyramid Age.

© 2000 by Larry Orcutt,  Catchpenny Mysteries
Reprinted with permission

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