History Podcasts



The Most Amazing Historical Discoveries of 2018

From a 13,000-year-old brewery to a long-lost ancient city supposedly built by Trojan War captives, it was an eventful year for historical discoveries. As the year comes to a close, take a look back at some of the ways history made news this year.1. A human ...read more

The Sphinx

The Great Sphinx of Giza is a giant 4,500-year-old limestone statue situated near the Great Pyramid in Giza, Egypt. Measuring 240 feet (73 meters) long and 66 feet (20 meters) high, the Great Sphinx is one of the world’s largest monuments. It is also one of the most recognizable ...read more

8 Astonishing Ancient Sites in the Americas

1. The Pyramid of the Sun Latin America’s answer to the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Pyramid of the Sun is located in the ancient city of Teotihuacan near Mexico City. Constructed around 200 A.D. by an enigmatic pre-Aztec civilization, the monument stands over 200 feet tall and is ...read more

Pyramid mystery unearthed

An international panel overseeing the restoration of the Great Pyramids in Egypt overcomes years of frustration when it abandons modern construction techniques in favor of the method employed by the ancient Egyptians. Located at Giza outside Cairo, some of the oldest manmade ...read more

The brilliance of the ancients

Carbon dating places the construction of the Pyramids of Giza at about 2600 BCE, as reported by the BBC. Specifics of their construction have eluded researchers for years, but recent evidence, as stated by Discovery, shows that the stones came from a quarry to the south, and the sand along the way was wet, making them easier to transport. As for a system of ramps to elevate the stones, a nearby rock quarry at Hatnub in southeast Egypt was discovered, flanked by holes that mark the positions of wooden posts used in a complex pulley system, not seen for another 2,000 years in Ancient Greece. Wood, of course, rots, which adds to the confusion about how megalithic structures were built.

The Pyramids of Giza were built to honor three Egyptian pharaohs: Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure, each with their own dedicated pyramid. The largest, known as the Great Pyramid, is Khufu's, and measures a staggering 481.4 feet tall. They used to be coated in limestone, as well, before it was stripped for nearby mosques and fortresses, which, according to Smithsonian Magazine, meant they glowed a spectacular white in the day, or under moonlight. Numerous other temples and burial grounds were built through the Nile floodplain for other royalty.

Anything less than a full acknowledgement of the intelligence and ingenuity of people in the past is doing a disservice to the truth behind such grand accomplishments. In this case, even mundane explanations can produce spectacular sights.


Historically the Great Pyramid had been attributed to Khufu based on the words of authors of classical antiquity, first and foremost Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus. However, during the middle ages a number of other people were credited with the construction of the pyramid as well, for example Josef, Nimrod or king Saurid. [9]

In 1837 four additional Relieving Chambers were found above the King's Chamber after tunneling to them. The chambers, that had been inaccessible until then, were covered in hieroglyphs of red paint. The workers who were building the pyramid had marked the blocks with the names of their gangs, which included the pharaoh's name (e.g.: “The gang, The white crown of Khnum-Khufu is powerful”). Over a dozen times are the names of Khufu spelled out on the walls. Another one of these graffiti was found by Goyon on an exterior block of the 4th layer of the pyramid. [10] The inscriptions are comparable to those found at other sites of Khufu such as the alabaster quarry at Hatnub [11] or the harbor at Wadi al-Jarf, and are present in pyramids of other pharaohs as well. [12] [13]

Throughout the 20th century the cemeteries next to the pyramid were excavated. Family members and high officials of Khufu were buried in the East Field south of the causeway, and the West Field. Most notably the wives, children and grandchildren of Khufu, Hemiunu, Ankhaf and (the funerary cache of) Hetepheres I, mother of Khufu. As Hassan puts it: "From the early dynastic times, it was always the custom for the relatives, friends and courtiers to be buried in the vicinity of the king they had served during life. This was quite in accordance with the Egyptian idea of the Hereafter."

The cemeteries were actively expanded until the 6th dynasty and used less frequently afterwards. The earliest pharaonic name of seal impressions is that of Khufu, the latest of Pepi II. Worker graffiti are written on some of the stones of the tombs as well, for instance "Mddw" (Horus name of Khufu) on the mastaba of Chufunacht, probably a grandson of Khufu. [14]

Some inscriptions in the chapels of the mastabas (like the pyramid, their burial chambers were usually bare of inscriptions) mention Khufu or his pyramid. For instance an inscription of Mersyankh III states that "Her mother [is the] daughter of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt Khufu." Most often these references are part of a title, for example Snnw-ka, "Chief of the Settlement and Overseer of the Pyramid City of Akhet-Khufu" or Merib, "Priest of Khufu". [15] Several tomb owners have a king's name as part of their own name (e.g. Chufudjedef, Chufuseneb, Merichufu). The earliest pharaoh alluded to in that manner at Giza is Snefru (Khufu's father). [16] [17] [18]

In 1936 Hassan uncovered a stela of Amenhopet II near the Great Sphinx of Giza which implies the two larger pyramids were still attributed to Khufu and Khafre in the New Kingdom. It reads: "He yoked the horses in Memphis, when he was still young, and stopped at the Sanctuary of Hor-em-akhet (the Sphinx). He spent a time there in going round it, looking at the beauty of the Sanctuary of Khufu and Khafra the revered." [19]

In 1954 the Khufu ship was discovered, buried at the south foot of the pyramid. The cartouche of Djedefre was found on many of the blocks that covered the boat pit. As the successor and eldest son he would have presumably been responsible for the burial of Khufu. [20]

During excavations in 2013 the Diary of Merer was found at Wadi al-Jarf. It documents the transportation of white limestone blocks from Tura to the Great Pyramid, which is mentioned by its original name Akhet Khufu (with a pyramid determinative) dozens of times. It details that the stones were accepted at She Akhet-Khufu ("the pool of the pyramid Horizon of Khufu") and Ro-She Khufu (“the entrance to the pool of Khufu”) which were under supervision of Ankhhaf, half brother and vizier of Khufu who is the owner of the largest mastaba of the Giza East Field. [21]

Modern estimates of dating the Great Pyramid and Khufu's first regnal year
Author (year) Estimated date
Greaves (1646) [22] 1266 BC
Gardiner (1835) [23] 2123 BC
Lepsius (1849) [24] 3124 BC
Bunsen (1860) [25] 3209 BC
Mariette (1867) [26] 4235 BC
Breasted (1906) [27] 2900 BC
Hassan (1960) [28] 2700 BC
O'Mara (1997) [29] 2700 BC
Beckarath (1997) [30] 2554 BC
Arnold (1999) [31] 2551 BC
Spence (2000) [32] 2480 BC
Shaw (2000) [33] 2589 BC
Hornung (2006) [34] 2509 BC
Ramsey et al. (2010) [35] 2613-2577 BC

The Great Pyramid has been determined to be about 4600 years old by two principal approaches: indirectly, through its attribution to Khufu and his chronological age, based on archaeological and textual evidence and directly, via radiocarbon dating of organic material found in the pyramid and included in its mortar.

Historical chronology

In the past the Great Pyramid was dated by its attribution to Khufu alone, putting the construction of the Great Pyramid within his reign. Hence dating the pyramid was a matter of dating Khufu and the 4th dynasty. The relative sequence and synchronicity of events stands at the focal point of this method.

Absolute calendar dates are derived from an interlocked network of evidence, the backbone of which are the lines of succession known from ancient king lists and other texts. The reign lengths from Khufu to known points in the earlier past are summated, bolstered with genealogical data, astronomical observations, and other sources. As such, the historical chronology of Egypt is primarily a political chronology, thus independent from other types of archaeological evidence like stratigraphies, material culture, or radiocarbon dating.

The majority of recent chronological estimates date Khufu and his pyramid roughly between 2700 and 2500 BC. [36]

Radiocarbon dating

Mortar was used generously in the Great Pyramid's construction. In the mixing process ashes from fires were added to the mortar, organic material that could be extracted and radiocarbon dated. A total of 46 samples of the mortar were taken in 1984 and 1995, making sure they were clearly inherent to the original structure and could not have been incorporated at a later date. The results were calibrated to 2871-2604 BC. The old wood problem is thought to be mainly responsible for the 100-300 year offset, since the age of the organic material was determined, not when it was last used. A reanalysis of the data gave a completion date for the pyramid between 2620 and 2484 BC, based on the younger samples. [37] [38] [39]

In 1872 Waynman Dixon opened the lower pair of "Air-Shafts", that were closed at both ends until then, by chiseling holes into the walls of the Queen's Chamber. One of the objects found within was a cedar plank, which came into possession of James Grant, a friend of Dixon. After inheritance it was donated to the Museum of Aberdeen in 1946, however it had broken into pieces and was filed incorrectly. Lost in the vast museum collection it was only rediscovered in 2020, when it was radiocarbon dated to 3341-3094 BC. Being over 500 years older than Khufu's chronological age, Abeer Eladany suggests that the wood originated from the center of a long-lived tree or had been recycled for many years prior to being deposited in the pyramid. [40]

History of dating Khufu and the Great Pyramid

Circa 450 BC Herodotus attributed the Great Pyramid to Cheops (Hellenization of Khufu), yet erroneously placed his reign following the Ramesside period. Manetho, around 200 years later, composed an extensive list of Egyptian kings which he divided into dynasties, assigning Khufu to the 4th. But after phonetic changes in the Egyptian language and consequently the Greek translation "Cheops" had transformed into "Souphis" (and similar versions). [41]

Greaves, in 1646, reports the great difficulty of ascertaining a date for the pyramid's construction based on the lacking, and conflictory historic sources. Because of the aforementioned differences in spelling, he doesn't recognize Khufu on Manetho's king list (as transcribed by Africanus and Eusebius), [42] hence he relies on Herodotus' incorrect account. Summating the duration of lines of succession, Greaves concludes the year 1266 BC to be the beginning of Khufu's reign. [22]

Two centuries later, some of the gaps and uncertainties in Manetho's chronology had been cleared by discoveries such as the King Lists of Turin, Abydos, and Karnak. The names of Khufu found the Great Pyramid's Relieving Chambers in 1837 helped to make clear that Cheops and Souphis are in fact one and the same. Thus the Great Pyramid was recognized to be have been built in the 4th dynasty, [24] The dating among Egyptologists still varied by multiple centuries (around 4000-2000 BC), depending on methodology, preconceived religious notions (such as the biblical deluge) and which source they thought was more credible.

Estimates significantly narrowed in the 20th century, most being within 250 years of each other in the middle of the third millennium BC. The newly development radiocarbon dating method confirmed that the historic chronology was approximately correct. It is however still not a fully appreciated method due to larger margins or error, calibration uncertainties and the problem of inbuilt age in plant material including wood (time between growth and final usage). [36] Furthermore, astronomical alignments have been suggested to coincide with the time of construction. [29] [32]

Egyptian chronology continues to be refined and data from multiple disciplines has started to be factored in, such as luminescence-, radiocarbon dating, and dendrochronology. For instance, Ramsey et al. included over 200 radiocarbon samples in their model. [35]

Classical antiquity


The ancient Greek historian Herodotus, writing in the 5th century BC, is one of the first major authors to mention the pyramid. In the second book of his work The Histories, he discusses the history of Egypt and the Great Pyramid. This report was created more than 2000 years after the structure was built, meaning that Herodotus obtained his knowledge mainly from a variety of indirect sources, including officials and priests of low rank, local Egyptians, Greek immigrants, and Herodotus's own interpreters. Accordingly, his explanations present themselves as a mixture of comprehensible descriptions, personal descriptions, erroneous reports, and fantastical legends as such, many of the speculative errors and confusions about the monument can be traced back to Herodotus and his work. [43] [44]

Herodotus writes that the Great Pyramid was built by Khufu (Hellenized as Cheops) who, he erroneously relays, ruled after the Ramesside Period (Dynasties XIX and XX). [45] Khufu was a tyrannical king, Herodotus claims, which probably shows the view of the Greeks that such buildings can only come about through cruel exploitation of the people. [43] Herodotus further states that gangs of 100,000 labourers worked on the building in three-month shifts, taking 20 years to build. In the first ten years, a wide causeway was erected, which, according to Herodotus, was almost as impressive as the construction of the pyramids themselves, measuring nearly 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) long and twenty yards wide, and elevated at its highest to a height of sixteen yards, consisting of stone polished and carved with figures. [46] In addition, underground chambers were made on the hill whereon the pyramids stand, meant to be burial places for Khufu himself, which were encompassed with water which a channel brought in from the Nile. [46] Herodotus later states that at the Pyramid of Khafre (next to the Great Pyramid) the Nile flows through a built passage to an island in which Khufu is buried. [47] (Hawass interprets this to be a reference to the "Osiris Shaft" which is located at the causeway of Khafre south of the Great Pyramid.) [48] [49]

Herodotus also described an inscription on the outside of the pyramid which, according to his translators, indicated the amount of radishes, garlic and onions that the workers would have eaten while working on the pyramid. [50] This could be a note of restoration work that Khaemweset, son of Rameses II, had carried out. Apparently, Herodotus companions and interpreters could not read the hieroglyphs or deliberately gave him false information. [51]

Diodorus Siculus

Between 60-56 BC, the ancient Greek historian Diodorus Siculus visited Egypt and later dedicated the first book of his Bibliotheca historica to the land, its history, and its monuments, including the Great Pyramid. Diodorus's work was inspired by historians of the past, but he also distanced himself from Herodotus, who Diodorus claims tells marvelous tales and myths. [52] Diodorus presumably drew his knowledge from the lost work of Hecataeus of Abdera, [53] and like Herodotus, he also places the builder of the pyramid, "Chemmis," [54] after Ramses III. [45] According to his report, neither Chemmis (Khufu) nor Cephren (Khafre) were buried in their pyramids, but rather in secret places, for fear that the people ostensibly forced to build the structures would seek out the bodies for revenge [55] with this assertion, Diodorus strengthened the connection between pyramid building and slavery. [56]

According to Diodorus, the cladding of the pyramid was still in excellent condition at the time, whereas the uppermost part of the pyramid was formed by a platform six cubits wide (c. 3 m (9.8 ft)). About the construction of the pyramid he notes that it was built with the help of ramps since no lifting tools had yet been invented. Nothing was left of the ramps, as they were removed after the pyramids were completed. He estimated the number of workers necessary to erect the Great Pyramid at 360,000 and the construction time at 20 years. [54] Similar to Herodotus, Diodorus also claims that the side of the pyramid is inscribed with writing that "[set] forth [the price of] vegetables and purgatives for the workmen there were paid out over sixteen hundred talents." [55]


The Greek geographer, philosopher, and historian Strabo visited Egypt around 25 BC, shortly after Egypt was annexed by the Romans. In his work Geographica, he argues that the pyramids were the burial place of kings, but he does mention which king was buried in the structure. Strabo also mentions: "At a moderate height in one of the sides is a stone, which may be taken out when that is removed, there is an oblique passage to the tomb." [57] This statement has generated much speculation, as it suggests that the pyramid could be entered at this time. [58]

Pliny the Elder

The Roman writer Pliny the Elder, writing in the first century AD, argued that the Great Pyramid had been raised either "to prevent the lower classes from remaining unoccupied", or as a measure to prevent the pharaoh's riches from falling into the hands of his rivals or successors. [59] Pliny does not speculate as to the pharaoh in question, explicitly noting that "accident [has] consigned to oblivion the names of those who erected such stupendous memorials of their vanity". [60] In pondering how the stones could be transported to such a vast height he gives two explanations: That either vast mounds of nitre and salt were heaped up against the pyramid which were then melted away with water redirected from the river. Or that "bridges" were constructed, their bricks afterwards distributed for erecting houses of private individuals, arguing that the level of the river is too low for canals to ever bring water up to the pyramid. Pliny also recounts how "in the interior of the largest Pyramid there is a well, eighty-six cubits deep, which communicates with the river, it is thought". Further, he describes a method discovered by Thales of Miletus for ascertaining the pyramid's height by measuring its shadow. [60]

Late antiquity and the Middle Ages

During late antiquity, a misinterpretation of the pyramids as "Joseph's granary" began to gain in popularity. The first textual evidence of this connection is found in the travel narratives of the female Christian pilgrim Egeria, who records that on her visit between 381-84 AD, "in the twelve-mile stretch between Memphis and Babylonia [= Old Cairo] are many pyramids, which Joseph made in order to store corn." [61] Ten years later the usage is confirmed in the anonymous travelogue of seven monks that set out from Jerusalem to visit the famous ascetics in Egypt, wherein they report that they "saw Joseph's granaries, where he stored grain in biblical times." [62] This late 4th century usage is further confirmed in the geographical treatise Cosmographia , written by Julius Honorius around 376 AD, [63] which explains that the Pyramids were called the "granaries of Joseph" (horrea Ioseph). [64] This reference from Julius is important, for it indicates that the identification was starting to spread out from pilgrim's travelogues. In 530 AD, Stephanos of Byzantium added more to this idea when he wrote in his Ethnica that the word "pyramid" was connected to the Greek word πυρός (puros), meaning wheat. [65]

In the seventh century AD, the Rashidun Caliphate conquered Egypt, ending several centuries of Romano-Byzantine rule. A few centuries later, in 820 AD, the Abbasid Caliph Al-Ma'mun (786–833) is said to have tunneled into the side of the structure and discovered the ascending passage and its connecting chambers. [66] It was around this time that a Coptic legend gained popularity that claimed the antediluvian king Surid Ibn Salhouk was the one who built the Pyramid. One legend in particular relates how, three hundred years prior to the Great Flood, Surid had a terrifying dream of the world's end, and so he ordered the construction of the pyramids so that they might house all the knowledge of Egypt and survive into the present. [67] The most notable account of this legend was given by Al-Masudi (896-956) in his Akbar al-zaman alongside imaginative tales about the pyramid, such as the story of a man who fell three hours down the pyramid's well and the tale of an expedition that discovered bizarre finds in the structure's inner chambers. Al-zaman also contains a report of Al-Ma'mun's entring the pyramid and discovering a vessel containing a thousand coins, which just so happened to account for the cost of opening the pyramid. [68] (Some speculate that this story is true, but that the coins were planted by Al-Ma'mun to appease his workers, who were likely frustrated that they had found no treasure.) [69]

In 987 AD, the Arab bibliographer Ibn al-Nadim relates a fantastical tale in his Al-Fihrist about a man who journeyed into the main chamber of a pyramid, which Bayard Dodge argues is the Great Pyramid. [70] According to al-Nadim, the person in question saw a statue of a man holding a tablet and a woman holding a mirror. Between the statues was supposedly a "stone vessel [with] a gold cover." Inside the vessel was "something like pitch," and when the explorer reached into the vessel "a gold receptacle happened to be inside." The receptacle, when taken from the vessel, was filled with "fresh blood," which quickly dried up. Ibn al-Nadim's work also claims that the bodies of a man and woman were discovered inside the Pyramid in "best possible state of preservation." [71] The author al-Kaisi, in his work the Tohfat Alalbab, retells the story of Al-Ma'mun's entry but with the addition of the discovery of "an image of a man in green stone," which when opened revealed a body dressed in jewel-encrusted gold armor. Al-Kaisi's claims to have seen the case from which the body was taken, and asserts that it was located at the king's palace in Cairo. He also writes that he himself entered into the pyramid and discovered myriad preserved bodies. [72]

The Arab polymath Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi (1163-1231) studied the pyramid with great care, and in his Account of Egypt, he praises them of works of engineering genius. In addition to measuring the structure (and the other pyramids at Giza), al-Baghdadi also writes that the structures were surely tombs, although he thought the Great Pyramid was used for the burial of Agathodaimon or Hermes. Al-Baghdadi ponders whether the pyramid pre-dated the Great flood as described in Genesis, and even briefly entertained the idea that it was a pre-Adamic construction. [73] [74] A few centuries later, the Islamic historian Al-Maqrizi (1364-1442) compiled lore about the Great Pyramid in his Al-Khitat. In addition to reasserting that Al-Ma'mun breached the structure in 820 AD, Al-Maqrizi's work also discusses the sarcophagus in the coffin chambers, explicitly noting that the pyramid was a grave. [75]

By the close of the Middle Ages, the Great Pyramid had gained a reputation as a haunted structure. Others feared entering because it was home to animals like bats. [76]

Preparation of the site

A hillock forms the base on which the pyramids stands. It was cut back into steps and only a strip around the perimeter was leveled, [77] which has been measured to be horizontal and flat to within 21 millimetres (0.8 in). [78] The bedrock reaches a height of almost 6 metres (20 ft) above the pyramid base at the location of the Grotto. [79]

Along the sides of the base platform a series of holes are cut in the bedrock. Lehner hypothesizes that they held wooden posts used for alignment. [80] Edwards, among others, suggested the usage of water for evening the base, although it is unclear how practical and workable such a system would be. [77]


The Great Pyramid consists of an estimated 2.3 million blocks. Approximately 5.5 million tonnes of limestone, 8,000 tonnes of granite, and 500,000 tonnes of mortar were used in the construction. [81]

Most of the blocks were quarried at Giza just south of the pyramid, an area now known as the Central Field. [82]

The white limestone used for the casing originated from Tura (10 km (6.2 mi) south of Giza) and was transported by boat down the Nile. In 2013, rolls of papyrus called the Diary of Merer were discovered, written by a supervisor of the deliveries of limestone and other construction materials from Tura to Giza in the last known year of Khufu's reign. [83]

The granite stones in the pyramid were transported from Aswan, more than 900 km (560 mi) away. [6] The largest, weighing 25 to 80 tonnes, form the roofs of the "King's chamber" and the "relieving chambers" above it. Ancient Egyptians cut stone into rough blocks by hammering grooves into natural stone faces, inserting wooden wedges, then soaking these with water. As the water was absorbed, the wedges expanded, breaking off workable chunks. Once the blocks were cut, they were carried by boat either up or down the Nile River to the pyramid. [84]


The Greeks believed that slave labour was used, but modern discoveries made at nearby workers' camps associated with construction at Giza suggest that it was built instead by thousands of conscript laborers. [85]

Worker graffiti found at Giza suggest haulers were divided into zau (singular za), groups of 40 men, consisting of four sub-units that each had an "Overseer of Ten". [86] [3]

As to the question how over two million blocks could have been cut within Khufu's lifetime, stonemason Franck Burgos conducted an archaeological experiment based on an abandoned quarry of Khufu discovered in 2017. In it, an almost completed block and the tools used for cutting it had been uncovered: Hardened arsenic copper chisels, wooden mallets, ropes and stone tools. In the experiment replicas of these were used to cut a block weighing about 2.5 tonnes (the average block size used for the Great Pyramid). It took 4 workers 4 days (á 6 hours) to excavate it. The initially slow progress sped up six times when the stone was wetted with water. Based on the data, Burgos extrapolates that about 3,500 quarry-men could have produced the 250 blocks/day needed to complete the Great Pyramid in 27 years. [87]

A construction management study conducted in 1999, in association with Mark Lehner and other Egyptologists, had estimated that the total project required an average workforce of about 13,200 people and a peak workforce of roughly 40,000. [88]

Surveys and design

The first precise measurements of the pyramid were made by Egyptologist Flinders Petrie in 1880–82, published as The Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh. [89] Many of the casing-stones and inner chamber blocks of the Great Pyramid fit together with high precision, with joints, on average, only 0.5 millimetres (0.020 in) wide. [90] On the contrary, core blocks were only roughly shaped, with rubble inserted between larger gaps. Mortar was used to bind the outer layers together and fill gaps and joints. [5]

The block height and weight tends to get progressively smaller towards the top. Petrie measured the lowest layer to be 148 centimetres (4.86 ft) high, whereas the layers towards the summit barely exceed 50 centimetres (1.6 ft). [91]

The accuracy of the pyramid's perimeter is such that the four sides of the base have an average error of only 58 millimetres (2.3 inches) in length [a] and the finished base was squared to a mean corner error of only 12 seconds of arc. [93]

Some Egyptologists suggest this slope was chosen because the ratio of perimeter to height (1760/280 cubits) equates to 2π to an accuracy of better than 0.05 percent (corresponding to the well-known approximation of π as 22/7). Verner wrote, "We can conclude that although the ancient Egyptians could not precisely define the value of π, in practice they used it". [95] Petrie concluded: "but these relations of areas and of circular ratio are so systematic that we should grant that they were in the builder's design". [96] Others have argued that the ancient Egyptians had no concept of pi and would not have thought to encode it in their monuments and that the observed pyramid slope may be based on the seked choice alone. [97]

Alignment to the cardinal directions

The sides of the Great Pyramid's base are closely aligned to the four geographic (not magnetic) cardinal directions, deviating on average 3 minutes and 38 seconds of arc. [98] Several methods have been proposed for how the ancient Egyptians achieved this level of accuracy:

  • The Solar Gnomon Method - The shadow of a vertical rod is tracked throughout a day. The shadow line is intersected by a circle drawn around the base of the rod. Connecting the intersecting points produces an east-west line. An experiment using this method resulted in lines being, on average, 2 minutes, 9 seconds off due east-west. Employing a pinhole produced much more accurate results (19 arc seconds off), whereas using an angled block as a shadow definer was less accurate (3'47" off). [99]
  • The Pole Star Method - The polar star is tracked using a movable sight and fixed plumb line. Halfway between the maximum eastern and western elongations is true north. Thuban, the polar star during the Old Kingdom, was about two degrees removed from the celestial pole at the time. [100]
  • The Simultaneous Transit Method - The stars Mizar and Kochab appear on a vertical line on the horizon, close to true north around 2500 BC. They slowly and simultaneously shift east over time, which is used to explain the relative misalignment of the pyramids. [101][102]

Construction theories

Many alternative, often contradictory, theories have been proposed regarding the pyramid's construction techniques. [103] One mystery of the pyramid's construction is its planning. John Romer suggests that they used the same method that had been used for earlier and later constructions, laying out parts of the plan on the ground at a 1-to-1 scale. He writes that "such a working diagram would also serve to generate the architecture of the pyramid with precision unmatched by any other means". [104]

The basalt blocks of the pyramid temple show "clear evidence" of having been cut with some kind of saw with an estimated cutting blade of 15 feet (4.6 m) in length. Romer suggests that this "super saw" may have had copper teeth and weighed up to 140 kilograms (310 lb). He theorizes that such a saw could have been attached to a wooden trestle and possibly used in conjunction with vegetable oil, cutting sand, emery or pounded quartz to cut the blocks, which would have required the labour of at least a dozen men to operate it. [105]


The height of the horizontal layers is not uniform but varies considerably. The highest of the 203 remaining courses are towards the bottom. The first layer being the tallest at 1.49 metres (4.9 ft). Towards the top, layers tend to be only slightly over 1 cubit or 0.52 metres (1.7 ft) in height. An irregular pattern is noticeable when looking at the sizes in sequence, where layer height declines steadily only to rise sharply again. [91] [110] [111]

So-called "backing stones" supported the casing which were (unlike core blocks) precisely dressed as well and bound to the casing with mortar. Nowadays, these stones give the structure its visible appearance, following the dismantling of the pyramid in the middle ages. In 1303 AD, a massive earthquake had loosened many of the outer casing stones, [ citation needed ] which were said to have been carted away by Bahri Sultan An-Nasir Nasir-ad-Din al-Hasan in 1356 for use in nearby Cairo. [93] Many more casing stones were removed from the site by Muhammad Ali Pasha in the early 19th century to build the upper portion of his Alabaster Mosque in Cairo, not far from Giza. [ citation needed ] Later explorers reported massive piles of rubble at the base of the pyramids left over from the continuing collapse of the casing stones, which were subsequently cleared away during continuing excavations of the site. Today a few of the casing stones from the lowest course can be seen in situ on each side, with the best preserved on the north below the entrances, excavated by Vyse in 1837.

The mortar was chemically analyzed [112] and contains organic inclusions (mostly coal), samples of which were radiocarbon dated to 2871-2604 BC. [113] It has been theorized that the mortar enabled the masons to set the stones exactly by providing a level bed. [114] [115]

It has been suggested that some or all of the casing stones were cast in place, rather than quarried and moved, yet archaeological evidence and petrographic analysis indicate this was not the case. [116]

Petrie noted in 1880 that the sides of the pyramid, as we see them today, are "very distinctly hollowed" and that "each side has a sort of groove specially down the middle of the face", which he reasoned was a result of increased casing thickness in these areas. [117] A laser scanning survey in 2005 confirmed the existence of the anomalies, which can be, to some degree, attributed to damaged and removed stones. [118] Under certain lighting conditions and with image enhancement the faces can appear to be split, leading to speculation that the pyramid had been intentionally constructed eight-sided. [119]

Pyramidion and missing tip

The pyramid was once topped by a capstone, a pyramidion. The material it was made from is subject to much speculation, limestone, granite or basalt are commonly proposed, in popular culture often made of solid gold or gilded. All known 4th dynasty pyramidia (of the Red Pyramid, Satellite Pyramid of Khufu (G1-d) and Queen's Pyramid of Menkaure (G3-a)) are of white limestone and were not gilded. [120] Only from the 5th dynasty onward is there evidence of gilded capstones, for instance a scene on the causeway of the Sahure speaks of the "white gold pyramidion of the pyramid Sahure’s Soul Shines". [121]

The Great Pyramid's pyramidion was already lost in antiquity, as Pliny the Elder and later authors report of a platform on its summit. [59] Nowadays the pyramid is about 8 metres (26 ft) shorter than it was when intact, with about 1,000 tonnes of material missing from the top. In 1874 a mast was installed on the top by the astronomer David Gill (who returned from observing a rare Venus transit), probably to help determine the original height of the Great Pyramid. It is still in place to this day. [122]

Elevation diagram of the interior structures of the Great Pyramid. The inner and outer lines indicate the pyramid's present and original profiles.
1. Original entrance
2. Robbers' Tunnel (tourist entrance)
3, 4. Descending Passage
5. Subterranean Chamber
6. Ascending Passage
7. Queen's Chamber & its "air-shafts"
8. Horizontal Passage
9. Grand Gallery
10. King's Chamber & its "air-shafts"
11. Grotto & Well Shaft

The internal structure consists of three main chambers (the King's-, Queen's- and Subterranean Chamber), the Grand Gallery and various corridors and shafts.

There are two entrances into the pyramid, the original and a forced passage, which both meet at a junction. From there, one passage descends into the Subterranean Chamber, the other ascends to the Grand Gallery. From the beginning of the gallery three paths can be taken:

  • a vertical shaft that leads down, past a grotto, to meet the descending passage,
  • a horizontal corridor leading to the Queen's Chamber,
  • and the path up the gallery itself to the King's Chamber that contains the sarcophagus.

Both the King's and Queen's chamber have a pair of small "air-shafts". Above the King's chamber are a series of five Relieving Chambers.


Original entrance

The original entrance is located on the north side, 15 cubits or 7.29 metres (23.9 ft) east of the centerline of the pyramid. Before the removal of the casing in the middle ages, the pyramid was entered through a hole in the 19th layer of masonry, approximately 17 metres (56 ft) above the pyramid's base level. The height of that layer (96 centimetres (3.15 ft)) corresponds to the size of the entrance tunnel which is commonly called the Descending Passage. [79] [123] According to Strabo (64–24 BC) a movable stone could be raised to enter this sloping corridor, however it is not known if it was a later addition or original.

A row of double chevrons diverts weight away from the entrance. Several of these chevron blocks are now missing, as the slanted faces they used to rest on indicate.

Numerous, mostly modern, graffiti are cut in the stones around the entrance, most notably a large, square text of hieroglyphs carved in 1842 by the Prussian Expedition to Egypt. [124]

North Face Corridor

In 2016 the ScanPyramids team detected a cavity behind the entrance chevrons using muography, which was confirmed in 2019 to be a corridor at least 5 m (16 feet) long, running horizontal or sloping upwards (thus not parallel to the Descending Passage). [125] [126] Whether or not it connects to the Big Void above the Grand Gallery remains to be seen.

Robbers' Tunnel

Today tourists enter the Great Pyramid via the Robbers' Tunnel, which was long ago cut straight through the masonry of the pyramid. The entrance was forced into the 6th and 7th layer of the casing, about 7 m (23 ft) above the base. After running more-or-less straight and horizontal for 27 metres (89 ft) it turns sharply left to encounter the blocking stones in the Ascending Passage. It is possible to enter the Descending Passage from this point but access is usually forbidden. [127]

The origin of this Robbers' Tunnel is the subject of much scholarly discussion. According to tradition the chasm was made around 820 AD by Caliph al-Ma'mun's workmen with a battering ram. The digging dislodged the stone in the ceiling of the Descending Passage which hid the entrance to the Ascending Passage, and the noise of that stone falling then sliding down the Descending Passage alerted them to the need to turn left. Unable to remove these stones, however, the workmen tunneled up beside them through the softer limestone of the Pyramid until they reached the Ascending Passage. [128] [129]

Due to a number of historical and archaeological discrepancies, many scholars (with Antoine de Sacy perhaps being the first) contend that this story is apocryphal. They argue that it is much more likely that the tunnel had been carved sometime after the pyramid was initially sealed. This tunnel, the scholars continue, was then resealed (likely during the Ramesside Restoration), and it was this plug that al-Ma'mun's ninth-century expedition cleared away. This theory is furthered by the report of patriarch Dionysius I Telmaharoyo, who claimed that before al-Ma'mun's expedition, there already existed a breach in the pyramid's north face that extended into the structure 33 meters before hitting a dead end. This suggests that some sort of robber's tunnel predated al-Ma'mun, and that the caliph simply enlarged it and cleared it of debris. [130]

Descending Passage

From the original entrance, a passage descends through the masonry of the pyramid and then into the bedrock beneath it, ultimately leading to the Subterranean Chamber.

It has a slanted height of 1.20 metres (3.9 ft) high and width of 1.06 metres (3.5 ft) or 4 Egyptian feet high by 2 cubits wide. Its angle of 26°26'46" corresponds to a ratio of 1 to 2 (rise over run). [131]

After 28 metres (92 ft) the lower end of the Ascending Passage is reached, a square hole in the ceiling which is blocked by granite stones and might have originally been concealed. To circumvent these hard stones, a short tunnel was excavated that meets the end of the Robbers' Tunnel, which was expanded over time and fitted with stairs.

The passage continues to descend for another 72 metres (236 ft), now through bedrock instead of the pyramid superstructure. Lazy guides used to block off this part with rubble to avoid having to lead people down and back up the long shaft, until around 1902 when Covington installed a padlocked iron grill-door to stop this practice. [132] Near the end of this section, on the west wall, is the connection to the vertical shaft that leads up to the Grand Gallery.

A horizontal shaft connects the end of the Descending Passage to the Subterranean Chamber, It has a length of 8.84 m (29.0 ft), width of 0.85 m (2.8 ft) and height of 95 to 91 cm (3.12 to 2.99 ft). A recess is located towards the end of the western wall, slightly larger than the tunnel, the ceiling of which is irregular and undressed. [133]

Subterranean Chamber

The Subterranean Chamber, or simply "Pit", is the lowest of the three main chambers and the only one dug into the bedrock beneath the pyramid.

It is rectangular and measures roughly 16 cubits (north-south) by 27 cubits (east-west) or 8.3 m (27 ft) by 14.1 m (46 ft) with an uneven floor over 4 m (13 ft) below the flat ceiling, which in turn is about 27 m (89 ft) below base level. [79]

The western half of the room, apart from the ceiling, is clearly unfinished, with trenches left behind by the quarry-men running east to west. A niche was cut into the northern half of the west wall. The only access, through the Descending Passage, lies on the eastern end of the north wall.

Although seemingly known in antiquity, according to Herodotus and later authors, its existence had been forgotten in the middle ages. It was rediscovered only in 1817 by Giovanni Battista Caviglia, after he cleared the rubble blocking the Descending Passage. [134]

Opposite the entrance, a blind corridor runs straight south for 11 m (36 ft) and continues slight bent another 5.4 m (18 ft), measuring about 0.75 m (2.5 ft) squared Greek or Roman character were found on its roof made with the light of a candle, suggesting that the chamber had indeed been accessible during ancient Roman times. [135]

In the middle of the eastern half, a large hole is opened up, usually called Pit Shaft or Perring's Shaft. The upmost part seems to have ancient origins, about 2 m (6.6 ft) squared in width and 1.5 m (4.9 ft) in depth, diagonally aligned with the chamber. Caviglia and Salt enlarged it to the depth of about 3 m (9.8 ft). [134] In 1837 Vyse directed the shaft to be sunk to a depth of 50 ft (15 m), in hopes of discovering the chamber, encompassed by water, Herodotus alludes to. It was made slightly narrower, about 1.5 m (4.9 ft) in width, hence is easy to be distinguished. But no chamber was discovered after Perring and his workers had spent one and a half years penetrating the bedrock to the then water level of the Nile, some 12 m (39 ft) further down. [136] The rubble produced during this operation was deposited throughout the chamber. When Petrie visited the pyramid in 1880 he found the shaft to be partially filled with water that had rushed down the Descending Passage during heavy rainfalls. [137] In 1909, when the Edgar brothers' surveying activities were encumbered by the material, they moved the sand and smaller stones back into the shaft, leaving the upper part of it clear. [138] The deep, modern shaft is sometimes mistaken to be part of the original design.

Some Egyptologists suggest that this Lower Chamber was intended to be the original burial chamber, but Pharaoh Khufu later changed his mind and wanted it to be higher up in the pyramid. [139]

Ascending Passage

The Ascending Passage connects the Descending Passage to the Grand Gallery. It is 75 cubits or 39.27 metres (128.8 ft) long and of the same width of height as the shaft it originates from (1.20 m (3.9 ft) high, 1.06 m (3.5 ft) wide), although its angle is slightly lower at 26°6'. [140]

The lower end of the shaft is plugged by three granite stones, which were slid down from the Grand Gallery to seal the tunnel. They are 1.57 m (5.2 ft), 1.67 m (5.5 ft) and 1 m (3.3 ft) long respectively. [140] The upmost is heavily damaged, hence shorter. From the end of the Robbers' Tunnel, that concludes slightly below them, a short tunnel was dug around the blocking stones to gain access to the Descending Passage, since the surrounding limestone is considerably softer and easier to work.

The joints between the blocks of the walls are vertical in the lower third of the corridor, otherwise they are perpendicular to the floor, apart from three girdle stone that are inserted near the middle (about 10 cubits apart), presumably to stabilize the tunnel. [141]

Well Shaft and Grotto

The Well Shaft (also known as the Service Shaft or Vertical Shaft) links the lower end of the Grand Gallery to the bottom of Descending Passage, about 50 metres (160 ft) further down.

It doesn't take a direct course but changes angle several times. The upper half goes through the nucleus masonry of the pyramid. Vertical at first for 8 metres (26 ft) it then runs slightly angled southwards for about the same distance until it hits bedrock that is circa 5.7 metres (19 ft) above the pyramid's base level at this point. Another vertical section descends further which is partially lined with masonry that has been broken through to a cavity known as the Grotto. The lower half of the Well Shaft goes through the bedrock at an angle of about 45° for 26.5 metres (87 ft) before a steeper section, 9.5 metres (31 ft) long, leads to its lowest point. The final section of 2.6 metres (8.5 ft) connects it to the Descending Passage, running almost horizontal. The builders evidently had trouble aligning the lower exit. [142] [79]

The purpose of the shaft is commonly explained as a ventilation shaft for the Subterranean Chamber and as a flight shaft for the workers who slid the blocking stones of the Ascending Passage into place.

The Grotto is a natural limestone cave, likely filled with sand and gravel before pyramid construction, that was later on hollowed out by looters. A granite block rests in it that likely originated from the portcullis that once sealed the King's Chamber.

Queen's Chamber

Also at the start of the Grand Gallery, there is the Horizontal Passage leading to the "Queen's Chamber". At start, five pairs of holes suggest the tunnel was once concealed with slabs that laid flush with the gallery floor. The passage is 1.06 metres (3.5 ft) (2 cubits) wide and 1.17 metres (3.8 ft) high for most of its length, but near the chamber there is a step in the floor, after which the passage is 1.68 metres (5.5 ft) high. [79] Half of the west-wall consists of two layers that have atypically continuous vertical joints. Dormion suggests the entrances to magazines laid here, that were filled in. [143]

The "Queen's Chamber" [7] is exactly halfway between the north and south faces of the pyramid. It measures 10 cubits (north-south) by 11 cubits (east-west) or 5.23 metres (17.2 ft) by 5.77 metres (18.9 ft), [144] and has a pointed roof with an apex 12 cubits or 6.26 metres (20.5 ft) [145] above the floor. At the eastern end of the chamber there is a niche 9 cubits or 4.67 metres (15.3 ft) high. The original depth of the niche was 2 cubits or 1.04 metres (3.4 ft), but has since been deepened by treasure hunters. [146]

In the north and south walls of the Queen's Chamber there are shafts which were found in 1872 by a British engineer, Waynman Dixon, who believed shafts similar to those in the King's Chamber must also exist. The shafts were not connected to the outer faces of the pyramid or the Queen's Chamber their purpose is unknown. In one shaft Dixon discovered a ball of diorite (a type of rock), a bronze hook of unknown purpose and piece of cedar wood. The first two objects are currently in the British Museum. [147] The latter was lost until recently when it was found at the University of Aberdeen. It has since been radiocarbon dated to 3341-3094 BC. [148] The northern shaft's angle of ascent fluctuates and at one point turns 45 degrees to avoid the Great Gallery. The southern is perpendicular to the pyramid's slope [147]

The shafts in the Queen's Chamber were explored in 1993 by the German engineer Rudolf Gantenbrink using a crawler robot he designed, Upuaut 2. After a climb of 65 m (213 ft), [149] he discovered that one of the shafts was blocked by a limestone "door" with two eroded copper "handles". The National Geographic Society created a similar robot which, in September 2002, drilled a small hole in the southern door only to find another stone slab behind it. [150] The northern passage, which was difficult to navigate because of its twists and turns, was also found to be blocked by a slab. [151]

Research continued in 2011 with the Djedi Project which used a fibre-optic "micro snake camera" that could see around corners. With this, they were able to penetrate the first door of the southern shaft through the hole drilled in 2002, and view all the sides of the small chamber behind it. They discovered hieroglyphics written in red paint. Egyptian mathematics researcher Luca Miatello stated that the markings read "121"- the length of the shaft in cubits. [152] The Djedi team were also able to scrutinize the inside of the two copper "handles" embedded in the door which they now believe to be for decorative purposes. They also found the reverse side of the "door" to be finished and polished which suggests that it was not put there just to block the shaft from debris, but rather for a more specific reason. [153]

Grand Gallery

The Grand Gallery continues the slope of the Ascending Passage towards the King's Chamber, extending from the 23rd to the 48th course, a rise of 21 metres (69 ft). It has been praised as a "truly spectacular example of stonemasonry". [154] It is 8.6 metres (28 ft) high and 46.68 metres (153.1 ft) long. The base is 4 cubits or 2.06 metres (6.8 ft) wide, but after two courses (at a height of 2.29 metres (7.5 ft)) the blocks of stone in the walls are corbelled inwards by 6–10 centimetres (2.4–3.9 in) on each side. [79] There are seven of these steps, so, at the top, the Grand Gallery is only 2 cubits or 1.04 metres (3.4 ft) wide. It is roofed by slabs of stone laid at a slightly steeper angle than the floor of the gallery so that each stone fits into a slot cut in the top of the gallery like the teeth of a ratchet. The purpose was to have each block supported by the wall of the Gallery, rather than resting on the block beneath it, in order to prevent cumulative pressure. [155]

At the upper end of the Gallery on the eastern wall, there is a hole near the roof that opens into a short tunnel by which access can be gained to the lowest of the Relieving Chambers.

The floor of the Grand Gallery has a shelf or step on either side, 1 cubit or 51 centimetres (20 in) wide, leaving a lower ramp 2 cubits or 1.04 metres (3.4 ft) wide between them. In the shelves, there are 56 slots, 28 on each side. On each wall, 25 niches have been cut above the slots. [156] The purpose of these slots is not known, but the central gutter in the floor of the Gallery, which is the same width as the Ascending Passage, has led to speculation that the blocking stones were stored in the Grand Gallery and the slots held wooden beams to restrain them from sliding down the passage. [157] Jean-Pierre Houdin theorized that they held a timber frame that was used in combination with a trolley to pull the heavy granite blocks up the pyramid.

At the top of the gallery, there is a step onto a small horizontal platform where a tunnel leads through the Antechamber, which was once blocked by portcullis stones, into the King's Chamber.

The Big Void

In 2017, scientists from the ScanPyramids project discovered a large cavity above the Grand Gallery using muon radiography, which they called the "ScanPyramids Big Void". Key was a research team under Professor Morishima Kunihiro from Nagoya University that used special nuclear emulsion detectors. [158] [159] Its length is at least 30 metres (98 ft) and its cross-section is similar to that of the Grand Gallery. Its existence was confirmed by independent detection with three different technologies: nuclear emulsion films, scintillator hodoscopes, and gas detectors. [160] [161] The purpose of the cavity is unknown and it is not accessible. Zahi Hawass speculates it may have been a gap used in the construction of the Grand Gallery, [162] but the Japanese research team state that the void is completely different from previously identified construction spaces. [163]

To verify and pinpoint the void, a team from Kyushu University, Tohoku University, the University of Tokyo and the Chiba Institute of Technology planned to rescan the structure with a newly developed muon detector in 2020. [164] Their work was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. [165]


The last line of defense against intrusion was a small chamber specially designed to house portcullis blocking stones, called the Antechamber. It is cased almost entirely in granite and is situated between the upper end of the Grand Gallery and the King's Chamber. Three slots for portcullis stones line the east and west wall of the chamber. Each of them topped with a semi-circular groove for a log, around which ropes could be spanned.

The granite portcullis stones were approximately 1 cubit or 0.52 metres (1.7 ft) thick and were lowered into position by the aforementioned ropes which were tied through a series of four holes at the top of the blocks. A corresponding set of four vertical grooves are on the south wall of the chamber, recesses that make space for the ropes.

The Antechamber has a design flaw: the space above them can accessed, thus all but the last block can be circumvented. This was exploited by looters who punched a hole through the ceiling of the tunnel behind, gaining access to the King's Chamber. Later on all three portcullis stones were broken and removed. Fragments of these blocks can be found in various locations in the pyramid (the Pit Shaft, the Original Entrance, the Grotto and the recess before the Subterranean Chamber). [142]

King's Chamber

The King's Chamber is the upmost of the three main chambers of the pyramid. It is faced entirely with granite and measures 20 cubits (east to west) by 10 cubits (north to south) or 10.48 metres (34.4 ft) by 5.24 metres (17.2 ft). Its flat ceiling is about 11 cubits and 5 digits or 5.84 metres (19.16 ft) above the floor, formed by nine slabs of stone weighing in total about 400 tons. All the roof beams show cracks due to the chamber having settled about 2.5 to 5 cm (0.98 to 1.97 in). [166]

The walls consist of five courses of blocks that are uninscribed, as was the norm for burial chambers of the 4th dynasty. [167] The stones are precisely fitted together, the facing surfaces dressed to varying degrees, some displaying remains of bosses not entirely cut away. [166] The back sides of the blocks were only roughly hewn to shape, as was usual with Egyptian hard-stone facade blocks, presumably to save work. [168] [79]


The only object in the King's Chamber is a sarcophagus made out of a single, hollowed-out granite block. When it was rediscovered in the early middle ages, it was found broken open and any contents had already been removed. It is of the form common for early Egyptian sarcophagi, rectangular in shape with grooves to slide the now missing lid into place with three small holes for pegs to fixate it. [169] [170] The coffer was not perfectly smoothed, displaying various tool marks matching those of copper saws and tubular hand-drills. [171]

The internal dimensions are roughly 198 cm (6.50 ft) by 68 cm (2.23 feet), the external 228 cm (7.48 ft) by 98 cm (3.22 ft), with a height of 105 cm (3.44 ft). The walls having a thickness of about 15 cm (0.49 ft). The sarcophagus is too large to fit around the corner between Ascending- and Descending Passage, which indicates that it must have been placed in the chamber before the roof was put in place. [172]

Air shafts

In the north and south walls of the King's Chamber are two narrow shafts, commonly known as "air shafts". They face each other and are located approximately 0.91 m (3.0 ft) above the floor, 2.5 m (8.2 ft) from the eastern wall, with a width of 18 and 21 cm (7.1 and 8.3 in) and a height of 14 cm (5.5 in). Both start out horizontally for the length of the granite blocks they go through before changing to an upwards direction. [173] The southern ascends at an angle of 45° with a slight curve westwards. One ceiling stone was found to be distinctly unfinished which Gantenbrink called a "Monday morning block". The northern changes angle several times, shifting the path to the west, perhaps to avoid the Big Void. The builders had trouble calculating the right angles, resulting in parts of the shaft being narrower. [174] Nowadays they both communicate to the exterior. If they originally penetrated the outer casing is unknown.

The purpose of these shafts is not clear: They were long believed by Egyptologists to be shafts for ventilation, but this idea has now been widely abandoned in favour of the shafts serving a ritualistic purpose associated with the ascension of the king's spirit to the heavens. [175] Ironically, both shafts have been fitted with ventilators in 1992 to reduce the humidity in the pyramid. [174]

The idea that the shafts point towards stars or areas of the northern and southern skies has been largely dismissed as the northern follows a dog-leg course through the masonry and the southern has a bend of approximately 20 centimetres (7.9 in), indicating no intention to have them point to any celestial objects. [174]

Relieving chambers

Above the roof of the King's Chamber are five compartments, named (from lowest up) "Davison's Chamber", "Wellington's Chamber", "Nelson's Chamber", "Lady Arbuthnot's Chamber", and "Campbell's Chamber".

They were presumably intended to safeguard the King's Chamber from the possibility of the roof collapsing under the weight of stone above, hence they are referred to as "Relieving Chambers".

The granite blocks that divide the chambers have flat bottom sides but roughly shaped top sides, giving all five chambers an irregular floor, but a flat ceiling, except the upmost chamber which has a pointed limestone roof. [176]

Nathaniel Davison is credited with the discovery of the lowest of these chambers in 1763, although a French merchant named Maynard informed him of its existence. [177] It can be reached through an ancient passage that originates from the top of the south wall of the Grand Gallery. [176] The upper four chambers were discovered in 1837 by Howard Vyse after a crack in the ceiling of the first chamber, which allowed the insertion of a long reed, was followed upward by forcing a tunnel through the masonry employing gunpowder and boring rods. [178] (Dynamite was not invented until about 30 years later.) They were completely unaccessible until then since construction, no old shaft like that to Davison's Chamber existed.

Numerous graffiti of red Ochre paint were found to cover the limestone walls of all four newly discovered chambers. Apart from leveling lines and indication marks for masons, multiple hieroglyphic inscriptions spell out the names of work-gangs. Those names, which were found in other Egyptian pyramids like that of Menkaure and Sahure as well, usually included the name of the pharaoh they were working for. [179] [12] The blocks must have received the inscriptions before the chambers became inaccessible during construction. Their orientation, often side-ways or upside down, and them being sometimes partially covered by blocks, seems to indicate that the stones were inscribed even before being laid. [180]

The inscriptions, correctly deciphered only decades after discovery, read as follows: [12]

  • "The gang, The Horus Mededuw-is-the-purifier-of-the-two-lands." Found once in relieving chamber 3. (Mededuw being Khufu's Horus name.)
  • "The gang, The Horus Mededuw-is-pure" Found seven times in chamber 4.
  • "The gang, Khufu-excites-love" Found once in chamber 5 (top chamber).
  • “The gang, The-white-crown-of Khnumkhuwfuw-is-powerful” Found once in chambers 2 and 3, ten times in chamber 4 and twice in chamber 5. (Khnum-Khufu being Khufu's full birth name.)

The Great Pyramid is surrounded by a complex of several buildings including small pyramids.

Temples and causeway

The Pyramid Temple, which stood on the east side of the pyramid and measured 52.2 metres (171 ft) north to south and 40 metres (130 ft) east to west, has almost entirely disappeared apart from the black basalt paving. There are only a few remnants of the causeway which linked the pyramid with the valley and the Valley Temple. The Valley Temple is buried beneath the village of Nazlet el-Samman basalt paving and limestone walls have been found but the site has not been excavated. [181] [182]

East cemetery

The tomb of Queen Hetepheres I, sister-wife of Sneferu and mother of Khufu, is located approximately 110 metres (360 ft) east of the Great Pyramid. [183] Discovered by accident by the Reisner expedition, the burial was intact, though the carefully sealed coffin proved to be empty.

Subsidiary pyramids

On the southern end of the east side are four subsidiary pyramids The three that remain standing to nearly full height are popularly known as the Queens' Pyramids (G1-a, G1-b and G1-c). The fourth, smaller satellite pyramid (G1-d), was so ruined that its existence was not suspected until the first course of stones and later the remains of the capstone were discovered during excavations in 1991-93. [184]


Three boat-shaped pits are located east of the pyramid. of a size and shape to have held complete boats, though so shallow that any superstructure, if there ever was one, must have been removed or disassembled.

Two additional boat pits, long and rectangular in shape, were found south of the pyramid, still covered with slabs of stone weighing up to 15 tons.

The first of these was discovered in May 1954, the Egyptian archaeologist Kamal el-Mallakh. Inside were 1,224 pieces of wood, the longest 23 metres (75 ft) in length, the shortest 10 centimetres (0.33 ft). These were entrusted to a boat builder, Haj Ahmed Yusuf, who worked out how the pieces fit together. The entire process, including conservation and straightening of the warped wood, took fourteen years. The result is a cedar-wood boat 43.6 metres (143 ft) long, its timbers held together by ropes, which is currently housed in the Giza Solar boat museum, a special boat-shaped, air-conditioned museum beside the pyramid.

During construction of this museum in the 1980s the second sealed boat pit was discovered. It was left unopened until 2011 when excavation began on the boat. [185]

Pyramid town

A notable construction flanking the Giza pyramid complex is a cyclopean stone wall, the Wall of the Crow. [186] Lehner has discovered a worker's town outside of the wall, otherwise known as "The Lost City", dated by pottery styles, seal impressions, and stratigraphy to have been constructed and occupied sometime during the reigns of Khafre (2520–2494 BC) and Menkaure (2490–2472 BC). [187] [188] In the early 21st century, Mark Lehner and his team made several discoveries, including what appears to have been a thriving port, suggesting the town and associated living quarters, which consisted of barracks called "galleries", may not have been for the pyramid workers after all but rather for the soldiers and sailors who utilized the port. In light of this new discovery, as to where then the pyramid workers may have lived, Lehner suggested the alternative possibility they may have camped on the ramps he believes were used to construct the pyramids or possibly at nearby quarries. [189]

In the early 1970s, the Australian archaeologist Karl Kromer excavated a mound in the South Field of the plateau. This mound contained artefacts including mudbrick seals of Khufu, which he identified with an artisans' settlement. [190] Mudbrick buildings just south of Khufu's Valley Temple contained mud sealings of Khufu and have been suggested to be a settlement serving the cult of Khufu after his death. [191] A worker's cemetery used at least between Khufu's reign and the end of the Fifth Dynasty was discovered south of the Wall of the Crow by Hawass in 1990. [192]

Authors Brier and Hobbs claim that "all the pyramids were robbed" by the New Kingdom, when the construction of royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings began. [193] [194] Joyce Tyldesley states that the Great Pyramid itself "is known to have been opened and emptied by the Middle Kingdom", before the Arab caliph Al-Ma'mun entered the pyramid around 820 AD. [128]

I. E. S. Edwards discusses Strabo's mention that the pyramid "a little way up one side has a stone that may be taken out, which being raised up there is a sloping passage to the foundations". Edwards suggested that the pyramid was entered by robbers after the end of the Old Kingdom and sealed and then reopened more than once until Strabo's door was added. He adds: "If this highly speculative surmise be correct, it is also necessary to assume either that the existence of the door was forgotten or that the entrance was again blocked with facing stones", in order to explain why al-Ma'mun could not find the entrance. [195] Scholars such as Gaston Maspero and Flinders Petrie have noted that evidence for a similar door has been found at the Bent Pyramid of Dashur. [196] [197]

Herodotus visited Egypt in the 5th century BC and recounts a story that he was told concerning vaults under the pyramid built on an island where the body of Khufu lies. Edwards notes that the pyramid had "almost certainly been opened and its contents plundered long before the time of Herodotus" and that it might have been closed again during the Twenty-sixth Dynasty of Egypt when other monuments were restored. He suggests that the story told to Herodotus could have been the result of almost two centuries of telling and retelling by pyramid guides. [44]

Great Pyramid of Giza

The Great Pyramid of Giza is a defining symbol of Egypt and the last of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World. It is located on the Giza plateau near the modern city of Cairo and was built over a twenty-year period during the reign of the king Khufu (2589-2566 BCE, also known as Cheops) of the 4th Dynasty. Until the Eiffel Tower was completed in Paris, France in 1889 CE, the Great Pyramid was the tallest structure made by human hands in the world a record it held for over 3,000 years and one unlikely to be broken. Other scholars have pointed to the Lincoln Cathedral spire in England, built in 1300 CE, as the structure which finally surpassed the Great Pyramid in height but, still, the Egyptian monument held the title for an impressive span of time. The pyramid rises to a height of 479 feet (146 metres) with a base of 754 feet (230 metres) and is comprised of over two million blocks of stone. Some of these stones are of such immense size and weight (such as the granite slabs in the King's Chamber) that the logistics of raising and positioning them so precisely seems an impossibility by modern standards.

The pyramid was first excavated using modern techniques and scientific analysis in 1880 CE by Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853-1942 CE), the British archaeologist who set the standard for archaeological operations in Egypt generally and at Giza specifically. Writing on the pyramid in 1883 CE, Flinders Petrie noted:


The Great Pyramid has lent its name as a sort of by-word for paradoxes and, as moths to a candle, so are theorisers attracted to it (1).

Although many theories persist as to the purpose of the pyramid, the most widely accepted understanding is that it was constructed as a tomb for the king. Exactly how it was built, however, still puzzles people in the modern day. The theory of ramps running around the outside of the structure to move the blocks into place has been largely discredited. So-called "fringe" or "New Age" theories abound, in an effort to explain the advanced technology required for the structure, citing extra-terrestrials and their imagined frequent visits to Egypt in antiquity. These theories continue to be advanced in spite of the increasing body of evidence substantiating that the pyramid was built by the ancient Egyptians using technological means which, most likely, were so common to them that they felt no need to record them. Still, the intricacy of the interior passages, shafts, and chambers (The King's Chamber, Queen's Chamber, and Grand Gallery) as well as the nearby Osiris Shaft, coupled with the mystery of how the pyramid was built at all and its orientation to cardinal points, encourages the persistence of these fringe theories.

Another enduring theory regarding the monument's construction is that it was built on the backs of slaves. Contrary to the popular opinion that Egyptian monuments in general, and the Great Pyramid in particular, were built using Hebrew slave labor, the pyramids of Giza and all other temples and monuments in the country were constructed by Egyptians who were hired for their skills and compensated for their efforts. No evidence of any kind whatsoever - from any era of Egypt's history - supports the narrative events described in the biblical Book of Exodus. Worker's housing at Giza was discovered and fully documented in 1979 CE by Egyptologists Lehner and Hawass but, even before this evidence came to light, ancient Egyptian documentation substantiated payment to Egyptian workers for state-sponsored monuments while offering no evidence of forced labor by a slave population of any particular ethnic group. Egyptians from all over the country worked on the monument, for a variety of reasons, to build an eternal home for their king which would last through eternity.


Pyramids & the Giza Plateau

Toward the end of the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3150-c.2613 BCE) the vizier Imhotep ((c. 2667-2600 BCE) devised a means of creating an elaborate tomb, unlike any other, for his king Djoser. Prior to Djoser's reign (c. 2670 BCE) tombs were constructed of mud fashioned into modest mounds known as mastabas. Imhotep conceived of a then-radical plan of not only building a mastaba out of stone but of stacking these structures on top of one another in steps to create an enormous, lasting, monument. His vision led to the creation of Djoser's Step Pyramid at Saqqara, still standing in the present day, the oldest pyramid in the world.

Still, the Step Pyramid was not a "true pyramid" and, in the period of the Old Kingdom (c. 2613-2181 BCE) the king Sneferu (c. 2613-2589 BCE) sought to improve on Imhotep's plans and create an even more impressive monument. His first attempt, the Collapsed Pyramid at Meidum, failed because he departed too widely from Imhotep's design. Sneferu learned from his mistake, however, and went to work on another - the Bent Pyramid - which also failed because of miscalculations in the angle from base to summit. Undeterred, Sneferu took what he learned from that experience and built the Red Pyramid, the first true pyramid constructed in Egypt.

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Building a pyramid required enormous resources and the maintenance of a wide array of all kinds of skilled and unskilled workers. The kings of the 4th Dynasty - often referred to as "the pyramid builders" - were able to command these resources because of the stability of the government and the wealth they were able to acquire through trade. A strong central government, and a surplus of wealth, were both vital to any efforts at pyramid building and these resources were passed from Sneferu, upon his death, to his son Khufu.

Khufu seems to have set to work on building his grand tomb shortly after coming to power. The rulers of the Old Kingdom governed from the city of Memphis and the nearby necropolis of Saqqara was already dominated by Djoser's pyramid complex while other sites such as Dashur had been used by Sneferu. An older necropolis, however, was also close by and this was Giza. Khufu's mother, Hetepheres I (c. 2566 BCE), was buried there and there were no other great monuments to compete for attention close by so Khufu chose Giza as the site for his pyramid.


Construction of the Pyramid

The first step in constructing a pyramid, after deciding upon the best location, was organizing the crews and allocating resources and this was the job of the second-most powerful man in Egypt, the vizier. Khufu's vizier was Hemiunu, his nephew, credited with the design and building of the Great Pyramid. Hemiunu's father, Nefermaat (Khufu's brother) had been Sneferu's vizier in his pyramid-building projects and it is probable he learned a great deal about construction from these experiences.


Because of their immense size, building pyramids posed special problems of both organization and engineering. Constructing the Great Pyramid of the pharaoh Khufu, for example, required that more than two million blocks weighing from two to more than sixty tons be formed into a structure covering two football fields and rising in a perfect pyramidal shape 480 feet into the sky. Its construction involved vast numbers of workers which, in turn, presented complex logistical problems concerning food, shelter, and organization. Millions of heavy stone blocks needed not only to be quarried and raised to great heights but also set together with precision in order to create the desired shape. (217)

It is precisely the skill and technology required to "create the desired shape" which presents the problem to anyone trying to understand how the Great Pyramid was built. Modern-day theories continue to fall back on the concept of ramps which were raised around the foundation of the pyramid and grew higher as the structure grew taller. The ramp theory, largely discredited but still repeated in one form or another, maintains that, once the foundation was firm these ramps could have easily been raised around the structure as it was built and provided the means for hauling and positioning tons of stones in precise order. Aside from the problems of a lack of wood in Egypt to make an abundance of such ramps, the angles workers would have had to move the stones up, and the impossibility of moving heavy stone bricks and granite slabs into position without a crane (which the Egyptians did not have), the most serious problem comes down to the total impracticability of the ramp theory. Brier and Hobbs explain:

The problem is one of physics. The steeper the angle of an incline, the more effort necessary to move an object up that incline. So, in order for a relatively small number of men, say ten or so, to drag a two-ton load up a ramp, its angle could not be more than about eight percent. Geometry tells us that to reach a height of 480 feet, an inclined plane rising at eight percent would have to start almost one mile from its finish. It has been calculated that building a mile-long ramp that rose as high as the Great Pyramid would require as much material as that needed for the pyramid itself - workers would have had to build the equivilent of two pyramids in the twenty-year time frame. (221)

A variation on the ramp theory was proposed by the French architect Jean-Pierre Houdin who claims ramps were used inside of the pyramid. Houdin believes that ramps may have been used externally in the initial stages of construction but, as the pyramid grew taller, work was done internally. The quarried stones were brought in through the entrance and moved up the ramps to their position. This, Houdin claims, would account for the shafts one finds inside the pyramid. This theory, however, does not account for the weight of the stones or the number of workers on the ramp required to move them up an angle inside the pyramid and into position.

The ramp theory in either of these forms fails to explain how the pyramid was built while a much more satisfactory possibility rests right below the monument: the high water table of the Giza plateau. Engineer Robert Carson, in his work The Great Pyramid: The Inside Story, suggests that the pyramid was built using water power. Carson also suggests the use of ramps but in a much more cogent fashion: the interior ramps were supplemented by hydraulic power from below and hoists from above. Although the Egyptians had no knowledge of a crane as one would understand that mechanism the present day, they did have the shaduf, a long pole with a bucket and rope at one end and counter-weight at the other, typically used for drawing water from a well. Hydraulic power from below, coupled with hoists from above could have moved the stones throughout the interior of the pyramid and this would also account for the shafts and spaces one finds in the monument which other theories have failed to fully account for.


It is abundantly clear that the water table at Giza is still quite high in the present day and was higher in the past. Egyptologist Zahi Hawass, writing on his excavation of the Osiris Shaft near the Great Pyramid in 1999 CE, notes how "the excavation proved to be very challenging mainly due to the dangerous nature of the work caused by the high water table" (381). In the same article, Hawass notes how, in 1945 CE, guides at Giza were regularly swimming in the waters of this underground shaft and that "the rising water table in the shaft prevented scholars from studying it further" (379). Further, earlier attempts to excavate the Osiris Shaft - by Selim Hassan in the 1930's CE - and observations (though no excavation) of the shaft by Abdel Moneim Abu Bakr in the 1940's CE - also make note of this same high water table. Geological surveys have determined that the Giza plateau and surrounding region was much more fertile in the time of the Old Kingdom than it is today and that the water table would have been higher.

Considering this, Carson's theory of water power used in building the pyramid makes the most sense. Carson claims the monument "could only be constructed by means of hydraulic power that a hydraulic transportation system was set up inside the Great Pyramid" (5). Harnessing the power of the high water table, the ancient builders could have constructed the pyramid much more reasonably than by some form of exterior ramping system.

Once the interior was completed, the whole of the pyramid was covered in white limestone which would have shone brilliantly and been visible from every direction for miles around the site. As impressive as the Great Pyramid is today, one must recognize that it is a monument in ruin as the limestone long ago fell away and was utilized as building material for the city of Cairo (just as the nearby city of ancient Memphis was). When it was completed, the Great Pyramid must have appeared as the most striking creation the Egyptians had ever seen. Even today, in its greatly weathered state, the Great Pyramid inspires awe. The sheer size and scope of the project is literally amazing. Historian Marc van de Mieroop writes:

The size boggles the mind: it was 146 meters high (479 feet) by 230 meters at the base (754 feet). We estimate that it contained 2,300,000 blocks of stone with an average weight of 2 and 3/4 tons some weighing up to 16 tons. Khufu ruled 23 years according to the Turin Royal Canon, which would mean that throughout his reign annually 100,000 blocks - daily about 285 blocks or one every two minutes of daylight - had to be quarried, transported, dressed, and put in place. The construction was almost faultless in design. The sides were oriented exactly toward the cardinal points and were at precise 90-degree angles. (58)

The workers who accomplished this were skilled and unskilled laborers hired by the state for the project. These workers either volunteered their efforts to pay off a debt, for community service, or were compensated for their time. Although slavery was an institution practiced in ancient Egypt, no slaves, Hebrew or otherwise, were used in creating the monument. Brier and Hobbs explain the logistics of the operation:

Were it not for the two months every year when the Nile's water covered Egypt's farmland, idling virtually the entire workforce, none of this construction would have been possible. During such times, a pharaoh offered food for work and the promise of a favored treatment in the afterworld where he would rule just as he did in this world. For two months annually, workmen gathered by the tens of thousands from all over the country to transport the blocks a permanent crew had quarried during the rest of the year. Overseers organized the men into teams to transport the stones on sleds, devices better suited than wheeled vehicles to moving weighty objects over shifting sand. A causeway, lubricated by water, smoothed the uphill pull. No mortar was used to hold the blocks in place, only a fit so exact that these towering structures have survived for 4,000 years (17-18).

The yearly inundation of the Nile River was essential for the livelihood of the Egyptians in that it deposited rich soil from the riverbed all across the farmlands of the shore it also, however, made farming those lands an impossibility during the time of the flood. During these periods, the government provided work for the farmers through labor on their great monuments. These were the people who did the actual, physical, work in moving the stones, raising the obelisks, building the temples, creating the pyramids which continue to fascinate and inspire people in the present day. It is a disservice to their efforts and their memory, not to mention the grand culture of the Egyptians, to continue to insist that these structures were created by poorly treated slaves who were forced into their condition because of ethnicity. The biblical Book of Exodus is a cultural myth purposefully created to distinguish one group of people living in the land of Canaan from others and should not be regarded as history.

The Great Pyramid as Tomb

All of this effort went to creating a grand tomb for the king who, as mediator between the gods and the people, was thought to be deserving of the finest of tombs. Theories regarding the original purpose of the Great Pyramid range from the fanciful to the absurd and may be investigated elsewhere but the culture which produced the monument would have regarded it as a tomb, an eternal home for the king. Tombs which have been excavated throughout Egypt, from the most modest to the rich example of Tutankhamun's - along with other physical evidence - make clear the ancient Egyptian belief in a life after death and the concern for the soul's welfare in this new world. Grave goods were always placed in the tomb of the deceased as well as, in wealthier tombs, inscriptions and paintings on the walls (known as the Pyramid Texts, in some cases). The Great Pyramid is simply the grandest form of one of these tombs.

Arguments against the Great Pyramid as a tomb cite the fact that no mummies or grave goods have ever been found inside. This argument willfully ignores the plentiful evidence of grave robbing from ancient times to the present. Egyptologists from the 19th century CE onwards have recognized that the Great Pyramid was looted in antiquity and, most likely, during the time of the New Kingdom (c. 1570-1069 BCE) when the Giza necropolis was replaced by the area now known as The Valley of the Kings near Thebes.

This is not to suggest that Giza was forgotten, there is ample evidence of New Kingdom pharaohs such as Ramesses the Great (1279-1213 BCE) taking great interest in the site. Rameses II had a small temple built at Giza in front of the Sphinx as a token of honor and it was Rameses II's fourth son, Khaemweset, who devoted himself to preserving the site. Khaemweset never ruled Egypt but was a crown prince whose efforts to restore the monuments of the past are well documented. He is, in fact, considered the world's "first Egyptologist" for his work in restoration, preservation, and recording of ancient monuments and especially for his work at Giza.

Further, work conducted on the Osiris Shaft - and other areas around the site - have shown activity during the 26th Dynasty of the Third Intermediate Period (c. 1069-525 BCE) and into the Late Period (c. 525-332 BCE). Giza was, therefore, an active site throughout Egypt's history but was not always given the kind of attention it received during the Old Kingdom. Herodotus, writing in the 5th century BCE, reported that the Great Pyramid had been looted and visitor's to the site in the modern day enter through the so-called Robbers Tunnel created c. 820 CE by Caliph al-Ma'mun seeking to recover whatever treasures the pyramid held inside. Tomb robbers before and after the caliph had also visited the pyramid prior to the excavations of the 19th century CE. Whatever treasures the pyramid may have held in the time of Khufu could have been removed at any time from the Old Kingdom onward.

The Giza Plateau

Following Khufu's death, his son Khafre (2558-2532 BCE) took the throne and began building his own pyramid next to his father's. The king Menkaure (2532-2503 BCE) came after Khafre and followed the same paradigm of building his eternal home at Giza. Khafre and Menkaure added their own temple complexes and monuments, such as the Great Sphinx of Giza under Khafre's reign, but these were on a smaller scale than that of Khufu's work. It is no accident or mystery as to why the Great Pyramid is the largest and the other two are progressively smaller: as the period of the Old Kingdom continued, with the government's emphasis on grand building projects, resources became more and more scarce. Menkaure's successor, Shepseskaf (2503-2498 BCE) had the resources to complete Menkaure's pyramid complex but could afford no such luxury for himself he was buried in a modest mastaba tomb at Saqqara.

Still, Giza continued be regarded as an important site and funds were allocated as long as they were available for its upkeep. Giza was a thriving community for centuries with temples, shops, a market place, housing, and a sturdy economy. Individuals in the present day speculating on the lonely, deserted, mystical outpost of Giza ignore the evidence of what the complex would have been like for most of Egypt's long history. The present day understanding of the plateau as some isolated outpost of monuments encourages theories which do not align with how Giza actually was when those monuments were constructed. Theories suggesting mysterious tunnels beneath the plateau have been debunked - yet still persist - including speculations concerning the Osiris Shaft.

This complex of underground chambers was most likely dug, as Hawass contends, in honor of the god Osiris and may or may not have been where the king Khufu was originally laid to rest. Herodotus mentions the Osiris Shaft (though not by that name, which was only given to it recently by Hawass) in writing of Khufu's burial chamber which was said to be surrounded by water. Excavations of the shaft and the chambers have recovered artifacts dating from the Old Kingdom through the Third Intermediate Period but no tunnels branching out beneath the plateau. Osiris, as lord of the dead, would certainly have been honored at Giza and underground chambers recognizing him as ruler in the afterlife were not uncommon throughout Egypt's history.

Although the Great Pyramid of Giza, and the other smaller pyramids, temples, monuments, and tombs there, continued to be respected throughout Egypt's history, the site fell into decline after the Roman occupation and then annexation of the country in 30 BCE. The Romans concentrated their energies on the city of Alexandria and the abundant crops the country offered, making Egypt into Rome's "bread basket", as the phrase goes. The site was more or less neglected until Napoleon's Egyptian Campaign of 1798-1801 CE during which he brought along his team of scholars and scientists to document ancient Egyptian culture and monuments. Napoleon's work in Egypt attracted others to the country who then inspired still others to visit, make their own observations, and conduct their own excavations.

Throughout the 19th century CE, ancient Egypt became increasingly the object of interest for people around the world. Professional and amateur archaeologists descended upon the country seeking to exploit or explore the ancient culture for their own ends or in the interests of science and knowledge. The Great Pyramid was first fully excavated professionally by the British archaeologist Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie whose work on the monument lay the foundation for any others who followed up to the present day.

Flinders Petrie was obviously interested in exploring every nuance of the Great Pyramid but not at the expense of the monument itself. His excavations were performed with great care in an effort to preserve the historical authenticity of the work he was examining. Although this may seem a common sense approach in the modern day, many European explorers before Flinders Petrie, archaeologists professional and amateur, brushed aside any concerns of preservation in pursuing their goal of unearthing ancient treasure troves and bringing antiquities back to their patrons. Flinders Petrie established the protocol regarding ancient monuments in Egypt which is still adhered to in the present day. His vision inspired those who came after him and it is largely due to his efforts that people today can still admire and appreciate the monument known as the Great Pyramid of Giza.


A pyramid is a structure or monument, usually with a quadrilateral base, which rises to a triangular point. In the popular imagination, pyramids are the three lonely structures on the Giza plateau at the edge of the Sahara Desert but there are over seventy pyramids in Egypt stretching down the Nile River Valley and, in their time, they were the centers of great temple complexes. Although largely associated exclusively with Egypt, the pyramid shape was first used in ancient Mesopotamia in the mud-brick structures known as ziggurats, and continued to be used by the Greeks and Romans. Pyramids are also found south of Egypt in the Nubian kingdom of Meroe, in the cities of the Maya throughout Central and South America, and, in a variation on the form, in China.

Egyptian Pyramids

Known as 'mr' or 'mir' by the Egyptians, the pyramid was a royal tomb and considered the place of ascent for the spirit of the deceased pharaoh. From the top point of the pyramid, it was thought, the soul would travel to the after-life of the Field of Reeds and, if it so chose, could easily return to earth (the high pinnacle of the pyramid, or a life-like statue of the king, serving as a beacon the soul would recognize). Early on, the simple mastaba served as a tomb for the common people and royalty alike but in the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3150-2613 BCE) the pyramid design was developed under the reign of Djoser of the Third Dynasty (c. 2670-2613 BCE).


Djoser's chief architect Imhotep (c. 2667-2600 BCE) decided to try something which had never been attempted before: to build a colossal monument entirely of stone. Instead of the simple mastaba tomb, he designed and engineered a process whereby the earlier mud-brick mastabas would be built of limestone block and would be placed on top of one another, each level a little smaller than the one beneath, to create a pyramid. This series of large, stone, stacked mastabas, carefully built in a graduated design, became the first pyramid in Egypt - the famous Step Pyramid at Saqqara. Djoser's pyramid rose 204 feet (62 meters( high and was composed of six separate 'steps'. The base of this pyramid was 358 by 411 feet (109 by 125 meters) and the 'steps', or layers, were faced with limestone. The pyramid was built in the center of a grand complex of temples, houses for the priests, and administrative buildings which covered 40 acres (16 hectares) and was encircled by a wall 30 feet (10.5 meters) high. In designing this pyramid and complex, Imhotep created the tallest structure in the world at that time which instantly became Saqqara's leading tourist attraction.

The first pyramid, as we would recognize the structure today, appeared in the Fourth Dynasty in the reign of Snofru who completed two pyramids at Dashur as well as finishing the work begun on his father's pyramid at Meidum. These pyramids also made use of the gradation of stone blocks of limestone but the blocks were cut smaller as the structure rose, providing a smooth outer surface instead of the 'steps' which was then covered in limestone. The most outstanding example of pyramid building in Egypt was the Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza, the last remaining of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, with a base covering thirteen acres and composed of 2,300,000 stone blocks. Known as the Horizon of Khufu in ancient times, the pyramid was positioned for precise astrological alignment.


Mesoamerican Pyramids

The pyramids of Mesoamerica follow this precise design even though there is no evidence of cultural exchange between Egypt and cities such as Chichen Itza or Tikal or the great city of Tenochtitlan. The great pyramids of the Mayan civilization, and other indigenous tribes of the region, are thought to represent mountains which symbolized man's attempt to reach closer to the realm of the gods. The pyramid known as El Castillo, at Chichen Itza, was specifically designed to welcome the great god Kukulkan back to earth at the spring and autumn equinoxes. On those dates, the sun casts a shadow which, owing to the construction of the pyramid, appears to be the serprent god descending down the stairs of the pyramid to the ground.

Other Pyramids

Evidence of pyramid-building in Greece exists in archaeological excavations at Hellenicon and in the works of the ancient writer Pausanius who recorded seeing two pyramids in Greece. The Grecian pyramids function remains mysterious in that the ruins at Hellenicon are not as well preserved as the pyramids of Egypt and there exist no records by the Greeks mentioning pyramid-building.

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Pausanius' accounts seem to indicate the pyramids were monuments to fallen heroes and, perhaps, some were but the fact that the ruins at Hellenicon have a door in the base which can only be locked from the inside has led some scholars to speculate that perhaps pyramids were used as watchtowers (rising in pyramid shape but without the pinnacle). As the top of the pyramid at Hellenicon is long missing, however, and as there are no accounts of it from antiquity, this must remain speculation.

In Roman times the pyramid returned to the Egyptian use as a tomb and the Pyramid of Cestius still stands today in Rome near the Porta San Paulo. Built between 18 and 12 BCE, the pyramid was the tomb of the magistrate Gaius Cestius Epulo and rises 125 feet from a base of 100 feet. There is some disagreement over whether the Romans took the pyramid shape from Egypt or from Nubia, as the shape and interior design of Cestius' pyramid could be interpreted as either but not definitively as one or the other. The pyramids of the Kingdom of Meroe (south of Egypt in modern-day Sudan) are identical to those of Egypt though seem to be lacking the intricacy of interior chambers.



In every culture which made use of them (and, of course, as mentioned, there were pyramids also in China, throughout Mesoamerica, in India and, later, throughout Europe) the pyramid was the centerpiece of a surrounding complex. Today the Great Pyramid at Giza sits between the two smaller pyramids and other recently excavated Mastabas but, originally, would have risen above terraces and walks and buildings dedicated to the spirit of the deceased or to the gods of that particular place. Worker's villages once rose on the plateau of Giza which gave rise to shops and and trade centers. These workers were not foreign slaves but Egyptians who were either recruited for labor as a religious sacrifice, volunteered as community service, or were paid for their time and talents. Archaeological excavations have found no evidence of forced labor on the pyramids at Giza nor on any of the other monuments of Egypt. The popular impression of Hebrew slaves toiling under the lash to build the pyramids comes from the biblical Book of Exodus and nowhere else save fictions and films which have popularized the story. The Giza plateau was no slave quarter where people were forced to work against their will but a thriving community of Egyptians who lived, worked, and worshipped there. The positioning of the Sphinx at Giza, as well as recent archaeological finds there and elsewhere in Egypt, support the theory of Pyramid Complexes as centers of worship, work, commerce, and social life rather than lone tombs erected on empty plains.

The Great Pyramids of Ancient Egypt – Jewish Slave Myth Examined

The innovative pyramids of ancient Egypt have stood the test of time, as their architects intended, to help usher dead pharaohs into the afterlife, along with their possessions. Over 4,000 years later, the elaborate tombs still stand – although plundered by pyramid robbers – and the people responsible for their construction are still a matter of controversy.

Jews, Ancient Egypt and Mass Exodus

“The stories we hear in Sunday school seem to form the basis for the popular belief that Jewish slaves were forced to build the pyramids in Egypt, but they were saved when they left Egypt in a mass Exodus,” said Brian Dunning. But, according to findings, “no Egyptian record contains a single reference to anything in Exodus and by the time there were enough Jews living in Egypt to constitute an Exodus, the time of the pyramids was long over.”

Furthermore, says Amihai Mazar, professor at the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, “No Jews built the pyramids because Jews didn’t exist at the period when the pyramids were built.” It wasn’t until over 600 years after the last of the large pyramids had been built that Israel came into existence, and over 2,000 years after the Great Pyramid had been completed that Jews are evidenced to have been in Egypt.

The Myth of the Jewish Slave

So where did the myth of the pyramid-building Jewish slaves come from? Herodotus of Greece – “The Father of History” or “The Father of Lies” – inadvertently facilitated the myth in 450 BCE. During his time, creating a good story was more important than adhering to the facts. But the historian took his responsibility seriously, being one of the first to meticulously document his work. He believed that about “100,000 workers” constructed a single pyramid in 30 years – nowhere did he specify Jews or slaves. “And the origin of the idea of Jews building the pyramids remains a mystery.”

Egyptian Paid Laborers Built Elaborate Pyramids

It is now estimated that about 10,000 – 30,000, rather than 100,000, paid workers were responsible for building a single pyramid in ancient Egypt. Local Egyptians from poor families worked on the tombs “out of loyalty to the pharaohs,” said Dieter Wildung, a former director of Berlin’s Egyptian Museum. They were respected and earned the right to be buried near their pharaohs.

In the 1990s graves of the laborers were found by a tourist, who came across what appeared to be a wall but was actually a tomb. Egypt’s archaeology chief Zahi Hawass concluded, “No way would they have been buried so honorably if they were slaves.” Workers built their own tombs with leftover supplies. Hieroglyphics on the inside walls of the tomb indicated that there were bread makers and beer makers among the pyramid laborers, and their bodies were perfectly preserved by dry sand.

The Treatment of Pyramid Workers

The workers were well fed: “laborers working on the pyramids ate 21 cattle and 23 sheep sent to them daily from farms.” They also worked in 3-month shifts. There is evidence that brain surgery had been done on a worker, who went on to live at least two more years. And some lived to old age. Nevertheless, “their skeletons have signs of arthritis, and their lower vertebrae point to a life passed in difficulty.”

But the most undeniable evidence that Egypt’s pyramids were built by paid workers and not slaves is the pyramids themselves: due to a shrinking budget, pyramids gradually got smaller over time. In other words, money paid to pyramid laborers to construct elaborate tombs helped destroy ancient Egypt’s economy.

Today the world recognizes the novelty and intricacy of Egypt’s pyramids: The Great Pyramid of Giza is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and the United States one-dollar bill includes an Egypt-inspired pyramid. It is only fitting that those who built such masterpieces be given credit after so many centuries of obscurity.

Moving the blocks

To move the stones overland, the Egyptians would have used large sledges that could be pushed or pulled by gangs of workers. The sand in front of the sledge was likely dampened with water, something that reduced friction, making it easier to move the sledge, a team of physicists from the University of Amsterdam found in a study published in 2014 in the journal Physical Review Letters.

"It turns out that wetting Egyptian desert sand can reduce the friction by quite a bit, which implies you need only half of the people to pull a sledge on wet sand, compared to dry sand," Daniel Bonn, a physics professor at the University of Amsterdam and lead author of that study, told Live Science in 2014. The scientists said scenes in ancient Egyptian artwork show water being poured in front of sledges.

Most Egyptologists agree that when the stones arrived at the pyramids, a system of ramps was used to haul the stones up. However, Egyptologists are uncertain how these ramps were designed. Little evidence of the ramps survives, but several hypothetical designs have been proposed over the last few decades.

New data may come from the Scan Pyramids Mission, an initiative being undertaken by researchers at three different universities, the Heritage Innovation Preservation Institute and the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. This project's scientists are in the process of scanning and reconstructing the Giza pyramids using a variety of technologies. In addition to finding out more about the construction of the pyramids, the project may also reveal if there are any undiscovered chambers within the structures.

3e. Pyramids

Built in 30 years, the Pyramid at Giza was the tallest building in the world until the beginning of the 20th century. It remains as the last of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

For centuries, they were the tallest structures on the planet. The Pyramids of Giza, built over 4,000 years ago, still stand atop an otherwise flat, sandy landscape.

One of the Seven Wonders of the World, the pyramids defy 21st-century humans to explain their greatest secrets. How could a civilization that lacked bulldozers, forklifts, and trucks build such massive structures? Why would anyone have spent the time and energy to attempt such a task? What treasures were placed inside these monuments?

Accompanying the Pyramids of Giza is, the Sphinx, a gigantic figure of a lion with the head of a pharaoh.

Only a powerful pharaoh could marshal the necessary human resources to build giant pyramids. During the flood seasons, farmers became builders. Huge stone blocks averaging over two tons in weight were mined in quarries and transported to the pyramid site.

Egyptologists theorize that the workers used either rollers or slippery clay to drag the blocks from the quarries to their eventual placement on the pyramid. Construction of the larger pyramids took decades.

Why Pyramids?

Pyramids were built for religious purposes. The Egyptians were one of the first civilizations to believe in an afterlife. They believed that a second self called the ka lived within every human being. When the physical body expired, the ka enjoyed eternal life. Those fortunate enough to pass the test of Osiris wanted to be comfortable in their lives beyond earth. The Great Pyramids were simply grand tombs of powerful pharaohs.

Three pyramids were built at Giza, and many smaller pyramids were constructed around the Nile Valley. The tallest of the Great Pyramids reaches nearly 500 feet into the sky and spans an area greater than 13 acres. The Great Sphinx was sculpted nearby to stand watch over the pyramids. It stands 65 feet tall and consists of a human head atop the body of a lion.

Many believe that the Sphinx was a portrait of King Chefren (Khafret), who was placed in the middle Pyramid. The lion symbolized immortality.

You Can Take It with You

Egyptians who ranked high in status often wanted to take their most prized possessions with them in death, so the ka could enjoy them in its next life. Gold, silver, and bronze artifacts were loaded into the interiors of the great tombs. Fine linens and artwork adorned the secret chambers.

In the early days, dead nobles were often interned with their living slaves and animals. Because this practice eventually proved too costly, artists instead depicted scenes of human activity on the inside walls. Some pyramids were even equipped with a rest room for the pharaoh.

Inside pyramids such as this one for King Pepi I, passageways lead to a main burial chamber. Designs varied for each pyramid.

Great precautions were taken to protect the tombs from looters. Egyptians believed that a defiler of a pharaoh's resting place would be cursed for eternity. The entrance to the inner chambers was carefully hidden. The pharaoh's mummy was placed in a huge coffin called a sarcophagus, which was made of the hardest known stone blocks. But despite such warnings and precautions, tombs were raided over the years by grave robbers.

The pyramids, however, have stood the test of time. Although their outer limestone layers have long since been stripped or passed into dust, the pyramids still stand. About 80 dot the horizons of modern Egypt. They remain as time capsules cast forward by a once-great civilization.


The pyramid has a base length of 215.5 m (706 ft) and rises up to a height of 136.4 metres (448 ft). [2] It is made of limestone blocks weighing more than 2 tons each. The slope of the pyramid rises at a 53° 13' angle, steeper than its neighbor, the Pyramid of Khufu, which has an angle of 51°50'24". Khafre's pyramid sits on bedrock 10 m (33 ft) higher than Khufu's pyramid, which makes it appear to be taller.

The pyramid was likely opened and robbed during the First Intermediate Period. During the Nineteenth Dynasty, the overseer of temple construction took casing stones to build a temple in Heliopolis on Ramesses II's orders. [ citation needed ]

Arab historian Ibn Abd al-Salam recorded that the pyramid was opened in 1372 AD. [6] On the wall of the burial chamber, there is an Arabic graffito that probably dates from the same time. [7]

It is not known when the rest of the casing stones were robbed they were presumably still in place by 1646, when John Greaves, professor of Astronomy at the University of Oxford in his Pyramidographia, wrote that, while its stones were not as large or as regularly laid as in Khufu's, the surface was smooth and even free of breaches or inequalities, except on the south. [8]

The pyramid was first explored in modern times by Giovanni Belzoni on March 2, 1818, when the original entrance was found on the north side. Belzoni had hopes of finding an intact burial but the chamber was empty except for an open sarcophagus and its broken lid on the floor. [7]

The first complete exploration was conducted by John Perring in 1837. In 1853, Auguste Mariette partially excavated Khafre's valley temple, and, in 1858, while completing its clearance, he managed to discover a diorite statue of Khafre. [9]

Like the Great Pyramid, a rock outcropping was used in the core. Due to the slope of the plateau, the northwest corner was cut 10 m (33 ft) out of the rock subsoil and the southeast corner is built up.

The pyramid is built of horizontal courses. The stones used at the bottom are very large, but as the pyramid rises, the stones become smaller, becoming only 50 cm (20 in) thick at the apex. The courses are rough and irregular for the first half of its height but a narrow band of regular masonry is clear in the midsection of the pyramid. At the northwest corner of the pyramid, the bedrock was fashioned into steps. [10] Casing stones cover the top third of the pyramid, but the pyramidion and part of the apex are missing.

The bottom course of casing stones was made out of pink granite but the remainder of the pyramid was cased in Tura Limestone. Close examination reveals that the corner edges of remaining casing stones are not completely straight, but are staggered by a few millimeters. One theory is that this is due to settling from seismic activity. An alternative theory postulates that the slope on the blocks was cut to shape before being placed due to the limited working space towards the top of the pyramid. [11]

Two entrances lead to the burial chamber, one that opens 11.54 m (37.9 ft) up the face of the pyramid and one that opens at the base of the pyramid. These passageways do not align with the centerline of the pyramid, but are offset to the east by 12 m (39 ft). The lower descending passageway is carved completely out of the bedrock, descending, running horizontal, then ascending to join the horizontal passage leading to the burial chamber.

One theory as to why there are two entrances is that the pyramid was intended to be much larger with the northern base shifted 30 m (98 ft) further to the north which would make Khafre's pyramid much larger than his father's. This would place the entrance to the lower descending passage within the masonry of the pyramid. While the bedrock is cut away farther from the pyramid on the north side than on the west side, it is not clear that there is enough room on the plateau for the enclosure wall and pyramid terrace. An alternative theory is that, as with many earlier pyramids, plans were changed and the entrance was moved midway through construction.

There is a subsidiary chamber, equal in length to the King's Chamber in Khufu's pyramid, [12] that opens to the west of the lower passage, the purpose of which is uncertain. It may be used to store offerings, store burial equipment, or it may be a serdab chamber. The upper descending passage is clad in granite and descends to join with the horizontal passage to the burial chamber.

The burial chamber was carved out of a pit in the bedrock. The roof is constructed of gabled limestone beams. The chamber is rectangular, 14.15 by 5 m (46.4 by 16.4 ft), and is oriented east-west. Khafre's sarcophagus was carved out of a solid block of granite and sunk partially in the floor, in it, Belzoni found bones of an animal, possibly a bull. Another pit in the floor likely contained the canopic chest, its lid would have been one of the pavement slabs. [13]

History must be Rewritten

Historians told of their vision of why the pyramids were built, more precisely, were the tombs of the Pharaohs. To the Egyptians, the Pharaohs were the representation of gods on earth, and as such, they were extremely glorified. They were buried deep inside the pyramids so that no one could reach them and steal their wealth.

However, there is a problem that causes this theory to stumble upon the purpose of the pyramids. The Great Pyramid of Giza, one of the original Seven Wonders of the World, has some features that have nothing to do with graves. These features include extravagant artifacts, sealed entrances, sophisticated chests and of course, countless deadly traps.

More importantly, they were built with unique material, a material used today for electrical conductivity. What these aspects can suggest is that the pyramids were originally built as power plants, generating and transmitting electricity and energy to the cities around them. History must be rewritten, I suggest.

The funny fact is that Nikola Tesla did research on the Pyramid of Giza which would eventually help him to develop his own ideas.