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Pyramids at Giza

The Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, are a “wonder” in more ways than one. They remain shrouded in mystery ranging from the intention behind their construction (the popular belief is that they were built as funerary structures for the Pharaohs of Egypt, while others hint that the pyramids were meant for some spiritual benefits) (Gray, 2012), to how the constructors managed to achieve such high levels of accuracy without any advanced machinery. However, the greatest mystery concerning the Pyramids of Giza is how they were constructed.

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The Great Pyramid, the biggest and the most famous of the pyramids of Giza, is constructed out of 2.3 million blocks of limestone. All these blocks weigh almost 5.5 million tons. Most historians agree that the construction of this pyramid took 20 years. It means that 800 tons of stone were installed daily or 12 blocks were added to the construction every hour, every day for a span of 20 years! (Jansson, 2003) There are many distinct theories regarding whether the stones were dragged, rolled or lifted for the construction, and whether the labor involved comprised of slaves or paid workers.

One hypothesis was suggested by Joseph Davidovits, a French materials scientist, who claimed that the blocks were not carved or cut but were made out of limestone concrete cast into wooden molds and re-solidified into the shape of blocks (Davidovits & Morris, 1988). This would eliminate the need to carry or drag heavy blocks from the quarries to the construction site and minimize the required labor and effort. However, this theory does not account for the huge granite stones that have been used in the pyramids and for the fact that the limestone blocks in the pyramid are irregularly shaped and do not appear to have been “cast”. In 2006, Davidovits’ theory was supported by Michel Barsoum who had examined the construction block particles under an electron microscope and found traces of foreign minerals and air bubbles which are not present in natural limestone (Barsoum, Ganguly, & Hug, 2006).

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Another popular hypothesis was given by Herodotus, a Greek historian, around 450 BC. He claimed that the Egyptian ruler, Cheops, forced his people to drag blocks of stone from the quarries to the Nile, load them in boats, unload them and drag the stones to the construction site. The transportation of these stones took 10 years and employed 100,000 men at any given time, who were replaced every 3 months with new ones. The pyramid, in itself, took 20 years to be built and was constructed in steps. After the base had been completed, the remaining stones were lifted to the next step using simple machines made of short wooden planks. This process was then repeated for each step, using either multiple machines or movable machines that could be shifted from one step to the next one (From The Histories, by Herodotus, translated in English by George Rawlinson).

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Herodotus gave his hypothesis around 450 BC. It is one of the oldest theories and hence, the one of the simplest and most probable. Illustrations showing 172 men dragging a huge statue on a sledge have been found in the Twelfth Dynasty tomb of Djehutihotep. These pictures support the theory that labor was indeed used to drag heavy blocks of stone over great distances in those times. Excavations have also revealed simple wooden machinery, similar to that described by Herodotus, near the pyramids. These machines were not easy to use. They rested on the step when the one above was being built and eliminated the need for ramps, which some other theories have suggested. It should be mentioned that no evidence or remains have been found which can prove it. Most theories have lacunae. They have failed to provide a significant proof, and it seems that the most sensible course would be to stick to the oldest and simplest explanation, that is, Herodotus’ hypothesis, what most academicians have been doing.

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