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

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Construction 
of the Great Pyramid

Mystic Places


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Note: Don't miss these subject related articles:
 Theory 1Theory 2  |  Theory 3

Construction Time

It is interesting to realize that over 70% of the time required to complete the entire pyramid went to bring the pyramid to just one third of the final height.

For the pyramid to reach 1/3 of its final height
70.37% of the total blocks of the pyramid had to be in place.

Here is a simple formula for calculating  proportion of the volume of the unfinished pyramid Vh to the volume of the finished pyramid V:

Where  x = h/H  is the ratio of the "unfinished" pyramid height to the final height (note: 0 < x <1)

H= Height of the finished pyramid
h= height of the unfinished pyramid

Vh is the volume of the unfinished pyramid at the height h
V
is the volume of the completed pyramid at the height H

This graph credit goes to "Draw Function Graphs":
  http://rechneronline.de/function-graphs/

Here are a few interesting results of the equation above showing relationship between the height of the unfinished pyramid (h) and its volume (Vh )

x:

h:

Vh

1/4 1/4 H 57.8%
1/3 1/3 H 70.4%
1/2 1/2 H 87.5%

Using this simple equation we can see that 57.8% of the total pyramid volume (equivalent of its mass) is concentrated in the pyramid that reached only 1/4 of its final height.

When the pyramid had only 1/3 of its final height, 70.4% of the total blocks of the pyramid were already in place!
Assuming even rate for adding blocks to the structure, it took twice as much time to reach 1/3 of the final height of the pyramid than to finish it from that point in time.
According to many estimates it took 30 years to build the Great Pyramid.
The above reasoning indicates that after 20 years of construction the pyramid height reached only 1/3 of the final height.

* * *

Proof of the equation:
 

The laws of solid geometry result in a common equation for
the volume of the pyramid:

V=A*H/3
(V = Volume of the entire pyramid, A = area of base,
L = length of the square base, H = height from base to apex)

A=L*L=L
 
therefore
V= L
2 * H/3

Volume of the pyramid (Vh ) at the height h = x*H:

Vh = V - Vt

where Vt is the volume of the "missing" part of the pyramid:
where C is the length of the square top of the pyramid at the height h
(it is the base of the "missing" part of the pyramid
h =DE on the drawing below.)

From the drawing above we can easily see that:


Note: above the C is the length of the base of the "missing" pyramid = DE

Therefore 

The volume concentrated in the lower (finished so far) part of the pyramid at
the height h (h=x*H, where H is the final height) compared to the volume of the finished pyramid can be expressed as:

Therefore


Pyramid Construction Theories -  Introduction

The task of building a pyramid consists of four distinct stages:

  • leveling the base (foundation)
  • alignment
  • cutting the stones
  • transport of the stones to the construction site
  • moving and placing the stones in place (construction method)

 

Cutting the Pyramid Blocks

An average stone block used to build the GP weighs 2.5 ton.
There are few theories how these stone blocks were made:

  • Cut in the quarries
  • Casted like a modern concrete


Looking towards Khufu's Pyramid an area in the forground shows
where blocks of limestone have been quarried.
Source: http://www.egyptarchive.co.uk/html/khafre_09.html

 

Moving Big Stone Blocks

Moving big stone blocks requires energy to conquer:

  • friction (horizontal movement)
  • gravity (lifting)
  • both (e.g. when using ramps)

To make this process efficient this energy should be as small as possible.

Transport of  huge stone blocks in the ancient times was very likely accomplished by using basic laws of physics.

Long distance transport was made possible by use of boats and/or floating rafts.


Papyrus boats with the stones tided up underneath, waiting for high level of the Nile's.
Copyright 2005-2006 by Andrzej Bochnacki.

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

 

Moving stone blocks on land was possible by use of sleds and ramps (with lubricating agents).

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

moving a statue
Moving a statue in 12th Dynasty Egypt. Please note the person pouring a "lubricant" in front of the sled.

 

Effectiveness of Lubrication


The Racetrack is a unique attraction of Death Valley National Park
where rocks slide across the ground all by themselves. Although no one has recently seen them slide across the ground, it's the wind blowing through the canyon that makes them move after rain wets dried up silt.
With a friction level reduced to nearly to zero, even a finger could push a very heavy rock.

 

Pyramid Construction Techniques
 

How the Great Pyramid at Giza was constructed, with resources available to the ancient Egyptians? Was this a new method different from the methods used to build other pyramids? Here are few intriguing images which can suggest the answer.

It seems that over the ages, architects and builders used a different form of construction in the pyramids.

Although the use of ramps is commonly accepted method of getting the heavy stone blocks to their final location within the pyramid, the arrangement of the ramps is in much dispute.

 

Drawing showing ramps built around a pyramid

The earliest form of pyramid, the step pyramid, dates back to the 3rd Dynasty, and consists of several steps. This pyramid type was common in the Mesoamerica.


The Step pyramid of King Netjerykhet Djoser at Saqqara

The Temple of Kukulcan (El Castillo), Chichen Itza, Mexico

In building this pyramid Senusret II's architects took advantage of a natural stump of yellow limestone that they cut down into four steps to serve as the pyramid's base core. Mudbrick was used to build the upper part of the core, and as several pyramids before, wings were built out from this core and cross walls within the wings were built to form a framework. The resulting sections were then filled with mudbrick.

Ruins of the pyramid Senusret (Senusret Shines)

Also like some prior 12th Dynasty pyramids, the casing was set into a foundation trench at the base of the pyramid. Most of the casing was carried off to build a structure for Ramesses II, though parts of the black granite pyramidion that set atop the pyramid have been found. There was also a cobble filled drainage ditch around the pyramid that was filled with sand to channel rain water.
(Source: http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/senusret2p.htm )

 

The early locals of this century called the Meidum Pyramid el-haram el-kaddab, meaning "false pyramid" and because of its form, it attracted attention as early as the Middle Ages from travelers. At the beginning of the fifteenth century, the famed Arab historian Taqi ad-Din al-Maqrizi thought it looked like a huge, five stepped mountain. However, it eroded so badly that when Frederik Ludwig Norden visited it in the eighteenth century, the pyramid seemed to have only three levels. But it was not weather that eroded it so, but human beings.


Snefru's Meidum Pyramid in Egypt near the Fayoum

The pyramid was originally a seven step structure built on a rock foundation, but perhaps even before it was finished, an eighth step was added. Each of these first two stages, designated E1 and E2, was intended to be the final structure. Yet, the pyramid was eventually rebuilt in order to transform it into a true, smooth sided pyramid. However, in contrast to E1 and E2, the extension designated E3 did not rest on a solid bedrock foundation, but on three layers of limestone blocks laid on sand.



Even more strangely, while the E1 and E2 stage blocks were angled toward the middle of the pyramid, as in the case of Djoser's Step Pyramid complex at Saqqara, thus significantly increasing the structure's strength, the E3 blocks were laid horizontally. (Source: http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/meidump.htm )

 

According to Charles Rigano, the architects and builders of the late Old Kingdom used interior step pyramid method first (before applying final casing) in order to mark the true apex which allowed greater control over the true shape of the pyramid:  http://egyptstudy.org/Ostracon/RiganoStepPyrWinter2003-04.pdf

The pyramid and mortuary temple of Sahure, at Abu Sir
The pyramid and mortuary temple of Sahure, at Abu Sir

This new method of pyramid construction can be illustrated by the Great Pyramid and by later built Pyramid of Khafre. 

Khafre was a son of Khufu and his is the second largest known pyramid in Egypt, only approximately 10 feet shorter than the Great Pyramid. Remnants of its original casing are still apparent at the top of the structure. After the accomplishment of the building of the Great Pyramid, King Khafre had a hard act to follow. Khafre rose to the occasion by building his pyramid on higher ground giving the illusion that his pyramid was taller. He also encased the lowest two courses in granite. The pyramid itself lacks the degree of precision that was present in the Great Pyramid. Its angle is slightly sharper and the four corners are not as well aligned to accurately meet the apex. Therefore it exhibits a slight twist at the top. ( Source )

Pyramid of Khafre (Chephren).
Original Height: 143.5 m (470.79 ft)
Current Height: 136.4 m (447.50 ft)
Length of Side: 215.25 (706.19 ft)
Angle: 53 10


In 1837 the English army officer Howard Vyse searched for a Southern entrance to the Great Pyramid by using dynamite to blast a hole. He found nothing and soon gave up. The resulting scar has come to be know
as 'Vyse's hole'.
Source and Copyright  http://www.egyptarchive.co.uk/html/great_pyramid_04.html


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