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Building the Great Pyramid

Building the Great Pyramid

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  • TTUAlison TTUAlison's Avatar 06-08-06 | 10:25 AM
  • The recent robotic explorations of the 'air-shafts' in the Great Pyramid have demonstrated that there are still many mysteries surrounding the ancient monument. Ian Shaw discusses the debate around the building of the great structure and investigates the methods used in its construction.
  • TTUAlison TTUAlison's Avatar 06-08-06 | 10:26 AM
  • Since at least the time of the ancient Greeks, there has been considerable debate about exactly how the Egyptians constructed King Khufu's Great Pyramid at Giza.

    Few texts concerning Egyptian engineering methods have survived the centuries, and in recent years experimental archaeology has been the main means for discovering the methods used for building the structure. Despite this, there are still many questions concerning the quarrying, dressing and transportation of the stone building blocks, let alone the methods by which they were placed meticulously in position. And there are further questions still about how the gigantic edifice was erected on a totally horizontal base, and aligned precisely with the stars.
  • TTUAlison TTUAlison's Avatar 06-09-06 | 08:42 AM
  • Between 1880 and 1882, Flinders Petrie, the first truly scientific archaeologist to work in Egypt, undertook some careful survey work on the Giza plateau. This was the site of the pyramid complexes of the rulers Khufu, Khafra and Menkaura - all of whom lived in the Fourth Dynasty.

    The results of Petrie's work suggested to him that the Egyptians had levelled the area intended for the Great Pyramid by cutting a grid of shallow trenches into the bedrock, flooding them with water, and reducing the intervening 'islands' of stone to the necessary height.

    After this was suggested, for most of the next century, there was surprisingly little archaeological work on the pyramids at Giza, but in the 1980s the American Egyptologist Mark Lehner began to produce a meticulous new map of the plateau, incorporating the various holes and trenches cut into the rock around the pyramids. On the basis of this project, Lehner argued that the Egyptians had in fact not levelled the whole area intended for the pyramids, but had simply ensured that the narrow perimeter strips around the edges of the pyramid were as perfectly horizontal as possible.
  • TTUAlison TTUAlison's Avatar 06-10-06 | 08:25 AM
  • Egyptian architects, surveyors and builders are known to have used two specialised surveying tools, the merkhet (the 'instrument of knowing', similar to an astrolabe) and the bay (a sighting tool probably made from the central rib of a palm leaf). These allowed construction workers to lay out straight lines and right-angles, and also to orient the sides and corners of structures, in accordance with astronomical alignments.

    It is clear that the Egyptians were using their knowledge of the stars to assist them in their architectural projects from the beginning of the pharaonic period (c.3100-332 BC), since the ceremony of pedj shes ('stretching the cord'), reliant on astronomical knowledge, is first attested on a granite block of the reign of the Second-Dynasty king Khasekhemwy (c.2650 BC).

    Reconstruction of an official ceremony in which the pyramid is aligned to the stars This pedj shes ceremony relied on sightings of the Great Bear and Orion constellations, aligning the foundations of the pyramids and sun temples very precisely with the north, south, east and west. They usually achieved this with an error of less than half a degree. In later periods, the process of stretching the cord continued to be depicted in texts and in the reliefs of temples such as that of Horus, at Edfu, but it appears to have gradually become just a ritual, since these temples were aligned less precisely than the earlier ones, often simply with reference to the direction of the river.

    How did this astronomically based surveying work in practice? The British Egyptologist IES Edwards argued that true north was probably found by measuring the place where a particular star rose and fell in the west and east, then bisecting the angle between these two points. More recently, however, Kate Spence, an Egyptologist at the University of Cambridge, has put forward a convincing theory that the architects of the Great Pyramid sighted on two stars (b-Ursae Minoris and z-Ursae Majoris), rotating around the position of the north pole, which would have been in perfect alignment in around 2467 BC, the precise date when Khufu's pyramid is thought to have been constructed. This hypothesis is bolstered by the fact that inaccuracies in the orientations of earlier and later pyramids can be closely correlated with the degree to which the alignment of the two aforementioned stars deviates from true north.
  • AmyW AmyW's Avatar 06-16-06 | 01:01 PM
  • That is an amazing article. Isn't it just unreal how they accomplished building the pyramids? I mean, think about in the world???? Imagine how long it took them too. Talking about long, hard work.

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