Imagine yourself looking back into the ancient mysteries of time, about 5000 years prior to a time of discovery and development. Imagine being a worker back then and struggling to build great monuments, and later burial sites. These monuments and burial sites are of such great design and size that to attempt to replicate them today would never measure up the great meaning behind them. Back in the era of around 2575 B.C.-2134 BC, in what is known as the old kingdom, the Egyptians built one of the greatest monuments and burial sites ever constructed, The Great Pyramid of Khufu. The Great Pyramid is one of the greatest accomplishments of ancient Egypt. In this paper we will research: the construction of the Great Pyramid, the surroundings of the Great Pyramid, and the effect of time on the Great Pyramid of Khufu.
In the Old Kingdom sometime between the years of 2575 BC and 2134 BC the Egyptians constructed The Great Pyramid. The Pharaoh Khufu ordered the building of a pyramid of greater dimensions than any other pyramid ever constructed. In hope to increase interest in the building of his pyramid Khufu shut down other temples to divert the interest to his site. Khufu chose to build on the Giza plateau on the East side of the Nile River. It is said that Khufu ordered slaves to construct the huge pyramid, but this is incorrect. The pyramid was built by about 5,000 free citizens of Egypt drafted for public work. The men were divided up into gangs of laborers and masons. The laborers consisted of approximately 18 to 20 individuals. The laborers would personalize the blocks of stone in which they moved with their group?s name. Using stone cut mostly from a quarry right on the Giza plateau the laborers quarried and hauled the massive blocks of stone up the pyramid (Egypt 55). Fine white limestone was taken from Tura across the Nile River. The granite used for the king?s burial chamber was quarried from Aswan, 400 miles upriver from Giza (Egypt 58). The blocks of stone weighed as much as 15 tons as the granite stones were the heaviest (Casson 131). The total weight of the pyramid is 6.25 million long tons of stone (Harris 86). The Great Pyramid has a total of about 2,250,000 blocks of stone (Woods 16). This feat is almost unheard of today with the use of new machines and techniques for hauling and moving incredibly heavy objects. The Egyptians used some rather ingenious ways to keep their building project on the perfect side. The crews would dig connected trenches around the building site and fill the trenches with water. After filling the trenches with water they would tie a length of rope at equal height onto two sticks. Thus stretching the rope taunt they could see any unleveled points to fill or level off to keep their base even all-around (Casson 133). The laborers used log rollers to aid in the moving of the massive blocks of stone. Before tipping the stone onto the rollers the side that is to be faced down on the logs is finished early to ensure a "smooth" ride (ibid. 131). Seeing how organized the ancient civilization was proving itself to be, historians are not shocked to find that they used a four-way ramp system to haul the blocks of rock to the upper most places of Khufu's pyramid. The system used three ramps that formed three squared off spirals to the top, and one ramp that followed the same form down and off the formation (ibid. 134). This gives us four tiers of ramps, a sort of Egyptian highway system of on and off ramps. French architect Henri Chevrier tested the ramp theory with 50 men and a one ton block of limestone set on a track of wet mud from the Nile River. The results showed that one man harnessed to a rope could move the block on a level surface, 1 not all 50 (Egypt 58).
After possibly what might have taken the entire twenty-three year reign of Khufu the structure was complete. The entrance lead down around 60 feet. The next obstacle to be faced is three stone sealing plugs that slid in front of the entrance to prevent grave robbers from entering. The sealing blocks kept robbers out for about 400 years till finally they got through and stole the contents of the pyramid (Casson 136). Then advancing upward to a second burial chamber that was left incomplete, this chamber is commonly misnamed the Queen's Chamber. Then we fall upon a 153 foot long 28 foot high tunnel called The Grand Gallery. The Grand Gallery is noted for its ceiling made with tiers and braces (ibid. 136). After traveling through The Grand Gallery we find ourselves in the actual burial chamber of Khufu. The sarcophagus still stands at the west end of the chamber; of course it has been empty for some time now. This chamber was actually the third placement designated by Khufu. Each time his aspirations grew he wanted the pyramid bigger, and his tomb higher. The burial chamber was designed with six stress relieving roofs made of granite to support the tons of block over head (ibid.136). This monument of Egyptian architecture and technique covers a land mass of 13.1 acres. At the top of the once gold capstone the pyramid stands 482 feet high, now it is 31 feet shorter due to other projects taking stone from the handy source. The sides at the base are an astounding 756 feet long. (Egypt 53).
I want to share with you the strange tales and theories about the Egyptians being able to see the future. One theory is from the Scottish astronomer Charles Piazzi Smyth. Smyth believed that the pyramid reflected measures of time and distance that could have then been only from a divine source. The pyramid showed the distance of the sun to the earth when its height in inches is multiplied by 10 to the 9th power. Smyth also said that the perimeter of the pyramid equaled 1000 times 365.2, the number of days in a solar year. Unfortunately Smyth's measurements were proven wrong by British archaeologist Flinders Petrie (Egypt 55). Even thought the construction of the pyramid still has its doubts and theories, we find that the Egyptians used such great accuracy in their techniques that some spots in the pyramid have gaps only about .0001 inch (.0003 cm) wide (woods 23). This is about large enough to squeeze a postcard through. This brings us to the outside surroundings of the Great Pyramid. There are two other major pyramids at the Giza site. The second biggest is the pyramid of Khafre, and the smallest of the three is the pyramid of Menkaure (Egypt 56). These other pyramids were built after Khufu's death. The second largest was built by his son, (Khafre), and his grandson, (Menkaure). In the surroundings of the Great Pyramid the Great Sphinx is found. This 240 foot long and 66 foot high Guardian ordered by King Khafre was carved out of an outcropping left behind at the limestone quarry that supplied the stone for the Great Pyramid (ibid. 60).
Perhaps one of the greatest discoveries found around the perimeter of the Great Pyramid is the twin pits that contain funeral boats for Khufu. During a routine clearing of the base of the pyramid in 1954 Egyptian archeologist Kamal el Mallakh uncovered what he at first thought to be a part of the enclosure wall. Then Mallakh noticed that this section was closer than on the other sides. Thinking of a possible find he instructed to dig deeper until a row of 81 huge limestone blocks in separate sets were apparently covering the twin pits. After careful work Mallakh opened a hole in one of the six-foot-thick slabs. Under that slab he saw an oar and realized he had come upon a historical relic, a cedar funeral boat of Khufu. It took about sixteen years to remove the boat from the pit. Not wanting to risk the loss they left the second pit untouched (ibid. 61). Today the boat is on display in a special museum along side of the Great Pyramid of Khufu (ibid. 59).
Another great discovery was found around the Great Pyramid by accident. In 1925 a photographer while setting up his tripod to take photos of The Great Pyramid nicked a piece of plaster from a hidden opening cut into the rock. Archaeologists removed stones and revealed a 100 foot shaft that lead down to a tomb. The tomb belonged to Queen Hetepheres, Khufu's mother. After a total of three-hundred-twenty-one days of work it became apparent that 4500 years had taken its toll on the tomb. Most objects were already decayed almost to nothing. Using 1701 pages of sketches and 1057 pictures of the site most items were able to be reconstructed (Egypt 54). In front of the pyramid was what is known as the Great Causeway. The Great Causeway led to a rectangular mortuary temple. From this point the coffin was taken to a spot below the tomb entrance and then hauled up 56 feet to the opening of the pyramid (Casson 138). Also next to the pyramid are three satellite pyramids that belonged to the ruler's three queens. There were also several fields of mastaba tombs and two temples, all connected by The Great Causeway (Egypt 59). Until recently it was thought that we had little chance of finding all of the missing sections of Khufu?s pyramid. In 1990 workmen installing sewer lines hit upon a part of the Great Causeway. After this finding the original path of the Causeway was easily mapped. The government of Egypt wants to move the residents of Nazlet el Simman and excavate the site (ibid. 59).
The location of the Great Pyramid at Giza has been a popular place throughout time, and time has definitely taken its toll on the Great Pyramid. Unfortunately we have almost no tombs from the old kingdom left with artifacts and treasures from the nobility that once inhabited them. Khufu's Great Pyramid is unfortunately one that was made in the old kingdom, hence it was not well preserved and artifacts are rare (Harris 88). Another fear is as man progresses the pollution will cause the rocks on the pyramid to erode at a much more rapid pace. Possible tourism someday will take a toll and start to make the wonderful site deteriorate much more rapidly than it would if we were to just admire from a distance. The pyramids at Giza remain the only of the seven wonders of the ancient world that is still here (ibid. 85). The future holds the truth of what time will do to the Great Pyramid. If it is treated like the sphinx has been we may be in danger of some idiot shooting a cannon at it. If history continues on the path it is set on now there is nothing to stop the Egyptians from using the blocks as a handy source for outer building projects. Time has been responsible for the changes in the pyramid: the contents have disappeared, outcroppings have been buried and possibly lost forever, and the environment has taken its toll on the massive structure. In conclusion, The Great Pyramid has open eyes on the techniques and loyalty of the ancient Egyptian empire. The Egyptians have constructed a piece of history that can only sit on a list of seven; the other six are no longer in existence. This makes the pyramid the last of the seven wonders of the ancient world. There will probably never be anything constructed with such raw accuracy and detail without computers and machines. I hope you have enjoyed the information I have given you on: the construction of the Great Pyramid, the surroundings of the Great Pyramid, and the effect of time on the Great Pyramid of Khufu.
- Harris, Geraldine. Ancient Egypt. 1990
- Casson, Lionel. Anchient Egypt. Canada: Time-Life Books, 1965
- Egypt: Land of the Pharaohs. Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1992
- Woods, Geraldine. Science in Anchient Egypt. Franklin Watts, 1988