The pyramids of Egypt are old. Put it this way, Cleopatra, the last pharaoh and girlfriend of Julius Caesar was born closer to the Moon Landing than she was to the construction of the pyramids. And we wonder how our ancestors managed to put them up without the kind of technology we have today. The ancient Egyptians had no cranes, back-hoes or earth movers. Moreover, they didn’t have trigonometry or basic algebra (an invention of the Muslims a millennium or so after Cleopatra).
So, how did they do it?
There have been a great many theories, some quite plausible and some, well, let’s just say they claim space aliens were involved. Two such ideas have recently caught the imagination of the media, and they are both worthy of consideration, not because they are demonstrably correct, but rather because of what they tell us about antiquity.
The first idea is from a Welsh engineer named Peter James, who said, “Under the current theories, to lay the two million stone blocks required the Egyptians would had to have laid a large block once every three minutes on long ramps.” If that happened, there would still be signs that the ramps had been there, and there aren’t any. “I’m going to have a war with archaeologists. They will say: ‘How would you know? You’re not an archaeologist.’ But if you wanted a house built would you use me or an archaeologist? Archaeologists have never had the engineering experience.”
According to “Indiana James,” as he has been dubbed, the pyramids are about 90 percent rubble. At the 4,600-year-old Step Pyramid, he and his team discovered a massive tonnage of small stones held in place by a millennia-old palm tree. Like most Welshman, James appreciates a vivid turn of phrase, “Think of the pyramids as the proverbial Lady of the Night: all fancy hat and no knickers.” If other engineers talked like that, I might have considered a different career.
In a less-revolutionary vein, another team has hit upon a way that the ancient Egyptians could have moved massive stones into place. There have been suggestions that logs were used to roll them along, but the sand in the area makes that difficult. The same holds true for pulling the stones along on a sled. Indeed, the problem has puzzled some so much that they argue that the climate 4,600 years ago was so different that there was no sand there at that time.
However, a quick look at the paintings on the walls of the pyramids showed something that engineers at the University of Amsterdam just tested. Pulling a sled on dry sand doesn’t work, but the Egyptian paintings showed the workers putting water on the sand.
Engineering.com reported, “Using a miniaturized version of an ancient sled mechanism set upon a sandy bed, scientist began adding water to the sled’s foundation. As the liquid was added a capillary action began to draw the grains of sand together, stiffening the surface to such degree that the sled became much easier to pull. Through their experiment researchers found that there was an optimal amount of water that could be added to a set volume of sand, beyond which a sled would require more force to move.”
We tend to think of our ancestors as not quite as bright as we are. They didn’t understand eclipses or germs, and because we do, we presume we are smarter. We aren’t, as these two theories show. Modern researchers may actually have gotten the whole thing wrong. We have an advantage over the ancient Egyptians in that we have more information about the world than they did. We are better informed, but that doesn’t make us smarter.
The pyramids in Egypt and Mexico, the stones on Salisbury Plain called Stonehenge, the heads on Easter Island all show the same thing. A little ingenuity and muscle is all it takes. And humans have been clever all along.
Jeff Myhre is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.