10 Oct 2000

Paper by geological engineer Colin Reader examining the feasibility of using sand ramps in constructing the Giza temples that contain blocks as large as 200-tonnes.

29 Dec 2000

Paper by correspondent Keith Hamilton casting doubt on the theory that the plugging blocks at the base of the Ascending Passage in the GP were slid down from the Grand Gallery.

12 Jan 2001

Follow-up paper by correspondent Keith Hamilton concerning the plugging blocks, containing new measurements that arguably reinstate the theory that they were slid down from the Grand Gallery.

20 Jan 2001

Extracts from email to IL from correspondent George Forrest regarding the reason for use and manipulation of megalithic building blocks in the temples at Giza

a) Reason for Use

You express some surprise about why cultures so long ago would want to build with such large stones. There is one very obvious reason; earthquakes. It seems likely that the earth was much more active in those days and buildings much more liable to destruction. Damage by earthquakes is mainly done at interfaces of the stones or blemishes within the stones. Less interfaces less damage there is. Thus bigger stones, less damage there is. In essence, the energy can bounce around inside a large square stone and dissipate harmlessly to heat. Taken with the sheer weight, it is a wise protection against earthquakes. Of course, the contra also applies. A resonating block can be removed more easily. As you say in your book, this may be the background to the collapse of the Jericho walls and why such building went out of fashion.

b) Manipulation

I cannot follow the analysis on page 272. Perhaps you will let me expound some basic mechanics here. In all of this, the coefficient of friction is king. If the coefficient of friction is 10%, then a 70 tonne block requires 21 men to pull it, assuming a force of a third of a tonne per man. If the load is moving along a 10% slope, then a further 7 tonnes of force is required, adding a further 21 men, which remains unchanged for this slope. The key to all this must be friction, and the ability of the Egyptians to reduce it. I suspect that they were much better at it than we realise.

First, they must have wherever possible, pulled objects along the ground, using a flat interface. Sledges reduce the contact area and dramatically increase friction. Thus only carved objects would have been born on sledges.

Second, they probably developed very effective lubricants. River mud is a very good lubricant, and Nile mud is apparently extra slimy. Thus they had ample supplies of a cheap and effective lubricant. In the absence of mud or as a supplement to, tubular roots, such as potatoes, are also extremely effective. Easter Island Tradition had it that the statues were moved on a “Sea of Potatoes”, to general mirth of recent generations. Yet when someone tried it recently, it worked like a charm.

Third, it is likely that the very large stones were cut to a length that enabled them to resonate. A sharp tap on the side would result in a “magical” loss of weight. This of course could be the source of the levitation stories. Again this is consistent with your paragraph on Page 203 that the stones were struck and moved sharply for a short distance. The question then becomes to what level the coefficient of friction can be lowered. Many lubricants are efficient but tend to be squeezed out from the sides, making them useless. Items such as potatoes have sufficient fibre to stop them doing this. Anyway, between mud and potatoes, the ancient Egyptians probably had a “magic” formula. If they could reduce the coefficient to 1%, a 70 tonne block only needs three men to move it on the flat and twenty four men up a slope of 10%. For a 200 tonne block, 60 men are required for the upward motion, with a further 60 for 10% friction or six more for 1% friction. These are of course dramatically less than most estimates. It is likely that the only way 1% can be achieved is through resonance. Anyway, this was the challenge, which they must have gone a long way to meet.

25 Feb 2002

New positioning statement from IL on Joseph Davidovits' geopolymer theory

Since I appeared on the Art Bell show a few weeks back, I have been engaged in lengthy discussions with Margaret Morris, the co-author with Joseph Davidovits of The Pyramids: An Enigma Solved (1988), about the geolpolymer theory. Because this is an area where special expertise is required, I drafted in geological engineer Colin Reader to debate the issues as well, and the results have been lively to say the least. In G:TT we dismissed this theory without, in truth, properly examining the entirety of the relevant literature. We assumed that the theory required that the blocks would have had to have been cast in uniform rectangular molds, and that the irregularity of the size of the blocks in the GP and elsewhere suggested that this could not have been the case. However, Morris has pointed out that she and Davidovits do not suggest that uniform molds were used at all, rather that there were a variety of ways that the blocks could have been cast in situ, including using less uniform wooden boards to partition one block from another, etc.. Moreover, in her more recent solo work The Egyptian Pyramid Mystery is Solved Morris provides a startling wealth of evidence that the logistics of constructing the pyramids by conventional means, including the quarrying and lifting operations, simply do not work. This is, of course, accompanied by the suggestion that the logistics of construction under the geolpolymer theory are significantly improved.

In short, the real theory put forward by Morris and Davidovits is that the limestone in the quarries at Giza was disaggregated after water-soaking, which water they suggest was channelled from the Nile during the annual inundations. They present evidence showing that workers used simple instruments (like flint picks) to break the limestone up, to form a geopolymeric rock-concrete slurry to which various other ingredients were added. They suggest that the damp rock-making mix was transported to the emerging structure, probably in woven baskets, and then packed into place like adobe. They also emphasise that the distinction between manufactured and natural limestone cannot be made with the naked eye, and can only be determined by microscopic analysis. They appear to provide a wealth of such analysis, apparently confirmed by other experts, suggesting that the samples of pyramid limestone they have been able to test are indeed manufactured. The significant advantages of this theory are:

1. Almost nil wastage in the quarries. They contend that the quarries would need to be far more extensive than those found at Giza if conventional means were used, under which wastage from splitting etc would require them to be as much as four times as big as the quantity of finished material.

2. Far faster construction time if blocks do not have to be laboriously quarried and carved to the finished shape.

3. The requirement for a far less substantial ramp/ladder system on the outside of the pyramid, which would have to support the weight and size of individual workers only.

The significant ongoing problems with this theory, as I see them, are as follows:

4. Davidovits and Morris have not proved that the huge granite blocks in the King's Chamber of the Great Pyramid are fabricated rock. They have not so far been allowed to analyse this material or other examples of Old Kingdom granite, so their research in this area is still in progress, although they do present evidence for several other types of fabricated ancient stone artifacts. However, unless this element can be addressed, there is still the need for elaborate lifting apparatus in terms of ramp or hoists - unless, of course, we bring the sonic levitation theory back into play.

5. The meaning and purpose of the so-called quarry marks found on certain of the blocks of all the Giza pyramids needs to be explained as something else. The most famous of these are on the walls in the Relieving Chambers of the GP, and these at least are undoubtedly original Fourth Dynasty. Moreover, they certainly appear to be quarry marks, both from their nature (rough-painted because never expected to be seen, often lying sideways or upside down, even underneath surveying and levelling lines in places), and from their content (mentioning "crews" of Khufu's workmen, while some others even say "this way up"). If they were only on granite blocks it might be possible to explain them away as quarry marks on non-manufactured stone, but in fact they are exclusively on limestone blocks - which are supposed to have been manufactured according to the theory.

6. A proper explanation of how canals were able to feed the quarries at Giza, given the sloping topography of the site, is also required.

All in all, therefore, I still do not wholeheartedly endorse this theory. However, it is based on over 20 years of detailed and painstaking research, and undoubtedly does deserve closer ongoing scrutiny without the often misinformed criticisms that it has previously attracted. Above all, whilst we can argue for all we are worth about the specifics of the various strengths and weaknesses of the theory as identified above, the real acid test is further microscopic analysis of the rocks themselves. If it were to prove correct, it would mean that a significant part of the existing chapter on pyramid construction in G:TT would be superceded, and once again we would have to upwardly revise our opinion of the ingenuity of the ancient Egyptian builders. Nevertheless this theory still does not lend support to those who suggest that they were using significantly more advanced technology than the orthodoxy allows.

For more information here is a link to Davidovits' website.

14 May 2003

Paper by architectural designer Seamus Chapman indicating how a change in plans during the construction of the Great Pyramid led to its inconsistent internal design features, plus a brief synopsis of his new book, Building Egyptian Pyramids - Achieving the Impossible


What Should We Expect?

The dimensions, arrangement and position of the Grand Gallery/Ascending Passage complex suggests that it was intended to provide a security mechanism, by holding a series of stone blocks in the Gallery section, which could later be slid down the passage below, to completely seal it and protect any areas above. It would have been logical at the design stage, to specify a durable material such as granite for the prefabrication of all those components, which would provide protection, leaving more easily worked limestone for those areas, which would later become redundant. In this design, granite would therefore be used to form the floor, roof and walls of the Ascending Passage and the plug blocks themselves, with limestone used to form the holding gallery. Mixing material by sealing a limestone passage with granite would have been an odd arrangement, as the function of durability would be lost. If the design also included a granite portcullis mechanism to protect a horizontal passage, then placing it at the base of the holding gallery would achieve this most effectively, as all sections below would be in granite and all sections above in limestone. If this design had been implemented in the Great Pyramid, no further comment would have been forthcoming about the intentions of the builders. The walls, roof and floor of the Ascending Passage would be found formed from regularly shaped granite blocks and filled to its upper end, with granite plug blocks, with an overall length matching the length of the Grand Gallery. A granite portcullis immediately above would additionally protect the entrance to the Queen’s Chamber passage

What Do We Find?

An unfinished Ascending Passage, with a length less than the Grand Gallery, formed in part by irregular limestone blocks, with one section cut later through the pyramid core. This crude passage is blocked only at its lower end by granite plug blocks, which represent only 20% of the capacity of the holding chamber and were easily dug round to gain entry to the rest of the passage and all the pyramid chambers above. The Queen’s Chamber and its passage at the base of the Gallery is unprotected, unfinished and without a sarcophagus. The Kings Chamber is found at the top of the Gallery, connected by a clumsy intersection through an unfinished Antechamber and portcullis, formed from blocks of both limestone and granite. The King’s Chamber floor is unfinished and the Relieving Ceilings above show evidence of contemporary cracking, settlement and mixed materials. It would be unreasonable and unfair to suggest that this was a planned design.

What Explanation Can We Offer?

Further examination shows that the height of all the blocks forming the walls of the King’s Chamber, are of similar height (2.29RC) to both the Plug blocks and the Ascending Passage. The blocks forming the Relieving Ceilings have similar dimensions and shapes to blocks forming the roof and floor of for example, the Descending Passage. Interestingly, if the King’s Chamber and Relieving Ceilings were to be dismantled, the blocks of granite from which they are formed, would provide all the components necessary in quantity, material, dimensions and shape to complete a Grand Gallery/Ascending Passage complex to the more effective design described above. The Relieving Ceilings would provide a typical roof and floor of a passage at least 50RC in length, and the walls of the King’s Chamber, passage walls with a perpendicular height of 2.29RC, to the same length, with the blocks remaining completing each end of the same passage and properly connect it to the Descending Passage below and the Grand Gallery above. The passage would then have a similar length to the Grand Gallery, be regularly shaped and have enough plug blocks to completely fill it. This coincidence provides an opportunity to explore what might have occurred during the construction process to prevent an ideal sealing mechanism being installed, particularly so when all the missing components can be found elsewhere, now forming other features. It would have taken a tremendous effort to both pre-fabricate and transport any granite blocks the 500 miles from Aswan to Giza. Those specified for the Great Pyramid were both large in number and dimensions, with many requiring accurate finishing. To complete an order of this size and on time would be a remarkable challenge and late delivery a distinct possibility, particularly so if the construction timetable of the pyramid relied on continuity.

Any components which did arrive late and missed installation in that section of the pyramid for which they were intended, would therefore automatically become surplus. The options available to the builders would be to either discard them, or use them elsewhere. They would also need to formulate an immediate solution, which would replace the missing materials and maintain something of the original plan, even if this meant employing inappropriate materials and construction methods. It might be that the King’s Chamber and its Relieving Ceilings were created only as a consequence of a decision to consume surplus blocks, which had originally been intended to provide a competent security system for the pyramid interior, but arrived too late to be installed in their designed location. The effort required to implement this change in plan would support a view that pyramid building was also an economic event, with all work/product carefully catalogued and rewarded. This condition would force the builders to ensure that all significant material was consumed, even if this action produced a less than perfect result. Some of the internal features in the Great Pyramid might therefore appear as found only as a consequence of unforeseen events, which had forced the builders to abandon their original design and replace it with a creative compromise. This would explain both the existence of the King’s Chamber and Relieving Ceilings themselves and the poor quality of materials, finishing and function of the Ascending Passage. If it were found that some of the blocks forming the King’s Chamber walls were finished flat on their rear face, then this unnecessary feature here, might suggest that they were designed to be used elsewhere, possibly as passage plug blocks.

[The foregoing is just one of the subjects tackled in Seamus' new book, Building Egyptian Pyramids – Achieving the Impossible. It is described as follows: "This is a book, not only about moving heavy blocks of stone, but a systematic and detailed description of every aspect of pyramid building, which enabled the Ancient Egyptians to create their monuments. All the most massive are here, including the Great Pyramid. The author describes how the builders might have discovered and then employed, what he calls the Virtual Apex and Virtual Centrepoint methods, to accurately form each pyramid’s unique shape, using simple but effective geometry. In solving the problem of materials delivery, he has conceived and designed an original platform and ramp system. This enabled the stone blocks to be routinely delivered to all parts of a pyramid, including the external casing and continue with the same low gradient, all the way to the apex." - IL]

24 Mar 2004

Link to Jean-Pierre and Henri Houdin's superb website in which they discuss their theory that the Great Pyramid was constructed using a combination of a) a relatively small, straight external ramp, rising to only one third height b) an internal spiral ramp that ran just inside the external face more or less to the top, with niched landings opening onto the outside at each corner connected by external wooden walkways c) wooden lifting machines at the very top d) two temporary internal pyramids to erect the Queens and then Kings/Relieving Chambers and their roofs and e) counterweights running on wooden frames in the Ascending Passage and then Grand Gallery to lift the largest blocks; this would appear to be a highly efficient combination that allowed the bulk of the external ramp material to be reused in the construction of the higher levels. [NB This website no longer exist and hasn't been replaced, so see new link added in 2020 below.]

2 Oct 2007

Link to paper written by Mike Molyneaux in which he describes small-scale experimentation to support a number of innovative theories about pyramid construction, including: [1] The use of battering rams to create acoustic energy for quarrying, shifting and positioning stones. [2] The use of counter-ramps with counter-weight principles for hauling massive stones uphill. [3] The use of overlapping planks and rollers to create an auto-aligning, auto-braking system for the ramps. [4] The use of leveraging towers with counter-weights for lifting stones out of a quarry and onto rollers. [5] Submerging large stones in watery mud for transporting them down rivers or along canals. [6] Partially completed courses of the pyramid forming a spiral staircase to support a ramp to the inner chambers.

20 Jun 2009

Link to article by Bob Brier in Archaeology about his investigation of the notch in the north-east edge of the Great Pyramid, and of the L-shaped room behind it, suggesting further support for Jean-Pierre Houdin's internal ramp construction theory.

26 Jan 2020

Link to YouTube video with 3D modelling of Jean-Pierre Houdin's construction theory.