Just how were the ancient Egyptian pyramids built? How old are these magnificent structures? What tools were used in their construction? Did the Egyptians make use of machines to build the pyramids? An ancient text written in 440 BC, over 2,000 years after the pyramids were built, may shed some light on the construction of the Egyptian pyramids.
“After laying the stones for the base, they raised the remaining stones to their places by means of machines…” this is the only written account we have that mentions how the Egyptian pyramids were built.
Regrettably, it’s not nearly as old as the Egyptian pyramids. In fact, the above quote comes from the father of History Herodotus.
In 440 BC, and after traveling to Egypt and meeting scholars, priests, and historians of the time, Herodotus could offer some insight on how the Egyptian pyramids were built.
Although what Herodotus penned down is not nearly enough for us to understand how the ancient Egyptians did it, it is the only reference we have about the construction process of the pyramids, and how the supermassive stones were raised in ancient times to the height we see today.
Pyramids in Egypt
History would not be nearly as interesting if we didn’t have magnificent structures such as the Egyptian pyramids. Standing as a legacy of master builders, the Pyramids of Egypt are a jewel in the history of our species.
Although the Egyptian pyramids are the most famous on Earth, they aren’t the oldest, nor is Egypt home to the largest. We locate the oldest pyramids in present-day Brazil where ancient civilizations erected massive monuments approximately 5,000 years ago.
Although the Egyptian pyramids aren’t the largest or oldest, they are the most captivating structures on Earth, for many important reasons.
First, the Egyptian pyramids—specifically those at Giza—are wonders of ancient engineering.
Take, for example, the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Although it isn’t the oldest pyramid in Egypt, it is the most perfect pyramid ever built in the land of Pharaohs.
According to mainstream Egyptology, this ancient monument was commissioned some 4,500 years ago during the Fourth Dynasty rule of King Khufu.
Egyptologists maintain that the Egyptian pyramids were built as tombs to protect the mummified remains of the Pharaohs, helping him to achieve eternal life.
Despite this being the official explanation (one that isn’t backed up by conclusive evidence, to be honest), millions of people around the world believe the Egyptian pyramids served a purpose much more important than just tombs.
The Great Pyramid of Giza is the largest pyramid in Egypt. With a total volume of 2,583,283 cubic meters (91,227,778 cu ft), it marked the peak of Egyptian pyramid building, a process which is thought to have started several hundred years before Khufu and his Fourth Dynasty.
With a total estimated weight of nearly 6.5 million tons, just how the pyramid was built remains a profound enigma.
Just as we continue wondering today how this was achieved, people in antiquity have admired and even condemned the construction of the pyramids.
Pliny the Elder, for example, wrote about the Pyramids of Egypt being an “idle and foolish exhibition of royal wealth” found much to wonder at when looking at the majestic pyramids of Egypt. He wrote: “The most curious question is how the stones were raised to such a great height.”
This question has boggled experts for centuries.
Despite our best efforts in understanding the construction, purpose, and intricate alignment of the pyramids, we have not been able to understand more than what scholars have learned hundreds of years ago. In other words, we have made little progress in understanding how the pyramids were built.
This is because there is a complete lack of written texts dating back to the time the pyramids were built.
Other than the so-called Merer’s Journal, an ancient text which mentions the transport of stones from Tura to Giza, there isn’t a single ancient text that explains how the stones were quarried, transported, and placed into position, forming a pyramid whose original estimated height—with a pyramidion on top—was 146.7 meters.
Some stones used in the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza were quarried as far away as Aswan. The quarries of Aswan are located some 800 kilometers to the South of the Pyramids.
It remains a profound enigma of how the builders manage to transport the stones across such vast distances, around 4,500 years ago.
Not only is the transport of the massive stones a mystery, but we also have a complete lack of understanding of how massive blocks of stone that make up the very core of the pyramid, some of which weigh several tons, were stacked up to form the inner structure.
Pyramids and machines
Did the ancient Egyptian make use of ramps to do so? Or, is it possible as Herodotus writers, the ancient Egyptians were far more ingenious than what we are willing to accept?
According to Herodotus, in his work “Histories,” the ancient Egyptians used “machines” to build the pyramids. These alleged machines are said to have helped the builders stack the stones one atop the other.
Herodotus explains that the Great Pyramid—and perhaps all other pyramids—were constructed in steps, altar-wise. After the builders would lay the stones for the base of the structure, they raised the core into place by machines that were built out of wooden planks.
Here’s what Herodotus says about the machines and how they may have helped build the pyramids:
The pyramid was built in steps, battlement-wise, as it is called, or, according to others, altar-wise. After laying the stones for the base, they raised the remaining stones to their places by means of machines formed of short wooden planks. The first machine raised them from the ground to the top of the first step. On this there was another machine which received the stone upon its arrival and conveyed it to the second step, whence a third machine advanced it still higher. Either they had as many machines as there were steps in the pyramid, or possibly they had but a single machine which, being easily moved, was transferred from tier to tier as the stone rose — both accounts are given and therefore I mention both. The upper portion of the Pyramid was finished first, then the middle and finally the part which was lowest and nearest to the ground.
The above is the only known reference we have about the construction of the pyramid. It is the only detailed explanation that offers clues on how the massive stones that make up the pyramid were raised to the height we see today.
It completely baffles my mind that although around 120 pyramids were built in Egypt, there isn’t one single ancient document that mentions the construction process of the pyramids.
Not one piece of information dating back to the time the pyramids were supposedly built has ever been recovered by experts. There is a complete lack of information regarding not only the construction methods but the purpose and construction date of the majestic structures.
This lack of records is surprising; the ancient Egyptians were excellent record keepers. You would, therefore, think that someone would have found the time and importance in documenting the construction of monuments that revolutionized not only history but the ancient Egyptian way of life.
Maybe the documents do exist, and we just haven’t come across them yet.