An illustration of the so-called Herodotus machine, thought to have been used in the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Here’s Da Vinci’s Drawing of the “Machines” Mentioned in 440 BC Used to Build Egypt’s Pyramids

"After laying the stones for the base, they raised the remaining stones to their places by means of machines..."

How exactly the ancients constructed the pyramids of Egypt, remains one of the greatest archaeological enigmas in history.

Even Egyptologists and archaeologists who have studied around 120 pyramids that exist in Egypt today, still can’t figure it out.

In fact, everything we think we know about the construction of the Egyptian pyramids is mostly based on archaeological guesswork. A great number of alternative, often contradictory theories have been proposed throughout the years, explaining what construction techniques were used to build the pyramids.

Experts can’t agree on how the ancient builders managed to build the pyramids; the researchers cannot agree on whether the blocks were lifted somehow, dragged, or rolled in place.

What we do know–kind of–is that labor was used, and tens of thousands of pyramids are thought to have participated in the construction of one pyramid. Archeologist Miroslav Verner believes that pyramid-building labor was organized into a hierarchy where workers were divided based on their skills.

That’s about everything we know; everything else is a whole lot of guessing. One of the greatest mysteries concerning the construction of the pyramids is its planning.

How were the pyramids built?

Illustration showing how the pyramids were supposedly built. Shutterstock.
Illustration showing how the pyramids were supposedly built. Shutterstock.

Experts have suggested that the builders of the pyramids made use of the same method that had been used in previous, lesser construction in Egypt, where the main architect would lay out parts of the plan on the ground at a one-to-one scale.

According to John Romer, “such a working diagram would also serve to generate the architecture of the pyramid with precision unmatched by any other means.”

The exact time needed to build the largest pyramid in Egypt–that of Khufu–has also been heavily debated. Experts cannot agree whether the pyramid was built in 10, 14, or 20 years.

Although the Great Pyramid of Giza is the most fascinating pyramid ever built in Egypt, it continues hiding its most precious secrets. We have absolutely no evidence that can tell us when, why, or how it was built.

Although it is the ancient Egyptians’ greatest architectural achievement, not one ancient text has been found anywhere in Egypt that mentions the pyramid. Not one ancient writing, hieroglyph, dating back from 2,500 BC (when the pyramid is thought to have been built) has ever been found.

In other words, the most massive, impressive, and precise pyramid was built. Still, no one decided to pen down anything related to the transportation of its massive stones, using what method it was so precisely aligned, and how the massive stones were lifted and put into place to create the pyramid.

There’s nothing out there that tells us anything about the pyramid. And this is not just an isolated case with the Great Pyramid of Khufu.

In fact, the same thing happens with all other massive pyramids of Egypt.

Take, for another example, the Step Pyramid of Djoser.

The first pyramid(s)

A photograph of the Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara, Egypt. Shutterstock.

Thought to have been built around 4,700 years ago, the Step Pyramid’s completion at Saqqara marked a revolution in Egyptian architecture and monument building. During the reign of King Djoser, the Step pyramid was built, marking the beginning of a pyramid-building-fever in Egypt that would last for hundreds of years.

The Step Pyramid at Saqqara was revolutionary because it was the earliest colossal stone building and the earliest large-scale cut stone construction in Egypt. With a total volume of 330,400 cubic meters (11,667,966 cu ft), it was a monument that never before in Egypt’s history was attempted before.

In fact, the entire pyramid complex was gigantic, covering around 15 ha (37 acres); it is about 2.5 times as large as the Old Kingdom town of Hierakonpolis.

As you can see, not only was the Step Pyramid at Saqqara a revolutionary monument of unseen size, it changed future monument building techniques in Egypt.

Strangely, not one ancient text has been found anywhere in Egypt that mentions one single word about its construction.

We have an absolute lack of reports and documentation about the pyramid building process which raises several questions about the majestic structures’ history.

And just as the first pyramid of Egypt lacks mention in Egyptian history, the same thing occurs with pyramids that would be built in Egypt following the reign of Djoser.

The next successful pyramid was built by Sneferu, a king of Egypt’s Fourth Dynasty, and a man that is heralded as the greatest pyramid builder in Egypt’s history.

In fact, Sneferu is credited with building three pyramids in total. His first pyramid was the one at Meidum. It resulted in a mixture between a Step Pyramid and a smooth-sided one. Although the pyramid still stands to this day, it is badly damaged, with most of its stones having collapsed in antiquity.

The Bent Pyramid at Dahshur. Shutterstock.

It is believed that the pyramid builders experimented with the pyramid at Meidum, attempting to turn a Step Pyramid into a true, smooth-sided one.

This was almost achieved in Sneferu’s second pyramid, the Bent Pyramid at Dahshur. This is one of the most unique pyramids in Egypt not only because of its curious been appearance but it still retains most of its outer casing stones.

It was an unprecedented construction in Egypt with a total volume of 1,237,040 cubic meters (43,685,655 cu ft).

However, soon after, another pyramid would decorate the landscape at Dahshur, The Red Pyramid.

This ancient structure, also thought to have been built by Sneferu, is the pyramid that is believed to have laid down the foundations for the construction of the Great Pyramid. It is Egypt’s third-largest pyramid and the first successful smooth-sided pyramid built in Egypt.

Curiously, just as the monuments that predate it, not one ancient text has been found to mention anything about how it was planned, designed, or built. But what if a type of ancient machine was used to build Egypt’s Pyramids.

Construction Methods Mentioned in 440 BC

Were machines really used to build Egypt’s Pyramids?

Strangely, the first-ever historical reference that has been found to mention something about the construction of the pyramid comes thousands of years after the pyramids were built, at a time when already in ancient Egypt, the pyramids were long-lost monuments built by their ancestors.

Machines were used. This is according to the father of history, Greek philosopher, historian, and writer Herodotus. In his work “The Histories,” Herodotus explains how the pyramids of Egypt were built with “machines” that (may have) helped the builders raise the massive stones into position;

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.

No other reference has ever been found anywhere on Earth that mentions a machine, a technique, or methods by which Egypt’s pyramids were built.

This is one of the greatest historical enigmas experts have been unable to answer.

Interestingly, it is thought that Leonardo da Vinci drew the machine described by Herodotus, which may have been used by the ancient builders of the pyramid.

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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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