Why the Great Pyramid of Giza is the Longest-Lasting Pyramid Ever Built

The Great Pyramid of Giza has survived several millennia and still stands tall and proud.

There are pyramids out there and then there’s the Great Pyramid of Giza. Even though if you never visited the pyramid in person, you’ve heard about it.  The Great Pyramid, the largest of the Egyptian pyramids, the supposed tomb for pharaoh Khufu of the fourth Dynasty of ancient Egypt, is the most impressive, most massive construction project ever attempted in ancient Egypt.

The project eventually culminated with a pyramid that would remain the tallest stone building on the surface of the planet for 3,800 years.

It was a behemoth of construction and it is thought to have been completed in a period of only twenty years, during which the builders quarried stone weighing 6 million tons, which is the final weight of the great pyramid of Giza.

This means that the ancient builders quarried and put into position more than 2.3 million blocks of stone.

That on its own is impressive, and for the pyramid to be completed, a massive labor force was needed. Luckily, Egpyt had a growing population at the time Khufu’s pyramid was built. It is estimated that the total population of ancient Egypt at the time the Giza pyramids were in construction was around 1.6 million.

The Pyramid a symbol or a purpose?

The exact purpose of the Egyptian pyramids remains debated among experts. Although it is usually accepted that the Great Pyramid of Giza, its two accompanying pyramids and other similar structures built in Dashur and Abydos were tombs for the Pharaohs, little evidence has been found today that supports this idea.

In fact, if you only take a look at the three pyramids standing at Giza, you’d notice that never has the mummy of a pharaoh been found inside of them.

If you ask any scholars about the mummies, they’ll tell you that all three mummies; Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure are missing, and have not been recovered from the pyramids.

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The Pyramids at Giza at sunset. Shutterstock.
Shutterstock.

The explanation for this is that the pyramids were looted in ancient times and that all of their contents were taken from within, leaving only the desolate, cold and undecorated interior of the pyramids as a testimony of once royal tombs.

The builders of the pyramids used a number of different stones for the construction of the pyramids and the carvings. The ancient builders quarried limestone used for the cores of pyramids in block sizes often corresponding to the thickness of successive natural layers or beds. Finer limestone was used for the outer casing of the pyramids and it originated from eastern quarries across the Nile.

Traveling further south into Upper Egypt, we find the places where the ancient builders obtained the sandstone for the last pyramids in the Nile Valley

But granite was also important and was another material that was used for pyramid casings. It was also the primary material for the sarcophagi and burial chambers.

The ancient builders also made sure to quarry Diorite and grey-wacke for statues.

Basalt was long used as the pavements of temples.

And in order to obtain all of the above-mentioned materials, the ancient Egyptians organized countless quarry expeditions to different places where these harder and geologically older igneous rocks were exposed; the Fayum, Read Sea Mountains, Aswan, and its desert quarries.

The ancient Egyptians also quarried copper for tools, gold, silver, and iron, although the last mostly in later periods in history.

And everything started off with the Step Pyramid of Djoser, a superstructure that would kick-start the pyramid-building fever of ancient Egypt.

From the 4th to the 6th dynasties, the Egyptians built a number of pyramids for their Pharaohs in a 72-kilometer span of the desert, stretching between Abu Rawash, northwest Giza, to Meidum in the south at the entrance to Fayoum.

The Bent Pyramid, also knew as the False, or Rhomboidal Pyramid because of it changed angle slope, commissioned by Pharaoh Sneferu. Shutterstock.
The Bent Pyramid also knew as the False, or Rhomboidal Pyramid because of its changed angle slope, commissioned by Pharaoh Sneferu. Shutterstock.

Not all pyramids succeed, not all of them remained. But it is noteworthy to mention that the most massive stone pyramids of Egypt were built over the course of only three generations: Sneferu, Khufu and Khafre.

These three Pharaohs of ancient Egypt created the most impressive monuments Egypt would ever see.

Although perhaps left unrecognized, Sneferu was the Pharaoh which kick-started the most pyramid projects. It is estimated that his pyramids alone contain more than 3.5 million cu. meters (124 cu. feet) of stone.

This is a mind-bending fact.

All the other pyramids of ancient Egyptian rulers combined contain only 41 percent of the total mass of the pyramids of Sneferu, Khufu, and Khafre. Like father like son.

Therefore, the Age of Pyramids refers to the Fourth Dynasty of ancient Egypt being the time when most of the well-known pyramids in Egypt were built.

In fact, all fourth-dynasty rulers excluding one built pyramids. Sneferu, Khufu, Dejdefre, Khafre, and Menkaure all built pyramids, with the exception of Pharaoh Shepseskaf, who broke the fourth Dynasty tradition of pyramid building, creating himself a mastaba. Shepseskaf chose to build a mastaba following the archaic tradition of the first, second and early third dynasties of ancient Egypt.

Pyramid building in Egypt was never as pronounced as it was during the reign of Sneferu, Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure. Prior to their reign pyramids were built but not with as much conviction. pyramids were smaller and less sophisticated. The generations that followed after the first dynasty saw pyramids as an important part of Egypt, but not as nearly as the fourth dynasty pharaohs who made sure their structures would stand the test of time. Therefore, it isn’t surprising to find that although 5th and 6th dynasty pharaohs built pyramids, these were much smaller structures in scale, built with smaller stones and cores of stone rubble fill, in a sense highlighting inferior pyramid building techniques.

And it was precisely the Age of Pyramids kick-started by Sneferu that would eventually give rise to a pyramid like no other: The Great Pyramid of Khufu, the only standing wonder of the ancient world.

Called Khufu’s Horizon, the Great Pyramid was constructed in around 20 years during which all of ancient Egypt took part in a country-wide construction phase. Until then, it was the largest ever attempted, and no other pyramid would equal it in terms of size, complexity, and mystery.

How was the pyramid built? What kind of technology did the ancient Egyptians make use of ? How did they quarry the massive blocks of stone and chisel them down to perfection? What kind of logistics were involved? And how did they move the blocks of stone across the desert? They didn’t have the wheel, so was everything achieved by means of force? They made use of the Nile River, yes, but how where the massive stones placed on the boats and then moved to land once the ships arrived at their destination?

The truth is we don’t actually know. We have theories and tell-tale signs that may help explain how everything is done, but we don’t have conclusive evidence that answers these questions outright.

The size of the Great Pyramid of Giza.
The size of the Great Pyramid of Giza. Image Credit: Shutterstock.

We do know that the builders managed to complete a pyramid that would remain unmatched for millennia to come.

Not only that, they would build one that was not only the largest for thousands of miles around but a pyramid that was intricately aligned, bearing sophisticated forms of science.

Precisely that is why the pyramid of Giza has stood the test of time. This massive ancient monument has survived through climate change, abrupt weather, earthquakes, wars, and theft. Despite all, it still stands as proud as it did thousands of years ago when its outer layer was covered by highly polished white limestone that made the pyramid reflect the light of the sun, shining like a star in the sky.  In mathematical terms, the accuracy of the casing stones’ flatness stood at 1/100th or 0.01 inch of perfectly straight.

The Great Pyramid of Giza is the only eight-sided pyramid in existence, and this incredible feature was detected for the first time by Sir Petrie.

The pyramid was also built right on top of the center of earth’s landmass or Earth’s geographical center. The east-west axis of the structure match earth’s longest land parallel.

An unparalleled amount of material s was used in the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza, which is probably why the structure remains standing today. Scholars have estimated that around 8.5 million tons of limestone was used to build the Great Pyramid.

In addition to that, the builders used around 8,000 tons of granite which were obtained from Aswan, as well as 500,000 tons of mortar to build the pyramid. Just imagine the logistical nightmare it must have been to transport thousands of tons of material from Aswan to Giza, nearly 900 kilometers away.

The massive amount of material had to be transported upwards as the pyramid grew in size and we have absolutely no idea, only guesses, how this was done thousands of years ago.

But how ever it may have been done, the builders of the pyramid made sure that this structure would survive for thousands of years.

This is no surprise say scholars since ancient Egyptians believed their afterlife would last forever, so it is only logical to build tombs that lasted forever too. Whether or not pyramids were used as tombs is a debatable subject.

First-century BC historian, Diodorus Siculus wrote about the Great Pyramid of Giza:

“The kings designed these pyramids for their sepulchers, yet it happened that their remains were not here deposited.” 

“Describing the Great Pyramids and the hatred their builders supposedly attracted to themselves, Diodorus follows the tradition of Herodotus; he adds, however, that their bodies were never buried in them, but rather that the rulers commanded that their bodies be placed in a secure place that was kept secret.” (C. Zivie-Coche 2002 (1997): 102).