Blog: How I Would Build The Great Pyramids By: John Heisz
I guess it’s been Joe Rogan‘s interest in ancient civilizations that has made the topic as popular as it is currently. With guests like Graham Hancock, Randall Carlson and Robert Schoch giving alternate views on the accepted history, and backing that up with some very compelling evidence.
In any case, it has renewed my interest and in particular with regards to the great pyramids and how they were constructed. It seemed that everything about Egypt was very popular when I was a kid, back in the mid 70’s, and so it’s kind of a familiar subject.
What follows is the building method that I think was used to construct these massive stone structures. Of course no one can say for certain exactly how it was done, since there aren’t any verified writings from that time that describe the actual construction process.
“I’m not saying that’s not possible, but it discounts what us humans can accomplish when properly motivated.”
I’m basing this on what I know about moving big things and the boundless ingenuity of a highly dedicated workforce. Many would like to believe that some lost technology was used, and I’m not saying that’s not possible, but it discounts what us humans can accomplish when properly motivated. And one thing is abundantly clear – the people that built these were extremely intent on the project. They didn’t do things halfway.
As for if it was done by the ancient Egyptians or a civilization that predates them, there’s evidence on both sides. However, the caliber of the work done on this massive scale suggests a class of people that had very strong beliefs and were collectively working toward a definite goal or reward. I believe you would not get this from a largely unskilled slave workforce.
To illustrate this in a visual way, I thought I would build a rudimentary model of a pyramid, and I started by cutting out the individual blocks:
As I understand it, the majority of the blocks were sized to be 1 : 1 : 2, or twice as long as they are high and deep. I think that this is an important key part in how the stones were lifted up. And it’s the lifting up that I’m focusing on, since nearly every other aspect (other than quarrying the stones themselves) is fairly trivial in comparison. Moving stones over flat land can be done in a number of ways – I would have made a “road” from large thinner stones that would later be taken up again and used near the top of the pyramid to finish it – but the tricky part is how to get the stones above ground level.
The difficultly comes in lifting something massively heavy completely off the ground, but they would never have to do that. There have been a number of theories involving ramps of various shapes and even a water elevator concept that’s utterly absurd, but I don’t think any of these were used to raise the stones.
My idea (and I don’t know if this is original, but I haven’t seen it before) involves making use of the shape of the blocks to assist with lifting them up each level. Since the stones were twice as long, the tipping point when stood on end would be the middle. If you’ve ever moved something like a fridge onto the back of a pickup truck, you can probably see how this works. The key is to never fully lift the weight, but always have the bulk of it supported. I made this animation to demonstrate:
Levers, in the form of long, thick poles would be used to stand the stone up, with men pulling on ropes from above, and manning the levers from below. Once stood up, it wouldn’t take much effort to tip the stone onto the next course up.
This would be a continuous stream of stones going up, one after the other, and I believe the pyramid was build with step-like areas where this took place. And since a pyramid has four sides, it could be happening on each one. In other words, the “ramp” used wouldn’t be a ramp at all, but a section of stairs in the middle of each side.
Building any kind of external ramp would be a wasted effort when the building is already basically shaped like a ramp. All you would have to do is make allowances for these steps as the structure gets taller. Steps could go in so far, then double back toward the outside before turning inward again:
These stairways would then be filled in after the bulk of the pyramid was built – possibly with smaller, easier to manage stones. And of course like any long term massive project of this kind, other methods or arrangements would have been tried or implemented while the work progressed. Ramps might have been used for the first few courses, until the length they would have to be became too long to be practical.
I tried to show the basic steps concept with my crude model, but the scale between the stones and the overall size of the structure is too far off:
“If they had a technology that could easily move the stones to any elevation, they would have…”
The amount of stone in the bottom 20% of the structure is roughly half of the total, and the stones got progressively smaller as the pyramid got taller. And I believe this indicates that moving the larger stones was difficult, and therefore avoided where possible. If they had a technology that could easily move the stones to any elevation, they would have used the same size stones at the top as they used at the bottom.
Likewise, if quarrying the stone was assisted by an advanced method that made that easy and accurate, they would have made all of the stone exactly the same size and perfectly faced. This would have made sizing and placing the granite facing stones a lot easier as well. That they did not shows that there was real, determined human effort involved, concentrating that effort on aspects that were the most important.
There were much larger stones used on the interior – above the “king’s chamber” for example. I believe these would have been moved up with each new course as the pyramid was built. And the passageways inside would be done in the same way, by just by leaving out stones.
Even though I think that this was the method used, and certainly the way I would do it, there’s some actual evidence on the pyramids themselves to back this up. If you look at each side, you can see an irregular area in the middle that extends up to the top:
This is especially easy to see in an aerial view:
Does this conclusively support the method I’m showing here? Of course not, but it does fit.
Another piece of evidence is how the sides dip inwards slightly. When building something like this, you would want to concentrate your best, most skilled people at the corners. They would lay blocks with a specific setback from the course below to get the correct angle on the outside of the pyramid. As other less skilled men worked toward the middle, there would be a natural tendency for the wall to bow inwards by a small amount. I’m not sure why this happens – it could be a kind of overcompensation – better to be bowed in slightly than to be bowed out. I do know that it even happened with my crude model as well, completely unintended:
Since the sides would be broken by the stairways in the middle and possible stockpiles of block, it might have been difficult to have a clear line of sight from one corner to the other. Modern stone masons use strong string lines stretched taut to keep the courses straight, but usually not for the distances involved here.
What do I mean when I say “stockpiles of block”? Since filling in the stairways would be difficult as the steps used for lifting were filled in, blocks might have been stockpiled on the outside of the walls as the pyramid was built to use for that. I show the concept in this drawing – the stockpiled stones are coloured a different shade:
These would line the stairs on both sides and be used while filling them in. Again, my illustration doesn’t capture the scale this would be done on, but I think it demonstrates it clearly.
I made a video showing the highlights, while building the model. A few of the details mentioned in this article occurred to me while editing it, but the video covers the key points:
The thumbnail image for a video is probably the single most important way to catch the viewers attention, but this one was difficult. I tried a few different things, but ended up setting up my own Giza plateau on a sheet of plywood just outside my shop:
A thin layer of sand around the base of my nearly finished great plywood pyramid.
Anyway, an interesting change from the usual stuff I do. And I think at the very least it should be entertaining – I know I enjoyed doing it and thinking about the various problems involved.