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erichw1504's avatar

What's your theory on how the Egyptian pyramids were built?

Asked by erichw1504 (26420points) November 4th, 2009

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian_pyramids

These massive structures were built thousands of years ago without any of the technology we have today. Even now, us humans would probably have a hard time creating such an amazing thing. How do you think the Egyptians did it so well? Share your thoughts and why.

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68 Answers

RedPowerLady's avatar

Aliens who were trying to mess with us

kheredia's avatar

With the help of ALIENS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

poisonedantidote's avatar

the same theory as lister from red dwarf.

whips. massive massive whips.

grumpyfish's avatar

Ramps and lots of lots of labor.

Essentially, the stone was reasonably locally quarried, and then the ramps filled into the quarries when they were done.

There’s lots of pretty cool techniques they used to get the fit so tight—but there’s also lots of the “less important” parts of the pyramids that are pretty raggedly built.

ragingloli's avatar

technology supplied by extraterrestrials
j.k.
There has been discovered an interesting wooden artifact that depicts a glider, which means a glider of appropriate size could have been used to transport the stones to the construction sites.
There are also depictions of objects that could be interpreted as ancient lightbulbs, which means the Egyptians could have illuminated their pyramids with electric light.

I think the Egyptians had more advanced technology than we would like to give them credit for.

Qingu's avatar

“Even now, us humans would probably have a hard time creating such an amazing thing.”

This is nonsense. See the Luxor hotel in Las Vegas, which is much, much more “amazing” from any engineering standpoint.

The Egyptians had thousands of slaves and spent decades building each pyramid. I challenge you to cite a single aspect of the pyramids that couldn’t be achieved by levers and human labor in that time.

Judi's avatar

My husband is a contractor and when we were there he looked at how tight each joint of those massive blocks were, some with very complicated angles and he said, “No way they could do this without a laser. ” we concluded it must have been aliens as well.

Ame_Evil's avatar

God built they to test our faith.

ragingloli's avatar

@Qingu
that slave myth is pretty much nonsense.
fact is, building a pyramid for the pharao, who was considered a god in the flesh, was pretty much the greatest honour one yould be bestowed upon. Chances are, most of the construction was done by voluntary workers.

erichw1504's avatar

@Qingu I’m just saying it would be hard to replicate exactly how they made their pyramids. Yea, so we could definitely complete one in much less time, but it wouldn’t be easy.

Qingu's avatar

@ragingloli, I did not know they were not considered “slaves.”

My point was that the Egyptians had an extremely large workforce that labored for decades. Whether or not they were “slaves,” you don’t need to propose any magical or supernatural explanation to account for this workforce building the pyramids.

@erichw1504, what do you mean “easy”? Manually dragging huge limestones up inclined planes wouldn’t be easy in any time period. But we know that’s how they built them. And, as I pointed out—we did build a pyramid, the Luxor hotel in Las Vegas, in a fraction of the time, and made out of glass to boot.

Judi's avatar

@Qingu ; glass is lighter than stone blocks and a lot easier to cut.

erichw1504's avatar

@Qingu You don’t get what I’m trying to say. I’m saying it would still be hard to construct a stone pyramid like they did even with the technology we have now.

ragingloli's avatar

@Judi
plus the thing is hollow

oratio's avatar

@ragingloli And dominated peoples paid tax consisted of labor, meat and grain. Some of that work was making clay brick, by the thousands.

Qingu's avatar

@Judi, what’s your point? Are you seriously suggesting that stacking a bunch of stones in a pyramid shape—something every ancient civilization has done, from the Maya to the Sumerians—is more advanced engineering- and technology-wise than blowing glass (the Egyptians did not know how to make glass), fashioning it into steel frames (the Egyptians did not know how to make steal), and designing the structure such that these light materials could actually bear the weight of it?

Also, how on earth did you conclude, from your husband’s personal ignorance of how the Egyptians fit the stones together, that “aliens did it”? Can you walk me through your logic there?

@ragingloli, what does hollowness have to do with it? A hollow pyramid like the Luxor is much more difficult to engineer than a stack of stones. And dude, I thought you were a skeptic! I’m revoking your license. :)

Qingu's avatar

Sorry if I’m being overly aggressive here, but I think it’s incredibly ignorant to propose that “aliens” or “God” are responsible for every historical oddity that you don’t wholly understand.

Your logic is no different from someone who “doesn’t understand” how the WTC towers could collapse from a plane flying into them and concludes that it was an inside job. Or someone who doesn’t understand how a bacterium could evolve a flagelum motor, so concludes “God did it.”

Just because you are ignorant of something doesn’t mean any supernatural explanation is valid.

ragingloli's avatar

@Qingu
I don’t like the word “skeptic”. To me a skeptic is someone who starts with the conclusion that it didn’t happen and then picks facts that support his preconceived conclusion. It’s like the Nay-version of an extreme conspiracy theorist.

Qingu's avatar

I’m skeptical of supernatural explanations proposed for absolutely no reason and with absolutely no evidence.

Please explain to me what exactly about the pyramid’s construction couldn’t be achieved by decades of heavy human labor. Please explain to me how the pyramid’s construction is materially different from other pyramids and ziggurats nearby and in similar eras (did the aliens build those too? How do you differentiate which ancient structures were and were not built by aliens?)

Austinlad's avatar

Titus Trump.

ragingloli's avatar

@Qingu
“_Please explain to me what exactly about the pyramid’s construction couldn’t be achieved by decades of heavy human labor. _”
I didn’t say they couldn’t. In fact, I am on the side of decades of human labour.

Qingu's avatar

@ragingloli, okay, apologies for taking my skeptic-rage out on you. :) For some reason I thought you were agreeing with Judi.

Austinlad's avatar

To @Qingu—doubt my ancestors would agree with you about the labor being voluntary. Especially around Passover.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

They had hundreds of thousands of slaves, and took decades. I don’t think there’s any ‘theory’ to it, its just what happened. The ancients weren’t stupid, and it is entirely plausible that they thought of mechanisms that have since been lost, and we have just invented alternate methods.

ragingloli's avatar

@Austinlad
well the evidence doesn’t agree with your ancestors
http://harvardmagazine.com/2003/07/who-built-the-pyramids

oratio's avatar

They had of course slaves too. Just explaining everything being built and produced in ancient Egypt by whipped hordes of slaves by the hundreds of thousands is making it simple. It was a complex society, in big part due to that their entire survival and prosperity depended on the Nile and it’s seasonal flooding.

When it comes to slavery there were also different types of slavery. It differs between times and cultures as well. In Egypt it happened that slaves married into the family they served, serving as household slaves. Egyptians could be slaves as well.

About dominated people, again, they paid taxes – not in gold – but in labor and food produce.

Qingu's avatar

@austinlad, while I’m not sold on ragingloli’s contention that the egyptians had no slave labor, you shouldn’t confuse Hebrew mythology with actual history.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@ragingloli Great link! It is not hard to understand why free citizens would do it. The Sydney Harbour Bridge was built to pull Australia out of the Great Depression, so having a major project like the pyramids would be great for the economy of Egypt and the national pride of the people.
It doesn’t rule out slaves, but its an interesting take on things.

ragingloli's avatar

@Qingu
I’m not saying that Egypt had no slaves. Every civilisation at that time had slavery. What I’m saying is that the picture of an evil tyrant Pharao forcing hundreds of thousands of slaves to build pyramids under horrible conditions as promoted by judeo-christian tradition doesn’t fit the evidence.

oratio's avatar

@Qingu I don’t think @ragingloli said that they had no slaves.

Oh, to slow

kheredia's avatar

I’ve heard that the shape and geometric ratios between the Egyptian and Mayan pyramids are very similar. It’s hard to explain how that is possible when they’re so far away from each other and considering the time periods it was impossible for them to interact with each other. It’s a mystery we will never solve.

Qingu's avatar

Isn’t calling them “free citizens” anachronistic? The laborers may not have been slaves, I.e purchased human property, but Egypt was a theocracy.

But I do agree with your latest point. The bibles account is obviously a legend (pop of Hebrew slaves was more than total population of Egypt at the time.)

drdoombot's avatar

These guys will build you a pyramid like the Great Pyramid of Giza, though made of concrete blocks, for the low, low cost of $1,000,000,000. If you want limestone like the real thing, it’ll be a paltry $3,000,000,000 extra.

Still, I think the pyramids of Egypt are mighty impressive. They cut the stone so accurately that you couldn’t fit a knife blade in between the bricks. And archeologists are still debating how they were built…

The Bible claims that the Jews helped build “storage cities.” I don’t claim the Bible is an accurate historical document, but even if it was, the pyramids weren’t storing anything except the Pharoah’s body and gold booty.

Qingu's avatar

@kheredia, the shape of pyramids is similar to other pyramids? That’s not an insolvable mystery. It’s not even a mystery period. Pyramids and zigurrats are the simplest structures primitive people figured out how to build, after earth mounds. We can trace the evolution of these structures in each culture.

FYI: similar farming techniques arose at least five separate times in unlinked cultures. Maybe aliens did that too.

oratio's avatar

@kheredia I suspect that there are very limited ways you can build a pyramid. But Thor Heyerdahl showed that it was physically possible for Egyptians to reach the Americas.

laureth's avatar

To find level without a level, you carve a grid out and fill it with water. See where the water is and carve to that level. Bam! – flat surface. (You needed a flat surface on bedrock to build something as heavy as the pyramids.)

Then, you start to stack. You do it with farmers who have nothing better to do during the flood season. Use ramps, use levers. With a good pivot, you can turn stone without having to bear its weight yourself – think how much more you can lift in a wheelbarrow.

People with great belief in their religion are a force to be reckoned with – just look what they’re doing in the world today. Focus all that energy on building the pyramids, and they’ll go right up.

Plus, don’t assume they were primitive just because they couldn’t buy laser levels at Wal*Mart. Remember, the ancient world had a lot of technology (like Roman plumbing – they had running water toilets!) that disappeared once the dark ages hit and didn’t appear again until almost the modern day. The ancients were smart, and had time on their hands, and the fervor with which to use it.

And BTW – the pyramids aren’t hollow. They’re mostly solid, with chambers and halls inside.

RareDenver's avatar

@kheredia lots of people can independently come to the same conclusions/solutions especially where maths is concerned I’m sure there’s a word for it but I can’t think what it is right now damn you bottle of wine

janbb's avatar

By Jews who heard they were going to open a deli when they were finished.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

Technically, they were slaves. They had no choice in the matter of whether or not they would participate in building the pyramids – unless they were already too old or ill to take part. That said, they were given good food and had access to health care that a normal citizen may not have been given. They were slaves, but not in the typical way that people think of slaves.

As for how they were built, no one knows exactly, but the ancient Egyptians were very technologically advanced for their time.

davidk's avatar

The pyramids were finish from inside out from bottom to top, each tier rising as steps. The first “step” was, in a sense, one big ramp. With each new tier/step came 2 ramps that hugged the sides on opposite ends of the second step. This process was continued until the final step was capped with a pyramid-shaped stone. The surfacing stones were then put in place from top to bottom. These stones filled in the empty angles left by the steps. As these filler-stones were placed, workers polished the surface to the point of creating a near-mirror effect.
The tools available to the people of ancient Egypt were sufficient for the process.
The amazing part is not so much that it was an “unbelievable” technical achievement as it was an incredible feat of social engineering and commitment over decades (usually 50–60 years). I would encourage everyone to look into what the world’s leading expert, Dr. Zahi Hawass, has to say on the subject.

ragingloli's avatar

@DrasticDreamer
People also don’t have a choice wether to pay taxes. Neither do recruits in countries that have a draft. That doesn’t make them slaves.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

@ragingloli In a way, it does. And being forced into intensive physical labor, not having a choice in the matter – makes you a slave.

ragingloli's avatar

@DrasticDreamer
What makes you a slave is being property of someone else.

Supacase's avatar

@davidk‘s response makes the most sense to me.

I still prefer my theory that cats are aliens who brought great technology to the Egyptians, which is why cats were so revered. The knowledge has been lost by the felines through the years, but their expectation of elevated status has withstood the test of time.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

@ragingloli I’m just telling you what all of the experts on the matter believe and say. Take it up with them, not me.

Qingu's avatar

@DrasticDreamer, most anthropologists would differentiate between laborers who pay taxes to a government and slaves who are owned by individual people. I don’t know what experts you’re talking about, though.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

@Qingu Yes, the comment about taxes was tongue-in-cheek. :P

Fyrius's avatar

I didn’t know I was supposed to have my own personal under-informed layman’s hypothesis about this.

There’s a saying on the interwebs about to the Pyramids, taking it as proof that “you can do anything you set your mind to when you have vision, determination, and an endless supply of expendable labour.”

The people in charge in those times were filthy rich, ridiculously powerful, and not inhibited to use slavery. We could build things that would make the pyramids pale in comparison if the people wouldn’t complain about the government spending half our tax money on something so pointless (no pun intended), or about working for no pay.

avvooooooo's avatar

I like the internal ramp theory where they pushed/pulled blocks up a ramp you can no longer see to the corners and used block and tackle to lift and turn the blocks for the corners.

galileogirl's avatar

From the bottom up, was that ever in question?

janbb's avatar

@galileogirl That’s hilarious!

Judi's avatar

@Qingu ; Have you seen them? The precision cuts are amazing. Some of those huge stones taller than a person have 5 or 6 precision cuts, perfectly puzzled together, with laser precision. You couldn’t fit a piece of paper between them, even after all these thousands of years.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@Fyrius nice accidental pun…..

grumpyfish's avatar

The tight joints are not exactly a mystery—we’ve been doing joints like that since. Infact, the construction technique has illustrated to archaeologists what direction the stones were set in: you line up two stones until the rough faces are touching, run a saw down between them (slightly nicking the stone below in the process), and then shove the stones together. Now you have a perfectly tight fit.

In doing some reading on the pyramids, you’ll see archaeologists refer to some stonework as “monday stone”—essentially sloppy work that got covered over by nicer looking stone later. All of the “exposed surfaces” were done by the highest quality craftsman, but some of the internals are done a lot more sloppily.

Additionally, there’s a pretty clear historical track of the Egyptians learning to build pyramids—first they were stepped like the Mayans, then they started building cap stoned ones (including the bent pyramid, where they learned the right ratio to keep the pyramids from falling down).

mattbrowne's avatar

By people. Without the help coming from outer space.

Qingu's avatar

@Judi, since “tightly-fit-together stones” seems to be your only basis for concluding that a structure was built by aliens, could you elaborate on which specific structures—or specific parts of structures—were built by aliens?

Obviously some pyramids and zigurrats are better-made than others. How many did the aliens build? In lieu of the less visible sloppy stonework on even fancy pyramids, is it possible that the aliens only carved the outer stones but outsourced the inner stones to humans, or perhaps less competent stonecutter aliens?

I’m also curious as to why aliens with technology to travel light-years across interstellar space bothered to build… well, the second-most basic building structure in human civilization, a “big ol’ mound of stones.”

“Space Emperor Zargon, we are orbiting earth. The primitive ape-men have evolved the ability to make simple, hill-shaped buildings out of earth and cut stone. What should we do?”

“Build one of those things! Yeah!”

“Okay. How big?”

“Slightly bigger than the biggest one the humans have built!”

“At your command. Should we make it hover in mid-air or function as a supercomputer or…”

“No, just do a fairly precise job cutting and joining the stones. We don’t want humans to get the impression that spacefaring aliens made this thing, you know!”

Fyrius's avatar

@Qingu
Space Emperor Zargon would make a fine successor to Zaphod Beeblebrox.

Judi's avatar

I was being half sarcastic when I said “aliens.”
I do think that the current age sometimes gets cockeyed thinking we are smarter than previous generattions because of technology. I think that the Egyptians were brilliant and had knowledge that humanity has long since lost. Where that knowledge came from, be it scientific discovery, aliens, or divine revelation I don’t know, but they were every bit as smart, if not smarter than we are today.

Qingu's avatar

What specific knowledge did the Egyptians have that we have lost?

And why would you conclude that that knowledge came from gods or aliens?

By the way, I don’t deny that ancient cultures knew things that we don’t know. The best example is “Greek fire,” a weapon system used by the Byzantines. However, we clearly have technology today that exceeds anything done by ancient people. And I also don’t see what “lost tech” was necessary to build the pyramids—we could easily build a pyramid today.

robmandu's avatar

Just wanted to point out that there’s no valid way to answer “What specific knowledge did the Egyptians have that we have lost?”

Assuming the knowledge of it is lost, then it’s no stretch at all that the knowledge it even existed or is possible could be lost as well.

Greek fire is a poor example of lost knowledge, @Qingu, because, by your own reasoning, we certainly know how to create fire that can not be extinguished by water, can burn underwater, and can proliferate by water as well.

Oh, and by the way, the ancient Egyptians did indeed know how to work with glass.

I think some really talented, smart, and educated people designed and constructed the pyramids.

Qingu's avatar

@robmandu, of course you can’t prove the Egyptians didn’t have lost knowledge, or magic, or whatever. I was just asking for any evidence to suggest this is the case. Judi had mentioned that the stones of the pyramids were cut very tightly—why does this suggest “lost knowledge”?

Re: Greek fire, like I said, we have technology today that surpasses anything Greek fire can do. We also have technology and buildings today far more advanced than the Egyptian pyramids. But in the case of Greek fire—and unlike the pyramids—we’re not sure how the Byzantines actually made the weapon, or what it was made of. The pyramids are not as mysterious.

Touche on glass.

grumpyfish's avatar

Just as another random aside—the main reason we stopped cutting stones so tightly was that we invented cement mortar, which allowed the stones to be held together much more strongly without having to cut them so tightly.

It’s similar to marveling at gothic-era arches and wondering how they were able to suspend the stones in the air while they assembled the arches. We just happen to have a historic record that says “well, they built falsework first”, which we don’t have for the Egyptians.

(Edited to add: Oops—just checked, the Egyptians did have mortar, but it was relatively soft)

engineeristerminatorisWOLV's avatar

The stones blocks used to build in the Pyramids are too heavy for the most advanced of today’s monster cranes to lift it to the height they are in.So,how were they moved to that height and placed so well structured?
There are many underlying theories that speak about it,but one thing is common in all of those.Slaves were used to do the job,but did they lift the blocks?The answer is no.They slided it .Once a the base of the pyramid was complete,they gradually moved up with the construction and covered up the finished part with sand so that they could ascend up to the height on the sand platform which sloped almost half a mile in length.The workers used to drag the blocks to the place where they are supposed to be placed and with the completion of the work the job became tougher,but the number of blocks to be taken to the top,reduced due to the pyramid’s structure.
.
We listen about the theories in daily life and things are being passed from generation to generation through words and through inscription and truth is adjusted to some extent though, not completely.

laureth's avatar

[Removed by me, for restating what someone already said.]

basstrom188's avatar

Tightly cut stones were only used when they had to be, a lot of the pyramid structure is made up of pretty roughly hewn stones, work that could have been done by slave labour. When accuracy was required highly skilled masons did the work. I believe that only ten per cent of the stones had to be cut precisely. All within the capability of an ancient people with knowledge of mathematics, astronomy and working stone.

basstrom188's avatar

Can this topic be restarted?

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