Pyramid of Giza
The pyramid rises to a height of 479 feet (146 metres) with a base of 754 feet (230 metres) and is comprised of over two million blocks of stone. Some of these stones are of such immense size and weight (such as the granite slabs in the King’s Chamber) that the logistics of raising and positioning them so precisely seems an impossibility by modern standards.
The pyramid was first excavated using modern techniques and scientific analysis in 1880 by Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie (l.1853-1942), the British archaeologist who set the standard for archaeological operations in Egypt generally and at Giza specifically.
Although many theories persist as to the purpose of the pyramid, the most widely accepted understanding is that it was constructed as a tomb for the king. Exactly how it was built, however, still puzzles people in the modern day. The theory of ramps running around the outside of the structure to move the blocks into place is still debated by historians. So-called “fringe” or “New Age” theories abound, in an effort to explain the advanced technology required for the structure, citing extra-terrestrials and their imagined frequent visits to Egypt in antiquity.
These theories continue to be advanced in spite of the increasing body of evidence substantiating that the pyramid was built by the ancient Egyptians using technological means which, most likely, were so common to them that they felt no need to record them. Still, the intricacy of the interior passages, shafts, and chambers (The King’s Chamber, Queen’s Chamber, and Grand Gallery) as well as the nearby Osiris Shaft, coupled with the mystery of how the pyramid was built at all and its orientation to cardinal points, encourages the persistence of these fringe theories.
Another enduring theory regarding the monument’s construction is that it was built on the backs of slaves. Contrary to the popular opinion that Egyptian monuments in general, and the Great Pyramid in particular, were built using Hebrew slave labour, the pyramids of Giza and all other temples and monuments in the country were constructed by Egyptians who were hired for their skills and compensated for their efforts.
Toward the end of the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3150-c.2613 BCE) the vizier Imhotep (c. 2667-2600 BCE) devised a means of creating an elaborate tomb, unlike any other, for his king Djoser. Prior to Djoser’s reign (c. 2670 BCE) tombs were constructed of mud fashioned into modest mounds known as mastabas. Imhotep conceived of a then-radical plan of not only building a mastaba out of stone but of stacking these structures on top of one another in steps to create an enormous, lasting, monument. His vision led to the creation of Djoser’s Step Pyramid at Saqqara, still standing in the present day, the oldest pyramid in the world.
Still, the Step Pyramid was not a “true pyramid” and, in the period of the Old Kingdom (c. 2613-2181 BCE) the king Sneferu (r.c. 2613-2589 BCE) sought to improve on Imhotep’s plans and create an even more impressive monument. His first attempt, the Collapsed Pyramid at Meidum, failed because he departed too widely from Imhotep’s design. Sneferu learned from his mistake, however, and went to work on another – the Bent Pyramid – which also failed because of miscalculations in the angle from base to summit. Undeterred, Sneferu took what he learned from that experience and built the Red Pyramid, the first true pyramid constructed in Egypt.