What are the biggest myths engineers believe in
In the 1970s, the author Erich von Däniken believed extraterrestrials were the originators of the pyramids. Research has long since disproved such pseudoscientific theories.
Even so, the desert sand and the meter-thick walls of the pyramids still hold enough secrets to keep generations of scientists busy.
If a rich person were to commission the construction of a pyramid today, even the largest building contractors would swallow up: 2.6 million stone blocks with a minimum weight of 2.5 tons per block.
The chunks would have to be brought in from quarries all over Europe. The entrepreneur would be busy with the construction for over half a decade.
This example, which is not taken very seriously, gives an idea of what a challenge the construction of such a pyramid must have been for engineers and workers around 2550 BC. 106 pyramids run like a chain through Egypt, but their queen is the Cheops pyramid in Giza.
Before the cladding and parts of the tip were stolen, it was 146 meters high and had a floor area of 53,000 square meters. The key to all of Egyptian architecture is hidden in it. If the researchers manage to elicit its secrets from the Great Pyramid of Cheops, many gaps in ancient Egyptian historiography will be closed.
The construction of the Great Pyramid of Cheops at a time when people knew only simple tools compared to today is still a miracle even after decades of research.
The magazine "Der Spiegel" found a suitable comparison for this a few years ago: "It is as if the use of the fire were immediately followed by the construction of the atom bomb."
Much is astonishing: the stone blocks of the pyramid are cut to an accuracy of 0.2 millimeters. A razor blade would only fit between the rows of stones. The foundations of the pyramid only deviate a maximum of 16 millimeters from the horizontal and that with a lower edge length of around 230 meters.
Even the right angles of the corners make today's engineers green with envy: The angles are cut so precisely that even laser-based measuring devices could not work more precisely.
And all these technical masterpieces should come from a people who, according to some researchers, did not even know the advantages of the bike at the time the foundation stone was laid?
The truth is in the details
The reason for this contradiction lies in the lack of knowledge about the state of research in antiquity. Alexander the Great destroyed almost all of the knowledge of the Egyptians in the 4th century BC.
The rescued books with the "knowledge of the ancients" burned in the time of Caesar, in the middle of the 1st century BC, in the library of Alexandria.
Investigations of the more recent Egyptian pyramids suggest that the Egyptians had a gigantic knowledge advantage over other peoples. English researchers discovered that twice the height of the Cheops pyramid to its circumference at the base is in the same proportion as the diameter of the circle to the circumference.
This means that the Egyptians worked with the circle number pi (ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter) long before it was discovered in other cultures.
Extravagance or grandiose madness?
Why did the pharaohs build pyramids? It appears that the Egyptians were a spiritually developed people. They were cultured and had laws. It cannot be assumed that a dictatorial pharaoh could have forced a large part of his people to work on the mammoth project.
Behind the pyramids, it is believed, stood both the Pharaoh and his people. The reason why the pyramids were built must have been of particular concern to the Egyptians - why else would the thousands of workers have endured the rigors of a ten-day, ten-hour week with one day off, knowing that they? do not get older than 30 to 35 years? The experts argue about this question.
One theory is that the pyramids were built out of fear of the cataclysm, that is, out of fear of a sudden torrential destruction of the entire culture.
According to this theory, the Egyptians brought their entire scientific, astronomical and mathematical knowledge to the point by building the pyramids, so to speak as a societal companion for eternity.
Other theories speak of the godlike pharaohs' craving for recognition.
The people therefore believed that the pharaohs can only continue to watch over their people after their death if they can ascend to heaven by means of riches for the realm of the dead and a suitable "staircase".
Less metaphysical researchers simply believe that the building of the pyramids was occupational therapy for the people who were unemployed during the flood of the Nile.
If it was previously assumed that slaves had to toil under terrible conditions for the pyramids, later evidence was found that the workers were well paid.
A slightly different construction site
The researchers have not yet found a solution to one of the apparently simplest questions: How could the Egyptians transport the stones and stack them on top of one another?
There are still different explanations, but all of them have their weak points. The stone blocks were probably transported on wooden sleds.
The biggest problem for the architects of the Great Pyramid was probably the granite stones for the royal chamber. Each one weighs 50 tons - too much to be pulled up with no matter how many workers.
The first theory assumes that the Egyptians built a ramp that grew larger and larger as the pyramid grew. The workers are said to have used this ramp to pull the stones onto the completed plateau of the pyramid.
The problem with this theory is: if you assume an incline of five percent for the ramp, then in order to place the last stones at the top at over 145 meters, it would have to be three kilometers long. There was no room for it in front of most of the great Egyptian pyramids. Such a gigantic ramp would have a volume of 20 million cubic meters - almost ten times more than the pyramid itself.
The Great Pyramid consists of 2.6 million stones. Assuming that it has been worked on for 20 years, a block should have been delivered almost every two minutes for a ten-hour working day.
Even with so many workers, this is hardly imaginable over a three kilometer long ramp.
An outside ramp
Another popular attempt at explanation describes an outer ramp that winds around the pyramid, similar to a spiral staircase on the outer wall of the pyramid.
The time factor also speaks against this theory, because this ramp would also be several kilometers long after a few circling around the pyramid.
Building such a ramp would consume vast amounts of wood, which was in short supply in Egypt at the time and also very expensive. Tests with a replica of the ramp have shown that the heavier blocks could not have been transported.
Should the theory be correct despite all the contradictions, it could not be proven. The cladding of the pyramid has been stolen over the millennia and with it the possible traces of such a ramp.
An explanation is needed
Another theory is that the Egyptians built their pyramids with the help of machines (elevators, winches, cranes). The Greek historian Herodotus already spoke of machines in the 5th century BC.
In modern research, however, this possibility has long been rejected, as workshops and labor camps were found during the excavations in the vicinity of the pyramids, but no evidence of machines that would have been suitable for lifting and pulling such loads.
Since all other options discussed have their explanatory weaknesses, many archaeologists and engineers now believe in the machine theory, even if it has not yet been proven.
Rampen also rejects a theory that was developed at the Institute for Egyptology at the University of Münster: the great pyramids like those of Cheops, according to the theory, originally had a tiered structure, just like smaller pyramids. Small stairs were built into these steps and the blocks were levered upwards via these.
In order to obtain a smooth pyramid surface, an intermediate layer was then applied to the step structure. But so far there is no proof for the theory either.
(First published in 2002. Last updated May 10, 2021)
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