Believed to have been built over a 20-year period during the Fourth Dynasty for the Pharaoh Khufu, the ancient monument is still shrouded in mystery. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, it is the only one still largely intact and is estimated to weigh approximately six million tonnes, and comprise of 2.3 million limestone blocks. There have been varying theories about the Great Pyramid’s construction techniques, but the most accepted hypotheses are based on moving each of these stone blocks from a nearby quarry and lifting them into place.
But that is far from the truth, according to structural engineer Peter James, who has spent the last 14 years working on preserving the historic buildings and temples of Egypt with his company Cintec.
He detailed in his book ‘Saving the Pyramids: Twenty First Century Engineering and Egypt’s Ancient Monuments,’ how a discovery made during an excavation in the 19th century is pivotal to his theory.
Mr James wrote: “Flinders Petrie discovered stone sockets at each corner that had no apparent use and did not align with the outer casing or over-cladding.
“These sockets, I believe, were used to erect profiles made from timber.
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The pyramids were built more than 4,000 years ago
“These can be seen on all building sites when the foundations are set out and are used to project the building line to create the right angles.
“I believe the ancient builders used visual sighting methods such as transits to mark out and measure lengths.
“The transits would be used to project a straight line, and I would have poles marked in cubits, say 15 to 20 cubits long, to measure the distances and without any rope or cordage.”
Mr James went on to detail how these finds would have helped construct the foundation of the pyramid.
He added: “The transits would also be very effective if used at night with small lights or lamps instead of poles.
The sites of ancient Egypt
“Once the base had been set out precisely, the angle of construction would be approximately 45 degrees, which is measured across the diagonals, not the face of the pyramid.”
Speaking to Express.co.uk, Mr James revealed how things panned out from there.
He said: “We now know that the Great Pyramid is 230 metres long and approximately 150 metres high.
“As long as a block goes in and is the same height up, you can start on all four corners and go all the way up at the same 45 degrees
“It’s exactly what masons do today, they make sure it’s square. As the pyramid went up the top got smaller.”
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More than two million limestone blocks are estimated to have been used
“The Egyptians believe there are 2.6 million blocks in the Great Pyramid.
“That means that if you took these from the quarry, one at a time, you would need one every six minutes to do it in 25 years. That’s absolute nonsense.”
Moreover, the Egyptologist has a theory on how this was achieved.
He explained in his book: “This would be the only time that the previously envisaged external ramps would be needed to gain access to the interior of the pyramid.
“Once the builders were inside the internal perimeter, internal ramps would be constructed to provide working access to the corridors and burial chambers and the movement of any large blocks that were deemed necessary.
There have been voids discovered inside the Great Pyramid
“With the amount of room available, the ramps could be almost 10 metres wide without causing any congestion in the construction area.
“Flinders Petrie found that the Great Pyramid had distinct hollowing at the centre of each face in the core stones but not the over-cladding stones that were visible in ground level.
“This would coincide with a break in construction between the corner that allowed the builders access to the centre core of the pyramid.
“This infill would comprise of much smaller and more easily managed stones similar to those found in the centre and above the burial chamber in the Step Pyramid.”
He continued: “If you just build the outside foundation you can fill it with much smaller blocks quicker.
Mr James has worked on the Bent Pyramid recently
“I suspect what happened is they started on the corners, went up, had ramps put inside and got to the burial chamber about 50 metres up.
“As they went up, they would have got to a point where they put support beams in which would have created gaps.
“They would have left these empty or filled them with a material that is a different density to the outside.”
Mr James has spent his career strengthening and restoring historically significant structures all around the world, from Windsor Castle to the White House.
In ‘Saving the Pyramids,’ he puts forward a unique perspective to the structural engineering of ancient Egypt, giving his opinion on common theories surrounding the pyramids – along with new and innovative projections on their construction.
The book, which is published by University of Wales Press, is available for purchase in bookstores throughout the UK, as well as online here.