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Researchers are getting closer to understanding how people built Egyptian pyramids

Better technology might help provide a deeper understanding of Egypt's famously mysterious structures.

Researchers are getting closer to understanding how people built Egyptian pyramids
Representative Cover Image Source: Pexels | Murat Sahin, LiveScience | Daniel Bonn

The pyramids of Egypt have always been a source of wonder for modern-day historians and scientists. Considering the time when they were built, it has led many historians to speculate how people back then could construct such massive structures. The three pyramids of Giza, built for the pharaohs Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure, stand out from the other structures. Since there were very few written records detailing how the construction happened, scientists have had to largely assume a lot of things when studying the pyramids.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | David McEachan
Representative Image Source: Pexels | David McEachan

With more technological advancements in the recent two decades, they have been able to get a much clearer picture of how the pyramids were built, as per Live Science. To provide some context, the largest pyramid in Giza is the one built by pharaoh Khufu, which also happens to be the first one created. It stands at 455 feet tall and is referred to as the "Great Pyramid." The two other pyramids are those of Pharaoh Khafre and Pharaoh Menkaure. Khafre's pyramid is slightly smaller than Khufu's, while Menkaure had a smaller structure, standing only 215 feet in height.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Pixabay
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Pixabay

The Egyptians had to employ a lot of ingenious techniques to build these massive structures and had to do it without all of the modern-day technology that we utilize in construction today. Pyramids started as smaller structures known as "mastaba," essentially tombs constructed in Egypt 5,000 years ago, according to discoveries made by archaeologist Sir Flinders Petrie. The reign of pharaoh Djoser around 2630 B.C. saw a sudden jump in how mastabas were constructed as his tomb was fashioned by adding six layers, complete with underground tunnels and chambers.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | The World Hopper
Representative Image Source: Pexels | The World Hopper

After this, another development came during pharaoh Snefru's reign in 2575 B.C. when his architects shifted their focus towards making pyramids or mastabas that were smooth-faced and not stepped. But in their first attempt, they ended up with a design flaw where one of the pyramids in Dahshur became bent because the angle of the pyramid changed halfway up. They found some solution to this, as their second pyramid at Dahshur, commonly known as the "red pyramid," had the same angle throughout.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Dave Ang
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Dave Ang

Pharaoh Khufu was Snefru's son and learned lessons from the pyramids constructed during his father's reign to perfect their architectural approach and make the "Great Pyramid," the largest pyramid on Earth. The pyramids were managed by a high-ranking official appointed by the pharaoh. These officials would oversee all aspects of pyramid construction. Giza's ports also played a key role as they were commonly used to transport limestone blocks on boats, used in the outer casing of the pyramid.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Hossam Kamal
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Hossam Kamal

Approximately 10,000 people were required to construct all three pyramids. The raw materials for the megastructures most likely originated from a horseshoe-shaped quarry that researchers located at the south of the pyramid. A study conducted in 2014 and published in the journal Physical Review Letters revealed how workers most likely dampened the sand with water to reduce friction and move sledges. Daniel Bonn, the lead author of the study, said, "It turns out that wetting Egyptian desert sand can reduce the friction by quite a bit, which implies you need only half of the people to pull a sledge on wet sand, compared to dry sand."

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Mostafa El Shershaby
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Mostafa El Shershaby

The one part that researchers remain ambiguous about is how workers hauled stones up to such great heights during construction. They seem to think that a system of ramps was most likely created, but there is very little evidence that suggests their existence. Researchers are hopeful that the Scan Pyramids Mission, a new initiative undertaken by three different universities, the Heritage Innovation Preservation Institute and the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, could reveal new findings about how the pyramids were constructed. It might also pinpoint any undiscovered chambers that could exist within the pyramids.

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