We know, we know, it’s fun to speculate that aliens built the pyramids of Egypt and the Americas. But it’s also a discredit to clever and intelligent ancient peoples who demonstrably engaged in technology different, and even superior, to our own.
As many have pointed out, the insistence that historical groups (who happened to not be white) couldn’t POSSIBLY have shown this level of skill is treading pretty close to racism. As Sarah Bond puts it: “Far from innocuous, these alien theories undermine the agency, archaeology, and intellect of non-European cultures in Africa and South America, as well as the Native peoples in North America by erasing their achievements.”
The good news is that we get more evidence every day of just how clever ancient people were in their engineering and construction methods. This is ever more true in the case of the Great Pyramids of Egypt, which scientists continue to study and discover more about every year.
What We Knew About the Construction of the Pyramids of Giza
For decades (beginning at least in the 1980s), scientists and engineers have been studying the construction methods used by the ancient Egyptians and working in tandem with archaeologists who find clues in the documents left behind. One group of scientists behind this effort are known as the Ancient Egypt Research Associates (AERA).
In 2010, for example, a team working in Wadi al-Jarf found papyri that talk about the blocks of limestone used in the pyramids being shipped in by boat from quarries in the area. The papyri indicate that most of the blocks came from a quarry at Turah, near modern-day Cairo and conveniently located by the Nile river. The records found by archeologists indicate that the boat trip took four days.
Archaeologists in Giza (home of the greatest pyramids) also find proof that the workforce there hovered around 10,000 people. AERA reports evidence of sizable homes for high officials as well as a barracks complex that held workers and troops. In a study published in 2013, AERA researcher Richard Redding reported that enough cattle, sheep, and goats were slaughtered every day to produce an average of 4,000 pounds of meat (a day!) to feed all of these workers.
With this many workers and access to water, engineers have found that it is indeed possible to move very heavy blocks (countering the argument that aliens MUST have been involved because the Egyptians couldn’t have moved such big blocks). Each block would have weighed a ton or more. Physics professor Daniel Bonn, however, found that “wetting Egyptian desert sand can reduce the friction by quite a bit, which implies that you need only half the people to pull a sledge [sled] on wet sand, compared to dry sand.”
Up until recently, the scientific community hypothesized that once the blocks arrived at the pyramids, they would have been hauled up on a system of ramps. Scientists had no evidence to support this idea, however.
New Evidence Bolsters the Old Theory
Scientists have been well aware, due to ancient texts and archeological digs, that Egyptians quarried their own stone. Now, however, they have a better idea of how the stones got moved.
In 2019, a team working under the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology found a series of important holes. Why were these important? Because they shed light on a pulley system that would have made it easier to haul the giant rocks.
The holes were found in the Hatnub quarry of the Eastern Desert, which was used to quarry alabaster. While this is not the kind of stone used in the pyramids, there is no reason to believe that a quarrying technique used in one place would not be used in another.
Hatnub, like most Egyptian quarries, has a ramp leading from the bottom to the top. Along the Hatnub ramp, however, archaeologists found small post holes all the way up. These post holes, scientists believe, were used to support wooden rods that, used in tandem with ropes, would have formed a pulley system to pull and stabilize the stones as they were moved up.
This system then could have also been used to raise the stones from the bottom levels to the top levels of the pyramids upon arrival to the building site. The ramp then would have been cleared away.
All of this very new evidence keeps pointing toward the ability and ingenuity of the ancient Egyptians and away from the perhaps fun but also damaging theory that aliens built the pyramids.
Work is currently underway as part of the Scan Pyramids Mission, for example, an initiative undertaken by the Heritage Innovation Preservation Institute and the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. These scientists are currently scanning and reconstructing the pyramids in models that use a variety of technologies. This work is certain to reveal even more.
As scholars, scientists, engineers, and archeologists keep working to uncover the lost technology behind the building of the ancient pyramids, we will continue to learn more about what the builders of the ancient world have to teach us.