Going beyond even the expertise of archaeologists and historians, engineer Craig Smith takes an in-depth look at the Great Pyramid of Giza as a massive engineering and construction project.
|Publisher:||Smithsonian Institution Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.23(w) x 9.26(h) x 0.87(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
How the Great Pyramid Was Built
By Craig Smith
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Craig Smith
All right reserved.
Egypt During the
The Great Pyramid at Giza! Anyone who experiences this magnificent structure up close cannot help being amazed -- or at least enormously impressed -- that an ancient race erected such an enduring, colossal wonder. For more than 4,000 years, it stood as the tallest structure ever built, its simplicity of form and precision of design and positioning imbuing it with an enduring power that has captured the imagination of humankind for centuries.
Constructed as the tomb of Pharaoh Khufu, the Great Pyramid stands as splendid testament to one who could conceive such a work -- one who could inspire or command the dedication necessary to accomplish this monumental public works project. Henceforth I will refer to it as Khufu's pyramid, giving due honor to the man who created it as a fitting structure in which to be buried (See Plate 1.) In a general sense, the basics of how it was built appear obvious. Blocks of limestone were cut from a quarry nearby on the Giza Plateau and stacked up to create a towering structure. It is only upon considering this approach in detail that some of the attendant difficulties emerge and questions arise. How did the Egyptians, who had only primitive tools, cut and move hugeblocks of stone? How many workers were required? How long did it take?
At the time of Khufu's reign, the population of Egypt was between 1 and 2 million.1 This provides an upper limit on the human resources available to supply and feed a workforce for a huge public works project. While the population included artisans, laborers, craftsmen, and farmers, a large number of the able-bodied workers were required to feed both the pyramid builders and the rest of the population. However, the available workforce was equal to the task of building the pyramid.
It was also essential to have willing workers with the necessary skills. Having visited the tombs of the workers and artisans at Giza -- those whose own statements, written in their tombs, bespeak the pride they felt working on the pyramids -- I find it inconceivable that slaves were involved. The tombs contain multiple generations. Father and son worked at Giza, and entire families were buried there. These people obviously took great pride in their work, and many of their tombs are smaller, pyramid-shaped versions of Khufu's tomb.
'What could motivate people to dedicate their lives to such a demanding project voluntarily? I believe the explanation lies in the fact that construction of the pharaoh's pyramid was an act of national pride, a monumental achievement that symbolized the strength and power of Egypt. I liken it to the Apollo Space Program, undertaken by the United States under the direction of President Kennedy. In a way, the goals were similar: to undertake an enormous challenge, something that had never been done before -- to reach out and touch the sky. As Jaromir Malek suggests, the large-scale building projects pushed by the pharaohs became a catalyst for change in Egyptian society.2 And the fundamental forces that drove the execution of this extraordinary undertaking were rooted in the ancient Egyptians' culture and religion.
The Predynastic Period
Egypt occupies one of the most unique geographies on earth: the fertile valley of the Nile River. The annual flooding of the Nile brought a layer of rich black silt to the Nile Valley and Delta. At the same time, the flooding removed accumulated salts. Another quirk of geography -- Egypt is bordered on the east and west by vast inhospitable deserts -- combined with the fertility of the river, created ideal conditions for the emergence of a new civilization. In the distant past, wandering nomads found this fertile area and began to hunt and live there. The Paleolithic implements that have been found in Egypt show a gradual evolution paralleling that of Europe.3 The archaeological record shows that stone tools became more and more refined.
The first "true" human, Homo erectus, lived several million years ago and is usually associated with the beginning of the Stone Age, or the Lower Paleolithic era.4 H. erectus left Africa and arrived in the Middle East as early as 1.8 million years ago, probably transiting the Nile Valley on the river, a convenient route north. Some of these early humans no doubt settled in this fertile area.5 H. erectus fabricated crude tools including scrapers and choppers. In the Middle Paleolithic era, H. erectus gave way to Homo sapiens Neanderthalalensis, also known as Neanderthal man. Some Middle Paleolithic sites have been found in Egypt in the Western Desert. There may have been sites in the Nile Valley, but they have been buried by the cycles of Nile flooding. The earliest known burial -- that of a child -- is thought to date to 55,000 years before the present time.6 Then, about 40,000 years ago, Homo sapiens sapiens (often referred to as Cro-Magnon man after the site in France where remains were first discovered) emerged as the forerunner of modern humans. Most of what is known about H. sapiens sapiens comes from caves and burial sites in Europe; these sites have lent their names to specific cultures-that is, Aurignacian, Solutrean, and Magdalenian. As these cultures evolved, tools and weapons became more advanced, and the first examples of jewelry and art appeared (15,000-8000 BC).7
It is interesting to consider the accomplishments of Cro-Magnon people in view of subsequent developments in Egypt. The Cro-Magnon improved tools and implements, including needles, fishhooks, and the bow and arrow. They developed communities that were based on a division of labor. They could count and possibly established a crude form of writing. They produced superb cave paintings. And they developed concepts of an afterlife, demonstrated by the care exercised in burying their dead and supplying their graves with jewelry, weapons, tools, and food.8
Many Late Paleolithic sites dating between 21,000 and 12,000 years ago have been found in Egypt. These include graves, remains of communities, hunting sites, and mines.9
Excerpted from How the Great Pyramid Was Built by Craig Smith Copyright © 2006 by Craig Smith. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Pyramid building as an exercise in civil engineering. I approach all books dealing with ancient Egyptians with trepidation, owing to the nutters the topic seems to attract. Smith has no time for these reality-challenged theorists, and dismisses all notions of weird numerology and ancient astronauts in a few short sentences, before he gets to the good stuff: just how did these people build these things?Smith uses his experience in civil engineering and construction management to lay out plausible scenarios, along the way making a forceful case that copper blades and a motivated workforce -- not slaves! -- was all that was really needed. That, and some planning and dedication.If you're the kind of person who finds themselves fascinated by the details of construction projects, this is the book for you.
I am a high school sophomore and i chose to read this book for my research project.The only thing I didn’t like about the book was how it kept repeating a lot of the stuff over and over again. Some certain things such as the construction and different types of pyramids and who built them really fascinated me. I thought it was amazing that from a mastabas they thought of a Step Pyramid, and the Bent Pyramid, to an actual pyramid. I found out that the pyramid builders started designing the and working on the pyramids for the Pharaohs once they were born. They do that so when the Pharaoh dies he can be placed in the tomb inside of the pyramid. They were buried in the pyramid so they could be guided to the journey of their afterlife in peace. The book discussed all the different pharaohs for the Dynasties especially from the Third and Fourth Dynasties. From the Third Dynasty I thought djoser was the most influential pharaoh because he is the one who began the whole idea of a pyramid, starting with a Step Pyramid. From the Fourth Dynasty I felt Sneferu was the most influential pharaoh because he took the Step Pyramid and came up with the Bent Pyramid. From the Bent Pyramid he came up with the Red Pyramid, which is a regular pyramid. Overall I felt this book was very informative and helped a lot on my research project. The only thing I didn’t like about the book was how it kept repeating a lot of the stuff over and over again. Some certain things such as the construction and different types of pyramids and who built them really fascinated me. I thought it was amazing that from a mastabas they thought of a Step Pyramid, and the Bent Pyramid, to an actual pyramid. I found out that the pyramid builders started designing them and working on the pyramids for the Pharaohs once they were born. They do that so when the Pharaoh dies he can be placed in the tomb inside of the pyramid. They were buried in the pyramid so they could be guided to the journey of their afterlife in peace. The book discussed all the different pharaohs for the Dynasties especially from the Third and Fourth Dynasties. From the Third Dynasty I thought djoser was the most influential pharaoh because he is the one who began the whole idea of a pyramid, starting with a Step Pyramid. From the Fourth Dynasty I felt Sneferu was the most influential pharaoh because he took the Step Pyramid and came up with the Bent Pyramid. From the Bent Pyramid he came up with the Red Pyramid, which is a regular pyramid. Overall I felt this book was very informative and helped a lot on my research project.