The Great Pyramid of Giza from Ancient Egypt has always demanded awe and recognition from us ordinary mortals, and rightly so. The incredible architectural specimen was built in around 2560 BC, and held the record for the world’s tallest structure for a whopping 3,800 years with its then-impressive height of 481 ft (146.5 m). But before we get into figures and statistics, the Great Pyramid is generally believed to be constructed as a mortuary monument for Khufu (or Cheops in Greek), who was the second Pharaoh from the Fourth Dynasty. And, in spite of such ‘monumental’ projects, the one portrait of this mysterious ancient king (with a myriad of conflicting accounts of his life) survives from only a tiny 3-inch ivory figurine that was discovered in early 20th century.
Vital Statistics –
The Great Pyramid was probably completed in 20 years, and as such was a part of Khufu’s necropolis complex that also consisted of large temples and smaller pyramids. Later on, the compound was expanded with the inclusion of the two other big pyramids of Khufu’s successors – Khafre and Menkaure; and the extended spatial scope is now known as the Giza pyramid complex (which had a huge wall enclosure that was known as the Wall of Crows).
As for the mind-boggling figures of the Great Pyramid itself, the structure goes to a height of around 455 ft – the tad reduced scale being due to soil erosion and the loss of the pyramidion, which was the uppermost capstone of the structure. In spite of the slight reduction in dimensions, the monumental giant has a base area of around 570,000 sq ft, and a gargantuan volume of 88 million cubic ft (or 2.5 million cubic m) that accounts for an extraordinary 5.9 million tons of mass. This massive scope was achieved by the use of a whopping 2.3 million stone blocks (ranging from 2 to 30 tons) – that comes to an average of 800 tons of stones being installed each day, with 12 stones being precisely placed every hour! Some of these stones (especially, the ones used in the inner chambers) weigh more than 50 tons, and yet they were transported to the site from Aswan, which is 800 km away.
The Amazing Facts that still baffle us –
1) Fanatical accuracy of the ‘great monument’.
Given such a vast scope of the construction process, and that too in an epoch which was more than 4,500 years ago – one would be inclined to think that the monument might be a bit on the surmised side with inaccurate measurements and unscientific geometry. Well, in that case, that someone will be wrong! In terms of construction, the Great Pyramid was built on an artificially flattened site that deviates from a perfectly horizontal plane by just a minute 2 cm. Even the aforementioned base edges of the structures account for an almost perfect square, thus making the corners nigh impeccably right-angled to each other. And, perhaps the most impressive feat of all – the four sides of the pyramid are almost immaculately oriented with the four cardinal directions of North, South, East and West. As is the ‘imperfect’ trend, the North-side alignment misses the magnitude of exact preciseness by just a tiny fraction of a degree (which equates to 3/60th of a degree of error).
2) No kingly remains inside the compound?
Relating to the first point, it still remains a mystery as to why the pyramid (with its fanatical austerity and accuracy) was constructed in the first place. Most Egyptologists believe that it was the grand tomb of the Pharaoh Khufu; but oddly enough the historians have still not been able to find any remains of a person or a mummy inside the intricate halls and chambers of the Great Pyramid. According to historical sources, the so-called sarcophagus of presumably Khufu was discovered in early 9th century AD by the Arabs, who forced their way into the King’s Chamber. All they found was just an understated, unadorned yet hollow granite box that was entirely empty, without any evidences of previous disturbance.
This slightly notched ‘stone coffin’ was roughly-hewed from a solid block of granite, which alludes to an immense drilling force required for the hollowing out activity. Later studies have shown that this herculean task was achieved by using hard jewel components and a vertical drilling force of over 2 tons. However, the plain nature of the heavy coffer antithetically contrasts with the embellished specimens of (still empty) sacrophagi found in other parts of the pyramid.
3) Air shafts for dead people?
In the earlier entry, we mentioned something about the King’s Chamber – which is an rectangular enclosure that runs 17 ft on the North-South axis and 34 ft on the East-West axis, and is located almost centrally inside the pyramid itself. This 592 sq ft chamber rises to a height of almost 20 ft, and is peculiarly connected to two narrow vent-like channels – each extending from the north and the south side walls. These shafts were long believed by Egyptologists to be air-vents that brought fresh supply of air inside the intricately positioned enclosure.
However, (according to Pyramid: Beyond Imagination by Jackson and Stamp) this assumption is nowadays dropped by experts in favor of the vents serving a more ritualistic or even an astronomical purpose. For example, the south-facing shaft supposedly pointed to the star Al Nitak (Zeta Orionis) in the constellation Orion, during the period of 25th century BC (this idea is sometimes dismissed as pseudoarchaeology). In terms of meta-analysis, Orion was associated with the Egyptian God Osiris. Still, the conjecture doesn’t really solve the mystery of one of the arrangements of the shafts, since this particular channel follows a dog-leg path that would have surely obstructed the direct sight of the stars.