The Great Pyramid – the largest of several found at Giza – is the only surviving wonder of the ancient world. With such a fantastical past, it has long been debated how such an astounding structure was built without the help of modern technology. Over the years, it has been conjectured that ancient Egyptians carried large hand-carved rocks up massive ramps to set them in place, but that doesn’t explain how these enormous limestone blocks were transported to the Giza plateau in the first place.
However, in 2017, archaeologists made a fascinating new discovery: a papyrus scroll that finally explains how the building materials were brought from far away. Consisting of one person’s first-hand account, this discovery uncloaks a mystery that has fascinated archaeologists, researchers, and armchair historians for years. Zahi Hawass, minister of antiquities and former chief inspector of the site of the pyramids of Giza, called it “the greatest discovery in Egypt in the 21st century.” It's no wonder the discovery made headlines around the world.
- Photo: Jon Bodsworth / Wikimedia Commons
Some Historians Believe The Pyramid Required 100,000 Workers
It's impossible to agree upon an exact count of just how many people contributed to the building of the pyramids, but that doesn't mean there aren't educated hypotheses currently being postulated. According to Greek historian Herodotus, the pyramids were built by 100,000 workers, although many of today's Egyptologists think the number is more likely between 20,000 and 30,000.
Famed Egyptologist, Zahi Hawass, believes around 36,000 ancient Egyptians built the pyramids based on their size, the size of the tombs, and the cemetery.
Other Historians Think Only 5,000 Workers Contributed To The Pyramid Building Process
Archeologist Mark Lehner of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago and Harvard Semitic Museum has postulated a vastly smaller number. He noted that Herodotus wrote that 100,000 men worked in three shifts to build the structures. It's unclear whether each shift contained 100,000 men or 33,000 men worked in each of the three shifts.
Lehner's team conducted an experiment and calculated how many men would be needed to deliver 340 stones each day and determined there were likely 1,200 in the quarry and 2,000 delivering the stones. Other men would also be needed to cut the stones and set them into place. He concluded the process would have required "5,000 men to actually do the building and the quarrying and the schlepping from the local quarry" to build the pyramid within a 20-40 year period.
The Pyramids' Alignment Points To An Alien Conspiracy
Some people believe the ancient Egyptians had some otherworld help creating the pyramids. One theory that conspiracy theorists have latched on to is that the pyramids were built by aliens. Their proof? They point out that the pyramids at Giza align with the stars in the sky that form Orion's belt. In addition, these people believe that the Giza pyramids are in extraordinary shape compared to pyramids that were constructed hundreds of years later.
However, they don't take into consideration the fact that the pyramids of Giza have undergone intense preservation over the years so it makes sense that they are in better condition than those that haven't been touched.
Dutch Physicists Believed The Ancient Egyptians Used Wet Sand To Drag The Blocks Across The Desert
In 2014, researchers from the University of Amsterdam and the Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter conducted an experiment. They transported heavy stone on a sledge across the sand. The proved it was significantly easier to move the sledge on damp sand versus dry sand. In fact, the action required just half the force. The reason? Wet sand sticks to itself and is more solid than dry sand. Plus, damp sand doesn't bunch up in front of a sledge while it's moving.
In addition, the researchers noted that a painting from an 1800 B.C. tomb depicted a worker dumping water on the sand to help a sledge moving a heavy statue.