On the outskirts and southwest of Cairo lies the Giza Plateau, home to arguably the world’s greatest monuments – the three great pyramids and the Great Sphinx.
The three pyramids are The Pyramid of Khufu, also known as the Great Pyramid of Giza, The Pyramid of Khafre (Khufu’s son), and The Pyramid of Menkaure. Associated with each pyramid are pyramid complexes consisting of other smaller pyramids, temples, and mastabas. Mastabas are rectangular burial mounds that can be as high as 20 feet (6 m).
Also known as the Pyramid of Cheops, it is the oldest and largest of the three pyramids in the Giza pyramid complex. It is the only one of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World to survive. The Great Pyramid was the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3,800 years until the Lincoln Cathedral in England was completed in 1,311 A.D.
Khufu was the second pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty, and reigned during the 26th century B.C. It is believed that Khufu’s pyramid began being built around 2,580 B.C. and it took between 10 and 20 years to build, being completed around 2,560 B.C. It is built from an estimated 2.3 million blocks of stone which were transported from nearby quarries.
The largest stones used in the pyramid are granite stones found in the “King’s chamber”, and they weigh a whopping 25 to 80 tons. It is estimated that 5.5 million tons of limestone, 8,000 tons of granite that was imported from Aswan, and 500,000 tons of mortar were used in the construction of the Great Pyramid. For it to be completed in 20 years; more than 12 blocks would have had to be placed every hour, night and day.
What we see today is only the underlying structure of the pyramid. Originally, it and the other two pyramids were covered in white limestone casing stones that would have made the pyramids shine, and they would have been visible from far away. The limestone casing stones were quarried from across the Nile River, and only a few remain at the base of Khufu’s Pyramid and the top of Khafre’s Pyramid.
Of the precision used in the placement of these casing stones, famed English archaeologist Flinders Petrie (1853 – 1942) said it was “equal to opticians’ work of the present day, but on a scale of acres.”
The present height of Khufu’s pyramid is 138.8 meters (455.4 ft) high, with each base side 230.4 meters (755.9 ft) in length. The mass of the pyramid is estimated at 5.9 million tons, and it has an interior volume of around 2,500,000 cubic meters (88,000,000 cu ft).
The four sides of the base of the pyramid are identical to an error of only 58 millimeters in length. The sides of the square base are perfectly aligned to the four cardinal compass points to within four minutes of arc.
In the ancient Egyptian measuring system, the pyramid was 280 Egyptian Royal cubits high, by 440 cubits long at each of the four sides of its base. If you take the ratio of the length of the perimeter to the pyramid’s height, it is 1760/280 Egyptian Royal Cubits. This equates to 2π to an accuracy of better than 0.05 percent.
The interior of Khufu’s Pyramid contains three chambers, an unfinished chamber below the base of the pyramid, the Queen’s Chamber above it, and above that, the King’s Chamber.
The entrance to the Great Pyramid is on the north face, 17 meters (56 ft) above the ground. From it, there is a descending passageway to the subterranean chamber, but 28.2 meters (93 ft) from the entrance, a stone slab in the roof of the descending passageway concealed a square hole that leads to an ascending passageway that leads to both the Queen’s Chamber and the Grand Gallery.
The Queen’s Chamber
The Queen’s Chamber is exactly centered between the north and south faces of the pyramid. It is 5.75 meters (18.9 ft) north to south, 5.23 meters (17.2 ft) east to west, and the apex of its roof is 6.23 meters (20.4 ft) high. On both the north and south walls of the Queen’s Chamber are two shafts, one of which connects to the Grand Gallery, and the other ends upwards within the structure.
In 1993, German engineer Rudolf Gantenbrink used a crawler robot named Upuaut 2 to climb the shaft, and he found that after 65 m (213 ft), there was a limestone door with two eroded copper “handles”.
In 2002, a National Geographic Society robot drilled a hole in the door only to find another door behind that. A 2011 study revealed a small chamber between the doors with hieroglyphs writings in red paint.
The Grand Gallery
The purpose of The Grand Gallery is not known, but it continues the slope of the Ascending Passage, and is 8.6 meters (28 ft) high and 46.68 meters (153.1 ft) long. It grows progressively narrower the higher up you go, and each roof stone fits into a slot cut in the top of the gallery like the teeth of a ratchet. This means each block is supported by the wall of the Gallery, rather than resting on the block beneath it.
The floor of the Grand Gallery is comprised of a series of steps in which are 54 slots, 27 on each side. Their purpose isn’t known, but it is speculated that they held wooden beams which, in turn, held blocking stones.
The King’s Chamber
The King’s Chamber is 10.47 meters (34.4 ft) from east to west, 5.234 meters (17.17 ft) from north to south, and 5.852 meters (19 feet 2 inch) high. 0.91 m (3.0 ft) above the floor there are two narrow shafts in both the north and south walls that extend all the way out to the exterior of the pyramid.
The shafts appear to be aligned towards stars or areas of the northern and southern skies, and it is thought their purpose was to aid in the ascension of the king’s spirit to the afterlife.
The only object found in the King’s Chamber was an empty granite sarcophagus. Interestingly enough, the sarcophagus is wider than the Ascending Passage, which means that it must have been placed in the Chamber before the roof was put in place.
In 2017, a large void was found within Khufu’s Pyramid by using muons. Muons are an elementary particle similar to an electron. They are a member of the leptonfamily, and therefore are not comprised of any other particles.
Physicists with the ScanPyramids collaboration placed a muon detector in the Queen’s Chamber. Dense materials such as rock, absorb muons, while muons pass freely through the air. When more muons were received by the detector, it revealed a previously-unknown large void that is about 30 meters in length.
Computer reconstructions reveal that the void is similar in size to the Grand Gallery, and is at the same height as a number of small chambers above the King’s Chamber that relieve pressure from above. The team has also located a corridor-like structure near to the surface of the pyramid that could provide a route into the void.
Khafre’s Pyramid, also known as Chephren in Greek, is the second-tallest and second-largest of the Giza Plateau pyramids. It is the tomb of the Fourth-Dynasty pharaoh who ruled from c. 2,558 to 2,532 B.C. His pyramid complex consists of a valley temple, the Sphinx temple, a causeway that runs on an angle to avoid the Sphinx, a mortuary temple and the King’s pyramid.
The pyramid has a base length of 215.5 m (706 ft) and rises up to a height of 136.4 meters (448 ft). It is made of limestone blocks weighing more than 2 tons each. The slope of the pyramid rises at a 53° 13′ angle, which is steeper than Khufu’s Pyramid, which has an angle of 51°50’24”.
From the outside, Khafre’s pyramid appears taller than Khufu’s because it sits 10 m (33 ft) higher. Some of its casing stones were taken on Ramesses II’s orders to build a temple in Heliopolis, but some were still in place in 1646 when Oxford University professor John Greaves wrote about them.
The Khafre’s Pyramid was first explored during modern times by Giovanni Belzoniin 1818. He found the pyramid’s original entrance located on the north side of the pyramid, and upon entering, Belzoni found an open, empty sarcophagus, with its lid broken on the floor in the burial chamber.
To the east of Khafre’s Pyramid sits what remains of the mortuary temple. It is larger than previous temples, and it is the first to include all five standard elements of later mortuary temples: an entrance hall, a columned court, five niches for statues of the pharaoh, five storage chambers, and an inner sanctuary. It was built of megalithic blocks, the largest of which is 400 tons.
Menkaure’s pyramid complex consists of a valley temple, a causeway, a mortuary temple, and the king’s pyramid which is the smallest of the three pyramids. The king’s pyramid has three subsidiaries or queen’s pyramids.
Today, Menkaure’s pyramid is 61 m (204 ft) tall with a base of 108.5 m. Its angle of incline is approximately 51°20′25″ and it was constructed of limestone and granite. Menkaure’s Pyramid shows unusual damage caused at the end of the twelfth century when Saladin’s son and heir, al-Malek al-Aziz Othman ben Yusuf, attempted to demolish the pyramids, starting with Menkaure’s.
He found that it was almost as expensive to demolish the pyramids as it was to build them, and after eight months, only managed to leave a gash in the north face of Menkaure’s Pyramid.
Archaeological Discovery In Egypt To Boost Tourism
Travelwirenews reports in a major archaeological discovery, Egypt on Saturday unveiled the tomb of a Fifth Dynasty official adorned with colourful reliefs and well preserved inscriptions. The tomb, near Saqqara, a vast necropolis south of Cairo, belongs to a senior official named Khuwy who is believed to have been a nobleman during the Fifth Dynasty, which ruled over Egypt about 4300 years ago. “The L-shaped Khuwy tomb starts with a small corridor heading downwards into an antechamber and from there a larger chamber with painted reliefs depicting the tomb owner seated at an offerings table,” said Mohamed Megahed, the excavation team’s head, in an antiquities ministry statement. Flanked by dozens of ambassadors, Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Enani said the tomb was discovered last month. It is mostly made of white limestone bricks. Ornate paintings boast a special green resin throughout and oils used in the burial process, the ministry said. The tomb’s north wall indicates that its design was inspired by the architectural blueprint of the dynasty’s royal pyramids, the statement added. The excavation team has unearthed several tombs related to the Fifth Dynasty. Archaeologists recently found an inscription on a granite column dedicated to Queen Setibhor, who is believed to have been the wife of King Djedkare Isesis, the eighth and penultimate king of the dynasty. Egypt has in recent years sought to promote archaeological discoveries across the country in a bid to revive tourism that took a hit from the turmoil that followed its 2011 uprising.
West Bank (AP) – Palestinians are preparing to host pilgrims from around the
world in celebrating Christmas in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.
Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land,
crossed an Israeli military checkpoint from Jerusalem on Monday ahead of
midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of
locals and foreign visitors gathered in Manger Square as bagpipe-playing
Palestinian Scouts paraded past a giant Christmas tree.
Tourism Minister Rula Maaya says “the whole world is looking toward
Bethlehem” and the Palestinians are ready to host them.
Christmas festivities traditionally bring a boost of holiday cheer to
Christians in the Holy Land, who make up just a small percentage of the local
During the Christmas season, Bethlehem in Palestine welcomes Christian worshipers from all denominations from all over the world. An estimated 10,000 were in the Square on Christmas Eve last year! It is an exciting, colorful and lively time during which a message of hope is broadcast around the world by the large number of media agencies covering Manger Square in which the Church of the Nativity is found.
What will we do?
You are invited to take part in this unique experience with To
Be There. We have a well-planned a program providing you with opportunities
to enjoy the Christmas season as well as gain an understanding of ancient and
recent history, and how the occupation affects the lives and the future of
Palestine and its people. Topics which will be covered during your visit
include Palestinian refugees, their legal status and the hardships they
face; Israeli settlement colonies which contribute to the forcible displacement
of Palestinians and land theft; the treatment by Israel of Palestinian children
and the documented violations of their rights; Palestinian political prisoners
and their treatment under military law; the Israeli infrastructure of
occupation and apartheid – walls, security zones, check points and much more.
Why should we come?
Palestinians enjoy welcoming foreign guests to participate in the procession to the Church lead by Palestinian scout groups from all over Palestine and Israel accompanied by the music of horns, bagpipes and drums. However, Christmas is experienced differently Bethlehem, providing an example of how Palestinians enjoy such occasions while living under the Israeli military occupation which imposes sever hardships on the people, restricting their freedom of movement, their livelihoods and economic and social well-being. Sadly, the occupation and its policies have turned Bethlehem in to a ghetto around which Israel continues to tighten the noose with its encroachment and development of settler colonies, ‘Jewish only’ restricted roads and security zones, checkpoints and military installations. In fact, Israeli controls 90% of tourism into Bethlehem. Christmas in Palestine is an opportunity to visit Palestine, to make a contribution to this vibrant community during the Holiday Season and witness the reality of occupation.
East Africa is famously the birthplace of humankind and the location where our ancient hominin ancestors first invented sophisticated stone tools. This technology, dating back to 2.6m years ago, is then thought to have spread around Africa and the rest of the Old World later on.
But new research, published in Science, has uncovered an archaeological site in Algeria containing similar tools that may be as old as 2.44m years. The team, led by the archaeologist Mohamed Sahnouni, excavated stone tools at the site Ain Boucherit that they estimate are between 1.92m and 2.44m years old. This suggests that human ancestors spread to the region much earlier than previously thought or that the stone tool technology was simultaneously invented by earlier hominin species living outside east Africa.
The artefacts belong to the “Oldowan” – the oldest known stone tool industry. Rounded river cobbles, used as hammer stones, were used to flake other cobbles, turning them into simple cores. The flakes were then transformed into scrapers and various knives by resharpening their edges. Essentially this was a tool kit for processing animal tissue, such as marrow, bone and brain tissue, but also plant material. However, it is not known for sure which hominin species first created Oldowan tools – potentially Australopithecus or Homo habilis.
The stone tools are very similar to those of early Oldowan sites in East Africa. Bones at the site even have cut marks, where a stone tool has gouged into the bone during butchery. The cut marks may mean these hominins were actively hunting.
But we have only ever found early Oldowan tools in the east African rift valley before, more than 4,000km away. We have always assumed that it started there some 2.6m years ago, so we shouldn’t find it so far from its original home at that age unless we have missed something.
Many archaeologists do indeed suspect there is an unseen ghost somewhere in the machine. There have been discoveries of early hominin sites to the south, in Chad, that suggest that some of our earliest ancestors lived well beyond East Africa. Oldowan-like sites have also been found outside of Africa, in Georgia, beginning at 1.8m years ago – which seems surprisingly early.
The new discovery is telling us that our focus on East Africa as the birthplace of early humans is too narrow – we should be doing what Sahnouni and others have done all along and looking elsewhere. The same team recently published findings about another Oldowan site in Algeria that is about 1.75m years old, but to find early Oldowan tools well over half a million years earlier is a bit of a game changer.
It all hinges on how reliable that 2.44m-year-old date really is. Dating specialists will be scrutinising the details very carefully. According to the paper, four different techniques were used. Palaeomagnetic dating measures the direction and intensity of the Earth’s magnetic field in sediments – this is locked into rocks when they form, helping to tell us how old they are.
The team found that the upper level mapped onto a short period of normal polarity taking place between 1.77m and 1.94m years ago. The lower level’s sediments fitted into a long period of reversed direction at between 1.94m and 2.58m years ago.
To get more precise dates, the team turned to a dating technique called electron spin resonance dating, which measures radioactive decay in quartz sand grains. However, they used a less common version of the technique that was operating close to its upper limit of reliability at this age range. The measurement delivered an age of 1.92m years old, younger than suggested by paleomagnetism.
There are some concerns about how suitable this last method is but the team has been honest about that. They also compared the dates with extinction times of animals present at the site, which suggested the date wasn’t impossible.
To get a better idea of the maximum age of the tools, they used a technique for estimating the rates of sedimentation – basically how long the different layers at the site took to build up. You have to throw in some fancy statistical work though, and map it onto the palaeomagnetic results. Extrapolating backwards in time, the team calculated that the actual age of the lower level is 2.44m years old. I suspect dating specialists will be looking at this carefully.
Now to our ghost. The oldest tools ever found outside of Africa are the ones from Georgia dated to 1.8m years ago. There is a small Oldowan-like site in Pakistan from around the same time and more core-and-flake sites in east China at 1.66m years ago. If the Georgian site represents the first move out of Africa, then these early African migrants got to Pakistan and China extremely quickly.
In Georgia, the tools may have been made by early Homo erectus, which dates back to about 1.8m years ago. As there is a Homo erectus specimen from China dated to 1.6m years old, it is easy to assume that Homo erectus must have been the species that spread the tool technology around the world – and much quicker than we had thought.
But we cannot be sure of that. What if our ghost was an earlier hominin species from Africa predating Homo erectus – such as Homo habilis? Perhaps the Oldowan actually began earlier than 2.6m years ago, and was already widespread throughout Africa by 2.4m years ago.
Maybe our mysterious hominin began to migrate out from Africa before 1.8m years ago, and carried its core-and-flake industry eastwards. That would certainly give it more time to cover those huge distances. Perhaps Homo erectus only migrated eastwards out of Africa later, following in the footsteps of an earlier traveller that we know nothing about.
So that’s a lot of maybes, but then nobody expected there to be Oldowan tools in Georgia when they were first found. It caused a lot of controversy, but now most archaeologists are comfortable with the finding. The Georgian archaeologists went back, did more work and proved their case. I don’t doubt Sahnouni and his team will be doing the same.
ANCIENT WIPEOUT Preliminary evidence indicates that a low-altitude meteor explosion around 3,700 years ago destroyed cities, villages and farmland north of the Dead Sea (shown in the background above) rendering the region uninhabitable for 600 to 700 years. Fightbegin/istock.com
DENVER — A superheated blast from the skies obliterated cities and farming settlements north of the Dead Sea around 3,700 years ago, preliminary findings suggest.
Radiocarbon dating and unearthed minerals that instantly crystallized at high temperatures indicate that a massive airburst caused by a meteor that exploded in the atmosphere instantaneously destroyed civilization in a 25-kilometer-wide circular plain called Middle Ghor, said archaeologist Phillip Silvia. The event also pushed a bubbling brine of Dead Sea salts over once-fertile farm land, Silvia and his colleagues suspect.
People did not return to the region for 600 to 700 years, said Silvia, of Trinity Southwest University in Albuquerque. He reported these findings at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research on November 17.
Excavations at five large Middle Ghor sites, in what’s now Jordan, indicate that all were continuously occupied for at least 2,500 years until a sudden, collective collapse toward the end of the Bronze Age. Ground surveys have located 120 additional, smaller settlements in the region that the researchers suspect were also exposed to extreme, collapse-inducing heat and wind. An estimated 40,000 to 65,000 people inhabited Middle Ghor when the cosmic calamity hit, Silvia said.
The most comprehensive evidence of destruction caused by a low-altitude meteor explosion comes from the Bronze Age city of Tall el-Hammam, where a team that includes Silvia has been excavating for the last 13 years. Radiocarbon dating indicates that the mud-brick walls of nearly all structures suddenly disappeared around 3,700 years ago, leaving only stone foundations.
What’s more, the outer layers of many pieces of pottery from same time period show signs of having melted into glass. Zircon crystals in those glassy coats formed within one second at extremely high temperatures, perhaps as hot as the surface of the sun, Silvia said.
High-force winds created tiny, spherical mineral grains that apparently rained down on Tall el-Hammam, he said. The research team has identified these minuscule bits of rock on pottery fragments at the site.
Examples exist of exploding space rocks that have wreaked havoc on Earth (SN: 5/13/17, p. 12). An apparent meteor blast over a sparsely populated Siberian region in 1908, known as the Tunguska event, killed no one but flattened 2,000 square kilometers of forest. And a meteor explosion over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013 injured more than 1,600 people, mainly due to broken glass from windows that were blown out.
What began as an expedition to record the inscriptions of ancient Egyptian quarry workers produced a remarkable discovery about the Great Pyramid at Giza. My colleagues and I in the Anglo-French joint archaeological mission to the ancient quarry site of Hatnub recently revealed the existence of a well-preserved haulage ramp dating to the time of the Great Pyramid, roughly 4,500 years ago.
Great Pyramid: how my research on ancient Egyptian poetry led to an amazing discovery
We think this could significantly change the theories about how the workers who built the monument were able to transport such large blocks of stone to great heights. It could even provide evidence that pulleys were invented hundreds of years earlier than previously documented.
The rock-cut ramp is flanked by two flights of rock-cut stairs, into which are cut post holes that would originally have held wooden posts, now long perished. The pattern of post holes is well enough preserved that we can begin to reconstruct a pulley system that would have been used to lift large blocks of alabaster out of the open-cast quarry.
While some quarrymen would have been stationed above the blocks, hauling them upwards directly, others would have stood below the blocks, pulling downwards. Their ropes would have been lashed round the post holes and attached to the alabaster blocks, so that both groups were exerting force to pull the blocks up out of the quarry.
This stone haulage system makes efficient use of the limited available space on the ramp, and it is reasonable to speculate that this same pulley technology would also have been used in the construction of the Great Pyramid. While pulley systems are well known from Greek civilisation in the first millennium BC, the evidence from Hatnub pushes their use much further back in time, as it pre-dates the Greek evidence by some 2,000 years.
The Hatnub haulage ramp is also much steeper than most previous reconstructions of Egyptian haulage ramps. This is significant because one of the long-standing objections to the theory that the Great Pyramid was build using a single large ramp was the enormous volume of such a ramp (which would have had a greater volume than the Great Pyramid itself). With a much steeper gradient, the length and volume of such a haulage ramp would be much smaller, suggesting that this old theory needs to be re-evaluated more seriously.
Many other theories have previously been proposed for how the Great Pyramid was constructed. For example, a ramp might have coiled around the sides of the pyramid. There are also many suggestions involving levers and similar mechanisms. (And, of course, there are always those lacking in imagination who cannot accept a human explanation, and instead groundlessly evoke aliens or Atlanteans). The merit of our recent discoveries is that they give us solid archaeological evidence we can use to test previous theories.
These discoveries have emerged from the work of the University of Liverpool’s joint expedition with the French Institute for Oriental Archaeology in Cairo to Hatnub, which is some 20km from the Nile in the eastern desert of Middle Egypt. This quarry was the most prestigious ancient source of Egyptian alabaster, the milky white banded translucent stone that was used by the Egyptians to make vessels, statues, and architectural items.
Our original aim was purely to record the surviving inscriptions left by quarrymen 4,500 to 4,000 years ago. I began my career studying Egyptian poetry, but it turns out quarrymen could on occasion get quite poetic when writing their graffiti in the quarry. And so I now study these texts, written in a cursive version of the Egyptian script known as hieratic.
We have so far identified more than 100 previously unrecorded texts, offering a wealth of information about the organisation and logistics of the expeditions that came to the quarry to extract alabaster. They mention royal patronage, the hundreds (and, on occasion, thousands) of expedition personnel, the numbers of blocks mined, and the time taken to ferry them to their ultimate destinations.
Some of the inscriptions take a more long-term point of view, and seek to convince future visitors to the quarry that their predecessors were good people, and deserve to be treated with respect (and offerings) after their death. In the 21st century, we are accustomed to talk of “posting” to “walls”. But at Hatnub we have an actual Bronze Age wall whose texts speak across the years, and create a solidarity among those who came to work in the quarry, generation after generation.
More recently we have expanded our work (and our team) to record the wider archaeological features of the extremely well-preserved Bronze Age industrial landscape around the quarry. We are collecting and analysing the stone tools that litter the site, offering insights into the process of extracting blocks from the bedrock. Through experimental archaeology we are learning just how rapidly alabaster needed to be worked before it dried and hardened after extraction.
We are also studying the ancient road connecting the quarry to the Nile Valley, which is flanked by hundreds of simple dry-stone shelters used by workmen for accommodation and stoneworking. We have simple dry-stone religious cairns and other structures of possible ritual function. The recent clearance of debris from the haulage ramp leading out of the quarry has been part of our study of this wider context.
Our ultimate goal is to study all aspects of stone extraction and transport at Hatnub, integrating the rich textual and archaeological evidence to provide a more holistic understanding of quarrying in ancient Egypt. Few sites offer the range and diversity of evidence that survives at Hatnub. We have many years of work ahead of us; the potential for further exciting discoveries is huge.