901630488

901630488

Great Pyramids of Giza, Egypt, at sunset

Photo by: Getty Images/Xurzon

Getty Images/Xurzon

We May Finally Know How the Pyramids Were Built

By: Reuben Westmaas

Scientists have discovered new evidence that may explain how these iconic structures were built.

August 01, 2019

It's easy to see why people are so fascinated with the Egyptian pyramids. There are a lot of mysteries surrounding their construction. You probably don't believe the conspiracy theories that say they were built by aliens, but they weren't built by slave labor, either. So how did people 4,000 years ago create some of the largest, most iconic structures on Earth? We're still not totally sure — but a new discovery could make it a whole lot clearer.

Photo by: Getty Images

Getty Images

History's Greatest Mystery

The oldest of the most famous pyramids in the world is also the largest. At 481 feet (146.5 meters) tall, it's not called the Great Pyramid of Giza for nothing. It was constructed at the order of Pharoah Khufu sometime around 2560 B.C.E., although how it was actually constructed has been shrouded by history. Still, bit by bit, archaeologists have been able to explain various mechanisms behind the building's construction. The stones themselves were mined from a quarry just south of the pyramid, and researchers believe that their journey across the desert was made easier by wetting the sand first. But that only explains how the stones got from one location to another, not how they were then lifted high into the air and deposited in an enormous triangle.

Researchers believed that action would have involved a ramp of some sort, and that's a pretty fair guess. It's not as if they had a five-story crane. But as for the actual evidence of such a ramp? Researches were coming up empty-handed. It's a particular challenge because the ramp would have needed to be very steep — an incline of about 20 degrees or so — and that would have posed a significant challenge for a 2.5 ton stone. Now, a new discovery at a different quarry might shed light on how ancient people managed such a feat.

A Ramp Above

At Hatnub, another rock quarry located in Egypt's eastern desert, an Anglo-French team found a very unusual ramp carved into the ground that hinted at some surprisingly advanced technological achievements. For one thing, it was pretty steep, but more significantly, it was flanked on both sides by staircases. These stairs were marked with recurring holes that could have contained wooden posts (which would have rotted away long ago). According to the mission's co-director Yannis Gourdon, "This kind of system has never been discovered anywhere else." What's more, it's dated to about 4,500 years ago, well before construction began on Khufu's big legacy.

Roland Enmarch, another scholar who participated in the expedition, noted that the patterns of the post holes in the stairs suggested a particular kind of rope-and-pulley system. Similar pulley systems are well-documented in Greek technology, but this discovery predates those devices by some 2,000 years. Since this specific ramp is cut into the rock itself, it wouldn't have been used to build the actual Great Pyramid. But it does suggest that the ancient Egyptians had a firm grasp on the kinds of simple machines that can be used to turn an impossible amount of hard work into just a whole lot of hard work.

This article first appeared on Curiosity.com.

Next Up

Meet the First 6 Awardees of The Explorers Club Discovery Expedition Grant Program

Today, The Explorers Club, a non-profit world leader in exploration, and Discovery Channel announced the first class of awardees to receive approximately a quarter of a million dollars collectively to fund their expeditions. Let’s meet The Explorers Club Discovery Grant awardees.

Chichen Itza's El Castillo is a Pyramid in a Pyramid in a Pyramid

If researchers can reach it, it could tell them important things about the early people who built it.

5 Magical Reasons to Visit Iceland

Be prepared to be wowed by this unique island country.

Nobody Knows Who Designed the Taj Mahal

Commissioned in 1632, The Taj Mahal is one of the newest Seven Wonders of the World, and surprisingly no one knows who actually designed it.

Son Doong Cave Is So Big It Has Its Own Rainforest

This amazing cave also houses an impressive eco-system.

This Little-Known Hiking Path Explores One of the Deepest Gorges in the World

A trek through China's Tiger Leaping Gorge is a journey into the country's most ethnically diverse region, where beauty and fear hang intoxicatingly in the air.

Andros, Bahamas Has More Than 200 "Blue Holes" — And They're Mostly Unexplored

Learn about the more than 200 underwater cave systems that make Andros a scuba diving mecca at Discovery.com.

One of the Bermuda Triangle’s Greatest Mysteries May Have Been Solved!

While filming Shipwreck Secrets, Michael Barnette and his team believe they have located the SS Cotopaxi, a cargo ship that vanished without a trace almost 100 years ago. Shipwreck Secrets premieres Sunday, February 9 at 8p ET on Science Channel.

Exorcisms, the Ark of the Covenant, and Ethiopia: The Adventures of Justin Fornal

"There are all different kinds of demons inside of people, some of them go easy, some want to negotiate, others want to fight."