There are many differing theories behind the construction of the Great Pyramids, from who made them to how they were constructed, and although there is still much to discover about the pyramids, there are some discoveries that have helped us to understand the mechanics behind their construction.
Developing Pyramid-building Techniques
The methods used to build the Giza pyramids were developed over many centuries, and the pyramid engineers faced similar problems and setbacks to those of modern-day engineers.
Pyramids began in theory as simple rectangular mastaba tombs, which had been built in Egypt for over 5,000 years. Major changes began to take place during the pharaoh Djoser’s reign (around 2630 B.C), when the standard tombs began development into multi-layered pyramids with underground tunnels and chambers.
Egyptian pyramid construction techniques became even more advanced during the pharaoh Snefru’s reign with the construction of at least three pyramids during his reign. Instead of step-sided pyramids, Snefru’s architects came up with methods to design smooth-faced pyramids.
Planning the Pyramids
Planning of these massive construction projects required a high-ranking official—who was usually in charge of all the works of the king—to oversee pyramid construction.
A lot of very sophisticated planning went into pyramid building, and the pyramids themselves were not the only projects that required planning. The temples, grave yards, and boat pits located near the enormous structures also required very advanced strategy.
The Egyptians had the remarkable ability to align their structures to true north with unbelievable precision. In fact, Khufu’s pyramid is aligned to true north within one-tenth of a degree. How they achieved this precision is still unclear, but rope lines and a circumpolar star like Polaris were most likely used as part of their methods.
Quarrying the Building Blocks
Many of the stones used in Khufu’s pyramid are from a quarry positioned just to the south, and it is said that construction workers would have had to quarry and move up to 40 blocks per day, which without modern transport technologies was an amazing feat.
Transporting the Massive Blocks
To transport the stones overland, the Egyptians would have most likely used large sledges that could be pushed or pulled by gangs of workers, with sand in front of the sledges dampened with water to reduce the friction. Many ancient artworks have been uncovered that show this method, but there are other unconfirmed theories as to how the blocks might have been transported.
Most Egyptologists agree that a system of ramps was most likely used to haul the stones up once they reached the building sites, although with very little surviving evidence it’s impossible to know for sure.