It might be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, but the Great Pyramid of Giza isn’t perfect, according to new research.
Thanks to a mistake made during its construction, the west side of the pyramid is longer than the east side by 14.1 centimetres. While this means the pyramid is not quite square, the structure is still remarkably precise for its time.
The Great Pyramid was originally covered in a limestone casing, most of which is now gone. Engineer Glen Dash, who was part of the team who discovered the pyramid’s lopsidedness, says the lack of casing has made it difficult for Egyptologists to take accurate measurements of how the original pyramid stood.
“Most of those casing stones were removed centuries ago, leaving the pyramid as we see it today, without most of its original shell,” says Dash.
While researchers still disagree on how the pyramids were built, Dash has a theory. He believes the level of precision in its construction is “good evidence that the pyramid and its associated temples were laid out on a common, very precisely oriented grid.”
“We hope to eventually figure out how the Egyptians laid out the pyramid with such precision and, in doing so, hope to learn much about the tools and technology they had at their disposal.”
How Ancient People Moved Huge Structures
Theories abound on how ancient Egyptians moved the enormous limestone and sandstone blocks into place for their pyramids. But how did they transport these blocks, some weighing hundreds of tonnes, from the quarries to the construction sites?
"They would use the Nile whenever possible," said Per Storemyr, a geoarchaeologist with Archaeology and Conservation Services in Brugg, Switzerland, and an expert on ancient Egyptian quarries.
"Mainly quarries in ancient Egypt were located along the Nile, so the transportation distances were relatively short," he explained.
But for quarries located tens to hundreds of miles from construction sites, ancient Egyptians probably used a combination of manpower, sleds and rollers, and waterways to transport their building materials, Storemyr said.
Basalt quarries in Egypt's northwestern Faiyum desert, about 50 to 60 kilometres southwest of Cairo, produced blocks that weighed up to nine tonnes.
In the Old Kingdom, about 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, workers would wedge a block out of the side of a Faiyum quarry and let it fall onto a paved road, explained Storemyr. The road wended its way southward for 12 kilometres until it reached a now-dried-out lake that connected to the Nile River.
Workers would then take their stone block up the Nile to the intended construction site.
"It's very difficult to find out how they transported stones on the roads," Storemyr said. Wooden rollers work over short distances, but they're "totally impractical for long distances," he added.
"What we think is they made some sort of railway," Storemyr explained. "Not a railway in the sense we know today, but some type of wood with fixed beams that a sledge that the stone is mounted on could be dragged on."
Then it's just a matter of "lots of people, lots of rope, lots of animals," he added.
The railway, mounted on top of the paved road, would enable workers and animals to lug a stone on top of its sled to the lake and, eventually, up the Nile to the emerging pyramids.