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Great Pyramid of Giza

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The Great Pyramid of Giza
The Great Pyramid of Giza in March 2005
Coordinates29°58′45″N 31°08′03″E / 29.97917°N 31.13417°E / 29.97917; 31.13417Coordinates: 29°58′45″N 31°08′03″E / 29.97917°N 31.13417°E / 29.97917; 31.13417
Ancient name
ꜣḫt Ḫwfw
Akhet Khufu
Khufu's Horizon
Constructedc. 2580–2560 BC (4th dynasty)
TypeTrue pyramid
MaterialLimestone, granite
  • 146.7 metres (481 ft) or 280 Egyptian Royal cubits (originally)
  • 138.8 metres (455 ft) (contemporary)
BaseLength of 230.34 metres (756 ft) or 440 Egyptian Royal cubits
Volume2,583,283 cubic metres (91,227,778 cu ft)
Building details
Record height
Tallest in the world from 2560 BC to 1311 AD[I]
Surpassed byLincoln Cathedral[dubious ]
Part ofMemphis and its Necropolis – the Pyramid Fields from Giza to Dahshur
CriteriaCultural: i, iii, vi
Inscription1979 (3rd session)

The Great Pyramid of Giza (also known as the Pyramid of Khufu or the Pyramid of Cheops) is the oldest and largest of the three pyramids in the Giza pyramid complex bordering present-day Giza in Greater Cairo, Egypt. It is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one to remain largely intact.

Egyptologists believe that the pyramid was built as a tomb for the Fourth Dynasty Egyptian pharaoh Khufu over a 20-year period concluding around 2560 BC. Initially standing at 146.5 metres (481 feet), the Great Pyramid was the tallest man-made structure in the world for more than 3,800 years. It is estimated to weigh approximately 6 million tonnes, and consists of 2.3 million blocks of limestone and granite, some weighing as much as 80 tonnes. It was originally covered by limestone casing stones that formed a smooth outer surface; what is seen today is the underlying core structure, although a few casing stones can still be seen at the base. It was built by extracting huge stones from a quarry and lifting them into place, but there are varying scientific and alternative theories about the exact construction technique.

There are three known chambers inside the Great Pyramid. The lowest chamber is cut into the bedrock upon which the pyramid was built and was unfinished. The so-called[2] Queen's Chamber and King's Chamber are higher up within the pyramid structure. The main part of the Giza complex is a set of buildings that included two mortuary temples in honour of Khufu (one close to the pyramid and one near the Nile), three smaller pyramids for Khufu's wives, an even smaller "satellite" pyramid, a raised causeway connecting the two temples, and small mastaba tombs for nobles surrounding the pyramid.

History and description

Map of the Giza pyramid complex. The Great Pyramid, labeled as the Pyramid of Khufu, is at upper right.

Egyptologists believe the pyramid was built as a tomb for the Fourth Dynasty Egyptian pharaoh Khufu (often Hellenized as "Cheops") and was constructed over a 20-year period. Khufu's vizier, Hemiunu (also called Hemon), is believed by some to be the architect of the Great Pyramid.[3] It is thought that, at construction, the Great Pyramid was originally 146.6 metres (481.0 ft) tall, but with the removal of its original casing, its present height is 137 metres (449.5 ft). The lengths of the sides at the base are difficult to reconstruct, given the absence of the casing, but recent analyses put them in a range between 230.26 metres (755.4 ft) and 230.44 metres (756.0 ft). The volume, including an internal hillock, is roughly 2,300,000 cubic metres (81,000,000 cu ft).[4]

The first precise measurements of the pyramid were made by Egyptologist Sir Flinders Petrie in 1880–82 and published as The Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh.[5] Many of the casing-stones and inner chamber blocks of the Great Pyramid fit together with extremely high precision. Based on measurements taken on the north-eastern casing stones, the mean opening of the joints is only 0.5 millimetres (0.020 in) wide.[6]

The pyramid remained the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3,800 years.[7] The accuracy of the pyramid's workmanship is such that the four sides of the base have an average error of only 58 millimetres in length.[a] The base is horizontal and flat to within ±15 mm (0.6 in).[9] The sides of the square base are closely aligned to the four cardinal compass points (within four minutes of arc)[10][b] based on true north, not magnetic north,[12] and the finished base was squared to a mean corner error of only 12 seconds of arc.[13]

The completed design dimensions, as suggested by Petrie's survey and subsequent studies, are estimated to have originally been 280 Egyptian Royal cubits high by 440 cubits long at each of the four sides of its base. The ratio of the perimeter to height of 1760/280 Egyptian Royal cubits equates to 2π to an accuracy of better than 0.05 percent (corresponding to the well-known approximation of π as 22/7). Some Egyptologists consider this to have been the result of deliberate design proportion. Verner wrote, "We can conclude that although the ancient Egyptians could not precisely define the value of π, in practice they used it".[14] Petrie concluded: "but these relations of areas and of circular ratio are so systematic that we should grant that they were in the builder's design".[15] Others have argued that the ancient Egyptians had no concept of pi and would not have thought to encode it in their monuments. They believe that the observed pyramid slope may be based on a simple seked slope choice alone, with no regard to the overall size and proportions of the finished building.[16]

Historiographical record

Classical antiquity


The Greek historian Herodotus was one of the first major authors to discuss the Great Pyramid.

The ancient Greek historian Herodotus, writing in the 5th century BC, is one of the first major authors to mention the pyramid. In the second book of his work The Histories, he discusses the history of Egypt and the Great Pyramid. This report was created more than 2000 years after the structure was built, meaning that Herodotus obtained his knowledge mainly from a variety of indirect sources, including officials and priests of low rank, local Egyptians, Greek immigrants, and Herodotus's own interpreters. Accordingly, his explanations present themselves as a mixture of comprehensible descriptions, personal descriptions, erroneous reports, and fantastical legends; as such, many of the speculative errors and confusions about the monument can be traced back to Herodotus and his work.[17][18]

Herodotus writes that the pyramid was built by Cheops, whom he mistakenly argues ruled sometime after Ramses III of the Twentieth Dynasty.[19] Cheops, Herodotus claims, was a tyrannical king, which probably shows the view of the Greeks that such buildings can only come about through cruel exploitation of the people.[17] Herodotus further writes that on the orders of Cheops, 100,000 workers worked on the building in three-month shifts, taking 20 years to build. In the first ten years a wide causeway was erected, which, according to Herodotus, was almost as impressive as the construction of the pyramids themselves, since it was "nearly a mile long and twenty yards wide, and elevated at its highest to a height of sixteen yards, and it is all of stone polished and carved with figures."[20] In addition, underground chambers were built at the foot of the pyramids. In one, Herodotus claimed, there is an underground lake filled by a Nile canal; an island in this lake is where Cheops is buried.[20][21] (Of note, this report of an island in an underground lake was considered to be a pure legend, until the discovery of the so-called "Osiris Shaft,"[22] which Zahi Hawass argues may be the chamber that Herodotus was referring to.[23])

Herodotus also described an inscription on the outside of the pyramid which, according to his translators, indicated the amount of radishes, garlic and onions that the workers would have eaten while working on the pyramid.[24] This could be a note of restoration work that Khaemweset, son of Rameses II, had carried out. Apparently, Herodotus companions and interpreters could not read the hieroglyphs or deliberately gave him false information.[25]

Diodorus Siculus

Between 60-56 BC, the ancient Greek historian Diodorus Siculus visited Egypt and later dedicated the first book of his Bibliotheca historica to the land, its history, and its monuments, including the Great Pyramid. Diodorus's work was inspired by historians of the past, but he also distanced himself from Herodotus, who Diodorus claimed described only "marvelous tales and the invention of myths".[26] Diodorus presumably drew his knowledge from the lost work of Hecataeus of Abdera,[27] and like Herodotus, he also places the builder of the pyramid, "Chemmis,"[28] after Ramses III.[19] According to his report, neither Chemmis (Khufu) nor Cephren (Khafre) were buried in their pyramids, but rather in secret places, for fear that the people ostensibly forced to build the structures would seek out the bodies for revenge;[29] with this assertion, Diodorus strengthened the connection between pyramid building and slavery.[30]

According to Diodorus, the cladding of the pyramid was still in excellent condition at the time, whereas the uppermost part of the pyramid was formed by a platform six cubits wide (approx. 3 m). About the construction of the pyramid he notes that it was built with the help of ramps, since no lifting tools had yet been invented. Nothing was left of the ramps, as they were removed after the pyramids were completed. He estimated the number of workers who were necessary to erect the Great Pyramid at 360,000 and the construction time at 20 years.[28] Similar to Herodotus, Diodorus also claims that the side of the pyramid is inscribed with writing that "[set] forth [the price of] vegetables and purgatives for the workmen there were paid out over sixteen hundred talents."[29]


The Greek geographer, philosopher, and historian Strabo visited Egypt around 25 BC. BC, shortly after Egypt was annexed by the Romans. In his work Geographica, the writer argued that the pyramids were the burial place of kings, but he does mention which king was buried in the structure. Strabo also mentions: "At a moderate height in one of the sides is a stone, which may be taken out; when that is removed, there is an oblique passage to the tomb."[31] This statement has generated much speculation, as it suggests that the pyramid could be entered at this time.[32] I. E. S. Edwards later suggested that the pyramid was entered by robbers after the end of the Old Kingdom and sealed and then reopened more than once until Strabo's door was added sometime before 25 BC, potentially by the Saite pharaohs (664–525 BC). Edwards adds: "If this highly speculative surmise be correct, it is also necessary to assume either that the existence of the door was forgotten or that the entrance was again blocked with facing stones", in order to explain why al-Ma'mun could not find the entrance in the ninth century AD.[33] Scholars such as Gaston Maspero and Flinders Petrie have noted that evidence for a similar door has been found at the Bent Pyramid of Dashur.[34][35]

Pliny the Elder

During the Roman Empire, Pliny the Elder speculated that the Egyptians used niter and salt to build ramps that allowed the pyramid to be erected.

The Roman writer Pliny the Elder, writing in the first century AD, argued that the Great Pyramid had been raised either "to prevent the lower classes from remaining unoccupied," or as a measure to prevent the pharaoh's riches from falling into the hands of his rivals or successors.[36] Pliny does not speculate as to the pharaoh in question, explicitly noting that "accident [has] consigned to oblivion the names of those who erected such stupendous memorials of their vanity."[37] Agreeing with Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus, Pliny argues that the structure took 20 years to build; Pliny also echoes Diodorus Siculus when he claims it took 360,000 men to build.[38] Pliny further contends that the structure was built by stone hauled from "Arabia." In pondering how the structure was built, Pliny the Elder contends that "some authorities" say the Egyptians "heaped up against [the pyramid] vast mounds of nitre and salt"; when the construction was finish, the builders then directed the water of the Nile to these mounds, dissolving them in the torrent.[37] As to how the Egyptians were to have directed water toward the pyramid, Pliny notes that some believe "bridges"—i.e., aqueducts[39]—"were constructed, of bricks of clay, and that, when the pyramid was completed, these bricks were distributed for erecting the houses of private individuals," thereby explaining why these "bridges" left no trace. Pliny also recounts how "in the interior of the largest Pyramid there is a well, eighty-six cubits deep, which communicates with the river, it is thought."[37] According to Philip smith, some scholars believe Pliny may have been describing the structure's "Grotto," but no connection to the Nile has ever been found.[40]


The Great Pyramid consists of an estimated 2.3 million blocks which most believe to have been transported from nearby quarries. The Tura limestone used for the casing was quarried across the river. The largest granite stones in the pyramid, found in the "King's" chamber, weigh 25 to 80 tonnes and were transported from Aswan, more than 800 km (500 mi) away.[citation needed] Ancient Egyptians cut stone into rough blocks by hammering grooves into natural stone faces, inserting wooden wedges, then soaking these with water. As the water was absorbed, the wedges expanded, breaking off workable chunks. Once the blocks were cut, they were carried by boat either up or down the Nile River to the pyramid.[41] It is estimated that 5.5 million tonnes of limestone, 8,000 tonnes of granite (imported from Aswan), and 500,000 tonnes of mortar were used in the construction of the Great Pyramid.[42] In 2013, rolls of papyrus called the Diary of Merer were discovered written by a supervisor of the deliveries of limestone and other construction materials from Tura to Giza in the last year of Khufu's reign.[43]

Casing stones

Casing stone in the British Museum[44]

At completion, the Great Pyramid was surfaced with white "casing stones"—slant-faced, but flat-topped, blocks of highly polished white limestone. These were carefully cut to give the required dimensions, in this case a face slope with a Seked of 5+1/2 palms.[45][46]

Visibly, all that remains is the underlying stepped core structure seen today. In 1303 AD, a massive earthquake loosened many of the outer casing stones,[citation needed] which were said to have been carted away by Bahri Sultan An-Nasir Nasir-ad-Din al-Hasan in 1356 for use in nearby Cairo.[10] Many more casing stones were removed from the site by Muhammad Ali Pasha in the early 19th century to build the upper portion of his Alabaster Mosque in Cairo, not far from Giza.[citation needed] These limestone casings can still be seen as parts of these structures. Later explorers reported massive piles of rubble at the base of the pyramids left over from the continuing collapse of the casing stones, which were subsequently cleared away during continuing excavations of the site.

A few of the casing stones from the lowest course can be seen in situ. They display the same workmanship and precision that has been reported for centuries. Petrie also found a different orientation in the core and in the casing measuring 193 centimetres ± 25 centimetres. He suggested a redetermination of north was made after the construction of the core, but a mistake was made, and the casing was built with a different orientation.[5] Petrie said of the casing stones that "to place such stones in exact contact would be careful work; but to do so with cement in the joints seems almost impossible".[47] It has been suggested it was the mortar (Petrie's "cement") that made this seemingly impossible task possible, providing a level bed, which enabled the masons to set the stones exactly.[48][49]

Construction theories

Clay seal bearing the name of Khufu from the Great Pyramid on display at the Louvre museum

Many alternative, often contradictory, theories have been proposed regarding the pyramid's construction techniques.[50] The Greeks believed that slave labour was used, but modern discoveries made at nearby workers' camps associated with construction at Giza suggest that it was built instead by thousands of conscript laborers.[51]

One mystery of the pyramid's construction is its planning. John Romer suggests that they used the same method that had been used for earlier and later constructions, laying out parts of the plan on the ground at a 1-to-1 scale. He writes that "such a working diagram would also serve to generate the architecture of the pyramid with precision unmatched by any other means".[52] He also argues for a 14-year time-span for its construction.[53] A modern construction management study, in association with Mark Lehner and other Egyptologists, estimated that the total project required an average workforce of about 13,200 people and a peak workforce of roughly 40,000. The authors of the study used critical path analysis methods, which suggest that the Great Pyramid could have been completed from start to finish in approximately 10 years.[54]


Elevation diagram of the interior structures of the Great Pyramid. The inner and outer lines indicate the pyramid's present and original profiles.
1. Original entrance, 2. Robbers' Tunnel (tourist entrance), 3, 4. Descending Passage, 5. subterraean Lower Chamber, 6. Ascending Passage, 7. Queen's Chamber and associated shafts, 8. Horizontal Passage, 9. Grand Gallery, 10. King's Chamber and associated shafts, 11. vertical shaft

The original entrance to the Great Pyramid is on the north, 17 metres (56 ft) vertically above ground level and 7.29 metres (23.9 ft) east of the center line of the pyramid. From this original entrance, there is a Descending Passage 0.96 metres (3.1 ft) high and 1.04 metres (3.4 ft) wide, which goes down at an angle of 26° 31'23" through the masonry of the pyramid and then into the bedrock beneath it. After 105.23 metres (345.2 ft), the passage becomes level and continues for an additional 8.84 metres (29.0 ft) to the lower Chamber, which appears not to have been finished. There is a continuation of the horizontal passage in the south wall of the lower chamber; there is also a pit dug in the floor of the chamber. Some Egyptologists suggest that this Lower Chamber was intended to be the original burial chamber, but Pharaoh Khufu later changed his mind and wanted it to be higher up in the pyramid.[55]

28.2 metres (93 ft) from the entrance is a square hole in the roof of the Descending Passage. Originally concealed with a slab of stone, this is the beginning of the Ascending Passage.[citation needed] The Ascending Passage is 39.3 metres (129 ft) long, as wide and high as the Descending Passage and slopes up at almost precisely the same angle to reach the Grand Gallery. The lower end of the Ascending Passage is closed by three huge blocks of granite, each about 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) long.[citation needed] One must use the Robbers' Tunnel (see below) to access the Ascending Passage.[citation needed] At the start of the Grand Gallery on the right-hand side there is a hole cut in the wall. This is the start of a vertical shaft which follows an irregular path through the masonry of the pyramid to join the Descending Passage. Also at the start of the Grand Gallery there is the Horizontal Passage leading to the "Queen's Chamber". The passage is 1.1m (3'8") high for most of its length, but near the chamber there is a step in the floor, after which the passage is 1.73 metres (5.7 ft) high.[citation needed]

Queen's Chamber

The "Queen's Chamber"[2] is exactly halfway between the north and south faces of the pyramid and measures 5.75 metres (18.9 ft) north to south, 5.23 metres (17.2 ft) east to west, and has a pointed roof with an apex 6.23 metres (20.4 ft) above the floor. At the eastern end of the chamber there is a niche 4.67 metres (15.3 ft) high. The original depth of the niche was 1.04 metres (3.4 ft), but has since been deepened by treasure hunters.[56]

In the north and south walls of the Queen's Chamber there are shafts which were found in 1872 by a British engineer, Waynman Dixon, who believed shafts similar to those in the King's Chamber must also exist. The shafts are not connected to the outer faces of the pyramid or the Queen's Chamber; their purpose is unknown. In one shaft Dixon discovered a ball of black diorite (a type of rock) and a bronze implement of unknown purpose; both objects are currently in the British Museum.[57] Dixon also found a piece of cedar wood in the Queens chamber. It was lost until recently when it was found at the University of Aberdeen. It has since been radiocarbon dated to 3341-3094 BC.[58] The northern shaft's angle of ascent fluctuates and at one point turns 45 degrees to avoid the Great Gallery.[57]

The shafts in the Queen's Chamber were explored in 1993 by the German engineer Rudolf Gantenbrink using a crawler robot he designed, Upuaut 2. After a climb of 65 m (213 ft),[59] he discovered that one of the shafts was blocked by limestone "doors" with two eroded copper "handles". The National Geographic Society created a similar robot which, in September 2002, drilled a small hole in the southern door only to find another door behind it.[60] The northern passage, which was difficult to navigate because of its twists and turns, was also found to be blocked by a door.[61]

Research continued in 2011 with the Djedi Project which used a fibre-optic "micro snake camera" that could see around corners. With this they were able to penetrate the first door of the southern shaft through the hole drilled in 2002, and view all the sides of the small chamber behind it. They discovered hieroglyphs written in red paint. They were also able to scrutinize the inside of the two copper "handles" embedded in the door which they now believe to be for decorative purposes. They also found the reverse side of the "door" to be finished and polished which suggests that it was not put there just to block the shaft from debris, but rather for a more specific reason.[62]

Grand Gallery

The Grand Gallery of the Great Pyramid of Giza

The Grand Gallery continues the slope of the Ascending Passage towards the King's Chamber, extending from the 23rd to the 48th course, a rise of 21 metres (69 ft). It has been praised as a "truly spectacular example of stonemasonry".[63] It is 8.6 metres (28 ft) high and 46.68 metres (153.1 ft) long. The base is 2.06 metres (6.8 ft) wide, but after two courses (at a height of 2.29 metres (7.5 ft)) the blocks of stone in the walls are corbelled inwards by 7.6 centimetres (3.0 in) on each side.[citation needed] There are seven of these steps, so, at the top, the Grand Gallery is only 1.04 metres (3.4 ft) wide. It is roofed by slabs of stone laid at a slightly steeper angle than the floor of the gallery, so that each stone fits into a slot cut in the top of the gallery like the teeth of a ratchet. The purpose was to have each block supported by the wall of the Gallery, rather than resting on the block beneath it, in order to prevent cumulative pressure.[64]

At the upper end of the Gallery on the right-hand side there is a hole near the roof that opens into a short tunnel by which access can be gained to the lowest of the Relieving Chambers.[citation needed] The other Relieving Chambers were discovered in 1837–1838 by Colonel Howard Vyse and J.S. Perring, who dug tunnels upwards using blasting powder.[citation needed]

The floor of the Grand Gallery has a shelf or step on either side, 51 centimetres (20 in) wide, leaving a lower ramp 1.04 metres (3.4 ft) wide between them. In the shelves there are 56 slots, 28 on each side. On each wall 25 niches have been cut above the slots.[65] The purpose of these slots is not known, but the central gutter in the floor of the Gallery, which is the same width as the Ascending Passage, has led to speculation that the blocking stones were stored in the Grand Gallery and the slots held wooden beams to restrain them from sliding down the passage.[66] This, in turn, has led to the proposal that originally many more than 3 blocking stones were intended, to completely fill the Ascending Passage.[citation needed]

At the top of the Grand Gallery, there is a step giving onto a horizontal passage some metres long and approximately 1.02 metres (3.3 ft) in height and width, in which can be detected four slots, three of which were probably intended to hold granite portcullises.[citation needed] Fragments of granite found by Petrie in the Descending Passage may have come from these now-vanished doors.[citation needed]

The Big Void

In 2017, scientists from the ScanPyramids project discovered a large cavity above the Grand Gallery using muon radiography, which they called the "ScanPyramids Big Void". Key was a research team under Professor Morishima Kunihiro from Nagoya University that used special nuclear emulsion detectors.[67][68] Its length is at least 30 metres (98 ft) and its cross-section is similar to that of the Grand Gallery. Its existence was confirmed by independent detection with three different technologies: nuclear emulsion films, scintillator hodoscopes, and gas detectors.[69][70] The purpose of the cavity is unknown and it is not accessible. Zahi Hawass speculates it may have been a gap used in the construction of the Grand Gallery,[71] but the Japanese research team state that the void is completely different from previously identified construction spaces.[72] To verify and pinpoint the void, a team from Kyushu University, Tohoku University, the University of Tokyo and the Chiba Institute of Technology plans to rescan the structure with a newly developed muon detector in 2020.[73]

King's Chamber

The "King's Chamber" is faced entirely with granite and measures 20 Egyptian Royal cubits or 10.47 metres (34.4 ft) from east to west and 10 cubits or 5.234 metres (17.17 ft) north to south. It has a flat roof 11 cubits and 5 digits or 5.852 metres (19.20 ft) above the floor formed of nine slabs of stone weighing in total about 400 tons. 0.91 m (3.0 ft) above the floor there are two narrow shafts in the north and south walls (one is now filled by an extractor fan in an attempt to circulate air inside the pyramid).[citation needed] The purpose of these shafts is not clear: they appear to be aligned towards stars or areas of the northern and southern skies, yet one of them follows a dog-leg course through the masonry, indicating no intention to directly sight stars through them.[citation needed] They were long believed by Egyptologists to be "air shafts" for ventilation, but this idea has now been widely abandoned in favour of the shafts serving a ritualistic purpose associated with the ascension of the king's spirit to the heavens.[74]

Above the roof are five compartments known as Relieving Chambers. The first four, like the King's Chamber, have flat roofs formed by the floor of the chamber above, but the final chamber has a pointed roof.[citation needed] Vyse suspected the presence of upper chambers when he found that he could push a long reed through a crack in the ceiling of the first chamber. From lower to upper, the chambers are known as "Davison's Chamber", "Wellington's Chamber", "Nelson's Chamber", "Lady Arbuthnot's Chamber", and "Campbell's Chamber". It is believed that the compartments were intended to safeguard the King's Chamber from the possibility of the roof collapsing under the weight of stone above. The chambers were not intended to be seen and were not finished in any way and a few of the stones still retain painted masons' marks. One of the stones in Campbell's Chamber bears a mark, apparently the name of a work gang.[75][76]

The only object in the King's Chamber is a rectangular granite sarcophagus, one corner of which is damaged. The sarcophagus is slightly larger than the Ascending Passage, which indicates that it must have been placed in the Chamber before the roof was put in place.[citation needed] Unlike the fine masonry of the walls of the Chamber, the sarcophagus is roughly finished, with saw-marks visible in several places.[citation needed] This is in contrast with the finely finished and decorated sarcophagi found in other pyramids of the same period. Petrie suggested that such a sarcophagus was intended but was lost in the river on the way north from Aswan and a hurriedly made replacement was used instead.[citation needed]

Modern entrance

The entrance of the pyramid

Today tourists enter the Great Pyramid via the Robbers' Tunnel, which was long ago cut straight through the masonry of the pyramid for approximately 27 metres (89 ft), then turns sharply left to encounter the blocking stones in the Ascending Passage. It is possible to enter the Descending Passage from this point but access is usually forbidden.[77] The origin of this Robbers' Tunnel is the subject of much scholarly discussion. According to tradition the chasm was made around 820 AD by Caliph al-Ma'mun's workmen with a battering ram. The digging dislodged the stone in the ceiling of the Descending Passage which hid the entrance to the Ascending Passage, and the noise of that stone falling then sliding down the Descending Passage alerted them to the need to turn left. Unable to remove these stones, however, the workmen tunneled up beside them through the softer limestone of the Pyramid until they reached the Ascending Passage.[78][79]

Due to a number of historical and archaeological discrepancies, many scholars (with Antoine Isaac Silvestre de Sacy perhaps being the first) contend that this story is apocryphal. They argue that it is much more likely that the tunnel had been carved sometime after the pyramid was initially sealed. This tunnel, the scholars continue, was then resealed (likely during the Ramesside Restoration), and it was this plug that al-Ma'mun's ninth century expedition cleared away. This is theory is furthered by the report of Dionysius I Telmaharoyo, the patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church, who claimed that before al-Ma'mun's expedition, there already existed a breach in the pyramid's north face that extended into the structure 33 meters before hitting a dead end. This suggests that some sort of robber's tunnel predated al-Ma'mun, and that the caliph simply enlarged it and cleared it of debris.[80]

Pyramid complex

Remains of the floor of the temple at the east foot of the pyramid

The Great Pyramid is surrounded by a complex of several buildings including small pyramids. The Pyramid Temple, which stood on the east side of the pyramid and measured 52.2 metres (171 ft) north to south and 40 metres (130 ft) east to west, has almost entirely disappeared apart from the black basalt paving. There are only a few remnants of the causeway which linked the pyramid with the valley and the Valley Temple. The Valley Temple is buried beneath the village of Nazlet el-Samman; basalt paving and limestone walls have been found but the site has not been excavated.[81][82] The basalt blocks show "clear evidence" of having been cut with some kind of saw with an estimated cutting blade of 15 feet (4.6 m) in length. Romer suggests that this "super saw" may have had copper teeth and weighed up to 300 pounds (140 kg). He theorizes that such a saw could have been attached to a wooden trestle and possibly used in conjunction with vegetable oil, cutting sand, emery or pounded quartz to cut the blocks, which would have required the labour of at least a dozen men to operate it.[83]

On the south side are the subsidiary pyramids, popularly known as the Queens' Pyramids. Three remain standing to nearly full height (G1-a, G1-b and G1-c) but the fourth (G1-d) was so ruined that its existence was not suspected until the recent discovery of the first course of stones and the remains of the capstone. Hidden beneath the paving around the pyramid was the tomb of Queen Hetepheres I, sister-wife of Sneferu and mother of Khufu. Discovered by accident by the Reisner expedition, the burial was intact, though the carefully sealed coffin proved to be empty.

Group photo of Australian 11th Battalion soldiers on the Great Pyramid in 1915

A notable construction flanking the Giza pyramid complex is a cyclopean stone wall, the Wall of the Crow.[84] Lehner has discovered a worker's town outside of the wall, otherwise known as "The Lost City", dated by pottery styles, seal impressions, and stratigraphy to have been constructed and occupied sometime during the reigns of Khafre (2520–2494 BC) and Menkaure (2490–2472 BC).[85][86] In the early 21st century, Mark Lehner and his team made several discoveries, including what appears to have been a thriving port, suggesting the town and associated living quarters, which consisted of barracks called "galleries", may not have been for the pyramid workers after all but rather for the soldiers and sailors who utilized the port. In light of this new discovery, as to where then the pyramid workers may have lived, Lehner suggested the alternative possibility they may have camped on the ramps he believes were used to construct the pyramids or possibly at nearby quarries.[87]

In the early 1970s, the Australian archaeologist Karl Kromer excavated a mound in the South Field of the plateau. This mound contained artefacts including mudbrick seals of Khufu, which he identified with an artisans' settlement.[88] Mudbrick buildings just south of Khufu's Valley Temple contained mud sealings of Khufu and have been suggested to be a settlement serving the cult of Khufu after his death.[89] A worker's cemetery used at least between Khufu's reign and the end of the Fifth Dynasty was discovered south of the Wall of the Crow by Hawass in 1990.[90]


There are three boat-shaped pits around the pyramid, of a size and shape to have held complete boats, though so shallow that any superstructure, if there ever was one, must have been removed or disassembled. In May 1954, the Egyptian archaeologist Kamal el-Mallakh discovered a fourth pit, a long, narrow rectangle, still covered with slabs of stone weighing up to 15 tons. Inside were 1,224 pieces of wood, the longest 23 metres (75 ft) long, the shortest 10 centimetres (0.33 ft). These were entrusted to a boat builder, Haj Ahmed Yusuf, who worked out how the pieces fit together. The entire process, including conservation and straightening of the warped wood, took fourteen years.

The result is a cedar-wood boat 43.6 metres (143 ft) long, its timbers held together by ropes, which is currently housed in the Giza Solar boat museum, a special boat-shaped, air-conditioned museum beside the pyramid. During construction of this museum in the 1980s a second sealed boat pit was discovered. It was left unopened until 2011 when excavation began on the boat.[91]


Outlines of various pyramids overlaid on top of on another to show relative height
Comparison of approximate profiles of the Great Pyramid of Giza with some notable pyramidal or near-pyramidal buildings. Dotted lines indicate original heights, where data are available. In its SVG file, hover over a pyramid to highlight and click for its article.

Although succeeding pyramids were smaller, pyramid-building continued until the end of the Middle Kingdom. However, as authors Brier and Hobbs claim, "all the pyramids were robbed" by the New Kingdom, when the construction of royal tombs in a desert valley, now known as the Valley of the Kings, began.[92][93] Joyce Tyldesley states that the Great Pyramid itself "is known to have been opened and emptied by the Middle Kingdom", before the Arab caliph Al-Ma'mun entered the pyramid around 820 AD.[78]

I. E. S. Edwards discusses Strabo's mention that the pyramid "a little way up one side has a stone that may be taken out, which being raised up there is a sloping passage to the foundations". Edwards suggested that the pyramid was entered by robbers after the end of the Old Kingdom and sealed and then reopened more than once until Strabo's door was added. He adds: "If this highly speculative surmise be correct, it is also necessary to assume either that the existence of the door was forgotten or that the entrance was again blocked with facing stones", in order to explain why al-Ma'mun could not find the entrance.[94]

Herodotus visited Egypt in the 5th century BC and recounts a story that he was told concerning vaults under the pyramid built on an island where the body of Cheops lies. Edwards notes that the pyramid had "almost certainly been opened and its contents plundered long before the time of Herodotus" and that it might have been closed again during the Twenty-sixth Dynasty of Egypt when other monuments were restored. He suggests that the story told to Herodotus could have been the result of almost two centuries of telling and retelling by Pyramid guides.[95]

See also


  1. ^ Based on side lengths 230.252m, 230.454m, 230.391m, 230.357m.[8]
  2. ^ For 2600 BC, bisecting the semi-circular path of star 10 Draconis (i Draconis) around the North Celestial Pole during the half-day darkness of a mid-winter evening would easily provide accurate true north.[11] Further sources and discussion available via "Contributions: Dennis Rawlins". DOI. Archived from the original on 24 January 2018.


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Further reading

External links

Preceded by
Red Pyramid
World's tallest structure
c. 2570 BC − 1300 AD
146.6 m
Succeeded by
Lincoln Cathedral[dubious ]