How The Great Pyramid Was Really Built
To this day, the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt remains one of the seven wonders of the world. In fact,
the Great Pyramid is the only surviving wonder of the world (“Wonders of the World”). The gigantic size of this
pyramid can amaze almost all people who see this ancient monument. Many curious people stand in wonder at
its base and try to imagine how it was constructed. Other people try to understand why the pyramid was even
The Nile river became the center of all civilization in the arid desert of the Egyptian countryside.
Nomadic hunters, ten to twenty thousand years ago, migrated to the Nile valley and Delta and there they
developed agriculture and husbandry (Mendelssohn 15). The Nile river is Egypt’s primary sources of fresh water.
The water from the Nile was essential for the growth of agriculture in Egypt. As the agriculture grew, more
people came to live in the area.
Over the centuries each tribe organized their own customs, gods, and religious life. In ancient times,
there are believed to be 42 provinces or nomes (Mendelssohn 15). Provinces and nomes are names for tribes.
“As time went on, some of the tribes formed groups and about six thousand years ago they had coalesced into
two kingdoms, that of the valley, Upper Egypt, and that of the Delta, Lower Egypt” (Mendelssohn 15). Each
kingdom made their own distinctive differences by choosing animals as their symbols. The king of Upper Egypt
wore a white crown which was affixed to the head of its totem animal, the vulture (Mendelssohn 15). The king of
lower Egypt wore red and carried the head of the cobra (Mendelssohn 15). When the kingdoms combined the
crowns were combined, with the vulture and cobra heads side by side. By uniting the two kingdoms more people
worshipped one king.
From the beginning of humanity, there has been distinctive observations with the burial of the dead.
The purpose of burial was not only for disposal of the body but for the preparation for its after- life. The Egyptians
believed that in order for the soul to pass into the next life, the body must remain intact; hence, to preserve it,
they developed the procedures of mummification (“Funeral Rites and Customs”). Tombs, temples, and statues
had been built, constructed, molded, and painted to be worshipped by the Egyptians. Religious life coincided
every day life because the Egyptians believed life after death was eternal, and that the soul rested in the body of
the dead, and that the soul traveled between earth and another world. Tombs provided houses for their souls to
live. “It was designed to protect the body from the elements and from thieves who might try to steal the gold and
precious objects placed in and around the coffin” (Taseos 11).
At a time around 3124 B.C., King Khufu came to power in Egypt. He believed that at his death, he
would become a god. He had the man power and knowledge at his hands to build a temple and stairway to the
gods for himself. It is awe inspiring to believe that any man of that time would have the scientific and
mathematical capabilities and the tools to build an immense structure like the pyramid [Fig. 1]. However, there
was a human genius living at that time called Imhotep. Imhotep was the son of Ka-nefer, Director of Works of
upper and lower Egypt (Mendelssohn 35). Imhotep was a mathematician, physician, and inventor of buildings of
stone (Mendelssohn 35). With Imhotep’s architectural genius and the country’s political union, the time was ready
to organize labor and build the Great Pyramid.
A great amount of time went into planning and building the Great Pyramid. The entire process was
completed within Khufu’s 23-year reign in about 2600 B.C. (Casson 23). The use of physical labor and simple tools
was the method of construction. Egyptians had very limited resources in their geological area. The pyramid was
constructed of about two million blocks of stone, most of them weighing two and a half tons apiece (Edwards 116).
No records of the architectural design, written by the designers of the Great Pyramid, have been found on paper.
Consequently, only one may guess how the pyramid was built. Now, it is the pursuit of many people to find out
how the Great Pyramid was really built.
Khufu’s architects, planning their Pharaoh’s enormous pyramid — still the largest stone structure in the
world — had first to choose an appropriate site in the desert (Casson 132). “When choosing the site for the
pyramid, it was necessary to keep in mind; it must be situated west of the river — the side of the river, but not too
far from its west bank; the rock foundation must be free from any defect or tendency to crack; it should not be
situated far from the capitol and possibly even closer to a palace which the king may have built as a residence
outside the capitol “(Edwards 254). Most importantly, the location had to be chosen wisely because most of the
stone had to be transported to the pyramid from rock quarries. A logical building site would be near the rock
quarries. The architect, Imhotep, made a sensible choice by building the pyramid near the river Nile. “This
practical choice made it possible to reduce considerably the time and back-breaking labor needed to transport
the stones from distant quarries across the Nile” (Taseos 17).
After the pyramid site was chosen the entire construction site had to be prepared for construction.
Sand, gravel, and any other loose rocks had to be removed from the area, so the base could stand on a solid
bedrock plateau (Taseos 14). Then a square, of an area of 13.1 acres, had to be leveled (Taseos 12, 14). The
leveling of the building site was done by flooding the area within the square with water and leaving the high
spots (Taseos 14). The high spots were then cut down to the surface of the water(Taseos 14). High spots were cut
down again and some of the water was released from the square and back into the Nile river (Taseos 14). A
channel was built from the river to the site. The leveling process was repeated till the ground was leveled down
to the base of the pyramid’s platform (Taseos 14). In all actuality, the entire area to be covered by the pyramid
was not leveled to the bedrock plateau; a pile of rock may have been left in the center to be used at a later stage
in the construction (Edwards 255). When the leveling process was completed, the next task was to quarry the
Most of the Great Pyramid was built of limestone. Although, some of the blocks used in the construction
were made of granite. Quarrying the blocks did not give the builders any serious problems. Egyptians used
copper tools, including saws and chisels, which were capable of cutting any kind of limestone (Edwards 262).
Chisels and saws were used the most in cutting the limestone blocks for the Great Pyramid. When cutting the
hard granite, however, another method of cutting had to be used. The ancient Egyptian chisel and saw could
barely dent the surface of the granite. “Wedges were inserted into holes cut at the bottom in order to make a
horizontal split in the rock, which freed the block entirely. Sometimes the wedges were composed of wood, and
the split was achieved by wetting the wood and so causing it to expand” (Edwards 263). Quarrying of the blocks
seems like a remarkable task that almost compares to the transportation of the blocks to the construction site.
After the blocks were cut from the quarry they were loaded on large wooden sleds. It must have been
very difficult task to load the blocks on the sleds, considering that some of the blocks weigh more than two tons
apiece. By the use of simple levers and ropes the Egyptians loaded the blocks onto the sleds (Edwards 266). The
loaded sled would then be dragged over a way paved with timber rollers by men pulling on ropes attached to the
sled ( Edwards 266). They worked in gangs of about thirty men pulling the blocks on the sleds (Taseos 40).
men were trained to pull in rhythm to a beat, and to songs they sang”(Taseos 40). Water was sometimes poured
on the sand to lessen the friction of the sled moving across the desert to the Nile river (Edwards 266). Once at the
river, the blocks were loaded onto large boats to be sailed up river to the building site.
At the same time the site preparation was being conducted at the pyramid site, the construction of the
causeway to the pyramid also being prepared (Edwards 260). The causeway was built, as a road, to move the
quarried blocks from the Nile river to the construction site. For ten years laborers worked on making the
causeway (Taseos 10). Made of limestone, the causeway was 3,051 feet in length and 60 feet in width (Taseos 10).
Shaping of the blocks began as soon as they had arrived at the building site. Core blocks could be
almost as quarried, but the masons had to mold the facing blocks to fit snugly against each other (Evans 99). The
masons left the faces unfinished so that they would not be damaged when they were put into place (Evans 99).
The faces of the blocks would be polished after the entire pyramid was built. Just how the ancient Egyptians
placed the huge blocks in position is still a matter of speculation today (Evans 102).
Many authors agree that the Egyptians constructed a ramp that they could haul most of the stone close
to the top of the pyramid (Taseos 79, Casson 134, Evans 102). “Rising ramps were built in tiers along the four sides
of the pyramid [See Fig. 2]. Each ramp began at one corner and all ended at the topmost level of construction”
(Casson 134). Eighteen to twenty men worked together in groups, moving the blocks up the ramp and putting
them into place (Casson 134). “The upper portion of the pyramid was finished first, then the middle, and finally
the part which was lowest and nearest the ground “(Edwards 270). The designer, Imhotep, must have been a very
smart man to devise the idea of using a ramp. The ramp is a very simple yet effective way of moving the heavy
blocks to the top of the pyramid.
A large number of laborers must have been needed to construct the Great Pyramid. It is the largest
tomb built for any individual, and it is the most famous monument of great age (Taseos 11). 100,000 workers have
been estimated to have worked on the construction of this pyramid (Taseos 11). About 4,000 men could have
housed in barracks near the pyramid (Edwards 283). The workers may have been paid for the labors with
vegetables. Edwards writes, “There is an inscription in Egyptian characters on the pyramid which records the
quantity of radishes, onions, and garlic consumed by the workers who constructed it” (Edwards 289). The workers
probably did not work for the vegetables, but for their religious beliefs. King Khufu ordered people to build his
tomb and they willingly did what he had asked.
Since we cannot travel back in time, we have only archeological clues and theories to tell us how the
Great Pyramid was built. The Egyptian culture of 5000 years ago is long since dead and buried in time. Till this
day, no records have been found on the construction of the pyramid. We do know that the Egyptians believed in
an after-life and the need to provide a place for their souls to travel from Earth to their heaven. The pyramid or
tomb provided a place for an Egyptian king’s soul.
About five thousand years ago, the time was right to build a distinctive place for King Khufu. The two
kingdoms were united and the man power was plentiful. Thousands of men and women put their lives and souls
into its building. Was it a labor of love, love for themselves, love of their religion, love for their king, or the
rewards for their souls? We can only guess as what was their purpose.
There will always be those people who say, “Man of that time could not have possibly built the Great
Pyramid using simple tools and physical strength.” Theories of how the pyramid was built range from the use of
levitation to extraterrestrial beings coming to Earth and building the pyramids themselves. Maybe in the near
future, someone may be able to uncover more facts and clues to the ancient Egyptian life and the Great Pyramid.
For now, we can only stand in awe at the base of this Wonder of the World and believe it is a marvelous tribute
to all who built it.
Casson, Lionel. Ancient Egypt. New York: Rhett Austell, 1965.
Edwards, I.E.S.. The Pyramids of Egypt. Middlesex, England: Penguin
Evans, Humphrey. The Mystery of the Pyramids. New York: Thomas Y.
Mendelssohn, Kurt. The Riddle Of The Pyramids. New York: Praeger
Taseos, Socrates. Back In Time To 3104 B.C. To The Great Pyramid.
Charlotte: S O C Publishers, 1990.
“Wonders of the World.” Encarta. Microsoft Corporation, 1993.
“Funeral Rites and Customs.” Encarta. Microsoft Corporation, 1993