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Mathematics and the Great Pyramid
December 30, 2011 5:29 PM   Subscribe

This is a radical statement about the Pyramid, especially on the internet because all web pages that I have been able to find that deal with the Pyramid, maintain that it was built and/or inspired by either God or space aliens. Most don't even consider that it could be a rational structure designed and built by normal people.
posted by troll (42 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Loosely speaking, previously?
posted by disillusioned at 5:34 PM on December 30, 2011


I can't remember if it was Radiolab or 99% Invisible but there was a phenomenal podcast a few months ago on this very topic. Long story short, far from slave work, odds are that it was an honor for the best and brightest to get to work on building the pyramids.
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:35 PM on December 30, 2011


a rational structure (in the mathematical sense), designed and built by normal people

Except for the cat worshipping, the slave labor, and the burying-the-boss-with-the-slaves bits, sure. Normal people.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:39 PM on December 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sounds like humans to me.
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:40 PM on December 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


On reflection, that is about par for the species, isn't it.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:41 PM on December 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


On reflection, that is about par for the species, isn't it.

See the previous FPP on the border fence. "Rational structure." Pfft.
posted by SPrintF at 5:47 PM on December 30, 2011


Slave labour has been the norm throughout history, and its comparative abscence from modern times is actually pretty fucking cool, and most things I've read about the pyramids for decades have held to the line that a large amount of the labour was effectively tax payments, which is only slavery in the Google Ron Paul sense.

And I wish we had cat worshipping. Beats modern monotheism.
posted by rodgerd at 5:52 PM on December 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


Actually, it was built by dwarves.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:52 PM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


OK, snark aside, I don't have an issue believing that the pyramids are just public work projects, intended to awe visitors ("look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!") and keep the paid workers (not slaves) busy. Busy, paid workers don't rise up and revolt. (Occupy Hamunaptra!)
posted by SPrintF at 5:53 PM on December 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


old kingdom (and on down through the ages) ancient egypt was indeed a slaveholding society. Even before the outright imperialism of the new kingdom they spent a great deal of resources raiding into neighboring lands for loot and slaves. But, on the whole, these were used for unskilled agricultural labor and sometimes quarrying.

The pyramids were not built by slaves but that doesn't mean they're weren't quite a few of them around.
posted by Riemann at 6:29 PM on December 30, 2011


There is a lot of good info on the subject in prof. Donald Redfords excellent book "Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times".

(and no, despite the title this guy is not some fringe nutjob - such as those who so dominate wikipedia - insistant on dragging modern conflicts into the ancient past)
posted by Riemann at 6:31 PM on December 30, 2011


Speaking of pyramids, this is my favorite explanation about how the Great Pyramid got built. It seems logical, and has some evidence to back up the theory.

By the way, can anyone explain why people haven't tried to map the pyramid more thoroughly with "see-through" techniques? The documentary mentions microgravimetry, but I would expect that the state of the art would have advanced there since the last measurements. Would it be possible to use X-rays in some way? (I know the rays have to pass through a humongous amount of mass, but with the right sensitive equipment I'd imagine you'd get something)
posted by ymgve at 6:34 PM on December 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Normal people.

i grew up in a world where people use green pieces of paper to measure everything and believe that threatening to make the world a radioactive wasteland is an option worth considering

with all their faults, i don't believe the ancient egyptians were quite that stupid
posted by pyramid termite at 6:39 PM on December 30, 2011 [15 favorites]


IIRC, the strikes by the pyramid builders are the first recorded to history.
posted by Abiezer at 6:43 PM on December 30, 2011


The pyramids aren't even the weirdest ancient structures out there.

My favorite is Nan Madol - a massive temple complex built, essentially, in the middle of the pacific ocean. Wait, it gets weirder - it's constructed like a log house, from immense, long yet narrow, and perfectly octagonal, basalt stones. Aliens, right? No, it gets weirder still - certain types of basalt naturally fracture in long, narrow stones that are perfectly octagonal. The polynesians, a culture that can island-hop across thousands of miles of empty ocean, probably could do the math needed to engineer it, and had the seamanship required to quarry, ferry and lay these stones.

The chills-down-your spine moment isn't when you suspect aliens did the work... but when you become sure that people did it. So much accomplished with so little... it sort of makes one wonder if we're the underachievers. With all of our marvelous tools, what have we really done with them?
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:54 PM on December 30, 2011 [11 favorites]


Has anyone read the page? Seriously. I don't know what to make of it.

It has the tone and style of a conspiracy site. Like, the kind of people who think that Denver International Airport is just a cover on top of a vast underground den of hibernating reptilian aliens. But something about this (maybe it's just that he has an engineering background) seems saner. He seems to acknowledge that an obsession with the Great Pyramid marks you as a little whacky. Maybe it's also that his claims aren't fantastic and don't involve all the world governments. And I don't think he would be particularly bothered if you just weren't interested in what he's doing.

From what I can gather, his goal is to deduce the original height of the pyramid by trying to figure out the principles used to design it. (I read his paper, which doesn't make that much more sense but at least makes his goals clearer.) It seems kind of admirable, even if it's non-falsifiable. I don't think he should be classified with Time Cube. He's just not particularly good at communicating.
posted by vogon_poet at 6:55 PM on December 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


From Abiezer's link:
The attendance register kept by the scribe also lists other reasons for absenteeism, such as illness, nursing other workmen, attending family burials or actually preparing the body of the deceased for burial, offering to the gods and attending festivals. Even personal activities were included such as quarreling with one's wife, brewing beer or getting drunk, and attending to household repairs!
Building a pyramid sounds suspiciously like a game of Dwarf Fortress.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 6:58 PM on December 30, 2011 [10 favorites]


Proud to be picked GEEK SITE OF THE DAY for 9/3/97.
posted by scalefree at 7:06 PM on December 30, 2011


The pyramids aren't even the weirdest ancient structures out there.

My favorite is Nan Madol - a massive temple complex built, essentially, in the middle of the pacific ocean. Wait, it gets weirder - it's constructed like a log house, from immense, long yet narrow, and perfectly octagonal, basalt stones. Aliens, right? No, it gets weirder still - certain types of basalt naturally fracture in long, narrow stones that are perfectly octagonal. The polynesians, a culture that can island-hop across thousands of miles of empty ocean, probably could do the math needed to engineer it, and had the seamanship required to quarry, ferry and lay these stones.

The chills-down-your spine moment isn't when you suspect aliens did the work... but when you become sure that people did it. So much accomplished with so little... it sort of makes one wonder if we're the underachievers. With all of our marvelous tools, what have we really done with them?


Space travel? Skyscrapers? Islands modeled after the world?
posted by 3FLryan at 7:10 PM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


By the way, can anyone explain why people haven't tried to map the pyramid more thoroughly with "see-through" techniques?

You might be interested in what AERA is doing at the Giza Plateau with their mapping project.
posted by grounded at 7:31 PM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


You might be interested in what AERA is doing at the Giza Plateau with their mapping project.

While that project is interesting, it appears they're only mapping the surface of the Giza Plateau. If it were up to me, I'd go around with a drill and a snake camera, exploring various nooks and crannies of the pyramid. Of course, Zahi Hawass (and his successor) would have some objections to that.
posted by ymgve at 7:50 PM on December 30, 2011


The pyramids were built with an amazingly high level of abstruse scientific knowledge. Did you know that if you put a razor blade inside a pyramid it will sharpen itself? It's pretty amazing that ancient Egyptians anticipated the invention of the safety razor, several thousand years before, and built these nifty sharpening tools.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:54 PM on December 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


1. Cat worship is indeed practiced in drhydroville.
2. If this guy had upgraded his XT to an AT, he mighta been able to learn how to reproduce a razor blade sharpener.
3. Or not.
posted by drhydro at 8:21 PM on December 30, 2011




On pyramid construction theories, I am blown away by this guy:

http://www.theforgottentechnology.com/newpage3

He moves 10 ton concrete blocks around very efficiently by himself, using just gravity and leverage. He has worked out ingenious ways of manipulating and transporting ridiculously big chunks of concrete.

Another piece of the puzzle that I've seen about somewhere (but can't recall where), is a video about the 'channels' coming out of the quarries were actually canals. It made a lot of sense at the time I saw it, but I can't recall specifics.

The guy from the above link thinks that those channels were used for what he calls a "round road", a contoured track that square blocks roll along like wheels.

Point being, there are many plausible, and astonishingly simple explanations! The technology probably progressed with each one and as different engineers came into their prime.
posted by Jesse Hughson at 8:58 PM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have been reading Ancient Engineers lately and it is really fascinating. If anyone is interested in the subject I highly recommend it. It's too bad that the History Channel is running Ancient Aliens instead of a tv version of that. I find it profoundly depressing that so many people are so pessimistic about their own potential that they have to resort to the type of "maybe it's an ancient fusion reactor, humans could never have built anything this precise!" type of reasoning alluded to above. The theme of our society is learned helplessness in this respect.

Engineering in the Ancient World is also pretty good but about 1/3 the size.
posted by feloniousmonk at 9:39 PM on December 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I remember seeing a documentary on Angor Wat, where they had theorized that tubular marks on the sides of the temple building blocks indicated that the builders were probably drilling holes in the rocks at one location, sliding bamboo rods into them, and then floating the blocks via canals to the building site. And then, in order to ensure that they fit together perfectly, each block would be suspend slightly over the other, and slowly worked back and forth until friction rendered them flush with each other.

When I think about how sprawling and complicated a complex Angor Wat is, and what "little" the Khmer had by way of technology - even at the height of their empire - to build such a structure, I can't help but feel slightly less proud of how well I put up that shower curtain in my bathroom.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:47 PM on December 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Poor guy seems (I definitely can't follow the math) like he has something substantial but can't seem to communicate it very well. Case in point: almost everyone in this thread is talking about stuff they've seen elsewhere.
posted by Defenestrator at 10:14 PM on December 30, 2011


While that project is interesting, it appears they're only mapping the surface of the Giza Plateau.

They've been doing a good amount of remote sensing, as well as work with cameras in odd locations. A lot of it concerns what's now under the surface, like the buried city of the workers who built the monuments. A fair amount is now known about who built the pyramids and how they were built, although the guy in the OP didn't seem to happen upon it.
posted by grounded at 10:47 PM on December 30, 2011


I'm in Cairo right now and visited the Pyramids at Giza a few days ago: definitely impressive, but you know what was way cooler? Snofru's Red Pyramid at Dahshur, where (given Egypt's low tourism numbers given the revolution) I was the only person to climb down a 50-meter shaft and have a burial chamber to myself, for free, with no guides, and no one speaking. The Pyramid at Maidum, though - which apparently exploded when it collapsed - was too far away to visit, but looks even more fun to explore.
posted by mdonley at 10:49 PM on December 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


In the actual paper he goes on to argue that the Egyptians used feet and inches as units of measurements, which seems a rather extraordinary claim to me, but I have to admit that I don't know much about the origins of the non-metric units. Is this plausible at all? It seems highly implausible to me.
posted by feloniousmonk at 10:49 PM on December 30, 2011


I did read the page and the guy is definitely on to some interesting stuff. The indentations in the faces are what gets me. I had never heard that about the pyramids, and so they are now even cooler!
The guy does go on to say some things that I'm not sure how to take in (the eye above the pyramid on the dollar bill is just showing measurements of the pharoah's feet?), but it's worth it.

Thanks to the OP for the link!
posted by Jesse Hughson at 11:15 PM on December 30, 2011


No cat worshipping? Have you seen the internet?
posted by moshjosh at 12:29 AM on December 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Poor guy seems (I definitely can't follow the math) like he has something substantial but can't seem to communicate it very well.

It's "Ancient Wonders Disease." No matter how rational you are, pretty much any book or website you make on the topic will either be a) unreadable due to excessive use of data or b) decide that aliens did it. In either case, your website will be designed by the space aliens that made most Geocities pages. Strange but true!
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:24 AM on December 31, 2011


It's too bad that the History Channel is running Ancient Aliens

Yes, that drives me batty and to be honest is one of the main reasons I'm not that interested in ancient Egyptian history: it's a kookery magnet. What doesn't help is having supposedly non-fiction documentary channels taking that shit seriously, but worse is that I've seen Atlantis is too real! books located under pre-history in the Amsterdam library, or worse that 1421 book by Gavis Menzies in the history section. Is it too much to ask to keep the kooks and the plain wrong out of these shelves?
posted by MartinWisse at 4:15 AM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is it too much to ask to keep the kooks and the plain wrong out of these shelves?

It's too much - Recently in the green - libraries do not stand as judge and jury of the veracity of information, but simply shelve it according to how it is presented.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:46 AM on December 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Slave labour has been the norm throughout history, and its comparative abscence from modern times is actually pretty fucking cool


Hate to burst your bubble, with new year and all, but there are numerically more slaves in the world now than ever before in history and they are much cheaper as well. Less than fifty bucks, apparently.

First thing I googled up: http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/slavery/modern/modern_1.shtml
posted by c13 at 8:22 AM on December 31, 2011


> By the way, can anyone explain why people haven't tried to map the pyramid more thoroughly with "see-through" techniques? The documentary mentions microgravimetry, but I would expect that the state of the art would have advanced there since the last measurements. Would it be possible to use X-rays in some way?

The answer to your question is probably politics. The subject area is Remote Sensing, and the specific tech here is some kind of sound wave, a la' the ultrasound the doctors use to look at unborn babies. A pyramid is a little bigger than a pregnant woman so you might have to use a little more energy and a little lower frequency, but there is no doubt in my mind this can be done without harming the structure in any way. Getting the Egypt government to accept only a very small bribe to agree that it can be done without harming the structure may be a completely different story.
posted by bukvich at 8:26 AM on December 31, 2011


With all of our marvelous tools, what have we really done with them?

Well, nowadays we have Capitalism, don't we? It's just a different kind of pyramid scheme.
posted by sneebler at 8:41 AM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm surpised no one's mentioned Joseph Davidovits' geopolymer theory yet.

My money's on the interal ramp theory linked above. Bob Brier's a fantastic egypt scholar and educator, too.


libraries do not stand as judge and jury of the veracity of information, but simply shelve it according to how it is presented.

Sorry but that's crap. As with journalism, the neutrality of libraries is a myth. Items do not appear in the catologs by dint of divine fiat. Nor do librarians attempt to obtain one of every item ever printed. Shelf space is limited and some publications are selected over others. Each aquisition is a value judgement.
posted by clarknova at 11:15 AM on December 31, 2011


In the actual paper he goes on to argue that the Egyptians used feet and inches as units of measurements, which seems a rather extraordinary claim to me, but I have to admit that I don't know much about the origins of the non-metric units.

OK, I looked this up. According to Wikipedia, the Egyptian cubit was a little under 21 inches, divided into 7 spans of 4 digits each, with some variation in the length of surviving measuring rods. So one cubit plus one span would equal about two feet, four spans about one foot, and four cubits would be about seven feet.

So, no, they didn't use feet and inches, but ancient Egyptian measurements are easily convertible into feet and inches, at least approximately, and it's entirely possible for measurements in even numbers of Egyptian cubits to work out to even numbers of feet.
posted by nangar at 11:23 AM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Except for the cat worshipping, the slave labor, and the burying-the-boss-with-the-slaves bits, sure. Normal people.

Blazecock Pileon, what proof do you have that slave labor was used? Aside from the works of that noted archaeologist, Cecil B. De Mille.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:55 PM on January 3, 2012


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