The Enduring Myth of Mysterious Pyramids

People call them the word’s greatest mystery…but what if I told you the pyramids aren’t all that complicated? Believe it or not, history books plainly tell us exactly who built the pyramids–and how they did it.

For starters, we know who had the original idea for a pyramid and went on to build the first one. And it’s someone you’ve probably heard of:

Imhotep

That’s right. The villain from the 90s Mummy movies. In real life, Imhotep was an architect, and one of the most intelligent men from ancient history. When asked to come up with a perfect way to memorialize a pharaoh, he came up with the Step Pyramid, which scholars believe pointed upward to give reverence to the sun. It also appears to be the first building to use concrete pillars for support.

800px-saqqara_pyramid_ver_2

Obviously, the Step Pyramid looks a little rugged when compared to the glorious pyramids you’d see on a postcard, but Imhotep’s pyramid was a success. Demand suddenly skyrocketed, ushering in new generations of pyramid architects who improved on the design by adding smooth sides and sharper corners.

Who built these pyramids? Contracted workers, same as when your city commissions a monument. Some of the builders even scrawled their names on stones within the pyramids, leaving their signature behind.

(Mind you, there’s no record of slaves building pyramids. These were paid laborers, often proud of their work.)

So, the question of who built the pyramids turns out to be a simple one…but what about the real mystery? How was it done?

Sadly, it’s pretty obvious.

Historians collectively slap their foreheads when someone declares the pyramids to be beyond human understanding. The construction took place in plain sight, and onlookers had a good view of the whole process. Unsurprisingly, it appears the stones were raised by rudimentary cranes while while laborers pushed them into place.

Hard to believe it’s that simple, especially since the stones weighed between one and eighty tons each, but apparently a little ingenuity can get just about anything off the ground. In a NOVA special called This Old Pyramid, volunteers discovered they could build a pyramid, even move those huge blocks, without the need for modern tools (or UFOs).

It’s a little disappointing to realize how mundane the construction would have been, just lines of men pushing blocks up ramps, but there’s no need to deflate your sense of awe and wonder, because there are a few mysteries still waiting to be solved in the pyramids. Some of them contain cloistered inner chambers we still haven’t figured out how to access, and every now and then we find a new (old) pyramid hiding under a sand dune.

But if you’re hungry for a real puzzler, look no further than the Sphinx.

While the pyramids were built with stones, the magnificent Sphinx was carved right out of Egypt’s bedrock, and it’s so old it might actually predate Egyptian culture. No on in Egypt wrote about who might have made it, and until 1817 we only saw it’s head sticking out of the ground, unaware there was a whole body underneath covered by centuries of sand. Add to that the fact that it might be hollow, with caverns or hidden rooms inside, and the mind reels at the possibilities.

800px-sphinx_partially_excavated2

 

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