How were the Pyramids were built?
Moving around three million cubes of stone, weighing around two
tons apiece is no easy task, even by todays methods. So how did
the Ancient Egyptians do this, in an age when iron was unknown and
the wheel and pully had not yet been invented?
Unfortunately, there are no existing plans on how the pyramids
of Egypt were built. However many Egyptologists and scientists have
made educated guesses and calculations regarding their construction.
We can make an assumption of how they were constructed, but only
the ancient Egyptians will ever know for certain how they achieved
such wonderful monuments.
Preparing the Site
The first step to building a pyramid would have been to chose a
suitable site, which must be on the west side of the Nile. The west
was were the sun set and the ancient Egyptians believed that was
were the dead entered the Underworld. Each year the Nile would perform
its annual flood so the site also had to be on slightly higher ground
to prevent the flood waters from reaching the pyramid. But the site
still had to be near enough to the Nile so that it could be used
to transport the mighty stone blocks which would be used in the
The site also had to have a firm rock base in order to support
the tremendous weight of the pyramid, without the risk of subsidence
and thus cracking the pyramid, or indeed causing it to collapse
Finally, the site had to be near enough to the capital city in
order for the Pharaoh to inspect the building work whenever he wished.
Each side of the pyramid had to face one of the cardinal points
(north, south, east and west). In order to ensure this the workers
calculated true north, probably by using a certain star and observing
the rising and setting of the star. The rising and setting positions
would have been marked on an artificial horizon and, by bisecting
the angle made, would obtain a north-south line. Once they had achieved
a north-south line they would quite easily have found east and west,
using right angle instruments we know existed.
The base of the pyramid also had to be perfectly square, with the
four sides exactly the same length and the corners perfect right
angles. Again, using basic mathematics this would have been relatively
straight forward for the pyramid builders.
Once a suitable site was chosen, the workers would have prepared
a firm foundation by removing loose sand and stones from the rock.
The rock base had to be perfectly flat. In order to achieve this
it is thought that the workers would have used a method whereby
they built a small mud wall around the the base, cutting channels
in a grid pattern over the base surface. Then they would have filled
the channels with water and marked the area the water reached. After
the water was drained away they would cut any protruding rock to
the level indicated by the water, and any depressions would have
been filled with stones, thereby creating a perfectly flat surface.
Raising the Pyramid
The exact method of raising the pyramid is not known. Several theories
exist but, as there are no known records or texts regarding the
construction process, all they remain is theories.
We can safely rule out the use of pulleys. We know that pulleys
were not invented until Roman times, well after the pyramids were
One theory is that a ramp was built as the pyramid grew, allowing
the workers to transport the huge building blocks up to the latest
level of the pyramid. The only problem with this theory is that
as the pyramid grew, the ramp would have to become longer and longer,
otherwise the angle of the ramp would be too step for practical
use. By the time the pyramid was taking on shape, the ramp would
have to stretch far out into the desert. There is no evidence to
support this theory, no pieces of ramps have ever been found at
Another theory is that the ramp would wind around the pyramid as
it grew, rather than stretch out into the desert, somewhat similar
to modern day scaffolding. This would require less building and
most experts agree that this is the likely method of pyramid construction,
although, as mentioned previously, there is no surviving evidence
to support this theory.
However the pyramids were constructed, one thing we do know. They
are impressive structures which have stood the test of time. The
engineers of the day were far more advanced in mathematics, geometry,
architecture and construction than we really can imagine for a civilization
so old. The pyramids are an enigma, but that is also true of their