The Pyramids

The Pyramids

How Did Egyptians Build the Pyramids? Ancient Ramp Find Deepens Mystery

Researchers in Egypt਍iscovered a 4,500-year-old ramp system used to haul alabaster stones out of a quarry, and reports have suggested that it could provide clues as to how Egyptians built the pyramids. Yet while the ramp system is a significant technological discovery, the pyramid connection is still a bit of a stretch.

Archaeologists from the French Institute for Oriental Archaeology in Cairo and the University of Liverpool discovered the ramp system’s remains in an ancient alabaster quarry at Hatnub, a site in the Eastern Desert. The ramp system dates at least as far back as the reign of Pharaoh Khufu, who built the Great Pyramid at Giza.

The archaeological team succeeded in detecting a unique system to move and pull blocks which can be dated to the reign of King Khufu at the latest.

“This system is composed of a central ramp flanked by two staircases with numerous post holes,” Yannis Gourdon, co-director of the joint mission at Hatnub, told Live Science. “Using a sled which carried a stone block and was attached with ropes to these wooden posts, ancient Egyptians were able to pull up the alabaster blocks out of the quarry on very steep slopes of 20 percent or more.”

It’s difficult to tell the significance of this discovery since the archaeologists haven’t yet published their research on it, says Kara Cooney, a professor of Egyptian art and architecture at the University of California, L.A., who is not involved in this research.

“It’s a stretch to take an alabaster quarry and say this is how the pyramids were built, because the pyramids weren’t built out of alabaster,” she says. “The way that the ancient Egyptians cut and moved stone is still very mysterious.”

Alabaster is a softer mineral, different from the heavy stone blocks with which Egyptians built the outer structure of the pyramids.

“We actually don’t know [their] mechanism of cutting hard stones like red granite,” she says. 𠇊nd we still don’t know how the ancient Egyptians lifted blocks weighing hundreds of tons up the sides of the pyramids.”

Most Egyptologists already think that Egyptians used ramp systems to build the pyramids, but there are different theories about what types they used. Cooney says experts have theorized they could’ve used straight ramps that went up the pyramid’s outside walls, ramps that curved around these walls or ramping systems inside the pyramid itself.

So although the ramp system discovery in the alabaster quarry does tell us something about Egyptians’ technological knowledge, it doesn’t answer the big questions about how they built the pyramids. And that’s exactly the way the ancient Egyptians would’ve wanted it.

Just as 𠇊ny authoritarian regime is going to hide their secrets as long and as best as they can,” Cooney says, the Egyptians purposefully left no record of how they built their pyramids. 

“The pyramids are there as mountains of stone proving the otherworldly nature of their god-kings. You stand in front of those pyramids and you feel it’s impossible to build such a thing.” That means, she says, that “the propaganda is still working.”

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The history of the pyramids has many chapters:

Other places this history has been told:

    and showing off various early versions of the game
    , circa 2016, which appears in the instruction booklet in Pyramid Arcade

The Icehouse Games Era (1987-1995)

The concept of the pyramids was invented in the summer of 1987, when Andrew Looney wrote a short story called Icehouse. He described an imaginary game played with small colorful pyramids, which was so inspiring that he and his friends strove to create a real-life version of the game. This first pyramid game, Icehouse, which was designed by John Cooper, based closely on Andy’s ideas, was so fascinating that Andy and his new wife Kristin started their first company, Icehouse Games, in order to publish it.

In 1991, Andy completed a novel called The Empty City, which started with the original story about Icehouse then dove into the imaginary history of the game, which apparently had been played in the ancient lost cities of Mars 100,000 years ago. The 100 chapter novel was released online one week at a time from ’97-’99 and released as a print edition in 2002. The book is still in print.

During its 8 year run Icehouse Games produced small runs of game sets using hand-poured plastic resin, stained wood, and eventually, as manufacturing was so difficult, simply die-cut cardstock to be assembled, tab-in-slot style by the end user. At this point it occurred to Andy that, as fascinating as the game of Icehouse was, perhaps other, even better games, could be designed with Icehouse Pieces, which is what the pyramids were originally known as.

Dawn of the Game System / The Golden Age of Pieceniks (1995-1999)

In 1995, Andy began a pyramid-game inventing spree, which continues to this day in the pyramid community. He started with Martian Chess, which he adapted from his earlier chess variant, Monochrome Chess, and went on to invent two other pyramid games that year (Trice and Igloo), encouraging John to start doing the same. They realized that Icehouse was much more than a game, it was a game system.

During the Icehouse Games era, and particularly at the end of it, the pyramids were so difficult to come by that the community was actively encouraged to make their own home-made sets, in whatever way they could. Creative fans rose to the challenge, making their own Icehouse Pieces, and dubbing themselves “Pieceniks.” This time could be called The Dark Ages of the Pyramids, when all that was commercially available was the folded Paper Ice sets, but it could also be considered The Golden Age of the Pieceniks.

Then, everything changed on July 24,1996, when Andy invented Fluxx. Kristin & Andy started a new company to publish it – Looney Labs – and by 1999 they’d made enough money from Fluxx to invest the $12K required for the injection-molding equipment needed to make “real" pyramids. This started a many-years experimentation with how best to package and bring these wonderful pieces/system to market.

Icehouse: The Martian Chess Set Era (1999-2002)

The idea of hollow pieces was, for many years, rejected by Andy, but as they got serious about making injection-molded pieces, he realized that being able to stack the pyramids on top of each other would add a powerful new dimension to the game design usefulness of the pyramids. Before the first batch of stackable pyramids had even arrived, he’d already invented the first pyramid game to make use of stacking: IceTowers.

Having realized that Icehouse was not the right game to promote to the wider public, and now that the pieces were embraced as a system for multiple games, this first set contained rules for four games. These had emerged as the best of the new flush of games: two by Andy (Martian Chess and IceTowers) and two by John (Zarcana and IceTraders, forerunners of Gnostica and Homeworlds, respectively). The rules for Icehouse were not included, but they were made available online, along with the rules to a rapidly-growing list of other pyramid games.

Like the Icehouse sets before it, The Martian Chess Set had fifteen pyramids each of red, yellow, green, and blue in the three sizes (5 trios per color). Most games designed during this era gave each player one color, and, using the term invented for the original game, this set of 15 pyramids per color was called a Stash.

Having an actual mold to easily turn out high-quality uniform pieces immediately sparked the desire for – what else? – more colors, and in 2000 the first color expansion, dubbed Black Ice, was published. It consisted of two stashes, one in opaque black, and one clear, in a black hemp bag with the “Icehouse” stylized logo embroidered on it. It included a "coupon" for a booklet of games for the set at some unidentified time in the future.

During this era, specifically in 2001, we also got a short run produced of giant cardboard pyramids. They were 8x the size of the table top pyramids and made only in plain white -- it was up to the consumer to paint them different colors.

Monochrome Stashes / Playing With Pyramids (2002-2006)

The Martian Chess Set edition was packaged in an acyclic box which looked really cool but was overly prone to being cracked & broken during shipping, so when those sold through they decided to try a different approach. In light of the fact that most of the games invented at this point assigned each player a stash of a given color, and to bring down the entry-level cost, Looney Labs began packaging the pyramids in attractive clear tubes, by color.

Gamers could purchase tubes à la carte depending on the colors desired, and the requirements of the game they wanted to play. Meanwhile, a separate book of rules for twelve games was published, called Playing With Pyramids. Giddy with the opportunity for new colors, ten were produced at this time: red, orange, yellow, green, cyan, blue, purple, clear, black, and white, the last two both being opaque.

Many fans enjoyed this DIY take on the system, but others were more interested in the traditional “complete game in one box” approach. It was also at this time that Kory Heath invented Zendo, which quickly became many fans' new favorite. So the next marketing “experiment” was to publish a couple of single-focus products: boxed sets with one complete game.

Two games where published in this way. The first was Zendo, with the original color ratios and quantities: 60 pyramids in the four basic colors, as well as 60 tokens, 15 starter rule cards for the “master,” and a rule booklet. This was quickly followed by IceTowers, which was also a vehicle to get some of the other colors out into the marketplace. It contained cyan, white, clear, and purple, and, since the game included no other components, they included a copy of the novel that had started it all The Empty City, now freshly illustrated and bound in softback.

The Treehouse Era (2006-2011)

In 2006, Looney Labs was finding the need, as a growing company, to focus energy on the products that were making the most money (i.e. Fluxx) and to streamline the slower selling stuff (which is everything else, since Fluxx is a juggernaut). So Kristin challenged Andy once again, urging him to find a way to keep the system going with something both fresh and minimized. In response, Andy created Treehouse.

Treehouse is a simple-yet-engaging introductory game which nothing but pyramids and a custom D6, which could be tucked into the same plastic tubes they’d already been selling. But instead of monochrome stashes, Treehouse was offered in two mixed-color stashes, Rainbow (red, yellow, green, blue, black) and Xeno (clear, purple, orange, cyan, white).

The Treehouse Revolution, as Andy liked to call it, changed everything. With all the other versions of the system out of print, and the rules for all pyramid games available free on the internet, these two products were all it took to keep the system in print until the company could focus on it again. By then, there were ample games available for a set of trios of different colors, with more being invented all the time, and to get more pyramids for games that needed more, you simply bought more Treehouse tubes.

Continuing to make up new games, Andy moved into a new era of design, aiming to create games which could be played with just one of these tubes, such as Martian Coasters (later renamed Looney Ludo) or three of these tubes, such as World War 5. Andy also finally invented a game that made special use of the opaque quality of the black pyramids, called Black ICE. The rules for this game were published in a little booklet called 3HOUSE in 2007.

3HOUSE featured rules for 3 games you could play with 3 Treehouse sets: Black ICE, Martian Chess, and the two player version of Homeworlds, which Andy had nicknamed Binary Homeworlds after discovering was better when played with this more limited supply of pieces. The 3HOUSE booklet was offered free to all owners of the Black Ice product who wished to redeem that product’s coupon, but most chose to just buy the 3HOUSE booklet and keep the coupon as a souvenir.

The Pyramid Primer Era (2011-2016)

The next step in the product line’s evolution, to many fan’s dismay, was to abandon the clear plastic tubes. (The fans most saddened by this move were the designers of games that actually made use of the tube as a game component, such as Moonshot and Drip.)

Instead the pyramids would now be offered in cute little pyramid-shaped zippered cloth bags, each a different size and with differing contents. As the continued headliner, Treehouse was re-packaged in a green pyramid bag, with a bonus game (Pharaoh) included as well. The larger, blue pyramid contained the new game, IceDice, with double the pyramids and a new set of special dice. The IceDice set also featured a bonus game, Launchpad 23.

The Treehouse and IceDice sets could be combined to form a 3HOUSE set, but this new version of the system also included a pair of simple boxed expansion sets, in rainbow and xeno color schemes, but with no other equipment except a small intro booklet with overviews of a dozen of the most popular games at the time.

This little square booklet was also included in the IceDice and Treehouse sets and was a companion to the magazine-sized booklet also published at this time, known as Pyramid Primer #1, which featured the complete rules to those same dozen games.

During this time, a new color, Pink, was released, first as a monochrome Treehouse set (five trios all one color) in the classic card-game-style box. This was later replaced by Pink Hijinks, an all-pink version of Hijinks in an adorable little pink pyramid-shaped bag.

A promotional campaign we ran during this phase was something we called Cadet Training. Here's an old page about that.

The Pyramid Arcade Era (2016-present)

Something fans had long clamored for was an all-in-one giant box set, and this dream became a reality with Pyramid Arcade. Launched with a big Kickstarter campaign in 2016, this fantastic set is now available at discerning retailers around the world. Three trios each of the main ten colors, a 76-page rulebook, and all the accessories needed to play twenty-two different games, are all in this one wonderful box.

Once this was published, the pyramid bags were phased out and a new series of introductory games was created. These new games serve both as a less-daunting entry point as well as a way of adding more pyramids to Pyramid Arcade. Known collectively as Pyramid Quartet, these new game sets were launched on Kickstarter in 2020. Four smaller boxed sets, each focused on a single game (or two, in the case of Ice Duo), with different combinations of colors, depending on what direction players might want to expand their pyramid collections.

The Pyramid Quartet games are:

The history of the pyramids continues to be written. What new game will shake up the community next?


Historically the Great Pyramid had been attributed to Khufu based on the words of authors of classical antiquity, first and foremost Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus. However, during the middle ages a number of other people were credited with the construction of the pyramid as well, for example Josef, Nimrod or king Saurid. [9]

In 1837 four additional Relieving Chambers were found above the King's Chamber after tunneling to them. The chambers, that had been inaccessible until then, were covered in hieroglyphs of red paint. The workers who were building the pyramid had marked the blocks with the names of their gangs, which included the pharaoh's name (e.g.: “The gang, The white crown of Khnum-Khufu is powerful”). Over a dozen times are the names of Khufu spelled out on the walls. Another one of these graffiti was found by Goyon on an exterior block of the 4th layer of the pyramid. [10] The inscriptions are comparable to those found at other sites of Khufu such as the alabaster quarry at Hatnub [11] or the harbor at Wadi al-Jarf, and are present in pyramids of other pharaohs as well. [12] [13]

Throughout the 20th century the cemeteries next to the pyramid were excavated. Family members and high officials of Khufu were buried in the East Field south of the causeway, and the West Field. Most notably the wives, children and grandchildren of Khufu, Hemiunu, Ankhaf and (the funerary cache of) Hetepheres I, mother of Khufu. As Hassan puts it: "From the early dynastic times, it was always the custom for the relatives, friends and courtiers to be buried in the vicinity of the king they had served during life. This was quite in accordance with the Egyptian idea of the Hereafter."

The cemeteries were actively expanded until the 6th dynasty and used less frequently afterwards. The earliest pharaonic name of seal impressions is that of Khufu, the latest of Pepi II. Worker graffiti are written on some of the stones of the tombs as well, for instance "Mddw" (Horus name of Khufu) on the mastaba of Chufunacht, probably a grandson of Khufu. [14]

Some inscriptions in the chapels of the mastabas (like the pyramid, their burial chambers were usually bare of inscriptions) mention Khufu or his pyramid. For instance an inscription of Mersyankh III states that "Her mother [is the] daughter of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt Khufu." Most often these references are part of a title, for example Snnw-ka, "Chief of the Settlement and Overseer of the Pyramid City of Akhet-Khufu" or Merib, "Priest of Khufu". [15] Several tomb owners have a king's name as part of their own name (e.g. Chufudjedef, Chufuseneb, Merichufu). The earliest pharaoh alluded to in that manner at Giza is Snefru (Khufu's father). [16] [17] [18]

In 1936 Hassan uncovered a stela of Amenhopet II near the Great Sphinx of Giza which implies the two larger pyramids were still attributed to Khufu and Khafre in the New Kingdom. It reads: "He yoked the horses in Memphis, when he was still young, and stopped at the Sanctuary of Hor-em-akhet (the Sphinx). He spent a time there in going round it, looking at the beauty of the Sanctuary of Khufu and Khafra the revered." [19]

In 1954 the Khufu ship was discovered, buried at the south foot of the pyramid. The cartouche of Djedefre was found on many of the blocks that covered the boat pit. As the successor and eldest son he would have presumably been responsible for the burial of Khufu. [20]

During excavations in 2013 the Diary of Merer was found at Wadi al-Jarf. It documents the transportation of white limestone blocks from Tura to the Great Pyramid, which is mentioned by its original name Akhet Khufu (with a pyramid determinative) dozens of times. It details that the stones were accepted at She Akhet-Khufu ("the pool of the pyramid Horizon of Khufu") and Ro-She Khufu (“the entrance to the pool of Khufu”) which were under supervision of Ankhhaf, half brother and vizier of Khufu who is the owner of the largest mastaba of the Giza East Field. [21]

Modern estimates of dating the Great Pyramid and Khufu's first regnal year
Author (year) Estimated date
Greaves (1646) [22] 1266 BC
Gardiner (1835) [23] 2123 BC
Lepsius (1849) [24] 3124 BC
Bunsen (1860) [25] 3209 BC
Mariette (1867) [26] 4235 BC
Breasted (1906) [27] 2900 BC
Hassan (1960) [28] 2700 BC
O'Mara (1997) [29] 2700 BC
Beckarath (1997) [30] 2554 BC
Arnold (1999) [31] 2551 BC
Spence (2000) [32] 2480 BC
Shaw (2000) [33] 2589 BC
Hornung (2006) [34] 2509 BC
Ramsey et al. (2010) [35] 2613-2577 BC

The Great Pyramid has been determined to be about 4600 years old by two principal approaches: indirectly, through its attribution to Khufu and his chronological age, based on archaeological and textual evidence and directly, via radiocarbon dating of organic material found in the pyramid and included in its mortar.

Historical chronology

In the past the Great Pyramid was dated by its attribution to Khufu alone, putting the construction of the Great Pyramid within his reign. Hence dating the pyramid was a matter of dating Khufu and the 4th dynasty. The relative sequence and synchronicity of events stands at the focal point of this method.

Absolute calendar dates are derived from an interlocked network of evidence, the backbone of which are the lines of succession known from ancient king lists and other texts. The reign lengths from Khufu to known points in the earlier past are summated, bolstered with genealogical data, astronomical observations, and other sources. As such, the historical chronology of Egypt is primarily a political chronology, thus independent from other types of archaeological evidence like stratigraphies, material culture, or radiocarbon dating.

The majority of recent chronological estimates date Khufu and his pyramid roughly between 2700 and 2500 BC. [36]

Radiocarbon dating

Mortar was used generously in the Great Pyramid's construction. In the mixing process ashes from fires were added to the mortar, organic material that could be extracted and radiocarbon dated. A total of 46 samples of the mortar were taken in 1984 and 1995, making sure they were clearly inherent to the original structure and could not have been incorporated at a later date. The results were calibrated to 2871-2604 BC. The old wood problem is thought to be mainly responsible for the 100-300 year offset, since the age of the organic material was determined, not when it was last used. A reanalysis of the data gave a completion date for the pyramid between 2620 and 2484 BC, based on the younger samples. [37] [38] [39]

In 1872 Waynman Dixon opened the lower pair of "Air-Shafts", that were closed at both ends until then, by chiseling holes into the walls of the Queen's Chamber. One of the objects found within was a cedar plank, which came into possession of James Grant, a friend of Dixon. After inheritance it was donated to the Museum of Aberdeen in 1946, however it had broken into pieces and was filed incorrectly. Lost in the vast museum collection it was only rediscovered in 2020, when it was radiocarbon dated to 3341-3094 BC. Being over 500 years older than Khufu's chronological age, Abeer Eladany suggests that the wood originated from the center of a long-lived tree or had been recycled for many years prior to being deposited in the pyramid. [40]

History of dating Khufu and the Great Pyramid

Circa 450 BC Herodotus attributes the Great Pyramid to Cheops (Hellenization of Khufu), yet erroneously places his reign following the Ramesside period. Manetho, around 200 years later, composed an extensive list of Egyptian kings which he divided into dynasties, assigning Khufu to the 4th. But after phonetic changes in the Egyptian language and consequently the Greek translation "Cheops" had transformed into "Souphis" (and similar versions). [41]

Greaves, in 1646, reports the great difficulty of ascertaining a date for the pyramid's construction based on the lacking, and conflictory historic sources. Because of the aforementioned differences in spelling, he doesn't recognize Khufu on Manetho's king list (as transcribed by Africanus and Eusebius), [42] hence he relies on Herodotus' incorrect account. Summating the duration of lines of succession, Greaves concludes the year 1266 BC to be the beginning of Khufu's reign. [22]

Two centuries later, some of the gaps and uncertainties in Manetho's chronology had been cleared by discoveries such as the King Lists of Turin, Abydos, and Karnak. The names of Khufu found the Great Pyramid's Relieving Chambers in 1837 helped to make clear that Cheops and Souphis are in fact one and the same. Thus the Great Pyramid was recognized to be have been built in the 4th dynasty, [24] The dating among Egyptologists still varied by multiple centuries (around 4000-2000 BC), depending on methodology, preconceived religious notions (such as the biblical deluge) and which source they thought was more credible.

Estimates significantly narrowed in the 20th century, most being within 250 years of each other in the middle of the third millennium BC. The newly development radiocarbon dating method confirmed that the historic chronology was approximately correct. It is however still not a fully appreciated method due to larger margins or error, calibration uncertainties and the problem of inbuilt age in plant material including wood (time between growth and final usage). [36] Furthermore, astronomical alignments have been suggested to coincide with the time of construction. [29] [32]

Egyptian chronology continues to be refined and data from multiple disciplines has started to be factored in, such as luminescence-, radiocarbon dating, and dendrochronology. For instance, Ramsey et al. included over 200 radiocarbon samples in their model. [35]

Classical antiquity


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. [43] [44]

Herodotus writes that the Great Pyramid was built by Khufu (Hellenized as Cheops) who, he erroneously relays, ruled after the Ramesside Period (Dynasties XIX and XX). [45] Khufu was a tyrannical king, Herodotus claims, which probably shows the view of the Greeks that such buildings can only come about through cruel exploitation of the people. [43] Herodotus further states that gangs of 100,000 labourers 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, measuring nearly 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) long and twenty yards wide, and elevated at its highest to a height of sixteen yards, consisting of stone polished and carved with figures. [46] In addition, underground chambers were made on the hill whereon the pyramids stand, meant to be burial places for Khufu himself, which were encompassed with water which a channel brought in from the Nile. [46] Herodotus later states that at the Pyramid of Khafre (next to the Great Pyramid) the Nile flows through a built passage to an island in which Khufu is buried. [47] (Hawass interprets this to be a reference to the "Osiris Shaft" which is located at the causeway of Khafre south of the Great Pyramid.) [48] [49]

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. [50] 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. [51]

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 claims tells marvelous tales and myths. [52] Diodorus presumably drew his knowledge from the lost work of Hecataeus of Abdera, [53] and like Herodotus, he also places the builder of the pyramid, "Chemmis," [54] after Ramses III. [45] 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 [55] with this assertion, Diodorus strengthened the connection between pyramid building and slavery. [56]

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 (c. 3 m (9.8 ft)). 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 necessary to erect the Great Pyramid at 360,000 and the construction time at 20 years. [54] 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." [55]


The Greek geographer, philosopher, and historian Strabo visited Egypt around 25 BC, shortly after Egypt was annexed by the Romans. In his work Geographica, he argues 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." [57] This statement has generated much speculation, as it suggests that the pyramid could be entered at this time. [58]

Pliny the Elder

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. [59] 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". [60] In pondering how the stones could be transported to such a vast height he gives two explanations: That either vast mounds of nitre and salt were heaped up against the pyramid which were then melted away with water redirected from the river. Or that "bridges" were constructed, their bricks afterwards distributed for erecting houses of private individuals, arguing that the level of the river is too low for canals to ever bring water up to the pyramid. 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". Further, he describes a method discovered by Thales of Miletus for ascertaining the pyramid's height by measuring its shadow. [60]

Late antiquity and the Middle Ages

During late antiquity, a misinterpretation of the pyramids as "Joseph's granary" began to gain in popularity. The first textual evidence of this connection is found in the travel narratives of the female Christian pilgrim Egeria, who records that on her visit between 381-84 AD, "in the twelve-mile stretch between Memphis and Babylonia [= Old Cairo] are many pyramids, which Joseph made in order to store corn." [61] Ten years later the usage is confirmed in the anonymous travelogue of seven monks that set out from Jerusalem to visit the famous ascetics in Egypt, wherein they report that they "saw Joseph's granaries, where he stored grain in biblical times." [62] This late 4th century usage is further confirmed in the geographical treatise Cosmographia , written by Julius Honorius around 376 AD, [63] which explains that the Pyramids were called the "granaries of Joseph" (horrea Ioseph). [64] This reference from Julius is important, for it indicates that the identification was starting to spread out from pilgrim's travelogues. In 530 AD, Stephanos of Byzantium added more to this idea when he wrote in his Ethnica that the word "pyramid" was connected to the Greek word πυρός (puros), meaning wheat. [65]

In the seventh century AD, the Rashidun Caliphate conquered Egypt, ending several centuries of Romano-Byzantine rule. A few centuries later, in 820 AD, the Abbasid Caliph Al-Ma'mun (786–833) is said to have tunneled into the side of the structure and discovered the ascending passage and its connecting chambers. [66] It was around this time that a Coptic legend gained popularity that claimed the antediluvian king Surid Ibn Salhouk was the one who built the Pyramid. One legend in particular relates how, three hundred years prior to the Great Flood, Surid had a terrifying dream of the world's end, and so he ordered the construction of the pyramids so that they might house all the knowledge of Egypt and survive into the present. [67] The most notable account of this legend was given by Al-Masudi (896-956) in his Akbar al-zaman alongside imaginative tales about the pyramid, such as the story of a man who fell three hours down the pyramid's well and the tale of an expedition that discovered bizarre finds in the structure's inner chambers. Al-zaman also contains a report of Al-Ma'mun's entring the pyramid and discovering a vessel containing a thousand coins, which just so happened to account for the cost of opening the pyramid. [68] (Some speculate that this story is true, but that the coins were planted by Al-Ma'mun to appease his workers, who were likely frustrated that they had found no treasure.) [69]

In 987 AD, the Arab bibliographer Ibn al-Nadim relates a fantastical tale in his Al-Fihrist about a man who journeyed into the main chamber of a pyramid, which Bayard Dodge argues is the Great Pyramid. [70] According to al-Nadim, the person in question saw a statue of a man holding a tablet and a woman holding a mirror. Between the statues was supposedly a "stone vessel [with] a gold cover." Inside the vessel was "something like pitch," and when the explorer reached into the vessel "a gold receptacle happened to be inside." The receptacle, when taken from the vessel, was filled with "fresh blood," which quickly dried up. Ibn al-Nadim's work also claims that the bodies of a man and woman were discovered inside the Pyramid in "best possible state of preservation." [71] The author al-Kaisi, in his work the Tohfat Alalbab, retells the story of Al-Ma'mun's entry but with the addition of the discovery of "an image of a man in green stone," which when opened revealed a body dressed in jewel-encrusted gold armor. Al-Kaisi's claims to have seen the case from which the body was taken, and asserts that it was located at the king's palace in Cairo. He also writes that he himself entered into the pyramid and discovered myriad preserved bodies. [72]

The Arab polymath Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi (1163-1231) studied the pyramid with great care, and in his Account of Egypt, he praises them of works of engineering genius. In addition to measuring the structure (and the other pyramids at Giza), al-Baghdadi also writes that the structures were surely tombs, although he thought the Great Pyramid was used for the burial of Agathodaimon or Hermes. Al-Baghdadi ponders whether the pyramid pre-dated the Great flood as described in Genesis, and even briefly entertained the idea that it was a pre-Adamic construction. [73] [74] A few centuries later, the Islamic historian Al-Maqrizi (1364-1442) compiled lore about the Great Pyramid in his Al-Khitat. In addition to reasserting that Al-Ma'mun breached the structure in 820 AD, Al-Maqrizi's work also discusses the sarcophagus in the coffin chambers, explicitly noting that the pyramid was a grave. [75]

By the close of the Middle Ages, the Great Pyramid had gained a reputation as a haunted structure. Others feared entering because it was home to animals like bats. [76]

Preparation of the site

A hillock forms the base on which the pyramids stands. It was cut back into steps and only a strip around the perimeter was leveled, [77] which has been measured to be horizontal and flat to within 21 millimetres (0.8 in). [78] The bedrock reaches a height of almost 6 metres (20 ft) above the pyramid base at the location of the Grotto. [79]

Along the sides of the base platform a series of holes are cut in the bedrock. Lehner hypothesizes that they held wooden posts used for alignment. [80] Edwards, among others, suggested the usage of water for evening the base, although it is unclear how practical and workable such a system would be. [77]


The Great Pyramid consists of an estimated 2.3 million blocks. Approximately 5.5 million tonnes of limestone, 8,000 tonnes of granite, and 500,000 tonnes of mortar were used in the construction. [81]

Most of the blocks were quarried at Giza just south of the pyramid, an area now known as the Central Field. [82]

The white limestone used for the casing originated from Tura (10 km (6.2 mi) south of Giza) and was transported by boat down the Nile. 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 known year of Khufu's reign. [83]

The granite stones in the pyramid were transported from Aswan, more than 900 km (560 mi) away. [6] The largest, weighing 25 to 80 tonnes, form the roofs of the "King's chamber" and the "relieving chambers" above it. 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. [84]


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. [85]

Worker graffiti found at Giza suggest haulers were divided into zau (singular za), groups of 40 men, consisting of four sub-units that each had an "Overseer of Ten". [86] [3]

As to the question how over two million blocks could have been cut within Khufu's lifetime, stonemason Franck Burgos conducted an archaeological experiment based on an abandoned quarry of Khufu discovered in 2017. In it, an almost completed block and the tools used for cutting it had been uncovered: Hardened arsenic copper chisels, wooden mallets, ropes and stone tools. In the experiment replicas of these were used to cut a block weighing about 2.5 tonnes (the average block size used for the Great Pyramid). It took 4 workers 4 days (á 6 hours) to excavate it. The initially slow progress sped up six times when the stone was wetted with water. Based on the data, Burgos extrapolates that about 3,500 quarry-men could have produced the 250 blocks/day needed to complete the Great Pyramid in 27 years. [87]

A construction management study conducted in 1999, in association with Mark Lehner and other Egyptologists, had estimated that the total project required an average workforce of about 13,200 people and a peak workforce of roughly 40,000. [88]

Surveys and design

The first precise measurements of the pyramid were made by Egyptologist Flinders Petrie in 1880–82, published as The Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh. [89] Many of the casing-stones and inner chamber blocks of the Great Pyramid fit together with high precision, with joints, on average, only 0.5 millimetres (0.020 in) wide. [90] On the contrary, core blocks were only roughly shaped, with rubble inserted between larger gaps. Mortar was used to bind the outer layers together and fill gaps and joints. [5]

The block height and weight tends to get progressively smaller towards the top. Petrie measured the lowest layer to be 148 centimetres (4.86 ft) high, whereas the layers towards the summit barely exceed 50 centimetres (1.6 ft). [91]

The accuracy of the pyramid's perimeter is such that the four sides of the base have an average error of only 58 millimetres (2.3 inches) in length [a] and the finished base was squared to a mean corner error of only 12 seconds of arc. [93]

Some Egyptologists suggest this slope was chosen because the ratio of perimeter to height (1760/280 cubits) equates to 2π to an accuracy of better than 0.05 percent (corresponding to the well-known approximation of π as 22/7). Verner wrote, "We can conclude that although the ancient Egyptians could not precisely define the value of π, in practice they used it". [95] 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". [96] Others have argued that the ancient Egyptians had no concept of pi and would not have thought to encode it in their monuments and that the observed pyramid slope may be based on the seked choice alone. [97]

Alignment to the cardinal directions

The sides of the Great Pyramid's base are closely aligned to the four geographic (not magnetic) cardinal directions, deviating on average 3 minutes and 38 seconds of arc. [98] Several methods have been proposed for how the ancient Egyptians achieved this level of accuracy:

  • The Solar Gnomon Method - The shadow of a vertical rod is tracked throughout a day. The shadow line is intersected by a circle drawn around the base of the rod. Connecting the intersecting points produces an east-west line. An experiment using this method resulted in lines being, on average, 2 minutes, 9 seconds off due east-west. Employing a pinhole produced much more accurate results (19 arc seconds off), whereas using an angled block as a shadow definer was less accurate (3'47" off). [99]
  • The Pole Star Method - The polar star is tracked using a movable sight and fixed plumb line. Halfway between the maximum eastern and western elongations is true north. Thuban, the polar star during the Old Kingdom, was about two degrees removed from the celestial pole at the time. [100]
  • The Simultaneous Transit Method - The stars Mizar and Kochab appear on a vertical line on the horizon, close to true north around 2500 BC. They slowly and simultaneously shift east over time, which is used to explain the relative misalignment of the pyramids. [101][102]

Construction theories

Many alternative, often contradictory, theories have been proposed regarding the pyramid's construction techniques. [103] 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". [104]

The basalt blocks of the pyramid temple 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 140 kilograms (310 lb). 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. [105]


The height of the horizontal layers is not uniform but varies considerably. The highest of the 203 remaining courses are towards the bottom. The first layer being the tallest at 1.49 metres (4.9 ft). Towards the top, layers tend to be only slightly over 1 cubit or 0.52 metres (1.7 ft) in height. An irregular pattern is noticeable when looking at the sizes in sequence, where layer height declines steadily only to rise sharply again. [91] [110] [111]

So-called "backing stones" supported the casing which were (unlike core blocks) precisely dressed as well and bound to the casing with mortar. Nowadays, these stones give the structure its visible appearance, following the dismantling of the pyramid in the middle ages. In 1303 AD, a massive earthquake had 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. [93] 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 ] 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. Today a few of the casing stones from the lowest course can be seen in situ on each side, with the best preserved on the north below the entrances, excavated by Vyse in 1837.

The mortar was chemically analyzed [112] and contains organic inclusions (mostly coal), samples of which were radiocarbon dated to 2871-2604 BC. [113] It has been theorized that the mortar enabled the masons to set the stones exactly by providing a level bed. [114] [115]

It has been suggested that some or all of the casing stones were cast in place, rather than quarried and moved, yet archaeological evidence and petrographic analysis indicate this was not the case. [116]

Petrie noted in 1880 that the sides of the pyramid, as we see them today, are "very distinctly hollowed" and that "each side has a sort of groove specially down the middle of the face", which he reasoned was a result of increased casing thickness in these areas. [117] A laser scanning survey in 2005 confirmed the existence of the anomalies, which can be, to some degree, attributed to damaged and removed stones. [118] Under certain lighting conditions and with image enhancement the faces can appear to be split, leading to speculation that the pyramid had been intentionally constructed eight-sided. [119]

Pyramidion and missing tip

The pyramid was once topped by a capstone, a pyramidion. The material it was made from is subject to much speculation, limestone, granite or basalt are commonly proposed, in popular culture often made of solid gold or gilded. All known 4th dynasty pyramidia (of the Red Pyramid, Satellite Pyramid of Khufu (G1-d) and Queen's Pyramid of Menkaure (G3-a)) are of white limestone and were not gilded. [120] Only from the 5th dynasty onward is there evidence of gilded capstones, for instance a scene on the causeway of the Sahure speaks of the "white gold pyramidion of the pyramid Sahure’s Soul Shines". [121]

The Great Pyramid's pyramidion was already lost in antiquity, as Pliny the Elder and later authors report of a platform on its summit. [59] Nowadays the pyramid is about 8 metres (26 ft) shorter than it was when intact, with about 1,000 tonnes of material missing from the top. In 1874 a mast was installed on the top by the astronomer David Gill (who returned from observing a rare Venus transit), probably to help determine the original height of the Great Pyramid. It is still in place to this day. [122]

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. Subterranean Chamber
6. Ascending Passage
7. Queen's Chamber & its "air-shafts"
8. Horizontal Passage
9. Grand Gallery
10. King's Chamber & its "air-shafts"
11. Grotto & Well Shaft

The internal structure consists of three main chambers (the King's-, Queen's- and Subterranean Chamber), the Grand Gallery and various corridors and shafts.

There are two entrances into the pyramid, the original and a forced passage, which both meet at a junction. From there, one passage descends into the Subterranean Chamber, the other ascends to the Grand Gallery. From the beginning of the gallery three paths can be taken:

  • a vertical shaft that leads down, past a grotto, to meet the descending passage,
  • a horizontal corridor leading to the Queen's Chamber,
  • and the path up the gallery itself to the King's Chamber that contains the sarcophagus.

Both the King's and Queen's chamber have a pair of small "air-shafts". Above the King's chamber are a series of five Relieving Chambers.


Original entrance

The original entrance is located on the north side, 15 cubits or 7.29 metres (23.9 ft) east of the centerline of the pyramid. Before the removal of the casing in the middle ages, the pyramid was entered through a hole in the 19th layer of masonry, approximately 17 metres (56 ft) above the pyramid's base level. The height of that layer (96 centimetres (3.15 ft)) corresponds to the size of the entrance tunnel which is commonly called the Descending Passage. [79] [123] According to Strabo (64–24 BC) a movable stone could be raised to enter this sloping corridor, however it is not known if it was a later addition or original.

A row of double chevrons diverts weight away from the entrance. Several of these chevron blocks are now missing, as the slanted faces they used to rest on indicate.

Numerous, mostly modern, graffiti are cut in the stones around the entrance, most notably a large, square text of hieroglyphs carved in 1842 by the Prussian Expedition to Egypt. [124]

North Face Corridor

In 2016 the ScanPyramids team detected a cavity behind the entrance chevrons using muography, which was confirmed in 2019 to be a corridor at least 5 m (16 feet) long, running horizontal or sloping upwards (thus not parallel to the Descending Passage). [125] [126] Whether or not it connects to the Big Void above the Grand Gallery remains to be seen.

Robbers' Tunnel

Today tourists enter the Great Pyramid via the Robbers' Tunnel, which was long ago cut straight through the masonry of the pyramid. The entrance was forced into the 6th and 7th layer of the casing, about 7 m (23 ft) above the base. After running more-or-less straight and horizontal for 27 metres (89 ft) it 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. [127]

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. [128] [129]

Due to a number of historical and archaeological discrepancies, many scholars (with Antoine 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 theory is furthered by the report of patriarch Dionysius I Telmaharoyo, 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. [130]

Descending Passage

From the original entrance, a passage descends through the masonry of the pyramid and then into the bedrock beneath it, ultimately leading to the Subterranean Chamber.

It has a slanted height of 1.20 metres (3.9 ft) high and width of 1.06 metres (3.5 ft) or 4 Egyptian feet high by 2 cubits wide. Its angle of 26°26'46" corresponds to a ratio of 1 to 2 (rise over run). [131]

After 28 metres (92 ft) the lower end of the Ascending Passage is reached, a square hole in the ceiling which is blocked by granite stones and might have originally been concealed. To circumvent these hard stones, a short tunnel was excavated that meets the end of the Robbers' Tunnel, which was expanded over time and fitted with stairs.

The passage continues to descend for another 72 metres (236 ft), now through bedrock instead of the pyramid superstructure. Lazy guides used to block off this part with rubble to avoid having to lead people down and back up the long shaft, until around 1902 when Covington installed a padlocked iron grill-door to stop this practice. [132] Near the end of this section, on the west wall, is the connection to the vertical shaft that leads up to the Grand Gallery.

A horizontal shaft connects the end of the Descending Passage to the Subterranean Chamber, It has a length of 8.84 m (29.0 ft), width of 0.85 m (2.8 ft) and height of 95 to 91 cm (3.12 to 2.99 ft). A recess is located towards the end of the western wall, slightly larger than the tunnel, the ceiling of which is irregular and undressed. [133]

Subterranean Chamber

The Subterranean Chamber, or simply "Pit", is the lowest of the three main chambers and the only one dug into the bedrock beneath the pyramid.

It is rectangular and measures roughly 16 cubits (north-south) by 27 cubits (east-west) or 8.3 m (27 ft) by 14.1 m (46 ft) with an uneven floor over 4 m (13 ft) below the flat ceiling, which in turn is about 27 m (89 ft) below base level. [79]

The western half of the room, apart from the ceiling, is clearly unfinished, with trenches left behind by the quarry-men running east to west. A niche was cut into the northern half of the west wall. The only access, though the Descending Passage, lies on the eastern end of the north wall.

Although seemingly known in antiquity, according to Herodotus and later authors, its existence had been forgotten in the middle ages. It was rediscovered only in 1817 by Giovanni Battista Caviglia, after he cleared the rubble blocking the Descending Passage. [134]

Opposite the entrance, a blind corridor runs straight south for 11 m (36 ft) and continues slight bent another 5.4 m (18 ft), measuring about 0.75 m (2.5 ft) squared Greek or Roman character were found on its roof made with the light of a candle, suggesting that the chamber had indeed been accessible during ancient Roman times. [135]

In the middle of the eastern half, a large hole is opened up, usually called Pit Shaft or Perring's Shaft. The upmost part seems to have ancient origins, about 2 m (6.6 ft) squared in width and 1.5 m (4.9 ft) in depth, diagonally aligned with the chamber. Caviglia and Salt enlarged it to the depth of about 3 m (9.8 ft). [134] In 1837 Vyse directed the shaft to be sunk to a depth of 50 ft (15 m), in hopes of discovering the chamber, encompassed by water, Herodotus alludes to. It was made slightly narrower, about 1.5 m (4.9 ft) in width, hence is easy to be distinguished. But no chamber was discovered after Perring and his workers had spent one and a half years penetrating the bedrock to the then water level of the Nile, some 12 m (39 ft) further down. [136] The rubble produced during this operation was deposited throughout the chamber. When Petrie visited the pyramid in 1880 he found the shaft to be partially filled with water that had rushed down the Descending Passage during heavy rainfalls. [137] In 1909, when the Edgar brothers' surveying activities were encumbered by the material, they moved the sand and smaller stones back into the shaft, leaving the upper part of it clear. [138] The deep, modern shaft is sometimes mistaken to be part of the original design.

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. [139]

Ascending Passage

The Ascending Passage connects the Descending Passage to the Grand Gallery. It is 75 cubits or 39.27 metres (128.8 ft) long and of the same width of height as the shaft it originates from (1.20 m (3.9 ft) high, 1.06 m (3.5 ft) wide), although its angle is slightly lower at 26°6'. [140]

The lower end of the shaft is plugged by three granite stones, which were slid down from the Grand Gallery to seal the tunnel. They are 1.57 m (5.2 ft), 1.67 m (5.5 ft) and 1 m (3.3 ft) long respectively. [140] The upmost is heavily damaged, hence shorter. From the end of the Robbers' Tunnel, that concludes slightly below them, a short tunnel was dug around the blocking stones to gain access to the Descending Passage, since the surrounding limestone is considerably softer and easier to work.

The joints between the blocks of the walls are vertical in the lower third of the corridor, otherwise they are perpendicular to the floor, apart from three girdle stone that are inserted near the middle (about 10 cubits apart), presumably to stabilize the tunnel. [141]

Well Shaft and Grotto

The Well Shaft (also known as the Service Shaft or Vertical Shaft) links the lower end of the Grand Gallery to the bottom of Descending Passage, about 50 metres (160 ft) further down.

It doesn't take a direct course but changes angle several times. The upper half goes through the nucleus masonry of the pyramid. Vertical at first for 8 metres (26 ft) it then runs slightly angled southwards for about the same distance until it hits bedrock that is circa 5.7 metres (19 ft) above the pyramid's base level at this point. Another vertical section descends further which is partially lined with masonry that has been broken through to a cavity known as the Grotto. The lower half of the Well Shaft goes through the bedrock at an angle of about 45° for 26.5 metres (87 ft) before a steeper section, 9.5 metres (31 ft) long, leads to its lowest point. The final section of 2.6 metres (8.5 ft) connects it to the Descending Passage, running almost horizontal. The builders evidently had trouble aligning the lower exit. [142] [79]

The purpose of the shaft is commonly explained as a ventilation shaft for the Subterranean Chamber and as a flight shaft for the workers who slid the blocking stones of the Ascending Passage into place.

The Grotto is a natural limestone cave, likely filled with sand and gravel before pyramid construction, that was later on hollowed out by looters. A granite block rests in it that likely originated from the portcullis that once sealed the King's Chamber.

Queen's Chamber

Also at the start of the Grand Gallery, there is the Horizontal Passage leading to the "Queen's Chamber". At start, five pairs of holes suggest the tunnel was once concealed with slabs that laid flush with the gallery floor. The passage is 1.06 metres (3.5 ft) (2 cubits) wide and 1.17 metres (3.8 ft) high for most of its length, but near the chamber there is a step in the floor, after which the passage is 1.68 metres (5.5 ft) high. [79] Half of the west-wall consists of two layers that have atypically continuous vertical joints. Dormion suggests the entrances to magazines laid here, that were filled in. [143]

The "Queen's Chamber" [7] is exactly halfway between the north and south faces of the pyramid. It measures 10 cubits (north-south) by 11 cubits (east-west) or 5.23 metres (17.2 ft) by 5.77 metres (18.9 ft), [144] and has a pointed roof with an apex 12 cubits or 6.26 metres (20.5 ft) [145] above the floor. At the eastern end of the chamber there is a niche 9 cubits or 4.67 metres (15.3 ft) high. The original depth of the niche was 2 cubits or 1.04 metres (3.4 ft), but has since been deepened by treasure hunters. [146]

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 were 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 diorite (a type of rock), a bronze hook of unknown purpose and piece of cedar wood. The first two objects are currently in the British Museum. [147] The latter was lost until recently when it was found at the University of Aberdeen. It has since been radiocarbon dated to 3341-3094 BC. [148] The northern shaft's angle of ascent fluctuates and at one point turns 45 degrees to avoid the Great Gallery. The southern is perpendicular to the pyramid's slope [147]

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), [149] he discovered that one of the shafts was blocked by a limestone "door" 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 stone slab behind it. [150] The northern passage, which was difficult to navigate because of its twists and turns, was also found to be blocked by a slab. [151]

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 hieroglyphics written in red paint. Egyptian mathematics researcher Luca Miatello stated that the markings read "121"- the length of the shaft in cubits. [152] The Djedi team 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. [153]

Grand Gallery

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". [154] It is 8.6 metres (28 ft) high and 46.68 metres (153.1 ft) long. The base is 4 cubits or 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 6–10 centimetres (2.4–3.9 in) on each side. [79] There are seven of these steps, so, at the top, the Grand Gallery is only 2 cubits or 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. [155]

At the upper end of the Gallery on the eastern wall, 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.

The floor of the Grand Gallery has a shelf or step on either side, 1 cubit or 51 centimetres (20 in) wide, leaving a lower ramp 2 cubits or 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. [156] 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. [157] Jean-Pierre Houdin theorized that they held a timber frame that was used in combination with a trolley to pull the heavy granite blocks up the pyramid.

At the top of the gallery, there is a step onto a small horizontal platform where a tunnel leads through the Antechamber, which was once blocked by portcullis stones, into the King's Chamber.

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. [158] [159] 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. [160] [161] 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, [162] but the Japanese research team state that the void is completely different from previously identified construction spaces. [163]

To verify and pinpoint the void, a team from Kyushu University, Tohoku University, the University of Tokyo and the Chiba Institute of Technology planned to rescan the structure with a newly developed muon detector in 2020. [164] Their work was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. [165]


The last line of defense against intrusion was a small chamber specially designed to house portcullis blocking stones, called the Antechamber. It is cased almost entirely in granite and is situated between the upper end of the Grand Gallery and the King's Chamber. Three slots for portcullis stones line the east and west wall of the chamber. Each of them topped with a semi-circular groove for a log, around which ropes could be spanned.

The granite portcullis stones were approximately 1 cubit or 0.52 metres (1.7 ft) thick and were lowered into position by the aforementioned ropes which were tied through a series of four holes at the top of the blocks. A corresponding set of four vertical grooves are on the south wall of the chamber, recesses that make space for the ropes.

The Antechamber has a design flaw: the space above them can accessed, thus all but the last block can be circumvented. This was exploited by looters who punched a hole through the ceiling of the tunnel behind, gaining access to the King's Chamber. Later on all three portcullis stones were broken and removed. Fragments of these blocks can be found in various locations in the pyramid (the Pit Shaft, the Original Entrance, the Grotto and the recess before the Subterranean Chamber). [142]

King's Chamber

The King's Chamber is the upmost of the three main chambers of the pyramid. It is faced entirely with granite and measures 20 cubits (east to west) by 10 cubits (north to south) or 10.48 metres (34.4 ft) by 5.24 metres (17.2 ft). Its flat ceiling is about 11 cubits and 5 digits or 5.84 metres (19.16 ft) above the floor, formed by nine slabs of stone weighing in total about 400 tons. All the roof beams show cracks due to the chamber having settled about 2.5 to 5 cm (0.98 to 1.97 in). [166]

The walls consist of five courses of blocks that are uninscribed, as was the norm for burial chambers of the 4th dynasty. [167] The stones are precisely fitted together, the facing surfaces dressed to varying degrees, some displaying remains of bosses not entirely cut away. [166] The back sides of the blocks were only roughly hewn to shape, as was usual with Egyptian hard-stone facade blocks, presumably to save work. [168] [79]


The only object in the King's Chamber is a sarcophagus made out of a single, hollowed-out granite block. When it was rediscovered in the early middle ages, it was found broken open and any contents had already been removed. It is of the form common for early Egyptian sarcophagi, rectangular in shape with grooves to slide the now missing lid into place with three small holes for pegs to fixate it. [169] [170] The coffer was not perfectly smoothed, displaying various tool marks matching those of copper saws and tubular hand-drills. [171]

The internal dimensions are roughly 198 cm (6.50 ft) by 68 cm (2.23 feet), the external 228 cm (7.48 ft) by 98 cm (3.22 ft), with a height of 105 cm (3.44 ft). The walls having a thickness of about 15 cm (0.49 ft). The sarcophagus is too large to fit around the corner between Ascending- and Descending Passage, which indicates that it must have been placed in the chamber before the roof was put in place. [172]

Air shafts

In the north and south walls of the King's Chamber are two narrow shafts, commonly known as "air shafts". They face each other and are located approximately 0.91 m (3.0 ft) above the floor, 2.5 m (8.2 ft) from the eastern wall, with a width of 18 and 21 cm (7.1 and 8.3 in) and a height of 14 cm (5.5 in). Both start out horizontally for the length of the granite blocks they go through before changing to an upwards direction. [173] The southern ascends at an angle of 45° with a slight curve westwards. One ceiling stone was found to be distinctly unfinished which Gantenbrink called a "Monday morning block". The northern changes angle several times, shifting the path to the west, perhaps to avoid the Big Void. The builders had trouble calculating the right angles, resulting in parts of the shaft being narrower. [174] Nowadays they both communicate to the exterior. If they originally penetrated the outer casing is unknown.

The purpose of these shafts is not clear: They were long believed by Egyptologists to be 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. [175] Ironically, both shafts have been fitted with ventilators in 1992 to reduce the humidity in the pyramid. [174]

The idea that the shafts point towards stars or areas of the northern and southern skies has been largely dismissed as the northern follows a dog-leg course through the masonry and the southern has a bend of approximately 20 centimetres (7.9 in), indicating no intention to have them point to any celestial objects. [174]

Relieving chambers

Above the roof of the King's Chamber are five compartments, named (from lowest up) "Davison's Chamber", "Wellington's Chamber", "Nelson's Chamber", "Lady Arbuthnot's Chamber", and "Campbell's Chamber".

They were presumably intended to safeguard the King's Chamber from the possibility of the roof collapsing under the weight of stone above, hence they are referred to as "Relieving Chambers".

The granite blocks that divide the chambers have flat bottom sides but roughly shaped top sides, giving all five chambers an irregular floor, but a flat ceiling, except the upmost chamber which has a pointed limestone roof. [176]

Nathaniel Davison is credited with the discovery of the lowest of these chambers in 1763, although a French merchant named Maynard informed him of its existence. [177] It can be reached through an ancient passage that originates from the top of the south wall of the Grand Gallery. [176] The upper four chambers were discovered in 1837 by Howard Vyse after a crack in the ceiling of the first chamber, which allowed the insertion of a long reed, was followed upward by forcing a tunnel through the masonry employing gunpowder and boring rods. [178] (Dynamite was not invented until about 30 years later.) They were completely unaccessible until then since construction, no old shaft like that to Davison's Chamber existed.

Numerous graffiti of red Ochre paint were found to cover the limestone walls of all four newly discovered chambers. Apart from leveling lines and indication marks for masons, multiple hieroglyphic inscriptions spell out the names of work-gangs. Those names, which were found in other Egyptian pyramids like that of Menkaure and Sahure as well, usually included the name of the pharaoh they were working for. [179] [12] The blocks must have received the inscriptions before the chambers became inaccessible during construction. Their orientation, often side-ways or upside down, and them being sometimes partially covered by blocks, seems to indicate that the stones were inscribed even before being laid. [180]

The inscriptions, correctly deciphered only decades after discovery, read as follows: [12]

  • "The gang, The Horus Mededuw-is-the-purifier-of-the-two-lands." Found once in relieving chamber 3. (Mededuw being Khufu's Horus name.)
  • "The gang, The Horus Mededuw-is-pure" Found seven times in chamber 4.
  • "The gang, Khufu-excites-love" Found once in chamber 5 (top chamber).
  • “The gang, The-white-crown-of Khnumkhuwfuw-is-powerful” Found once in chambers 2 and 3, ten times in chamber 4 and twice in chamber 5. (Khnum-Khufu being Khufu's full birth name.)

The Great Pyramid is surrounded by a complex of several buildings including small pyramids.

Temples and causeway

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. [181] [182]

East cemetery

The tomb of Queen Hetepheres I, sister-wife of Sneferu and mother of Khufu, is located approximately 110 metres (360 ft) east of the Great Pyramid. [183] Discovered by accident by the Reisner expedition, the burial was intact, though the carefully sealed coffin proved to be empty.

Subsidiary pyramids

On the southern end of the east side are four subsidiary pyramids The three that remain standing to nearly full height are popularly known as the Queens' Pyramids (G1-a, G1-b and G1-c). The fourth, smaller satellite pyramid (G1-d), was so ruined that its existence was not suspected until the first course of stones and later the remains of the capstone were discovered during excavations in 1991-93. [184]


Three boat-shaped pits are located east of 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.

Two additional boat pits, long and rectangular in shape, were found south of the pyramid, still covered with slabs of stone weighing up to 15 tons.

The first of these was discovered in May 1954, the Egyptian archaeologist Kamal el-Mallakh. Inside were 1,224 pieces of wood, the longest 23 metres (75 ft) in length, 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 the second sealed boat pit was discovered. It was left unopened until 2011 when excavation began on the boat. [185]

Pyramid town

A notable construction flanking the Giza pyramid complex is a cyclopean stone wall, the Wall of the Crow. [186] 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). [187] [188] 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. [189]

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. [190] 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. [191] 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. [192]

Authors Brier and Hobbs claim that "all the pyramids were robbed" by the New Kingdom, when the construction of royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings began. [193] [194] 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. [128]

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. [195] 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. [196] [197]

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 Khufu 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. [44]

The Mystery of Bosnia’s Ancient Pyramids

Sam Osmanagich kneels down next to a low wall, part of a 6-by-10-foot rectangle of fieldstone with an earthen floor. If I'd come upon it in a farmer's backyard here on the edge of Visoko—in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 15 miles northwest of Sarajevo—I would have assumed it to be the foundation of a shed or cottage abandoned by some 19th-century peasant.

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Osmanagich, a blond, 49-year-old Bosnian who has lived for 16 years in Houston, Texas, has a more colorful explanation. "Maybe it's a burial site, and maybe it's an entrance, but I think it's some type of ornament, because this is where the western and northern sides meet," he says, gesturing toward the summit of Pljesevica Hill, 350 feet above us. "You find evidence of the stone structure everywhere. Consequently, you can conclude that the whole thing is a pyramid."

Not just any pyramid, but what Osmanagich calls the Pyramid of the Moon, the world's largest—and oldest—step pyramid. Looming above the opposite side of town is the so-called Pyramid of the Sun—also known as Visocica Hill—which, at 720 feet, also dwarfs the Great Pyramids of Egypt. A third pyramid, he says, is in the nearby hills. All of them, he says, are some 12,000 years old. During that time much of Europe was under a mile-thick sheet of ice and most of humanity had yet to invent agriculture. As a group, Osmanagich says, these structures are part of "the greatest pyramidal complex ever built on the face of the earth."

In a country still recovering from the 1992-95 genocidal war, in which some 100,000 people were killed and 2.2 million were driven from their homes (the majority of them Bosnian Muslims), Osmanagich's claims have found a surprisingly receptive audience. Even Bosnian officials—including a prime minister and two presidents—have embraced them, along with the Sarajevo-based news media and hundreds of thousands of ordinary Bosnians, drawn to the promise of a glorious past and a more prosperous future for their battered country. Skeptics, who say the pyramid claims are examples of pseudo-archaeology pressed into the service of nationalism, have been shouted down and called anti-Bosnian.

Pyramid mania has descended upon Bosnia. Over 400,000 people have visited the sites since October 2005, when Osmanagich announced his discovery. Souvenir stands peddle pyramid-themed T-shirts, wood carvings, piggy banks, clocks and flip-flops. Nearby eateries serve meals on pyramid-shaped plates and coffee comes with pyramid-emblazoned sugar packets. Foreigners by the thousands have come to see what all the fuss is about, drawn by reports by the BBC, Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and ABC's Nightline (which reported that thermal imaging had "apparently" revealed the presence of man-made, concrete blocks beneath the valley).

Osmanagich has also received official backing. His Pyramid of the Sun Foundation in Sarajevo has garnered hundreds of thousands of dollars in public donations and thousands more from state-owned companies. After Malaysia's former prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, toured Visoko in July 2006, more contributions poured in. Christian Schwarz-Schilling, the former high representative for the international community in Bosnia and Herzegovina, visited the site in July 2007, then declared that "I was surprised with what I saw before my eyes, and the fact that such structures exist in Bosnia and Herzegovina."

Osmanagich's many appearances on television have made him a national celebrity. In Sarajevo, people gape at him on the streets and seek his autograph in cafés. When I was with him one day at the entrance to city hall, guards jumped out of their booths to embrace him.

Five years ago, almost no one had ever heard of him. Born in Zenica, about 20 miles north of Visoko, he earned a master's degree in international economics and politics at the University of Sarajevo. (Years later, he obtained a doctorate in the sociology of history. ) He left Bosnia before its civil war, emigrating to Houston in 1993 (because, in part, of its warm climate), where he started a successful metalworking business that he still owns today. While in Texas he got interested in the Aztec, Incan and Maya civilizations and made frequent trips to visit pyramid sites in Central and South America. He says that he's visited hundreds of pyramids worldwide.

His views of world history—described in his books published in Bosnia—are unconventional. In The World of the Maya, which was reprinted in English in the United States, he writes that "Mayan hieroglyphics tell us that their ancestors came from the Pleiades. first arriving at Atlantis where they created an advanced civilization." He speculates that when a 26,000-year cycle of the Maya calendar is completed in 2012, humankind might be raised to a higher level by vibrations that will "overcome the age of darkness which has been oppressing us." In another work, Alternative History, he argues that Adolf Hitler and other Nazi leaders escaped to a secret underground base in Antarctica from which they did battle with Adm. Richard Byrd's 1946 Antarctic expedition.

"His books are filled with these kinds of stories," says journalist Vuk Bacanovic, one of Osmanagich's few identifiable critics in the Sarajevo press corps. "It's like a religion based on corrupted New Age ideology."

In April 2005, while in Bosnia to promote his books, Osmanagich accepted an invitation to visit a local museum and the summit of Visocica, which is topped by the ruins of Visoki, a seat of Bosnia's medieval kings. "What really caught my eye was that the hill had the shape of a pyramid," he recalls. "Then I looked across the valley and I saw what we today call the Bosnian Pyramid of the Moon, with three triangular sides and a flat top." Upon consulting a compass, he concluded the sides of the pyramid were perfectly oriented toward the cardinal points (north, south, east and west). He was convinced this was not "the work of Mother Nature."

After his mountaintop epiphany, Osmanagich secured digging permits from the appropriate authorities, drilled some core samples and wrote a new book, The Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun, which announced "to the world that in the heart of Bosnia" is a hidden "stepped pyramid whose creators were ancient Europeans." He then set up a nonprofit foundation called the Archaeological Park: Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun Foundation, which allowed him to seek funding for his planned excavation and preservation work.

"When I first read about the pyramids I thought it was a very funny joke," says Amar Karapus, a curator at the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo. "I just couldn't believe that anyone in the world could believe this."

Visoko lies near the southern end of a valley that runs from Sarajevo to Zenica. The valley has been quarried for centuries and its geological history is well understood. It was formed some ten million years ago as the mountains of Central Bosnia were pushing skyward and was soon flooded, forming a lake 40 miles long. As the mountains continued to rise over the next few million years, sediments washed into the lake and settled on the bottom in layers. If you dig in the valley today, you can expect to find alternating layers of various thickness, from gossamer-thin clay sediments (deposited in quiet times) to plates of sandstones or thick layers of conglomerates (sedimentary rocks deposited when raging rivers dumped heavy debris into the lake). Subsequent tectonic activity buckled sections of lakebed, creating angular hills, and shattered rock layers, leaving fractured plates of sandstone and chunky blocks of conglomerate.

In early 2006 Osmanagich asked a team of geologists from the nearby University of Tuzla to analyze core samples at Visocica. They found that his pyramid was composed of the same matter as other mountains in the area: alternating layers of conglomerate, clay and sandstone.

Nonetheless, Osmanagich put scores of laborers to work digging on the hills. It was just as the geologists had predicted: the excavations revealed layers of fractured conglomerate at Visocica, while those at Pljesevica uncovered cracked sandstone plates separated by layers of silt and clay. "What he's found isn't even unusual or spectacular from the geological point of view," says geologist Robert Schoch of Boston University, who spent ten days at Visoko that summer. "It's completely straightforward and mundane."

"The landform [Osmanagich] is calling a pyramid is actually quite common," agrees Paul Heinrich, an archaeological geologist at Louisiana State University. "They're called ‘flatirons' in the United States and you see a lot of them out West." He adds that there are "hundreds around the world," including the "Russian Twin Pyramids" in Vladivostok.

Apparently unperturbed by the University of Tuzla report, Osmanagich said Visocica's conglomerate blocks were made of concrete that ancient builders had poured on-site. This theory was endorsed by Joseph Davidovits, a French materials scientist who, in 1982, advanced another controversial hypothesis—that the blocks making up the Egyptian pyramids were not carved, as nearly all experts believe, but cast in limestone concrete. Osmanagich dubbed Pljesevica's sandstone plates "paved terraces," and according to Schoch, workers carved the hillside between the layers—to create the impression of stepped sides on the Pyramid of the Moon. Particularly uniform blocks and tile sections were exposed for viewing by dignitaries, journalists and the many tourists who descended on the town.

Osmanagich's announcements sparked a media sensation, stoked with a steady supply of fresh observations: a 12,000-year-old "burial mound" (without any skeletons) in a nearby village a stone on Visocica with alleged curative powers a third pyramid dubbed the Pyramid of the Dragon and two "shaped hills" that he has named the Pyramid of Love and the Temple of Earth. And Osmanagich has recruited an assortment of experts whom he says vindicate his claims. For instance, in 2007, Enver Buza, a surveyor from Sarajevo's Geodetic Institute, published a paper stating that the Pyramid of the Sun is "oriented to the north with a perfect precision."

Many Bosnians have embraced Osmanagich's theories, particularly those from among the country's ethnic Bosniaks (or Bosnian Muslims), who constitute about 48 percent of Bosnia's population. Visoko was held by Bosniak-led forces during the 1990s war, when it was choked with refugees driven out of surrounding villages by Bosnian Serb (and later, Croat) forces, who repeatedly shelled the town. Today it is a bastion of support for the Bosniaks' nationalist party, which controls the mayor's office. A central tenet of Bosniak national mythology is that Bosniaks are descended from Bosnia's medieval nobility. Ruins of the 14th-century Visoki Castle can be found on the summit of Visocica Hill—on top of the Pyramid of the Sun—and, in combination, the two icons create considerable symbolic resonance for Bosniaks. The belief that Visoko was a cradle of European civilization and that the Bosniaks' ancestors were master builders who surpassed even the ancient Egyptians has become a matter of ethnic pride. "The pyra­mids have been turned into a place of Bosniak identification," says historian Dubravko Lovrenovic of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Commission to Preserve National Monuments. "If you are not for the pyramids, you are accused of being an enemy of the Bosniaks."

For his part, Osmanagich insists he disapproves of those who exploit his archaeological work for political gain. "Those pyramids don't belong to any particular nationality," he says. "These are not Bosniak or Muslim or Serb or Croat pyramids, because they were built at a time when those nations and religions were not in existence." He says his project should "unite people, not divide them."

Yet Bosnia and Herzegovina still bears the deep scars of a war in which the country's Serbs and, later, Croats sought to create ethnically pure small states by killing or expelling people of other ethnicities. The most brutal incident occurred in 1995, when Serb forces seized control of the town of Srebrenica—a United Nations-protected "safe haven"—and executed some 8,000 Bosniak men of military age. It was the worst civilian massacre in Europe since World War II.

Wellesley College anthropologist Philip Kohl, who has studied the political uses of archaeology, says that Osmanagich's pyramids exemplify a narrative common to the former Eastern bloc. "When the Iron Curtain collapsed, all these land and territorial claims came up, and people had just lost their ideological moorings," he notes. "There's a great attraction in being able to say, ‘We have great ancestors, we go back millennia and we can claim these special places for ourselves.' In some places it's relatively benign in others it can be malignant."

"I think the pyramids are symptomatic of a traumatized society that is still trying to recover from a truly horrendous experience," says Andras Riedlmayer, a Balkan specialist at Harvard University. "You have many people desperate for self-affirmation and in need of money."

Archaeological claims have long been used to serve political purposes. In 1912, British archaeologists combined a modern skull with an orangutan jaw to fabricate a "missing link" in support of the claim that human beings arose in Britain, not Africa. (The paleontologist Richard Leakey later noted that English elites took so much pride in "being the first, that they swallowed [the hoax] hook, line and sinker." )

More recently, in 2000, Shinichi Fujimura—a prominent archaeologist whose finds suggested that Japanese civilization was 700,000 years old—was revealed to have buried the forged artifacts he had supposedly discovered. "Fujimura's straightforward con was undoubtedly accepted by the establishment, as well as the popular press, because it gave them evidence of what they already wanted to believe—the great antiquity of the Japanese people," Michele Miller wrote in the archaeological journal Athena Review.

Some Bosnian scholars have publicly opposed Osmanagich's project. In April 2006, twenty-one historians, geologists and archaeologists signed a letter published in several Bosnian newspapers describing the excavations as amateurish and lacking proper scientific supervision. Some went on local television to debate Osmanagich. Bosniak nationalists retaliated, denouncing pyramid opponents as "corrupt" and harassing them with e-mails. Zilka Kujundzic-Vejzagic of the National Museum, one of the Balkans' pre-eminent archaeologists, says she received threatening phone calls. "One time I was getting onto the tram and a man pushed me off and said, ‘You're an enemy of Bosnia, you don't ride on this tram,'" she recalls. "I felt a bit endangered."

"I have colleagues who have gone into silence because the attacks are constant and very terrible," says University of Sarajevo historian Salmedin Mesihovic. "Every day you feel the pressure."

"Anyone who puts their head above the parapet suffers the same fate," says Anthony Harding, a pyramid skeptic who was, until recently, president of the European Association of Archaeologists. Sitting in his office at the University of Exeter in England, he reads from a thick folder of letters denouncing him as a fool and a friend of the Serbs. He labeled the file "Bosnia—Abuse."

In June 2006, Sulejman Tihic, then chairman of Bosnia's three-member presidency, endorsed the foundation's work. "One does not need to be a big expert to see that those are the remains of three pyramids," he told journalists at a summit of Balkan presidents. Tihic invited Koichiro Matsuura, then director-general of Unesco, to send experts to determine if the pyramids qualified as a World Heritage site. Foreign scholars, including Harding, rallied to block the move: 25 of them, representing six countries, signed an open letter to Matsuura warning that "Osmanagich is conducting a pseudo-archaeological project that, disgracefully, threatens to destroy parts of Bosnia's real heritage."

But the Pyramid Foundation's political clout appears considerable. When the minister of culture of the Bosniak-Croat Federation, Gavrilo Grahovac, blocked the renewal of foundation permits in 2007—on the grounds that the credibility of those working on the project was "unreliable"—the action was overruled by Nedzad Brankovic, then the federation prime minister. "Why should we disown something that the entire world is interested in?" Brankovic told reporters at a press conference following a visit to the site. "The government will not act negatively toward this project." Haris Silajdzic, another member of the national presidency, has also expressed support for Osmanagich's project, on grounds that it helps the economy.

Critics contend that the project not only sullies Bosnian science but also soaks up scarce resources. Osmanagich says his foundation has received over $1 million, including $220,000 from Malaysian tycoon Vincent Tan $240,000 from the town of Visoko $40,000 from the federal government and $350,000 out of Osmanagich's pocket. Meanwhile, the National Museum in Sarajevo has struggled to find sufficient funds to repair wartime damage and safeguard its collection, which includes more than two million archaeological artifacts and hundreds of thousands of books.

Critics also cite the potential damage to Bosnia's archae- ological heritage. "In Bosnia, you can't dig in your back garden without finding artifacts," says Adnan Kaljanac, a graduate student of ancient history at the University of Sarajevo. Although Osmanagich's excavation has kept its distance from the medieval ruins on Visocica Hill, Kaljanac worries that the project may destroy undocumented Neolithic, Roman or medieval sites in the valley. Similarly, in a 2006 letter to Science magazine, Schoch said the hills in Visoko "could well yield scientifically valuable terrestrial vertebrate specimens. Presently, the fossils are being ignored and destroyed during the ‘excavations,' as crews work to shape the natural hills into crude semblances of the Mayan-style step pyramids with which Osmanagich is so enamored."

That same year, the Commission to Preserve National Monuments, an independent body created in 1995 by the Dayton peace treaty to safeguard historical artifacts from nationalist infighting, asked to inspect artifacts reportedly found at Osmanagich's site. According to commission head Lovrenovic, commission members were refused access. The commission then expanded the protected zone around Visoki, effectively pushing Osmanagich off the mountain. Bosnia's president, ministers and parliament currently have no authority to override the commission's decisions.

But if Osmanagich has begun to encounter obstacles in his homeland, he's had continuing success abroad. This past June, he was made a foreign member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, one of whose academicians served as "scientific chairman" of the First International Scientific Conference of the Valley of the Pyramids, which Osmanagich convened in Sarajevo in August 2008. Conference organizers included the Russian Academy of Technical Sciences, Ain Shams University in Cairo and the Archaeological Society of Alexandria. This past July, officials in the village of Boljevac, Serbia, claimed that a team sent by Osmanagich had confirmed a pyramid under Rtanj, a local mountain. Osmanagich e-mailed me he had not visited Rtanj himself nor had he initiated any research at the site. However, he told the Serbian newspaper Danas that he endorsed future study. "This is not the only location in Serbia, nor the region, where there is a possibility of pyramidal structures," he was quoted as saying.

For now Osmanagich has gone underground, literally, to excavate a series of what he says are ancient tunnels in Visoko—which he believes are part of a network that connects the three pyramids. He leads me through one of them, a cramped, three-foot-high passage through disconcertedly unconsolidated sand and pebbles he says he is widening into a seven-foot-tall thoroughfare—the tunnel's original height, he maintains—for tourists. (The tunnel was partially filled, he says, when sea levels rose by 1,500 feet at the end of the ice age.) He points out various boulders he says were transported to the site 15,000 years ago, some of which bear carvings he says date back to that time. In an interview with the Bosnian weekly magazine BH Dani, Nadija Nukic, a geologist whom Osmanagich once employed, claimed there was no writing on the boulders when she first saw them. Later, she saw what appeared to her as freshly cut marks. She added that one of the foundation's workers told her he had carved the first letters of his and his children's names. (After the interview was published, Osmanagich posted a denial from the worker on his Web site. Efforts to reach Nukic have been unavailing.)

Some 200 yards in, we reach the end of the excavated portion of the tunnel. Ahead lies a tenuous-looking crawl space through the gravelly, unconsolidated earth. Osmanagich says he plans to dig all the way to Visocica Hill, 1.4 miles away, adding that, with additional donations, he could reach it in as few as three years. "Ten years from now nobody will remember my critics," he says as we start back toward the light, "and a million people will come to see what we have."

Colin Woodard is a freelance writer living in Maine. His most recent book is The Republic of Pirates (Harcourt, 2007).

History must be Rewritten

Historians told of their vision of why the pyramids were built, more precisely, were the tombs of the Pharaohs. To the Egyptians, the Pharaohs were the representation of gods on earth, and as such, they were extremely glorified. They were buried deep inside the pyramids so that no one could reach them and steal their wealth.

However, there is a problem that causes this theory to stumble upon the purpose of the pyramids. The Great Pyramid of Giza, one of the original Seven Wonders of the World, has some features that have nothing to do with graves. These features include extravagant artifacts, sealed entrances, sophisticated chests and of course, countless deadly traps.

More importantly, they were built with unique material, a material used today for electrical conductivity. What these aspects can suggest is that the pyramids were originally built as power plants, generating and transmitting electricity and energy to the cities around them. History must be rewritten, I suggest.

The funny fact is that Nikola Tesla did research on the Pyramid of Giza which would eventually help him to develop his own ideas.

The Unbelievable True Story Of How The Memphis Pyramid Became A Bass Pro Shops

The Memphis Pyramid began life as a basketball arena in 1991 before becoming a Bass Pro Shops in . [+] 2015.

The line drew tight, bending the fishing rod in half and signaling the beginning of a multimillion dollar deal. In an instant, a catfish at the bottom of the Mississippi River had changed the fate of a civic icon. The day was November 10, 2005. But before we get there, we need to rewind.

The Tomb of Doom

High strangeness marked the Memphis Pyramid from the start. Before the ambitious construction project for a towering, steel pyramid on the banks of the Mississippi River broke ground in 1989, renderings included a glass elevator ride to the top that never appeared a Hard Rock Cafe a college football hall of fame and a short-wave radio station capable of bouncing the city’s iconic blues and rock n’ roll sounds off the stratosphere and around the world.

The Pyramid, some Memphians believed, would be the southern city’s answer to the St. Louis Arch, drawing visitors by the thousands and providing a riverside monument to rally around. But by the time the 321-foot tall building opened as a basketball arena in 1991, little remained of its original plans—save, except, the sixth largest pyramid on Earth and a mysterious crystal skull welded to its apex.

“That part is true,” said Memphis Tourism CEO and President Kevin Kane, who has worked for the city’s marketing arm since 1991. “The crystal skull sort of became folklore at some point and grew from there, but it is true. Isaac Tigrett, who founded Hard Rock Cafe, put a crystal skull in there for mystic powers or what have you. It was removed. I guess he got it back.”

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The "Tomb of Doom" cuts an imposing figure through a foggy, Memphis night in the early 1990s. Notice . [+] the lack of an observation deck, added by Bass Pro Shops in 2015.

The University of Memphis

Free of its mystical burden, the Pyramid began life as a basketball arena, though perhaps not without retribution from Tigrett. On opening night, the building’s toilets simultaneously overflowed causing a flood in the basement.

For 12 seasons, the Pyramid would play host to a gallery of basketball stars like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and hometown hero, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway . On the hardwood, the building’s near-vertical stands and imposing structure gave way to a nickname, “The Tomb of Doom.”

“The first time I hit the floor there, it felt special because we had never seen anything like it,” recalls Hardaway, a four-time NBA all star now serving in his third season as head men’s basketball coach at his alma mater, the University of Memphis. “As a basketball arena, the Pyramid was out of this world. It wasn’t natural. It wasn’t normal. It was loud, because of how the sound went to a point in the top of the arena. We had a humungous home court advantage.”

Hardaway remembers the thunderous din of the crowd in his first game at the arena. Memphis fans, 21,142 strong, filled to the rafters as the hometown Tigers took on the 20th-ranked DePaul Blue Demons from Chicago. “It was amazing,” he remembers. “Because we came out against a top-ranked team in the country in DePaul. ESPN set it up. Dick Vitale was there. The whole nine yards. The crowd was extremely loud that night, and the arena was state-of-the-art.”

1992: Guard Anfernee Hardaway of the Memphis State Tigers dribbles the ball down the court during a . [+] game against the DePaul Blue Demons at the Pyramid in Memphis, Tennessee. Credit: Allsport /Allsport

The superstar point guard spent two seasons at the Pyramid before being drafted third overall in the 1993 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors and achieving basketball immortality after a trade sent him to Shaquille O’Neal’s Orlando Magic. Soon after, Nike launched his still-popular Air Penny shoe line.

For the duration of the 1990s the Pyramid continued to host University of Memphis basketball games, often ranking among the top programs nationally in attendance while filling its cavernous hold with fans clad in the school’s colors, blue and gray. But by the early 2000s, a new era was dawning in Memphis. The city had swung and missed on an NFL expansion team in the 90s, but finally secured a major league franchise in 2001, when the NBA’s Grizzlies were lured to Tennessee from Vancouver.

The Grizzlies were an immediate hit in the basketball-crazed town. But the summer after the first major league season in Memphis history, the Pyramid came face-to-face with its biggest night, a night bigger than basketball.

MEMPHIS, TN - NOVEMBER 15: Memphis Grizzlies' fan Evan O'Connor, 6, gets a boost from brother Ryan . [+] O'Connor, 12, as the Grizzlies come close to beating the Timberwolves during the second half 15 November 2001 at the Pyramid in Memphis, Tennesee. The Timberwolves pulled ahead in the last minutes to defeat the Grizzlies 99-95. LANCE MURPHEY/AFP via Getty Images)

Lennox Lewis vs. Mike Tyson

“Penny Hardaway was the most famous permanent occupant of the building,” tells Geoff Calkins, a Memphis-based sports columnist since 1996. “But I think you can make an argument that [the fight] was the biggest sporting event ever in the history of Memphis.”

The fight took place on June 8, 2002 when Mike Tyson challenged Lenox Lewis for the WBC World Title beneath the very rafters where Hardaway played college basketball a decade earlier.

The heavyweight contest had been originally scheduled to take place in Las Vegas, but after a press conference brawl between the two opponents, the State of Nevada refused to grant Tyson a boxing license. Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton—an amateur boxer who’d go on to fight Joe Frazier in a bizarre Beale Street boxing match years later—swung for the Tyson/Lewis battle with a $12 million bid and won it.

Herenton’s civic slug hit home.

In the days leading up to the fight, international media descended on the city in droves. Private jets lined the tarmac of Memphis International Airport. A tangible buzz filled the air and the Pyramid became the epicenter of the sports world.

As the bell rang, the Tyson/Lewis fight set a record for the highest grossing event in pay-per-view history, netting $106 million from viewers and a $17.5 million purse for the combatants. The undercard featured a young Filipino fighter named Manny Pacquiao. And the scene, according to Calkins, was bedlam.

“It was Hollywood meets the Vegas Strip meets Beale Street all right there tucked into this crazy ass lookin’ pyramid on the river. It couldn’t have been more electric,” he describes.

MEMPHIS, TN - JUNE 8: Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson fight for the WBC, IBO, IBF, Ring and Lineal . [+] heavyweight titles on June 8, 2002 at The Pyramid in Memphis, Tennessee. Lewis won the fight with an 8th round KO. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Tyson was an almost unparalleled box office draw. The card brought an A-list of celebrities like Samuel L. Jackson, Denzel Washington, Clint Eastwood, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Cruise, Britney Spears, Magic Johnson, Alec Baldwin, Ben Affleck, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Donald Trump to Memphis—a blue-collar city that hadn’t seen that kind of star power since Elvis Presley lived on the edge town.

“The whole damn universe came here,” adds Calkins, who covered the fight for The Commercial Appeal. “There were parades down Beale Street. You couldn’t go anywhere without bumping into a star. The world stopped for a heavyweight championship fight, especially when it was Lennox Lewis, this gentleman champion against the fearsome Mike Tyson.”

Lewis won the fight by knockout in the eighth round. For a time, efforts were made to make Memphis a fixture for high profile fights.

The Famous Final Scene

The heavyweight boxing bout was the pinnacle for The Pyramid. Though the arena served as the Grizzlies temporary home from 2001-2004, Hardaway says it wasn’t quite up to snuff as a professional basketball venue. Indeed, part of the negotiations bringing the NBA to town included a requirement to build a new arena.

“Knowing what the NBA is about now, I don’t think that building was NBA-ready,” reflects Hardaway, who would return to play on the floor of his old stomping grounds as a member of the Phoenix Suns from 2001-2004. “It was okay for college, but NBA players probably thought it was unusual because of how far they had to walk to the locker rooms. It just wasn’t built like other places. I’m sure they felt that it was difficult to get into their normal routine.”

FedExForum, a modern $250 million NBA arena, opened for the Grizzlies on nearby Beale Street at the beginning of the 2004-2005 season. Immediately, both the Grizzlies and the Tigers relocated. A non-compete clause meant the Pyramid could also no longer be effectively used as a year-round entertainment venue. Once home to thunderous crowds, rambunctious rock concerts and a thriving entertainment district at its doorstep, the building stood as a looming monument to obsolescence.

Bob Seger plays at Madison Square Garden on January 25, 2007, eight days before closing down the . [+] Pyramid. (Photo by Patti Ouderkirk/WireImage)

When Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band rolled into town on February 3, 2007, the mothballs were briefly shaken from the cavernous venue. In a long line of acts that included Aerosmith, Prince, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Guns N’ Roses, Celine Dion and Metallica, Seger’s stage lights would be the last to rise over the Pyramid stage.

“I insisted that my music manager book us at the Pyramid on that tour,” tells Seger now 75. “I loved to play the Pyramid. The acoustics were a challenge, but it was such a beautiful, eye-opening venue.”

Seger would kick off the building’s last show with a rendition of “Roll Me Away” along the banks of Old Man River. More than two hours later, he’d cap an encore with “Rock and Roll Never Forgets.”

“It’s special,” he adds. “It’s an honor to close an arena. We closed the Palace in Detroit a few years ago as well, and it is truly an honor. Musically, Memphis is an enormously signifiant, great American city. It’s the home of Elvis, Sun Records, Graceland, Beale Street, the blues. It was always fun playing there. There was nothing quite like it—very southern, very gracious, very beautiful.”

Several months later, Bass Pro Shops founder and Forbes billionaire Johnny Morris found himself hiking to the top of the silent, steel sentinel where Seger’s voice echoed that night. As he looked down from the rafters, visions of a cypress swamp began to fill his mind.

These stairs were the only way to reach the top of the Pyramid for nearly 25 years.

Dancing with a Decision

On June 21, 2012, Morris hosted a “construction kickoff celebration” inside of the empty arena. Dance was at his side as a slew of local media descended on the Pyramid for the first time in nearly a decade. A deal had been finalized on a $215 million financing package for renovations to the former arena. But had it not been for a chance encounter, the event might have never happened at all.

That tale begins at the top of our story, six and a half years before the kickoff celebration.

On November 10, 2005, four men bobbed in a boat on the Mississippi River. One was Morris. Another was Bass Pro Shops’ very first fishing department manager, Jack Emmitt. The captain was legendary mid-south river guide James “Big Cat” Patterson. The final member was a prominent Memphian with a signature, orange “T” on his baseball cap.

“I know Bill Dance!,” chimes Hardaway, from his office at The University of Memphis. “He was on t.v. every weekend when I was growing up.”

Such is the legend of the world’s most famous fisherman, Bill Dance. The third member of the fishing crew that day is now as inseparable from the legacy of the Pyramid as the city’s most iconic basketball playing son.

Instantly recognizable behind signature sunglasses and a white University of Tennessee baseball cap, the 79-year-old Dance is still going strong behind a nationally syndicated television show that’s been on the air for five decades—the same show that once beamed into a young Penny Hardaway’s house in the city’s Binghampton neighborhood. Dance’s online fanbase reaches more than a million, and he shares a slot in Memphis Sports Hall of Fame beside Hardaway.

It was Bill Dance that brought the sleeping pyramid back to life.

An empty Pyramid as configured for University of Memphis basketball circa 1992.

The University of Memphis

After FedExForum opened, the City of Memphis struggled to find an occupant for its monolithic, vacant arena. Ideas were tossed out: an aquarium, a casino, a megachurch, but according to Kane, none of them stuck. The most feasible, he said, was a megachurch however, none of the potential suitors could afford the building’s more than $700,000 yearly utility bill. On one occasion, the city was close to signing an agreement with The Recording Academy for a Grammy Hall of Fame, but negotiations fell apart when Memphis learned it would be just one of multiple sites for the museum.

Years went by, and residents grew accustomed to the tomb’s dark, empty presence slicing through the city’s night sky. Save a blinking, red safety beacon at the top, few could remember the last time they’d seen the Pyramid’s lights turned on.

It was up to Dance to flip the switch.

Dance is no billionaire, but he does have the ear of one or two. In the course of his star-studded career, Dance became good friends with Morris, the most powerful man in outdoor sporting goods. Through Dance, Morris learned of the vacant 535,000 square foot structure positioned squarely in the heart of the American south. And it was Dance who Morris leaned on to gain insight into the the viability of an idea that seemed absurd on the surface: ripping out the Pyramid’s seats and replacing them with an indoor swamp.

Early concept sketches for a redesigned interior replaced the Pyramid's seats with a swamp.

As Dance tells it, he and Morris were on a whirlwind tour of store openings when the company founder, along with Bass Pro Shops President Jim Hagle, began pressing Dance about his home city. As a Bass Pro Shops plane bounced from Tennessee to Mississippi to Alabama and Florida, the duo asked Dance about the viability of a flagship store in his home city. “They kept telling me, ‘Bill, we need a decision. Bill we need a decision,’” remembers Dance. But flight after flight, Dance dodged the question.

By the time the trio had finished opening the Pearl, Mississippi store, Morris was gathering cold weather gear for a long-awaited catfishing trip with Dance in Memphis. Again, Dance says he was pressed for an answer.

“He said, ‘Bill you live in Memphis, you know the people in Memphis, you know the store that’s there already. You know the clientele. You need to make a decision as to whether we should do this or not.’

“I said, ‘y'all are crazy as a sprayed roach. I’m not making that decision.’”

But by the time the private jet landed back in Memphis, Dance had provided some feedback for the executive team—and it sounded like a love letter to his hometown worthy of a Sun Records single.

“I told them Memphis is mid-America’s distribution center. It’s the barbecue capital of the world, the lumber capital of the world, the cotton capital of the world. It’s the home of rock n’ roll, the birthplace of the blues. The Pyramid can be seen by air, by land, and by water. It lies between two major interstates, and tourism would support it.”

Unconvinced, Morris thanked Dance for his input and asked him to keep thinking. “On final approach, he asked me if it was a yes or a no for a Bass Pro Shops in the Pyramid,” recalls Dance.

When the trio’s wheels hit the tarmac, the deal still wasn’t settled.

It would be up to nature to decide the Pyramid’s fate.

The Pyramid as seen from the Mississippi River, upstream of downtown Memphis.

A Multimillion Dollar Catfish

Catfishing is a sport akin to freshwater big game hunting. Those who fall under the spell of these whiskered giants soon revere them, worshipping catfish in the way coastal anglers might worship tuna or marlin. Like prized saltwater species, special hooks are often employed to ensure that catfish are humanely caught and released in good health. Trophy fish are often prized for their photo opportunities and then released.

Perhaps that allure is what drew Johnny Morris to make the bet, a gamble that would put more than $100 million from the City of Memphis and several times that amount from his own pocket on the table on that chilly November day. “Some people flip a coin for big decisions,” explains Morris. “But I told them if we catch a big catfish today, it’s meant to be. If we don’t, that’s a sign that maybe we better keep fishing and not worry about the Pyramid.”

“I couldn’t believe it,” adds Dance. “I said, ‘Johnny. I’ve known you for more than 35 years and that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard come out of your mouth. You’re going to let a catfish decide a half-a-billion dollar deal?”

Morris was stone cold serious about it. If the Pyramid was ever going to become a Bass Pro Shops, someone on that boat would have to catch a photo-worthy catfish. “I was just right on the ragged edge of undertaking [the project],” said Morris. “The time, the financial commitment. I was torn about it.”

On day one of their trip, the crew headed downstream and struck out. As the second day dawned, Patterson plotted their course upstream, where the Pyramid might appear as a silver glimmer on the horizon in just the right light. Meanwhile, Morris’s phone was ringing with periodic, urgent messages from Hagle, the executive who’d helped him corner Dance earlier that week on the plane.

“Jim Hagle started calling me around 9 or 10 a.m. wanting to know whether we were going to do this thing or not,” Morris explains. “I told him we needed a little more time, and probably didn’t say too much to him and hung up. At noon, he calls me back and says, ‘Are we in? Or are we out?’ Again, I told him we needed more time and hung up.

“10 minutes before three, Jim [Hagle] calls me again. I can just see the smoke coming out of his ears. ”

That’s when the fishing rod doubled over. Emmitt, who'd been nearly half asleep in the back of the boat, loaded up on a big fish.

“Jack’s rod went down and he pulled back and started reeling,” cites Dance.

“Jack’s rod was banging on the gunnel,” chimes Morris, with excitement in his voice. “At the same time, Hagle is on the phone asking what in the world is going on.”

From left Johnny Morris, Jack Emmitt and Bill Dance with a 34-pound blue catfish caught on the . [+] Mississippi River.

On November 10, 2005, Jack Emmitt caught a 34-pound blue catfish on the Mississippi River near Memphis. According to Morris, the catch was “almost under the shadow of the Pyramid.” Today, visitors to the former basketball arena-turned retail wonderland can still spy a photo of that fish—taken by Patterson—and the trio of fishing pals above the front entrance. Below it, a plaque reads, “We’re gonna do it,” the words Morris finally spoke to Hagle on the phone that day. Hagle relayed the message to then-mayor Herenton, and six and a half years later the kickoff party was held.

Today, the Pyramid is once again a thriving tourist destination. In its first year of operation, 2015, the building drew in more than 3 million visitors—six times that of nearby Graceland. Average sales hover between $45-55 million per year. Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid is a success story from a business and civic point of view.

But by a razor’s edge, it almost wasn’t. Here’s how thin the margin of error was: Hagle was set to make an announcement at a press conference 10 minutes after Emmitt hooked the fish. Without that bite, he would have called the whole thing off.

“If anyone catches that fish, give it a pat on the head and a kiss,” adds Dance. “She’s still swimming out there somewhere. The Pyramid wouldn’t be there today without her.”

“That’s a true story,” swears Morris. “I swear to the guy upstairs. I am not making one bit of that up. That’s how that turned out.”

A free standing elevator brings restaurant patrons to the top of the Pyramid. It sits approximately . [+] where mid-court would have been during the venue's days as a basketball arena.

Now, almost 30 years after the initial plans were laid for the Pyramid, some of its initial forgotten promises have come true. There really is a ride to the top, a 28-story elevator built so Morris wouldn’t have to repeat his hike. At last, there’s a restaurant up there, too—albeit one brimming with catfish. As recently as this week, Mark and Donnie Wahlberg announced the addition of a brand new, tourist-centric Wahlburgers inside of the store. And Morris added one more touch that even the building’s original designers couldn’t envision, a luxury 100 room hotel where the hotdog stands used to sit.

As for Hardaway, the man who opened the building beneath a national spotlight in 1991? He admits, he wasn’t a Bass Pro believer at first. “But I was wrong,” he concludes. “It’s a gift to the city. I have been back inside many, many times now. We take recruits up there, right to the top. It’s beautiful.”

That’s something Hardaway, Seger, Dance and Morris all agree on. Perhaps, the next time you visit Memphis, you will, too.

A Brief History of Egypt's Great Pyramid at Giza

Constructed between 2584 and 2561 BC, the great pyramid of Giza (also known as pyramid of Khufu or pyramid of Cheops) is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and the last remaining of them. We take a brief look at the history of this intriguing structure.

According to Egyptologists, the pyramid was built as a tomb for Pharoaoh Khufu, second king of the Fourth Dynasty, over the period of approximately 20 years. For almost 4000 years, the pyramid was considered to be the tallest man-made construction in the world. It is the biggest and the oldest of the three-pyramid complex of Giza, an embodiment of the grandeur of the ancient Egypt.

The planning of the pyramid’s construction is still a mystery. It was built from more than two millions of stone blocks, each weighing approximately two to 15 tons. It was 481 feet tall when it was first constructed, but erosion removed the top piece, so today, it is around 455 feet tall. As for the base, each side is about 756 feet long, and it covers an area of 13 acres.

The pyramid was not only considered as a massive tomb, but also as a place of the regeneration for the deceased king according to ancient Egyptians. It has three known burial chambers inside of it and a sloping passageway named the grand gallery. One chamber is an underground one that is cut into bedrock. The two other chambers, one named the Queen’s Chamber – although archaeologists suggest that it’s not where the queen is buried, and the other room is the King’s Chamber. The Queen’s and The King’s chambers are located higher up within the pyramid.

Khufu’s pyramid was called “Ikhet” by ancient Egyptians, which means “Glorious Light”. In its original state, the pyramid was covered with highly polished white limestone which reflected the sunlight and made the pyramid shine like a gem. Later, those casing stones were removed by Arabs to build mosques. According to calculations, the original structure with its casing stones would act like magnificent mirrors and would have powerfully reflected the light to the extent that it would be seen from the moon as a glaring star on earth.

Ancient Egypt The Egyptian Pyramid

The pyramids of Egypt fascinated travellers and conquerors in ancient times and continue to inspire wonder in the tourists, mathematicians, and archeologists who visit, explore, measure, and describe them.

Tombs of early Egyptian kings were bench-shaped mounds called mastabas. Around 2780 B.C., King Djoser's architect, Imhotep, built the first pyramid by placing six mastabas, each smaller than the one beneath, in a stack to form a pyramid rising in steps. This Step Pyramid stands on the west bank of the Nile River at Sakkara near Memphis. Like later pyramids, it contains various rooms and passages, including the burial chamber of the king.

The transition from the Step Pyramid to a true, smooth-sided pyramid took placed during the reign of King Snefru, founder of the Fourth Dynasty (2680-2560 B.C.). At Medum, a step pyramid was built, then filled in with stone, and covered with a limestone casing. Nearby at Bahshur, construction was begun on a pyramid apparently planned to have smooth sides. About halfway up, however, the angle of incline decreases from over 51 degrees to about 43 degrees, and the sides rise less steeply, causing it to be known as the Bent Pyramid. The change in angle was probably made during construction to give the building more stability. Another great pyramid was built at Dahshur with its sides rising at an angle of somewhat over 43 degrees, resulting in a true, but squat looking pyramid.

The largest and most famous of all the pyramids, the Great Pyramid at Giza, was built by Snefru's son, Khufu, known also as Cheops, the later Greek form of his name. The pyramid's base covered over 13 acres and its sides rose at an angle of 51 degrees 52 minutes and were over 755 feet long. It originally stood over 481 feet high today it is 450 feet high. Scientists estimate that its stone blocks average over two tons apiece, with the largest weighing as much as fifteen tons each. Two other major pyramids were built at Giza, for Khufu's son, King Khafre (Chephren), and a successor of Khafre, Menkaure (Mycerinus). Also located at Giza is the famous Sphinx, a massive statue of a lion with a human head, carved during the time of Khafre.

Pyramids did not stand alone but were part of a group of buildings which included temples, chapels, other tombs, and massive walls. Remnants of funerary boats have also been excavated the best preserved is at Giza. On the walls of Fifth and Sixth Dynasty pyramids are inscriptions known as the Pyramid Texts, an important source of information about Egyptian religion. The scarcity of ancient records, however, makes it difficult to be sure of the uses of all the buildings in the pyramid complex or the exact burial procedures. It is thought that the king's body was brought by boat up the Nile to the pyramid site and probably mummified in the Valley Temple before being placed in the pyramid for burial.

There has been speculation about pyramid construction. Egyptians had copper tools such as chisels, drills, and saws that may have been used to cut the relatively soft stone. The hard granite, used for burial chamber walls and some of the exterior casing, would have posed a more difficult problem. Workmen may have used an abrasive powder, such as sand, with the drills and saws. Knowledge of astronomy was necessary to orient the pyramids to the cardinal points, and water-filled trenches probably were used to level the perimeter. A tomb painting of a colossal statue being moved shows how huge stone blocks were moved on sledges over ground first made slippery by liquid. The blocks were then brought up ramps to their positions in the pyramid. Finally, the outer layer of casing stones was finished from the top down and the ramps dismantled as the work was completed.

Most of the stone for the Giza pyramids was quarried on the Giza plateau itself. Some of the limestone casing was brought from Tura, across the Nile, and a few of the rooms were cased with granite from Aswan. Marks of the quarry workers are found on several of the stone blocks giving names of the work gangs such as "craftman-gang". Part-time crews of laborers probably supplemented the year-round masons and other skilled workers. The Greek historian Heroditus reported in the fifth century B.C. that his Egyptian guides told him 100,000 men were employed for three months a year for twenty years to build the Great Pyramid modern estimates of the number of laborers tend to be much smaller.

Pyramid building was at its height from the Fourth through the Sixth Dynasties. Smaller pyramids continued to be built for more than one thousand years. Scores of them have been discovered, but the remains of others are probably still buried under the sand. As it became clear that the pyramids did not provide protection for the mummified bodies of the kings but were obvious targets for grave robbers, later kings were buried in hidden tombs cut into rock cliffs. Although the magnificent pyramids did not protect the bodies of the Egyptian kings who built them, the pyramids have served to keep the names and stories of those kings alive to this day.

National Museum of Natural History, Revised 02/2005

2) The secrets of the pyramids

The pyramids of ancient Egypt are among the most impressive structures built by mankind in antiquity. These immense monuments have survived well through the ages so that we can see and explore them today without envying an ancient Egyptian who would have visited them when they were built 3,000 years ago.

A) Who built the pyramids?

The pyramids were built by the kings of Upper and Lower Egypt, the pharaohs. These monuments were intended to serve as burials and memorials of themselves and their dynasty.

As part of their religion, Egyptians believed that a pharaoh needed to carry many material possessions into the Afterlife to be welcomed by the gods. A pharaoh was therefore buried with all kinds of objects and treasures that could enhance his existence in the Egyptian world of the dead, the "Aaru" (or "Afterlife").

Let's come to the question "who physically built the pyramids of his arms?". In fact, it was not slaves who built the pyramids contrary to what is shown in the famous movie "Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra" and what is reported by the Greek historian Herodotus.

According to papyrus from archaeological finds, the pyramids were built by free men who were fed, housed and paid. These free men, although summoned with some obligation, were moreover treated well and those who died from a work-related accident were entitled to a dignified individual burial in a cemetery adjacent to the pyramid.

According to experts of Egyptology, the very shape of the pyramid (a gigantic funnel towards the sky) was intended to allow the soul of the pharaoh to ascend easily to the sky. The soul of the ruler of the Egyptian empire would pass through the pyramid's highest point to reach the Afterlife where the Sun god Ra awaited him.

B) The types of pyramids

The first pyramids (called step pyramids) were formed of large squares stacked one on top of the other, squares which became smaller and smaller close to the top of the pyramids. Archaeologists believe that this stacking represented precisely a staircase that the pharaoh used to go up step by step towards the heavens.

The more recent pyramids, the best known today, have more inclined and flatter sides. These pyramids symbolically represented the island that emerged from the encounter between the original Ocean and the Darkness during the Egyptian Great Beginning. This island (on which Ra, the falcon-headed Sun god was born of himself to illuminate the Universe) represented the beginning of all life.

Thus, the pyramids can be seen as a means of symbolically bringing the pharaoh closer to the gods, furthering his journey into his future eternal life.

C) How tall were the pyramids?

The size of the 138 Egyptian pyramids varied greatly according to the times and the pharaohs who built them. Some of them are enormous: for example, the largest, the Pyramid of pharaoh Khafre, also called the Great Pyramid of Giza, was 145 meters high when it was built (a little lower today, as time has made its stones more compact, making it about 10 meters shorter).

As high as a 22-story building, the Pyramid of Khufu has been the tallest man-made structure for more than 3800 years and is one of the "Seven Wonders of the World". It is estimated that this pyramid was built with 2.3 million blocks of rock stacked on top of each other (5.9 million tons of rock).

Since antiquity, t he Pyramids of Giza and their Sphinx have been recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World . However, the understanding of their mysteries waited for the deciphering of the hieroglyphic writings by Champollion by means of his rosetta stone during the 19th century AD.

D) How were the pyramids built?

How the pyramids were built is a mystery that archaeologists have been trying to solve for many years.

It is believed that thousands of slaves were forced to quarry and then carve stone blocks in quarries near the pyramids. These slaves then stacked them block by block using a wooden scaffolding system.

Scientists estimate that it took 20,000 free men working every day for 23 years to build the Great Pyramid at Giza. Because of the length of a pyramid's construction, a pharaoh usually began building his own as soon as he was crowned.

According to Egyptologists, the pyramids were built far from the cities in order to create a site focused solely on pharaonic construction.

E) What's inside the pyramids?

A pyramid had many rooms where the pharaoh's possessions were stored to serve him in his second life alongside the gods. Next to the pharaoh's burial chamber were the (smaller) rooms of his family members and his most faithful servants.

The other rooms were used as temples to honor the various gods of Upper and Lower Egypt or as storage places for objects and treasures that could not be stored in the pharaoh's chamber because of lack of space. The walls of all these rooms paid homage to the gods and were covered with sculptures and paintings depicting scenes from Egyptian mythology.

Pharaohs knew that the contents of their pyramids would attract many looters. Indeed, in search of secret riches, the latter would steal the possessions of Egypt's rulers and desecrate royal sarcophagi to find anything of value.

To avoid these immeasurable sacrileges, traps and curses were placed inside the pyramids to deter thieves from entering. A fake burial chamber of the pharaoh that was easy to find was also supposed to prevent the discovery of the real one.

Despite all these precautions, almost all of the pyramids were quickly stripped of their treasures. Historians estimate that the vast majority of the pyramid treasures had disappeared before 1000 BC.

F) Were all the pharaohs buried in pyramids?

A pyramidal necropolis is the ideal final resting place for any pharaoh worthy of the name. However, although the sites at Giza and the older Saqqara site are impressive, a traditional tomb richly decorated with hieroglyphics is also a fitting burial place for the sarcophagus and mummy of a great pharaoh.

For example, the Valley of the Kings is home to many pharaohs (it contains all the pharaohs who reigned from 1539 to 1075 BC). Moreover, according to the religious beliefs of Egyptian civilization, the guarantee of a good place with the gods in the Afterlife can also be achieved through the construction of large temples.

Thus, the religious complexes of Karnak, Abu Simbel, Luxor and Thebes ensured the journey into the eternal second life of the pharaohs who built them (as much as the Pyramids of Giza ensured those of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure).

1 NASA’s Discovery of Pyramids in Space

Right when we thought that the planet Earth had all the pyramids, it has been discovered by NASA that that pyramids also exist on other planets. NASA’s Dawn Probe spotted objects that were sparkling on Ceres’ surface which is a planet between Jupiter and Mars. For those that didn’t take Astronomy in school, Ceres is the largest asteroid belt object made of ice and rock. To break it down even further, the Dawn Probe is a part of NASA’s Discovery Program to explore a second new world named Dwarf Planet Ceres. After analyzing pictures, NASA Scientists thought it had to be a pyramid. Thanks to cameras on the spacecraft, a surprising formation 3 miles above the crown was visible to the human eye. These pictures were taken in June 2016 at 2,700 miles away with NASA describing it as "A mountain with steep slopes protruding from a relatively smooth area of the dwarf planet's surface."

NASA has not shared whether it is the home to a species of people on the planet or a long-lost structure never known to man. While non-believers are thinking that it is a tall mountain in solar space that is chalked up to be a strange phenomenon, we can’t deny the claims of objects gliding over the planet or new cities that are evolving. NASA claims that they have no idea what this land mass is. In some pictures, it only looks like a star from a bird’s eye view of the planet.

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