Sunday, May 3, 2009


When you are sitting inside the King’s Chamber in the Great Pyramid, there are many thoughts that come to you. The sweep of Ancient Egypt and its mysteries are still very present despite their distance of thousands of years from the present. They are also literally quite close just outside the Pyramid where the great Nile flows by, the world’s longest river and arguably still its most mysterious. Inside, just as outside in Egypt, too, the confluence of the sacred meets the profane—the odor of cold limestone is mixed with the faint acrid smell of urine, whether from bats or humans one cannot be sure.

The King’s Chamber lies at the heart of the Great Pyramid and is actually rather small room with dimensions of about 20 by 34 feet—still, it is daunting in its structure with its massive lintel ceiling of 19 feet high. Electric lighting now diminishes the mystery somewhat with several vertical lights framing the empty, lidless sarcophagus carved out of solid granite that is chipped away on one side from years of souvenir hunting as well as from the original intruders who probably used force to open it in the hope of retrieving any of Pharaoh Khufu’s mummified remains. More than anything, the Egyptian impulse is about monumentality and the Great Pyramid is a testament to this factor written characteristically in architectural form.

From the moment you see the Great Pyramid, you are entering a world of epic stone. You are also faced with another key feature of the Ancient Egyptian Mind—the Egyptians ascribed ultimate importance to the way that mathematics and what has come to be known as "sacred geometry" informed original and ongoing creation—and true to form, it’s all a numbers game with the Pyramid as well. The monument is made up of two million limestone blocks averaging two-and-a-half tons and three feet high, with some granite blocks (like those in the ceiling of the King’s Chamber), between 30 and 60 tons each. Experts have estimated that it took 25,000 workers some two decades to build it with tons of stone transported both from local quarries and ones as far as 500 hundred miles away.

Certain parts of the structure seem to defy logic and even gravity—the so-called Grand Gallery which leads you up to the King’s Chamber is one. It truly lives up to its namesake—you enter it from a passageway of about three-and-a-half feet high where you have to duck—into an sprawling expanse that is 157 feet long and 28 feet high. Even as it opens up widely, it’s not really a relief from claustrophobia that gets to you as much as wondering about the stone mass that surrounds you. It seems natural, if not a survival instinct, to consider how this immense weight is distributed and what is holding it all up. It is somehow reassuring that it has apparently done so without shifting since it was constructed.

Despite any misgivings, the overall sense one has is simply wonder and burning questions about its purpose and how it was actually built. Most amazing is not how it was built, perhaps, but that it was built at all and over 5000 years ago. Hollywood movies have memorialized one of the theories with the familiar scenes of thousands of slaves pulling massive blocks under the cruel lashes of overseers’ whips and the monomaniacal eyes of the Pharaoh looking out over the Gizeh plateau and at the ramp extending from the river to scale the emerging manmade mountain. The truth appears far less dramatic. It is clear from recent discoveries by Mark Lehner, in particular, of the village where the workers lived, that they were not slaves, but well treated and fed though accommodations were certainly barracks style without amenities.

A second theory proposes that the ramp did not lead up to the structure as it was built, but rather wrapped around it like a snake until the apex was finally reached and the capstone laid. For decades, these were the only theories besides those that call for alien intervention and levitation. A recent theory has set tradition on its head and has something to teach us about how to think “outside of the box” by considering the inside of the Pyramid.

A new book that is one of the first to actually merit its familiar title, “The Secret of the Great Pyramid: How One Man’s Obsession Led to the Solution of Ancient Egypt’s Greatest Mystery” by Bob Brier and Jean-Pierre Houdin, describes the journey of a French architect’s search for an answer as to how it was built. Houdin’s interest in solving the mystery was inspired by his engineer father. After watching a documentary in 1999 about the construction of the Pyramid, his father told him that the show’s presentation was all wrong. His idea of how the stones were raised to the top was novel if not revolutionary.

A PhD in engineering from Paris prestigious Ecole des Art et Metiers, Henri influenced his son, to create sophisticated 3-D models of the conventional theories to see if they held water, so to speak. His work easily discredited the single ramp theory. In order to deliver the stones to the rising Pyramid, the ramp would have had to have been extended over time as the courses of blocks rose. The basic problem is that the gentle slope that is necessary for workers to haul the blocks would have required the ramp to extend to over a mile long. In other words, “if the Pyramid were being built on the site of New York’s Empire State Building, the ramp would extend all the way into Central Park, about twenty-five city blocks.” Such a ramp would have taken a separate body of thousands of workers many years to construct. Also, it would have produced a tremendous amount of debris, which has never been accounted for in any nearby rubble heaps. Finally, the topography of the plateau just does not avail itself to the creation of such a ramp. It’s too small an area.

The second theory of a ramp that corkscrewed around the ascending Pyramid as it was built did not fare any better. The fatal flaw, it turns out, was that the Pyramid “has four corners, and as the Pyramid grew, the architects had to constantly sight along those corners to make sure the edges were straight and thus ensure that they would meet at a perfect point at the top. But a ramp corkscrewing up the outside would have obscured these sight lines.” So, it would seem impossible for the Ancient Egyptians to accomplish the construction of raising millions of blocks using a stone road that wound up the growing sides of the Pharaoh’s mountain.

Jean-Pierre Houdin spent years computer modeling how the building of the Pyramid progressed over the decades and was able to support his father’s theory through his findings. Interestingly, his father led Jean-Pierre not to look at the outside of the Pyramid for the answer. After years of research, Jean-Pierre proposed that a mile-long ramp corkscrewing to the top was to be discovered inside the Great Pyramid. In other words, it was built from the inside out. Subsequent research and scientific survey on site has been favorable and are outlined in detail in the book.

Take for example, just one aspect of its construction, the Great Pyramid's fabled outside layer. The Pyramid was once covered with flat "facing stones" that provided it with a smooth milky-white shining veneer. It was said that at one time the Pyramid shone hundreds of miles out in the desert like a great beacon.Only the Pyramid of Mycerinus (one of the other pyramids that make up the fabled trio at Gizeh), still has remains of its outside layer if you look toward its top. Unfortunately, the prized outer stones from all three Gizeh pyramids were mostly removed and repurposed at various historical times in the construction of the expanding metropolis of Cairo--including its Great Mosque where some of these original facing stones can be seen today.

Yet, if an outer ramp had been used to lay these precious, smooth faced stones, wouldn't the process have caused damage to their surfaces? If, however, the inside ramp theory is valid, then it would have made far more sense to lay the outer stones first and build in from them laying down the inner blocks, shafts, passageways, and two main chambers. The jury may still be out in terms of how traditional Egyptologists have reacted to Houdin's theory, but to me, the idea makes logical, if not just plain common sense.

Sometimes, we overcomplicate our search for answers by being too influenced by tradition—not only in terms of so-called conventional wisdom or intellectual inheritance—but our sensory bias. More often than not, I find that the art of the strategist is laying out the obvious or what makes common sense, when a client has lost his way in the scaling of his own mountain of business objectives. The requirements of building a business can often immerse the insider in details that distract and sometimes obscure the original essence of why it was created in the first place. Many times, the answer to a business problem is staring us right in the face and is not a matter of creating some nifty theory, body of evidence, and supporting tactics, but relying on our gut and what at first may seem illogical in the face of history or accepted facts.

In looking for our own answers—whether in business or in life—we may have to use less finesse and more brute force in our thinking. We may have to be more like the Arab intruder, Al-Mamoun, who in 820 AD found the original entrance on the Great Pyramid’s north side sealed from within and set about with his men carving out his own entrance. It’s not a pretty sight today, but Al-Mamoun burrowed until he hit one of the monument’s passages and was in like flint. The logic of Jean-Pierre’s theory is transparent and struck me as a breakthrough. It just made sense. So, next time you are trying to “think outside of the box”, maybe it would help to first think about turning it inside out.

There is a reason that the origin of the word “Pyramid” is based on the Ancient Greek words “pyra” and “mesos” literally meaning “fire in the middle.” Maybe the name, itself, is a clue for us to find that creative fire, that so-called “spark” which lights when we discover our own center, to quote the Zuni people. Perhaps the Ancient Greeks and Egyptians were able to identify this as a place in space and time where all the stones of being are connected to the infinite horizon as described by the “original mound” which, in turn, inspired the Pyramid’s divine form. Or as the wondrous English fabulist, Jeanette Winterson said, "Stones are always true. It's the facts that mislead."


thepicklebarrel said...

neat topic.....i never bought the single ramp theory. i agree that the effort would've doubled or tripled just for the ramp alone.

Kevin Stein said...

Thanks for your most esteemed and observant commentary, Dr. Picklebarrel. I'm glad you thought that Houdin's theory is an eye-opener. That said, it's still a subject that leaves us in some most ancient and mysterious dust--more questions than answers sort of sums up the Gizeh Plateau for me.

Silvanus Slaughter said...

All that, and yet another blazingly informative article from you... I guess my opinions are still on the bench, but it makes far more sense than levitation technology (even though that is quite romatic), or Crying Game's Jaye Davidson and his imperious space-Pharoah in "Stargate."

Any news on the game they supposedly played back then by sitting in the King's Chamber and going on a "trip", the game being that unless you woke up from your projected series of lifetimes that your body would die in the chamber and they would come drag another loser out of the chamber? An obvious instruction about this incarnation, of course, or was I just hanging around too many delusionary people in Napa Valley in 1984?

Joe Escalante said...

This takes me back to the associated mysteries involving Boris Karloff vs. Brendan Fraser, with the inside the Pyramid solution actually having more to do with Abbot and Costello.

Kevin Stein said...

OK, Silvanus, I'm busted! Jaye Davidson built the Pyramids. You've qualified for the overnight stay in the King's Chamber courtesy of our sponsors from Akashic Records.
With respect to the "Trip", I refer you to the French military account of Napoleon's visit to the Great Pyramid. He insisted on entering alone and upon leaving, was reportedly visibly shaken, white as a ghost, and no longer the same Emperor of the World. It was whispered among those close to him that he had witnessed pictures of his future destiny whilst inside. The "Rehearsal for Death Trip" that was engendered during the mysteries once partaken by initiates who ended up in the King's Chamber has been widely reported in the esoteric literature. It would seem that the mistranslated titled "Egyptian Book of the Dead" like its cosmic kissing cousin, "The Tibetan Book of the Dead" were yogic flight manuals describing a cartography of inner space that is familiar to both shamanic and world mystery traditions. When the Egyptians had 57 different terms for "heaven", for example, which we moderns reduce to a single word, then we need to ask who had the better road map of the Other Side? The 1984 Road Map of Napa Valley overlays quite neatly over the 1967 Summer of Love Map of the Haight Ashbury, so it's all going according to Plan.

Kevin Stein said...

Thank you for your comment, Joe. I, too, favor the Abbott and Costello Theory of Pyramid Construction. Their contribution to the unraveling of how baseball was founded by the Masonic Order will be subject of a future post.

Anonymous said...

I remember my rotten old man, a Caltech professor, embarrassing me back in 1962 or so with how smart he was and stupid I was in declaring that it was a simple matter to build the pyramid (it was just a long ramp, he said). Well, now, I have the last laugh.... Heh Heh heh.

Silvanus Slaughter said...

Your response was hilarious, and quite informative, Kevin. I always suspected that grandstanding Napa Libran named Stan was just trying to impress me and his two girlfriends with some knowledge he had picked up elsewhere to make his own 'discovery'. Thanks for busting him.

Although I am left to feel apprehensive about such vast inner space...