For thousands of years, scientists from around the world have tried to understand how the Egyptians erected their giant pyramids. Now, an architect and researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) says he has the answer to this ancient, unsolved puzzle.
Researchers have been so preoccupied by the weight of the stones that they tend to overlook two major problems: How did the Egyptians know exactly where to put the enormously heavy building blocks? And how was the master architect able to communicate detailed, highly precise plans to a workforce of 10,000 illiterate men?
The Cheops Pyramid
Photo credit Havard Houen
These were among the questions that confronted Ole J. Bryn, an architect and associate professor in NTNU’s Faculty of Architecture and Fine Art when he began examining Khufu’s Great Pyramid in Giza. Khufu’s pyramid, better known as the Pyramid of Cheops, consists of 2.3 million limestone blocks weighing roughly 7 million tons. At 146.6 meters high, it held the record as the tallest structure ever built for nearly 4000 years.
What Bryn discovered was quite simple. He believes that the Egyptians invented the modern building grid, by separating the structure’s measuring system from the physical building itself, thus introducing tolerance, as it is called in today’s engineering and architectural professions.
The building grid for the Cheops Pyramid, as drawn by Norwegian University of Science and Technology architect and Associate Professor Ole J. Bryn
Credit: Ole J. Bryn
Bryn has studied the plans from the thirty oldest Egyptian pyramids, and discovered a precision system that made it possible for the Egyptians to reach the pyramid’s last and highest point, the apex point, with an impressive degree of accuracy. By exploring and making a plan of the pyramid it is possible to prepare modern project documentation of not just one, but all pyramids from any given period.
As long as the architect knows the main dimensions of a pyramid, he can project the building as he would have done it with a modern building, but with building methods and measurements known from the ancient Egypt, Bryn says.
In a scientific article published in May 2010 (Retracing Khufu’s Great Pyramid in the Nordic Journal of Architectural Research, 1-2 2010) Bryn discusses aspects that can explain the construction of a multitude of the Egyptian pyramids by taking the building grid, and not the physical building itself, as the starting point for the analysis.
If the principles behind Bryn’s drawings are correct, then archaeologists will have a new “map” that demonstrates that the pyramids are not a "bunch of heavy rocks with unknown structures” but, rather, incredibly precise structures.
Ole J. Bryn’s findings will be presented and explained at the exhibition The Apex Point in Trondheim, Norway from September 13 to October 1, and in a forthcoming book to be published in the spring of 2011. The exhibition is an official part of the programme celebrating the centenary (1910-2010) of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
Contacts and sources:
Norwegian University of Science and Technology news release
Citation: Bryn, O.J. 2010. Retracing Khufu’s Great Pyramid, Nordic Journal of Architectural Research vol. 22, no 1/2, 135-144.