In the minds of non-specialists, Egyptian history conjures up, if nothing else, the construction of the vast pharaonic burial monuments we all know as pyramids—especially the pyramid of all pyramids, the Great Pyramid of Giza. According to conventional Egyptology, the Great Pyramid of Giza was constructed under the reign of the pharaoh Khufu (r. 2589-2566 BC) as his own eternal resting place. Known as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world—and for that matter, the only remaining wonder of the ancient world—it stood, at 481 ft., as the tallest architectural structure for over 3,800 years. Constructed with some two and a half million stones, it was completed in an astonishing 20 years or so. Astonishing, because that comes out to a stone (averaging two and a half tons) laid every two minutes if laborers put in ten hour days 365 days a year. The limestones had to be quarried and transported from about eight miles away, while the granite stones which comprise the king’s chamber—weighing seventy to eighty tons—had to be quarried and transported from about five hundred miles away. Further, the precision with which they were laid is remarkable—a razor blade cannot fit between the stones.
Not only that, but the Great Pyramid possesses certain mathematical and geometric properties which boggle the mind. Divide the perimeter of the base by twice the height, and the answer approximates the value of π to five decimal places. But the Egyptians supposedly had no knowledge of π, as it was a later Greek discovery. Things get stranger still. Compute the ratio of the apothem (the shortest distance from apex to base on a given face) to half the length of a base of the pyramid, and yet another mathematical constant, Φ, the basis for the Golden Ratio, is revealed. Some see these mathematical properties as coincidental, but others find the notion of coincidence difficult to believe. It is for these reasons that alternative theories as to the Great Pyramid’s construction get off the ground, however implausible they may seem at face value.
Miscellany: students took an open-note quiz on Friday.