Long the source of great wonder and speculation, the interior of the Great Pyramid, demonstrates one of the most well-constructed and elaborate designs of any pyramid emerging from within the pyramid age. Various theories have been proposed for the purpose and reason for the layout and configuration of its chambers. Innovative features have placed the Great Pyramid in its own unique category and fueled discussion and debate as to the time of its construction and its builder. Conventional Egyptology holds that this pyramid was built by King Khufu, son of King Sneferu of the 4th Dynasty.
This accepted chronology suggests that the Great Pyramid was built subsequent to the Red Pyramid at Dahshur, before which the Bent Pyramid of Dahshur was built. Because of the condition of its chambers, the accepted explanation of the layout of the chambers of the Great pyramid is that the pyramid underwent a series of revisions, with the subterranean chamber being the first intended burial chamber. This approach uses the unfinished appearance of the subterranean chamber and the lack of completion of a niche near the entrance to the chamber to assume that its construction was abandoned in favor of a chamber higher up in the pyramid, today known by the misnomer, the Queen’s Chamber. This chamber also has evidence of being unfinished, primarily the roughness of its flooring and the presence of small “air” shafts that have recently been determined with surety to not reach the surface of the pyramid in their ascent. The theory continues that after the partial completion of this chamber it was determined that a final chamber, even higher up in the pyramid would provide the actual burial chamber of the king. The design and execution of this chamber was most elaborate with a magnificent Grand Gallery leading to a series of portcullis blocks which would serve to effectively seal and secure the final burial. This chamber, now known as the King’s Chamber, was the only finished chamber, and the only chamber to contain a sarcophagus. Also, there are “air” shafts in this chamber on the north and south walls that do pierce through to the exterior of the pyramid and do provide ventilation to this chamber. In previous pyramids the subterranean chambers did not so much suffer the effects of hot, stale and stagnant air. As this pyramid was the first to incorporate chambers higher up within the body of the pyramid, the problem of ventilation finally became relevant and needed to be addressed in order to accommodate the burial party of the king, and perhaps even the workers that built the pyramid. It is universally agreed upon by Egyptologists that the King’s Chamber was the most likely place for the burial of King Khufu.
Even so, there is still some debate and controversy surrounding the design and layout of the chambers in the Great Pyramid and there has been a plethora of uninformed and naïve theories about its purpose and design.
I propose a hypothesis that will support the idea that the Great Pyramid did indeed undergo a series of revisions which include a change in the angle of the pyramid itself, and I will use the length of the unfinished air shafts in the Queen's Chamber to support my supposition.
Only since 1992 we have had the advantage of a definite measurement of the length of the south shaft in the Queen’s Chamber. Prior to this, it was already agreed upon that these chambers did not pierce the surface of the pyramid because of the lack of exit apertures on the appropriate position on the outer surface. In 1992, a small robot, the Upuaut II was sent up the southern shaft, finally reaching a closure stone, and in the process accurately measuring the length and angle of the shaft. It was also noted that the last blocks at the end of the shaft were composed of the much finer white limestone that was used mainly in casing stones and chambers.
Much controversy has followed the discovery of the closure stone and much speculation has been forthcoming as to what may lie beyond the closure stone. What I have not seen discussed is the significance of the exact length of the shaft and the significance of the finer limestone blocks at the end of the shaft . Why did this shaft end at the precise point where it did? What could be a possible explanation as to why the construction of the shaft was discontinued at the exact position in the pyramid where it terminates? Why was the entire length of shaft composed of an inferior limestone and only the last blocks surrounding the closure stone made of fine white limestone?
Let’s go back for a moment to the Bent Pyramid. This pyramid began at an angle of 54°27’44”. At a height of approximately 49.38 m (162 ft), the angle of this pyramid suddenly reduces to 43°22’. The reasons for this change are generally attributed to two main reasons: 1. Structural problems evidenced by cracking and displace within the chambers; 2. The reduction of the height of the pyramid by 23.5 m (ft) and therefore the need for the corresponding amount of materials necessary.
The next pyramid to be built, the Red pyramid, was built to the gentler angle of 43°22’. This pyramid appears to be structurally sound and is therefore believed to be the final burial place for King Sneferu.
The very next pyramid to be built was the Great Pyramid and it has a steeper angle of 51°50’40”. Why was the angle again increased after the structural problems of the Bent Pyramid and the successful stability of the Red Pyramid?
Presumably because of the problems of the previous pyramids, special attention was paid to the leveling of the base of the Great Pyramid, this was achieved to an error of less than one inch for the entire base which spans 13 ½ acres. Attention was also paid to the consistent length of its sides, which at their widest point of deviance are only off by 1.75 inches.
I submit that it is possible that the Great Pyramid may have been initially planned at the safer angle of 43°. After the successful completion of the middle chamber, with its high degree of sturdiness and stability, the plan was changed to rise at the steeper 51° angle. To pre-test my hypothesis, I used the length of the south Queen’s Chamber airshaft to determine if the shafts of the Queen’s chamber would have met the surface of the pyramid at an angle of 43°. The length of the shaft has been determined to be 59.45 m. The first segment is level to a distance of 1.97m. The final segment rises at a 39.6078° angle for a distance of approx. 57.48m. This terminates approximately 15.39m from the external surface of the original casing stones. A line was drawn from the edge of the original base of the pyramid upward to meet the end of the shaft. The angle of this line measured as follows:
The end of the existing shafts terminates where the outer wall of the pyramid would have been if the pyramid were built at a 43° angle. The blocks at the terminal end of the shaft are made of the same fine white limestone as used in casing blocks.
Extrapolating this, we can then predict the length of the northern shaft, and if when measured it is of this length, more strength is added to this theory.
If there was a change in plan in the intended angle of the pyramid, there is one possible place where clues might lie. In the uppermost portion of the descending passageway, at or around the original entrance, evidence of a change in angle might be visible. This is the only accessible and visible place within the pyramid that would have existed before the change in angle, and may exhibit some clue to substantiate this theory.
The evolution of the pyramid structure certainly peaked with the building of the pyramid of Khufu. After this pyramid, most other pyramids are inferior in either mass, internal design or stability. The extremely stable foundation of the pyramid would have resulted in a continued success in stability as the pyramid grew in mass and size. The lower chambers would be cut to ensure that a place was available for the burial of the king should he die prematurely, but as the king continued to survive, the leeway existed to continue to expand the pyramid. The stable base succeeded in raising the confidence level of the builders as the displacement and cracking of past pyramids was not evident.
At the angle of 43° the Middle chamber would have sat very neatly in the center of the pyramid, about 1/3 of the way up from the foundation. Once this chamber was sufficiently prepared for the premature death of the king, the luxury for placing another chamber, off-center, less obvious, and with an elaborate blocking system, became more practical and desirable.
If this hypothesis holds true, this provides yet another piece of evidence that the Great Pyramid is the next logical step after the pyramids of Sneferu, in the evolution of the building of pyramids. It also supports the fact that even though the Great Pyramid is praised as a marvelous achievement, it truly represents a huge experiment in pyramid building, undergoing its own series of changes and improvements. It explains the enigmatic feature of the blind shafts in the Middle chamber and predicts the length of the remaining unexplored northern shaft. It explains the fine limestone composing the final blocks at the terminating end of the south shaft. Further it adds weight to the fact that the middle chamber was not completed, and supports the idea that the subterranean chamber was also abandoned before completion in favor for the concentration on the upper chambers.
Copyright © 2000 Andrew Bayuk - All Rights Reserved
Dr. Andrew Bayuk is an American Egyptologist and the founder of Egyptology website Guardian's Egypt.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Dr Hawass' views.
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