Logo IMG
HOME > PAST ISSUE > Article Detail


Human Pyramids?

To the Editors:

Although not a specialist in this field, I devoured with gusto Henry Petroski's article on possible methods for raising large stone blocks onto the pyramids ("Pyramids as Inclined Planes," Engineering, May–June).

Egyptologists seem foolishly wedded to the idea that men dragged the blocks to the top of the pyramid. Oxen were a common beast of burden during biblical times, and I believe that the sledges were probably drawn by those beasts, either individually or in small teams. With a small team yoked single file, I believe that the animals could successfully negotiate the 90-degree turn required at each corner of the pyramid as each level was ascended.

For people, equipment and animals to descend a pyramid while others were ascending, it would be sensible for the designer to leave gaps along the wall at intervals, one or two blocks large, so that descending teams could step aside while ascending teams passed. This is the same basic idea as the railroad sidings used by 19th-century American planners that allowed trains moving in opposite directions to use a single stretch of track.

I believe that images shown in the famous 1950s film The Ten Commandments have led to the widespread assumption that only human labor was used. The images were very powerful, no oxen are present in any scene, and there is a very graphic scene of a large crowd of men dragging a huge stone block, which nearly kills a woman. This movie is shown once a year in America, the repetition of which will ingrain the imagery deeply in everybody's mind.

I hope that future calculations performed by established researchers will account for the use of traditional beasts of burden—camel, mule, ox and horse.

John Schutkeker
Royal Oak, Michigan

comments powered by Disqus


Of Possible Interest

Engineering: Aspirants, Apprentices, and Student Engineers

Engineering: The Story of Two Houses

Computing Science: Belles lettres Meets Big Data

Subscribe to American Scientist