How Did They Build the Great Pyramid of Giza?: An Animated Introduction

The Great Pyra­mid of Giza is a mir­a­cle of geom­e­try, con­struc­tion, and plan­ning ahead.

Pharaoh Khu­fu’s rel­a­tive — like­ly nephew — Hemienu, was put in charge of the project as soon as Khu­fu suc­ceed­ed his father, Pharaoh Sne­feru cir­ca 2550 B.C.E.

Hemienu, an engi­neer, priest and magi­cian whose hon­orifics includ­ed Mem­ber of the Elite, Vizier, King’s Seal-Bear­er, Priest of Bastet, Priest of Shes­me­tet, High Priest of Thoth, and, most impor­tant­ly, Over­seer of All Con­struc­tion Projects of the King, picked wise­ly when choos­ing the Great Pyra­mid’s site  - a rocky plateau on the Nile’s west bank made for a far stur­dier foun­da­tion than shift­ing sands.

His­to­ri­an Soraya Field Fio­rio’s ani­mat­ed TED-Ed les­son, above, details how the 25,000 work­ers who took 20 years to make Hemienu’s vision a real­i­ty were not enslaved labor, as they have so often been por­trayed — a rumor start­ed by Greek his­to­ri­an Herodotus — but rather, ordi­nary Egypt­ian cit­i­zens ful­fill­ing a peri­od of manda­to­ry gov­ern­ment ser­vice.

Some toiled on the admin­is­tra­tive end or in a sup­port capac­i­ty, while oth­ers got to spend ten hours a day haul­ing lime­stone on mas­sive cedar sleds.

A team of 500 ham­mered out the Pyramid’s gran­ite sup­port beams using dolerite rocks, a task so time con­sum­ing that Hemienu put them to work imme­di­ate­ly, antic­i­pat­ing that it would take them 12 years to pro­duce the nec­es­sary mate­ri­als.

Con­struc­tion sched­ules are always an iffy bet, but Hemienu had the added stress of know­ing that Khu­fu could take his leave well before his glo­ri­ous, gold­en tipped tomb was ready to receive him.

This is why there are three bur­ial cham­bers with­in the Great Pyra­mid. The last and grand­est of these, known as the King’s Cham­ber, is an impres­sive pink gran­ite room at the heart of pyra­mid, where its roof sup­ports over four hun­dred tons of mason­ry. An enor­mous red gran­ite sar­coph­a­gus weigh­ing well over 3 tons is locat­ed in the mid­dle of this cham­ber, but alas, the lid has been ajar for cen­turies.

Khu­fu is not with­in.

What became of him is a mys­tery, but if Scoo­by-Doo taught us any­thing of val­ue in our pre-TED-Ed child­hood, it’s that mys­ter­ies exist to be solved.

Sev­er­al years ago, an inter­na­tion­al team of archi­tects and sci­en­tists Egypt sur­veyed the Great Pyra­mid and its Giza neigh­bors at sun­rise and sun­set, using infrared ther­mog­ra­phy, which seemed to indi­cate the exis­tence of an as yet unex­plored cham­ber.

TED-Ed’s les­son plan directs those inter­est­ed in plumb­ing these and oth­er mys­ter­ies fur­ther to the Nation­al Geo­graph­ic doc­u­men­tary, Unlock­ing the Great Pyra­mid and Egyp­tol­o­gist Bob Brier’s book, The Secret of the Great Pyra­mid: How One Man’s Obses­sion Led to the Solu­tion of Ancient Egypt’s Great­est Mys­tery, both of which are root­ed in the work of French archi­tect Jean-Pierre Houdin, below.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Who Built the Egypt­ian Pyra­mids & How Did They Do It?: New Arche­o­log­i­cal Evi­dence Busts Ancient Myths

Take a 3D Tour Through Ancient Giza, Includ­ing the Great Pyra­mids, the Sphinx & More

What the Great Pyra­mid of Giza Would’ve Looked Like When First Built: It Was Gleam­ing, Reflec­tive White

A Drone’s Eye View of the Ancient Pyra­mids of Egypt, Sudan & Mex­i­co

Pyra­mids of Giza: Ancient Egypt­ian Art and Archaeology–a Free Online Course from Har­vard

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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