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How did they build the Great Pyramid of Giza? - Soraya Field Fiorio


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As soon as Pharaoh Khufu ascended the throne circa 2575 BCE, work on his eternal resting place began. The structure’s architect, Hemiunu, determined he would need 20 years to finish the royal tomb. But what he could not predict was that this monument would remain the world’s tallest manmade structure for over 3,800 years. Soraya Field Fiorio digs into the construction of the Great Pyramid.

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Egyptians believed in life after death since prehistoric times, when the dead were buried in fetal position, ready to be born into their next life. The dry sand naturally preserved bodies, leading to the idea of mummification. To prevent the sand from blowing away and exposing the body, a shrine was built on top of the deceased.

These shrines––called mastaba­­––evolved into the idea for pyramids around 2600 B.C.E. Pyramids were the tombs of pharaohs and the first monumental buildings made from stone. Before this, even the palaces of Egyptian kings were built from mud brick, not stone. The Step Pyramid of Djoser (c. 2600 B.C.E.) is considered the first Egyptian pyramid. Commissioned by Imhotep, a simple, one-story mastaba was built into a pyramid with six steps instead of smooth sides. 

Khufu’s father, Sneferu, was the first to attempt building a straight-sided pyramid around 2500 B.C.E. His experiments were not immediately successful! His first try, the Meidum Pyramid started as a step pyramid, but later the sides were straightened by removing limestone. Unfortunately, this caused part of the structure to collapse. With his second try, the Bent Pyramid, he tried building a pyramid with straight sides from the start. But the pyramid mysteriously changed angles near the top. The builders may have begun building upward at too steep an angle and tried to make the structure sound. This pyramid was ultimately abandoned. Snerferu’s third attempt, the Red Pyramid, is considered the first true pyramid. 

Hemienu, who engineered the Great Pyramid, was actually a son (or nephew) of Sneferu, and a brother (or cousin) to Khufu. Scholars aren’t sure exactly how they were related, but Hemienu was a blood relative of the pharaoh Khufu. Hemienu’s knowledge of mathematics defined him not just as an engineer, but as a priest and magician. 

How exactly the Great Pyramid was built is still a subject of scholarly debate. One of the best modern websites about the pyramids is The Giza Project from Harvard University. The site provides a 3D tour of the Giza Plateau, as well as educational videos and tools.

One of the newer theories about the Great Pyramid’s construction is detailed in 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. This book is based on the ideas of French architect Jean-Pierre Houdin. The National Geographic documentary, Unlocking the Great Pyramid, is based on Brier’s writing and Houdin’s theory. 

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Meet The Creators

  • Expert Consultant Christian Casey
  • Educator Soraya Field Fiorio
  • Director Luísa Holanda, Hype CG
  • Narrator Susan Zimmerman
  • Storyboard Artist Luísa Holanda
  • Animator Murilo Jardim
  • Art Director Luísa Holanda
  • Hype Producer Taíla Soliman
  • Composer Gabriel Maia
  • Sound Designer Gabriel Maia
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Producer Anna Bechtol
  • Associate Producer Abdallah Ewis
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Editorial Producer Dan Kwartler
  • Fact-Checker Jennifer Nam, Charles Wallace

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