by O Books
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Great Pyramid: a course in project management
the research stage of “The Stargate Conspiracy”, Clive
Prince cheekily stated that he desperately needed to go to Egypt.
I asked why. “Because I have been reading up on the various
books on the subject and they all seem to conclude it was impossible
for this pyramid to be built in the manner in which it was built.
So I need to go to Egypt and touch it, to verify its existence.”
During the research for “The New Pyramid Age”, I thought
it would be a good exercise to address the building of the pyramid
itself – but this area was slightly out of scope for the
book – and hence becomes the subject of this article.
had experience as a project manager – though not in the
building industry – I wanted to approach the subject of
“building the Great Pyramid” from the perspective
of project management. For the purpose of this article, I will
try to paint what is going on during the project’s kick-off
of all, it should be noted that the Great Pyramid – despite
claims to the contrary – was not a “one off”
or “unique”. When placed in the traditional timeline
of pyramid development that Egyptology has established, from Zoser’s
Step Pyramid to Dashur’s Red Pyramid, we see a consistent
growth in complexity and volume. Complexity, specifically, should
be defined by the method of creating chambers inside the pyramid
itself, rather than a mere tunnel leading into the bedrock. But
despite not being unique, several new elements would be introduced
into the Great Pyramid – which would become the greatest
pyramid so far – and in retrospect, ever.
lot of emphasis has been placed on the “detail” and
the “precision” that has made the Great Pyramid an
object of affection if not obsession, but less emphasis has been
placed on the effort that went into building it.
The Great Pyramid is indeed one of the most accurately surveyed
constructions in the world; it is also one of the most accurately
made; it is claimed that it is the largest and most accurate stone
building in the world. Only modern optical surveying equipment
has detected any errors in its ancient stones. As I have pointed
out in “The New Pyramid Age”: the builders of my parent’s
downstairs’ toilet managed to work with greater error over
a distance of two metres, than the pyramid builders over fifty
times that distance.
But it is seldom pointed out that the three pyramids that were
built during Sneferu’s – Khufu’s predecessor
– reign was much larger than the amount of stone required
for the Great Pyramid. It is also seldom pointed out that between
the Red Pyramid and the Great Pyramid, there are – as a
whole – only “minor” differences – and
it are these that will come out during our kick-off meeting.
first problem that the project is facing is manpower - resource.
Though large amounts of people worked on previous pyramids, at
best, these have either returned to work on the land, or are still
in Dashur, the site of the Red Pyramid. If all workmen and their
family were in Dashur, at least 10,000 people would have to move
40 miles north, to Gizeh. Alternatively, various families either
need to make their own way, or be picked up in some type of “caravan”
from potentially the entire length of the river Nile, and be brought
As a project manager, one would hope the workforce is assembled
in one place and is merely awaiting an order to relocate –
rather than send out orders across the nation, to find willing
families, and keeping records of who is coming from where, can
do what, is coming with how many, etc.
some stage, “engineers” will be at work to come up
with plans for the Great Pyramid. Though the official verdict
still stands that the interior of the Great Pyramid was the result
of a plan that was changed at least twice, more recent theories
suggest this is simply not the case – and from a project
management perspective, we will throw in a few objections to this
official doctrine too.
Nothing remains of the “plans”, but it is assumed
that most of the planning actually occurred on site, to the east
of the actual pyramid, and that these “plans” were
executed in real dimensions. However, it seems reasonable that
before such detailed, on-site planning, some “high level
estimates” and “rough plans” must have existed.
Why this was required, is again a simple problem of project management;
failure to do so, would result in the failure of the project as
a project manager, one should first address any type of novelty.
In the case of the Great Pyramid, that is the extensive use of
granite, to be used for the “King’s Chamber”.
Any project manager will ask why this should be used, and the
answer is simple: granite and imported wood are the only materials
available that could span the type of distances the designers
have in mind. But so far, granite had been hardly used –
and never on this scale. Furthermore, the granite is sourced in
Aswan, 400 miles south of Gizeh. Though granite can be used to
span the chamber, copper chisels – the standard tool –
have little effect on it. We are told that granite can only be
quarried by using granite, resulting in a clean cut, but one that
is attained a rate of only one inch per hour. This means that
my workforce in Aswan needs to be ten times the workforce that
is required to quarry the local limestone. We are told that approximately
7500 tons of granite will need to be quarried. An initial calculation
suggests that we need a workforce of 100 people, working for eight
years, shipping 940 tons per annum.
If the King’s Chamber was an afterthought, it would mean
that production of Aswan granite would have started much later
– a few years into the building of the pyramid. This means
that the choice of granite for this chamber would have seriously
impacted the timescales: the project may have grounded to a veritable
halt, as building work could not progress until the granite was
quarried, shipped and put in place, before construction on the
rest of the pyramid could continue. If the King’s Chamber
was an afterthought, it is almost certain that the project managers
would have consulted with Khufu, arguing that though he could
change his mind, the choice for his chamber should not be granite
– a slightly different design would do away with the need
to use granite, and would thus not have a detrimental impact on
the project’s schedule. In short: from a pure logistics
point of view, if the King’s Chamber was afterthought, it
would not have been built in granite.
main component of the pyramid would be stone – limestone.
There were to be two quarries: one local, which would be an open
cast quarry a quarter of a mile south of the Pyramid. A total
of 12,000 people would be required here.
The second quarry site is Turah, chosen for its milk-pure stone,
which contained far less fossils than the local Gizeh material.
Unfortunately, it is located eight miles upstream of Gizeh, meaning
transport is upstream. 220,000 tons of stone would be quarried
and shipped from there. Here, there would be a workforce between
300 to 600 in the first years, dropping to 150 to 300 in the later
years of the project.
all three sites, we would need to double the workforce, to take
into account water carriers, chisel sharpeners, etc. Most of these
people would be male. Assuming that entire families would be on-site,
it seems likely that the women would look after food preparation:
feeding the workforce, as well as feeding themselves. Add a few
children per family, and the extent of people descending on these
sites, as well as the actual building site, is immense. It is
nothing short of a mobile city.
Aswan and Tura, there was also the added problem of transport.
Transport from Aswan required barges, whose operation may have
required 400-500 people. To build these barges, wood is required,
and the only wood meeting the criteria is cedar – which
itself would have to be imported. There are, unfortunately, hardly
any details on the barges that were created, but it is estimated
that there were potentially as many as fifty, each able to carry
twenty ton loads. A total of 1750 people might hence be required
for the river traffic, with a round trip Aswan-Gizeh taking thirty
days, relying on favourable winds.
brings the stones to Gizeh, but not to the site of the Great Pyramid
itself. Fortunately, the Nile was much nearer to the Plateau than
it is today – but then as now, the Gizeh plateau is just
that – a plateau – high ground. First, a canal had
to be dug, approximately half a mile to the south of pyramid.
Such a lake existed in Dashur too. From there, the stones would
be carried up the plateau; halfway, the stones from the local
quarry would join this stony procession. Of course, this is just
the slope that brings the stones to the plateau itself. Once there,
there would be another mechanism to put the stones in place on
the Great Pyramid itself – which itself becomes ever higher.
of the workforce requirements above are given because the project
schedule is obviously not endless. In fact, there are rather tough
deadlines – and very tough deadlines if we consider Egypt
to be a “simple” Bronze Age society. In Antiquity,
Herodotus was told that 100,000 men laboured constantly, and were
relieved every three months by a fresh workforce…The pyramid
itself, he argued, took twenty years to complete.
As John Romer reports, graffiti on the Red Pyramid provides details
on the building of that pyramid. It shows that the rate at which
the Red Pyramid rose into the air was constant. However, to accomplish
this, there was an initial high demand for stone, which dropped
dramatically as time progressed – and the pyramid rose.
From a project management perspective, this means that a lot of
effort and expert skills have to be required early on in the project.
Project Managers prefer a ramp up, in which more stones are produced
as time progresses – because it is in line with what one
would expect: the more people quarry, the better they get at it,
the more they produce.
Graphics such as used by Romer suggests that stone quarrying began
at the same time as pyramid construction, but perhaps the project
manager would think it is less risky if some of the blocks are
cut before and transported to the site before construction begins?
This way, the amount of workers that are required to cut –
which was hard and precise work – would be less, and training,
etc., would be easier. The quarries would be less crowded too.
A Great Pyramid feasibility study relating to the quarrying of
the stone was performed in 1978 by Technical Director Merle Booker
of the Indiana Limestone Institute of America. Consisting of 33
quarries, the Institute is considered by many architects to be
one of the world’s leading authorities on limestone. Using
modern equipment, the study concludes: “Utilizing the entire
Indiana Limestone industry’s facilities as they now stand
[for 33 quarries], and figuring on tripling present average production,
it would take approximately 27 years to quarry, fabricate and
ship the total requirements.”
this were not the case and Romer’s graph reflects the chosen
approach, in the first year, over a quarter of the pyramid’s
required amount of stones, i.e. around a million tons of limestone,
would have been cut, hauled and set into place. It is here that
we get the infamous one-liner that to build the Great Pyramid,
made up out of 2.5 million stones, each weighing 2.5 tons, a stone
would have to be set into place every two minutes, throughout
the project lifetime – which is, using the Red Pyramid as
the model used for the Great Pyramid, 14 years.
Using the Red Pyramid example and an extrapolation, there would
have to be a workforce of 26,000 people in the first year, dropping
down to less than 4000 people in year 14. They would work ten
hours per day, for 300 days per year.
Egyptologist Mark Lehner has asked the firm Daniel, Mann, Johnson,
& Mendenhall to carry out a study; they estimated that the
project required an average workforce of 14,567 people and a peak
workforce of 40,000. They argued that the project, from start
to finish, would last approximately 10 years. The study has been
criticized, if only for only using 2 million, rather than the
2.5 million stones that are believed to have gone into the Great
Red Pyramid at Dashur
the time, Egypt had an estimated population of 1.6 million, which
means that for the first year, more than twenty percent of the
adult male population would have been employed, one way or another,
on the pyramid project. This must have had a gigantic impact on
Egypt as a whole, specifically on the harvest. Furthermore, economy
wise, the Great Pyramid only took resource and cost money; the
benefits were spiritual.
At least one harvest would be seriously affected by the project
and it is therefore possible that a percentage of the previous
year(s) was stored in granaries. Failing such precautions, it
is possible that the workforce was indeed not continuous but that
seasonal labour was used for the pyramid project. This, however,
would have an impact on time spans and the 14 years would no longer
be a viable option. The rotational workforce proposed by Herodotus
would have less impact on the economy, but problems of required
skill level and training would be higher, for a qualified stonemason
would almost be let go once he is qualified.
Million tons. That may seem a staggering amount, but the Red Pyramid
consisted out of 3,800,000 tons of limestone. We know how that
project was tackled, due to surviving graffiti. And hence, we
know that any project manager on the Great Pyramid could merely
have copied the Red Pyramid’s resource schedule, which would
have resulted in the Great Pyramid being completed in thirty years.
This, of course, is a very long term for a project. And the preferred
models suggest it was done in just under half that time. How was
it accomplished? Like so many projects, more people were thrown
It is also known that the blocks of the pyramid largely have blocks
of uniform size. One benefit – which has been less stressed
– is that such uniformity would be a great aid to track
progress – and identify whether the project is advancing
on time, or not.
It should be noted that the blocks do become smaller as the height
of the pyramid rises, but the prime concern here seems to have
been a visual, optical effect. Of course, from a project management
perspective, it is easier to haul a smaller stone up a very steep
sloop than a big one. On the downside: the smaller the individual
stones, the more you need of them.
There is ample archaeological evidence that this transport was
achieved by roping the blocks to a sledge. With the assistance
of water or other lubricating fluids, experiments have proved
that a third of a ton per man is a reasonable hauling average,
meaning that seven or eight men could transport a 2.5 ton block.
This is for hauling over flat surfaces though. Pulling a 2.5 ton
block up a slope is believed to have required approximately twenty
men – a work-gang size that was typically employed by the
ancient Egyptians. To meet the project schedule, each team would
move one block from the quarry into its position every two hours,
or five per day. This would 55 such teams, or 1100 men. For transport
from Turah, a larger workforce would be required.
key tasks of what needs to happen early on in the project, is
another key ingredient of any kick-off meeting. In this case,
the first task is levelling the site. A decision was also made
at some point that part of native rock would be left in place
in the centre; this decision – not to remove some native
rock and replace it with limestone blocks – would save ca.
160,000 tons of quarried limestone, or three percent of the pyramid’s
volume. It may seem little, but it is vital, as this “benefit”
would occur early on in the project, when the building process
would by default be a less smooth operation than later on.
overlooked amidst all of these plans could be the need to have
chisels. And these chisels required copper. Copper needed to be
mined and smelted and the preferred site to acquire copper was
the Sinai. It is estimated that 10,000 tons of copper were mined
throughout Ancient Egypt; 8000 tons of those – 80% –
came from Sinai. Specifically for the Great Pyramid project, there
is a need for 300,000 chisels, or 290 tons of copper. But estimates
argue that a total of 950 tons were mined under Khufu, or one
tenth of the entire copper production of Ancient Egypt. It underlines
the colossal effort that was the Great Pyramid.
we have identified the main ingredients, there are other items
we need: gypsum. The site where gypsum was acquired was Umm el-Sawwan.
Here, we find the oldest example of a purpose-built quarry road,
which ran for seven miles through the desert to Lake Moeris, where
the gypsum was placed on ships.
An estimated 300,000 cubic yards (230,000 m3) of gypsum was baked
and slaked and brought to Gizeh in Khufu’s time, where it
was mixed with water, poured, pushed and shovelled into the cracks
Finally, there was a quarry of mottled gneiss, situated in Nubia.
Here, a fifty mile quarry track was required to bring the stone
to the river, where it began a 600 mile journey to Gizeh. Worst
of all: the convoy would have to negotiate the rapids –
cataracts – which could only be done during the annual summer
the project manager realises that no-one has said anything about
surrounding buildings, valley temples, causeways and “satellite
pyramids”, all of which are no doubt only begun in the latter
years of the project – when the main workforce for the actual
pyramid is reduced in size, but seems likely to have been reused
to begin work on these “satellite structures”.
Furthermore, once the Great Pyramid has been constructed, when
the quarries will no longer be needed, if a slope was built to
drag the stones up to the heights of the pyramid, this slope had
to be dismantled; the effort of building a slope and dismantling
it has been calculated as being the same as the time and effort
as building the pyramid itself!
leaves one with the realisation that for a period of ten to fourteen
years, Gizeh would have a population of 40,000 people, who were
here but for one goal. If this was a permanent workforce, then
it seems they had come from Dashur, and would soon move to Abusir,
before returning to Gizeh to construct Khafre’s Pyramid.
It is here that Egyptologists have hidden some of the true problems
of their official timeline. For example: the descending corridor
of the Great Pyramid shows how good workmen had become in cutting
such descending corridors. After all, they had done this several
times; it was the key ingredient of every pyramid. When compared
to for example the King’s Chamber, in which granite was
used, we see how cumbersome this was: the cracks and fractures
that are now visible in the ceiling of the chamber are now believed
to have occurred during the building phase of the project itself.
It underlines that the engineers got it wrong.
But back to the descending corridor: in the case of the Great
Pyramid, it never deviates from true North by more than a quarter
inch, underlining this workforce obviously consisted out of experts.
And what became of them? Once their work was done, did they return
to the quarries to help or instruct stonecutters there? Or were
they instead sent ahead, to begin the next job? It may explain
why at Abusir, only the descending passage was cut – and
nothing more. One question needs to be asked: was the Abusir pyramid
begun, in Khufu’s time, then abandoned, and then the decision
made to have the workforce remain in situ and work on Khafre’s
Pyramid? For an Egyptologist, working within the traditional timeline,
this makes no sense at all. But the ancient Egyptians that constructed
the Great Pyramid, were not Egyptologists – they were expert
project managers, building pyramids.