Nova (1974–…): Season 46, Episode 4 - Decoding the Great Pyramid - full transcript

Archaeological research by Mark Lehner and Zahi Hawass shed light on some of the mysteries of the Egyptian pyramids.

Are you wondering how healthy the food you are eating is? Check it -
The Great Pyramid.

One of the most studied
ancient riddles on earth.

Yet, questions still remain.

There were tens of thousands
of people here

building the pyramids.

Where's their settlement?

Six million tons of stone

shaped and transported
over 30 years

to build an eternal tomb
with a sacred purpose.

In creating this
magnificent monument,

they were going to have
access to the afterlife.

Now, stunning new discoveries

are revealing lost secrets
about the structure.

There's another void,

and that void exists right
through this granite wall.

About those who created it...

They actually called
themselves the elite.

And about how their king

a proud and willing nation.

Like the space program,

there was a sense of national
pride and achievement

To overcome monumental

They're trying again and again
and again

until they get it right.

And achieve the greatest

feat of precision engineering
of the ancient world.

It's perfectly level.

It's a remarkable achievement.

This is how the Great
Pyramid united a nation...

that would become
one of the greatest

civilizations of antiquity.

I think not about how the
Egyptians built the pyramid,

I think more about how
the pyramids built Egypt.

"Decoding the Great Pyramid,"

right now, on "NOVA."

Major funding for "NOVA"
is provided by the following:

The ancient Egyptians

left an indelible mark
on human civilization...

Building awe-inspiring
monuments, temples, and tombs;

demonstrating remarkably precise

all to honor their pharaohs
as living gods.

Many were crowning achievements
of the Old Kingdom,

the first great
flowering of Egyptian art

that began 4,500 years ago.

The pyramids of Giza stand

as enduring
and mysterious relics...

Massive structures raised

to ensure the afterlives
of three all-powerful pharaohs:

Menkaure, Khafre...

and Khufu, the pharaoh
who built the oldest

and the biggest pyramid of all,

the Great Pyramid...

The last surviving wonder
of the ancient world.

The Great Pyramid is

a testament to
ancient Egyptians' ingenuity,

acumen, and technical
and scientific prowess.

The Great Pyramid is
absolutely elegant

and marvelous,
even by standards today.

How did the Egyptians engineer

this enormous monument
with such extreme precision,

using only
the most basic of tools

and brute human power?

Who were
the thousands of laborers

who toiled for decades on
this massive project?

And how did building
the Great Pyramid

transform ancient Egypt?

Now, after decades
of intense research,

experts have uncovered a wealth

of new evidence
about the construction

of the Great Pyramid.

From archaeology,
from ancient texts

and even from understanding
the engineering of the pyramid,

the people of the pyramid
are coming back to life for us.

When it comes to telling
the story of the pyramids,

it's never been easy to separate
fact from fantasy.

The silent enigma
of the pyramids can be like

a blank canvas, ready to accept

the latest outlandish theory
about its builders.

Such theories drew
a young would-be archaeologist

to Egypt in the 1970s.

I came with so-called
New Age ideas

about the pyramids,
believing that they

had something to say about

the lost continent
of Atlantis and so on.

And when I encountered
bedrock reality

at the Giza Plateau,
it didn't add up to those ideas.

Now, after four decades
of investigation,

Mark Lehner has become one of

the world's leading authorities
on the Giza Pyramids.

His work has focused
on illuminating

the lives of the workers.

From sifting through
an ancient garbage dump... excavating
a highly ordered city

that housed the laborers.

He's found evidence of

a massive effort that
transformed the Old Kingdom.

I think not about

how the Egyptians
built the pyramid,

I think more about how
the pyramids built Egypt.

The pharaoh Khufu ordered
the construction

of this engineering marvel

as a monument and tomb
for all eternity.

And yet, we know very little
about the man himself.

This tiny statue is the image
of the man who made

one of the largest buildings
of the ancient world.

It's extraordinary that
someone who has left us

the Great Pyramid,
which is still standing

nearly 5,000 years
after it was built,

we still don't have
that much of the man himself.

For thousands of years,

the only record of
how Khufu built the pyramid

came from the world's first
historian, Herodotus,

who wrote a history of Egypt
in around 450 B.C.

It describes Khufu as
a wicked and selfish king.

Perhaps not
a very reliable account,

considering Khufu had been
dead for 2,000 years.

Herodotus wrote about
the Great Pyramid

as, of course, who wouldn't?

Because he came here as a
historian and a tourist.

He also, of course,
like any good tourist,

listened to what
the various tour guides said,

and some of them were not
very complimentary about Khufu.

And they accused him of being

a terrible, mean king.

Herodotus's account
provided Hollywood with

a box-office-ready story:

that Khufu brutally

enslaved his laborers to build
his grand monument.

Egyptologists like Mark Lehner

believe this story
is too simplistic.

But to reach
a deeper understanding,

Mark first had to shift
his perspective.

I realized I had to turn my back

to the pyramids to
properly understand them,

because to properly
understand them,

you need to know about
the people who built them,

their civilization,
their society.

There were tens of thousands
of people here

building the pyramids.

Where's their settlement?

And that led us to look to
the far south southeast.

In the 1990s, Mark collaborated

with renowned Egyptian
archaeologist Zahi Hawass,

on a remarkable discovery.

Just south of the Great Pyramid,

and on the edge
of modern day Cairo,

they uncovered the footprint
of an ancient lost city...

The remains of streets,
barrack-like buildings,

bakeries, storage facilities,

even what looked like
guard houses

gradually emerged from the sand.

Pottery and other artifacts

dated it to the Fourth Dynasty
45 centuries ago,

the time the
pyramids at Giza were built.

Mark estimates
that long galleries

resembling dormitories
could have housed

more than 2,000 people.

And they were just part of

a much larger city that
now lies under

modern-day Cairo.

The whole thing looks like
an early version

of institutional buildings

like our hospitals,
schools, prisons.

Mark has recently investigated

a huge ancient Egyptian
garbage pit

on the edge of the lost city.

Is that the surface
of Kromer's excavation?

This garbage dump,
originally excavated

by Austrian archaeologist
Karl Kromer,

is now being
intensively re-examined

by Mark Lehner's team.

So here is the gravel
that's left behind,

even after we sieve.

Now most archaeological
projects, I daresay,

just throw this away,
they're done with it.

But we couldn't do that,

because we saw that it's
full of information.

It may appear to be
just a pile of sand,

but it has revealed

unique insights into
the everyday lives

of the people
who lived and worked

on the Giza Plateau.

We're getting quantities
and quantities of pottery.

Even this clean sand

is showing all
this kind of material,

the objects of everyday life.

Pottery and clay seals suggests

that this debris comes from

an earlier period
of the lost city,

dating back to the time

that Khufu was building
the Great Pyramid.

This vast collection of
new finds from both the dump

and years of excavations
at the lost city

is being processed
at the team's labs,

situated in the shadow
of the pyramids.

In this storage space,

we have all of the artifacts,
all of the material culture

that's come from
the excavations.

And it is probably
millions of items.

We've listed hundreds
and thousands of flint tools,

we have dozens and dozens
of large stone pounders.

We have broken seal impressions
from sealing and opening

and closing boxes and doors.

We have metal-working waste
from probably resharpening

and reworking copper tools.

Among the finds

is evidence that some of
the Great Pyramid's workers

were highly skilled.

It takes a particular knowledge

and skill to make a blade
like this.

This may well have been
used for scraping things.

It's also possibly used
as a cutting tool.

So, there almost certainly

would have been
specialized workers

providing tools for

the workers who were
building the pyramids.

So it's a complete network,

everything fits
together like this.

If you haven't got the craftsmen

to create the tools
to provide the people

who are going to
build the pyramids,

the whole system falls apart.

Other discoveries

revealed there were
thousands of bakeries,

indicating the
mass production of food.

We have bread molds,

and this is the
largest size we have,

and this is part of the evidence

that they're doing things on

a really massive
industrial scale,

because this would have
fed six or seven men,

just the bread made
in this one mold.

Archaeologist Richard Redding

estimates that enough
cattle, sheep,

and goats were
regularly slaughtered

to feed thousands,

providing a diet much better
than slave rations.

So, they're getting
a lot of food,

but they're requiring,
their bodies are requiring

a lot of protein,
they're working very hard.

They're moving rocks,
they work from

sunrise to sunset,
and we estimate

they were getting almost
300 grams a day,

between 200 and 300
grams a day of meat,

which is about,
probably a Big Mac

or a quarter pounder
with cheese.

It's a far cry from

the vision in
popular imagination

of an army of unskilled,

and malnourished slaves.

The public thinks that slaves

made the pyramids, and
it's very annoying because

they were well looked after,

because there's
no point in having

a workforce that can't work.

So really, it was in
the interest of Khufu

to have a happy, well-fed,

and healthy workforce.

But if they weren't slaves,
who were they?

Egyptologists believe there was

a readily available workforce.

And they weren't
all full-time builders.

Most were farmers,

working the fertile banks
of the River Nile.

They would plant in
late November, December.

The crops would grow,

and then just about
when it started

getting warm in the springtime,

they would harvest.

But for three to four
months of the year,

that rural activity had to stop.

Seasonal rains high up in

the Ethiopian
and Nubian highlands

flowed into
the branches of the Nile,

swelling the river and swamping
the surrounding farmland.

Every year, the annual
Nile flood turned

the Nile valley and
the delta into one big lake.

Normal agricultural life
during the flood season

became impossible.

So, for four months of the year,

the land is flooded.

And what are your
peasants going to do?

Probably they'd
go down to the tavern

and have a drink or two or more

and start criticizing
the government.

The floods gave Khufu

a predictable source
of seasonal labor.

They get fed, they get cared for

they get some payment.

They also feel involved,

and there's a sense
of national pride.

So in a way, building
a pyramid is a smart move.

The artifacts unearthed
suggest that

while many laborers took on

heavy-lifting jobs,
thousands more

were involved in other ways.

We've got estimates that suggest

that there were more people
involved in raising

the food to feed
the pyramid builders

than were here actually
working on the pyramids.

So, the... I think
I've got an estimate

of over 1,500 individuals

directly involved in
raising sheep,

over another 500 directly
involved in raising cattle.

That's 2,000 people.

You can add them to what...

the feeding... the raising
of wheat and barley

to make the bread.

Mark estimates that along

the length of the Nile,
over 20,000 people

played a role
in the supply chain

that ended at
the construction site

on the Giza Plateau.

Building the Great Pyramid
must have had

a dramatic effect on these
one-million-plus people

living in the Nile valley
at that time.

Adjusting for population,
it would be

the equivalent of almost
ten million modern-day Americans

recruited to work
on a single project.

I think that

certainly there are
state projects where people

try to get this feeling,

a sense of national pride
and achievement.

So, you know when the U.S.
had its space program,

there was a sense of national
pride and achievement,

even if not every individual
was involved in it.

Mark Lehner believes

the evidence that the workforce
was well-organized,

cared for, and skilled
makes sense,

considering the audacious scale

and precision of
the construction project.

But although the Great Pyramid

is the biggest pyramid
ever built,

it wasn't the first.

It was based on
80 years of trial and error

by Khufu's predecessors.

The first Egyptian pyramid
was a stepped structure

built by the architect Imhotep

for the burial
of the pharaoh Djoser

around 2560 BC.

It consisted of six tiers,
rising to almost 200 feet.

Then, around two decades later,
came Khufu's father,

the pharaoh Sneferu,

his likeness now preserved
in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

He launched a campaign of
pyramid building

on an unprecedented scale.

Sneferu was the most prodigious
pyramid builder of all time.

He built three great monuments,

known as the Meidum
Pyramid, the Bent Pyramid,

and the Red Pyramid.

In building those
three giant pyramids,

he basically did all
the research and development

that led to the perfection

of the Great Pyramid
of Khufu at Giza.

But as he began building

the first true
smooth-sided pyramid,

Sneferu ran into trouble.

The Bent Pyramid is named after

the abrupt bend in
the angle of its sides.

They made the slope too steep,

and the structure kept
threatening to collapse.

So, twice,

they changed their plan and
reduced it to a safer angle.

They're trying again
and again and again,

they're doing successive drafts
until they get it right.

The lessons learned during
Sneferu's building campaign

would eventually lead
to the Great Pyramid.

Khufu took what Snefru
did to the next level,

but certainly
without Snefru's work,

Khufu would not have
been able to achieve

such a stupendous monument.

Everything about the
Great Pyramid is exceptional.

Even by modern standards,
it's an engineering phenomenon.

The precision of its planning

began before a single stone
was laid on site.

Its base is a
near-perfect square,

each side measuring 756 feet,

covering an area the size of

seven Manhattan blocks.

It's as tall as
a modern 44-story building,

and it weighs
some six million tons.

When the tourists come here,

inevitably they take a look
at the Great Pyramid

and they look up,
and they look up with awe.

From an engineering
point of view,

when you come to a place
like this, you look down.

Because the clues of
how they built the pyramid

are written in stone
on a scale of acres here.

Although it is 4,500 years old,

it was built with
astonishing accuracy.

At the base of the monument,

engineer Glen Dash
finds evidence that

the foundations
were meticulously prepared

before construction began.

We're now standing on

the bedrock, and originally,
the bedrock sloped

at a six-degree angle

from the northwest
to the southeast.

They carved all of that way.

With only simple tools,
the ancient engineers carved

an almost perfectly level,
flat foundation

into the sloping Giza Plateau.

But that still wasn't
good enough

to build the perfect pyramid.

They would lay out on
the bedrock a platform.

The platform itself is one of

the miracles of the pyramids.

Despite its
unassuming appearance,

this stone platform
is one of the pyramid's

most impressive and critical
engineering marvels.

It's perfectly level
over its entire periphery,

almost a kilometer, to
within plus or minus one inch.

That was one of the keys:

the perfectly flat
perfect platform

to build the perfect pyramid.

Dash's survey reveals that

the base and sides
of the pyramid

are aligned to the north,
south, east, and west

to within a fraction
of a degree.

But, in a time before
the invention

of the magnetic compass,

how could the architects
have laid out

the square base of
the pyramid accurately?

Glen has a theory.

You simply take a stick

and you stick it in the ground.

The stick doesn't
have to be straight,

it doesn't have to be vertical.

You just have to do the test

on either the spring
or the fall equinox.

The equinoxes are

the two days each year
that fall midway

between midsummer and midwinter.

And ancient Egyptian
sky watchers

would have noticed
that on those days,

the sun rose and set
directly east-west,

casting a near-perfect
west-east shadow line

as it passed.

Glen argues that by marking

the tip of that shadow
as it moved...

With stones, for example...

The architects could lay out
an accurate east-to-west line.

If you do that, you get

the kind of accuracy
that the Egyptians

achieved when they
aligned their pyramids,

one tenth of one degree.

It's a remarkable achievement.

But why put so much effort

into aligning the pyramid
so accurately?

Like every aspect of its design,

the orientation of the pyramid
had symbolic significance.

It mirrored the pharaoh's
own supernatural alignment

with the sun god Ra.

The afterlife of the pharaoh

was modeled on the
afterlife of the sun.

So, it was the similarity
between the life cycle

and resurrection of the sun

and the life cycle and
resurrection of the king

that leads us to
believe the pyramid

was primarily a solar monument.

The birth and death
of the sun each day

was at the heart of ancient
Egyptian religion.

If burial rites were
performed correctly,

the sun and Osiris,
the god of life,

would merge with the
king's soul to be reborn.

According to Egyptologist

Salima Ikram,
each evening, the sun

and the king's soul
traveled together

to the underworld.

The ancient Egyptians believed
that you lived forever.

Now, if you were a king,

you had responsibilities,
because you were

not just a human being,

you were a god,
and as such you were

son of the sun god, and you
allied to the sun god.

And, of course, without the sun,
the world doesn't function.

The Great Pyramid

and the king's tomb
deep inside it

was the starting point for
the pharaoh's resurrection...

...Reenacted each evening

as the sun god
and the king's soul

disappeared below
the western horizon

and began their nightly journey

through the underworld.

When the sun did battle
against the forces

of darkness and evil
and Apophis,

the king was with the sun god,

almost fused with him.

The king went
across the night sky

battling against the
demons of darkness...

...and then had to
emerge... we hope...

Victorious the next day...

So that Egypt would live,

so that the land would flourish

and that life would continue.

The Great Pyramid was built
to house and protect

the king's precious
mummified body

during his eternal battle

for the world's survival
and prosperity.

Inside are three chambers

joined to the outside
by a network of passageways.

None of these
internal structures

were ever meant to be seen
once the pyramid was complete.

Nevertheless, they are built
with the same precision

and attention to detail

as the huge platform
the pyramid sits on.

At the heart of the pyramid
is a granite tomb

where the dead king's
mummified body

would lie for eternity.

We're in the king's chamber...

More or less in the heart
of the pyramid.

Here is essentially this
great granite-lined box

built, for the most part, to
contain the body of the king.

This chamber would be
the starting point

of the pharaoh's cycle of death
and rebirth.

For Egypt's continued survival,

this tomb needed
to last forever.

So the engineers turned
to one of the strongest stones

available to them... granite.

It must have made sense
in a magical way...

What we would call magic.

There must above been
spiritual power that made them

take these choices.

Building this magical chamber
would pose

an unprecedented challenge
to the ancient engineers

They didn't want the weight
of the pyramid,

the pyramid that was meant
to protect the king

and ensure his resurrection,

so that the weight
of the pyramid

wouldn't actually crush
and destroy his mummy.

Because if you destroy
the mummy,

the whole magical machine
is broken.

But the ceiling
of the king's chamber is flat...

A potential structural
weak point.

All of the weight of the stone
between this ceiling

and the top of the pyramid
would be bearing down

on this flat surface

with no support in the chamber
below to hold it up.

Yet 4,500 years later,
it is still intact.

How is that possible?

In 1837, a British antiquarian,
Major General Howard Vyse,

solved the puzzle

by discovering what was above
the granite slabs

that formed the flat roof.

He actually put reeds
through the cracks

of the great beams

and it went into dead space,
empty space.

What Vyse did next
was highly destructive.

So he had his workers
blast their way up,

making a vertical tunnel.

Vyse used gunpowder

to blow a series of holes up
through the heart of the pyramid

and discovered not one
hidden chamber,

but a stack of five empty
granite roofed spaces.

And at the very top:
a large, sloping, gabled roof.

They used big limestone beams
and they put them

in a gabled pattern to,
we think,

so that the weight
of the pyramid

would be thrust away
from this stack of chambers

and from the king's chamber

The gabled roof on top of
the secret stack of chambers

relieved the downward stresses
on the sacred tomb's flat roof

and instead deflected the weight
of the pyramid

away from the king's chamber.

By today's standards,

it may have been an excessively
cautious solution,

but they couldn't afford
to take risks.

They were over-engineering,
because they had never

really done this before.

So that the pyramid,
the very thing that was meant

to protect the king
and ensure his resurrection,

would not collapse and crush
his mortal remains.

Khufu's engineers had learned
from the mistakes

his father Sneferu had made.

And they pushed ancient
architecture to the limit,

turning the Great Pyramid
into a unique monument.

Khufu was the first and the last

to attempt this
audacious engineering.

And so for that,
the Great Pyramid...

Although it's
the classic pyramid

in the popular imagination...

Is actually the most unusual.

It's a huge anomaly.

Despite the unprecedented effort

invested in Khufu's
great pyramid,

no records were ever found
describing the details

of this vast building

Until now.

In this barren landscape,

archaeologists have discovered
a unique written record.

But this isn't Giza...

It's over 150 miles away
at a place called Wadi el-Jarf

on the edge of the Red Sea.

It's here that, in 2013,
archaeologist Pierre Tallet

was investigating the remains
of the world's oldest port.

Dating to the Old Kingdom,
it played a crucial role

in the pharaohs' monumental
building projects.

To cut massive stones,

the builders needed
high-quality metal tools.

The only metal readily available
to the Egyptians was copper,

which was mined in the Sinai,
and ferried across the Red Sea

to this port at Wadi el-Jarf.

Sinai is the main place
where Egyptian were able

to fetch copper at that time,
and you...

when you are building
huge structures in limestone

like pyramids,
you dramatically need copper.

Pierre and his team
began to excavate

around the boat houses
where ships were stored

when not in use.

They then made
a surprising discovery.

First, we came across
big limestone blocks.

It was inscribed with name
of Khufu.

It was an important find

since so little evidence
from Khufu's reign has survived.

But nothing prepared them
for what they found next.

It was a real surprise.

We have got small pieces
of papyri.

Pierre and his team
had discovered a cache

of fragile ancient documents
on paper

made from reeds called papyri

covered in Egyptian hieroglyphs,

including many examples
of the same royal insignia...

A cartouche... an oval frame...

With the name of an ancient
Egyptian pharaoh inside.

That name was Khufu.

The cartouche of Khufu
is quite everywhere.

These are the world's
oldest papyrus texts.

In 2017, Pierre Tallet published
the first volume of his analysis

of these ancient writings.

Amazingly, they offer
the only first-hand record

of the building
of the Great Pyramid.

You have the name

of the Akhet-Khufu,
"the Horizon of Khufu."

"the Horizon of Khufu."

In ancient Egypt,
the word horizon can mean

mountain of light, somewhere
where the sun rises or sets.

And the Horizon of Khufu was
the name the ancient Egyptians

gave to the sacred
Great Pyramid.

We have these words, I think,

maybe more than 100 times.

We were excited...
It was, yeah, kind of a dream.

Dating to year 27
of Khufu's reign,

the papyri lists details
of the times, dates,

and deliveries of cargo
to the pyramid site.

Suddenly here are these
Excel spread sheets

of ancient times on papyrus,
giving us accounts

of what Khufu's workers

We have a diary and a log book...
That's what makes

the Wadi el-Jarf papyri
so much more significant.

Among the entries are records of
meetings with senior officials

and the time it took
to deliver a cargo.

There was even a note in red ink

that someone had fetched
a large supply of bread

for the crew.

These papyri are fabulous
because they give us

the sort of slice of life,
and it just gives you a sense

that throughout Egypt
there would have been

these little hives of activity
and people keeping

the same kind of accounts,

and by putting it all together
you get a much bigger picture.

The papyri were written
by the overseer of a work team

that delivered the stone.

A man whose name was Merer.

And Merer's handwritten notes

record how he and his crew
of 40 men sailed the Nile.

His was one of several ships

delivering fine quality

to the construction site
from the quarries of Turah,

ten miles from Giza.

But how did they deliver
the stones

from the Nile to the site,

over 100 feet higher
on the Giza Plateau?

The papyri referred to
artificial basins and harbors

that Merer encountered

as he approached
the construction site.

When Merer and his team
arrived in Giza,

we have information about
the artificial lakes

that were made to allow boats

to deliver raw materials

for the building
of the pyramids.

Today, the Giza Plateau sits
on the edge of modern-day Cairo.

Traces of the artificial basins
recorded by Merer

have been found
underneath these streets.

And thanks to the papyrus,

we now know the ancient name
of one of them.

Ro-She Khufu... the entrance
to the Basin of Khufu.

When the Nile floods filled
this manmade pool,

a navigable path opened between
the river and the Giza Plateau.

So we now know that the
major influx of material...

Both gigantic stones, timber,
wood, grain to feed the people...

Happened during the flood season
when the Nile rose

and covered the valley
and filled the deep channel

where it rose more than
seven meters.

And they used this system
of basins and waterways

almost like a hydraulic lift
to bring the materials needed

for pyramid building.

If Giza was the beating heart
of the pyramid project,

then its lifeblood
was the river Nile.

Its annual floods not only
freed up a national work force

but enabled the laborers
to deliver supplies all the way

to the foot of the pyramid site.

The Great Pyramid could not
really have been built

if Egypt did not have the Nile
and a complex system

of waterways connecting
the land.

Because at this time,
the terrain isn't good enough,

we don't really do
wheeled vehicles.

archaeologists at Giza

have discovered the remains
of two boats from the time

the artificial waterfront
at Giza was at its zenith.

One has already been carefully
restored from the 1,200 pieces

recovered by archaeologists,
who believe

that it was a ceremonial boat
crafted to transport Khufu

in his journey
through the afterlife,

while the second is now
being meticulously excavated

under the watchful eye
of project consultant

Mohamed Abd El-Meguid.

Now they are extracting
the woods of the second boat.

All of this will constitute
the boat itself...

The hull, and the deck,

and also the superstructure,
which is the canopy itself.

These timbers provide
a fascinating glimpse

of ancient Egyptian
boat-building methods.

The same techniques

that we can see
on the ceremonial boat were used

for the transport boats that
brought the stones from Turah

to here or from Aswan to here.

Building the pyramids
not only involved

transporting thousands of stones
up the Nile,

but also required importing
copper from the Sinai,

which meant sailing
across the Red Sea

to the port at Wadi el-Jarf.

Mohamed believes these timbers
reveal a cunning design feature

that allowed Merer
and others like him

to use the same boat
on bodies of water

separated by 150 miles
of desert.

They would cut V-shaped channels
in a 45-degree direction

and the other one
in the other direction,

so he can pass through his ropes
from one side to the other.

These holes weren't cut
for wooden or metal fasteners

because ancient Egyptian ships
were held together with rope.

When we look at the Khufu boat,

we see that here is a ship with
elegance and amazing engineering

but that's entirely
stitched together

with mortise and tenon joints

and by ropes that interlace

through all the parts
of the hull, for example.

By using ropes instead of nails,

teams could dismantle
their boats and transport them

across the desert to where
they were next needed.

They took the parts from
the Nile valley

across to the Red Sea coast
piece by piece.

Then they would
put the parts together,

they would basically stitch
the whole ship together,

sail across to Sinai,
get their loads of copper,

bring the copper back.

Copper is a relatively soft
metal, prone to wearing down.

The amount of copper required
for tools on the job site

must have been tremendous.

But nothing compared to the
hundreds of thousands of tons

of stone demanded
by the builders.

Meeting that need
would have been

a massive logistical challenge

made even more difficult
because the Great Pyramid

is actually built of
three different types of stone.

The exterior was an outer casing
of high-quality white limestone

concealing a much rougher inner
core of coarse common limestone.

And then, deep within
the pyramid,

the complex of granite chambers

reserved for the sacred tomb
of the king.

And that meant
millions of tons of stone

had to be shipped to the site.

The rough limestone for the core
came from a quarry

just 500 yards south
of the pyramid platform

while the pyramid's high quality
casing stones were brought

by Merer's team and other
work gangs from nearby Turah.

Meanwhile, the stone
for the king's chamber

had to be shipped from the major
granite quarry in Egypt

at Aswan,
some 500 miles south of Giza.

These different types of stone
all had to be delivered

at around the same time
because all the sections

of the Great Pyramid were
constructed simultaneously.

They built them in stages,
incrementally and then filled in

the mass of the pyramid
around them, step by step,

almost like 3D printing
these days.

All the elements
of the pyramid...

The casing, the core
and the internal chambers...

Would rise as one
from the Giza Plateau.

But as the pyramid grew,
how did the builders

manage to raise the blocks
up the rising and sloping sides

of the monument.

By looking at what seems to be
in its loose state just rubble,

we can have an understanding
of how they built the pyramids

because they formed this rubble
into ramps and embankments,

some of which like this one
remain together until this day.

Probably they enveloped
the entire pyramid

with big embankments like this.

But this was before
ancient Egypt had the wheel.

Their solution was well-suited
to the desert terrain.

It doesn't look very pretty,
but it's really important

because this is one of the key
sort of tools that was used

to make the Great Pyramid.

It is in fact a sledge
and you can use them on sand

as well as snow.

So, here we have this big sledge
that would have been used

to take the large rocks on them
and pulled by teams of men

up through the causeway,

up the ramps to build
the Great Pyramid.

For the people of Egypt,
this backbreaking work

was a physical investment in
the spiritual future of Egypt,

their contribution to ensure
the pharaoh would be successful

in his journey
through the afterlife.

And they did it all with just
the most basic of equipment.

It's extraordinary to think

that it was built
with very simple tools.

You had wood rollers,
you had rope,

you had hard stone
on soft stone,

and you had a few metal tools,
and, most importantly,

you had the brains and the brawn
of human beings.

And that's all that they had.

During the annual Nile flood,
the construction site

on the Giza Plateau
would have received

a constant supply of stone,
food, and tools

brought in by ships.

It was an operation
that would strain

even a modern supply chain.

The overseer of all the king's
works had to keep in mind

complex logistics
and how to keep

this whole workforce fed,
healthy, and effective...

What modern contractors call
the critical path.

How to get
from the beginning point

to the end point
and deliver the product.

Merer's records give
Egyptologists a unique insight

into how this sophisticated
operation worked.

We were entering
the administrative world

of the people that were behind
the whole construction

of the monument
like the Pyramid of Giza.

The papyri also reveal the name
of the man in charge.

That name was Ankh-haf.

And a stunningly lifelike image
of him survives,

now on display in
the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Ankh-haf was a noble,
the half brother of the pharaoh.

He seems to be, at that time,
the vizier,

which is the chief
of the administration.

The big boss for the building
of the pyramid of Khufu.

Pierre believes Merer
may have had several meetings

with Ankh-haf.

And the papyri note that Merer's
team was part of an "elite"

perhaps because their cargoes
of fine Turah limestone

were highly prized.

Merer was responsible

for bringing this limestone
of Turah,

which is of high quality needed
to construct the...

all the casing, outer casing
of the pyramid of Khufu.

The outer casing of Turah
limestone gave the Great Pyramid

a spectacular appearance.

Today the monument has been
almost completely stripped

of that outer casing.

But 4,500 years ago,
the smooth white limestone

delivered by people like Merer,

would have covered the
whole of the pyramid...

...catching the rays
of the rejuvenating sun

in a spectacular display.

We can think of
the Great Pyramid

as a colossal special effect...

Clad in white limestone,
polished smooth.

But for them, such special
effects were not entertainment,

for them they were... they were
religious, they were magical.

The magic was
a constant reminder

of the special religious

of the Great Pyramid

and the dead king's fight
for Egypt's survival.

For people like Merer, it was
a privilege to be involved

in the king's
grand construction project.

They actually called themselves
the elite.

Merer's group at one point
was called in the papyri

..."the chosen group."

It's estimated the people
of Egypt spent some 30 years

building the Great Pyramid.

Its last and most enduring

is that the mummy
of the God King Khufu

has never been found.

The granite coffin in
the king's chamber is empty.

Many Egyptologists believe it
was cleared out by tomb robbers

in ancient times.

Others speculate that Khufu was
never buried in his tomb at all.

If so, where might he be?

In 2017, scientists detected
a mysterious void

deep inside the Great Pyramid.

An advanced scanning technique
called Muon tomography

identified a large cavity
the size of 747 fuselage

approximately parallel
with the king's chamber.

And that void exists
right through this granite wall

at about this level
of the pyramid

above the grand gallery
leading to this chamber.

Many theories for this
mysterious empty space

have been suggested.

It's possible this void,

which is like a very vague cloud
for us right now,

is another chamber
with untold treasures

or, more importantly,

documentation like
the Wadi el-Jarf papyri.

But most likely it's dead space
that they framed in

to relieve the weight
of the pyramid

on the roof of the grand gallery

just like the relieving chambers
above the king's chamber.

Further investigation
may confirm the void

is another example
of the masterful engineering

that's ensured
this giant monument

has stood the test of time.

But even without
the pharaoh's body,

the Great Pyramid continues
to ensure Khufu's place

in history.

Khufu in fact has achieved
his immortality

to a certain extent.

We might not have his body

but his name lives forever.

And as each person recites it,

he is once again given more
empowerment in the afterlife,

and his Great Pyramid
does reign supreme.

Through Khufu's
mighty building project,

the people of ancient Egypt
were drawn into the creation

of a magical machine
for the pharaoh's journey

through the afterlife.

They were creating
this magnificent monument

which also gives you
sort of religious credit

because you're helping to build
the house of eternity

for your god king.

The amazing discoveries
of the Wadi el-Jarf papyri,

the workers' city,
and the preserved boats

reveal the phenomenal
planning operation

that built the Great Pyramid

and unified the people of Egypt

into one of the world's
first nation states.

The networks that they created
and the national unity

and infrastructure...
National infrastructure

that they created for building
these giant pyramids,

that now was where they devoted
their attention

and their energies.

The new evidence shows how
Khufu's Great Pyramid project

became the economic engine
that drove the first great era

of the ancient world's
most vibrant civilization...

The Egypt of the Pharaohs.

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