Aliens didn’t build pyramids

The complex of pyramids in Giza, near Cairo. (Spectator)

News flash: Aliens did not build the Great Pyramid! The Spectator’s A.S.H. Smyth has reviewed a recent book by a pair of senior Egyptologists, Pierre Tallet and Mark Lehner: The Red Sea Scrolls: How Ancient Papyri Reveal the Secrets of the Pyramids (published by Thames & Hudson of London). Its conclusion, or rather reviewer Smyth’s conclusion: the pyramids were not created by aliens.

Tallet and Lehner describe the archaeological discovery of a cache of papyrus scrolls consisting, apparently, of a diary written by a “Captain” Merer, the head of one of several battalions of workers. Merer was a sort of avant la lettre mid-level bureaucrat commanding a “gang” of 40 men who transported “grunts” (slaves, one may reasonably assume) and granite up and down the Nile.

Interestingly, Tallet and Lehner argue that Merer and his men represented not vast slave labour, exploited by a biblical despot, but ‘the employment of a highly skilled, well-rewarded workforce’. Team Great [the name of Merer’s 40-man naval gang] worked in proximity to power – also performing royal guard duties and religious rituals – and were part-paid in luxury cloth. But it is also estimated that four teams like Merer’s might have spent 20 years transporting just the facing stone for the Great Pyramid.

I wonder whether the appellation “Team Great” from the above quotation doesn’t sound too much like the postmodern name of a sports team, as opposed to a more traditional name such as the Giza Greats. Is it real? We don’t know. Smyth states that Tallet and Lehner “pick up the story of the middle-ranking inspector” Merer. Does that mean Merer and his crew make up only a part of the scrolls (the “oldest known explicitly dated Egyptian documents”), or are all of the scrolls written by Merer? Smyth doesn’t give more than a vague hint, though surely Tallet and Lehner reveal the answer somewhere in their book.

Egypt’s celebrated pyramids, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, were erected at Giza, near Cairo, over a period of 27 years in the 26th century before Christ, during the pharaoh Khufu’s reign in the 4th Dynasty. It has long been famously unknown how humans (slaves or otherwise) could lift stones, mostly weighing between 25 and 80 tons, without serious lifting machinery. But even Tallet and Lehner “do not claim to know how 2.3 million vast blocks were put one on top of another [at the Giza site], so it’s a pity they should play to the pyramidiots with talk of ‘secrets’ ” in the title of their book.

Wikipedia quotes the Roman historian Herodotus as stating that “gangs of 100,000 labourers worked on the building in three-month shifts, taking 20 years to build.” They used vast ramps to move the stones. But at some point the stones had to be lifted manually into their positions on a pyramid. How?

Reviewer Smyth does not reveal whether the scrolls discovered by Tallet and Lehner expressly deny that aliens were responsible for this work. Why would a pair of respected archaeologists stoop to answering such a question. Nor does Smyth quote the authors or, for that matter, the text of the scrolls to that effect. Well, did aliens build the pyramids or not? We don’t know.

So we remain in the company of “pyramidiots,” left to wonder whether the pyramids are the work of aliens, gods, God (who the day before might have created evolution to guide His creation of mankind and the animal kingdom), slaves or a “highly skilled, well-rewarded workforce,” which could merely be how Merer, tooting his horn, or the pair of senior Egyptologists describe the slaves under his command. Or maybe they did have lifting machinery, and Merer simply did not mention it in his diary. Far fetched, but who knows?

Smyth opens his review humorously regretting those who bother him about whether the pyramids were built by aliens. “I have longed for a handy single volume to present to these loons, full of unarguable evidence putting this business past dispute – and Pierre Tallet and Mark Lehner have provided it.”

No they have not. At least not according to Smyth, at any rate. If the evidence is in the book, why does he leave it there and not include it in his review? The identity of the creator(s) of the pyramids is not revealed in his review, certainly, nor does he quote any passage from the book to that effect. He ends his review with this twist: “Take this book everywhere you fear you might run into [the pyramidiots]. And if all else fails, I guess you can hit them with it.”

Instead, I would like to hurl the book at Smyth for teasing us with the supposed “secrets” of the pyramids’ creation. (If the fault lies with faulty editing at the magazine, leaving pertinent passages on the cutting-room floor, I offer my sincerest apologies.)

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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4 Responses to Aliens didn’t build pyramids

  1. John the First says:

    The ‘pyramidiots’ are by far outnumbered by those who entertain the modern superstition of attacks by invisible disease causing micro-beings which according to modern quacksalvery hide out somewhere in an organic soup, and which consequently can be fought with an injected slurrymurry brewed by official quacksalvers. People rather always like to make fun of the beliefs of minorities, while being superstitious themselves nevertheless. At least, the pyramidiots have a grand narrative of mystery, while the collective modern superstitions are just sad, vulgar and brute.


  2. LazyReader says:

    If not aliens, one ascribes to human technology thanks to historic/geopolitical conditions we no longer have access be we regressed technologically, think Ancient Humanity from Halo.

    “without serious lifting machinery.” That’s bulls***.The most common tower crane used in construction today has a lifting capacity of some 12 to 20 tonnes. For many construction projects in ancient world, this type of crane would be useless. The temple of Amon-Ra at Karnak, Egypt contains a complex of 134 columns, standing 75 feet tall and supporting horizontal beams weighing 60 to 70 tonnes each. The 18 capital blocks of Trajan’s column in Rome weigh more than 53 tonnes and they were lifted to a height of 34 metres (111 feet). The Roman Jupiter temple in Baalbek contains stone blocks weighing over 100 tonnes, raised to a height of 19 metres (62 feet).

    Human ingenuity and mechanical advantage in the ancient world allowed us to lift, pull and transport massive stones. The temple dedicated to Pharaoh Khafre in Egypt is made up of monolithic blocks weighing up to 425 tonnes. The largest Egyptian obelisk weighed more than 500 tons. Building a pile of blocks made mostly of 2-3 tons stones is cake by comparison.

    The only advantage that modern diesel/electric powered cranes have brought us, is a higher lifting speeds, not improved energy efficiency. Just before advent of steam power taking over, human powered lifting devices became so elaborate that one man could lift several tonnes in no time, using only one hand. As long as mechanical advantage is adhered, lifting things becomes easier, even with a mechanical advantage of 2 to 1, you cut workforce in half…

    I’ve long surmised the Egyptians did not bother pushing/pulling massive stone blocks to construction site. Instead rolling, spinning and teetering them. Two aspects
    1) Cut the stones as cylinders and simply roll them into position.
    The volume of a rectangular prism is base x width x height; with a length of 30 feet, and area 10 by 10 you have 3000 cubic feet. Volume of a cylinder is area x height, π x R^2 x height. of equal width has 78.5% initial volume
    Once rolled you have 21% cut away is rip rap or material to infill the pyramid.
    2) Another aspect is wrapping cut blocks of wood around perimeter of the block, in essence turning it into an axle and the wood as a wheel and rolling the block along. The wheels mechanical advantage exceeds Pulling sleds by order of magnitude… moving a 2-3 ton block of stone by pulling it would require 25-50 men; A 100 ton block would take 500-1000 men. Rolling a 2-3 ton block only takes 2-5 men. So your mechanical advantage and efficiency improve 20-50 fold. Egypt was abundant in reeds and fibers,hence simply wrapping it in sticks and reeds woven like a basket, your square block becomes a wheel.

    Two other aspects of ancient society are inventions we attribute to modern world, the elevator and successive counterweight. With counterweights assisting in pulling massive blocks; becomes less problematic. The second is the Winch or in this case the Capstan. The only difference between the winch and the capstan is that the former has a horizontal axle and the latter has a vertical one. The mechanical advantage of a winch is the radius of the axle to the radius of the handspokes. Therefore, an axle of 5 centimeters (2 inches) with spokes 30 centimeters (1 ft) long has a mechanical advantage of 6 to 1. A man operating the winch can thus lift 6 times more than he would be able to when just pulling a rope. However, to wind up 1 meter of rope the handspokes would need to be turned 6 meters.

    You forget another thing…A pyramid you’re building is No mere edifice it is now an inclined plane for moving objects…At 51.5 degrees is pretty steep for an incline, but still better than nothing. The “Ramp” theories of pyramid building make no sense, because invariably you have to dismantle and rebuild the pyramid’s interior as you get higher and higher and the floor surface area of which you have to work with shrinks.

    Using the wheel method and counter weights a heavy stone can be lifted with minimal effort. A very heavy 100 ton stone/wheel can be tied to the stone meant to be pulled. By simply having a ramp at the base of the Pyramid the heavy stone can be let go to roll and tug the smaller block and pulling it up the incline.

    Wally Wallington is a retired construction worker from Lapeer County, Michigan, who has demonstrated methods for a single person to achieve the construction and manipulation of massive monoliths. For years, he’s been building his own Stone henge using concrete block facimilies with his own effort and no machine interference.


    • Very impressive, Lazy. It may be that the book mentions all of those interesting details, but the review did not. I may send away for the book, as I’ve long wondered how it was done.


  3. It is such an interesting topic!


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