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Great Pyramid Built Inside Out, French Architect Says

Dan Morrison in Cairo, Egypt
for National Geographic News
April 2, 2007
 
Ancient Egyptians built the 480-foot-high (146-meter-high) Great Pyramid of Giza from the inside out, according to a French architect.

Based on eight years of study, Jean-Pierre Houdin has created a novel three-dimensional computer simulation to present his hypothesis. He says his findings solve the mystery of how the massive monument just outside Cairo was constructed.

The 4,500-year-old tomb of Pharaoh Khufu, he concluded, was built using a ramp that spirals around the pyramid's interior 30 to 45 feet (9 to 14 meters) behind the exterior surface (see image at left).

"I am completely comfortable with this theory," Houdin said in a telephone interview from Paris. He was in the French capital on Friday to show the simulation to 400 spectators wearing 3-D goggles.

Previous theories have suggested that builders on Egypt's Giza Plateau hoisted the pyramid's millions of multi-ton stone blocks using an external ramp.

(Related: "Pyramid Builders' Village Found in Egypt" [September 18, 2002].)

Such a structure either corkscrewed around the pyramid's outer surface or grew in a straight line with the pyramid, the theories contend.

Houdin's theory posits that a long, straight ramp was used to build the first 129 feet (39 meters) of the pyramid and the internal ramp was used to complete construction.

Drawings from a 1986 survey of the pyramid show a "spiral anomaly" inside that conforms exactly to this theory, he said.

Virtual Pyramid

Houdin and French computer-imaging firm Dassault Systemes spent two years building a computer model to test the hypothesis.

"We have done it in the 3-D world," he said. "The virtual pyramid is the same as the [real-life] Giza pyramid."

The new theory is even greater proof that the Great Pyramid "is a marvel of engineering, planning, and conservation," he said.

Houdin said he had applied for permission to test his theory on the actual pyramid using radar scans and other sensing equipment.

"I think this will speed up [approval of the application] in the coming weeks," he said.

But Zahi Hawass, general secretary of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities and a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, said Houdin's application has been rejected. (National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.)

Houdin, he said, had applied using an Egyptian "cover institution" that didn't have the proper expertise to examine the Great Pyramid.

"If we open the pyramid to everyone with a theory to prove, we would ruin the pyramid," he said.

Hawass, who wrote the preface to Houdin's 2006 book Khufu: The Secrets Behind the Building of the Great Pyramid, said the architect "has done his best [producing a theory] that is logical."

"But he has no proof," Hawass said. "And we do have evidence" to support other theories.

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