A decade ago, French architect Jean-Pierre Houdin became obsessed by the centuriesold question: How was the Great Pyramid built? How, in a nation of farmers only recently emerged from the Stone Age, could such a massive, complex, and enduring structure have been envisioned and constructed?
Laboring at his computer ten hours a day for five years—creating exquisitely detailed 3-D models of the Pyramid's interior—Houdin finally had his answer. It was a startling revelation that cast a fresh light on the minds that conceived one of the wonders of the ancient world.
Written by world-renowned Egyptologist Bob Brier in collaboration with Houdin, The Secret of the Great Pyramid moves deftly between the ancient and the modern, chronicling two equally fascinating interrelated histories. It is a remarkable account of the step-by-step planning and assembling of the magnificent edifice—the brainchild of an innovative genius, the Egyptian architect Hemienu, who imagined, organized, and oversaw a monumental construction project that took more than two decades to complete and that employed the services of hundreds of architects, mathematicians, boatbuilders, stonemasons, and metallurgists. Here also is the riveting story of Jean-Pierre Houdin's single-minded search for solutions to the mysteries that have bedeviled Egyptologists for centuries, such as the purpose of the enigmatic Grand Gallery and the Pyramid's crack.
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About the Author
Bob Brier is a world-famous Egyptologist who has conducted research on pyramids and tombs in fifteen countries. A senior research fellow at the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University, he is the author of seven books, including The Murder of Tutankhamen, and hosted the Great Egyptian series for the Learning Channel.
Jean-Pierre Houdin left his Parisian architecture firm in 1999 to devote himself to solving the mystery of the Great Pyramid. He has been awarded the Montgolfier Prize for his research.
Read an Excerpt
The Secret of the Great Pyramid
How One Man's Obsession Led to the Solution of Ancient Egypt's Greatest Mystery
The Man in Black
Almost all Egyptologists receive mail from strangers. Sometimes it is from reincarnated pharaohs; sometimes it is from prospective tourists who want to know if they can drink the water. (You can't.) Because my specialty is mummies, I receive hundreds of letters and e-mails from sixth graders who have been studying Egypt in school and want to mummify their recently deceased parakeets. About twice a year I receive offers from people who want to donate their bodies for mummification when they die. To these good folks I reply that I did that once, as a research project, and have now moved on.
No matter what our Egyptological specialty, we all receive communications from retired engineers with theories of how the pyramids were built. Usually there is an obvious flaw that even I can spot. On June 16, 2003 I received an e-mail from a French architect, Jean-Pierre Houdin, who had his own theory of how the Great Pyramid of Giza had been built. My friend Jack Josephson, an art historian who also has a degree in engineering, had suggested he contact me. Jack is a no-nonsense type of guy; I knew that if he told Houdin to contact me, it would be worthwhile to meet him. So I invited Jean-Pierre for dinner. Also coming was my friend Armand, an engineer who had been to Egypt, and his wife, as well as another friend, Jack Scaparro, who was working on a novel set in Egypt. My Egyptologist wife, Pat, rounded out a receptive audience of five.
Jean-Pierre arrived at precisely 4:00 P.M., assuggested. We wanted time to hear and discuss his theory before dinner at seven, but would soon discover that three hours was not nearly enough time. This was not your ordinary pyramid theory. Our guest was dressed all in black, including a fashionable black leather jacket—in New York in June. A well-manicured gray-haired man of fifty, he had a pleasant smile and spoke heavily accented but good English. We were soon gathered around the coffee table as Jean-Pierre set up his laptop. He explained that he had given up his architectural practice five years ago so he could devote himself to the puzzle of how the Great Pyramid was built. Working out of his Paris apartment, he spent six or seven hours a day creating elaborate 3-D computer simulations of the interior and exterior of the Great Pyramid. As his computer models progressed he became more and more obsessed with the Pyramid, until it was all he thought about.
Jean-Pierre's interest in the Great Pyramid began in 1999 when his father, an engineer, watched a television documentary on the pyramids and realized the program's presentation of how the Great Pyramid was built was all wrong. He had another idea of how the huge blocks were raised to the top, a revolutionary idea, different from anything anyone had ever proposed, so he called his son Jean-Pierre and laid it out.
The father-son team was ideal to tackle this mystery. Henri Houdin had earned a PhD in engineering from Paris's prestigious École des Arts et Métiers. In 1950, as a twenty-seven-year-old engineer, he was sent to Ivory Coast to build their infrastructure. When he arrived there were eight kilometers of paved roads; when he left there were highways, bridges, and power plants. For decades Jean-Pierre had designed houses and office buildings; he knew about planning big projects. The two were equipped to answer the question how the Great Pyramid was built, but it would not be easy. Eventually the search for the answer would take over both their lives.
While his laptop booted up, Jean-Pierre explained how his computer graphics helped him understand the interior and exterior of the Great Pyramid. With new, sophisticated software developed for architects, he created 3-D images of the chambers inside the Great Pyramid. Then, on his computer screen, he could rotate the images to see the spatial relationships between the rooms—what features were on the same level, what parts had to have been built first, where the largest stones in the Pyramid were placed.
As he clicked the keypad, beautiful diagrams of the Pyramid appeared and we realized we were in the presence of a man who knew the Great Pyramid intimately. He explained why some blocks in the Pyramid were limestone and others granite; why the patterns of stone in some walls were different from others. I have friends who are pyramid experts, but I had never heard anything from them as detailed as Jean-Pierre's explanation. I was astounded by the quality of his graphics. Little figures hauled blocks up inclined ramps and put them in place with ingenious lifting devices. He even had topographical maps of the Giza Plateau to show how the architects of the Great Pyramid took advantage of the natural contours of the land to move huge blocks of stone. The images weren't just informative, they were beautiful. I had just completed a high-budget documentary for The Learning Channel on pyramids around the world. We'd spent thousands and thousands of dollars on our graphics, and Jean-Pierre's were better!
Jean-Pierre explained the difficulties with the two competing theories of how the blocks in the Pyramid were raised to the top. The single ramp theory, so often shown in television documentaries, could be easily discredited. The basic idea is that blocks were hauled up a long ramp constructed against one of the sides of the Pyramid. As the Pyramid grew, the ramp was raised and extended. The problem is that to keep the slope gentle enough so men could haul blocks, the ramp would have to be a mile long. If the Pyramid were being built on the site of New York's Empire State Building, the ramp would extend all the way into Central Park, about twenty-five city blocks. Building just the ramp would have taken thousands of men decades. Also, there would have been a tremendous amount of debris from such a ramp, and rubble doesn't just disintegrate in the desert; but huge piles of rubble have never been found. Perhaps most damaging to the single ramp theory is the fact that there is practically no place to put such a long ramp on the Giza Plateau.The Secret of the Great Pyramid
How One Man's Obsession Led to the Solution of Ancient Egypt's Greatest Mystery. Copyright © by Bob Brier. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Table of Contents
The Man in Black 1
Birth of the Pyramid 7
Meeting with the Master 19
Imhotep builds the Step Pyramid 23
Sneferu: King of the Pyramids 29
An Architect Is Born 37
Architect Adrift 43
A Troubled Bridge? 47
Hemienu Plans the Great Pyramid 49
The Underground Burial Chamber 79
Modern Tomb Raiders: The Search for Hidden Chambers 85
The Grand Gallery 93
The Burial Chamber 107
Hemienu's Solution 113
First Plans 125
Anomaly Rising 133
The Notch 137
The Internal Ramp 139
The Capstone 145
The Difficult Years 151
The Internal Ramp Goes Public 155
The Time Machine to Hemienu 167
The Search for the Internal Ramp 171
What's Next? 185
Appendix I The Search for Imhotep 191
Appendix II The Lost Pyramid 194
Appendix III The Case of the Missing Queen 196
Appendix IV Making Khufu's Sarcophagus 199
Appendix V The Pyramid's Angle 201
Photography Credits 215
What People are Saying About This
” Great fun for Egyptophiles.”
“A serious attempt at a new explanation for one of the oldest Egyptological mysteries.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Informative and exciting
This is so interesting to read on this intriguing mystery. I have always been fascinated by any research on the history of ancient Egypt and hos they built the pyramids. It is an excellent companion to the National Geographic documentary that was recently released for purchase. You will get your money's worth with this purchase !!
Brier does a wonderful job of enchanting the reader with the Houdin's theory on how the Great Pyramid was built. It was an easy read and makes the reader look at the Great Pyramid and Egyptian building techniques with new eyes. I hope that there is a follow on someday reporting on the further research to use thermal photography to see inside the pyramid and to see the interior ramps proposed by Houdin.
I haven't read the entire book yet but I soon will, its been in the store for less than a month and I already know much about it. It is a very stimulating book for anyone interested in Egyptology, or if you're just a really curious person like myself.