The Pyramids of Ancient Egypt and the Great Sphinx

March 04, 2013



Photographer: Ray Boren
Summary Author: Ray Boren

The pyramids of ancient Egypt and their vigilant companion the Great Sphinx (top photo) loom across the Nile River from the sprawling modern capital of Cairo. Since time immemorial (or at least since 2600-2500 BC), these iconic wonders of the world have intrigued Egyptologists and other historians, travelers and scientists of many stripes. The latter range from engineers (how did the ancient Egyptians construct stone skyscrapers more than four thousand years ago?) to astronomers (among other interesting cosmological feats, the major pyramids at Giza are aligned majestically along the cardinal points: north, east, south and west). Geologists and other earth scientists have questions as well. For instance, where did all those multi-ton blocks used to build the Great Pyramid of Khufu (known as Cheops to the Greeks), and those of his son Khafre (also Khafra, Chefren and Khephren) and grandson Menkaure (Mykerinos) come from (bottom photo)?

Investigators have determined that most of the soft, rough limestone core stone of the structures was quarried from the Giza Plateau itself. Some of the fine-grained limestone casing that once gave the great pyramids a smooth, lighter outer surface was hauled from nearby Tura, across and up the Nile River, south of Cairo. Finished pink granite, a harder and less malleable stone, was used in places as an outer casing and inside burial chambers, including sarcophagi. Its source has been traced to Aswan, 930 km (578 miles) south of Giza along the Nile.

Though their builders probably hoped the pyramids would stand as gleaming sentinels into eternity, their stone proved a temptation to those who followed. The fine casings that once gave the three great pyramids a smooth outer shell in particular were commandeered for other building projects centuries later, as the Giza site became an easy second-hand quarry for Cairo’s mosques and mansions. Only a small portion of the shell remains today, near the pinnacle of Khafre’s central monument, like frosting still topping a truly ancient cake. Photo taken on May 20, 2012.

Photo details: Top - Camera Model: NIKON D60; Focal Length: 55.0mm; Aperture: f/8.0; Exposure Time: 0.0031 s (1/320); ISO equiv: 100. Bottom - Camera Model: NIKON D60; Focal Length: 26.0mm; Aperture: f/4.5; Exposure Time: 0.0010 s (1/1000); ISO equiv: 110. Software: QuickTime 7.6.4.