Other than mathematicians, no field is forced to deal with anything like the deluge of radical theories, typically from amateurs or academics outside the field, that face those who study the ancient world. Those who study ancient Greece, for example, had to deal with the British Prime Minister William Gladstone’s insistence that Homer’s contemporaries were at least partially colorblind (Sampson & Babarczy, 2014). What those who offer radical theories about how the pyramids of Giza were constructed lack in ministerial position, they make up for in volume: everything from aliens to angels have been suggested as the secret builders. Of these many theories, however, two stand out as more plausible than the rest: Jean-Pierre Houdin’s theory of an external/internal ramp and Joseph Davidovits’ theory that the limestone blocks were manmade cast at the site itself.
Jean-Pierre Houdin abandoned a lengthy career as a professional architect to develop a flash of insight he heard from his father into a full theory about the Giza pyramids: that, for the first thirty percent of the building, the incredibly heavy blocks were raised to the proper level by a massive ramp that wrapped around the building’s outside, and that, for the upper seventy percent, the blocks were raised by a massive internal ramp (Brier & Houdin, 2008). While most egyptologists accept that ramps were involved in the creation of the Giza pyramids, there is massive disagreement as to the type of ramp that was used. A simple external corkscrew ramp would interrupt the sight lines of the overseers and engineers, which would make the impossible straightness of the pyramids impossible (Brier & Houdin, 2008). In addition, a corkscrew ramp that was too circular, like the spiral ramp his father had initially imagined, would impede the stone’s movement as lines must be straight to minimize the moments of turning (Brier & Houdin, 2008). However, if an external ramp was used for the first section, and if the material of that ramp was then cannibalized for the stone for higher floors while straight ramps continued inside, these problems would be mitigated.
Professor of material science Joseph Davidovits rejects any attempts to explain the pyramids in terms of ramps and wheels. He argues that there is no evidence of the wheel in Egypt before the Hyksos (a group of foreigners who invaded and ruled Egypt in the Second Intermediate Period and whose exact origins and history are unclear (Bourriau, 2000)), and that any ramps would become hopelessly mired in the mud of the build site (Davidovits & Davidovits, 1990). Instead, he suggests that the blocks are a mixture of natural limestone rubble and “geological glue”, an alchemical glue that has been lost to time (Davidovits & Davidovits, 1990). These blocks would have been formed in location, and as such, would not have required transportation to the build site or up the face of the pyramid.
Davidovits’ theory seems outlandish but ultimately is more convincing of the two. As he establishes, the Egyptians were known to create stone sculptures out of enamel (Davidovits & Davidovits, 1990). Davidovits also shows that the stone used in the construction of the pyramids possesses chemical qualities unlike the stone from the nearby limestone quarry from which it is usually assumed that the Egyptians took their stone (Davidovits & Davidovits, 1990). Finally, Davidovits argues for a number of alternate interpretations of hieroglyphic records that would imply something like his alchemical theory, instead of the theory of manual labor that seems obvious from current translations (Davidovits & Davidovits, 1990).
Both Davidovits’ and Houdin’s theories are outside of the mainstream of Egyptology. Even if either is close to the truth, it is unsurprising they would be slow to be accepted, especially when one considers academia’s tendency to be slow in accepting new ideas with the technological nature of both arguments. It will be interesting to see, as one generation of Egyptologists passes away and a new, more technologically-literate one comes of age, what future generations will make of their work.