The Last Wonder Standing: Ramping up the Giza Pyramids

How were the great pyramids of Giza built? This is a question that's been asked for a long time. The answers have been ranging from those based on the best available evidence to the more far-out ideas. Among those, there are suggestions that such precision and scale could only be the work of extraterrestrial intervention. But what do the most recent archaeological discoveries and scientific experiments tell us?

This time we delve into the true ingenuity behind these monumental structures. The pseudo-historical narratives often propose that the pyramids' advanced engineering and astronomical alignments are beyond human capability. Yet, a closer examination of historical records, architectural techniques, and archaeological findings reveals a different story.

Come with and find out how the pyramids at Giza where built.

In this episode:

The Orion Constellation Theory:

Debunking the theory that the Giza pyramids align perfectly with Orion's Belt, as popularized by Hancock and Bauval.

Explanation of the optical illusion achieved by the pyramid's placement and the actual significance of their alignment.

Construction Insights:

Examination of the estimated number of blocks used in the Great Pyramid and the reality of its construction challenge the 2 million blocks theory.

Discuss the leveling of the pyramid's foundation, debunking exaggerated claims of ancient precision, and exploring actual techniques used by the Egyptians.

Materials and Methods:

Insight into the mysterious cement used in the casing stones and its simple composition.

Addressing misconceptions about the construction tools and techniques, highlighting the effectiveness of copper tools and using sand as an abrasive.

Ramp Theories and Labor Techniques:

Exploring various theories on how ramps were utilized in pyramid construction, including evidence supporting the use of ramps.

Debunking myths about the absence of tools and the capabilities of the workers, emphasizing the skilled labor and resourcefulness of the ancient Egyptians.

Sources, resources and further reading suggestions

Welcome to Digging Up Ancient Aliens. This is the podcast where we examine strange claims about alternative history and ancient aliens in popular media. Do their claims hold water to an archeologist, or are there better explanations out there? 

We are now on episode 56, and I am Fredrik. Together, we will fence the misinformation with some trowels while dancing on the Ockhams Razors' edge. Today we will start to talk about the last of the Seven Wonders that still stands. ´The breathtaking pyramids of ancient Egypt standing at the Giza Plateau. These structures have inspired and raised questions through the millennials. Of course, this has led to some wild theories and speculations. Many of wich we will be able to put to rest today, including the Orion connection, leveling the site, and several ramp theories.

Remember that you can find sources, resources, and reading suggestions on our website, There, you also find contact info if you notice any mistakes or have any suggestions.

Now that we have finished our preparations, let’s dig into the episode.

Finally, we stand on the Giza plateau in Egypt. In front of us, we have a large complex of pyramids and temples. The most famous of these are the pyramids of Menkaure, Kahfre, and the Great Pyramid of Khufu. We will spend most of our time with the Horizon of Khufu, as the pyramid was called. But we should not forget Menkaure and Kahfre, especially since Kahfre's pyramid is only 10 meters or 33 feet shorter than grandfather Kufu's pyramid. So how is the pyramid complex in Giza presented in Ancient Aliens?

"The massive structures are engineered to near perfection and are believed by many to have been intentionally placed to align with the three belt stars of the Orion constellation. But of greatest significance to ancient astronaut theorists is the largest of the three: the Great Pyramid. This enormous structure stands 480 feet tall and was built from more than 2 million limestone blocks, each weighing thousands of pounds."

The Orion Constellation Theory

So, first of all, I want to address the Orion constellation theory. This is far from a new idea and something we have discussed several times throughout the episodes. This idea was presented in the book Messages of The Sphinx. It was written by Graham Hancock and Robert Bauval and published in 1996. They present several ideas in it, one of which is that the pyramids we see on the Giza plateau line up perfectly with the Orion's belt constellation. A massive flaw in this idea is that it simply doesn't. The only way to get it to line up is to invert the picture and rearrange the pyramids to line with stars in Orion's belt constellation.

Something that Hancock and Bauval simply leave out of their book. That the pyramids look like the Orion's belt constellation isn't really that Orion's belt has specific significance in Egyptian thought. It's more of a way to achieve our optical illusion. When Menkare built his pyramid, the 3rd one in the series, he seemed not to have Khufu and Kahfre's budget. But by placing his pyramid where he did, he could achieve an optical illusion visible when you approach the plateau by water. So, when traveling on the Nile and approaching the plateau, it will look like the three pyramids are all the same size at one point. So, this is more or less why the pyramids are set up as they are. Sure, this explanation isn't maybe as fancy and involves as many extraterrestrial aliens as Graham Hancock and Robert Bauval's idea. But it's grounded in reality.

Construction Insights

And then we have these two million block numbers. And it bothers me a bit because, as Egyptologist Nils Billing puts it. It is based on pure speculation. It's an estimation that relies heavily on the fact that there's no filling in the pyramid. And that it was constructed on a totally smooth surface. But if we could look at the pyramid from a dissected view, we will see that part of the bedrock was left. So, in the center of the pyramid, we have a hill. This way, they would not need as many stones. From further scans of the pyramids, there's a good amount of evidence of hollow areas filled with sand and rubble. So this is another way to save on the number of stone blocks needed to construct the pyramid. So you can take that with a grain of salt when you hear this 2.3 million number or whatever amount of blocks is claimed to have been used during construction.

Materials and Methods

But before I get ahead of myself. Let's maybe start with the initial part of the pyramid construction. Alternative history proponents often claim that the pyramid's foundation is more level than the buildings today.

"The Great Pyramid of Giza covers 13 acres. The precision of this building, uh, exceeds anything that we require of builders today. For instance, the area of the 13 acres was leveled within seven-eighths of an inch. That's about the thickness of a thumbnail. But that's not all. The casing stones are filled with some kind of mysterious cement that nobody's been able to figure out what the formula is. This is not the work of primitive people."

One of the issues with Chris Dunn's claim here is that his measurement simply isn't correct. The average deviation in the foundation of the Great Pyramid of Giza is about 2 centimeters +/-. Or half an inch if we use the American system of measuring distance. Archeologist Craig Smith did point out in his book "How the Great Pyramid was built" that "modern leveling achieves high-end accuracy about 0.3 centimeters and an average accuracy of three centimeters. The ancient Egyptians did very well, given the limited tools." 

But how did the ancient Egyptians achieve this level of accurate leveling? Egyptologist dr Edward suggested in his book "The Pyramids of Egypt" that: "To level an area like the bed of a pyramid it would have been necessary to surround it on all four sides with low banks of Nile mud, fill the enclosure so formed with water, and cut a network of trenches in the rock in such a manner that the floor of each trench lay at the same depth beneath the surface of the water; the intervening spaces could have been leveled after the water had been released." Edwards's suggestion might work in locations such as Meidum or Dahshur. Locations that have a more flat surface from the start. The issue was that the Giza Plateau, especially the Pyramids of Khufu and Khafre, were built on a sloping plateau area. So, for example, in the Khafres pyramid, the builders had to cut down the northwest corner of the pyramid by 10 meters or 33 feet. On top of this, they actually had to build up the southeast corner, as Mark Lehrer points out. Mark Leher also mentions in his book "The Complete Pyramids" that: "Any levelling technique using water must take into account the problem that water lifting and transport in the Old Kingdom was probably limited to pots slung from shoulder poles. Even if all this water had been carried up to the plateau, it would more than likely have evaporated or drained away before any measurements could be completed. Such practical hurdles make all theories using water unworkable."

After the break, if water might not been used at the Giza plateau, what other technique could have been used? And is the secret cement one of the keys to unlock the age of the pyramid?

Welcome back! A more realistic way to achieve this great level is to use a reference line. Archeologists and Egyptologists have found rows of holes around Khafre's and Khufu's Pyramid. These holes are regularly spaced about five and a half meters apart. This could be evidence of a very linear goofer living in the area. However, archaeologists have suggested a more realistic explanation for these postholes. And they have to do with leveling the pyramid. The Pyramid must rest on solid bedrock, as we learned in previous pyramid-building exercises. This doesn't require the bedrock itself to be level. We need just the foundation platform to be leveled. So what we can do is put posts in these holes. Then, they set a string between the poles, and with the string, they could make sure that the blocks of the foundation platform were at the same height. With this method, we can save quite a lot of time since we only need the outer parts of the foundation platform of the pyramids to be leveled. Remember, a massif of rock was deliberately left at the pyramid center. This was done to save time and effort during the construction process. 

And how to get the precise angles that the pyramid builders achieved can be done with at least three methods. You can use a set square, an A-shaped square placed on an established line on the pyramid, and then you can utilize this carpenter square to take out the right angle. Or we can use a 3-4-5 triangle or the Pythagorean triangle. We can draw this on the ground and use that as our reference for this right angle. The third option is to use intersecting arcs. While some Egyptologists are skeptical about this method being employed in constructing Khufu's pyramid. It would explain several of these postholes that we find around the pyramid. In the corner of the pyramid, we see two post holes that are a little bit outside the reference line. And they seemed to have been used to establish the lines for the side of the pyramid.

So, in a sense, Christopher Dunn is correct in his statement that this was not the work of primitive people. The ancient Egyptians were far from primitive. This is a label often used by the ancient alien people, as we have seen in previous episodes. As soon as you hear this primitive person, you should be careful because people trained in archaeology or history do not use these terms due to these negative connotations. Primitive people are what quantum mechanics is to physicists, but for archeology. It's used by people trying to sell you pseudo-scientific ideas.

So now I will let you in on our little secret here. I'll tell you the ingredients of that secret mortar that hasn't been replicated; wait for it. Limestone, gypsum, and ash. This isn't a new discovery but has been around for some time. We have even found where they created the mortar at the site. Thanks to the mortar containing organic material, we can even date the pyramid using C14. And guess what? The tests confirm a date corresponding with the reign of Khufu. So maybe it's not so much a secret and more that Dunn doesn't want to talk about it.

Ramp Theories and Labor Techniques

So, let's continue to another statement that we often hear when alternative historians talk about the pyramids in Giza. 

"And there are shafts, tunnels, and the architecture, and the way it was built is a mystery till today."

And there are different variations of this. It's a mystery; we don't exactly know how they did it. Or something in this spirit. And sometimes I think scientists are maybe a little too careful when speaking about things. Because while it's kind of true that we do not know something with 100% certainty, we significantly understand the construction. While we don't have the answer to a few things, like what type of ramp they use, this does invalidate all the other evidence. 

There are several ideas on how it could have been done, all more likely than levitation devices and aliens. It could have been the outside or inside ramp, even if Jean Pierre Houidin's inside ramp theory isn't looking that promising today. But there's ample evidence of a ramp being used. For example, the quarry for the great pyramids at the Giza Plateau wasn't found until 1920. The quarry was filled with millions of cubic meters of limestone chips, gypsum, sand, clay, etc. Flinders Petri missed this completely, and it took Selim Hassan a decade to clear out the quarry partially. But after Hassan had cleared parts of the quarry, the remains of a construction ramp became visible. The rubble cleared out was most likely the material used when constructing the ramp.

A common objection towards an outer ramp theory is that the critics claim that an outer ramp would cloak the rise and angle of the pyramid. Making it hard for the architects and project managers to keep the pyramid at an accurate angle and level surface. While this initially sounds like sound criticism, it doesn't really account for the evidence and archaeological remains that we have. This objection relies heavily on the fact that the casing stones were added later and at a finished state. 

As it turns out, the casing stones were put in much earlier. The blocks were only dressed in the bottom. But at the pyramid, they were lined up at their location with their neighbors, and then the blocks were dressed to fit together. They then marked how much of the access block on the outside was going to be shaved off at a later time. How much to remove was measured with a plumbline and a set square. 

After the break, we will ramp up the ramp theory and see how an unfinished pyramid might help us figure this out.

Welcome back. The removal of the extra stock I mentioned on the casing stones is clearly visible in Menkaure's pyramid. Since Menkaure died before the pyramid was finished, the project was abandoned. Due to this, the casing stones on one side were left undressed. So, we can really see how they got these smooth-sloping outer surfaces on the pyramid. And what's really interesting is that we have the markings of the stone masons on the undressed stones. Menkaure's pyramid is, in this sense, a bit more interesting because we have a treasure trove of markings left by the masons, the architects, and the surveys. We even have a painted red vertical line that marks the center axis of the pyramid. But by leaving these outer casing stones undressed, the pyramid's angle and level would be cloaked and obscured by these protruding stones.

Using this method would mean that, while the workers dismantled the ramp, they would simultaneously dress down and shave away the excess stone. Stopping when they hit the markings, they left earlier. In this way, they could achieve this smooth surface we see on the pyramids. They could also smooth out any uneven joints while dressing down this ramp. 

In this ramp discussion, I also want to point out that we're mainly talking about the Khufu and Khafres pyramids. The smaller pyramids most likely used a single ramp. And in several locations, we even have in situ ramps. One example would be Sinki's pyramid in Abydos, a small step pyramid still with the ramp for the pyramid in situ against one of its facades. An interesting theory I've seen is that the southern burial could have filled an additional function besides being a ritual burial. Some evidence could indicate that these southern pyramids could have been used as part of the ramp's foundation in the more giant pyramids. This is particularly visible in Sneferu's bent pyramid, where the track seems to lead through the southern pyramid.

So, while we might not know exactly what ramp they used, it doesn't matter in this case because we have all these surrounding evidence pointing to a ramp being used. As we will see later on, the causeway from the valley Temple up to the pyramid seems to have functioned as a ramp when unloading blocks arriving by boat.

Another objection against the ancient Egyptians building the pyramids is often the idea that there are no tools found around the pyramids. Or that the tools the ancient Egyptians would have had access to could not have cut the stones. So, let's dismantle this idea. While there's no metric ton of the tools found at the site, some have been uncovered during excavations. We have plenty of copper tools, including chisels, needles, weaving points, etc. A reason why we don't find that many copper tools could be due to copper being monopolized by the ruling class. We have records demonstrating this during the Middle and New Kingdom. Records show that tools were assigned to workers and weighed and measured at the beginning and end of the day. Based on documents found in Wadi El-Jarf could indicate a similar practice during the Old Kingdom. We will return to these documents shortly.

In previous episodes, I have talked a bit about the idea that copper can't cut stone. A devastating blow toward this claim is the experiments done by experimental archaeologist Deny Stocks; copper tools can be used very well to shape even hard rocks like granite. A common objection is that the copper chisels would become dull too quickly. As things turn out, this is not necessarily true. A French masonry worker named Mickael Restoin developed a technique to keep the copper chisel sharp as they chiseled the granite. Another nail in this coffin is the copper residue found in cut marks on stones, confirming that copper was used, as Mark Leher points out. 

Stocks and archeologist Stella Nair have also shown that Flint tools can be utilized as chisels with good results. This indicates that the ancient Egyptians could have relied on several different resources for their tools to build the pyramids. Many ancient astronaut theorists focused on the granite within the pyramids. It is worth remembering that the vast majority of the stone blocks are limestone, quarried just beside the pyramids. Limestone is much easier to work with than granite. Most of the time, they would not need copper saws to achieve the smooth surfaces. As for the parts made out of granite, Denis Stocks points out that a relatively small team of skilled workers would be able to complete these details. 

Combining a blunt copper blade with an abrasive such as sand gives you a saw capable of cutting 4 cubic centimeters of rose granite per hour. Experiments with copper and sand from Aswan produced a cutting rate of 12 cubic centimeters per hour. Copper tube drills are not as effective but have a cutting rate of 1.5 cubic centimeters of rose granite per hour. So we could have several teams of three to operate the drills and the saws. Two are cutting and drilling; one adds the abrasive and maybe some liquid. However, the granite in Khufu's pyramid is chiefly used as material for the chambers. These blocks would not need this kind of work to be smooth. Chisels, pounders, and using stone to smooth out the surface would be much quicker and more efficient. The pyramids' limestone would not require this amount of precision to be fitted in place. 

The ancient astronaut theory is dead and gone by this information alone. But we will seal this coffin completely next time by investigating the Red Sea Scrolls and deconstructing Chris Dunn's pyramid machine theory. 

Until then, please spread the word by leaving a positive review on platforms like iTunes, Spotify, or even among your fellow trench dwellers. For more information about me and my podcast, check out

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Sandra Marteleur created the intro music, and our outro is by the band called Trallskruv, who sings their song "tin foil hat." Links to both these artists will be found in the show notes.

Until next time, keep shoveling that science!

Sources, resources, and further reading suggestions

Billing, N. (2011). Egyptens Pyramider: Evighetens Arkitektur I Forntid Och Nutid. 2nd ed. Stockholm: Carlssons.

Bonani, G., Haas, H., Hawass, Z., Lehner, M., Nakhla, S., Nolan, J., Wenke, R. and Wölfli, W. (2001). Radiocarbon Dates of Old and Middle Kingdom Monuments in Egypt. Radiocarbon, 43(3), pp.1297–1320. doi:

Brewer, D.J. and Teeter, E. (2010). Egypt and the Egyptians. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Brier, B. and Houdin, J.-P. (2009). Secret of the great pyramid : how one man’s obsession led to the solution of ancient Egypt’s great mystery. Washington D.C: Smithsonian Books.

Edwards, I.E.S. (1993). The pyramids of Egypt. 9th ed. [online] London: Penguin Books. Available at:

Höflmayer, F. (2016). Radiocarbon Dating and Egyptian Chronology—From the ‘Curve of Knowns’ to Bayesian Modeling. Oxford Handbooks Online. Oxford University Press. doi:

Le Grand Virage (2022). BONUS PLGV - MICKAEL RESTOIN - L"EXPERIENCE. [online] YouTube. Available at:   L’experience des outils du pollisage.

Lehner, M. (2003). The complete pyramids: Solving the Ancient Mysteries. New York: Thames & Hudson.

Lehner, M. and Tallet, P. (2022). The Red Sea Scrolls: How Ancient Papyri Reveal the Secrets of the Pyramids. Thames & Hudson.

Ramsey, C.B., Dee, M.W., Rowland, J.M., Higham, T.F.G., Harris, S.A., Brock, F., Quiles, A., Wild, E.M., Marcus, E.S. and Shortland, A.J. (2010). Radiocarbon-Based Chronology for Dynastic Egypt. Science, 328(5985), pp.1554–1557. doi:

Sheisha, H., Kaniewski, D., Marriner, N., Djamali, M., Younes, G., Chen, Z., El-Qady, G., Saleem, A., Véron, A. and Morhange, C. (2022). Nile Waterscapes Facilitated the Construction of the Giza Pyramids during the 3rd Millennium BCE. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 119(37). doi:

Smith, C.B. and Hawass, Z.A. (2018). How the Great Pyramid Was Built. Washington, Dc: Smithsonian Books.

Stocks, D.A. (2023). Experiments in Egyptian Archaeology. 2nd ed. New York: Taylor & Francis.

Tallet, P. and Marouard, G. (2014). THE HARBOR OF KHUFU on the Red Sea Coast at Wadi al-Jarf, Egypt. Near Eastern Archaeology, 77(1), pp.4–14. doi:

Van de Mieroop, M. (2011). A History of Ancient Egypt. Chicester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Wilkinson, R.H. (2000). The Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt. New York: Thames & Hudson.


“Folie hatt” by Trallskruv

Lily of the woods by Sandra Marteleur