A Tomb for Khufu
from the book, "Our Fascinating Earth"

Book: 
Our Fascinating Earth

A Tomb for Khufu

Egyptians had strong beliefs in life in the hereafter. The nobility were always honored upon death, and steps were taken to provide them with every comfort in the next life. This was one of the reasons for the elaborate tomb paintings.

One of the greatest unsolved mysteries of ancient times is how the Egyptian artists performed their art in the dark recesses of a tomb. How were they able to harness adequate light for work where no sunlight could penetrate? They certainly did not use torches, because no sign of soot has ever been found on the walls or ceilings as would have remained if flaming light had been used.

Some authorities believe the answer may involve the use of mirrors. A series of highly polished metal mirrors placed at strategic angles could reflect sunlight off each other. The sunlight could then be reflected around corners and deep into the farthest recesses of the tomb.

Many of the pharaohs apparently would try to prove their greatness by, among other things, building enormous tomb structures. It is no great mystery to scholars how the largest tombs were built. What is most amazing is the creation of such magnificent feats of architectural engineering so far back in antiquity.

Probably the most outstanding example of such an achievement is the Great Pyramid of Giza. Pharaoh Khufu (Cheops) caused it to be built nearly 5,000 years ago, and it was considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The pyramid covers thirteen acres and reaches a height of 481 feet — the equivalent of a forty—story sky—scraper in the modern world. Perhaps even more amazing are the blocks of this great structure. It is made of about 2,300,000 blocks of limestone, each weighing two and a half tons. Yet these gigantic blocks were fitted with no joint wider than a fiftieth of an inch!

When scientists measured the sides of the pyramid, they found that all sides differ by a maximum of only eighty—eight thousandths of 1 percent. And the ancients built it without the aid of precision instruments or computers; their device for these incredible accurate measurements was a knotted string.

For the modern reader of history it is difficult to comprehend how ancient the great pyramids at Giza really are. Well over 2,000 years ago, when the Greek historian Herodotus visited these great wonders of the ancient world near modern Cairo, he was, like any other traveler, looking at an ancient tourist attraction. Even at that time the pyramids were already 2,000 years old!

In contrast to their present—day rugged appearance, the Egyptian pyramids were once completely faced with polished marble. When Herodotus traveled in Egypt and later described the pyramids, his writing emphasized the marble facing, which was so highly polished that he could see the clear reflection of the clouds passing overhead.

The pyramids today stand relatively intact despite nearly fifty centuries of wars, earthquakes, tourists, tomb robbers, and natural decay. They have come to symbolize eternity itself.