Monday, May 29, 2006

Giza Pyramids Still Baffle the World.

He pointed excitedly at what he calls its mechanics — every carving, every joint, every scratch — all, he said, part of a fabulously intricate engineering design by ancient Egyptians

THEY have been called mystical, awe-inspiring, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. But it is safe to say that in the 45 centuries the great pyramids of Giza have cast their formidable shadow over the desert, they have never before been described as a cuckoo clock.
But that is what Jean-Pierre Houdin said as he lifted his tall lanky body up the steps into the pyramid of Cheops, the largest of the three pyramids high up on the Giza plateau overlooking this teeming, ancient city on the Nile.
"This is not just a pile of rocks," he said, his words curled around a soft French accent. "This is a cuckoo clock."


Then with a short, friendly laugh, he loped through the cool, dank passage and examined his cuckoo clock with the enthusiasm of a child. He pointed excitedly at what he calls its mechanics — every carving, every joint, every scratch — all, he said, part of a fabulously intricate engineering design by ancient Egyptians."It is an engineering project, from A to Z," he said, again with the same friendly chuckle.

People in search of themselves often look to great challenges: running a marathon, climbing a mountain or learning a new language. Mr. Houdin selected the pyramids as his vehicle for personal reflection, as the salve for his midlife crisis. His was an analytical venture, a quest to explain what appears impossible to prove, at least given the current public record: exactly how the ancient Egyptians built the pyramids using about 2.5 million stones, each weighing at least several tons.
Now, eight years later, he is ready to present his findings, one step at a time, and in doing so will be remembered either as the man who unlocked the secrets of ancient brilliance or as a bit of an eccentric who merely indulged his imagination.


"When you work every day, your mind is turned off to new ideas," said Mr. Houdin, whose wardrobe seems to be primarily black T-shirts and black jeans. "Then one day you are old. I looked for a new life."
Mr. Houdin says he had a successful business in
France for 20 years designing buildings and homes, when he shut everything down to focus on the pyramid built by Cheops, second ruler of the fourth dynasty. Mr. Houdin thinks he has the answer to how it was built — a series of theories, really — which he says he developed over more than 5,000 hours working with three-dimensional imaging software on his computer. Along the way, he also learned a bit about the challenges of dealing with modern Egypt and a bit about the competitive and ego-laden world of Egyptology.
"It's huge, yes it's huge," he said, staring up at the eastern face. "But it is a cuckoo clock. Everything is precise."


OVER the years, those who study the pyramids have learned a lot about their construction. They know that the bedrock of the plateau was incorporated into the base, so fewer stones were needed than originally estimated. Egyptologists say there is evidence that the stones of the pyramid were cut from the earth south of the base of the pyramid and that some of the granite rafters were transported from Luxor in the south.
What no one is exactly sure of is how the ancient Egyptians managed to move and assemble the stones into a pyramid 480 feet high. There are theories, including one popular one that the builders constructed a huge ramp leading to the very top of the pyramid. (There is another theory, too, that aliens were involved.)


Mr. Houdin says the large ramp theory could not have worked because it would have to be way too long, miles in fact, to avoid a slope that was not too steep. Mr. Houdin's main theory is that the only way to get stones up to the apex would be with a small outside ramp and a second ramp that spirals up the inside the pyramid. By his estimation, the outside ramp went up about a third of the way, while there was an inside ramp that is still there, sealed inside the walls of the pyramid, waiting centuries to be discovered.