Photograph from 1870s via The New York Public Library Digital Gallery

An ancient papyrus logbook said to detail part of the building of the Great Pyramid of Khufu (also known as Cheops) at Giza has gone on display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Egypt. It is an amazing find, a beautiful example of ancient writing; but does it really illustrate how the Great Pyramid was built?

The Discovery

Discovered in 2013 by a team of French and Egyptian archaeologists lead by Pierre Tallet and Gregory Marouard at the ancient Red Sea port of Wadi-al-Jarf, an archaeological site nearly 150 miles southeast from Giza on the Gulf of Suez coast, the 4,500 year old document is part of a trove containing hundreds of fragmented pieces of the oldest inscribed papyri so far discovered in Egypt.

Of these tattered fragments, a hundred or so pieces of varying sizes make up the personal log of a middle-ranking official of Memphis named Merer, who was in charge of a team of about 200 men. Its hieroglyphs record the quarrying at Tura, near Cairo, of limestone blocks which were “probably used for the external casing of the Great Pyramid,” speculate Tallet and Marouard when discussing their discoveries. The fragments also describe the transportation of the limestone blocks over the course of two or three days along the Nile by boat, and through a system of canals, to a construction site on the Giza plateau, which the fragments call “the Horizon of Khufu,” an allusion to the Great Pyramid. There are descriptions of workers’ pay, and the bringing of sheep to feed the workers at the Giza site. Covering a span of several months during the 27th year of Pharaoh Khufu’s (also known as Cheops) 4th Dynasty reign, it lists in time-table, two-column form “various activities related to the construction of the Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza and the limestone quarries on the opposite bank of the Nile.”

On the hundreds of other fragments of papyrus discovered at the Wadi-al-Jarf site are mentions of vizier Ankh-haf, half-brother of Khufu and “chief of all the works of the king,” who is described as overseeing the huge building project.

“This diary,” write Tallet and Marouard, “found in the same archaeological context as the administrative accounts dating to regnal Year 27, highlights two major facts: it confirms that Ankh-haf was effectively vizier and in charge of some of the final steps of the construction of the Great Pyramid at Giza, and it verifies that the pyramid was clearly at a final stage of the construction project at the very end of the Khufu’s reign.”

Tallet and Marouard postulate that the reason these documents were found at a site a good 150 miles from Giza, was that the sailors stationed at Wadi-al-Jarf were working on related projects at both sites. The fragments were all found lodged in between large blocking stones used to seal some of the storage galleries, apparently at the very end of the port’s use. “I think the reason we found [the papyri] there is that this was the last mission of the team, I imagine because of the death of the king. I think they just stopped everything and closed up the galleries and then as they were leaving buried the archives in the area between the two large stones used to seal the complex. The date on the papyri seems to be the last date we have for the reign of Khufu, the 27th year of his reign,” Tallet told Alexander Stille for the Smithsonian magazine. “I really don’t want to be involved in any polemics on the building of the pyramids at Giza—it’s not my job,” he also said. “Of course it’s interesting to have this kind of information, it will deserve a lot of study.”

The documents were found a good 150miles from Giza, at Wadi-al-Jarf harbor, the oldest known Egyptian port hitherto discovered. Source: Google Maps

The documents were found a good 150miles from Giza, at Wadi-al-Jarf harbor, the oldest known Egyptian port hitherto discovered. Source: Google Maps

Still Unexplained

So what exactly are we seeing here? Is it really the construction of the pyramid itself being described? Or is it a repair job undertaken to spiff up or repair a monument already old, to be co-opted or adopted by Khufu for the grandeur of his own legacy? While the activities described in these papyri might very well be related to some sort of work on the Great Pyramid, they still tell us nothing about how, or why, the pyramid was built in the first place.

To many it seems that, while a substantial portion of the three large pyramids at Giza were most likely built during the Old Kingdom, they were most likely built atop much older foundations, and according to ancient plans and ideas: many key thinkers see the Egyptian Pyramids as projects that spanned generations.

There are no other contemporaneous inscriptions that link the building of the Great Pyramid to Khufu or any pharaoh for that matter, other than a single questionable cartouche of Khufu’s name in red ocher paint on a stone, out of sight, in a relieving chamber, above the King’s Chamber, deep inside the Great Pyramid, where dynamite was needed to find it in the first place. Certainly nothing like a proclamation to the world or statement of possession by Khufu or anyone. So these ancient, torn papyri are extremely special and rare if they do conclusively link the building of the Great Pyramid to Khufu.

To a layman, it might seem strange that anyone megalomaniacal enough to spend the kind of money and manpower it must have required to build such an ostentatious structure as the Great Pyramid would not have made more of an effort to document the construction thereof. Scraps of a logbook. A single painted cartouche. Khufu was a singular man among pharaohs then, to leave for posterity no more declarative statement saying, “This is Mine!” than these.

“This whole story about the pyramid documents is very interesting,’ says Graham Hancock, author of Heaven’s Mirror, in an email to this author. His most recent work, Magicians of the Gods, follows up on his landmark Fingerprints of the Gods, further examining the abundant evidence around the Earth for a lost, prehistoric yet advanced civilization. “First, as you note, the Giza three [pyramids] were most likely substantially built during the old Kingdom, but on much older foundations. This has been my position since Fingerprints of the Gods. It was a kind of renovation and completion of a much older project in my view—so these records sound like they are documenting that renovation and completion project—the facing stones—rather than the building of entire pyramids. It would be great to drill down into these documents and confirm exactly what they say. Is a full English translation even available? I note in Magicians that there is evidence of a renovation project on the Sphinx in Old Kingdom times—with specific reference to ancient plans.”

“I’m basically on the same page as Graham,” says John Anthony West, author of Serpent in the Sky and the man who in 1992, together with geologist Robert Schoch, helped redate the Great Sphinx at Giza due to abundant signs of erosion caused by precipitation in the Spinx enclosure, showing it to be quite a bit older, by thousands of years, than mainstream Egyptologists are willing to say. “There can be no doubt whatsoever that several stages of construction can be seen on the Khafre Pyramid, [while also] less obviously, but almost as convincingly on the Menkaure Pyramid. The Great Pyramid is ‘iffier’ but there are very good reasons to believe the same applies to it. But it’s too complicated a matter to get into via email.”

“Absolute fraud or complete mistranslation,” said Stephen Mehler when asked about the papyri, author of Land of Osiris, a book about the prehistoric, advanced civilization that he says came before time of the pyramids, Mehler is dismissive of mainstream archaeologists and modern Egyptology in general. “Egyptologists do not even know correct term for ‘pyramid’.”

Khafre Pyramid. (c) Mstyslav Chernov CC BY-SA 3.0

Khafre Pyramid. (c) Mstyslav Chernov CC BY-SA 3.0

Menkaure Pyramid. (c) Kallerna CC BY-SA 3.0

Menkaure Pyramid. (c) Kallerna CC BY-SA 3.0

The casing stones on Menkaure's Pyramid were never finished. The photo shows the East face of the Pyramid with roughly finished casing stones. Source:

The casing stones on Menkaure’s Pyramid were never finished. The photo shows the East face of the Pyramid with roughly finished casing stones. Source:

Close-up of the Great Pyramid (c) Joshua Doubek CC BY-SA 3.0

Close-up of the Great Pyramid (c) Joshua Doubek CC BY-SA 3.0

Vital Statistics

The papyri do not describe how the men mentioned in its figures, and what had to be thousands of other workers, managed to pile up an estimated 2.3 million stones, each weighing anywhere from one to 20 tons (some deep inside, such as the huge granite stones that are the roof of the King’s Chamber, are each one anywhere from 30 to 80 tons), one atop the other, all in the span of just 23 years, the accepted mainstream timespan it’s said to have required.

There are many alternate theories as to how the Great Pyramid was built, not to mention when, by whom and for what purpose. The Great Pyramid is an awe-inspiringly gargantuan structure. Originally it reached a height of about 480 feet (146 meters). Now, with its original capstone, or the pyramidion, missing, it stands at 455 feet (139 meters). Its base covers 13.6 acres, which is equal to about seven Manhattan city blocks, and each side has an area of 5 ½ acres. The designers and builders of this incredibly massive monument managed to align it almost perfectly with True North.

When completed, it was encased in 144,000 highly polished, gleaming white limestone blocks which were secured together so seamlessly that when Caliph Abdullah Al-Mamoun first had a team of men break into the Great Pyramid in 820 AD, it was necessary for them to dig a tunnel through the extremely hard stones by first heating them with flames, and then pouring cold vinegar on them to make them crack. The original entrance was only located when the diggers stumbled upon the descending passage within, and followed it back up to the 20-ton, swivel door at the entrance. The door was so exactly balanced it’s said that from the inside it took the lightest push to swing it open, and from the outside it was impossible to grasp the edges to pull it open, hence the difficulty finding it in the first place. The photographs below, taken in 1906 by John and Morton Edgar and published in Volume One of their 1910 book, The Great Pyramid Passages and Chambers, are of ‘Al-Mamoun’s Cavity’ in the Great Pyramid before the modern restoration project.

'Al Mamoun's Cavity', as viewed from the First Ascending Passage of the Great Pyramid, showing the upper butt-end of the granite plug to the right, and Judah standing at the inner end of the long passage, which was forced inward from the north side of the Pyramid by Caliph Al Mamoun in 820 A.D.

‘Al Mamoun’s Cavity’, as viewed from the First Ascending Passage of the Great Pyramid, showing the upper butt-end of the granite plug to the right, and Judah standing at the inner end of the long passage, which was forced inward from the north side of the Pyramid in 820 AD. by Caliph Al-Mamoun.

Features of the Great Pyramid before the modern cleaning and restoration, taken 1906 by John and Morton Edgar, published in Volume One of The Great Pyramid Passages and Chambers, 1910.

The upper south end of the west side of the granite plug which completely blocks the lower end of the First Ascending Passage in the Great Pyramid of Gizeh. Photograph showing two of the series of three great stones hidden in the masonry for three thousand years, which were then exposed in 820 AD. by Caliph Al-Mamoun in the course of his excavations.

Most of the casing stones were subsequently used as building material for the residents of Cairo, with just a few casing stones remaining at the bottom of the structure. The sides of the Great Pyramid are slightly indented, which was only noticed when British Air Force Pilot P. Groves snapped a photo in 1940, which showed the unusual and unexplained feature of it actually having not four, but eight sides at dawn and at sunset on the equinoxes respectively.

Aerial photo of Great Pyramid, 1940, taken by P. Groves.

Aerial photo of Great Pyramid, 1940, taken by P. Groves.

How Was It Built

Trying to explain exactly how the ancient people of Egypt managed to construct a monument as absolutely humongous as the Great Pyramid is boggling to modern minds. Many have ascribed the use of magic, levitation, the use of lasers, or even the somewhat mundane pouring of concrete into prefab frames. These are only a few of the countless theories people have come up with to try and explain the mammoth endeavor.

One recent, rather less sensational theory as to how the Great Pyramid was built involves the construction of both a long, straight, external ramp for the bottom third of the pyramid, then an interior spiral ramp for the remainder upon which the heavy stones could have been pushed or pulled. The ramp would have then been left in place when the pyramid was completed. This is french architect Jean-Pierre Houdin’s theory, for which there are two pieces of evidence that lend it quite a bit of weight.

The first is a remarkable feature about two-thirds of the way up on the northeastern edge of the pyramid, a notch that can be plainly seen from the ground. Egyptologist and fellow theorist Bob Brier, accompanied by a National Geographic film crew, undertook the dangerous climb up the rough stones to investigate. There, about 300 feet up, they found an L-shaped room, which has never been discussed previously by any researcher, and which fits Houdin’s theory perfectly. For the inner-ramp theory to work, it would have necessitated having open areas at all four corners of the pyramid, where the heavy blocks could be lifted, and turned, with levers or cranes of some type, to move the next portion of the ramp up on ascending the pyramid. Here was such a space exactly along the angle a ramp would have climbed, as speculated by Houdin.

The second piece of evidence comes from a study carried out by a French team in 1986, when it was searching for hidden rooms or chambers inside the Great Pyramid, using a method called “microgravimetry,” which measures the strength of local gravity fields. While the study was deemed a failure at the time, 15 years later one of the participants approached Houdin after a talk he’d given about his inner ramp theory, and showed him an image they’d produced during their study. It showed what appears to be a spiraling feature rising along the inside of the outer edges of the pyramid. While neither piece of evidence conclusively proves Houdin’s theory, they certainly do make it seem that much more feasible.

The Use of Water

Then there’s Chris Massey, a construction project manager from Derbyshire, England. He scoffs at the idea that the ancient Egyptians were pushing and pulling those huge, heavy stones up any ramps. Rather, he’s sure that, just as described in the papyri from Wadi-al-Jarf, the ancient workers used boats to float the unwieldy stones along the Nile River and canals to the site of the Great Pyramid. There, speculates Massey, the ancient Egyptians would have built a water shaft to lift the stones, using a series of locks to regulate their rise up the pyramid to their desired height. He has built scale models to show exactly how it was done, and written a book, the aptly titled The Pyramids of Egypt – How Were They Really Built?. There’s nothing in the ancient papyri about a water shaft used to lift stones, but Massey isn’t alone in thinking water was a major component in getting the Great Pyramid built, or even as a reason to build the pyramids in the first place.

Writer Edward Kunkel, author of The Pharaoh’s Pump, and marine engineer John Cadman, both theorized that the Great Pyramid was built by use of a giant water pump, perhaps as a tool to assist in flood control. Edward F. Malkowski puts forth the idea in his fascinating Ancient Egypt 39,000 BCE- the History, Technology, and Philosophy of Civilization X that it was not solely by use of a water pump that the Great Pyramid was built, but also by a resonator. This resonator, postulates Malkowski, would create a weak electrical field and broadcast it into the atmosphere, thus helping detect very low frequencies (VLF) and extremely low frequencies (ELF), which result from thunderstorms and can promote plant growth. The ancients would have used this to assist their crop growth, he claims. Famine resulting from the failure of fields to yield a harvest must always indeed have been a concern, deeming such a method apt in more ways than architecturally.

Biblical Connections?

In 2016, one of the GOP candidates running for President of the United States, Ben Carson, was heartily mocked in the press when he claimed the Great Pyramid was built to store grain. This however is not a new theory; the idea actually dates back at least a thousand years, to the 6th century, when Gregory of Tours, in his History of the Franks, described the Egyptian pyramids as “Joseph’s Grainaries.” They are even depicted as such in a 13th Century mosaic in one of the domes of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Italy. Joseph is said in the Old Testament to have interpreted an unnamed Egyptian pharaoh’s dream of seven fat cows being eaten by seven skinny cows who all came plodding up out of the Nile, to mean seven years of famine were soon to follow seven years of bountiful harvests. He told this pharaoh, during the seven bountiful years, to prepare by storing all the grain he could get his hands on.

13th century Mosaic found in Basilica de San Marco, Venice, depicting Pyramids.

13th century Mosaic found in Basilica de San Marco, Venice, depicting Pyramids.

Charles Piazzi Smyth, the Astronomer Royal for Scotland, published a book titled Our Inheritance in the Great Pyramid in 1864, in which, after careful measurements of the Great Pyramid’s long, sloping Grand Gallery, he detailed his theory that a chronology of the greatest events of human history, past and future, were carefully mapped out there in pyramid inches, beginning with Christ’s birth and ending in the Great Tribulation.

Satan himself has gotten into the act; for Jehovah’s Witness Joseph T. Rutherford decided that that the theory whereby God had built the Great Pyramid, an idea called “Christian Pyramidology,” promulgated by his predecessor and fellow Jehovah’s Witness Charles Taze Russell, was incorrect. In a two-part article published in the Watch Tower in November and December of 1928, titled “The Alter in Egypt,” Rutherford claims that rather than ascribe that construction to God, the blame should fall squarely on the shoulders of that “wily foe,” Satan. And not only that; for Rutherford asserts that not only the Giza pyramids, but also the Great Sphinx, should be considered Satan’s Bible – that they were built by the ancient Egyptians at Satan’s instruction to lead humanity astray.

Still a Mystery

Considering the vehemence with which modern mainstream Egyptologists deny the theories of some researchers, who deem the construction of such monuments in Egypt’s prehistory to have been the work of an advanced civilization, it’s a wonder that there haven’t been calls to burn anyone at the stake. So many more theories abound, most of them reaching entirely different conclusions about who, when, how, and why the Giza monuments were built, including but not limited to the Great Pyramid itself.

So much mystery still shrouds the Great Pyramid. Even if these fragments of ancient writing now on display in Cairo do indeed describe parts of a building project that was underway on the Giza plateau at the very end of pharaoh Khufu’s reign, enough questions remain as to the provenance of the Great Pyramid and other Giza structures, to still lead some people to wonder just what the project described in these papyri really fully entailed. These papyri might do a remarkable job in illustrating both the organization and intelligence of Old Kingdom Egyptians, but answering questions about how the Great Pyramid was built they do not.

Despite headlines like “Mystery of Great Pyramid Solved” or “Construction Plan For Pyramids Found Written in 4,500 Year Old Papyus,” and other assorted declarations, there’s very little mystery solved, only a project that may or may not have been the Great Pyramid. It’s a lot of circumstantial evidence. The project described could be part of a reconstruction of the Great Pyramid, a final stage during which Khufu had the honor of being pharaoh. But as to whether it was built as a tomb, for Khufu, and all the other mainstream assertions are still unaddressed by these beautiful and special fragments of papyrus.

Links for further exploration:

Biography of a Great Pyramid Casing Stone by David Ian Lightbody:

Discovering the Papyri at the Harbor of Khufu on the Red Sea Coast at Wadi al-Jarf, Egypt:

Beautiful Photos of the Oldest Papyrus at the DailyMail:

The World’s Oldest Papyrus and What it Can Tell Us About the Great Pyramids:

Construction Plan For Pyramids Found Written in 4,500 Year Old: Papyus

“Des papyrus du temps de Chéops au Ouadi el-Jarf (Golfe de Suez),” BSFE 188, 2014, p. 25-49.

Pharaoh Khufu:

Pushing Back the Portals of Civilization: Back the Portals of Civilization

A New Theory for the Great Pyramid- How Science is Changing Our View of the Past:

10 Bizarre Theories about the Pyramids That Don’t Involve Aliens:

The Watch Tower and the Great Pyramid- Then and Now:

Joseph Interprets Pharaoh’s Dream of Famine:

Explosion in the Great Pyramid?

Guardian of Giza- gorgeous photos of the Great Pyramid inside and out:

The Concavity of the Great Pyramid- a Design Feature? Did the Builders Know the Meter Unit?

Concave Faces of the Great Pyramid:

Houdin’s Inner Ramp/Hidden Room:

Chris Massey’s Water Shaft Theory:

the Adoption Theory:

Before the Pharaohs, Before the Pyramids:

The Genesis of Civilization:

Another Theory of How The Great Pyramid Was Built:

The Egypt Code- the Mystery of 10,500 BCE:

Graham Hancock:

John Anthony West:

Stephen Mehler’s Land of Osiris:

10 thoughts on “New Claims About The Great Pyramid, Citing The Oldest Papyrus Ever Found: Do The Claims Stand Up?”

  1. Manu says:

    I think the main take-away is that this is the first time that major construction efforts at the time of Khufu can be credibly linked to the Great Pyramid. The evidence does not exclude the possibility that the Great Pyramid was build on a pre-existing shrine or observatory as you already pointed out, but there is a lot of middle ground here. I think the two Egyptology camps are so entrenched at this time that their respective theories have become mutually exclusive, but this does not have to be so. I think you can reconcile both theories and come to a common understanding on this. Zahi Hawass himself has posted the idea that the original angle intended may have been closer to the Red Pyramid initially. So he also noticed evidence of two possible designs. The only difference is that he probably believes these two designs came from the same era, while alternative Egyptologists believe this proves that there was a much older structure with a different angle first and then the G.P. was built on top with the known angle of 51 1/2. Let’s focus on where everyone agrees first!

  2. Doug Keenan says:

    Good article but no mention of Chris Dunn?

  3. Ernie Delgado says:

    Fantastic information. When will the papyrus be translated into English?

  4. Kelly Reid says:

    Something random struck me while reading this. The number of casing stones, 144,000. This is the same number as the number of days in Mayan long count baktun, and is also used in the book of Revelations.

    not sure what, if anything, to make of this, but it struck me as curious

    1. Jess says:

      144,000 divided by the precessional number 72 gives us 2000. So links to precession maybe? Just a thought.

  5. Dick Modderkolk says:

    Very funny. The author made me giggle a lot. Anyone wanting a laugh should read this.

  6. Jess says:

    I have looked for a transcription of the papyrus but all I have found so far are various quotes from the papyrus. However from what I have seen so far it just mentions Merer was involved in finishing off the casing at year 27 of Khufu’s reign, which archaeologists think was the last year of his reign. From this papyrus alone, I’m thinking this was a restoration project rather than an account of the actual building of the pyramid.

  7. Jenny Miner says:

    The Golden Reed by Delamer Duverus depicts the pyramids as being part of the Tower of Babel. 2/3 of the structure was destroyed, which probably made the Sahara as it was once the fertile plains of Mamre, and the center structure was carved into the Sphinx. At the time the humanity of that generation knew how to levitate and to change the molecular structure to make it easy to cut the stone. The Tower was a weapon, think Death Star, and there are allusions in Book of Jasher of a part of the structure being in space. The pyramid structures took the cosmic sheath off the light rays, and sent the cosmic sheath or energy to the central structure which focused it off the planet. The Cosmic sheath is very destructive and why we grow old sooner than old Noah who lived 800 years or more. Supposedly it made the Land of Milk and Honey as the red, yellow and blue waves of light were fed into the Earth through the pyramids. The Golden Reed ios a good read, however odd it might seem.

  8. Ronald Beaumont says:

    My money’s on Satan as the builder, along with certain US housing projects that had to be dynamited in the 1970’s.

  9. Spiritwind says:

    Come on, folks, EVERYBODY who is in the pyramid business has a paradigm, and now there is a new bit of information that puts a mark in the “mainstream” tally book. Take it in stride, be nice, because no one knows for sure, and it is likely we never will. BTW, the only way to get “burned at the stake ” is to jump into one’s own messy fire…..
    Speaking of such,here’s my burning question, and it came to me as a youth when I first read about Egypt-this Al-Mamoun fellow, who took a gang of workers with hammers, fire, and gallons and gallons of “cold” vinegar( fresh from the local grocery cooler, no doubt) and hacked his way through solid granite and JUST HAPPENED to stumble upon the ascending gallery. So take yourself back in time, imagine you are rich and have lots of laborers at your disposal, and you decide to go for it…”OK chaps, we are going to start here, no there, wait a minute, oh, darn, Mustafa, take this rock, close your eyes and where it lands will be the place”. But because this misadventure is documented in some ancient text, it HAS to be true…no one ever seems to question this story, which seems to me about as likely as the the grain storage theory. Whoever burrowed in knew EXACTLY where to start……how did they know, and what did they really find? All that work for nothing, I guess, so may as well record it for history, like this- ‘Caliph Al- Mamoun wastes boatloads of time and resources, deprives the local populace of vinegar for the immediate future, and has nothing to show for it but skinned knuckles”.. oh yes, he was humble and wanted others to learn from his mistakes…

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