It's one of the world's greatest mysteries - how
did the ancient Egyptians build the pyramids?
It's as vexing as the riddle of the Sphinx. And the truth is,
no one really knows how they built the pyramids.
But amateur Egyptologist Maureen Clemmons has a theory. She thinks
that kites may have been used to build the pyramids.
"If you look at the top center of every monument, you see
wings," Clemmons said. "I think the Egyptians have been
trying to tell us in pictures for 3000 years that this is how
they built the pyramids."
Her idea - to build a pyramid you harness the desert wind using
kites to lift the stones. She got a team of aeronautic engineers
from Caltech to help her test the theory.
"At the beginning, we were ourselves very critical of her
ideas but then we started to think more about it and we said,
'why not? let's try it,'" said Mary Gharid of Caltech.
The engineers worked out the math and designed a system of nylon
ropes and pulleys. Each pulley quadruples the amount of weight
a single kite can pull.
"So, we're using one kite in 15 mile per hour winds to lift
up a three and half ton block," said Caltech student Emilio
Yesterday, in the Mojave Desert, they put their theory to the
test using a nylon kite, three pulleys and an obelisk that weighs
nearly four tons.
The wind speed had to be just right. And miraculously, it worked.
There was more than enough force to hoist the obelisk. The total
airtime? Only twenty-five seconds.
But the fact that it can be done, doesn't necessarily mean that's
how the ancient Egyptians did it.
"There's absolutely no evidence for kites in ancient Egypt,"
said Professor Carol Redmount of UC Berkeley. "There's no
evidence of pulleys as we know them today."
Redmount says the historical evidence points to the "Charlton
Hesont method." Which basically relies on the theory of the
muscle of slaves pushing pulleys and creating the pyramids.
But the Caltech group will have none of that.
"All I can remember from history is that Egyptians drank
beer for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and as someone who has done
field research on drinking beer, I know after I've had two beers
and its really hot, I'm not pushing or pulling anything,"
Clemmons said. "So, I figured I'd try to think another way."