Wednesday, March 19, 2014

How tall was this pyramid (answers)

Due to overwhelming demand, I am giving my answer to the question of how tall our pyramid would have been when first built. The angle of the facing stones is about 73 degrees, and if you just do a calculation on that basis (yes, it’s trigonometry), you get a height of about 43 meters.

If you do a more detailed (and accurate) calculation based on the size of the blocks and the setback of each course, you find that the pyramid had about 72 courses of stone and that it was about 34.5 meters high.

These calculations are remarkable partly because the pyramid has a much lower angle now, and it’s only a bit over 9 meters high. So a very rough reconstruction shows what the profile of the pyramid would have looked like originally:

Is that even remotely plausible? Where did all that stone go??

We looked at some nearby sites, and it seems that it is plausible—there are some pyramids at the site of Nuri from about the same period of time that were built of solid stone and have survived better, and they could have been close to 34 meters high. They also have a profile like the one I’ve reconstructed here.

Pyramids at the site of Nuri

We don’t know where all the stone went…but some of it seems to have been used in the village over the past century or two. 


  1. From Mr. Wiens's 6th grade class at Clague Middle School:

    1) What is inside the pyramid? Have you explored it yet?

    2) How does the heat affect your research and excavation?

    1. We are working inside the pyramid far we have mostly been working to clear out sand that washed in after Reisner's excavations and to make a protective structure to allow us to work in the second chamber. We've started that now! We'll see if the looters left anything behind--they usually do. Maybe something with a king's name on it?

      I haven't written about the weather much because it's actually been great. We've had a couple of days that reached 100 degrees and didn't cool off much at night, but mostly it's been highs around 90 and lows in the 60s. It's a desert climate, so it cools off pretty quickly most of the time. We've also been lucky that we haven't had strong winds that can bring dust storms. So basically the weather hasn't affected us much at all!

  2. From Mr. Wiens's 6th grade class at Clague Middle School:

    1) What type of stone does the pyramid seem to be constructed of?

    1. The pyramid is made of sandstone blocks on the outside with sandstone rubble filling on the inside.

  3. Hope to check that sandstone February 2015, for my 45 birthday. I have an escort from Uganda who's very excited to see the temple. How far do you think the dig will have progressed by then? :)

  4. We're planning to be back in the field in January and February of next year. We should have finished excavating the temple by then.