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Beyond Stone & Bone

Time for the Great Pyramid?
by Mark Rose
March 6, 2010

I first met Zahi Hawass back in the early 1990s, when he and colleague Mark Lehner contributed several excellent articles to ARCHAEOLOGY dealing with excavations of support facilities and tombs of the workers at Giza, as well as an attempt to date the Great Pyramid of Khufu using radiocarbon. Hawass had the same great energy then that he today puts into such efforts as building museum throughout Egypt, attempting to recover artifacts that may have gone abroad under doubtful circumstances, and bringing Egyptian scholars to the forefront in archaeological research.

The recent DNA study of Tutankhamun and other royal and noble mummies is an example of what Hawass JPH smalleris trying to do. We’ve all seen too many “documentaries” that have no science backing them up. Here, there is a paper in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that gives some of the basic data and interpretations of the DNA analysis and CT scans. Like any scientific research, the methods, data, and conclusions presented in JAMA can now be evaluated and debated. Right now, for example, I am working on a short piece about the results to go into our May/June issue. There’s something I’m checking about one point of the DNA analysis, and I wish that more of the CT scan-bone interpretation side of the study had been presented here. The implication of malaria as a cause in Tut’s death seems speculative—he might have had it earlier and survived. In places, what’s in the JAMA paper seems to have been overplayed in the media. Tut’s widely reported “cleft palette” is actually a partially cleft palette and within the normal range of variation.

But the point is that Hawass and colleagues have done the science and put the results out there for discussion. That’s how it should work. Interestingly, a week or two back I received in the mail a copy of Khufu’s Pyramid Revealed from architect Jean-Pierre Houdin, whose investigations into the possible use of an internal spiral ramp in the construction of the Great Pyramid were featured in Bob Brier’s article “How to Build a Pyramid” (May/June 2007) and update “Return to the Great Pyramid” (July/August 2009). Though I have only known Houdin for a few years, his passion and boundless energy for this topic strike me as quite similar to Hawass’s.

In Khufu’s Pyramid Revealed, Houdin offers the latest version of his internal ramp theory, backed up by extensive computer modeling and examination of construction details preserved in the pyramid, with a brief but intriguing account of internal ramps used by Egyptian construction workers in the recent past and even today. Included in this is a 1944 description of 40–50-foot-tall pyramids built of rice straw using an internal ramp.

Houdin’s admiration of the ancient Egyptian achievement is readily apparent:

…the Egyptians of that time had an extraordinary mastery of the techniques used, advanced knowledge in geometry, mathematics, geology, topography, astronomy and a remarkable organization system for the construction operation. …we can only be amazed by the development of engineering which it shows down to the most minute detail.

Toward the end of his book, Houdin reviews the means by which his internal ramp theory could be tested, such as infrared thermography to detect slight differences in surface temperatures. Computer modeling shows predicted surface temperatures for both a solid Great Pyramid and one built with an internal ramp, so there’s a baseline to compare results with. And images from trial at the cathedral of Notre Dame show how it would work. This is the type of nondestructive investigation that Houdin has sought a permit to undertake. So far it has not been forthcoming because of administrative aspects of the Egyptian permit requirements—not because the investigation would in any way endanger the monument.

But surely, if we are comfortable with sampling the royal mummies for DNA, it should be possible to structure this research in a way that meets the permit criteria. Houdin figures it would take about 18 hours on site, at a distance of some 50 meters from the pyramid, to record the needed images. That’s all. The internal-ramp theory seems strong. It should be put to the test—the results, like the DNA studies just released—can then be debated by all.

Comments posted here do not represent the views or policies of the Archaeological Institute of America.

23 comments for "Time for the Great Pyramid?"

  • Reply posted by Em Hotep!/Egypt for the Curious Layperson and the Budding Scholar/ Mark Rose: Jean-Pierre Houdin Should be Allowed to Test His Internal Ramp Theory /Egypt in the News/Shemsu Sesen (March 8, 2010, 8:51 pm):

    […] It does seem as if a double standard is being applied in light of the cautious—but admittedly more intrusive—work recently completed on Eighteenth Dynasty royal mummies, including that of Tutankhamun.  “But surely, if we are comfortable with sampling the royal mummies for DNA, it should be possible to structure this research in a way that meets the permit criteria,” Mr. Rose suggests (Source:  Beyond Stone & Bone:  “Time for the Great Pyramid?”).  […]


  • Reply posted by Dee (March 9, 2010, 3:45 am):

    You say: “We’ve all seen too many “documentaries” that have no science backing them up.”

    Unfortunately, Hawass has been in most of those documentaries, and finds only the results he wants to find. Largely to have something sensational for US TV shows.


  • Reply posted by Aaron (March 9, 2010, 5:44 am):

    I agree with Dee. Hawass is too self-serving and is always trying to create a media frenzy.


  • Reply posted by Mark Rose (March 9, 2010, 5:46 am):

    I understand your comment entirely, Dee. But I think we need to give credit here–the DNA results are in JAMA, out there for discussion. So, I see this as a big advance over earlier “documentaries” where all was on faith and the data (such as it was) was never published. It’s a big step forward. What I also want to see, however, is a peer-reviewed article on the osteological side of things. The age at death of KV55 can be settled–doesn’t have to be an ongoing multi-generational ping-pong match between those who favor a younger age (including me) and those who want an older age (so they can say it’s Akhenaten, all neat and tidy). And if Tut’s mom was whacked in the head or fell and broke her skull, that’s kind of interesting, if not world-changing.

    And if advancing knowledge is what the game of archaeology is all about, administrative issues should not, at this point, be a stumbling block to having an infra-red look at the Great Pyramid. There’s absolutely nothing to lose. Let’s find out if Houdin is right, or wrong.



  • Reply posted by B. Sampsell (March 10, 2010, 2:34 am):

    You might find it useful to look at this Web Site
    and Kate’s Newer Posts on the subject of King Tut’s DNA. She has made an important contribution to the discussion by suggesting an alternative family tree that is entirely consistent with the DNA results AND with historical facts.


  • Reply posted by In support of researching the Great Pyramid’s Internal Ramp Theory | Egypt Then and Now (March 11, 2010, 7:51 am):

    […] Rose’s article “Time for the Great Pyramid?” mentions that Houdin himself has indicated how his internal ramp theory could be tested with […]


  • Reply posted by Mark Rose (March 11, 2010, 11:16 am):

    Thanks. I have read Kate’s initial post with great interest. Am also in touch with Carsten Pusch about this–hope to have an interview before long in which he responds to various questions that have come up, including Kate’s.



  • Reply posted by Clea Walford (March 12, 2010, 8:50 pm):

    Yes, an interview with Carsten Pusch would be most interesting – hope to read all about it soon!


  • Reply posted by Mark Rose (March 13, 2010, 11:29 am):

    should take this coming week–any specific questions that people would like to ask him are welcome, I will pass along

    fyi, had a brief discussion with Zahi Hawass Friday morning; the “prince” from KV35 has just undergone DNA extraction/analysis–results to come…



  • Reply posted by Time for the Great Pyramid? (March 15, 2010, 8:43 pm):

    […] Source […]


  • Reply posted by Keith Payne/Shemsu Sesen (March 18, 2010, 12:47 pm):

    Hello Mark:

    Thank you for your support of Jean-Pierre Houdin having his “day in court.” The addition of your voice is very encouraging. His work is scientifically sound and he deserves an opportunity to put his work to the test.

    With regard to questions for Dr. Pusch, I have a few brief ones. First, are there plans to publish the genetic analysis of the control group—CCG61065, Thutmose II, Ahmose-Nefertari, Hatshepsut, and Sitra-In? It would be interesting to see where Sitra-In might fit into the royal lineage, if at all. It also seems a good context to address any lingering doubts about CCG61065 possibly being Thutmose I, and could serve as a springboard for a more educated guess as to whose mummy CCG61065 might actually be.

    Second (and third), the study published in JAMA states that Ahmose-Nefertari was excluded from the morphologic control group and Thutmose II was excluded from the genetic control group (p. 639). The article only states that Ahmose-Nefertari did not undergo computed tomographic scanning, but does not explain why. So my question would be, why were these choices made? My guess is that it has something to do with the conditions of the mummies, but why guess when you have kindly offered the opportunity to ask!?



  • Reply posted by Em Hotep!/Egypt for the Curious Layperson and the Budding Scholar/ The Blogroll Roundup: Critiquing the JAMA Article/Egypt in the News/Shemsu Sesen (March 31, 2010, 1:43 pm):

    […] “Time for the Great Pyramid”, Mr. Rose states that he is working on a piece about the results of the JAMA study, set to run […]


  • Reply posted by Stephanie (April 1, 2010, 6:57 am):

    I`m really happy to hear that some movement has come into the DNA-issue.

    I would like you to ask Mr Pusch why only 8 markers are shown in the DNA-chart for the nuclear DNA. Have more markers been tested, if so where they unsuccessful, unreadable or otherwise useless? If not, why have only 8 markers been tested?

    In the TV-show it is said that both Tut`s and the foetuses` DNA was contaminated with resin and had to be purified with chemicals in order to be tested.
    Could this in his view have changed or damaged the DNA?

    A last one which you might choose whether to ask it or not: Why does Mr Pusch say in the show that they established a complete set of DNA-data from the larger foetus whereas only partial data was obtained from both of them?

    Many thanks in advance!


  • Reply posted by Adrienne Giacon (April 3, 2010, 2:57 am):

    Hi Mark, on many dna forums they have been wondering why the haplogroups for the YDNA and the Mtna havent been published? These show the ancestral origins of the person. People have been piecing together the markers shown in the Video and the paper, and the conclusion is that the YDNA may be R1b2b2? Which is prevalent today in Western European populations.
    Many people would love to know the answer. Please ask!


  • Reply posted by monika (April 16, 2010, 10:09 pm):

    Hi,Ijust wanted to know if the interview with Mr Pusch has already been arranged.


  • Reply posted by Kurt Warner (May 19, 2010, 12:22 am):

    I corresponded briefly with Mr. Houdin when I first heard about his work, and although I admire the man and believe him to be sincere about his beliefs, his theoretical method had too many problems with all the phases of construction to be taken seriously by the mainstream and professional Egyptological community. His theory would be relatively easy to prove or disprove by simply finding the internal ramp tunnels he proposes — and he’s very specific about their locations — but to my knowledge, no one is willing to authorize a serious, minimally-invasive effort in this endeavor.

    Since 1995, I’ve been developing my own theory, which is original and hasn’t been proposed by anyone before. I know because I searched for years. The evidence is entirely circumstantial, but so is the evidence for all the other theoretical methods. Fortunately, I have a lot more of it. And it is not New Age. It was well within the builders’ capabilities, and it worked a zillion times better than any other method that’s been proposed so far. It also fits everything we know about the construction, and then some.

    The basic operation entails making prefabricated stone ramps at the core block quarries and then assembling them on the ledges of the pyramid-under-construction perpendicular to the face. I think anyone who may have thought of this in the past and dismissed it probably did so under the mistaken belief that the narrowness of the ledges (average 39″) was an insurmountable obstacle. It is, in fact, easy to overcome.

    I have a number of illustrations I’ve been using over the past decade to explain the theory over the internet. I’d be tickled if you could take a look at them. A professional with your background wouldn’t even need to read the print to know what they’re seeing, and you can breeze through them in five minutes. I don’t send them now because I don’t know if this e-mail will even reach you.

    In any case, I’m assembling the whole thing into a book (with better illustrations), although I didn’t start out years ago to do that. It was for my own personal quest for knowledge.

    Thank you. I hope to be hearing from you soon.


  • Reply posted by Monika Mangal (May 20, 2010, 4:20 am):

    Just wanted to know if Mr Carsten Pusch has already been approached for an interview regarding the recent DNA-tests. Thanks!


  • Reply posted by Mark Rose (June 9, 2010, 3:29 pm):

    Yes–I have emailed with him & need to get that in motion.–Mark


  • Reply posted by Mark Rose (June 9, 2010, 3:32 pm):

    Hi. Just had a nice meeting with J-P Houdin this afternoon. He has expanded and refined his research based on on-site observations of several Old Kingdom pyramids. There’s more evidence than ever–and it could be tested objectively. That said, send me your own ideas and I’ll have a look.–Mark


  • Reply posted by Monika Mangal (June 21, 2010, 4:04 am):

    I do apoplogize for being nosy, but I would like to know if Mr Pusch currently works on more DNA-testing in Cairo or not. Thank you so much, Monika


  • Reply posted by Pyramids power (September 30, 2010, 11:50 pm):

    Thanks,,,,,, I have read Kate’s initial post with great interest. Am also in touch with Carsten Pusch about this–hope to have an interview before long in which he responds to various questions that have come up, including Kate’s……….


  • Reply posted by Egyptian (January 2, 2011, 6:45 pm):

    and bringing Egyptian scholars to the forefront in archaeological research.


  • Reply posted by judi donahue (December 9, 2012, 12:36 pm):

    Giza pyramid is not death star, it is visual science communication…in its original creation it was reflective thus Mirror of Heaven… Super volcanic looking reflectivity is ONLY ONE thing…The reflective vapor made in stratosphere by super volcanoes,,, reflects the sun back to heaven,,, cools earth….coincidentally it is also the ONLY thing that will stop 2012 solar flare! Not maybe death ray with no reason, to kill enemies long dead….Rather a message how to save a planet in the future from predicted annihilation…like the sphinx riddle…if we get the right answer we live!


About Our Blogger:

Heather Pringle is a freelance science journalist who has been writing about archaeology for more than 20 years. She is the author of Master Plan: Himmler's Scholars and the Holocaust and The Mummy Congress: Science, Obsession, and the Everlasting Dead. For more about Heather, see our interview or visit

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