A French architect says he has cracked a 4,500-year-old mystery surrounding Egypt's Great Pyramid, claiming that it was built from the inside out.
Previous theories have suggested that the tomb of Pharaoh Cheops (Khufu), (consisting of 3 million stone blocks, each weighng about 2.5 tons) was built using either a frontal ramp or a ramp in a corkscrew shape around the exterior to haul up the stonework.
But flouting previous wisdom, Jean-Pierre Houdin said advanced 3-D technology has shown that the main ramp used to haul the massive stones to the apex was contained 30 to 50 feet (10 to 15 meters) beneath the outer skin, tracing a pyramid within a pyramid.
According to his theory - shown in a computer model available on the Internet - the builders put up an outer ramp for the first 140 feet (40 meters), then constructed an inner ramp in a corkscrew shape to complete the 450-foot-high (137-meter-high) structure. He unveiled his hypotheses in a lavish ceremony using 3-D computer simulation
To prove his case, Houdin teamed up with a French company that builds 3-D models for auto and airplane design, Dassault Systemes, which put 14 engineers on the project for two years. Now an international team is being assembled to probe the pyramid using radars and heat-detecting cameras supplied by a French defense firm, assuming that Egyptian authorities will agree.
"This goes against both main existing theories. I've been teaching them myself for 20 years, but deep down I know they're wrong," Egyptologist Bob Brier told Reuters at the unveiling. "Houdin's vision is credible, but right now this is just a theory. Everybody thinks it has got to be taken seriously," said Brier, a senior research fellow at Long Island University.
Houdin found that a frontal, mile-long ramp would have used up as much stone as the pyramid, while being too steep near the top. He believes an external ramp was used only to supply the base. An external corkscrew ramp would have blocked the sight lines needed to build an accurate pyramid and would been difficult to fix to the surface, while leaving little room to work.
"What characterized the Egyptians was their sense of perfection and economy. We talk of durable development now, but it was the Egyptians who invented it. They didn't waste a single stone. They relied purely on intelligence," Houdin said.
Houdin thinks that no more than 4,000 people could have built the pyramid using these techniques, rather than the 100,000 or so assigned by past historians to the task of burying the pharaoh.
This report includes information from Reuters and The Associated Press.
© 2007 MSNBC Interactive