© Keith Hamilton (

[Extracted from an email dated 29 Dec 2000]

This short article is to highlight a few areas that you may find of interest, that relate to the granite plugs in the ascending passage (AP), which you deal with in G:TT [i] - arguing that they were slid down the grand gallery (GG) and into place at the bottom of the AP.

Replanning of the Lower Part of the Ascending Passage

First off, you appear to be persuaded by Borchardt’s suggestion that the northern end of the AP was hewn through pre-existing core masonry, which he suggested was evidence of replanning. You use this as evidence that the plugging blocks could not have been placed in situ. However the Italian scholars Maragioglio and Rinaldi (M&R) disagree with this interpretation and state: “We repeat, the ascending corridor was not cut through a part of the rough nucleus already in situ, as Borchardt thinks, but the nucleus itself was built in a special way in order to allow the making of the ascending corridor.” [ii] Further they say all the stones that make up the northern part of the AP are girdle stones, a point also alluded to by Petrie who says: “All the stones that can be examined round the plugs are partial girdle blocks,..” [iii].

The Supposed Taper in the Ascending Passage

The next point I would like to raise relates to the measurements of the AP that you use from Lepre. [iv] Lepre states that the height of the AP tapers by 5 3/4” along its length, and you use this apparent taper to support the argument that the plugging blocks were slid down the AP. However this is at odds with the surveys done by Smyth, Petrie and M&R which show that the AP’s height remains equal along its whole length, and is perpendicularly measured at 47.5". Lepre's "height taper" appears to have derived from his confusion in using the vertical height of the AP, which is 53" along its entire length, for the south end measurement, and switching to the perpendicular height of 47.5" for the north end.

It is only the width of the AP that narrows, from 42.1" at the south end by the GG down to 38.2" at the extreme north or lower end to accommodate the lowest granite plug which is in fact wedge-shaped, measuring 47.3” by 38.2” only at its lowest end [v]. But both Smyth & Petrie agree on the dimensions of the upper granite plug, namely height 47.3” and width 41.6”, allowing a clearance of only 0.2” for height and 0.5” for width on the non-tapering measurements of the AP down to this point [vi]. This far small amount of clearance than you suggest in G:TT suggests that if these plugs were slid down from the GG, the builders must have been supremely confident in their building skills as the smallest of settlement in this passage by the mass above would have had severe consequences.

For what it is worth, the subsidiary pyramid of the Bent Pyramid is often quoted as containing the prototype for the GG, but here it was only a partial success; despite the greater angle of 32.5 degrees and greater clearance - for example a height clearance of 1.2". Only one or two plugs appear to have moved, with two plugs remaining unmoved in the upper passage. However, as there is no other communication to the upper part of this pyramid, it is of course unlikely that the builders were aware of this failing, so we cannot take this as a sign that they would not have attempted the same sliding design in the GP.

The Width of the Grand Gallery

In any case these doubts made me examine the surveys to see if there were any anomalies that might support the alternative theory that the plugs were placed in situ. The main anomaly is in the tables supplied by Prof Smyth, where he makes an interesting observation: “These measures show without doubt that the Grand Gallery is broader towards the middle and upper or southern end; and this prevails equally with the breadth between, and that above the ramps.” [vii] In fact Smyth took 16 samples of the breadth between the ramps as against Petrie's 9, with Petrie's agreeing with Smyth’s. Now in Smyth’s tables we have a sizeable portion of the GG where the distance between the ramps is actually less than the width of the upper plugging block (remember this is 41.6"). This section starts at a distance of 76” from the north wall and extends to 222” therefrom, i.e. it is approximately 12 feet in length, and the lowest width reading recorded by Smyth is only 40.8” - a "clearance" of minus 0.8"! Unfortunately Petrie only gives us one reading in this area, which is 41.0” at 150” from the north wall, but even this is less than the width of the upper plug.

We might suggest that there has been some settling or movement in the GG itself; but if so there should be a sizeable dislocation evident in the joints of the ramps, which I do not see from old black and white photos. Indeed I recall what George Hart said of the GG: “Yet in this vast area of masonry you cannot find even less than a millimetre of space between the joins of the limestone blocks” [viii]. It would be beneficial for someone to do a detailed survey to check on the above points.

The "Bridging Slab"

Let us now turn to the five holes you mention that appear on east and west walls at the lowest end of the GG and are generally thought to have held a "bridging slab" for the plugs to slide over. Even here, all does not appear right. Thankfully Smyth took detailed measures of these holes [ix], such that it is possible to draw a scale model of their location. This shows that a bridging platform whose thickness is that of the cutout portion on the gallery floor, if extended down to the AP floor, will all but obscure the northernmost or lowest hole, such that no beam of substantive strength could be fitted into it. Furthermore, the tops of these holes are in line with the upper part of the gallery floor, and not that of the cutout.

The AP floor protrudes into the gallery and, though badly damaged, it is thought this was a lip for the bridging platform. Smyth thought that originally it may have been just under 5” high - and yet he gives the vertical height of the cutout on the gallery floor as 9”. So could this protrusion of the AP floor be explained in another way? Petrie was unsure as to the manner of flooring in the Queens Chamber (QC), partly because of the unfinished surface of the horizontal passage and its sundry round holes. Yet M&R believe flooring was fitted and cite levelling cuts in preparation for flooring [x]. Now if flooring were fitted in the QC, would the builders have left the horizontal passage in the state that so concerned Petrie? This horizontal passage appears to be 2 1/4 cubits high; the builders could have inserted thin flooring slabs of 1/4 cubit thick, giving a square bore of 2 cubits for the passage - and which would result in the floor of the passage joining smoothly with the AP floor, with no lip. From all this we must surely question whether a bridging slab ever in fact existed.

The Holes in the Grand Gallery Ramps

M&R’s plate TAV 5 shows the form of the plugging blocks, and from this Lehner deduces the following lengths from lowest to highest of 69”,63” and 65”. Meanwhile Smyth recorded tables for the form and pattern of the ramp holes, and though badly maligned by some (Lehner calls him a pyramidiot [xi]) his work is sometimes the only source for some data. It is interesting to note the spacing pattern between the holes - the first two are only 2 cubits apart, which is just over 41”, while the remaining spaces are slightly longer and appear to be 2 1/4 cubits, or just over 46”. This spacing is of some concern to Lehner who states: “These plugs are considerably too long to have fitted between cross-beams with ends set into opposite niches, or between cross-beams braced against uprights set into the slots” [xii]. To try and solve this problem he has come up with the idea of a wooden stepped platform to store the plugs above the ramps.


As you can see nothing ever appears to be simple in these structures but, for the sake of argument, let us imagine that those who suggest that the plugs were fitted in situ are correct: would this damage the generally accepted view that Khufu was buried in the structure? Not necessarily - his body could have been transported up the well shaft. This may appear undignified, but then again the journey to the upper chamber of the Red Pyramid has its own logistics problem. Was Khufu then moved onto a platform supported by the five holes and from here into a ceremonial sort of barque that could have been slowly hauled up to the landing stage of the great step, looking up at a wooden ceiling, possibly decorated with stars?

The GG floor has every indication of being a slipway - but was it for plugs or something else? Yes it is tempting to accept that the plugs were slid down from the GG, but I feel more research is required on this topic.

Source References

[i] Pages 119 & Appendix III, Pg 532.

[ii] L’Architettura Delle Piramidi Menfite, Vol 4, pg 116, obs 16.

[iii] The Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh (Histories & Mysteries of Man Ltd, 1990), Pg 21.

[iv] The Egyptian Pyramids, Lepre, J.P. pg 77.

[v], chap 7, sect 29, and ‘Life and work at the Great Pyramid’ Vol II, Prof Smyth, Pg 51.

[vi] The Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh (Histories & Mysteries of Man Ltd 1990), Pg 21.

[vii] Life & Work, Vol II, pg 82.

[viii] Pharaohs and Pyramids, 1991, Pg 93.

[ix] Life & Work, Vol II, Pg 72.

[x] An interesting photograph that appears to support flooring can be found on Guardians Egypt discussion board.

[xi] Complete Pyramids, Pg 56.

[xii] Niches, Slots, Grooves and Stains: Internal Frameworks in the Khufu Pyramid? by Mark Lehner.