Maureen Clemmons, an aeronautics professor at the California Institute of Technology, thinks the ancient Egyptians may have used kites to build the Pyramids. No one has ever figured out how the Egyptians, who did not have the wheel, were able to move huge stones large distances and hoist them into place. The Egyptians left no pictures showing the pyramids under construction, leading to speculation among some researchers that they were actually built by an earlier civilization.
Clemmons first thought of the idea while looking through a book on the monuments of Egypt. She noticed a hieroglyph showing a row of men standing in odd postures, holding what looked like ropes that were tied to what appeared to be a giant mechanical bird in the sky. She wondered if it could be a giant kite.
At a park in California, she and some friends tried to lift a redwood log and a cement obelisk with kites they bought in a store. They eventually managed to do it, so she took the idea to Morteza Gharib, another Cal Tech professor. ?Coming from Iran, I have a keen interest in Middle Eastern science,? he says. After looking at the hieroglyph, he decided that ?the possibility certainly existed that it was a kite.?
Working with his student Emilio Graff, Gharib was able to raise a stone obelisk from horizontal to vertical, using a large sail. ?The instant the sail opened into the wind, a huge force was generated and the obelisk was raised to the vertical in a mere 40 seconds,? he says. ?We were absolutely stunned.?
When the kite was first opened, there was a huge initial force. Using this force, kites should be able to lift extremely heavy weights. ?Even a 300 ton obelisk could have been lifted to the vertical with 40 or so men and 4 or 5 sails,? he says. He believes that the Egyptians could have used kites to lift the massive stones into place but ?whether they did is another matter.?
All the materials they would have used, such as ropes, sails and pulleys, would have rotted away centuries ago, leaving no evidence behind. And the Egyptians may have wanted to keep their building secrets to themselves to enhance their image as a civilization with mysterious powers.
Using wind power would have been natural for accomplished sailors like the Egyptians. Clemmons believes they may have wind-proofed their sails and kites with a shellac-like substance from scarab beetles. She managed to get a similar substance from beetles in her back yard, and when she painted it onto linen sheets, she found it made them windproof.
Not everyone agrees with her theory. Colin Reader, an engineering geologist who worked on the Giza Plateau Mapping Project, says, ?The biggest problem I have with the kite theory?and this isn?t very scientific, I?m afraid?is that there?s no reference to kites or any other sort of flying that I?m aware of in the ancient texts.?
But a wooden artifact shaped like a glider has been found on one of the Pyramids, and the Chinese used kites to send messages as early as 1250 BC. Gharbib thinks that other ancient civilizations may have built monuments using kites. ?The prerequisite is a windy location and a knowledge of sailing,? he says. ?Stonehenge fits the bill, as do the monuments of the Incas high up in the Andes.?
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