Today we’re talking about the Great Pyramid, which has been blowing our minds for about 4,600 years – not just for its scope and size, but because building something that large and precise back then, without most of the tools we have today, would have been extraordinarily difficult!
Over the years we’ve figured that the ancient Egyptians got around that considerable hurdle through sheer numbers, with tens of thousands of laborers moving, lifting and arranging the enormous blocks to put the pyramid together.
Ancient historians like Herodotus have put the total at 100,000 workers; more modern estimates have put the figure around 10,000 permanent workers, with 70,000 more doing seasonal work.
Professor Emeritus Vaclav Smil of the University of Manitoba decided to do the math and see whether these educated guesses really held up.
And what he found was pretty revealing.
For one thing, if there are 100,000 workers around, they’re going to need places to live, food to eat, etc.
Archaeological evidence near the site suggests a population of no more than 20,000.
And the whole population of Egypt at the time was around 1.5 or 1.6 million.
Did they really pull one out of every 15 people onto this one project for twenty years?
Smil made his own estimate based on how much physical work it would take to move the stones and put them in place over a twenty-year period as the Egyptians themselves said it took.
He found the workforce was probably closer to 3,300 laborers, with maybe another 3.300 or so in support roles.
A conclusion that actually makes this ancient building project seem even more spectacular than it already was.
And now we head to another great period of the past: the 1970s.
Today is the birthday of baseball great Dave Parker, who hit 339 home runs during his Major League career.
But maybe his most impressive homer came as a minor leaguer in the early 1970s.
While playing in Charleston, West Virginia, Parker hit a ball out of the park and into the coal car of a moving train… which then traveled to Columbus, Ohio.
In all, the home run traveled 150 miles.
How Many People Did it Take to Build the Great Pyramid? (IEEE Spectrum)
Great Pyramid photo by Francisco Anzola, CC BY 2.0, via Wikicommons