It has been nearly a year now since architect Jean-Pierre Houdin premiered the second phase of his work with the Great Pyramid—Khufu Reborn. How has his work been received so far? Where does the project stand at the moment? Has the Arab Spring affected the progress of Project Khufu? Where do we go from here?
My good friend Marc Chartier of Pyramidales (and more recently of Égypte-actualités, but more on that endeavor later..) had a chance to sit down recently with Jean-Pierre and discuss these questions and more. Thanks to Em Hotep’s partnership with Pyramidales, I am able to bring you the English language version of this interview. Enjoy, and please feel free to join the conversation, as they say…
In January 2011, Pyramidales joined the international press at La Géode in Paris for the premier of Khufu Reborn, the second phase of Jean-Pierre Houdin’s work with the Great Pyramid originally introduced to the world in 2007 with Khufu Revealed. Thanks to the Passion for Innovation program, Jean-Pierre has enjoyed full access to the technology and talent of Dassault Systèmes, the world leader in industrial 3D CAD and simulation, to integrate and test his theories in a virtual environment based on the most thorough surveys of the pyramid and the Giza Plateau to date (you may enter and explore the simulation yourself online here).
Subsequently, Pyramidales fully described and illustrated these new developments regarding the construction and the technical configuration of the Great Pyramid of Giza (see the Pyramidales Interviews in the right sidebar). Now, as we come up on the one year anniversary of Khufu Reborn, Pyramidales again joined Jean-Pierre for a discussion of how the work is progressing, in particular, how the new material covered in “Phase II” has been received and interpreted by expert and amateur enthusiasts of Egyptology and the public in general.
It is with warm gratitude to Jean-Pierre that Pyramidales brings this interview to you.
Jean-Pierre Houdin, it has been nearly a year now since you premiered, at an international press conference, the continuation of the work you first presented in Khufu Revealed back in 2007 explaining your research and work regarding the manner of construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Looking back, how do you assess the reactions generated both among the general public and from specialists and experts in the field of Egyptology by these extensions to your original theory?
The presentation of Khufu Reborn, on January 27th, 2011, at la Géode, was already for me the expression of a major vote of confidence from my friends on the “Khufu Team” at Dassault Systèmes. For reasons that have nothing to do with science, no scientific research has been carried out on-site since the revelation, on March 30th, 2007, of the theory of the internal ramp; the result is the inability to get scientific proof of the existence of an internal ramp. Otherwise, the discovery by Dr. Bob Brier, while filming a documentary in 2008, of a large unknown room behind the notch on the north-eastern edge was a clue of great importance.
Given this context, the decision made four years later by the “Khufu Team” to help me, by means of an extraordinary 3D animation, to go even further in my revelations with the announcement of the possible existence of two antechambers next to the King’s Chamber, was for me a major event for the theory. After nearly eight years of silence on this aspect of my work, I can now demonstrate the consistency of this research. No previous researcher has delved as thoroughly into the study of Khufu’s pyramid as we have, both with regard to the architectural project drawn up by the designers of the time as well as the implementation of the project.
In addition to the satisfaction they bring, public reactions are quite telling: one can observe in my proposals the gradual development of my theory and how each progression of the work consistently builds a more complete picture, based on simplicity and logic, which fully answers the questions that are related to the construction and purpose of the Great Pyramid. The public is finally able to see the genius of the ancient Egyptians by understanding how an “inexplicable” mystery—how the Great Pyramid was built—involved neither magic nor miracles, just tried and true construction methods. The theory explains how simple human intervention addressed seemingly impossible tasks. Now, about the construction specialists, there again the response has been very positive. The 3D presentation spoke their language very convincingly.
Finally, let’s talk about experts in Egyptology … the French ones! They have not deigned to usefully express themselves since the initial presentation of the theory, so why should it be different now, particularly if the generally positive reception the work has gotten elsewhere reflects them in an unflattering light? In contrast, many foreign Egyptologists have shown a growing interest in my work.
Unfortunately, as always, traditional Egyptological explanations about the pyramid of Khufu are based on a trompe-l’oeil: a north-south cross-section showing three rooms, some corridors and the Grand Gallery. Looking at the inner works of the pyramid from just this perspective has resulted in theories that simply do not hold up under careful analysis. These theories collapse when examined in light of how the different internal parts are laid out and relate to each other, how the funerary rites and processions would have been conducted, and especially in terms of building principles. Yet the construction of the pyramids during the Fourth Dynasty, with Snefru, Khufu and Khafre, was the result of practical know-how, of course constantly improved, but in the service of architectural continuity.
An example of this sort of misinterpretation is the so-called “rupture” of Khufu, based on the famous north-south cross-section view. This is not a rupture at all. This erroneous conclusion is based on an Egyptological interpretation of the monument, not from an architectural interpretation. But the pyramid was designed by architects, and it takes the perspective of a fellow builder to bring together all the elements in a way that allows us to understanding the intentions of the designers. The stones speak to those who can understand their language … an architect, for example.
It seems to me, after a very thorough survey of the literature both in print and on-line that that your name remains primarily associated with the first phase of your work, in particular, with the internal ramp aspect of your theory. In other words, Khufu Revealed is more well-known while Khufu Reborn seems to remain confined to more confidential spheres. Do you feel that the second phase of your work, especially as it relates to the two antechambers next to the King’s Chamber, is encountering some difficulty in gaining traction?
This apparent state of affairs is absolutely not related to the “quality” of the information revealed on January 27 (the probable presence of two antechambers close to the King’s Chamber), but to the “quantity” of information that has spread on the web after the press conference. When Khufu Revealed premiered on March 30, 2007, there was an extraordinary “cocktail” between quality and quantity of news, the theory being propelled, thanks to a very innovative presentation in 3D animation and in real time, to the top of the news cycle for more than 24 hours. The news went around the world with the time zones. This type of “state of grace” is exceptional and it clearly set the bar very high for any new statement on the subject.
The purpose of the press conference on January 27, 2011, was quite different: push the theory a little deeper into the minds of people, by revealing the elements (the two antechambers) that could have blurred the message if they had been included in the 2007 presentation. The conference itself was a great success, major French television channels (TF1, FR2, and FR3 in particular) talking extensively about the event in their mid-day and evening news. As for news agencies and newspapers, they have widely spread the information on their side, except for a large agency that has managed to “conveniently” miss the subject, resulting in fewer articles than we enjoyed in 2007.
But I believe that above all, there was a major event nobody could have anticipated or planned for, and which partly stole the show to “Khufu Reborn”: on January 25, 2011, the first news about an embryonic revolutionary movement was arriving from Cairo… on January 27, the day of the conference, the revolution in Tahrir Square was already on the front page in all media. You know what happened next.
Also, when you search the theory on Google, there are more responses related to 2007 than to 2011. This is only linked to the quantity of information available, not to the quality. But I can tell you, and the “Khufu Team” certainly agrees with me, that the message is very well perceived. Every day I receive, from everywhere around the world, many e-mail from passionate people who know a lot about pyramids and who are totally convinced by the overall consistency of the theory.
A visit to the official Khufu Reborn website made by Dassault Systèmes enables visitors to put their “feet on the site” and explore both the theory and the pyramid and its environment in a way that has never been possible before. People can visit the website and see how the entire theory fits together and when they emerge from this journey their emails to me show that they are “getting it” and their understanding of this work leaves little room for doubting the veracity of the theory.
Finally, I conclude on this issue by taking your sentence: “In other words, Khufu Revealed is more well-known while Khufu Reborn seems to remain confined to more confidential spheres
For me, on the front line, I perceive absolutely no confinement. Khufu Reborn perfectly complements Khufu Revealed and anyone who is interested in my work ends up having knowledge of the theory as a whole. The goal is reached. As for the “confidential spheres”, I would say that these terms are more applicable to a very small number of people in the world of Egyptology who have chosen to ignore me. Too bad for them, the dialogue would have been interesting.
During your public presentation of Khufu Reborn last January, contacts were established with two experts from Laval University in Quebec, for a possible in-situ observation of the Great Pyramid, using the technique of Multipolar Infrared Vision. Can you share the current status of this project?
And a necessary complement to this question: such a project presupposes an implied agreement at the highest levels of Egyptian Antiquities. Now Egypt has experienced the upheavals that we have all witnessed. Will the appointment of a new Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, and a minister of Egyptian Antiquities, possibly open a window to the completion of your project?
The collaboration with a team from Laval University, consisting of Professor Xavier Maldague, Matthew Klein and Clemente Ibarra Castanedo, is developing very well. Working meetings were held in June at the university and we have established a specific protocol, with a strategy for the establishment of a mission. In addition, a Multipolar Infrared Vision campaign was set up in Quebec: the experience is being applied to the “Redoute”, a fortified building in the walls of Old Quebec, with local authorities being warmly receptive to the project and amenable to making the building available. We will therefore be able to refine the protocol based on the results acquired during this local project.
This leads me to answer the second part of your question: as always, it is essential that any survey to be carried out on-site is conducted with the cooperation of our Egyptian counterparts and in accordance with the legal authorities of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA). The current situation in Egypt does not leave a clear vision of what is going on with the SCA, the post of Secretary-General being successively held by several people in a very short time. The current elections are an additional element of uncertainty about the future of this service. It follows that it is unfortunately impossible to see at the moment a “window” to complete the project.
Does your theory as formulated in Khufu Reborn represent the culmination of your “reconstitution of the building site” of the Great Pyramid? Or is it likely to have new developments or improvements? If so, what are the new areas of your research?
The theory is now globally formulated, funerary architecture is determined, construction processes are detailed and the entire Giza Plateau is integrated into the explanation of the project and its progression. But as in any hypothesis, the details can still be improved. However, they will render the theory even more relevant. I am very pleased because the theory became more refined and simplified while its developments and its logic were enhanced. Every step, every detail, every process, every architectural choice are supported by solid arguments or evidence visible in situ.
Countless 3D simulations conducted with the CATIA software provided by Dassault Systèmes allowed the team to construct a perfect virtual model of the pyramid and its place on the Giza Plateau, and within this environment we were able to simulate and test any concept or potentiality, and it is through this process that the refined theory has emerged. Now, only confrontation with the reality will allow us to correct any differences in detail.
Doubt is part of the research, of course, but it is more and more difficult for me to imagine any other way apart from the technique of “building from the inside” for the construction of the Great Pyramid. When I try to put myself “at the outside” in order to address the issue, and because of all the knowledge I gained during twelve years of research, I always understand quickly that I stumble against an impossibility. I had the time to turn the problem in every way, believe me!
As I often say, Khufu’s pyramid has not arrived on the Giza Plateau by chance: it is the result of an evolution in the art of building from the early mastabas. Having studied all the pyramids built from Djoser up to Menkaure, it is now appropriate that I specify for each one their specific mode of construction, especially the two pyramids of Snefru at Dahshur (the Bent and the Red Pyramids) and Khafre’s pyramid in Giza. If construction “from the inside” is the rule, there will still be variations adapted to each of the monuments in the building processes. The modeling of these pyramids will demonstrate these changes and can only complement and strengthen the principles of the theory.
Khufu’s pyramid is considered the ultimate pyramid architecture on the Giza plateau, the culmination of the skills of the Egyptian builders. Does this mean that this pyramid is unique? Or do you think that the techniques used in its construction – in particular, from your point of view, the internal ramp – have also been used to build other pyramids, Khafre, for example, or Menkaure as well?
As I indicated in my previous answer, Khufu’s pyramid is, at the beginning of its construction, the culmination of the expertise of Egyptian builders and is absolutely not a unique monument, although this pyramid is unique in its category (funerary architecture in the heart of the monument). The construction technique of “building from the inside” was applied to all large smooth pyramids built after the Step Pyramid of Saqqara. This does not mean that all smooth pyramids were built in part by an internal ramp. This technical process was only necessary for the large smooth pyramids of the Fourth Dynasty (Bent, Red, Khufu and Khafre … and certainly Meidum). For all other pyramids from Menkaure and after, Egyptians will continue to build “from the inside”, but without recourse to an internal ramp; a construction trench penetrating in one side of the building will be reserved during construction before being recapped at the end of construction. There are traces of trenches in the ruins of the pyramids of Neferirkare and Sahure at Abusir.
A fundamental question to me: regarding the multiple contemporary theories which succeed each other in an attempt to decipher – at last! – The “secret of the pyramids”, what are, in your opinion, the strengths, or even more, the skills, that any researcher must or should show in this field?
I believe it is important to think first to the monument itself, to understand the design philosophy, to follow the logic of the scalable architecture of the time, to analyze in detail the components, and especially to not come proposing a gadget that could respond to a specific point of construction. The Great Pyramid of Khufu was built using processes that were simple, logical, and controlled, they just did so on a larger scale than before.
The schedule of conditions was clear: build a pyramid, just a pyramid, and not, for example, build a big ramp “at lost” or build locks to build a pyramid. Resources in Egypt were precious, and one had to build without wasting any material or effort. Extracting a stone to build an external ramp was not an end but a step in the life of this stone. Processes tailored to each major stage of construction lowered the cost of construction, because the same stone used in one phase (the external ramp) was recycled in the next phase, becoming a component of the building itself. This is the great art of the Egyptians of the time.
What are the necessary skills? Certainly a good knowledge about construction, that makes sense to me … especially when I see some theories that ignore gravity!
I do not think that we can learn much just from the study of ancient texts, especially when these texts are so few and sketchy. Herodotus is absolutely not sufficient, far from it!
To the contrary, we have to draw upon the totality of knowledge this period has left to us, a surprisingly vast reference library. One can find common parameters, an architectural language and religious principles, and understanding these elements is mandatory to solving these puzzles. By understanding how these principles have been applied elsewhere we can extrapolate how they may have served in the building of Khufu’s Pyramid.
I have been in touch with Steve Ward for more than a year. Steve found my theory simple, logical, ecological and perfectly suited to his project to build a modern pyramid today. So there was already a likeable side in this encounter via the Internet. But what attracted me the most was the idea of the Earth Pyramid Project: to build a monument intended to cross the centuries for future generations, involving the younger generations of today in a large rallying movement.
Why is this initiative promising?
We never get something for nothing. The men and women who will support this initiative are themselves those who will make the initiative promising. But the Earth Pyramid project has a lot going for it that makes me hopeful: the project is positive, constructive, generous, peaceful, somewhat utopian (we will always need dreamers), dedicated to children around the world who have a sacred need to have another vision of Earth than the one they see all day long in the TV: wars, crises, disasters, famines … there is nothing very positive in all this.
So when someone is deeply motivated, fights for a noble and smart idea (transmitting messages from children intended to be read in a thousand years), I support it, it’s as simple as that. It’s a bit of fresh air in a quite turbulent world. And the symbol of the pyramid containing a “time-capsule” is a great idea. It is clear that this type of monument can defy time without too much trouble … These are just the actions of men that can disrupt their life: who would dare attack a symbol dedicated to children from around the world?