Sarah Korcz, a senior at Community Montessori School in New Albany, Indiana, and an aspiring Egyptologist, has shared several of her Egyptological research papers with me, and expressed an interest in doing an article for Em Hotep. Since we were about due for a catch-up session with Jean-Pierre Houdin, and I knew from some of our conversations that Sarah is keenly interested in Jean-Pierre’s work with pyramids, I asked her if she would like to interview him for the website. She was quite happy to oblige.
Who is Jean-Pierre Houdin?
When Jean-Pierre Houdin was 25 years old he started his career as an independent architect. He constructed many buildings around his home city of Paris, France. During the 80’s and 90’s Houdin and his wife, Michelle, started an art gallery specializing in new and innovative art. But when you type his name into a search engine, you won’t be able to find any of the buildings he made, instead, pictures of the Egyptian pyramids appear before you, along with detailed drawings and animated scenes of its’ creation. As you can see, neither Houdin’s 20 year career as an architect, nor the art gallery he and his wife began are what makes him famous.
In 1999, Houdin, along with his father, Henri Houdin, came up with a theory about how the Great Pyramid of Giza (constructed for the Pharaoh Khufu in 2584 BC, by Hemienu) was built. His theory involves an internal ramp used for transporting the two and a half ton limestone blocks to the tip of the pyramid.
Sarah: So many theories of how the Great Pyramid was built are speculative and unscientific, what makes your theory scientific?
JPH: Lots of theories about how the Great Pyramid was built are speculative and unscientific, mostly because of two things:
1 – The inability to give a full and plausible explanation by the Egyptology world: the 3 main propositions – a large straight frontal ramp up to the apex, an exterior spiraling ramp rising on the pyramid faces and the use of machines (an idea developed from a text by Herodotus) – are proven to not work at all;
2 – This inability led to a void in which lots of alternative ideas were put forward, from aliens to mystic theories, passing by strange ideas totally unrealistic.
Now, why is my theory scientific? Certainly because I deal with the question: “How were the pyramids built” as a scientific process.
There is no mystery about the construction; it’s just our inability to give a right answer to the question “Why pyramids?” The Egyptians built the pyramids because they knew how to build them; if pyramids had not been the logical structure to build, due to their knowledge and abilities, they would have built something else. So, as we have the pyramids in front of our eyes, we are sure that there is an answer.
First of all, I have an approach – the pyramids were built from the inside, a genius idea my father got in January 1999 – which changed the way we think about their construction. Thinking “from the inside, not the outside”, as it has always been thought by everyone working on the topic, is the key to the understanding how the ancient Egyptians built these incredible monuments. Once you have this key, which is like finding a yarn in a wool ball, you just have to pull the yarn and everything becomes clear because everything was made from this principle.
My approach has never been to makes things fit with my ideas, to the contrary: from an idea, I want to find evidence on site. And I’m greatly helped by the 3D computer models I use in my research. Since 1999 I have been working in 3D and since 2005 I have been in a close partnership with the world leader in 3D modeling (Dassault Systèmes). This is a huge advantage as most of people construct their theories working from a plan and a 2D cross-section of the pyramid. Working with a 3D model, I can see behind the paper sheet and how all the parts and spaces relate to one another, which is how discoveries are made.
And after 15 years of studies, having read, studied and analyzed practically everything on the topic, I have accumulated a huge knowledge base about the pyramids… I could have pursued a PhD in Egyptology, but I preferred to focus myself on one subject: How the pyramids were built, and I have immersed myself in that pursuit every day since January 1999, full time.
Sarah: Wow! Fifteen years, that is a really long time to be so focused on one area of Egypt. Are you interested in any other aspects of Egyptian civilization?
JPH: By extension, yes of course…
What I find truly amazing is that we are talking about people who were living 45 centuries ago…or better said, 4,500 years ago. Think about, in Europe, 4,500 years ago, people were living in caves and were fighting each other with big wooden logs… And look at the History of the USA: without speaking about the natives for whom we don’t have too much information, we are talking about a little more than 500 years of History at the best. That said, once you have put your nose in Ancient Egypt, it’s very difficult not to dig farther.
Sarah: Is there any particular part that interests you: mummies, religion, and pharaohs?
JPH: Of course, as an architect, my main interest is about the construction of the pyramids. I want to truly understand my ancient colleagues from that era, try to think what they were thinking when designing a building. My experience helped me a lot in this process because whether setting a stone above another one some 45 centuries ago or doing so now implies the same physical parameters. Of course I have other interests in Egyptology because these branches involve elements which categorized this civilization.
About mummies: I’m a very good friend of Dr Bob Brier, who is well known as Dr Mummy. So I have great access to everything regarding mummies and mummification. I should mention that Bob Brier, with the help of the surgeon Dr. Ronn Wade, carried out in the mid 90′s a full mummification process on a human body; the aim was to understand and learn all the steps of mummification, using the exact methods and materials (natron by example) used by the Ancient Egyptians. Bob shares with me his knowledge on these matters.
About religion: We cannot separate ancient Egyptian religion from architecture as the architecture was at the service of religion. The choice of building a smooth pyramid answered a practical problem: build a volume as big as possible and go as high as possible too. A square based pyramid was the right answer technically speaking (just one point in space to shape the volume); putting this volume axed on the cardinal points marks the Time in an Eternal cycle in the Afterlife : Rebirth of the King at sunrise with the Sun striking the East face, Splendor of the King at noon with the Sun at the zenith, death of the King at sunset with the Sun casting shadow on the pyramid and to end, the travel of the King in the sky aboard his boat during night before a new cycle will begin from East. That’s an example of the intimate links between religion and architecture
About Pharaohs: I’m mostly working on the Pharaohs (rather Kings) of the Third and Fourth Dynasties; they were those who really built Egypt through the pyramids. That was what I would call a “Nation building” era. Consider that during the Fourth Dynasty, one family: Snefru, the father, Khufu, the son and Khafre, the grandson, quarried, moved and set in place 17.5 million tons of stones to build the pyramids in Dashur and Giza. That has never again happened on Earth since that age. Ancient Egypt was never as strong as during this era.
That led to a huge development in many fields: construction sciences (geology, geometry, design, program management, supply chain etc.), astronomy, medicine, administration and so on. All these things are transcript in the development of knowledge.
Sarah: Do you have any news to share with us about whether or not you will be able to get the permits to do testing at the site of the Great Pyramid to prove your theory?
JPH: Since 2005 I have been working on securing a survey to find irrefutable evidence of my work. Unfortunately, I never got authorization from the former body responsible for management of the Egyptians Antiquities. That would be too long of a story to explain why…The past is the past.
Now, since January 2011, Egypt is going through a difficult process in order to re-emerge stronger than ever, but that takes time and energy. There was just no feasible way to get authorization during that tumultuous period. Now, as things are slowly getting better, I am, with my team, working on an application to work on the Plateau which should be ready in the coming months.
Sarah: What kind of testing would you do on the pyramid? Will it damage it? Will it prove for certain that the internal ramp theory is correct?
JPH: We will use 2 non-destructive techniques:
- Infrared thermography with the University of Laval (Quebec). This technique will allow us to see differences in the temperature on the faces of the pyramid, differences which would result from the presence, or not, of an internal ramp below the faces. With Dassault Systèmes, we have already done many simulations regarding the reactivity of the pyramid to this technique, and we know it is very well suited for our survey.
- Muons Radiography with the University of Tokyo (Japan); this complementary technique uses cosmic ray (Muons) to detect voids in the mass of a volume. This technique was developed to detect the chimney and the gas chamber inside a volcano and to analyze any development or movement of the magma, in order to anticipate any eruption. The voids inside the volume of the pyramid, like the internal ramp or the supposed antechambers, should be easily detected.
At last, the Faculty of Engineers of Cairo will also be involved in the survey. Students will be working alongside the other two teams and should manage the survey on a daily basis. These students will carry out this mission as part of earning their PhD.s.
So, as you can see, infrared thermography and muons radiography are two techniques which totally respect the pyramid and pose no potential for harm as no physical contact is necessary.
Sarah: How has your involvement in Egyptology affected your life?
JPH: When you are involved in such an adventure for so long, fifteen years, it is sure that your life will change totally. I’m very thankful to my wife for always having supported me from the beginning. I can tell you that we have gone through difficult times in the mid-2000s, regarding money and lodgment (because I didn’t earned a cent during almost seven years, we had to sell everything we had and we had to live for four years in a 22 square meters studio), but she has always supported me in this quest for knowledge.
With time, and thanks to all the partners I met during these fifteen years, particularly Dassault Systèmes and the Khufu Team (lead by Mehdi Tayoubi and Richard Breitner), things have changed and I can now continue my work with more confidence in the future. With all these years behind me and with all that I have learned since the beginning, I have little doubt that I will find this internal ramp one day…the sooner, the better, of course. Not only because I have so much evidence in support of my work, but also because I have tried all the other possible solutions: It is impossible to build the smooth pyramids from the outside for one simple reason – the Ancient Egyptians didn’t built them from the outside, but from the inside. And I would also add that for fifteen years, I have had fun working on the pyramids…like a kid…It’s a quite a different life than most of the people on Earth. I feel very fortunate.
Sarah: Can you tell us anything new about what you are working on now?
JPH: While being held up with regard to the long-awaited survey on site, I didn’t waste my time while waiting. People always think that I have a theory about Khufu’s pyramid. That’s true, but that’s not the full story. I’ve studied all the pyramids built since Djoser’s Pyramid at Saqqara up to the first pyramids of the 5th Dynasty.
I could explain the construction processes for all of these, and by extension all the smooth pyramids built. With Dassault Systèmes, we have particularly worked on the Red Pyramid at Dashur. I have a full 3D model of this pyramid with its construction processes: inside-out for sure. And I also spent a lot of time explaining the origin of the Sphinx, which was carved for Khufu whilst the Great Pyramid was being built.
Now, I would like to go farther and work on a 3D model of the Bent pyramid, as I did for the Red. One day, all the big smooth pyramids of the 4th Dynasty will be fully 3D modeled.
As you can see Jean-Pierre Houdin is very passionate and devoted to his work with the pyramids. Unfortunately, Houdin is unable to obtain permission from the Egyptian government to prove his internal ramp theory. The work he is doing will be a breakthrough in the ways we perceive how ancient civilizations functioned, it will allow us to see how ancient architects processed information and advanced mathematics. The pyramids themselves were created by citizens without the help of computers and other modern devices, yet our methods of discovery for the building plans of the pyramids are done using advanced 3D technology, that shows just how out of touch we are to the minds of our brilliant ancestors.
My name is Sarah Korcz, I’m graduating one year early with academic honors from Community Montessori Public Charter School this year, before I went to CMS I had been homeschooled up to 8th grade. I have always loved ancient history, but, during the last few years of being homeschooled I developed an interest in Egypt after watching Professor Bob Brier’s lectures from The Teaching Company. I plan on getting a Ph.D. in Egyptology and becoming a professor of history when I am older. I am especially interested in Egyptian culture, and how we incorporate the culture and practices of ancient civilization in modern life.
Copyright by Sarah Korcz, 2014. All rights reserved.