I'm your average Pharaoh, I'm building me a pyramid and I don't want help from aliens. Also, while it's probable that the pharaohs went for the human labour thing, that's totally boring. I'd like some help with upgrading ancient Egyptian tech, to plausible, near hi-tech but not quite that high, level.

A bit of background for my story:

So a lot of people say that aliens built the pyramids/gave us hi-tech to do it. Others debate this and as proof, go to great lengths to show how you can build a pyramid with your every-day (20 years) force of oh, 20K workers/slaves (some say it was up to 100K). That and some elaborate planning.

If we ever get (real) proof that the-aliens-did-it, I'll be the first to admit and embrace the facts. Till then I'm a big fan of human ingenuity - I say that humans in ancient times could have developed neat technology, if not hi-tech, but left no recognizable records. The ancient Egyptians were definitely elaborate planners, and had plenty of ingenuity. I wanna stretch that, to make some fun of both the alien theories and the 20 years by 20K workers theories.

The story:

An arrogant alien approaches Mr. Pharaoh with a proposition to build him a pyramid the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza overnight. He'll throw an extra one for free if Pharaoh orders within a week. As payment he'd like a modest 100 kilos of antimatter, or 100 tons of gold, whichever's more convenient to the Pharaoh.

Pharaoh's thinking "Riiight..." and because he's also arrogant, tells the alien "No thank you, by your next visit to Earth, I can have a pyramid ready on my own". The alien sneers at this, makes some rude comment about human tech, and promises to come back in 5 years to see our failure.

Pharaoh’s pissed, and brings his wise council together for some brainstorming. They know that with classical lift and pull methods, a nice pyramid take 20 yrs X 20K ppl. But they have the following ideas to speed things up:

  • Using a concrete-like substances instead of giant stone blocks, such as one theory claims (thanks for the comment, King-Ink!): http://www.geopolymer.org/archaeology/pyramids/are-pyramids-made-out-of-concrete-1/
  • Using hot air balloons to survey, coordinate and administer work on the site.
  • Using hot air balloons as lifts for people/materials. I'm not sure how much weight they can lift.
  • Steam pulleys and lifts to move things around. If Herod of Alexandria could come up with a little steam gadget, the wise councillors can do better. They're called "wise" for a reason, right?
  • Enhancement of slaves to have super human strength/dexterity using (cobra-venom based???) potions, they don't mind harm/death to the slaves as the workers can always be replaced. We have some substances today that enhance our abilities, I wonder what the ancients could have come up with.

What I'd like to ask is:

How feasible is each of these techs?

as a side question:

Will we be able to complete the work in a mere 5 years? If not, how long do I want to give the Pharaoh?

Please assume that each of the ideas are going to be tested and that workers/slaves are available and expendable. Some councillors toyed with these ideas for years but only now will the Pharaoh give them whatever they want to complete the work.

Extra credit goes for extra ideas, if you have them. Remember: plausible, near hi-tech but not quite that high.

While you're dispensing your wise council, I'll be with my workers ("I want to see that balloon in the air today! whiplash! ) :-)

  • $\begingroup$ You really should indicate the desired size of the pyramid. You probably mean one on the scale of the great pyramids but it is not said. Building a pyramid two feet high to show the annoying alien would be fun. Likewise no mention is made about the material, American civilizations used packed earth I think and the Babylonians used mud bricks, either would simplify matters immensely over the stone blocks the Egyptians used. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 24, 2016 at 11:58
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Oh, my great, powerful, and wise pharaoh. I have stolen this magic pad of eye, made by fruit. It has designs and ideas that could greatly benefit the construction if your pyramids. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 24, 2016 at 14:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I was talking about using modern tech to cut, move and stack multi ton stone blocks, the way most people believe Pyramids were built. YMMV $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Commented Jan 24, 2016 at 22:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You know, @OldBunny2800, my argument is that we could have had super-tech in the past, without aliens. So maybe a human engineer from Atlantis could aggravate Mr. Pharaoh further ("You should really use an anti-gravity generator, they're all the heat nowadays").. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 28, 2016 at 8:26
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "Some Words With a Mummy" by Edgar Allan Poe pinkmonkey.com/dl/library1/mum.pdf (not an answer but a similar ancient egypt) $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 15:10

4 Answers 4


I don't think either of your ideas would work.

  • Concrete : I don't know all evidence behind it, but looking at what problems Hoover Dam had, I'm highly skeptical that ancient civilization would be able to use it for such large-scale construction.

  • Air balloons - They are not strong enough to lift material and it seems Egyptians didn't have any problems with precise layout and measurement. So I fail to see advantage here.

  • Worker enhancement - Only advantage I can see is reducing amount of people, and thus cost. I don't see how this would speed things up.

  • Steam engines - Egyptians lacked pretty much all prerequisite technology (metallurgy especially) and they lack any form of fuel necessary. They don't have coal and wood was expensive import.

Instead, we should look at what Egyptians had available and try to improve on that :

  • Copper tools
  • Wood (not much, because it was imported)
  • Lots of rope
  • Lots of rocks, both hard and soft
  • Lots of people

Looking at the list, one thing pops up : Metallurgy. If Egyptians had access to steel, then lots of work could be speed up. Also, much stronger tools and machines could be constructed. This would drastically speed up excavation, forming and transport of rock blocks. This is quite believable, because steelmaking is quite old. It was just time consuming and expensive. But that is not problem, right? Also, the tools can be made in place where it is economical and then moved to construction site.

  • $\begingroup$ Meth would definitely boost the day-to-day productivity of physical workers (at the expense of a lot of lives and long-term health, but hey, they are slaves anyway). People don't work 100% all day every day. But they can work 110% every single day for a week with enough amphetamines or other drugs. Then rotate them out (or up the dose and carry away the body next friday) $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Commented Jun 7, 2022 at 7:52
  • $\begingroup$ For the hot air balloons: live updates and an actual overview might still have been helpful $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Commented Jun 7, 2022 at 7:53

Since most of the pyramids were buried in sand when we found them, are we absolutely certain they weren't built that way?

Don't build your cement forms out of wood, excavate them out of the sand and clay beneath your pyramid site. Pouring wet cement down into a mold is much easier than lifting it up in buckets.

Start by digging four tunnels headed down at angle along each of the compass points. Once each tunnel gets to the desired depth, dig laterally in the direction of the other tunnel bottoms until all your tunnels are connected. Fill those bottom tunnels with your wet cement.

Once the cement hardens, dig some more connecting tunnels, on top of but slightly inside of the first. Then fill that second set of base tunnels with cement.

Repeat one level at a time until you reach the top.

One semi-instant pyramid already pre-buried!
Ready to confuse future generations and aliens alike.


Build it out of wood and papyrus. Don't let the alien get too close.

Before this gets downvoted for silliness, note that the question didn't specify that it should be made of stone ;)

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ This can be cool for that last moment before the alien arrives, and they haven't finished the capstone. The head priest ensures the pharaoh that all's well, then frantically yells at his apprentice to come up with something. It all makes sense now... blog.world-mysteries.com/science/… $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 28, 2016 at 8:21
  • $\begingroup$ Hahaha, nice. Or a wood construction with super thin tiles out of real sandstone on the outside. That way the alien can get real close. And maybe one side is reinforced so they can actually even step on it (but only on exactly those 10 stones) $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Commented Jun 7, 2022 at 7:55

Things that would work:

Well, you could build a large "cast" out of whatever material is easiest, then pour the concrete in. (By the way, this is assuming that building the cast would be much faster). As for genetic engineering, this might actually be worth the time spent on it. By making your workers humans who are remarkably stupid but require very little sleep and can lift heavy weights (maybe genes from a rhino mixed with the genes of a coffee bean?), progress would be accelerated. Here's an idea: why even build the pyramid? You can dig it out! Depending on the level of tech we're talking about, it could be much faster and easier just to dig a large amount of dirt out. (By the way, I'm making the assumption that you are doing this in a place with decent soil, not sand or liquidy mud.

What would NOT work:

Hot air balloons to carry up materials. To lift just 1000 pounds, you would need............65,000 cubic feet of hot air! Now, there's already plenty of hot air coming from those aliens, but you would need unfathomable amounts to lift stone, or even concrete, blocks. As for the supervising from the air, that wouldn't really accelerate the pace. As long as your supervisors have good communication and are disciplined, supervision from the air wouldn't change very much. If each section did what they were supposed to do, no problems here.

  • $\begingroup$ >As for the supervising from the air, that wouldn't really accelerate the pace. Yeah it would. You forget how MASSIVE an undertaking a 20k Workforce is. Just using a balloon as a site-wide visible flag-signal relay tower would help massively. The blimp IS the good communication. $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Commented Jun 7, 2022 at 7:56
  • $\begingroup$ Modern large construction projects have like 5k people on site at any given time. The Burj Khalifa topped out at 12k. And that was with phones and computer-assisted planning and coordination. ANYTHING that MIGHT help organization and communication WILL be a massive boost $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Commented Jun 7, 2022 at 7:59

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .