What did the ancient Egyptian pyramids look like when they were built?

The ancient Egyptian pyramids have stood for thousands of years and are among the world’s most enduring monuments. But what did the pyramids look like when they were first built?

A digital reconstruction of a Giza pyramid by Australian insurance company Budget Direct.

The Egyptian pyramids erupting from the sands at Giza are a testament to human ingenuity and engineering. Raised to mark the tombs of ancient pharaohs, these great structures have stood for thousands of years.

But over the millennia, the pyramids have changed, largely due to construction workers’ repurposing of in-demand materials and looting. So what did the pyramids look like when they were built?

When the ancient Egyptian pyramids were originally erected, both in Giza and elsewhere, they didn’t look sandy brown as they often do today; rather, they were covered in a layer of shiny sedimentary rock.

“All the pyramids were cased with fine, white limestone,” Mohamed Megahed(opens in new tab), an assistant professor at the Czech Institute of Egyptology at Charles University in Prague, told Live Science. The limestone casing would have given the pyramids a smooth, polished layer that shined bright white under the Egyptian sun.

Builders used around 6.1 million tons (5.5 million metric tons) of limestone during the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza alone, according to National Museums Scotland(opens in new tab), which displays one of the original limestone blocks. The Great Pyramid — also called Khufu’s Pyramid after the pharaoh Khufu, who commissioned it during his reign (circa 2551 B.C. to 2528 B.C.) — is the largest and oldest of all the standing pyramids in Giza. However, its casing stones were later repurposed for other building work under Egyptian rulers, as was the case for most pyramid shells.

There’s evidence that the casing stones began being stripped under Tutankhamun’s reign (circa 1336 B.C. to 1327 B.C.), and this continued until the 12th Century A.D., Egyptologist Mark Lehner explained in a PBS NOVA(opens in new tab) Q&A thread. An earthquake in A.D. 1303 would also have loosened some of the stones, according to BBC News(opens in new tab).

Today, the Giza pyramids still retain some of their original limestone casing, though it looks slightly more weathered than in ancient times. “You can see it on the top of the Pyramid of Khafre in Giza,” Megahed said.

The Pyramids of Giza today. In order from left to right: The Pyramid of Menkaure, the Pyramid of Khafre and the Great Pyramid. (Image credit: WitR via Shutterstock)

The Pyramid of Khafre, named after the pharaoh Khafre (who reigned circa 2520 B.C. to 2494 B.C.), has casing stones leftover around its peak that give the impression that a second peak is wedged on top of the first. In ancient Egypt, this pyramid also had red granite casing around its lower levels, Egyptologist Miroslav Verner wrote in his book “The Pyramids: The Archaeology and History of Egypt’s Iconic Monuments(opens in new tab)” (The American University in Cairo Press, 2021). The third and smallest of the three main pyramids in Giza, the Pyramid of Menkaure — named after the pharaoh Menkaure, who reigned circa 2490 B.C. to 2472 B.C. — also sported red granite casing around its lower echelons.

There’s nothing at the top of the Giza pyramids today, but originally they hosted capstones — also called pyramidions — covered in electrum, a mix of gold and silver, according to Megahed. The pyramidions would have looked like pointy jewels at the tips of the pyramids.

Most pyramidions have been lost over time, but there are a few surviving examples in museums. These specimens reveal that pyramidions were carved with religious imagery. For example, the British Museum(opens in new tab) has a limestone pyramidion covered in hieroglyphics from Abydos, an archaeological site in Egypt, that depict deceased people worshipping the ancient Egyptian god Osiris and undergoing mummification from the jackal-headed Anubis.

Considering the pyramids’ former splendor, absent features today can appear like open wounds. Perhaps the best example of this is evident on the Pyramid of Menkaure. “When you see the Menkaure’s pyramid from the north, you can see a great gash, like a big depression,” Yukinori Kawae(opens in new tab), an archaeologist at Nagoya University’s Institute for Advanced Research in Japan, told Live Science.

The Pyramid of Menkaure’s gash may be a visual blight that wouldn’t have existed in ancient times, but the benefit of such damage is that today, it provides a window into the pyramids.

“This is also the important area for archaeologists because we can see the internal structures of the pyramids,” Kawae said.

Store Security Camera Films Ghost Girl?

A creepy piece of security camera footage from Peru shows what some believe to be the ghost of a little girl running through a store. The eerie video was reportedly captured last month at a shopping center in the city of Pucallpa and subsequently wound up being shared on TikTok, where it amassed over a million views in just a few days. In the footage, which appears to have been filmed after the store had closed, a small figure can be seen dashing down a hallway between racks of clothing. The curious trespasser then briefly lingers behind a display before running back to where it had come from at an incredible speed.

It has been suggested that the figure in the video could be the ghost of a girl who died when she was accidentally electrocuted at the shopping center back in 2018. That said, some media outlets have strangely postulated that the odd interloper is actually a goblin or similarly “diminutive being” like an elf. Meanwhile, skeptical observers argue that the ‘apparition’ is the result of some kind of trickery likely created by somehow altering the speed of the video. As of now, the nature of the figure remains a mystery.

Mapped: 2022’s lightning strikes

Florida took the top prize for the most lightning flashes last year, and the Southwest experienced significantly more lightning than usual, according to data from Vaisala, which operates a national lightning detection network.

In a warming world, the total amount of lightning is expected to increase. Shifts in lightning hot spots can provide clues to major storm events and how storm corridors are changing over time.

Wild video shows car racing through Canadian mall during electronics store heist

Police in Vaughan, Ontario have released a video showing a car racing through the interior of a mall in the search for two suspects accused of stealing items from an electronics store.

The incident happened around 1:10 a.m. Wednesday at the Vaughan Mills shopping mall in Vaughan, outside Toronto.

“The vehicle was then driven through the mall and into an electronics store where the suspects stole a quantity of items. The vehicle drove out of the mall through a second entrance,” York Regional Police said in a statement. “Fortunately, no one was injured.”

Video shows a black Audi sedan speeding through the mall’s parking lot before crashing through a set of glass doors at one of the building’s entrances. 

A 2011 black Audi is seen racing through the inside of the Vaughan Mills mall in Ontario, Canada, on Feb. 1, 2023.

A 2011 black Audi is seen racing through the inside of the Vaughan Mills mall in Ontario, Canada, on Feb. 1, 2023. (York Regional Police/LOCAL NEWS X/TMX)

Surveillance cameras from inside the mall then showed the car driving through its interior, past locked-up storefronts, kiosks and vending machines. 

Five minutes later, cameras captured the car wrecking another entrance of the mall by driving through the glass doors. 

Police believe there were two suspects inside the car, who stole items from an electronics store inside the mall in Vaughan, Ontario, which is just outside of Toronto.

Police believe there were two suspects inside the car, who stole items from an electronics store inside the mall in Vaughan, Ontario, which is just outside of Toronto. (York Regional Police/LOCAL NEWS X/TMX)

York Police said the vehicle – which had the Quebec license plate X10 SNP — later was recovered and that it is believed that two suspects were involved. 

“Investigators are appealing for witnesses to come forward who may have been in the area at the time of the incident and have not yet spoken to police,” it added. 

Taylor-Anna Kobinger, a resident of Laval, Quebec, about 350 miles away, told the CP24 news channel that her car was the one seen in the video. 

The car eventually escaped the Vaughan Mills mall in Ontario by driving through another set of glass doors.

The car eventually escaped the Vaughan Mills mall in Ontario by driving through another set of glass doors. (York Regional Police/LOCAL NEWS X/TMX)

The station reports that Kobinger listed the vehicle for sale on Facebook Marketplace in January in hopes of raising money for a down payment on a house.

But when a man responded to the listing and took it for a test drive with her, he started “driving very dangerously” and ultimately stole the vehicle when she got out of the car to change places, Kobinger told CP24.

National Geographic Travel Photos

The MarkoZen Blog

The Storr is part of the Trotternish geologic formation in the northeast corner of the Isle of Skye, Scotland. The largest of the monoliths is called The Old Man of Storr. To the south are the Cuillins of southern Skye.

Like a castle in ruins, the Old Man of Storr rock formation guards the landscape on Isle of Skye in Scotland. Fifty meters high, the Old Man is a weathered piece of the larger rocky ridge known as the Storr. The area has such an otherworldly look that Ridley Scott filmed scenes from his 2012 moviePrometheusthere.

nat geo1

This cow isn’t floating in the sky—it’s standing alone in shallow waters in the coastal town of Laurieton in the Mid North Coast region of New South Wales, Australia. Laurieton, with a population of less than 2,000 people, is actually the largest town in the Camden Haven district.

EMERPC Crowds gather under the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in West Potomac Park in Washington DC.

Visitors take in the solid-granite tribute to civil rights movement leader Martin Luther King, Jr., at the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial in Washington, D.C. In his “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered on August 28, 1963, King addressed the 250,000 people who gathered…

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Now this is one big giant hole in the ground! 

The Cave of Swallows, also called Cave of the Swallows (Spanish: Sótano de las Golondrinas), is an open air pit cave in the Municipality of Aquismón, San Luis Potosí, Mexico. The elliptical mouth, on a slope of karst, is 49 by 62 meters wide and is undercut around all its perimeter, further widening to a room approximately 303 by 135 meters wide.  The floor of the cave is a 333-meter freefall drop from the lowest side of the opening, with a 370-meter drop from the highest side,  making it the largest known cave shaft in the world, the second deepest pit in Mexico and perhaps the 11th deepest in the world.  A skyscraper such as New York City’s Chrysler Building could easily fit wholly within it.

Opened up by water erosion in a fault on an impermeable limestone plain and with a roughly conical shape, the cave has been known to the local Huastec people since ancient times. The first documented exploration was on 27 December 1966 by T. R. Evans, Charles Borland and Randy Sterns.

Temperatures in the cave are low. Vegetation grows thickly at the mouth, where rains can cause waterfalls cascading into the cave.  The cave floor is covered with a thick layer of debris and guano on which “millipedes, insects, snakes, and scorpions” live.  There is also a narrow sinkhole in a fault of lower Cretaceous limestone which goes down at least a further 512 m.

These people rappel down to the floor of the cave where the scorpions and deadly snakes are waiting.  Why?

And then there are the crazy thrill seekers who want to parachute down into the cave where the scorpions and deadly snakes are waiting.  Why?  Why?

The cave is a popular vertical caving destination. The high side of the mouth is covered with heavy foliage, so cavers most often fix their ropes on the low side, where bolts have been fixed into the rock and the area is clear of obstructions.  Rappelling to the floor takes about twenty minutes, in which time abseil equipment and rope can heat up to hazardous levels. Climbing back out may take from forty minutes to more than two hours. A person without a parachute would take almost ten seconds to freefall from the mouth to the floor, hence the pit is also popular with extreme sporting enthusiasts for BASE jumping.  An average-sized hot air balloon has been navigated through the 160-foot (49 m) wide opening and landed on the floor below.  Base jumpers can get out in about 10 minutes via an extraction rope.

The Himalayan Towers of China

In the Western Sichuan province, between central China and the Tibetan Autonomous Region, there exist hundreds of mysterious stone towers, some of them over 200 feet tall. They dot the valleys and the foothills of the Himalayas, often clustered near villages where they have been repurposed as stables for yaks and ponies. Others are abandoned and in a state of disrepair; their wooden stairs gone and roof collapsed. Although they clearly exist for centuries, the purpose and origin of these structures remain a mystery, and even the local residents are ignorant of their history

The towers were first brought to the attention of the outside world by French explorer Frederique Darragon, who went to Tibet in 1998 to research snow leopards, but instead fell under the spell of these enigmatic structures. Darragon spent the next five years studying the towers. She counted them, mapped them, photographed them, and even climbed them when possible to collect samples of wood from the beams for analysis. But when she talked to people living in proximity to the towers, she was surprised to learn that nobody knew who built them and for what purpose. A search among the texts in the local Buddhist monasteries was also unfruitful. However, she did find a few references to the towers in some Chinese annals and in the diaries of 19th-century European travelers to the region, but nobody made any attempts to study them or unravel the puzzle.

The lack of local knowledge about the towers’ origin could be due to the region’s history and geography. The region where the towers are found has been historically occupied by different mountain tribes who have maintained isolation for centuries. Due to the diverse nature of their origins and the fragmented terrain in which they live, the languages and dialects they speak are vastly different from one another. “Even from one valley to the next, the locals couldn’t speak to each other,” Darragon says in a documentary titled Secret Towers of the Himalayas, produced by her friend Michel Peissel. Darragon believes that knowledge of the towers might have been previously passed down through oral tradition, but now forgotten as dialects changed or vanished.

Himalayan towers depicted in a painting of the Jinchuan campaigns.

These monumental structures were built using a mixture of cut stone, brick, and timber and come in various shapes including square, polygon, and star-shaped with up to 12 vertices. They contain very little mortar and due to the wooded planks and beams that intersperse between the stones, these robust constructions are able to absorb the force of violent shaking that accompany earthquakes. Especially the star-shaped construction that make the structures less susceptible to tremors.

By conducting radiocarbon dating of the wood in the towers, Darragon determined that these towers are between 600 to 1,000 years old. Darragon believes the towers did not serve a single purpose, but its use differed from valley to valley. In Miniak, for example, she believes that many were watchtowers. She bases her conclusions upon such observations like the entrance being several stories above the ground, and the location of the towers where trade routes met. In Kongpo and Damba, the towers seem to be primarily symbols of wealth and pride. According to one tale, the towers were built by locals who grew rich by trading with Mongol-ruled China.

Many of the towers are now in a derelict state. Darragon is working to get the towers listed under UNESCO’s World Heritage Site. The designation would likely help protect the towers and raise money to restore them. She is also trying to enlist Sichuan University’s help in studying the structures. In 2006, the stone towers were placed on the watch list of the World’s Monument Fund, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of historic architecture and cultural heritage sites around the world.