Students to Help Build Pyramid with Wind and Beer

Students to Help Build Pyramid with Wind and Beer
Maureen Clemmons

Could the ancient Egyptians have built their pyramids with kites and beer? A Cal Poly Pomona architecture class will explore the question this spring when they embark on a project with Explorer's Club Fellow Dr. Maureen Clemmons of Transformations.

The group will erect a 106-ton pyramid without the benefit of modern machinery. That's right. No cranes, no hydraulics, no vehicles. Instead, they plan to use silk kites to harness enough wind power to lift two-ton stones, the average weight of stones used to construct the pyramids of ancient Egypt. Fermented beer will serve as a liquid enzyme soil stabilizer.

A kick-off event introducing the campus to the unconventional project was held Feb. 8. During the event, Clemmons gave her lecture “Building Pyramids with Wind and Beer.” She theorizes the ancient Egyptians used wind as the motive force for building the pyramids, contrary to modern Egyptologists who believe the ancient buildings were erected through the heavy labor of thousands of workers. Her lecture includes an overview of Egyptian hieroglyphics that support her theory.

Clemmons has been working on the theory since 1997 with a team of volunteers, including top engineers, scientists and academics. They found that erecting a 450 ton obelisk would require a 3,000-foot ramp and 6,500 laborers over several days. However, a properly employed kite method would take 16 workers, 8 kites, 48 pulleys, a 120-foot tower, and only 6 hours.

They have erected obelisks and smaller pyramids. With each project they are slowly trying to downgrade the technology they use and increase the size or weight of their structure. Their work was the subject of National Geographic Expedition EC-Y02 and was profiled on the History Channel documentary “Flying Pyramids, Soaring Stones.”

“I am excited about the prospect of working with the Cal Poly Pomona architecture students to construct a massive 106-ton true-pyramid, especially when the mission of Cal Poly is to augment didactic learning with actual hands-on experience,” Clemmons said. “This hands-on philosophy is what enticed me to collaborate with this incredible school.”

Associate professor of architecture Gary L. McGavin, AIA was introduced to the project through the Inland California chapter of the American Institute of Architects. This spring, about 100 architecture students enrolled in McGavin's Concrete and Masonry Structures classes will be involved in this latest hands-on project.

“This class is generally about numbers, like the structural requirements of concrete mixes and the forces that can be put on them,” he said. “I think this type of project is the perfect way to get them to have some fun while they're stealthily learning what could be a dry topic.”

Students will be creating their own precast concrete through the sponsorship of the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Manufacturers Association of California.

By finals week next quarter, the students will have 53 stones ready to be flown into pyramid formation at the construction site on Quartz Hill near the Palmdale/Lancaster area.