Kneeling before a 180-kg concrete obelisk in the hills northwest of Los Angeles, Maureen Clemmons murmurs a prayer to the ancient Egyptian god of wind. An hour passes. Then a strong air-current straightens the strings that connect the obelisk to two nylon kites1, shaped like the ones used in parasailing2. Very soon the kites start pulling the obelisk and drag it across a green grassy field. Clemmons and her 12 assistants cheer vigorously.
For three years, Clemmons, 42, who runs a hair-care-products company and has no formal scientific training, has spent all her spare time and more than $10.000 of her own money trying to solve everyone’s favourite engineering enigma: how the Egyptian pyramids were built.
Over the years, researchers have experimented with everything from ramps to levers3 in failed attempts to move duplicates of the three-ton pyramid stones.
Inspired by winds that hit her home in Reseda, Calif., each November, Clemmons recalled4 that even stronger winds blow in Egypt from February through June. Then she remembered that the Egyptians mass-produced linen5 for their boat sails, and that some hieroglyphs suggest that the pyramids were raised by “invisible gods in the sky.” Clemmons concluded that the ancient Egyptians could have used a system of large kites to lift the pyramid stones into place.
Does it sound ludicrous? That’s what most of her friends said. So Clemmons did some research and talked to Mory Gharib, an aeronautics engineer at the California Institute of Technology, who surprised everyone by supporting her concept. “It needs more study,” Gharib says, “but all of the mathematics works”. Others were persuaded by what they saw. “I thought it was bullshit,” admits Lynn Velazquez, an administrator at Pepperdine University. “Then I saw Maureen use a kite to lift up a heavy log, and I started to believe.”
The kite theory evokes a rolling of eyes, however, from professional Egyptologists, most of whom believe the pyramid builders used ramps. Many of these experts are fed up with so many amateurs pushing bizarre theories that often involve space aliens. Mark Lehner, a Harvard archaeologist widely regarded as the leading U.S. expert on the pyramids, was so shocked at the kite theory that he declined comment. Zawi Hawass, Under Secretary of State for Egypt’s Giza plateau, explained that “Egyptologists call people with these kinds of theories ‘pyramidiots.’”
To carry out further tests in California’s Mojave desert a $100.000 research fund is needed. To that end, Clemmons has persuaded several companies to collaborate on a new perfume labelled Ala (Latin for “wing”) that will sell in pyramid-shaped bottles. The profits will go to the kite-research project.
If these additional tests are successful, Clemmons wants to demonstrate her theory on a much grander stage in the shadow of the Giza pyramids outside Cairo. “Other research expeditions had a bunch of men pushing and pulling,” she says. “Mine will be me and my girlfriends with kits and a pack of beer, sitting in lawn chairs, waiting for the wind to kick up.”
1 kite: estel / cometa2 parasailing: parasailing (paracaigudisme aquàtic / paracaidismo acuático)3 lever: palanca / palanca4 recall: recordar / recordar5 linen: lli, roba de fil / lino, tejido de lino
Answer the following questions according to the information in the text “How Do You Build a Pyramid?”.
1. What are the reactions towards Maureen’s kite theory?
Most of her friends say [said] that it sounds ludicrous.Some scientists and witnesses support her theory. Archeologists usually atack it.(-Mory Gharib, an engineer at the California Institute of Technology, says that all the math works. -Others, like Lynn Velazquez, were persuaded by what they witnessed. -The theory evokes a rolling of eyes from professional egyptologists.)
2. What factors support or contradict her theory?
Factors against the kite theory:
- The experiment[s] works [work]. People have witnessed it.
- The Egyptians mass-produced linen for their boat sails.
- Some hieroglyphs suggest that the pyramids were raised by “invisible gods in the sky”.
- “All of the math works”, according to Mory Gharib.
3. What is unusual about Maureen’s team of researchers?
4. Which of the following sentences summarises the text best?
a) Maureen spends her own time and money to prove her kite-theory about pyramid building. Reactions go from shock to convinced support. The theory seems mathematically right and the experiments in the desert work. She is collecting money to continue them in the USA and then in Africa.
b) Maureen says a prayer to the god of wind before the experiment. To demonstrate her kite theory she wants the opinion of archeologists and engineers but they are all appalled at it. Some companies sell a new perfume called ‘Ala’. This is good advertising for them but little money goes to the project.
c) Gharib, Lehner and Hawass help Maureen, who has no scientific preparation. With 12 assistants she is experimenting in the Mojave desert but wants to demonstrate her theory in Egypt. She has spent all her money but now some companies sell a new perfume and give the money to the research project.