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12 Wondrous Facts about the Great Pyramid of Giza

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For more than 4000 years, the pyramids of Giza have towered over the west bank of the Nile just south of Cairo, Egypt, sparking innumerable theories on everything from their construction methods to their astrological connections. Here are 12 facts about the largest of them all, the Great Pyramid.

1. THE EARLIEST PYRAMIDS IN EGYPT WERE BUILT A CENTURY PRIOR.

Tombs for the kings of Egypt had been constructed underground for many years before the pharaoh Djoser built a step pyramid in Saqqara, south of Giza, around 2630 BCE. Djoser’s tomb predates that of Sneferu, whose Red Pyramid was the first completed true pyramid, built sometime between 2613 and 2589 BCE.

2. THE GREAT PYRAMID WAS CONSTRUCTED BETWEEN 2560 and 2540 BCE.

Not long after Sneferu’s 341-foot tall Red Pyramid was completed in Dahshur (his first pyramid in Maidum was abandoned, and his second was turned into the Bent Pyramid), Khufu began work on the Great Pyramid at Giza. The largest of all the tombs built in the ancient world, the Great Pyramid is the centerpiece of a complex that includes tombs for Khufu’s wives, a mortuary temple, valley temple, boat pits, and a causeway.

3. THE GREAT PYRAMID WAS BUILT FOR THE PHARAOH KHUFU.

The second pharaoh of the 4th Dynasty, Khufu, Hellenized as Cheops, was the son of Sneferu and Hetepheres I and likely ascended to the throne in his 20s. Very little information about Khufu has been preserved, and the conflicting accounts of his reign were written centuries after his death, most notably in Herodotus’ Histories. The only acknowledged statue of him stands a mere three inches.

4. IT WAS THE TALLEST MAN-MADE STRUCTURE IN THE WORLD FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS...

At 481 feet tall, the Great Pyramid eclipsed every structure ever built until the completion of the Lincoln Cathedral in 1311 CE. The Cathedral topped out around 525 feet before the collapse of its central spire in 1548.

5. ...BUT IT HAS SHRUNK BY ABOUT 25 FEET.

Today, the Great Pyramid stands only about 455 feet tall, as four millennia of erosion has sliced 25 feet of stone from the structure. An iron triangle currently sits atop the pyramid and represents the pyramidion, or capstone, that once marked the apex of the structure.

6. ABOUT 2.3 MILLION STONE BLOCKS WERE USED TO BUILD THE PYRAMID.

The quarry at Aswan, about 525 miles upriver, was the site for the stone used to make the massive blocks that comprise the pyramid. Each block weighs about 2.5 tons on average, and the pyramid itself is estimated to weigh 6.5 million tons.

7. A SERIES OF RAMPS WAS LIKELY BUILT TO CONSTRUCT THE PYRAMID.

With no hard evidence, historians and scholars have theorized that a system of ramps had to have been the method for raising and maneuvering the massive granite blocks for the Great Pyramid. Archaeological evidence at other pyramid sites indicates that linear, staircase, and spiral ramps were used to slowly bring stones hundreds of feet into the air. Once there, historians believe wooden and bronze levers were used to intricately position the stones.

8. THE INTERIOR CONTAINS THREE CHAMBERS.

Designed as a tomb, the Great Pyramid contains three burial chambers that were intended to house Khufu and the litany of goods and treasures he would take with him in the afterlife. Upon entering the pyramid, a passage (3.1 feet high, 3.4 feet wide) descends about 354 feet into the bedrock, levels off, and continues another 29 feet to an unfinished, underground chamber. About 93 feet down the descending passage, a hole in the roof leads to the ascending passage, a 129-foot stretch that rises to the Grand Gallery (it is the only known pyramid with a passage that slopes upward). At the start of the Gallery is a passage to the Queen’s Chamber, which measures 18.9 feet by 17.2 feet and is 20 feet high. A series of shafts, extending from the north and south walls, were explored multiple times but their purpose has yet to be uncovered.

Back at the Grand Gallery, a 28-foot high, 153-foot long passage leads up to the King’s Chamber. Inside, the walls are entirely covered in granite, and a pair of shafts, which at one point were thought to be air shafts, slope up and out the north and south sides of the pyramid, leading many experts to believe that they had an astrological purpose. Khufu’s sarcophagus is the only object that remains in the room, and its lid is gone and a chunk of the corner is missing. Atop the roof was a series of relief chambers that took pressure off the room below.

9. ALMOST EVERYTHING IN THE CHAMBERS HAS BEEN TAKEN.

Some accounts state human remains were present in the King’s Chamber around the 9th century CE, but constant looting has left the interior barren except for Khufu’s red-granite sarcophagus. In addition, the white limestone casing that once covered the exterior was also taken and used by various rulers and kings in other building projects.

10. HISTORIANS BELIEVE SKILLED LABORERS BUILT THE PYRAMID.

Long thought to have been the work of thousands of slaves, experts today believe 20,000-30,000 skilled laborers, including stone masons, engineers, architects, surveyors, builders, and other craftsmen, were conscripted to construct Khufu’s temple. Egyptologists Mark Lehner and Zahi Hawaas theorize that a small crew worked year-round on the project, while a larger collection of workers was summoned during the summer months when the Nile flooded the surrounding valley and integrated with the permanent labor force.

11. KHUFU'S SON AND GRANDSON BUILT PYRAMIDS ON THE SAME SITE.

Along with his tomb, Khufu’s pyramid complex includes three small pyramids built for his wives, a mortuary temple, and mastabas (tombs) for the relatives and officials who would accompany Khufu on his journey in the afterlife. His son, Khafre, built a 446-foot pyramid, which appears taller than Khufu’s from certain angles because of its position on slightly elevated ground. Khafre also commissioned the the Great Sphinx at the front of the complex. Menkaure, the son of Khafre and grandson of Khufu, built a relatively modest 213-foot pyramid nearby.

12. IT IS BOTH THE OLDEST AND THE ONLY REMAINING ANCIENT WONDER.

Named one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Great Pyramid is the only work that has survived into modernity. Archaeological evidence has been discovered that indicates, like the Great Pyramid, some of the legendary structures (the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus) were real, while the others (the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Colossus of Rhodes) are harder to verify, and may be composites of legend, myth, and fact.

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(c) Field Museum, CSZ5974c, photographer Carl Akeley, used with permission.
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Animals
The Time Carl Akeley Killed a Leopard With His Bare Hands
(c) Field Museum, CSZ5974c, photographer Carl Akeley, used with permission.
(c) Field Museum, CSZ5974c, photographer Carl Akeley, used with permission.

Carl Akeley had plenty of close encounters with animals in his long career as a naturalist and taxidermist. There was the time a bull elephant had charged him on Mount Kenya, nearly crushing him; the time he was unarmed and charged by three rhinos who missed him, he said later, only because the animals had such poor vision; and the time the tumbling body of a silverback gorilla he'd just shot almost knocked him off a cliff. This dangerous tradition began on his very first trip to Africa, where, on an otherwise routine hunting trip, the naturalist became the prey.

It was 1896. Following stints at Ward’s Natural Science Establishment and the Milwaukee Public Museum, Akeley, 32, had just been appointed chief taxidermist for Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, and he was tasked with gathering new specimens to bolster the 3-year-old museum's fledgling collections. After more than four months of travel and numerous delays, the expedition had reached the plains of Ogaden, a region of Ethiopia, where Akeley hunted for specimens for days without success.

Then, one morning, Akeley managed to shoot a hyena shortly after he left camp. Unfortunately, “one look at his dead carcass was enough to satisfy me that he was not as desirable as I had thought, for his skin was badly diseased,” he later wrote in his autobiography, In Brightest Africa. He shot a warthog, a fine specimen, but what he really wanted was an ostrich—so he left the carcass behind, climbed a termite hill to look for the birds, then took off after a pair he saw in the tall grass.

But the ostriches eluded him at every turn, so he returned to camp and grabbed the necessary tools to cut off the head of his warthog. However, when he and a “pony boy” got to the spot where he’d left the carcass, all that remained was a bloodstain. “A crash in the bushes at one side led me in a hurry in that direction and a little later I saw my pig's head in the mouth of a hyena travelling up the slope of a ridge out of range,” Akeley wrote. “That meant that my warthog specimen was lost, and, having got no ostriches, I felt it was a pretty poor day.”

As the sun began to set, Akeley and the boy turned back to camp. “As we came near to the place where I had shot the diseased hyena in the morning, it occurred to me that perhaps there might be another hyena about the carcass, and feeling a bit ‘sore’ at the tribe for stealing my warthog, I thought I might pay off the score by getting a good specimen of a hyena for the collections,” he wrote. But that carcass was gone, too, with a drag trail in the sand leading into the bush.

Akeley heard a sound, and, irritated, “did a very foolish thing,” firing into the bush without seeing what he was shooting at. He knew, almost immediately, that he'd made a mistake: The answering snarl told him that what he’d fired at was not a hyena at all, but a leopard.

The taxidermist began thinking of all the things he knew about the big cats. A leopard, he wrote,

“... has all the qualities that gave rise to the ‘nine lives’ legend: To kill him you have got to kill him clear to the tip of his tail. Added to that, a leopard, unlike a lion, is vindictive. A wounded leopard will fight to a finish practically every time, no matter how many chances it has to escape. Once aroused, its determination is fixed on fight, and if a leopard ever gets hold, it claws and bites until its victim is in shreds. All this was in my mind, and I began looking about for the best way out of it, for I had no desire to try conclusions with a possibly wounded leopard when it was so late in the day that I could not see the sights of my rifle.”

Akeley beat a hasty retreat. He’d return the next morning, he figured, when he could see better; if he’d wounded the leopard, he could find it again then. But the leopard had other ideas. It pursued him, and Akeley fired again, even though he couldn’t see enough to aim. “I could see where the bullets struck as the sand spurted up beyond the leopard. The first two shots went above her, but the third scored. The leopard stopped and I thought she was killed.”

The leopard had not been killed. Instead, she charged—and Akeley’s magazine was empty. He reloaded the rifle, but as he spun to face the leopard, she leapt on him, knocking it out of his hands. The 80-pound cat landed on him. “Her intention was to sink her teeth into my throat and with this grip and her forepaws hang to me while with her hind claws she dug out my stomach, for this pleasant practice is the way of leopards,” Akeley wrote. “However, happily for me, she missed her aim.” The wounded cat had landed to one side; instead of Akeley’s throat in her mouth, she had his upper right arm, which had the fortuitous effect of keeping her hind legs off his stomach.

It was good luck, but the fight of Akeley’s life had just begun.

Using his left hand, he attempted to loosen the leopard’s hold. “I couldn't do it except little by little,” he wrote. “When I got grip enough on her throat to loosen her hold just a little she would catch my arm again an inch or two lower down. In this way I drew the full length of the arm through her mouth inch by inch.”

He felt no pain, he wrote, “only of the sound of the crushing of tense muscles and the choking, snarling grunts of the beast.” When his arm was nearly free, Akeley fell on the leopard. His right hand was still in her mouth, but his left hand was still on her throat. His knees were on her chest and his elbows in her armpits, “spreading her front legs apart so that the frantic clawing did nothing more than tear my shirt.”

It was a scramble. The leopard tried to twist around and gain the advantage, but couldn’t get purchase on the sand. “For the first time,” Akeley wrote, “I began to think and hope I had a chance to win this curious fight.”

He called for the boy, hoping he’d bring a knife, but received no response. So he held on to the animal and “continued to shove the hand down her throat so hard she could not close her mouth and with the other I gripped her throat in a stranglehold.” He bore down with his full weight on her chest, and felt a rib crack. He did it again—another crack. “I felt her relax, a sort of letting go, although she was still struggling. At the same time I felt myself weakening similarly, and then it became a question as to which would give up first.”

Slowly, her struggle ceased. Akeley had won. He lay there for a long time, keeping the leopard in his death grip. “After what seemed an interminable passage of time I let go and tried to stand, calling to the pony boy that it was finished.” The leopard, he later told Popular Science Monthly, had then shown signs of life; Akeley used the boy’s knife to make sure it was really, truly dead.

Akeley’s arm was shredded, and he was weak—so weak that he couldn’t carry the leopard back to camp. “And then a thought struck me that made me waste no time,” he told Popular Science. “That leopard has been eating the horrible diseased hyena I had killed. Any leopard bite is liable to give one blood poison, but this particular leopard’s mouth must have been exceptionally foul.”

He and the boy must have been quite the sight when they finally made it back to camp. His companions had heard the shots, and figured Akeley had either faced off with a lion or the natives; whatever the scenario, they figured Akeley would prevail or be defeated before they could get to him, so they kept on eating dinner. But when Akeley appeared, with “my clothes ... all ripped, my arm ... chewed into an unpleasant sight, [with] blood and dirt all over me,” he wrote in In Brightest Africa, “my appearance was quite sufficient to arrest attention.”

He demanded all the antiseptics the camp had to offer. After he'd been washed with cold water, “the antiseptic was pumped into every one of the innumerable tooth wounds until my arm was so full of the liquid that an injection in one drove it out of another,” he wrote. “During the process I nearly regretted that the leopard had not won.”

When that was done, Akeley was taken to his tent, and the dead leopard was brought in and laid out next to his cot. Her right hind leg was wounded—which, he surmised, had come from his first shot into the brush, and was what had thrown off her pounce—and she had a flesh wound in the back of her neck where his last shot had hit her, “from the shock of which she had instantly recovered.”

Not long after his close encounter with the leopard, the African expedition was cut short when its leader contracted malaria, and Akeley returned to Chicago. The whole experience, he wrote to a friend later, transported him back to a particular moment at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, which he’d visited after creating taxidermy mounts for the event. “As I struggled to wrest my arm from the mouth of the leopard I recalled vividly a bronze at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, depicting the struggle between a man and bear, the man’s arm in the mouth of the bear,” he wrote. “I had stood in front of this bronze one afternoon with a doctor friend and we discussed the probable sensations of a man in this predicament, wondering whether or not the man would be sensible to the pain of the chewing and the rending of his flesh by the bear. I was thinking as the leopard tore at me that now I knew exactly what the sensations were, but that unfortunately I would not live to tell my doctor friend.”

In the moment, though, there had been no pain, “just the joy of a good fight,” Akeley wrote, “and I did live to tell my [doctor] friend all about it.”

Additional source: Kingdom Under Glass: A Tale of Obsession, Adventure, and One Man's Quest to Preserve the World's Great Animals

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Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons // Nigel Parry, USA Network
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crime
Meghan Markle Is Related to H.H. Holmes, America’s First Serial Killer, According to New Documentary
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons // Nigel Parry, USA Network
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons // Nigel Parry, USA Network

Between staging paparazzi photos and writing open letters to Prince Harry advising him to call off his wedding, Meghan Markle’s family has been keeping the media pretty busy lately. But it turns out that her bloodline's talent for grabbing headlines dates back much further than the announcement that Markle and Prince Harry were getting hitched—and for much more sinister reasons. According to Meet the Markles, a new television documentary produced for England’s Channel Four, the former Suits star has a distant relation to H.H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer.

The claim comes from Holmes’s great-great-grandson, American lawyer Jeff Mudgett, who recently discovered that he and Markle are eighth cousins. If that connection is correct, then it would mean that Markle, too, is related to Holmes.

While finding out that you’re related—however distantly—to a man believed to have murdered 27 people isn’t something you’d probably want to share with Queen Elizabeth II when asking her to pass the Yorkshire pudding over Christmas dinner, what makes the story even more interesting is that Mudgett believes that his great-great-grandpa was also Jack the Ripper!

Mudgett came to this conclusion based on Holmes’s personal diaries, which he inherited. In 2017, American Ripper—an eight-part History Channel series—investigated Mudgett’s belief that Holmes and Jack were indeed one in the same.

When asked about his connection to Markle, and their shared connection to Holmes—and, possibly, Jack the Ripper—Mudgett replied:

“We did a study with the FBI and CIA and Scotland Yard regarding handwriting analysis. It turns out [H. H. Holmes] was Jack the Ripper. This means Meghan is related to Jack the Ripper. I don’t think the Queen knows. I am not proud he is my ancestor. Meghan won’t be either.”

Shortly thereafter he clarified his comments via his personal Facebook page:

In the 130 years since Jack the Ripper terrorized London’s Whitechapel neighborhood, hundreds of names have been put forth as possible suspects, but authorities have never been able to definitively conclude who committed the infamous murders. So if Alice's Adventures in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll could have done it, why not the distant relative of the royal family's newest member?

[h/t: ID CrimeFeed]

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