PYRAMID SCHEME: Building a Tomb on Today’s Budget

BY RYAN P. CASEY

Some say it was freaky aliens. Some say it was a technology way ahead of its time. Some say they don’t have a clue. But no matter what their competing theories suggest, scholars can at least agree on one thing: the Egyptian pyramids are some of the most remarkable structures in the world.

Even today, we still cannot be sure exactly how this ancient civilization was able to construct such magnificent tombs. Scientists, historians and crackpot theorists alike continue to argue whether extraterrestrials, advanced machinery, or simply an intelligent work force was behind the first wonder of the ancient world.

With Passover on the horizon – the Jewish holiday that celebrates the day the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt – we started thinking about what it would take to build a pyramid in 2011. Isn’t there an app for that? If we can put a man on the moon, rewind and fast-forward live television and surf the Internet on our phones, what’s so hard about building a big triangle thing out of limestone?

We asked a variety of sources for some pithy advice on our pyramid proposal – and discovered it may be a project best left in the past.

We thought Egyptologists would relish the challenge of a modern-day mummy mausoleum, but the ones we interviewed were surprisingly unhopeful.

“It would take a very different set of priorities to erect such a pyramid today,” said Ann Macy Roth, a professor at New York University who has spent a lot of time studying the pyramids at Giza. “Monuments are much less important now than they were in the early Bronze Age, and the resources and labor necessary for such a tomb would not, I suspect, be forthcoming from the modern Egyptian population.”

Added Mark Lehner, Director of Ancient Egypt Research Associates, “I’m sure such a project would be prohibitive financially.”

Cost was hardly a problem for King Cheops back in the day of his rule as pharaoh, but what it would cost us today for all that limestone? We consulted Tishman Construction, a Manhattan-based company that has worked on many of the city’s notable buildings and bridges.

“You’re looking at more than just supplies,” said John Gallagher, Vice President and Director of Public Affairs. “You have to factor in the cost of buying and preparing the land; paying your laborers and your contractor; buying, shipping and operating machinery; and a contingency fee. That’s easily over a billion dollars right there.”

That estimate isn’t far off from what journalist Russ Martin determined when he conducted the same investigation thirty years ago, with a grand total of $1,130,390,000.

There are probably better ways to spend a billion dollars, especially with the current economic situation, but at least we know it’s possible. But in a different time and culture, it would be hard to justify using our resources on a pyramid.

Or, we just could blame it on aliens.

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