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How the Great pyramid Was Built


·        The pyramids have always captured our hearts. Magic and mystery surrounds them, filling scholars and the public with wonder that evokes the following question: how did our ancestors, 4500 years ago, build these magnificent structures, and how did they organize the work force that was necessary for their construction? (From the foreword, by Dr. Zahi Hawass.)


·        It is a structure that surpasses belief, and no one who experiences it firsthand can fail to be awed by it. In my minds eye, I see it as it stood when completed in 2540 BC--faced with white limestone, dazzling in the sunlight. Then I tried to imagine it by moonlight, and this reverie fills me with a longing to forget about the waiting bus, sneak around to the cemetery behind the pyramid, find a vacant tomb, and wait there for the tourists to disappear, the sun to go down, and quiet to descend upon the Giza plateau.


·        Here, on the dusty slopes of Giza, this book is born. Go back forty-five centuries with me for the story of people whose lives were guided by an elaborate set of religious beliefs that formed the underpinnings of one of the greatest civilizations of all time--people who crafted their statement to history in spectacular form, creating the greatest structure on earth and celebrating the human mind and spirit in the process.


·        The Great Pyramid at Giza! Anyone who experiences this magnificent structure up close cannot help being amazed--or at least enormously impressed--that an ancient race erected such an enduring, colossal wonder. More than 4,000 years, it stood as the tallest structure ever built, and its simplicity of form and precision of design and positioning imbuing it with an enduring power that has captured the imagination of humankind for centuries.


·        The construction of Khufu's pyramid was not just the next logical step in evolution of the increasingly bold and sophisticated stone-construction technology that distinguished pyramid architecture, it was also the pinnacle of this evolution, which achieved its first major landmark with the construction of the Step Pyramid at Saqqara. By trial and error, Third and early Fourth Dynasty builders gradually perfected the design concepts and construction techniques that made Khufu's pyramid possible.


·        The great pyramid at Giza is the best known and largest of nearly 100 pyramids constructed along the west bank of the Nile (over a distance of roughly 100 km) during the Third to Sixth Dynasties in the old Kingdom of Egypt. Also known as the Great Pyramid of Khufu (or Cheops, as the Greeks called him), it was built during the Fourth Dynasty, about 2,550 years before the birth of Christ.


·        Building Khufu's pyramid was costly and certainly impacted the Egyptian economy of that time. Yet it was a manageable expense and justified by the importance of the project--a tomb for the king, a tomb that all of humankind would someday regard as astonishing.


·        Today, Khufu's pyramid stands somewhat diminished, robbed of the contents it was built to protect, stripped of its outer casing of white limestone, its supporting temples razed to the ground and their foundations buried. What of the future for this glorious monument? Having survived 4,500 years, what will remain for visitors forty-five centuries from now?


Extreme Waves


·        Where do waves come from, and why are some small, some large? In Southern California where I live, every surfer knows that waves come in sets and it is--depending on the day and conditions--that seventh or tenth wave that promises a long exhilarating ride to the beach.


·        You would think that with the technologies available during the last two centuries, the rate of loss of ships and human lives would have dropped dramatically. Surely radar, improved design, periodic safety inspections, construction using high-strength steel, and satellite weather observations would ensure that ships are lost much less frequently today. However, in the course of conducting research for this book I learned that the frequency of ship disasters remains surprisingly high.


·        Waves change with the seasons, every ear reshaping the beaches they impinge. From winter to summer the nature of a beach changes, sculpted by the tireless energy of the waves. In the winter, my beach develops a sharp drop-off, 3 to 8 feet high, as distant winter storms send breakers that carry sand out to sea. Later, other waves return the sand, and the beach returns to its characteristic slope to the sea.


·        Bobsled was blown sideways by winds estimated at 80 knots as she was entering Bass Strait. Breaking waves reach 80 to 100 feet, but the worst was yet to come. Boats ahead of Bobsled and behind her were capsized, broken up, and sunk by huge waves. A little later in the day, Stand Aside was hit by a huge wave that literally crushed the boat and then rolled it. The cabin roof was stove in, bulkheads failed, mast gone, hull leaking water, batteries submerged, engine inoperable, the crew launched two life rafts, but one failed to inflate and the wind broke the tether that held it to the boat. The crew--many of them injured--bailed frantically and threw everything overboard to lighten the boat.


·        Typhoon Orchid, with winds of 85 knots and 60-foot-high seas, bore down on the vessel, now somewhere off Okinawa, and headed north in the Kuroshio Current. On September 9, the Derbyshire radioed that she was hove to due to a severe tropical storm. That was the last word that was ever heard from the Derbyshire or the 42 crew members and two spouses onboard. No Mayday or other distress signal was heard, suggesting that the foundering of the Derbyshire was sudden and cataclysmic.


·        Early on the morning of December 27, Flying Enterprise was hit on the starboard side by a rogue wave more than 60 feet high. As the ship rolled to port under the impact, cargo shifted, and the crew reported hearing the cracking sound of rending steel, and the vessel took on a heavy list to port. When the crew inspected the vessel, they found water flooding the number three hold and two cracks extending across the weather deck. The crew attempted to make emergency repairs but later that day the engines stopped and could not be restarted. Huge waves continued to batter the vessel and the Flying Enterprise listed 45 degrees.


·        Now that we know that waves as high as 100 feet exist and occur more frequently than previously thought, what can be done to reduce the number of vessels breaking up or foundering and to reduce the number of crew lives lost each year? A wave of such height, with its deep towering face, could deliver an enormous impact--enough to break the back of the best designed modern ship built in accordance with today's standards. Even though such waves occur infrequently, are vessels safe enough?


·        For more than two centuries the phrase "Davy Jones's locker" has been synonymous with death in the sea. Today, with an improved understanding of extreme waves, we have the potential to ensure that the loss of a vessel due to giant waves becomes a rare event. It is time to take the necessary steps, time to slam the door shut on Davy Jones's locker.


Lightning: Fire from the Sky


·        Somewhere in central Florida, a kingfisher dives from the top of a dead tree into a pond and emerges with a minnow. Back on its perch, it tilts its head and swallows the fish, then fluffs its feathers to cool in the 95-degree heat. Above, a column of warm air slowly pushes its way into the atmosphere. Heated by the midsummer sun, and laden with moisture that has evaporated from swamplands and golf courses, this juggernaut weighing 10 million tons rises one mile, and then two, into the clear Florida sky. As it climbs, it creates a virtual chimney, sucking more warm air with it. Two miles up, the temperature drops to around 45 degrees, and now, gathering mass and speed, the huge column of moist air pushes into the upper atmosphere. At five miles up, the temperature is well below freezing. Some of the water vapor condenses into microscopic drops of water and becomes ice crystals.


·        My perception of lightning was dramatically altered while researching this book. Originally, I thought of lightning as a remote, unusual phenomenon, of interest due to the large release of power that accompanies a lightning strike, the damage it could cause, and the rare fatality. During my early work on the book, I was amazed at the number of people who have had a close experience with lightning. I had just to mention the topic and the stories came pouring forth. A neighbor's mother was struck while talking on the phone. Another friend experienced a near miss when lightning shattered a nearby tree. Another recounted how her grandmother was knocked unconscious while milking a cow. All of her hair was burned off. She eventually recovered, but the cow was killed. Dozens of such stories altered my perception. Suddenly, lightning injury was no longer a remote, rare phenomenon--it was close and personal. The book includes a selection of personal accounts as told to me by lightning strike survivors.


·        It was in very ancient times, long before recorded history, when humanlike creatures roamed primeval forests of dense fern and ancient trees. Clouds formed and thunder more terrible than we have ever heard rocked snow-capped mountains. A terrifying bolt of the bluest light shot from the sky and ignited a huge conifer that blazed like a torch for hours and finally crashed to the ground in a shower of smoke and sparks. A shadowy figure emerged from a nearby cave, shivering in the cold and petrified with fear, and found warmth near the dying blaze. In a moment of boldness, she seized a flaming branch and carried it into the cave. A new era in human history began with this simple act--protection against fierce predators, the ability to fashion better tools, protection against inclement weather, and the ability to preserve food. So Prometheus exists--in the form of a random lightning strike.


·        We have all experienced the discomfort--and sometimes the thrill--of a summer outing interrupted by lightning. My most memorable lightning storm occurred during the summer of 1980 when I was backpacking with my family in California's High Sierra Mountains. We had just climbed to Gardisky Lake, under the peak of Mount Tioga near Yosemite National Park, when it began to rain. We were at an elevation of 10,500 feet, where the few trees were gnarled and stunted from the force of wind and weather. We hurriedly set up our tents in a small depression in the granite rock and tried to cook dinner on our small propane stove while the wind howled and blew. As the rain abated, we were treated to a truly spectacular display of lightning over the mountains in the Minarets Wilderness Area and Yosemite National Park to the south of us. To all appearances we were on the top of the world. The sky was clear, and from our vantage point it seemed as if we could see the whole width of the Sierras. The jagged flashes of lightning illuminated an area 5 to 10 miles across, and the booming, rolling thunder that followed seemed to shake the solid granite of the mountain, where we lay awestruck in our flimsy tents and watched.


·        Water and trees are places to avoid in a thunderstorm. An Australian woman attended a lakeside picnic with her children. Two children were swimming as storm clouds gathered and the wind began to gust. The woman sent one child to tell the other two to come out of the water and then retreated under the tree where she sat on a couple of towels placed on the tree root. As rain began to fall she picked up a wooden umbrella and opened it. There was a loud noise and a flash and she was flung to one side. Her daughter returned to find her lying face down on the ground, screaming. She had a burning sensation in her buttocks, her legs were numb, and she experienced difficulty breathing. Clothing and towels under the tree were torn or burnt. She was driven to a nearby hospital, where she was given oxygen and treated for burns. She was discharged after two days. She was very lucky.


·        A remarkable survival story is that of Ron Griggs. One Saturday in August, Ron and his wife and daughter were netting bait in the Indian River in Florida. Ron is an experienced boat captain and on this day the sky was clear and no thunder could be heard. Out of the blue a lightning strike hit the boat, momentarily deafening Ron's wife, Char. After a moment Char recovered her senses and saw that Ron had been thrown in the water by the force of the blast and was drifting away from the boat. Their nine-year-old daughter, Linsey, was uninjured. After instructing Linsey to dial 911 on a cell phone Char dove into the water, reached her husband, rolled him over on his back, and swam with him back to the boat while trying desperately to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to him. Some nearby boaters came to her aid and helped lift Ron into the boat, where they gave him CPR until a sheriff's boat arrived and took him to waiting paramedics. Ron survived, thanks to Char's quick action that was based on a course in CPR she had taken 25 years ago!


House of Miracles


·        The Sertão (Desert)

...Thorny caatinga grew in scattered clumps, the only relief on the otherwise endless red soil that stretched out to the horizon, as far as anyone could see. In the distance, the occasional shrub shimmered in the waves of heat that rose from the desert surface. The sky was a deep blue; no cloud had a chance of forming under the pitiless sun. Three colors dominated the landscape: red soil, grey-green parched thorn bush and the cobalt blue sky. The bus had stopped in the middle of the road on a slight rise. Here the road stretched out from this vantage point, flat and straight as an arrow, until it disappeared into the heat haze some twenty or thirty kilometers in the distance. There were no other vehicles, no sign of life at all.


·        Padre Cicero

As his fame spread, Padre Cicero's personal possessions became regarded with much respect, even to the point that the urine of his prize bull was thought to have marvelous curative powers. The sales of this medicine reached such proportions that the priest's bull would have had to urinate continuously to attend to even part of the demand. Falsification was rampant; anybody with a cow or functional kidneys could come up with a reasonable imitation. And who could tell the difference?


·        The Coronel

The Coronel was from the old school. More than 60 years old then, he was still vigorous. He ran his farm, he ran the agriculture cooperative, and he controlled farm finances in the region. He wore a .45 caliber Colt revolver to his office each day and it hung by his bed at night. He hated banks, lawyers, and tax men.


·        The Mulata

The street was milling with people--housewives, maids, old men--doing their shopping, running errands, or just conversing. Then, there in the crowd coming towards me, I spotted the black girl. She was tall for a Brazilian woman, with chocolate brown skin, dark brown eyes, and medium long black hair with a slight wave to it, a faint smile on her lips. That smile would undo any man, and if you could tear your eyes from her face, the rest of her body brought to mind a sleek jungle cat, moving gracefully through shadowed forests.


·        The House of Miracles

This carving I carried to a small house near the praça--the Casa das Milagres, the House of Miracles--one of the buildings once occupied by Padre Cicero. You should visit it. The house is full of similar carvings, some of hands, some of feet, others of breasts and sexual organs disfigured by tumors, throats distorted by goiters, protruding bones, every type of human disorder and injury. It also holds stacks of crutches, thrown away by victims who have been cured and no longer need them. The faithful believe that by placing a carving in the House of Miracles, they will be healed. In this place of hope you can see the whole human anatomy served up in wooden carvings--a fervent quest for healing.


·        The Amazon River

My plane flew over the Amazon River at an altitude of about 7,000 feet, following the river west. The trees that blanketed the area looked like so many tiny broccoli plants sprouting on the edges of the river. I could see scattered clearings in the jungle below, sometimes with a house, sometimes with crops. Generally, though, as far as one could see, there was only uninhabited jungle. The river was enormous. Even from the altitude of the plane, I had difficulty in seeing both banks. I leaned up close to the plane window and tried to frame the opposite sides of the river in it. It was impossible; from my vantage point the river must have been several kilometers wide.


·        The Floating City, Manaus

Here were boats and rafts of every description, acres and acres of them, tied together to make a permanent habitation for those too poor to buy land. All that one needed was a raft of half a dozen large trees, some friends, some rope, some cachaça, and a house came together in a few days. In the Floating City, children learned to swim before they learned to walk, unless they died of malaria, yellow fever, malnutrition, or one of the dozens of other diseases endemic in the area. The Floating City had everything--restaurants, bars, grocery stores, gasoline stations. The river was a convenient receptacle for human wastes and wasted humans alike; the murky river swallowed both without complaint.

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