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Pulling strings to build pyramids
No one knows exactly how the pyramids were built. Marcus Chown reckons the answer could be ‘hanging in the air’.
The pyramids of Egypt were built more than three thousand years ago, and no one knows how. The conventional picture is that tens of thousands of slaves dragged stones on sledges. But there is no evidence to back this up. Now a Californian software consultant called Maureen Clemmons has suggested that kites might have been involved. While perusing a book on the monuments of Egypt, she noticed a hieroglyph that showed a row of men standing in odd postures. They were holding what looked like ropes that led, via some kind of mechanical system, to a giant bird in the sky. She wondered if perhaps the bird was actually a giant kite, and the men were using it to lift a heavy object.
Intrigued, Clemmons contacted Morteza Gharib, aeronautics professor at the California Institute of Technology. He was fascinated by the idea. ‘Coming from Iran, I have a keen interest in Middle Eastern science,’ he says. He too was puzzled by the picture that had sparked Clemmons’s interest. The object in the sky apparently had wings far too short and wide for a bird. ‘The possibility certainly existed that it was a kite,’ he says. And since he needed a summer project for his student Emilio Graff, investigating the possibility of using kites as heavy lifters seemed like a good idea.
Gharib and Graff set themselves the task of raising a 4.5-metre stone column from horizontal to vertical, using no source of energy except the wind. Their initial calculations and scale-model wind-tunnel experiments convinced them they wouldn’t need a strong wind to lift the 33.5-tonne column. Even a modest force, if sustained over a long time, would do. The key was to use a pulley system that would magnify the applied force. So they rigged up a tent-shaped scaffold directly above the tip of the horizontal column, with pulleys suspended from the scaffold’s apex. The idea was that as one end of the column rose, the base would roll across the ground on a trolley.
Earlier this year, the team put Clemmons’s unlikely theory to the test, using a 40-square-metre rectangular nylon sail. The kite lifted the column clean off the ground. ‘We were absolutely stunned,’ Gharib says. ‘The instant the sail opened into the wind, a huge force was generated and the column was raised to the vertical in a mere 40 seconds.’
The wind was blowing at a gentle 16 to 20 kilometres an hour, little more than half what they thought would be needed. What they had failed to reckon with was what happened when the kite was opened. ‘There was a huge initial force — five times larger than the steady state force,’ Gharib says. This jerk meant that kites could lift huge weights, Gharib realised. Even a 300-tonne column could have been lifted to the vertical with 40 or so men and four or five sails. So Clemmons was right: the pyramid builders could have used kites to lift massive stones into place. ‘Whether they actually did is another matter,’ Gharib says. There are no pictures showing the construction of the pyramids, so there is no way to tell what really happened. ‘The evidence for using kites to move large stones is no better or worse than the evidence for the brute force method,’ Gharib says.
Indeed, the experiments have left many specialists unconvinced. ‘The evidence for kite-lifting is non-existent,’ says Willeke Wendrich, an associate professor of Egyptology at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Others feel there is more of a case for the theory. Harnessing the wind would not have been a problem for accomplished sailors like the Egyptians. And they are known to have used wooden pulleys, which could have been made strong enough to bear the weight of massive blocks of stone. In addition, there is some physical evidence that the ancient Egyptians were interested in flight. A wooden artefact found on the step pyramid at Saqqara looks uncannily like a modern glider. Although it dates from several hundred years after the building of the pyramids, its sophistication suggests that the Egyptians might have been developing ideas of flight for a long time. And other ancient civilisations certainly knew about kites; as early as 1250 BC, the Chinese were using them to deliver messages and dump flaming debris on their foes.
The experiments might even have practical uses nowadays. There are plenty of places around the globe where people have no access to heavy machinery, but do know how to deal with wind, sailing and basic mechanical principles. Gharib has already been contacted by a civil engineer in Nicaragua, who wants to put up buildings with adobe roofs supported by concrete arches on a site that heavy equipment can’t reach. His idea is to build the arches horizontally, then lift them into place using kites. ‘We’ve given him some design hints,’ says Gharib. ‘We’re just waiting for him to report back.’ So whether they were actually used to build the pyramids or not, it seems that kites may make sensible construction tools in the 21st century AD.
Do the following statements agree with the information given in Reading Passage 1?
In boxes 1-7 on your answer sheet, write
TRUE if the statement agrees with the information
FALSE if the statement contradicts the information
NOT GIVEN if there is no information on this
1 It is generally believed that large numbers of people were needed to build the pyramids.
2 Clemmons found a strange hieroglyph on the wall of an Egyptian monument.
3 Gharib had previously done experiments on bird flight.
4 Gharib and Graff tested their theory before applying it.
5 The success of the actual experiment was due to the high speed of the wind.
6 They found that, as the kite flew higher, the wind force got stronger.
7 The team decided that it was possible to use kites to raise very heavy stones.
Complete the summary below.
Choose NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS from the passage for each answer.
Write your answers in boxes 8-13 on your answer sheet.
Additional evidence for theory of kite-lifting
The Egyptians had 8.................., which could lift large pieces of 9.................., and they knew how to use the energy of the wind from their skill as 10.................. .The discovery on one pyramid of an object which resembled a 11.................. suggests they may have experimented with 12.................. . In addition, over two thousand years ago kites were used in China as weapons, as well as for sending 13 .................. .
关键词：large numbers of people, build the pyramids
定位原文: 第1段第2句: “The conventional picture is that…”
解题思路: 此题通过定位词可以迅速定位至首段第2句话，题干对文章定位句的概括性改写分析如下：generally believed — conventional picture, large numbers of people — tens of thousands of slaves. 因此答案很明显应该是TRUE。
关键词：hieroglyph, Egyptian monument
定位原文: 首段第5句: “While perusing a book…”
关键词：experiment, bird flight
解题思路: 题干的定位信息在文章中未出现，此题为最典型的“原文完全未提及型”，故答案为NOT GIVEN
定位原文: 第4段首句：”Earlier this year...” 今年早些时候，他们把Clemmons空头理论付诸实验
关键词：high speed of the wind
定位原文: 第5段首句: “The wind was blowing at…”
解题思路: 此题按照顺序原则，在第五段首句定位出与风速相关的信息，但文中对于风速的描述为 gentle和little more than half(与一半差不多)，显然题目与原文不符，因此答案为FALSE
关键词：kite, wind force
定位原文： 第5段第2句、第3句: “What they had failed to… ‘There was a huge initial force …”他们没有想到的是当风帆打开时会发生什么“巨大的初始风力比恒稳状态风力还大五倍。” Gharib说道。
解题思路: 此题定位比较容易。在定位句中只提到了kite打开的吋候wind force很大，对于题目中的两个比较级完全没提及，此题为典型的“题目内容文章部分提及型”，故答案为NOT GIVEN。
关键词：kite, very heavy stones
定位原文: 第5段第4句：“This jerk meant that…”
定位原文: 第7段第2句、第3句: “...like the Egyptians. And they are known to have used wooden pulleys...
解题思路: 在定位段中查找定位词可以迅速定位于该段第二句。题中空格前为动词had，所以应于文中定位处扫描该动词或其同义词或其上下义词。此处扫描结果为to have used，则其后单词即为答案: (wooden) pulleys。
关键词： large pieces
定位原文: 第7段第3句: “…, which could have been made strong enough to bear the weight of massive blocks of stone.”
解题思路: 此题在文中定位紧接着上一题。通过扫描定位词得出 large pieces of 对应文中 massive blocks of，于是其后单词即为答案：stone。
关键词：energy from the wind
定位原文: 第7段第2句: “Harnessing the wind would not…”
解题思路: 此题为同一定位段内的乱序题，由于确定解题段为第七段，在两次定位后仍能将此空定位于段落次句。此空格前为介词as，则在定位处扫描该介词或其他介词。此处扫描结果为for，则其后单词即为答案：(accomplished) sailors。
定位原文: 第7段第5句: “A wooden artefact found…”
解题思路: 此题通过顺序原则可以很快定位，定位处looks uncannily like对应题中resembled, 且空格需填写一个单数名词，则答案为(modem) glider。
关键词：suggest, have experimented with
定位原文: 第7段倒数第2句 “…, its sophistication suggests that…”
解题思路: 此题解题技巧同第10题，由于空格前为介词with, 故在定位句中扫描后定位于介词of，且have been developing ideas of对应于题中 have experimented with，所以答案为of后单词：flight。
定位原文: 第7段末句：“the Chinese were using them to…”
解题思路: 空格前为动词sending, 则在定位句中扫描得到动词deliver与之对应，其后单词即为答案：messages。