Stephen could make things. Give him some bubble gum and a few paper clips, and he'd build something. He was in grade school when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, and as a bright young kid with mechanical aptitude, he was soon on track for a career in engineering. He majored in mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois. As an undergrad, he worked in a special program for McDonnell Douglas.
But two years before Sputnik, something else happened that would impact Blakely's life. He saw "Land of the Pharaohs." It had a cast of thousands. Literally. Warner Brothers claimed there were more than 9,000 extras in one scene. William Faulkner was one of the screenwriters. But what captivated young Blakely was the Great Pyramid. How did they build that thing?
After college, Blakely worked in a number of engineering positions before finally settling into the field of medical technology. He patented a device that surgeons use to prevent damaging a patient's vocal chords during thyroid surgery. He and a friend started their own company. He's had a very successful career.
In his spare time, he might have solved the mystery of the Great Pyramid. How did they build that thing?
The Egyptians moved more than 2.3 million stones. Average weight was about 4,000 pounds. How did they do that? The problem is not just the weight of the stones, it's the number. To finish in 30 years, they would have to be moving a stone every three or four minutes. And by moving, I mean lifting. This would not be an easy task.
The most common theory has involved ramps. Perhaps a long ramp on which workers would put stones on log rollers to more easily pull them up, or maybe some kind of spiral ramp that would circle the pyramid. But skeptics argue ramps would not be efficient enough. Nobody really knows.
Blakely has developed a theory that the Egyptians didn't use ramps. He believes the builders used a primitive pulley, a rounded piece of stone or wood with a groove for the rope. Workers would haul the stones up the sides of the pyramids. Ten pulleys working simultaneously and the thing could be done.
"In engineering, simple is excellent," Blakely told me when we met for coffee a week ago.
Blakely is no armchair theorist. Four years ago, he went to his alma mater and asked the University of Illinois Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering to consider his theory as a senior project. The department agreed, and four senior engineering students used Blakely's design to build an "Egyptian pulley" with materials that would have been available to the Egyptians. The lubricant was olive oil. The students conducted tests at Marcal Rope & Rigging in Alton.
The pulley easily handled a 4,400-pound rock.
The experiment was documented in the Journal of Experimental Archaeology Digest in 2014.
The story is a bit technical for somebody who doesn't even know the three components of a conventional pulley — an axle, a grooved wheel and a support fixture for the axle — but it all sounded very positive. This is something the Egyptians could have done. The mystery of the Great Pyramid may have been solved by an engineer from Alton.
But the publication of the successful experiment was greeted with … nothing. It wasn't as if people rushed forward to denounce the theory. Or even be skeptical about it. The Egyptologists simply ignored it.
Blakely does not seem devastated. He said he imagines the Egyptian engineers would be pleased with the situation. He said the Egyptians left us plenty of information about other things. "We know how they made rope. We know how they made beer." But their greatest accomplishment? He said he suspects they wanted visitors to imagine the gods were responsible, which is, Blakely pointed out, a theory promoted on late-night shows about aliens.
After his successful experiment, he learned that he was not the first to publish something about this type of pulley. Leonardo da Vinci designed a similar instrument in 1506 to study the laws of friction.
That's not bad company.
Blakely has never been to Egypt, but he said he plans to go next year when a new museum opens. Maybe one of their artifacts would be part of a primitive pulley. Unless you know what you're looking for, you can't find it, he said.
Absent that type of irrefutable proof, Blakely faces the task of getting attention for his ideas. He'd love to be discovered by the Discovery Channel. He'd really love to give a presentation at some prestigious Egyptology conference, but he does not have the academic chops for that. He's just an engineer. Like the guys who built the Great Pyramid.
-- Sent from my Linux system.