PARIS A French architect said on Friday he had cracked a 4,500-year-old mystery surrounding Egypt's Great Pyramid, saying it was built from the inside out.
Previous theories have suggested Pharaoh Khufu's tomb, the last surviving example of the seven great wonders of antiquity, was built using either a vast frontal ramp or a ramp in a corkscrew shape around the exterior to haul up the stonework.
But flouting previous wisdom, Jean-Pierre Houdin said advanced 3D technology had shown the main ramp which was used to haul the massive stones to the apex was contained 10-15 meters beneath the outer skin, tracing a pyramid within a pyramid.
"This is better than the other theories, because it is the only theory that works," Houdin told Reuters after unveiling his hypothesis in a lavish ceremony using 3D computer simulation.
To prove his case, Houdin teamed up with a French company that builds 3D models for auto and airplane design, Dassault Systemes, which put 14 engineers for 2 years on the project.
Now, an international team is being assembled to probe the pyramid using radars and heat detecting cameras supplied by a French defense firm, as long as Egyptian authorities agree.
"This goes against both main existing theories. I've been teaching them myself for 20 years but deep down I know they're wrong," Egyptologist Bob Brier told Reuters at the unveiling.
"Houdin's vision is credible, but right now this is just a theory. Everybody thinks it has got to be taken seriously," said Brier, a senior research fellow at Long Island University.
Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities was not immediately available for comment. Dassault said Brier and other Egyptologists attending the ceremony were supporters of Houdin's theory but had no financial links to him or the firm.
Houdin began working full-time on the riddle eight years ago after a flash of intuition passed to him by his engineer father, and five years before actually visiting the site.
He found that a frontal, mile-long ramp would have used up as much stone as the pyramid, while being too steep near the top. He believes an external ramp was used only to supply the base.
An external corkscrew ramp would have blocked the sight lines needed to build an accurate pyramid and been difficult to fix to the surface, while leaving little room to work.
"What characterized the Egyptians was their sense of perfection and economy. We talk of durable development now, but it was the Egyptians who invented it. They didn't waste a single stone. They relied purely on intelligence," Houdin said.
Houdin also claimed to have shed light on a second enigma surrounding the purpose of a Grand Gallery inside the pyramid.
The Frenchman believes its tall, narrow shape suggests it accommodated a giant counter-weight to help haul five 60-ton granite beams to their position above the King's Chamber.
He thinks that no more than 4,000 people could have built the pyramid using these techniques rather than the 100,000 or so assigned by past historians to the task of burying the pharaoh.
Houdin, 56, brushed aside concerns about the popular curse which is supposed to punish those who penetrate the secrets of the pyramids, dating back to the opening of Tutankhamun tomb.
"Why should I be worried? I'm just explaining that the people of the time were architects of genius and that Khufu was a genius to order the pyramid's construction. What could happen to me, except that Khufu would thank me?," he told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Lucien Libert of Reuters Television)