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The world’s first hangover probably laid an Egyptian low about 6000 years ago, although it might have occurred in Mesopotamia as much as a thousand years later, when the locals dipped baskets of grain into wells to wet it, which began the brewing process.

Egyptians were certainly enthusiastic beer quaffers. How else could they have acquired the strength to lift huge blocks of stone into place to create the pyramids – or come up with such a clearly alcohol-inspired design for a tomb.

This lends strength to Bandicoot’s theory that a pharaoh or a close family member was an early alcoholic who dreamed up the now-familiar polyhedron with four equal triangles soaring to an apex, a conic solid shape, apart from the burial chamber.

The palace servants probably got the job of figuring out how to build the thing, which no doubt soon drove them, too, to drink.

The first stage of beer making, called steeping, probably occurred by accident – a bit like the accident that resulted in humans discovering that olives were edible. (For proof of this inedibility, try eating an olive straight off a tree. Then, after copious beers, try saying “inedibility” four times in rapid succession.)

Bandicoot theorises that an Olea europaea, clinging perilously close to a cliff edge, finally toppled into the Aegean Sea during an earthquake or a storm, or both, and drifted into the path of a starving shipwrecked sailor, who survived on the now-vaguely-edible fruit, avoiding ingesting seawater as far as possible.

The aforementioned steeping process wets the grain, encouraging germination. While for the Mesopotamians, and possibly the Egyptians, wetting could have been somewhat hit and miss, this is no longer so. The grain’s wetness is controlled to precise percentages, which generates heat and carbon dioxide, the latter unknown in antiquity.

The grain is now air-dried, or kilned, removing the CO2 and the newly formed rootlets in strictly controlled procedures. As one source puts it, the grain – barley is most commonly used for beer – has now been “modified”: the “internally present hydrolytic enzymes have catalysed the degradation of the starchy endosperm and cell walls in the presence of water”. Is that clear?

Further biochemical reactions occur in the grain, which results in the characteristic colour and flavour. Then it is is ready to be milled into malt.

No wonder high-tech malting manufacturers such as Barrett Burston have sprung up to supply breweries. No wonder VCAT Members, ordinary and Senior, have ruled that the malting process takes beer brewing a step or two beyond sawing up trees or despatching beeves or sheep.

Brewing has come a long way since the first hangover. Abattoir practices are still pretty rudimentary. 

The Great Pyramid

The Great Pyramid of Khufu – Cheops to the Greeks, and to us – is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world that has survived, despite being 2000 years older than all the rest.

pyramid-diagramIt is truly amazing. It was the tallest building in the world for 3800 years, when Britain’s Lincoln cathedral surpassed it. It is the most accurately made stone building ever.

The precision with which it was made has astounded Egyptologists. Many have wondered how it could have been made.

The pyramid is enormous, its base as big as eight soccer grounds. It is made of over two million huge limestone blocks, carefully cut from the bedrock of the desert, then dragged to the pyramid and set in place.

Experts think that one two-tonne block was positioned every two or three minutes. Each day during the first year the workers added 3700 tonnes of rock to the pyramid.


Height: 146 metres (when first made; now 139 metres – the top is missing) Pictured – the entrance.

pyra-entranceBuilt for: Khufu (Akhet Khufu, “Horizon of Khufu”) around 2484BC

Angle of each face: 51°50′

Volume: 2,583,000 cubic metres

Weight: 5 million tonnes

Number of blocks: 2.3 million, each averaging 2.5 tonnes

Heaviest blocks: up to 80 tonnes (above the burial chamber)

Number of rows of blocks: 203 (originally about 217)

The pyramid is mainly limestone – Tura limestone (a better quality stone for the outside), granite (for some interior parts), and gypsum mortar.

Time it took to build: experts have different ideas: one recent estimate is 14 years.

Number of workers needed

During the first year of building: 21,000 workers at Giza (block haulers, stone setters, ramp builders, quarrymen, plasterers, tool makers, water carriers etc). More were needed to cut better quality stones at other quarries, and to mine the copper used for tools. In later years the number of workers needed was a lot smaller (about 5000 in the eighth year).

Accuracy facts

The base of the pyramid is level to within 2.1cm.

The sides are aligned to the points of the compass with only a tiny error (1/20th of a degree).

The biggest difference in length between the four sides is 4.4cm (out of 230 metres).

The outer stones are so well cut and fitted together you couldn’t get a piece of paper between them.

The Great Step – a block of stone just before the burial chamber – is at the height where the area of the pyramid is exactly half the area of the base.

pyra-queens-bedOn the east side of Khufu’s pyramid were three small pyramids, called queen’s pyramids. One of these was for his mother, Hetepheres, wife of his father, Sneferu. Some beautiful treasure was found in here, including an alabaster sarcophagus, a bed pictured, with “saddle” headrest, chairs, a carrying chair, and her canopic chest (containing jars for her organs).

The other two pyramids were for queens Meritetes and Henutsen.


Khufu was the second king of the 4th dynasty of Egypt (a dynasty is a ruling family). His father was Sneferu and his sons were Djedefre (the next pharaoh) and Khafre, who had the big pyramid next to Khufu’s.

Khufu’s name is written like this: pyra-cartoucheFrom left to write the letters are Kh–u–f–u. His name is written inside the Great Pyramid, in chambers above the burial chamber. “Khufu” is short for Khnum–Khufwy, which means “May Khnum (the god) protect me”. He ruled for 23 years.


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