Thursday, December 30, 2010

People can build stupid shit without alien influence, thankyouverymuch.

Wrote this to my wife after some time spent researching tombs, and realized I might as well post it here. It's tangentially related to my recent dungeon thoughts.

It's a constant source of humor to me that, any time a fictional Egyptian-style pyramid appears, it is full of rooms and halls to the point of being almost hollow. This is because we think of them as buildings - as architecture.

They are not architecture - they are tombstones. Most of them were not even designed to be as big as they are. They were originally short narrow step pyramids like the older ones, maybe a bit bigger, and then they started falling down so stuff was piled onto them to shore them up. In the case of the Bent Pyramid, they screwed that up and halfway up it started to crush the tomb, so they changed the angle. The result was an empty pyramid - the pharaoh had another built. After all, would you want to be the one buried in the fucked up pyramid?

At that point, they had these big things sitting about as a result of having to essentially repair the old tombs, but no one wants to go in a smaller tomb than the other guy, so they started making them that way on purpose. They built their little chambers, then built a large pointless step pyramid on top, then another on that and another on than, then finally a smooth outer surface. Essentially mimicking a process that had been accidental - "Oh shit! Guyfacemcdudeatep's tomb is falling! Quick, make the slaves shove bricks against it!"

This is why people who think there is anything magic or supernatural or alien about Egyptian construction are wrong (or at the very least, wrong that they needed magic or aliens to do what they did).
This is about as complicated as it got. By the way, this one
fell in because it was too complicated.

Egypt was full of people, and people are the dumbest, smartest creatures on Earth. We don't need aliens to tell us how to make thousands of slaves work themselves to death over a few decades ensuring huge stones fit together perfectly. Give me unlimited manpower and years to achieve it, and I'll make you a space station. And they weren't that smart, were they? If you actually know anything about architectural history, you know it was a process of trial and error and building up of knowledge and skill over the course of a 2000-year civilization. We look at the Giza pyramids, with their stones so tight you can't slide an index card between, and forget the slabs over holes in the sand, the step pyramids, the collapsed failures, the screw-ups like the Bent Pyramid. We forget almost every single tomb we find was robbed within years of first being sealed up, because a granite slab is hard to get through but the sandstone it's fitted in is not. The workers (and even priests) that stuck the body in there just came back and tunneled around the door.

Furthermore, and more to the point of why people want to believe those massive, massive things have something in them besides a tunnel and a dead guy - the dead need not justify themselves to us. We can hold them accountable in our minds, pass judgment on what they did... but it means nothing to them. They had their reasons, and those reasons went with them.

The pyramids map the stars, sharpen razors, cure cancer, contain our genome, are spaceships, etc. etc. etc... they have to be SOMETHING, right? They're so... big and devoid of purpose and that can't be true. And it isn't, but the truth is that they are devoid of modern purpose. They make no sense today. But when they were built, for the people that built them, they were the most important things in the world. To them, it wasn't stupid to build the biggest structure in the world to house one tiny room with a single dead guy and his stuff in it. It wasn't a comedy of errors that they had to keep shoring them up and rebuilding them. It was all extremely meaningful.

We are the smartest, dumbest creatures in the world - we do remarkable things for nonsensical reasons. But they are reasons.

I imagine all this can be applied to dungeon design somehow. You figure it out.


  1. Pyramids make sense to me they say : some rich person was here and got this done and impressed people enough to make sure their corpse ended up inside (or under) the place.

  2. Yeah, those alien shows are myths of dis-empowerment. And, frequently, either latently or actively racist. It makes more sense that aliens with flashlights showed up because there are no torch scorch marks on the ceilings of painted hallways, right? It's not that they painted the stones and then moved them into place, or, you know, bothered to clean the sacred tombs of their demigod rulers. Nope, flashlights!

  3. Yeah, I find them the modern equivalent of what happened to several American prehistoric structures: They didn't fit the story the young nation had constructed of nomadic savages, so they explained them as everything from vikings to the lost tribe of Israel. Then tore them down for fill dirt, more often than not.

    I don't think this is true of everyone who buys into it, but there's a reason a lot of "the Jews run everything!" types also go in for aliens.

  4. I think you have one group who think it's fun to think about, and it's a harmless thought experiment on their part, and then another group with some kind of agenda, usually fueled by fear (of the government, Jews, Arabs, etc.) Those seem to be your two major demographics, and the former is fine. I'll jam with those people all night over drinks. The latter are impossible to talk to almost by definition.

  5. Well, not exactly a mystery, I guess the main reason for them to feel so strange are the countless speculations and theories. Still, masterfully done buildings!

    International calls