Monthly Archives: August 2012

Visit to Newport Synagogue – in a multicultural cosmopolitan port.

“The Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance”

Last week I visited Touro Synagogue with Desi in Newport, the little east coast US port where she used to work. The Synagogue is the oldest standing in the US, and it is particularly famous because of the role it played in ensuring that multiculturalism became part of US life, at the constitutional level, and for the role it played in standing up against religious bigotry. I am not really a follower of established religion any more, but I do study the history of religion, religious architecture and sacred ideas, and in particular, I am an opponent of religious bigotry. As Voltaire once said “the only thing not to tolerate is intolerance”.

Touro Synagogue Newport. Dave with his Kippah jewish skull cap at the entrance.

This is something I have been interested in ever since growing up in Glasgow Scotland, where anti-religious bigotry was, and still is to some extent, an unpleasant and sometimes violent reality.

Newport is a special place because it was a meeting place for many cultures in the 18th and 19th centuries. People fleeing religious persecution in Britain and the rest of Europe mixed with fishermen and merchants on the US east coast. Newport became a place of diversity and it remains this way today. Others came from Boston, where the Puritans were intolerant of ‘non-conforming’ Christians of other denominations. Some walked to Newport, and joined the growing community. The jews who established the synagogue came from Portugal where they were being forced to flee or convert, and Amsterdam where a growing Jewish community had established itself in the ports where diversity was tolerated.

When the USA was first forming at the end of the 19th century, Rhode Island state where Newport is found was one of the last of the original 13 to join up, and this may be because they were demanding that religious liberty was first enshrined in the new constitution. The First Amendment was proposed in 1789 and adopted in 1791. This ensured the freedom of religious groups to worship, and their protection from oppressive or discriminatory laws. It also established the separation of religion and state, and ensured that people of all faiths could work together and yet continue worshiping in their own particular ways. This is really the core principle of multiculturalism.

We had a very interesting tour of the attached museum of religious liberty, and the ancient synagogue itself .

There is one special document, however, that records these events in more detail. After Rhode Island signed up to the United States, George Washington paid a visit to Touro Synagogue, and in reply to a letter addressed to him by the Hebrew congregation, he wrote a letter that still exists today. This assured them that “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

Touro Synagogue with Desi

The letter in full:

Loeb visitor centre:

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How the pyramids were REALLY built? Really?

English construction man Chris Massey has recently proposed a new theory on how the pyramids could ‘really’ have been built. He has also produced some serious animations and a book to outline his theory. Unfortunately, the laws of physics would not allow his system to work for several reasons.

Here is his theory explained in a short animation:

Here are some reasons it can’t work:

Proposal 1 –  The blocks could have been transported by animal skin float rafts.

This part is quite possible, although un-evidenced as far as I know in Egypt. There are records of people and timber and other things being moved by animal skin float rafts in Antiquity. Some of the archaeologists working in Iraq in the late 19th century even used animal skin float rafts to send their finds down the Tigris to the Persian Gulf sea, to be carried back to Europe on larger ships. The volume of floats required, however, for a limestone block, would have to be more than is shown in the animation. The density of limestone is around 2.7 tons/meter cubed, so the volume of water that needs to be displaced to float a 1 meter cubed block is 2.7 meters cubed total, minus 1 meter cubed displaced by the block itself, which totals 1.7 meters cubed (fresh water has a density of 1 ton/meter cubed). So the volume of floats would have to be 1.7 times the volume of the block just to make it float at all [*See update note 1 below]

Proposal 2 – The blocks could float up a sealed inclined channel. 

This is not scientifically or physically possible. Unlike the animation where weight is not a problem, the weight of the water pressure acting down these inclined channels would be immense, and would create huge problems that have not been taken into account. Firstly, the pressure at the bottom of a 100 meter shaft like this would be 10 bar, or 140 psi. This is more than the pressure in a fully pumped racing bicycle tyre at high pressure. I once had a bicycle tyre pumped up to this sort of pressure, and it exploded as the bike was sitting outside my apartment. That was while the air was sealed within a specially made rubber inner tube and within a new racing cycle tyre around it. This sort of pressure would send water squirting through between wall blocks like a jet, and would push blocks aside like they were made of balsa wood. The pressure on each 1 meter square block at the base of such a channel would be 10 tons, and the gaps would have to be sealed to withhold pressures in excess of those within a racing cycle tyre. Physically possible using modern materials, but not at all plausible in Antiquity.

Proposal 3 – The blocks could be floated up such a channel using a system of locks.

Once the blocks with skins were entered into this sealed channel, and the locks above opened, the full pressure of the water above would act on the floats. This means the floats would have to resist a pressure of 10 bar or 140 psi just to stay inflated. If they were at a pressure less than this then they would contract and the blocks would sink as less water was displaced. There is no way an animal skin float could be inflated to a pressure of 10 bar or 140 psi. This would make it expand and explode in a second.

Proposal 4 – This system would be efficient.

As each block entered the channel with its floats attached, it would displace an equal volume of water, or 2.7 meters cubed of water from inside the channel, and this would be displaced back down behind it. This means that this volume of water would have to be carried up to the top of the pyramid for each block in the first place, just so the block could be floated up the elaborate and immensely complex channel. The weight of this water would be exactly 2.7 tons, equal to the weight of the block in the first place…

Proposal 5 – Locks could hold back this sort of pressure

The locks would have to be at least 1.5m x 3m in area to allow these blocks to pass through into the channel. The water pressure on these gates from 100m of water above would be 45 tons. This would require immensely thick and incredibly well sealed metal gates/valves, something that is not conceivable or evidenced in Old Kingdom archaeology or texts.


In conclusion then, although Chris’s scheme is just about scientifically possible using the latest materials of our age, it is not at all plausible or evidenced based on the archaeology from Ancient Egypt. The reality is that implementing this scheme would cause more problems than it solved,  and even if it ever actually worked, the water would still have to be carried to the top first, meaning that there was no physical benefit to constructing the system in the first place. There are other problems with the system, but these ones above are enough to disprove the theory based on physics and archaeological evidence alone.

The truth is that the Egyptians did know how to manage and use water, but this was not how they did it. In Aswan for example they would load a boat down with sand, maneuver hugely heavy granite obelisks over the boat, then remove the sand. The boats would rise up under the obelisks and lift the obelisks up to float. They carried granite blocks down the Nile for hundreds of miles in this way. Another story from the Old Kingdom tells how the pharaoh’s engineers managed to pump out a lake to find a valued necklace belonging to a girl from the Harem who had dropped it over board. As usual with Egypt, the truth is more fascinating than the fiction.

I have spent 10 years and more now trying to get the real facts about the archaeology and engineering skills of the Ancient Egyptians accepted. These facts were uncovered by Flinders Petrie and others more than 100 years ago, and while they have been accepted and reiterated by modern Egyptologists familiar with scientific principles, they have not been acknowledged by some academic Egyptologists more used to working with texts. I have also tried to get the real facts more widespread coverage through my own publications and videos. If Chris draws more people to study the real history and archaeology of Egypt through his work, then at least that will have been a worthwhile accomplishment. I think many people like to re-visit Ancient Egypt and create these alternative theories in order to engage with the problems again. This is a useful exercise, and allows us to appreciate the true magnitude of what the Ancient Egyptians achieved.

For an introduction to how the pyramid really was really made, this little book is a great starting point:

David Ian Lightbody



*1 Mark Heaton checked the density figures. My figure was taken for generic limestone average. For Giza, the 19th century Scottish scientist Piazza Smyth tested the density of the core blocks of the Great Pyramid and found 2.35 tons/metre cubed to be the actual value. With the additional weight of the floats, rope and sheets of fabric the 2.7 x volume I assumed is within the correct range then to float the blocks.

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