The Oriental Institute,
University of Chicago

Ancient Egypt
Research Associates

Archaeological Graphic

The Great Pyramid of Khufu

This Web site presents the results of a collaborated pilot study in which we explored the usefulness of VRML, the Virtual Reality Modeling Language on the World Wide Web, for the modeling of ancient monuments on the Giza Plateau of Egypt. For this project, we selected the Great Pyramid of Khufu with its complex system of interior passage ways, air shafts, and chambers to develop VRML navigation through complicated geometry.

VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) is an international standard that allows for the distribution of interactive and functional three-dimensional models over the Web. A user, connected to the Web, can access a VRML application and navigate through or interact with the model. To do this, a VRML plug-in for the Web browser in use (Netscape or Internet Explorer) is required. We recommend to download the CosmoPlayer plug-in to view the developed models.

Exterior Navigation

The screen shots below show the outside view of the VRML pyramid model. A slider at the bottom controls the transparency of the outer surfaces. Moving the slider, the user can see trough the surfaces and explore the layout of passages, air shafts, and chambers while flying around the pyramid.

View from the east
Web size (33K) - Screen size (53K)

View from the northeast
Web size (38K) - Screen size (59K)

King's Chamber, close-up from outside
Web size (43K) - Max size (85K)

Visiting the Interior

Through a small opening on the north side, the user can enter the pyramid and explore the interior. The image below shows the control dashboard at the bottom (part of the CosmoPlayer plug-in) with navigation tools.

View of entry passage
Web size (41K) - Screen size (100K)

When moving through the pyramid, a red dot in the sectional map (upper left in all views) indicates the current position of the visitor and an attached blue arrow shows the viewing/moving direction.

Grand Gallery
Web size (38K) - Max size (59K)

Passage to King's Chamber
Web size (29K) - Max size (158K)

King's Chamber
Web size (24K) - Max size (63K)

Unfinished subterranean chamber
Web size (16K) - Max size (47K)

To improve the appearance of the pyramid's interior, textures representing stone patterns are mapped on the interior surfaces. The effect is illustrated in the two images below.

Queen's Chamber without textures
Web size (26K) - Screen size (48K)

Queen's Chamber with textures
Web size (35K) - Max size (146K)

Using the VRML Model

While the images above depict only selected views, the VRML model allows for the exploration of the entire system of passages and chambers and the creation of any arbitrary view. The experience of moving through the interior significantly enhances the understanding of distances and topological connections.

To assist the user with navigation, a complete tour sequence is available by clicking through a list of viewpoints on the left side of the control dashboard. Several of these viewpoints are predefined rides (animations) and include an exterior flight around the transparent pyramid. Clicking on the sectional map will transport the user directly to the closest "hotspot" (there are five of them) inside the pyramid.

Another control available when inside the pyramid is an arrow button that toggles between standing and crawling position. VRML uses the concept of a virtual avatar representing the user. The avatar's eye level height is 1.35 meters for standing and 0.7 meters for crawling. This feature controls the resulting view and, in addition, serves for collision detection. The user can stand up in the chambers, but cannot enter low passages without switching to crawling position. The tour sequence automatically adjusts the height of the avatar and, thereby, avoids collisions (resulting in getting stuck).

Before using the VRML models below, make sure to download the CosmoPlayer plug-in first.

Load the small VRML model (without textures)
of the Great Pyramid of Khufu.
(33K compressed - 330K expanded)

Load the large VRML model with textures
of the Great Pyramid of Khufu.
This version requires more computing power.
(42K compressed - 378K expanded)

Collaboration and Credits

This project was conducted at the University of Michigan Virtual Reality Laboratory (VRL) at the College of Engineering and was funded by the College of Engineering. Peggy Sanders from Archaeological Graphic Services provided the three-dimensional AutoCAD data of the pyramid. These data were initially produced by the Giza Plateau Mapping Project (GPMP) affiliated with The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago and the Harvard Semitic Museum. The GPMP is administered by Ancient Egypt Research Associates, Inc. (AERA). Mark Lehner is President of AERA, Director of the GPMP, and Research Associate at the Harvard Semitic Museum. At the University of Michigan, JoAnn Render optimized and converted the original AutoCAD model to VRML, added textures, and programmed VRML functionality. Klaus-Peter Beier, Director of the Virtual Reality Laboratory, coordinated and supervised the project.

(Access for Authorized Project Team Members)
Last Update: February 10, 2004, kpb
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