Go to the pyramids at Giza today, and you’ll see pollution blackened steppes surrounded by smog and sand. Some 4,000 years ago, the pyramids looked much nicer: They were covered in polished limestone, resembling brilliant lightforms dropped into the desert from the sky.
In this short documentary put together by the Smithsonian Channel, Harvard University Egyptologist Jacquelyn Williamson walks us through the process in which huge blocks of limestone were carved and polished down by hand to seamlessly fit together, forming a protective outer shell on each pyramid.
Then comes the money shot at about the 2:25 mark. The Smithsonian actually shows us what the Great Pyramid would have originally looked like, before its shiny limestone coatings were worn away over the ages. “It must have truly added to the impression of Giza as a magical port city, bathed in sunlight, if not existing ethereally in the celestial light,” archeologist Marc Lehner says later in the video.
It’s easy to see why he’s waxing poetic. Seeing the pyramids as they were originally intended, you can almost understand why some people insist they were constructed by extraterrestrials. That’s ridiculous, of course, but at the very least, the pyramids would have looked right at home on the cover of a particularly trippy prog rock LP. The pyramids we see today are just a shadow of their former selves.