We still think the pyramids are mysterious, but actually they were products of common sense. They are virtually identical in Mexico, Egypt and China – not because one civilisation learned how to build them from another but because they thought alike.
He is right, however, that the superficial similarities stem from the demands of ancient building techniques, which demand a tapering structure for stability. Spalding, though, take a psychological view of pyramid building, reducing the construction of pyramids to a question of cosmology:
Piles of stones or earth naturally form cones but there are no massive cones in ancient history. The reason is simple: cones form circles and, therefore, couldn’t be on the ground. A circle was the shape of heaven. The flat earth had to be square because it had four directions – north, south, east and west. That’s why all pyramids are four-sided, and, incidentally, extremely difficult to build.
I would hazard that when building in stone, shaping rocks into squares and rectangles is probably easier than finishing them on a curve to construct a perfect cone. I would argue that the four sided pyramid was the easiest way to work in stone, much easier than creating a cone and perfecting its curves.
Spalding, though, elides all of the many and varied reasons for building mounds, platforms, and pyramids—from tombs to temples to raised residences for elites—in favor of one quasi-mystical claim:
The reason for pyramid building was simple: they harnessed the mysterious forces that we believed held the world together – the sea’s flat horizon that ran through the earth, the invisible force of gravity that dragged us down to our graves and the spirit of life which, like flames that always rise, lifted us to our eternal, future home among the stars. The bigger and heavier we could build them, the more pyramids concentrated the powers of the universe against the ceaseless changes on earth that brought so many calamities. They weren’t symbols of celestial bodies but forces for permanence on earth. That’s why pyramids looked alike.
In short, it’s hard to attribute a human universal to a phenomenon of startling diversity, much less one predicated on Western ideas about spirituality that don’t necessarily apply in non-Western contexts. It is astonishing how closely Spalding captures the essence of the medieval pyramid myths so popular with fringe historians.