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That is, they didn't join the stones very accurately. And you can actually see where the men were up there and they didn't, you know, they may have like four or five, even six inches between two stones.

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I noticed that in the interstices between the stones and in this mortar was embedded organic material, like charcoal, probably from the fire that they used to heat the gypsum in order to make the mortar.

You have to heat raw gypsum in order to dehydrate it, and then you rehydrate it in order to make the mortar, like with modern cement. And it involved us climbing all over the Old Kingdom pyramids, including the ones at Giza, taking as much in the way of organic samples as we could.

We're dealing with basically the entirety of Egyptology and Egyptian archaeology.

NOVA: Can you give us an example of a single aspect of material culture, from ancient Egypt that you might use as a starting point for dating the pyramids? All the pottery you find at Giza looks like the pottery of the time of Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure, the kings who built these pyramids in what we call the Fourth Dynasty, the Old Kingdom.

We find the bones of the people who lived and were buried in these tombs. But primarily we date the pyramids by their position in the development of Egyptian architecture and material culture over the broad sweep of 3,000 years.

So we're not dealing with any one foothold of factual knowledge at Giza itself.

So in effect, you're counting the carbon-14 in an organic specimen.

And by virtue of the rate of disintegration of carbon-14 atoms and the amount of carbon-14 in a sample, you can know how old it is.

So it's hard to give a succinct answer to that question, because we date things in archaeology on the basis of its context and a broad mass of information and material culture—things that were used by people, styles, and so on.

NOVA: When it comes to carbon dating, do you need organic material? There has been radiocarbon dating, or carbon-14 dating done in Egypt obviously before we did our studies, and it's been done on some material from Giza.

And as you say, you need organic material in order to do carbon-14 dating, because all living creatures, every living thing takes in carbon-14 during its lifetime, and stops taking in carbon-14 when it dies.

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