Pyramids, Archaeology & Toxic Wastes. Lessons drawn from history with a risk management perspective.

Pyramids, Archaeology & Toxic Wastes. Lessons drawn from history with a risk management perspective.

Jan 17th, 2013

If you think we have lost our minds, here is the background for this post. At Riskope we see Risk Assessments for “at perpetuity” projects. Those are projects that should last “forever” and/or receive “perpetual care”. These project bear on the storage of wastes containing toxic compounds. Not necessarily radioactive material, but materials that are difficult to neutralize and/or recycle. Here we explore Toxic Wastes. Lessons drawn from history with a risk management perspective.

So, a natural question that comes to the table is: can we learn from Humanity’s past experience?

Let’s stop a minute and think: we are (-we- meaning us, Humans let’s say since the beginning of last century or after WWII if you want to be more restrictive) the first generations to create large volumes of contaminants of all kinds, and in particular toxic substances that will have to be contained “forever” unless:

a) we find a way to go back and neutralize/reuse them later-on in the future,
b) we leave to our future generations a toxic heritage they will have to deal with.

No other generations had to tackle this problem

As no other generations had to tackle this problem, either because:

a) produced volumes were way smaller (we are dealing with projects that have enough contaminants to permanently disrupt the food chain at macroscopic level (we are talking about continent-wide here), or
b) there was no understanding of long time effects,

Riskope started looking at different types of projects to attempt to draw some knowledge.

Very ancient Man-made structures

If we look at very ancient Man-made structures, we can cite the following:

Apart from the Mayan pyramids, which are also much more recent, and the Tumulus of Bougon which looks more like a “earth-movement-project”, the other

Toxic Wastes. Lessons drawn from history with a risk management perspective

Building for perpetuity? Certainly not like this!

pyramids are very similar, both in shape, size and age.

And there are hundreds of them scattered around the world.


Aside these pyramids we only know a few dozens of older structures (mostly excavated), so we can say that pyramids representt the largest family of long-term easily-visible surviving structures around the world and are a feature of many civilizations.

That is a fact. Please note, we are not trying say that the builders understood what shape would “hold” through millenia or discuss why other structures got destroyed. We are just noticing the only long term survivors seem to belong to the same type of structure, aka the pyramid.

As a matter of fact, we are not even interested in making any assumption on the purpose Humans saw in building pyramids, but we understand they were built to last and be a symbol or a mark of some unknown ‘value’.

Thus we can see a similarity with our need to indicate, forever, that a given site contains some very large and very toxic volume of stored hazardous matters.

Experts generally point to 3200 B.C. as the approximate date when the pyramid of Khufu (aka as Cheops, so we are talking about the ‘Great Pyramid’) was under construction.

That makes the Great Pyramid roughly 5200 years old. By the way it is interesting to note that the oldest among the twelve oldest trees in the world, Methuselah, a 4,800-year-old Great Basin Bristlecone pine, located in Methuselah alley, Nevada can roughly be considered of same age than the Great Pyramid.





Toxic Wastes. Lessons drawn from history with a risk management perspective

So what “did work” and what lesson can we draw to define the design parameters of a “sign post” which should last forever (or at least a very long time) and be visible enough to trigger the attention of passers-by in a very very distant future?

Here is a summary of what we think:

1-do not use a living creature, not even a very long lasting tree as it’s too vulnerable (draught, fire, land-slides, erosion, climate change, typhoons, etc.)

2-use carefully selected rock, if possible without any mortar or filled joint (physic-chemical alteration, air contaminants, acid rain, etc.) .

3-make it big, so that even future deposit of alluvium, soil etc. will not easily cover it…

4-make it massive, no openings, or sealed ones

5-make it wide so that it will accommodate differential settlements, will not topple even if vandals, terrorists, wars hit it.

6-carefully select foundation/location (firm rock, useless rock, no mineralization)

7-make it steep…so rain water will ‘flash-wash’ the faces and eliminate vegetation, grasses, etc.

8-make it flush. The Great Pyramid was flush until recently, when contractors ripped the cover stones for “civilian” use in Cairo.. Build it with sharp angles, so no one can confuse it with a natural feature even once partially eroded or  “buried” by wind blown sediments etc.

9-create myths and clergy ….caretakers forever…make sure legends will convey a sense of danger and mystery, so that future generations will respect the “symbol”.

This is the lesson that History can teach us (Risk Managers) on how to “take care” of sites for a very long time.

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Category: Consequences, Hazard, Risk analysis, Risk management, Tolerance/Acceptability

2 responses to “Pyramids, Archaeology & Toxic Wastes. Lessons drawn from history with a risk management perspective.”

  1. Eոdore unn poste сlairement captivant

  2. Leora says:

    Je suis tombée sur votre site internet par hasard puis je ne le regrette
    pas !!

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