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IELTS Academic Reading

Time: Approximately 20 minutes


  • Answer all the questions.
  • You can change your answers at any time during the test.


  • There are 13 questions in this test.
  • Each question carries one mark.

Do not click 'Start test' until you are told to do so.

minute left
Passage 2

Read the text below and answer Question 14-26

On the wings of a Kite

How were the pyramids built? How were obelisks erected? A new theory from a group of American amateur kite enthusiasts has provided new inroads in trying to answer this mystery.

A. 14

Millions of words have been written on how the pyramids and obelisks of ancient Egypt were erected. Theories put forward include a massive slave labour force, a theory which some Egyptologists still adhere to. However, most engineers know that a skilled labour force was much more advantageous, rather than a mass presence of unskilled labourers. As to the mechanism by which this skilled labour force built the pyramids and erected the obelisks? For the pyramids, a "ramp method" is proposed, even though this would mean that for the Great Pyramid, the ramp would be a mile long, and would require more material and construction effort than the building of the pyramid itself. As to the erection of obelisks, the "sandpit method" is the most adhered to theory, in which a sand hill was constructed around the site of the obelisk, with the obelisk then lowered into position.

B. 15

Dr Maureen Clemmons' interest in Egyptian building techniques started when she read an article in the January 1997 Smithsonian about the attempt to raise a 40-ton obelisk resting in an ancient quarry in Aswan, Egypt The granite of Aswan was the favoured stone from which obelisks were carved. These were then transported mostly via the river Nile — further north, mostly in the region of Thebes/Luxor, which at that time formed the capital of the Egyptian Empire. Even though the obelisk was relatively light in monument terms (40 tons compared to other obelisks weighing 100-300 tons), the crew was unable to produce the lift needed to raise the obelisk. Dr. Maureen Clemmons pondered the problem and has since offered a new possibility as to how the ancient Egyptians may have erected their obelisks: wind power, using kites. For seven years leading up to January 2004, Clemmons was the main motivator of a team of amateurs who received little to no funding, all of them trying to show practically that obelisks could be erected by harbouring the power of the wind.

C. 16

It is well known that the ancient Egyptians had been successful in controlling and harvesting the power of the wind: they sailed along the Nile, which formed the artery of ancient Egypt. Furthermore, Egypt was blessed with a rather steady wind direction, coming mainly from the North West. Even though we know that the Egyptians sailed the Nile from very early times, there are few references or written records of this enterprise. Like the building of the pyramids or the obelisks, the Egyptians seemed to show no interest in committing to writing how these things were done... Clemmons wondered whether the ancient Egyptians applied their acquired knowledge of the wind on the Nile also on land. The inspiration came when Clemmons saw a building frieze in a Cairo museum, showing a wing pattern in bas-relief that did not resemble any living bird, directly below which were several men standing near vertical objects that could be ropes. Was this carving showing how the ancient Egyptians had built their monuments? Kites are known to provide pull and lift, two great forces that, if harboured, could be great allies in their construction efforts. In the 20th century, Egyptologists have also uncovered that the ancient Egyptians were indeed aware of pulleys, a required ingredient in harvesting wind power as performed by Clemmons' team.

D. 17

After years of initially small tests, the first "real" test involved the erection of a 3.5 ton obelisk. The test site was at Quartz Hill in the California desert, hoping to mimic some of the Egyptian desert conditions. Tests showed that twisted hemp rope when wet could stand the comparison with modern nylon ropes. The team relied on the work of Dr Elizabeth Barber, a linen expert, and Rod Thrall, a kite builder from Oregon to transform the test site into a working Egyptian model. The first successful test occurred on April 14, 2001. In wind speed of approximately 15 mph, the obelisk was raised in approximately one hour. On June 23, 2001, the team raised the 3 m-tall obelisk into vertical position in 22 mph winds in under 25 seconds. At the end, the obelisk was seen to be swinging from the top of its lifting frame, like a giant pendulum. It seemed to be that easy...The team now knew that the best operating conditions were steady winds, between 20-25 mph. In January 2004, working in optimal wind conditions, the obelisk raised itself to ten feet after 27 minutes. An angle of 80 to 85 degrees was reached after 57 minutes. The test proved a success as it showed that a single kite was able to provide sufficient lift to raise an obelisk. Though the team focused on the erection of obelisks, the "pyramid building" scheme was not neglected. In 2003, the team showed how two ton stones easily moved on rollers, propelled by the powers of the wind via a kite. The system also allowed stones to be lifted up a ramp.

E. 18

With initial success of showing that wind power can be harnessed and used in the building industry, Egyptologists have nevertheless pointed out that Clemmons has only shown a possible technique — but that this does not mean that the ancient Egyptiansfollowed this technique. This in itself is true, but what Egyptologists fail to add is that their preferred explanations equally fall short of that criterion. What makes Clemmons' approach specifically of interest over the cherished explanations — is the speed in which these complex tasks are performed. Mass labour and massive ramps could indeed — possibly — build the Great Pyramid. But if this pyramid was built in approximately twenty years, as Egyptologists argue, then it means that one stone was lifted into place approximately every two seconds (under normal working conditions). In the ramp theory, this seems hardly plausible. However, in the wind power theory, we see how fast this process can be. Furthermore, the "wind method" requires far less ancillary work to be carried out than the "ramp method'. In the "sandpit method; weeks would be spent constructing the sand hill and lowering the obelisk in place. In the "wind method' , a mobile if not reusable lifting frame might require a few hours or days to be put into place, with the obelisk lifted in a matter of hours.

F. Clemmons' method has one final advantage; the bodies of the slave labour force have not been found; the remains of the giant ramps around the pyramids have equally not been found. There are, in short, no archaeological traces of a method that should have left traces. But the "wind method" would not leave such traces — and would also be a quick to clean up method once the work is completed.

Questions 14-18

The text has five sections. Choose the correct heading for each section and move it into the gap. The heading for one section has already been selected.

List of Headings

i. Wind is stronger than man

ii. Aswan granite and obelisk

iii. Early theories of how to build pyramids

iv. An amateur group and a novel idea

vi. Favourable conditions of harvesting the wind

vii. The inspiration came from museum

viii. Small tests of wind power

ix. The feasibility of the theories was proved

x. More advanced theories

Questions 19-26

Choose YES if the statement agrees with the claims of the writer, choose NO if the statement contradicts the claims of the writer, or choose NOT GIVEN if it is impossible to say what the writer thinks about this.

19 Unlike scientists most Egyptian experts believe that the pyramids were built by a massive force of unskilled labour.
  • YES

  • NO


20 The Smithsonian attempt in 1997 failed to erect an obelisk.
  • YES

  • NO


21 Unfortunately all early written records of pyramids and obelisks were lost in the Nile.
  • YES

  • NO


22 In January 2004 Clemmons saw a carving in Cairo which gave her the clue she needed.
  • YES

  • NO


23 The first real test on April 14, 2001 was successful using a team of three.
  • YES

  • NO


24 After proving that a single kite could lift an obelisk the team switched its attention to pyramid building.
  • YES

  • NO


25 Clemmons theory ultimately failed compared to the other theories because it could not be proved that the Egyptians used wind power.
  • YES

  • NO


26 If the three methods mentioned only the ramp method would leave no traces.
  • YES

  • NO



Question Your Answer Correct Answer
14 v. Popular but not perfect explanations
15 iv. An amateur group and a novel idea
16 vi. Favourable conditions of harvesting the wind
17 ix. The feasibility of the theories was proved
18 x. More advanced theories
19 YES
20 YES
21 NO
23 NO
24 NO
25 NO
26 NO