Photo JSTOR Daily
Solved Mystery: How Egyptians Moved Tons Of Rocks To Build Pyramids. Photo JSTOR Daily

Physicists at the University of Amsterdam studied forces needed to pull weights onto a giant sled in the desert, and discovered that dampening the sand in front of the primitive device reduces friction on the sled, making it easier to operate. The findings help answer one of the most enduring historical mysteries: how the Egyptians were able to accomplish the seemingly impossible task of constructing the famous pyramids.


Who built Egyptian pyramids?

Egypt's pyramids are an archaeological marvel, rising high above the desert sands and visible for miles on end. Building these pyramids was undoubtedly a mammoth task, so who were the individuals that pulled it off?

There are many theories about who built Egypt's pyramids, including large teams of enslaved Jewish people and wilder ideas, such as inhabitants of the 'lost' city of Atlantis or even aliens.

None of these theories, however, have evidence to back them up.

The pyramids could not have been constructed by Jewish slaves, as no archaeological remains that can be directly linked to the Jewish people have been found in Egypt that date back to 4,500 years ago, when the Giza pyramids were built, archaeological research has revealed. Additionally the story told in the Hebrew Bible about Jews being slaves in Egypt refers to a city named "Ramesses." A city named pi-Ramesses was founded during the 19th dynasty (about 1295-1186 B.C.) and was named after Ramesses II, who ruled 1279–1213 BC. This city was constructed after the era of pyramid construction had ended in Egypt.

"We have no clue, not even a single word, about early Israelites in Egypt: neither in monumental inscriptions on walls of temples, nor in tomb inscriptions, nor in papyri," wrote archaeologists Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman in their book "The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of its Sacred Texts" (The Free Press, 2001).

How many rocks needed to build Egyptian pyramids?

Photo livescience
Photo livescience

There are an estimated 2.3 million limestone blocks that form the 455-foot-tall Great Pyramid of Egypt. The largest of these blocks weigh between 25 and 80 tons.

In ancient Egypt the pyramids are the burial places for kings, queens, and other people wealthy enough to afford them. When most people think of Egypt they think of the pyramids, these monuments remain thousands of years after they were built. To build pyramids Egyptians needed an understanding of engineering, mathematics, science, and technology.

Stacking the blocks into the towering iconic shape is often marveled at as a feat of mystery, but just assembling the necessary materials is equally miraculous.

For the Great Pyramid of Giza—which is thought to have been built over a span of two decades for fourth dynasty pharaoh Khufu—over 2,300,000 giant blocks of limestone and granite weighing an average of two and a half tons had to be transported to the site from quarries—some from places like Aswan, more than 500 miles away.

How were the pyramids built?

Photo history
Photo Egypt Tours Portal

The techniques that were used in the process of constructing the Egyptian pyramids have baffled and puzzled many historians and scientists for countless years. Many controversial hypotheses were introduced regarding the construction of the pyramids. The general theory is based on the belief that the huge stones were carved from the quarries using copper chisels. Then, these blocks were dragged and lifted into position. However, the method regarding the movement and placement of these stones are under a great dispute.

The form of the workforce is also under a huge debate. It is believed that the pyramids were constructed using slave labor and another theory suggests that the pyramids were builds by tens of thousands of free skilled workers that worked for a salary.

What is certain is that the workforce was highly organized and managed to the highest level by following an organized and planned process that consisted of three phases.

What are construction techniques of pyramid stones?

• Lime stone in quarries are man made

• Chemical and clay mixed with limestone to form a geopolymer lime stone and cement

• Mixture carried to pyramids in 50 pound baskets mixture put into forms

• Harden on site in less than 24 hours

• Davidovits has made this claim for more than 40 years this makes lifting 6 million tons possible

How Many Phases of Building the Pyramids?

The workforce depended on a specific process to build the pyramids perfectly following three important steps: choosing the perfect building site, site preparation, and raising the blocks.

Phase 1: Choosing the perfect building site

The first step in building a pyramid was to choose a suitable site. This had to be on the west side of the Nile where the Sun would set, considering that Ancient Egyptians believed that wherever the sun sets that’s was the portal to the afterlife.

The pyramids also needed to be situated on the high ground, away from the danger of flooding at the time of the Nile's inundation. However, it could not be too far away from the Nile bank because the river would be used to transport blocks of fine quality limestone for the outer casing from Tura on the other side of the Nile.

The site chosen would be at a point on the desert plateau that would be proved a firm rock base capable of supporting the great weigh of the pyramid without any risk of cracking considering that some of the greatest pyramids weigh around 2.5 tons.

Phase 2: Preparing the site

No plans for the construction of the pyramids were ever found, but the construction of pyramids was not a haphazard affair and the measurements used were accurate to a high degree.

The workers had first to prepare a firm foundation by removing the loose sand from the rock. Then, the rock base had to be made absolutely flat. The workers may have done this by building low mud walls all around the base and cutting channels in a grid pattern over the surface. Then, they would fill the channels with water and mark the level the water would reach. After the water had drained away, protruding rock would have been cut back to the level indicated, and any depressions filled with stones to make a perfectly level surface.

Each side of the pyramid had to face one of the cardinal points. The builders probably established true north first and worked out the other directions from that. They may have found true north by taking a sighting on a particular star in the northern sky. They would then observe the rising and setting of the star and mark its appearance and disappearance on an artificial horizon.

Phase 3: Raising the blocks

Sometimes rocky outcrop was used as the core of the pyramid to save the work. The inner chambers and passages would have been constructed independently and the actual pyramid built around them. Some of the royal pyramid builders seem to have changed their minds about their preferred location of the burial chambers. The inner pyramid would then be built of limestone cut from the desert plateau. When the main structure was finished, the pyramid was completed by encasing it in blocks of finely cut and dressed limestone from Tura. Sometimes granite was used for the lower courses.

The stones used in the building of the pyramids were not little bricks. The bricks in the pyramid vary in size. However, the largest can be found in the King’s chamber. These particular stones differ from the regular limestone blocks and were instead made of granite.

How Egyptians Moved Tons Of Rocks To Build Pyramids

Photo University of Amsterdam
Photo University of Amsterdam

To make their discovery, the researchers from University of Amsterdam picked up on clues from the ancient Egyptians themselves. A wall painting discovered in the ancient tomb of Djehutihotep, which dates back to about 1900 B.C., depicts 172 men hauling an immense statue using ropes attached to a sledge. In the drawing, a person can be seen standing on the front of the sledge, pouring water over the sand, said study lead author Daniel Bonn, a physics professor at the University of Amsterdam.

"Egyptologists thought it was a purely ceremonial act," Bonn told Live Science. "The question was: Why did they do it?"

Bonn and his colleagues constructed miniature sleds and experimented with pulling heavy objects through trays of sand.

When the researchers dragged the sleds over dry sand, they noticed clumps would build up in front of the contraptions, requiring more force to pull them across.

Adding water to the sand, however, increased its stiffness, and the sleds were able to glide more easily across the surface. This is because droplets of water create bridges between the grains of sand, which helps them stick together, the scientists said. It is also the same reason why using wet sand to build a sandcastle is easier than using dry sand, Bonn said.

But, there is a delicate balance, the researchers found.

"If you use dry sand, it won't work as well, but if the sand is too wet, it won't work either," Bonn said. "There's an optimum stiffness."

The amount of water necessary depends on the type of sand, he added, but typically the optimal amount falls between 2 percent and 5 percent of the volume of sand.

"It turns out that wetting Egyptian desert sand can reduce the friction by quite a bit, which implies you need only half of the people to pull a sledge on wet sand, compared to dry sand," Bonn said.

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