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The Egyptian Pyramid construction Techniques

The Egyptian Pyramid construction Techniques




 The Egyptian Pyramids are one of the oldest and impressive structures all over the world. There are many pyramids in Egypt. the most famous pyramids are The Pyramids of Giza. The great pyramids of Giza are counted among the largest structure in the world and the only one of the seven wonders of the ancient world still in existence.


The Egyptian pyramids are one of the most amazing and complex mysteries of the modern world. All over the years of the history there are several theories regarding the precise way of building the pyramids.


In this article I'll discuss with you the different techniques and tools the ancient Egyptians were used to design and construct such incredible structures.


-Egyptian Pyramid construction techniques:


Construction techniques of building the pyramids are a debatable subject of a lot of hypotheses. The techniques ways have developed over the time. Later pyramids were not constructed in the same way as the earlier ones. Most of the construction hypotheses are based on the belief that huge stones were carved from quarries with copper chisels, and these blocks were then dragged and lifted into position. The enormous disagreement is about the methods used to move and place stones.


In addition to the remaining arguments about the construction techniques. There is another disagreement about the kind of workforce have used in building the pyramids. The Greeks believed that the pyramids were built by slaves. But the archeologists after they had discovered the worker's cemeteries believe that the pyramids were built by thousands of skilled workers who lived near the pyramids and worked for a salary or as a form of tax payment until the construction was completed.  


-Historical Hypotheses:


 1-Third through Fifth Dynasties


Pyramids were built of stone during the earliest period. They used the local quarried limestone for the main body of the pyramids, while for the outer casing they used a limestone of high quality quarried at Tura.


They used the granite, quarried near Aswan, to construct some architectural elements, including the portcullis, and the roofs and walls of the burial chamber. As well Granite was used in the outer casing such as in the Pyramid of Menkaure.


In the early pyramids, the layers of stones (called courses) forming the pyramid body were laid sloping in wards; however, this configuration was found to be less stable than simply stacking the stones horizontally on top of each other.


The Bent Pyramid represent a new stage and transition between these two building techniques. The lower part of the pyramid was built of sloping courses while the stones are laid horizontally in the upper part.


2-Middle Kingdom and Onward:


The construction techniques changed again, during the Middle Kingdom. The pyramids that built in this period were look like mountains of mud-brick encased in a veneer of polished limestone.


 They were built the most of the pyramids on top of natural hills to further reduce the volume of material needed in their construction. The methods and materials of construction used in the earliest pyramids have ensured their survival in a generally much better state of preservation than for the pyramid monuments of the later pharaohs.


-Construction method hypotheses:


1-Building the pyramids from quarried stone blocks


In the early period the pyramid builders were built the pyramids from the stone blocks and they faced the problem of moving the huge quantities of the stones. For example, the tomb of Djehutihotep the Fifth Dynasty tomb has an illustration of men pulling an alabaster statue of him on sledge. So, Dr. RHG Parry has suggested a method for rolling the stones, using a cradle-like machine that had been excavated in various new kingdoms temples. Four of those objects could be fitted around a block so it could be rolled easily.


As the stones were the main factor in building the pyramids, especially in the Great Pyramid. There was another big problem with the material used to fill gaps. They needed huge quantities of gypsum and rubble. The filling has almost no binding properties, but it was necessary to stabilized the construction. And to make the gypsum mortar, it had to be dehydrated by heating which requires large quantities of wood.


The workers probably used copper chisels, drills, and saws to cut softer stone, such as most of the limestone while the harder stones, such as granite, granodiorite, syenite, and basalt, cannot be cut with copper tools alone; instead, they were worked time-consuming methods like pounding with dolerite, drilling, and sawing with the aid of an abrasive, such as quartz sand.


Blocks were transported by sledge likely lubricated by water. Leveling the foundation may have been accomplished by use of water-filled trenches as suggested by Mark Lehner and I.E.S. Edwards or through the use of a crude square level and experienced surveyors.


2-Writings of Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus  :


The debatable object of the pyramid construction is how the enormous blocks were moved up the superstructure. there is no known accurate historical or archeological evidence that definitively resolves the question.


The first historical accounts of the construction of the pyramids came centuries after the era of pyramid construction, by Herodotus in the 5th century and Diodorus Siculus in the 1st century BC.   


Herodotus's account states:

This pyramid was made like stairs, which some call steps and others, tiers. When this, its first form, was completed, the workmen used short wooden logs as levers to raise the rest of the stones; they heaved up the blocks from the ground onto the first tier of steps; when the stone had been raised, it was set on another lever that stood on the first tier, and the lever again used to lift it from this tier to the next. It may be that there was a new lever on each tier of steps, or perhaps there was only one lever, quite portable, which they carried up to each tier in turn; I leave this uncertain, as both possibilities were mentioned. But this is certain, that the upper part of the pyramid was finished off first, then the next below it, and last of all the base and the lowest part.


Diodorus Siculus's account states:


And it's said the stone was transported a great distance from Arabia, and that the edifices were raised by means of earthen ramps, since machines for lifting had not yet been invented in those days; and most surprising it is, that although such large structures were raised in an area surrounded by sand, no trace remains of either ramps or the dressing of the stones, so that it seems not the result of the patient labor of men, but rather as if the whole complex were set down entire upon the surrounding sand by some god. Now Egyptians try to make a marvel of these things, alleging that the ramps were made of salt and natron and that, when the river was turned against them, it melted them clean away and obliterated their every trace without the use of human labor. But in truth, it most certainly was not done this way! Rather, the same multitude of workmen who raised the mounds returned the entire mass again to its original place; for they say that three hundred and sixty thousand men were constantly employed in the prosecution of their work, yet the entire edifice was hardly finished at the end of twenty years.


-Different Kinds of Ramps


The ramps are the most tenable of the methods to raise the blocks. But it is an incomplete method that must be supplemented by another device. There are archaeological evidences that prove that they used the ramps at the Great Pyramids of Giza and other pyramids.


There are many proposed ramps and there is a considerable amount of discrepancy regarding what type of ramp was used to build the pyramids. One of the widely discredited ramping methods is the large straight ramp, and it is routinely discredited on functional grounds for its massive size, lack of archeological evidence, huge labor cost and other problems.


Other ramps serve to correct these problems of ramp size, yet either run into critiques of functionality and limited archaeological evidence. There are Zigging ramps, straight ramps using the incomplete part of the superstructure, spiraling ramps supported by the superstructure and spiraling ramps leaning on the monument as a large accretion are proposed.



Levering methods are considered to be the most tenable solution to complement ramping methods, partially due to Herodotus's description; and partially to the Shadoof; an irrigation device first depicted in Egypt during the New Kingdom, and found concomitantly with the Old Kingdom in Mesopotamia.


4-Jean-Pierre Houdin's "internal ramp" hypothesis:


In Houdin's method, each ramp inside the pyramid ended at an open space, a notch temporarily left open in the edge of the construction. This 10-square-meter clear space housed a crane that lifted and rotated each 2.5 -ton block, to ready it for eight men to drag up the next internal ramp. There is a notch of sorts in one of the right places, and in 2008 Houdin's co-author Bob Brier, with a National Geographic film crew, entered a previously unremarked chamber that could be the start of one of these internal ramps.   


  5-Limestone concrete hypothesis:


Materials scientist Joseph Davidovits has claimed that the blocks of the pyramid are not carved stone, but mostly a form of limestone concrete and that they were "cast" as with modern concrete. According to this hypothesis, soft limestone with a high kaolinite content was quarried in the wadi on the south of Giza Plateau. The limestone was then dissolved in large, Nile-fed pools until it became a watery slurry. Lime (found in the ash of cooking fires) and natron (also used by the Egyptians in mummifications) were mixed in.


the pools were then left to evaporate, leaving behind a moist, clay-like mixture. This wet "concrete" would be carried to the construction site where it would be packed into reusable wooden moulds and a in a few days would undergo a chemical reaction similar to the curing of concrete. New blocks, he suggests, could be cast in place, on top of and pressed against the old blocks.


6-Nova pyramid-building experiment


In 1997, Mark Lehner and stonemason Roger Hopkins conducted a three-week pyramid-building experiment for a Nova television episode. The pyramid was 6 meters high and 9 meters wide, consisting of a total of 162 cubic metres, or about 405 tons. It was made out of 186 stones in 22 days, and the structure was erected using 44 men. They used iron hammers, chisels and levers ( this a modern shortcut, as the ancient Egyptians were limited to using copper and later bronze and wood).


They also used cooper tools. They estimated they would have needed around 20 extra men this maintenance. In addition to using a front-end loader or fork lift truck, but this modern machinery was not used to finished the construction. They used levers to lift the capstone to a height of 20 feet(6.1m). four or five men were able to use levers on stones less than one ton to flip them over and transport them by rolling, but larger stones had to be lowed. Finally, the builders failed to duplicated the precise jointing created by the ancient Egyptians, Hopking was confident that this could have been achieved with more practice.