September 19: Egyptian rocks

2012/09/19 § Leave a comment

During this month some four and a half millennia ago, the shipping season in Egypt was coming to a close in Old Kingdom Egypt and the last batch of stones were being delivered to a site in Giza.

Plenty of people have puzzled over the means by which the Egyptians hoisted stone upon gigantic stone in the creation of that famous trio.  The tallest is a bit over 480 feet tall and well over 700 feet per side, with estimates that 2-7 millions of stones, totaling about 2.6 million cubic meters of material and weighing some 6.5 million tonnes, were assembled–without pulleys and cranes or really any mechanical advantage.  But even before all that limestone was hauled into a pyramidal form, it had to make its way to the site.  Unless secret alien visitors levitated them all into place, those stones made their way to Giza on the Nile.  The river floods between July and October each year; during this time the swollen waterway provides the best means to conduct the giant loads of building materials from granite quarries as far away as Aswan to Giza–a trip of over 500 miles.

The trip itself, and the means by which the stone was actually transported from land to water is at least as puzzling as the construction issue.  Anyone who has gingerly stepped into a rocking canoe with a cooler will take pause at this idea.  Since hoists and cranes are not known to have existed at the time, it’s not clear how the stones were even transferred from land to boat to land again, let alone how this was affected without capsizing the slender boats that the Egyptians favored.  For all their record keeping, the Egyptians were not very good about writing down how they achieved their works in architecture and engineering.  The clearest evidence is an image in Hatshepshut’s tomb that shows a huge obelisk, estimated at oer 300 tons, being transported by boat.  Another tomb, of one Djehutihotep, shows almost 200 men pulling a single sculpture on a sledge.  Otherwise, the Egyptians pretty much left jack for evidence.

Archaeologists and historians will continue to spin their theories, but will probably never know for sure.  Frankly, assessing a culture that held cats in such high reverence is evidence enough that there’s no telling what those people were thinking (or accounting for it).

Image: Egyptian guys on a boat (from this source)

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