Building the Pyramids

Materials

The pyramids, being as large as they were, required a great many materials. Those that were not quarried from near the pyramid site had to be transported to the site, usually by the Nile. These materials had to be traded for because, sometimes, these materials were not found in areas controlled by the pharoh.

"His majesty sent me to Yebu [Elephantine] to bring a granite false door, and its libation stone and granite lintels, and to bring granite portals and libations stones for the upper chamber of the pyramid 'Merene-appears-in-splendour', my mistress." -- Inscription of Weni (Lehner)

Relief depicting the transportation of granite palm columns for Unas's pyramid found in Unas's causeway.
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Tools

The materials that were used had to be formed into useable parts for the pyramids. In order to do this, tools of various sorts had to be used.


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Ancient wood tools used on the pyramids, all currently located in the Cairo museum.

Tools such as these mushroom shaped tools have been found at Giza. While their exact use is unknown, it is believed that these were a form of early pulley, with ropes being guided in the grooves.
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Note the marks on this chunk of basalt. Those were probably made by a copper blade that guided gypsum and sand, which was the actual cutting surface.

Dolerite pounding stone. This was used to shape granite by pounding the granite.
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Moving the Blocks

Moving these blocks would have been an enormous challenge, as they averaged 2.5 tons. It is theorized that the smaller blocks were rolled across the terrain by a few men making use of levels to move the block from side to side. For the larger blocks, it is theorized that brute force was the primary method for moving the blocks, using dozens of men to simply pull the blocks.


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Relief from the tomb of Djehutihotep depicting 172 men pulling a statue of said pharoh, which is estimated to weigh 58 tons. The large pyramid blocks were probably pulled in a similar manner.

Photograph of a team from the television show NOVA when they attempted to build a small pyramid using only techniques the Egyptians would have had. This is probably very similar to a scene that took place when the pyramids were build in ancient Egypt.
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Aside from just moving the blocks, another issue arises when trying to place the blocks on the pyramids. This problem was probably solved using a very simple tool....ramps.


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Another picture from the NOVA television show pyramid project. This shows a ramp they built, which would have been very similar to what the Egyptians used, on a much smaller scale.

Feeding the Workers

In order for these pyramids to have been built, many people had to put in time and effort in the construction. In the Great Pyramid alone, it took 20,000 to 30,000 workers constantly working for 23 years to complete the pyramid. These people had to be fed, and they fed them with bread.

Relief showing bakery scene from the tomb of Ti at Saqqara, from the 5th Dynasty (2490 - 2330 B.C.). It shows stack-heating of the bread moulds, pouring of the dough, opening the moulds, and removal of the loaves.
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An excavated Egyptian bakery. Pots found in excavations similar to this count for almost half of all Old Kingdom ceramic finds.

For more detailed information about building a pyramid and the NOVA project, please visit NOVA Online/Pyramids - The Inside Story.



This site is maintained by Ryan Cohagan at Creighton University.
Please feel free to visit our course syllabus.

My e-mail address is cohagan@creighton.edu

I would appreciate some feedback.


Created: November 10, 2001 Updated: December 12, 2001