Weird History
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An In-Depth Look At Exactly How Ancient Egyptians Transported The Blocks To Build The Pyramids

Updated December 18, 2020 347.5k views15 items

Constructing the Pyramids of Giza would prove a difficult undertaking for modern engineers with advanced technology, so the question of how ancient Egyptians built the pyramids has long perplexed historians and archaeologists. Specifically, the puzzle of how ancient Egyptians lifted and moved the pyramid blocks - some of which weighed dozens of tons - from quarries to the build sites across miles of the desert has led to endless theorizing.  

While individuals with questionable scientific credentials have attributed the construction methods to supernatural forces, more serious Egyptologists have devised numerous theories that provide plenty of explanations - and a moderate amount of evidence - for how the pyramids were built. It appears the answer is not ancient aliens, but instead the inherent ingenuity of an ancient culture determined to leave their permanent mark on the world.

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  • Workers Used Ropes And Ramps To Lift Stones Out Of The Quarry

    Once ancient Egyptians had removed obelisks of granite from the ground and cut them into blocks, they faced an even more difficult challenge: getting the blocks out of the quarry. Egyptologists have long pondered the question of how workers hefted the stones - some of which weighed dozens of tons - without the use of complex machinery, but recent discoveries indicate an inventive method with a simple design. 

    An ancient alabaster quarry uncovered in eastern Egypt contained a ramp-and-rope system that presumably facilitated the lifting of blocks out of the quarry. The ramp itself had two adjacent staircases with poles at regular intervals, and experts theorize that the addition of ropes to this system would have made it far easier for multiple people to pull on the blocks at once.

    Though this particular quarry didn't have any connection to the construction of the pyramids, it's fair to assume they implemented similar technology in granite quarries, too.

  • Quarry Ramps Were Perhaps Used To Create A Complex Pulley System

    The ramp-and-rope system uncovered in an ancient Egyptian alabaster quarry - which hints at how pyramid materials were brought up to ground level - might also provide valuable evidence for how such large stone blocks were elevated in general: pulleys

    By flanking ramps with a series of poles, workers could attach ropes to the blocks, then pull them downhill, with the poles acting as the axles in this iteration of simple machinery.

    One of the few solid theories for how this ancient culture was able to lift impossibly large objects into the air entails multiple workers yanking on many simple pulleys to utilize the power of physics.

  • Photo: Sir John Gardner Wilkinson / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Rudimentary Sledges Helped Drag Material Across The Egyptian Desert

    Once the granite blocks were out of the quarries, they still had to be transported across miles of desert to reach the great construction sites of Giza. Dragging tons of stone across the desert would seem a Herculean task for an ancient civilization, but the Egyptians conquered this conundrum with little more than toboggans. 

    Plenty of evidence has emerged of rudimentary sleds used by ancient Egyptians to haul massive materials across the sands of the Sahara. They were usually little more than flat surfaces with upturned edges, designed to glide over the dunes like a sleigh across the snow.

    The substantial weight of the pyramids' granite blocks complicated the process - because heavily burdened sleds would dig into the sand - but ancient Egyptians had a solution for that, too: water.

  • Photo: Sir John Gardner Wilkinson / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Water Was Used To Wet The Sand For Easier Hauling

    To transport heavy loads by sled across the sands of the Sahara, workers likely used water from the Nile to wet their path. Wet sand is much stiffer and firmer than the dry stuff - thus, it's able to carry more weight.

    Researchers at the University of Amsterdam came up with and tested this theory. Their experiment was partly inspired by a wall painting in a tomb that showed the process in action. Previous Egyptologists had interpreted this water-pouring as ceremonial, but it might have had a more practical purpose.