Egyptian Technology Since Their Creation, Thesis

Length: 10 pages Sources: 10 Subject: Architecture Type: Thesis Paper: #46086537 Related Topics: Food Pyramid, Transport, Ancient Egypt, Modern Architecture
Excerpt from Thesis :

This labor force was effective, unified, and provided a strong centralized state. The pyramids acted not as slave pits, but as political, religious, social, and economic focuses for the people. Laborers believed their own eternity would be won through their service, and although their choices of work and location were based on socioeconomic factors, these individuals were free citizens of the state (David, a.R., 58).

In addition to the peasant labor, there were professional craftsmen and architects whose skills were required for the more finely detailed and skilled areas of the pyramid. These individuals had their own housing area within the barracks, and were treated to slightly nicer conditions than those of the slaves. They were also, some believed paid wages in exchange for their skills, since such skills were learned and honed only through repetition and higher learning, as opposed to the unskilled labor of the peasant force. These laborers too believed, however, that they were ensuring their own eternity through their service to the states and to the pharaoh (Davis, a.R., 59).

Next, these workers required materials in order to make the pyramid. Most were built with a wide variety of stone materials, and while much of it was lower grade limestone for interior pyramid core, fine limestone was used for the final casting, both inside and out (Nicholson & Shaw, 4). Pink granite was also used for the inside walls, and basalt and alabaster were used for floors (Nicholson & Shaw, 5). Additionally, gemstones were in high demand for the creation of the jeweled amulets that were worn by the deceased (Nicholson & Shaw, 6).

Egypt, at the time, was fairly wealthy in terms of their abundance of stone, particularly limestone, or what the Egyptians called "white stone," and sandstone. Limestone was first used in the pyramids of the Saqqara, which are some of the oldest known. The limestone there is of a lower quality, but is strong, with layers as much as a meter thick, making it much simpler to quarry, and it could be quarried near the building sites (Verner, 61). Sandstone was used in the middle of the second millennium during the New Kingdom (Verner, 62).

Limestone and sandstone best for quarrying was that of uniform coloration and at least moderate hardness, with thick layers and spaced fractures within the rock. Blocks were marked out with spaces between to allow workers access to cut the blocks. Using tools such as copper pickaxes and chisels, granite hammers, large stone chisels, the workers would cut holes into the rocks along the required lines. Very dry wooden or later, iron wedges, were placed into the holes. The wooden wedges were then soaked, so their expanding mass would break through the softer stone (David, a.R., 49). In the case of harder stone, iron wedges were used to force the rock apart using leverage (Nicholson & Shaw, 7).

While this process was simple enough for limestone and sandstone, since there was an abundance of the material, finer white limestone, pink granite, basalt, and alabaster were much more difficult, in that the rock was much harder, heavier, and had to be transported much further distances to reach the work site (Verner, 62). In terms of these hard, heavy stones, much of which is only found on the west bank of the Nile, the quality stone was buried under the surface. In this case, steps were first carved into the outer face of the rock, and then a corridor would be carved along the ceiling of the galley, which allowed them to cut down behind the top layer of rocks (Nicholson & Shaw, 6).

Generally, in these cases, large, unfinished chunks of stone were removed from the galley, and then refined outside prior to transportation. The removal involved a series of logs leading to the quarry that were arranged to aid in the dragging of the stones (David, a.R., 49). Ropes were tied to the stones, and laborers and oxen pulled the stones from the quarry. Once outside, again using copper or bronze chisels and diorite picks (David, a.R., 50), the workers would cut down the large chunks into the appropriate sized building blocks required. These blocks were...


These transportation methods varied depending on the stone being moved, as well as the quarry site and the building location. In general, however, there were two methods of transportation, those of the river, and land transport (Nicholson & Shaw, 17). In terms of river transportation, large barges were constructed of wood, and artificial canals were created along the Nile to create passable waterways in a variety of different directions. Floods were highly useful, in that the waterways could be used for longer distances, reducing the need for land travel which tended to be much more difficult, and more expensive (Verner, 65).

However, even when using the rivers, land transportation of materials was inevitable. Crude roads, sometimes expansive in nature, were built to and from the river from the building site. This often included covering sand or harder rock grounds with layers of mud to facilitate the movement of the rock. Drystone causeways were also built (Nicholson & Shaw, 20). Wheeled vehicles were not used in Egypt until much later, and as such, sledges were often used. These sledges, loaded with tons of rock, were pulled to the work site using man power and tow-ropes or oxen (David, a.R., 49).

Once the materials had been moved to the site, they had to be raised to the layer of the pyramid being worked on. Historians such as Herodotus originally explained that the first few layers were simple, with small, short wooden ramps extending around each side of the layer, and stairs leading to the level. Each stone was thus raised to the first step, lifted up the scaffolding using lifting devices, and raised to the second step and so forth until it reached the destination (Chapter 125). This idea is supported in that small models of wooden cradles and lever-pulley systems have been found near pyramid sites (Verner, 82). However, such systems would not have been strong enough to support the movement of huge, heavy blocks required for some areas of the pyramid.

As a result, and after finding several archeological sites with existing remains, the use of large, long, constantly extending ramps is supported. However, there are many different types of ramps suggested by historians, and to further complicate possibilities, the remnants of ramps found at ancient sites are of varying designs. It is generally agreed on that the ramps had an exterior wall and a framework made of mudbricks. The interior wall, then, was filled with a substance such as small pebbles, sand, or other rubble, and covered in clay or another mud form (Verner, 86). This added to the support of the ramp, and made it suitable for moving tons of stone.

However, beyond this agreement, there are several different ramps styles that historians have suggested. Some, such as Dowse Dunham, argue a single ramp about three meters wide was build around the entire structure (Stocks, 198). Others, however, assume a single ramp build wide enough for several oxen teams to move up and down simultaneously to increase the speed of production. Still others argue for a series of several ramps on all sides, carrying loads up one side of the pyramid and down another to create a constant stream of work (Verner, 87).

Whether by single ramps or multiple, once raised up to the required level, these huge stones then had to be moved into position. Some have proposed that the actual sizing and fitting together of the blocks was done prior to the movement of them up the ramps in an assembly area on the ground (Stocks, 191). The workers would use a set square to test the accuracy of the corner angles to ensure alignment. These set squares were made of two straight pieces of wood forming a right angle, with a third piece attached used as a foot. To test the flatness of a stone, workers attached a string to two equal pieces of wood, and stretched the string across the surface of the stone. Another rod was then held against the string to test whether the surface was flat underneath.

Once properly fitted and moved, the blocks then needed to be put into position into the pyramid. A system of sand bag counter weights, wooden trestles, beams, and ropes were often used to position the stone blocks together, and mortar was used as a lubricant for sliding the large blocks into position. Any spaces found between slightly off fitting rocks were finished with sandstone, or the spaces were filled with small pieces of stone…

Sources Used in Documents:


Baines, J. "Ancient Egypt Timeline." Ancient History: Egyptians. BBC. 10 Nov. 2008.

Brier, B.A & Hobbs, H. Life of the Ancient Egyptians. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999.

Brunes, T. "Introduction: The Historical Background." Journal of the Southwest. 48.4 (2006): 331-332.

David, a.R. The Pyramid Builders of Ancient Egypt: A Modern Investigation of Pharaoh's Workforce. New York: Routledge, 1996.

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