Engineering the Pyramids

The Engineering of the Great Pyramids of Giza
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At the time of its construction, during the Fourth Dynasty of Egypt's Old Kingdom, architecture was design; engineering was the means of evaluating, refining, and realizing those designs.

As primitive as the engineering practices may have been in the s B. The Great Pyramid, for over four thousand years, was the tallest structure in the world. As the sole remnant of the Seven Wonders of the World, it attests to the breath-taking capabilities of the prevailing principles of architectural construction and engineering practices employed not only during that time period but even today.

The sides of the Great Pyramid are aligned perfectly with the four cardinal points of the compass even though at the time, the compass had not even been invented; furthermore, the outside surface stones of the structure were cut within 0. 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.

In other words, in Lehner's view, levers should be employed to lift a small amount of material and a great deal of vertical height of the monument. In the milieu of levering methods, there are those that lift the block incrementally, as in repeatedly prying up alternating sides of the block and inserting a wooden or stone shims to gradually move the stone up one course; and there are other methods that use a larger lever to move the block up one course in one lifting procedure.

Since the discussion of construction techniques to lift the blocks attempts to resolve a gap in the archaeological and historical record with a plausible functional explanation, the following examples by Isler, Keable, and Hussey-Pailos [29] list experimentally tested methods. Isler's method , is an incremental method and, in the Nova experiment , used wooden shims or cribbing. Isler [30] was able to lift a block up one tier in approximately one hour and 30 minutes. Peter Hodges's and Julian Keable's [31] method is similar to Isler's method and instead used small manufactured concrete blocks as shims, wooden pallets, and a pit where their experimental tests were performed.

Keable was able to perform his method in approximately 2 minutes. Scott Hussey-Pailos's method [29] uses a simple levering device to lift a block up a course in one movement.

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This method was tested with materials of less strength than historical analogs tested with materials weaker than those available in ancient Egypt , a factor of safety of 2, and lifted a pound block up one course in under a minute. This method is presented as a levering device to work complementary with Mark Lehner's idea of a combined ramp and levering techniques. Houdin's father was an architect who, in , thought of a construction method that, it seemed to him, made more sense than any existing method proposed for building pyramids.

To develop this hypothesis, Jean-Pierre Houdin, also an architect, gave up his job and set about drawing the first fully functional CAD architectural model of the Great Pyramid. After 4 years working alone, Houdin was joined by a team of engineers from the French 3D software company Dassault Systemes , who used the most modern computer-aided design technology available to further refine and test the hypothesis, making it according to Houdin the only one proven to be a viable technique.

SEM Micrographs and Elemental Maps from Bulk Pyramid Sample

Egyptian pyramid construction techniques are the controversial subject of many hypotheses. .. After 4 years working alone, Houdin was joined by a team of engineers from the French 3D software company Dassault Systemes, who used the. In Engineering the Pyramids, author Dick Parry - a civil engineer - assesses the design of the pyramids and the likely methods of quarrying, transporting and.

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 see diagram. This square-meter clear space housed a crane that lifted and rotated each 2. There is a notch of sorts in one of the right places, and in 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.

Houdin's thesis remains unproven and in , UCL Egyptologist David Jeffreys described the internal spiral hypothesis as "far-fetched and horribly complicated" , while Oxford University's John Baines , declared he was "suspicious of any theory that seeks to explain only how the Great Pyramid was built". Houdin has another hypothesis developed from his architectural model, one that could finally explain the internal "Grand Gallery" chamber that otherwise appears to have little purpose.

It enabled the raising of the five ton granite beams that roof the King's Chamber. Houdin and Brier and the Dassault team are already credited with proving for the first time that cracks in beams appeared during construction, were examined and tested at the time and declared relatively harmless. 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.

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 mummification were mixed in. The pools were then left to evaporate, leaving behind a moist, clay-like mixture.

Engineering's Great Achievements: The Great Pyramid of Giza

This wet "concrete" would be carried to the construction site where it would be packed into reusable wooden moulds and 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.

Proof-of-concept tests using similar compounds were carried out at a geopolymer institute in northern France and it was found that a crew of five to ten, working with simple hand tools, could agglomerate a structure of five, 1.

Engineering the Pyramids

Your playlist is stored within your cookies, clearing your browser data may remove your playlist. The discovery goes back to when a pilot named P. Emphasis is placed on cooperative, creative teamwork and the steps of the engineering design process. Make sure students feel that the activity is based on a schedule with deadlines. So how did they do that? Nova online.

Davidovits's method is not accepted by the academic mainstream. His method does not explain the granite stones, weighing well over 10 tons, above the King's Chamber, which he agrees were carved. Geologists have carefully scrutinized Davidovits's suggested technique and concluded his concrete came from natural limestone quarried in the Mokattam Formation. Davidovits's hypothesis gained support from Michel Barsoum, a materials science researcher. Using scanning electron microscopy , they discovered in samples of the limestone pyramid blocks mineral compounds and air bubbles that do not occur in natural limestone.

Dipayan Jana, a petrographer, made a presentation to the ICMA International Cement Microscopy Association in [44] and gave a paper [45] in which he discusses Davidovits's and Barsoum's work and concludes "we are far from accepting even as a remote possibility a 'man-made' origin of pyramid stones. It was made out of stones weighing an average of 2. Twelve quarrymen carved stones in 22 days, and the structure was erected using 44 men. They used iron hammers, chisels and levers this is a modern shortcut, as the ancient Egyptians were limited to using copper and later bronze and wood.

They estimated they would have needed around 20 extra men for this maintenance. Another shortcut taken was the use of a front-end loader or fork lift truck, but modern machinery was not used to finish the construction. They used levers to lift the capstone to a height of 20 feet 6. 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 towed.

How was the Great Pyramid built?

Lehner and Hopkins found that by putting the stones on wooden sledges and sliding the sledges on wooden tracks, they were able to tow a two-ton stone with 12 to 20 men. The wood for these sledges and tracks would have to have been imported from Lebanon at great cost since there was little, if any, wood in ancient Egypt.

While the builders failed to duplicate the precise jointing created by the ancient Egyptians, Hopkins was confident that this could have been achieved with more practice. Some research suggests alternate estimates to the accepted workforce size. For instance, mathematician Kurt Mendelssohn calculated that the workforce may have been 50, men at most, while Ludwig Borchardt and Louis Croon placed the number at 36, According to Miroslav Verner , a workforce of no more than 30, was needed in the Great Pyramid's construction. Evidence suggests that around 5, were permanent workers on salaries with the balance working three- or four-month shifts in lieu of taxes while receiving subsistence "wages" of ten loaves of bread and a jug of beer per day.

Zahi Hawass believes that the majority of workers may have been volunteers. It is estimated that only 4, of the total workforce were labourers who quarried the stone, hauled blocks to the pyramid and set the blocks in place. The vast majority of the workforce provided support services such as scribes, toolmakers and other backup services.

The tombs of supervisors contain inscriptions regarding the organisation of the workforce. There were two crews of approximately 2, workers sub-divided into named gangs of 1, The gangs were divided into five phyles of which were in turn split into groups of around 20 workers grouped according to their skills, with each group having their own project leader and a specific task. Without the use of pulleys, wheels, or iron tools, they used critical path analysis to suggest the Great Pyramid was completed from start to finish in approximately 10 years. They derived these estimates from modern third-world construction projects that did not use modern machinery, but conclude it is still unknown exactly how the Great Pyramid was built.

Craig Smith of the team points out:. The logistics of construction at the Giza site are staggering when you think that the ancient Egyptians had no pulleys, no wheels, and no iron tools. Yet, the dimensions of the pyramid are extremely accurate and the site was leveled within a fraction of an inch over the entire This is comparable to the accuracy possible with modern construction methods and laser leveling. That's astounding. With their 'rudimentary tools,' the pyramid builders of ancient Egypt were about as accurate as we are today with 20th-century technology.

The entire Giza Plateau is believed to have been constructed over the reign of five pharaohs in less than a hundred years, which generally includes: the Great Pyramid, Khafre and Menkaure's pyramids, the Great Sphinx, the Sphinx and Valley Temples, 35 boat pits cut out of solid bedrock, and several causeways, as well as paving nearly the entire plateau with large stones.

Engineering the Pyramids

This does not include Khafre's brother Djedefre's northern pyramid, Abu Rawash, which would have also been built during this time frame of years. In the hundred years prior to Giza—beginning with Djoser , who ruled from — BC, and amongst dozens of other temples, smaller pyramids, and general construction projects—four other massive pyramids were built: the Step pyramid of Saqqara believed to be the first Egyptian pyramid , the pyramid of Meidum , the Bent Pyramid , and the Red Pyramid.

Also during this period between and BC the Sadd el-Kafara dam, which used an estimated , cubic meters of rock and rubble, was built. This method which aided in lifting the heavy alabaster stones up from their quarries, may have been used to build Egypt's Great Pyramid as well. Its series of stepped, concentric platforms represented the first significant architectural departure from early Egyptian tombs, which featured flat, slightly raised platforms known as mastabas, according to Smith.

The Engineering Behind the Pyramids

Another major step forward in the history of engineering came with the pyramid at Meidum begun by Pharaoh Sneferu in B. It was the first pyramid to incorporate corbelled ceilings in underground chambers, an approach that afforded elegant, arched ceilings. Unfortunately, this pyramid, like the Step Pyramid, achieved its sloping exterior shape with courses of inwardly leaning stones, an engineering approach that would prove untenable. Its site consisted of loose, sandy soil, a foundation that provided inadequate support for the heavy structure. Predictably, the pyramid began to sink as construction proceeded, a result of using inwardly leaning blocks on an unstable foundation.

The Red Pyramid, begun in B. It would serve as a prototype for the Great Pyramid, the first pyramid at Giza.

The Pyramids of Egypt - Pyramid Construction

It also codified the following lessons for pyramid building, as laid out by Smith:. They had no wheels or pulleys for moving or lifting loads, and no iron tools. Instead, they relied on copper chisels and drills, rudimentary copper saws and smooth, round balls of dolerite, a hard stone, to cut limestone, according to Smith. Smith explains that they developed and used the cubit rod to measure and lay out the dimensions of the pyramid; a square level to level horizontal surfaces, and a framing square to create precision degree angles.