Co.Design

A New Theory On How Ancient Egyptians Built The Pyramids

Workers probably used moistened sand to transport massive stones, according to new research.

How ancient Egyptians constructed the pyramids is still somewhat of an archeological mystery. Everything from cranes and ramps to oil-slicked slipways to aliens (naturally) have been put forward as possible mechanisms. A group of Dutch physicists has a new hypothesis on how ancient Egyptians managed to drag the colossal stones necessary to build pyramids across the desert. The answer: wet sand.

The setup in the labPhysical Review Letters

In a study in the journal Physical Review Letters, researchers from the University of Amsterdam and FOM (the Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter) recreated a laboratory version of the sledge on which workers hauled heavy stone, and tested how it fared in sand. They found that pulling the sledge across damp sand requires only half the force of hauling it in dry sand. Because the water droplets bind the grains of sand together, wet sand is twice as stiff as dry sand, and doesn't pile up in front of the sledge as it moves along. (A good tip for sandcastle construction, too.)

Wall painting from the tomb of DjehutihotepPhysical Review Letters

The researchers bolstered their theory with a wall painting from around 1880 B.C. found in the tomb of a 12th-dynasty administrator named Djehutihotep, which shows what looks to be a worker pouring water in front of a sledge carrying a large statue.

[H/T: Phys.org]

[Image: The pyramids at Giza near Cairo, Egypt via Dan Breckwoldt / Shutterstock]

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188 Comments

  • Brett B

    I think most people miss the point that you can dig in sand. Say they created dug a huge hole in the shape of a bowl. At the top of the holes are the stones. The stones then are dragged to the bottom to create the first layer of stones. The decline of the sand would greatly increase the ease to pull the stones. So then the first layer is set. Now the next step would be to refill the hole with sand to match the highest point of the first layer of stones just on outsides though. So filling in the sand would make it the same height level of the first set of stones. So in theory all you have to do is drag the 2nd layer of stones on top of the first. Rinse and repeat. The main concept is keep filling the sand in to match the level of the previous stones height. Then once the last stones are in place in theory they would dig and remove sand from the outskirts of the finished structure. Preferably you want to start building the structure near a sand dune or in one so it can be molded easy.

  • Stephen Paradiso

    Who was the guy with the architectural engineering degree required to design a pyramid, and where are the math books he learned from? Wet sand doesn't explain where the knowledge originated. The pyramids' design, and their function, are still a mystery to modern science. Hopefully wet sand is a clue, but really that just makes 40-ton blocks into 20-ton blocks, neither of which we can move using manpower today. Like the ancient Egyptians, I blame video games and cable tv for the lack of muscle required.

  • Robert Frost

    That's great but if they were actually thinking to scale then the "sand" would be the size of talcum powder where it probably wouldn't work as they think it would.

  • Attm Motob

    This is all so silly, They used sky hooks. This easily allows trandport and positioning. They were sanded smooth by using the skyhooks to pull them on the Sand. SHeesh, it soo obvious!

  • andy

    That image is really cool. Although I can't read any of the glyphs, it seems to show the number of people required to pull as well the number of different support staff: water carriers, a few soldiers (to protect them or maybe as taskmasters) and some other staff with a job other than pulling - maybe they are the "second shift" so that some pull and some rest so the pull can be continuous.

  • andy

    That image is really cool. Although I can't read any of the glyphs, it seems to show the number of people required to pull as well the number of different support staff: water carriers, a few soldiers (to protect them or maybe as taskmasters) and some other staff with a job other than pulling - maybe they are the "second shift" so that some pull and some rest so the pull can be continuous.

  • Yumasunbum Atlarge

    Something as simple as wet sand has fooled scientists for thousands of years.

  • Phoenician Sparks

    Yet you cannot explain the complete accuracy of placement of each stone, the precision cutting so tight a razor can't fit through, or hor they hauled them upwards, placed them or placed the capstone. Good way to waste our money science

  • Kenneth Whitman

    The ancient Aryans were more intelligent than us watered downed here and now versions

  • Davy Crockett

    Any scientific mind knows that this theory is absurd. The answer to the question as to how the pyramids were constructd is simple. They were buil from the top -down.

  • Davy Crockett

    Any scientific mind knows this idea is obsurd. The answer to the question as to how the pyramids were built is simple; They were built from the top down.

  • Andy VonWinge

    Absurd! lmao. Its ok to admit that humans before us could have most likely been more advanced than we. get off the high horse.

  • Roderick Anderson

    so, if the Egyptians used wooden sleds, as is usually hypothesized, to haul blocks of stone, how long before they would be 'sanded' down to nothing? in short, the Egyptians could not have built the Khufu pyramid, for starters they only had copper chisels to cut the stone with, the rest of the logistics is even harder to believe. the Khufu is estimated to have between 2 million and 4 million blocks of stone. then there are the two pyramids next door.

  • Rex Miller-Bey

    Somehow I don't think your sled sanding is an educat guess. You really think it would sand to nothing. Sure there has to be some damage to the sled, however to nothing...lol... I seem to think the would replace the damn thing b4 it gets that damaged. Than there is your 2 million to 4 million stones. I'm sure the ppl studying this technique are a bit more exact than oo 2 - 4million that's a 2 million difference I'm thinking they were a bit more exact . Somehow I can not even take you seriously your facts are like a child's research project.