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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73 Comments

  • Andrew Ouimette

    How is this new? They already had a TV special on the water + sand + sled method and it worked amazingly well.

  • Rick Nordal

    It's possible that the pyramids were built by only Egyptians. There may have been a ' conscription ' for all male Egyptian citizens over the age of 18 to spend a compulsory 1 year service building the pyramids. - Rick Nordal - Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

  • Rick Nordal

    It's possible that the pyramids were built by only Egyptians. There may have been a ' conscription ' for all male Egyptian citizens over the age of 18 to spend a compulsory 1 year service building the pyramids. - Rick Nordal - Vancouver, BC, Canada

  • tlsurveys

    Even if this theory were true, it only covers how the stones were transported to the site. Wet sand didn't get them 400 feet up. So this isn't a new theory about how the pyramids were built.

  • jimnchar

    The "sidewalk" pavers around the pyramids are arched or curved on one side and flat on the other. The flat face is exactly the same size as the faces of the long sides of the internal blocks used to build the pyramids. The curved sides create a cylinder when 4 of these are strapped around a block. Think a cylinder sliced lengthwise exactly where a square can be scribed onto the face of the cylinder. The sidewalk slab's or "cab's" shape was discovered when the buried boats outside the pyramids were excavated. These cabs used this way would reduce the man hours needed to build the pyramids immensely.

    I was told by an Egyptologist on site that the reduction in manpower was enough to to limit the needed workforce to the free and available labor available during the flood times of the Nile River each year. It was part of the religious duty to go and serve while the fields were flooded. So essentially work 9 months on your own fields and 3 months for the pharaoh or the priests.

  • lineberry2

    There are common wall reliefs that speak of a white powder, that when spread across the sand made the stones weightless. It is carved in many many different reliefs by the workers. Even though the Nile used to run right up next to the huge monuments, they nor do we have a barge or boat big enough to tote those big ass stones anywhere. There has to be a written account of the construction methods made by a nearby nation. A historian somewhere had to be moving in and out of the area while trading or visiting that went home and wrote down what he saw happening there. It was to grand of an project to be only known about by what, a few million people. The answer lies in the writings of a nearby civilization that flourished at the time they were being built. The person that searches in the neighboring libraries will find the writing of a former record keepers account of what he saw.

  • Andrew Ouimette

    That was water you twit, not white powder. Look at the reliefs yourself. Don't have boats big enough? It really wasn't that hard to make a big boat. Noah did it, right? He fit a whole bunch of critters on it (plus extras for the carnivores).

  • lineberry2

    Unfortunately the world will never know, because of the extreme bias of the former head of the Egyptian antiquities. His extreme views and pit bull grasp over & complete control of all areas of any Egyptian relics found that, "HE felt," didn't fall in line with his personal views of how things happened were hidden from site, hushed up, & or left buried under sand to never be made known to anyone but a select few like minded muslin's whom all have the same distain for other religions, nations, and peoples of other races seen as a lessor inferior race not worthy of their actual place in history as it happened. Nor in current research of the whole picture. He is well known to have back filled entire cities buried under sand and made forbidden to ever uncover them because of carvings that show Mosses leading the Jews from Egypt, Christians, and other non conforming relics found that would change his strict "we know how it all happened" dogma

  • djinntravels

    Learn how to spell your mythological character's name ("Moses" instead of "Mosses") before you ramble on about an archaeologist (primarily Zahi Hawass) whom you know nothing about. It's "Muslim" not "muslin" you indoctrinated ignoramus. Sigh - monotheistic liars are so hopeless. The best we can do is wash our hands after making contact with them as you never know where they have been.

  • djinntravels

    Are you talking about Zahi Hawass? Because you should say his name instead of disrespecting the work that he did to promote and conserve the antiquities. Why don't you try running things in a country like modern Egypt and see how you would do, having to deal with the bureaucracy, the pyramidiots (like yourself), the religious right (like yourself) who insist that everything has to lead back to a storybook which is full of errors and contradictions. By the way, you might want to learn how to spell the name of one of your mythological heroes - it's "Moses" not "Mosses" you dolt. You do know that "God" is "Dog" spelled backwards right?

  • craigmayberry

    That still does not answer the question of how thew pyramids were "built". Getting a 20 ton stone to the building site is one thing. Hauling it up 400 feet or about 40 stories is something engineers couldn't do today. So how did they "build" them. Nobody yet knows.

  • Andrew Ouimette

    I think you grossly underestimate what engineers can do with free labor.

  • jimnchar

    The "sidewalk" pavers around the pyramids are arched or curved on one side and flat on the other. The flat face is exactly the same size as the faces of the long sides of the internal blocks used to build the pyramids. The curved sides create a cylinder when 4 of these are strapped around a block. Think a cylinder sliced lengthwise exactly where a square can be scribed onto the face of the cylinder. The sidewalk slab's or "cab's" shape was discovered when the buried boats outside the pyramids were excavated. These cabs used this way would reduce the man hours needed to build the pyramids immensely.

    I was told by an Egyptologist on site that the reduction in manpower was enough to to limit the needed workforce to the free and available labor available during the flood times of the Nile River each year. It was part of the religious duty to go and serve while the fields were flooded. So essentially work 9 months on your own fields and 3 months for the pharaoh or the priests.

  • Gail Dotson

    I BELIEVE THEY WERE NOT BUILT BUT CHISELED FROM A NATURAL MOUNTAIN .ROCKS CHISELED AWAY BUILT ATLANTIS .