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.


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

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  • Robert Leon

    This confirms the general consensus of how the huge stone blocks were moved. Me, I'm betting it was done by one REALLY big Egyptian.

  • Miguel Angel Diaz

    False! we did the pyramids with our advanced tech... (Zeta reticuli gray)

  • Jeremiah Donaldson

    Taking one picture and making assumptions isn't how science is done, and that's all this was. There's zero evidence showing they did anything but drag a stature across level ground with this, possible, technique. The theory on an internal ramp is much, much, much more solid than this. No pun intended, but committed.

  • Deck Travis

    the sand grains being angular will align themselves and pack tightly when lubricated with water. this makes a hard surface that allows heavy loads to be moved over the tightly packed wet sand. the addition of oils on top of this type wet sand would reduce the friction even more with the oil floating on top of the wet sand. the oils could be olive oil, animal oils, petroleum, etc.

  • Deck Travis

    the sand grains being angular will align themselves to pack tightly when lubricated with water. It makes for a very hard and stiff surface. the addition of oil will float on top of the water soaked sand and reduce the friction even further. Olive oil, animal fat, petroleum, etc.

  • Molly Cruz

    And large quilts filled with feathers will suck oil out of water. Tell a friend.

  • markveedee

    I was thinking a combination of oil and water only because oil would be pretty costly. But if you watered the sand then occasionally used oil or used a mixture it would go a lot further. Just sayin.......

  • Rich Schuss

    Sounds good for placing the foundation stones but it doesn't quite explain how they lifted the 50 ton stones and placed them on the foundation.

  • Picka Ura Nosea

    Wet Sand Ramps. All they had - and the painting clearly shows a liquid being poured in front of the sledge. If not water, maybe olive oil? A Sand Salad...

  • Mark Charles Salomon

    It's amazing what can be done with thousands of laborers...sometimes, it just takes brute force.