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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122 Comments

  • 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.

  • Fred Piott

    Is there really any doubt we humans have actually been devolving over the millennia?

  • Michael Williams

    This isn't a new hypothesis. Been around about 40 years that I know of.

  • Marianne Lombardo

    That is ridiculous. Next... how about accepting the possibility that something other than human beings constructed the great pyramids. Not so fast with credit to humans, if humans knew how to do it, a 21st century pyramid would have been accomplished by now.

  • How is a PYRAMID in the 21st century practical though? It would also take one of the worlds top economies to pull it off, if at all.You cant convince that many people that god wants them toi donate time to building a pyramid.

  • Picka Ura Nosea

    Haven't you seen the Pyramid shaped building in downtown Chicago:?

  • byronbruce2

    Eventually all things past <v> Our lives deteriate daily....but one thing still remains...a tommorow There is always the future....with or without your concsious mind.... <¿>__¡¡¡¡¡¡¡ We build with magesty and the sons and daughters of ra....for ra of the sun is of everything of existence...be it such stardust I create thee<v>