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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23 Comments

  • Jimmy White

    Archeologists get things so wrong mainly because they (we) assume, that ancient peoples were far more stupider than we are. I'd believe that ET built the pyramids IF they were constructed of a single piece of granite. (yeah, they crossed interstellar space to stack up a bunch of rocks) A million people with mathematical knowledge, all believing in their minds and hearts that they'd all die if they didn't build a pyramid, would get the job done in short order. Belief is a powerful motivator. Egypt wasn't always a desert and elephants can move mountains. Oil and sand or, beeswax and sand is recyclable - shovel it up, heat it up remove excess sand and transport it where ya need it,- in woven baskets.. er.. clay vessels.

  • The wet sand theory may help explain how they dragged large stones and objects to the pyramid site, maybe not. One thing they did not do is put a flat object or slab on the sand and drag it. This would put to much surface area on the sand. They used a sled, with runners on each side, and the center raised from the ground. This way, they would not need as much water in front of the skids to solidify the sand. I see in the illustration others also carrying jugs of presumably water to give to the one standing and pouring water in front of the skid. This also does not look like a large amount of water was used, but a lot of man power was. I doubt they used oil, it would have made a real mess later, and oil is too valuable to waste pouring on sand. However, once they got to the site, how did they get the stones to the upper levels? No one knows. We need another illustration for that!

  • The wet sand theory may help explain how they dragged large stones and objects to the pyramid site, maybe not. One thing they did not do is put a flat object or slab on the sand and drag it. This would put to much surface area on the sand. They used a sled, with runners on each side, and the center raised from the ground. This way, they would not need as much water in front of the skids to solidify the sand. I see in the illustration others also carrying jugs of presumably water to give to the one standing and pouring water in front of the skid. This also does not look like a large amount of water was used, but a lot of man power was. However, once they got to the site, how did they get the stones to the upper levels? No one knows. We need another illustration for that!

  • John Muir

    It has been long known, that they used Taro, as a lubricant, and other oils. That would have the same effect and not evaporate as quickly. It doesn't of course address how they got the stones on the sledges, and how they were able to assemble so many blocks in each day. That, I'm sure can be solved on another day, with other evidence that is known. It is through experimentation, that these methods will be unveiled, not speculation or wild imagination. I will also point out, that sledge methods have shown, that even a one ton block can and has been moved, over level ground, by only one man! More study is needed of course, and as we learn more, it will become more clear, just how people, from 4,000 years ago, can and did build these monuments.

  • J.b. Stringfellow

    How about using a more viscous fluid than water? The water in the pic appears dark. I'm not an engineer so I have no idea.

  • George Sand

    But it did work. They have found remnants of the ramps next to the pyramids. Any ancient people used materials at hand, and they had plenty of sand and water. It's been theorized and tested before and is probably the method they used

  • Surat Bunditraksana

    No, It's not make sense.

    1. The rocks weight between 2-80 tons. How they put on sledge?
    2. If they splash water 10 litres every 1meter, They must use 250 tons of water for 25km long?
    3. When all rocks reach destination, How they lift it, arrange it?
    4. Pyramid use 2.5 million rocks, If they build it 24hrs everyday in 20 years, They must arrange 1 rock in 5 mins. How can they do that?
  • Leon Trumpp

    The 3 large pyramids alone are comprised of over 14 million stones , And supposedly built within 100 years . Do the math . That quarrying , transporting and placing close to 400 blocks / 24 hour day . Could not do it today and the population required to do that ????

  • larrywcline

    If the math doesn't work, which is more likely: that aliens built the pyramids, or that the 100 years figure is wrong?

  • Thats Right

    What a load of crap. The pyramids were created by ET's with advanced technology. Modern man even today would have extreme difficulty building one, even the most advanced engineering firm in the world in charge. This is admitted by engineers. And also consider that the circumference of the base of the Cheops pyramid is, in inches, the same circumference of the earth in miles.

  • larrywcline

    They made the pyramid's circumference in inches equal to the Earth's circumference in miles? That's especially impressive, considering the ancient Egyptians used neither inches nor miles as units of measurement.

    Frikkin' loon.

  • jtslaptop

    This person is simply stating an interesting fact, and is not making any claim as to the units of measurement used by the Egyptians. If someone lists the distance between two locations in Europe in miles, is it invalid because the metric system is used in Europe?

    Frikkin' idiot.

  • Comparing the lab set up photo to the wall drawing (which of course might not be an accurate, literal depiction of the process), it seems that in the lab the sand was wetted and smoothed along the entire path whereas the wall painting implies that the water was added just in front of the sledge. Did the researchers try the method depicted in the painting?

  • Chris Williams

    This may explain the transport of the stones, but does this explain the assembly of the stones to form the pyramid itself?