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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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • Henry Wang

    You mean you didn't know this? Can't you see I was the 17th person on the drawing. That's my nth previous live. I was personally involve in that project. The true of the fact is that we just use our hand to lift the stone and pile them up. Remember we are the offspring of Zhu-Ba-Jie, and is consider as powerful people, or Hero.