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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  • Hien Nguyen

    Look at the bottom of a status people carry 2 bucket of water ( the heavy lifting Olympic gold and silver belong to Mid East IRAN )

  • invicta1

    If wetting the sand is the advance that allowed the pyramids to be built, why did it take modern scientists 3880 years to figure it out. The painting proves only that the ancient Eqyptians were aware of friction and knew how to reduce it. My question has never been about how they moved massive stones but rather how did they lift the stones to build the pyramids?

  • Rik Burns

    I believe this is the leading theory, and it makes the most sense to me: There will always be a lot we don't know about the pyramids. For that it will continue to enchant and inspire for eons to come. Hopefully Egypt's current turmoils don't damage our chances to discover more about these Monuments of time.

  • LD Little

    This is all fine for the bottom level but what about the upper levels, no sand on the rocks....

  • LD Little

    This is all fine and good for the bottom level, but what about the top? No sand on the rocks....

  • Jonathan Eber

    Limestone is easy to cut into rectangular "bricks' that canbe 'shingled' forming a paved path for the heavier n denser granite to ride over the top corners of the bricks. With sand acting as a 'lubercant', think of how a really heavy shuffle board weight glides on the sanded polished board. One would also find that the limestone then gets ground down n polished into nice triangular pieces, such what the prymids where covered with. The ground limestone powder is great for mortar....3 for one. Jre baltimoron

  • 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.