The Egyptian construction method using ramps and embankments to raise tall buildings
To construct the Hypostyle Hall, the builders laid down the foundations and then the bases of all the columns and the lowest course of blocks for the walls. Next, they buried the whole area with earth. The next course of stones for all the columns and walls were then laid down and they too were buried. mud brick rams were added to allow the builders to drag the next layer of stone.
The process was completed until the highest part of the roof was finished. The Hyposytle Hall was structurally complete, but there was still much work to do.
Egyptian construction method. On the left, rough blocks are set in place and an earth embankment is raised. On the right, the embankment is being removed and the masons are smoothing down the walls.
The masons who quarried the blocks only smoothed down the tops and bottoms so they would fit neatly on the walls. The outer surfaces of the blocks were left rough. The next stage of construction was to remove the earth fill and ramps.
During this "one-way ride" to the ground, the masons carefully smoothed the walls down. Some blocks were too rough and had to be patched with plaster or cut back so that patch stones could be placed over them.
Modern painting showing sculptors and painters decorating the building before the earth fill has been removed. This theory is now outdated.
For many years, Egyptologists assumed that the sculptors were carving the scenes immediately after the masons smoothed the walls as the earth embankments and ramps were removed.
Recent research has shown that in the Hypostyle Hall and in other temples, the walls were not decorated until the last of the construction embankments were removed and the walls entirely smooth.
By following the historical chronology of the inscriptions, we can see that scaffolds must have been used. In the Karnak Hypostyle Hall, we know that Seti I carved his inscriptions first and that Ramesses II's reliefs are later, after Seti had died.
If the old theory was true, then Seti's inscriptions should be found on the upper half of all the walls and columns, with Ramesses II's being on the lower half. This is not what we see.
Seti's reliefs are found in the northern wing of the Hall with some in the northern part of the south wing. Ramesses II's reliefs are all in the south wing. Each king's reliefs are found from the base of the walls and columns to the top. The only way to explain this is if they used scaffolds.
Sculptors using a wooden scaffold to finish a colossal statue. From the Theban tomb of Rekhmire.
Scaffolding appears in a painting from the tomb of an 18th Dynasty official called Rekhmire. It is used to decorate a colossal statue of the king. The scene also shows the construction method using ramps and embankments.
The only part of the Hall to be decorated before the construction rams were dismantled was the clerestory. Since the clerestory was 24 meters (80 ft) off the ground, it made sense to inscribe it while the embankments provided a convenient way to reach it.
After that, scaffolding was used to decorate the columns, and again when Ramesses II later changed the decoration of the clerestory-- unless you believe he buried the whole building just to change some inscriptions!