Today, quarrymen cut and carve granite using saws with diamond-edged blades and steel chisels.
But ancient Egyptian quarrymen and stonemasons didn't have these modern tools. How, then, did they quarry and cut such clean lines in their obelisks and other monumental statuary?
To find out how ancient Egyptians quarried huge pieces of granite for their obelisks, i traveled to an ancient quarry in Aswan, located 500 miles south of Cairo. This is where the ancient Egyptians found many of the huge granite stones they used for their monuments and statues.
One of the most famous stones left behind is the Unfinished Obelisk, more than twice the size of any known obelisk ever raised. Quarrymen apparently abandoned the obelisk when fractures appeared in its sides. However, the stone, still attached to bedrock, gives important clues to how the ancients quarried granite.
Archeologist Mark Lehner, a key member of nova expedition, crouches in a granite trench that abuts one side of the Unfinished Obelisk. Lehner holds a piece of dolerite similar to the kind that he and others believe Egyptian quarrymen used to pound out the trench around the edges of the obelisk. They then lifted the pulverized granite dust out of the trenches with baskets. Evidence also exists that workers pounded underneath the obelisk until the monument rested on a thin spine.
Lehner says that huge levers were probably used to snap the obelisk from its spine, freeing it so it could be carved more finely and transported. Archeologists know that the ancient Egyptians had the skills to forge bronze and copper tools. Stonemason Roger Hopkins takes up a copper chisel, which works well when carving sandstone and limestone rock, to see if it might carve granite.
"We're losing a lot of metal and very little stone is falling off," observes Hopkins, which is hardly the desired result. Hopkins' simple experiment makes this much clear: The Egyptians needed better tools than soft bronze and copper chisels to carve granite. As a young man, Denys Stocks was obsessed with the Egyptians. For the past 20 years, this ancient-tools specialist has been recreating tools the Egyptians might have used. He believes Egyptians were able to cut and carve granite by adding a dash of one of Egypt's most common materials: sand.
"We're going to put sand inside the groove and we're going to put the saw on top of the sand," Stocks says. "Then we're going to let the sand do the cutting."
It does. The weight of the copper saw rubs the sand crystals, which are as hard as granite, against the stone. A groove soon appears in the granite. It's clear that this technique works well and could have been used by the ancient Egyptians
Hopkins' experience working with stone leads him to believe that one more ingredient, even more basic than sand, will improve the efficiency of the granite cutting: water. Water, Hopkins argues, will wash away dust that acts as a buffer to the sand, slowing the progress.
Adding water, though, makes it harder to pull the copper saw back and forth. While Hopkins is convinced water improves the speed of work, Stocks' measurements show that the rate of cutting is the same whether water is used or not. Besides cutting clean surfaces on their granite, the Egyptians also drilled cylindrical holes into their stones. A hole eight inches in diameter was found drilled in a granite block at the Temple of Karnak.
"Even with modern tools—stone chisels and diamond wheels—we would have a tough time doing such fine work in granite," says Hopkins.
Stocks was brought along to test his theories about how the cores were drilled. Inspired by a bow drill seen in an ancient Egyptian wall painting, Stocks designs a home-made bow drill. He wraps rope around a copper pipe that the Egyptians could have forged. Hopkins and Lehner then pull back and forth on the bow, which is weighted from above. The pipe spins in place, rubbing the sand, which etches a circle into the stone. With the assistance of the sand, the turning copper pipe succeeds in cutting a hole into the granite slab. With the aid of a bow drill and sand, the pipe has cut a circular hole into the stone. But how can the drillers get the central core out?
Stocks wedges two chisels into the circular groove. The core breaks off at its base. Stocks reaches in and plucks it out, leaving a hole behind not unlike the ones once cut by the Egyptians
If you want to visit the Granite Quarry in Aswan where the unfinished Obelisk still laying down in the bed rock please contact us :firstname.lastname@example.org
Half day tour to the Granite Quarry
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