2 thoughts on “Egyptian Step Pyramids – How were they made?

  • August 27, 2010 at 10:16 am

    The pyramids of Egypt, among the largest constructions ever built by man, constitute one of the most potent and enduring symbols of Ancient Egyptian civilization. It is generally accepted by most archaeologists that they were constructed as burial monuments associated with royal solar and stellar cults, and most were built during the Old and Middle Kingdom periods.

    The earliest Egyptian pyramids were also step pyramids. During the Third Dynasty of Ancient Egypt (27th century BC), the architect Imhotep built Egypt’s first step pyramid, the Pyramid of Djoser, by building a series of six successively smaller mastabas (an earlier form of tomb structure), one atop of another. Later pharaohs, including Sekhemkhet and Khaba, built similar structures.

    However, by the time of the Fourth Dynasty, less than a century later, construction techniques had evolved to allow the emergence of the "true pyramid": with smooth, rather than stepped sides. The earliest smooth-sided pyramid, located at Meidum, started out as a step pyramid under Huni, but was converted into a true pyramid by Sneferu by the expedient of adding a layer of smooth casing stones over the stepped structure. Sneferu’s own later monuments, the Bent Pyramid and Red Pyramid at Dahshur, were the first true pyramids to be built as such from scratch, and it was with this innovation that the age of Egyptian stepped pyramids came to an end.

    Look above on the right for a picture of a step pyramid, a part of early Egyptian Architecture.

    Many varied estimates have been made regarding the workforce needed to construct the Great Pyramid. Herodotus, the Greek historian in the 5th century BCE, estimated that construction may have required 20,000 workers for 20 years. Recent evidence has been found that suggests the workforce was in fact paid[citation needed], which would require accounting and bureaucratic skills of a high order. Polish architect Wieslaw Kozinski believed that it took as many as 25 men to transport a 1.5-ton stone block. Based on this, he estimated the workforce to be 300,000 men on the construction site, with an enormous additional 60,000 off-site. 19th century Egyptologist William Flinders Petrie proposed that the workforce was largely composed not of slaves but of the rural Egyptian population, working during periods when the Nile river was flooded and agricultural activity suspended.[4] Egyptologist Miroslav Verner posited that the labor was organized into a hierarchy, consisting of two gangs of 100,000 men, divided into five zaa or phyle of 200 men each, which may have been further divided according to the skills of the workers.[5] Some research suggests alternate estimates to the accepted workforce size. For instance, mathematician Kurt Mendelssohn calculated that the workforce may have been 50,000 men at most, while Ludwig Borchardt and Louis Croon placed the number at 36,000. According to Verner, a workforce of no more than 30,000 was needed in the Great Pyramid’s construction.[4]

    A construction management study (testing) carried out by the firm Daniel, Mann, Johnson, & Mendenhall in association with Mark Lehner and other Egyptologists, estimates that the total project required an average workforce of 14,567 people and a peak workforce of 40,000. Without the use of pulleys, wheels, or iron tools, they surmise the Great Pyramid was completed from start to finish in approximately 10 years.[6] Their critical path analysis study reveals estimates that the number of blocks used in construction was between 2-2.8 million (an average of 2.4 million), but settles on a reduced finished total of 2 million after subtracting the estimated area of the hollow spaces of the chambers and galleries.[6] Most sources agree on this number of blocks somewhere above 2 million.[7] The Egyptologists’ calculations suggest the workforce could have sustained a rate of 180 blocks per hour (3 stones/minute) with ten hour work days for putting each individual block in place. They derived these estimates from construction projects that did not use modern machinery.[6] This study fails to take into account however, especially when compared to modern third world construction projects, the logistics and craftsmanship time inherent in constructing a building of nearly unparalleled magnitude with such precision, or among other things, the use of up to 60-80 ton stones being quarried and transported a distance of over 500 miles.

    In contrast, a Great Pyramid feasibility study relating to the quarrying of the stone was performed in 1978 by Technical Director Merle Booker of the Indiana Limestone Institute of America. Consisting of 33 quarries, the Institute is considered by many architects to be one of the world’s leading authorities on limestone. Using modern equipment, the study concludes:

    “Utilizing the entire Indiana Limestone industry’s facilities as they now stand [for 33 quarries], and figuring on tripling present average production, it would take approximately 27 years to quarry, fabricate and ship the total requirements.”
    Booker points out the time study assumes sufficient quantities of railroad cars would be available without delay or downtime during this 27 year period and does not factor in the increasing costs of completing the work.[8]

    The entire Giza Plateau is believed to have been constructed over the reign of five pharaohs in less than a hundred years. Beginning with Djoser who ruled from 2687-2667 BCE, three other massive pyramids were built – the Step pyramid of Saqqara (believed to be the first Egyptian pyramid), the Bent Pyramid, and the Red Pyramid. Also during this period (between 2686 and 2498 BCE) the Wadi Al-Garawi dam which used an estimated 100,000 cubic meters of rock and rubble was built.[9]

    The accepted values by Egyptologists bear out the following result: 2,400,000 stones used ÷ 20 years ÷ 365 days per year ÷ 10 work hours per day ÷ 60 minutes per hour = 0.55 stones laid per minute.

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  • August 17, 2011 at 4:47 am

    Could you please verify the validity or provide a source of the Merle Booker study Regarding Great Pyramid listed in the article?
    Any assistance in this endeavor will be greatly appreciated
    Thank you
    Jacob Boaz

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