Among all of the types of folklore throughout the world, the stories and information surrounding ancient Egypt are incontrovertibly one of the more popular types. The civilization’s intricate and sophisticated societal rites, preservation of their people and their rich cultural history is the perfect breeding ground for constant global attention. In regards to this slightly arcane area of the world, philosophers, archaeologists and biologists have long found much to study, and a plethora of questions has been raised. Recently, answers as to how their world-renowned pyramids were built have surfaced: the builders for the ancient Egyptian pyramids likely used layers of clay and water to facilitate easier transportation of materials.
Sand will greet anyone at a waterfront, with its soft and shape-shifting properties beneath one’s feet. As people discover soon enough, usually at a very young age, sand can be constructed and almost becomes malleable when combined with the right amount of water. This gives it the option of being crafted in to a castle, tunnel, or essentially any other formation that one can conceive.
Based on recent analyses of the tomb paintings of Djehutihotep, researchers have noticed more clearly that ancient Egyptians seemed to have been using water more frequently in pyramid construction than was considered before. One of the paintings shows that as a wooden sledge is transporting a large statue, one of the leaders of the work is pouring a liquid out of a jar, which researchers have deemed was water.
Dr. Daniel Bonn, a lead researcher for this project and a professor of physics at the University of Amsterdam, reached his conclusion through a variety of methods. First, he noted that the type of jar seen being used in the painting indicated that it was a water jar. Secondly, Dr. Bonn and his associates created a small field test where they could experiment with nearly the same factors that ancient Egyptians faced.
Dr. Bonn’s team fashioned smaller sledges in trays of sand with weights ranging from a few kilograms to 100 grams. Their results showed that by watering the sand, each sledge was able to move forward with less force necessary for carrying it. Other research teams offered up the likelihood that ancient Egyptians also used clay to build their pyramids, allowing them to have multiple options for different constructional goals.
The director of Ancient Egypt Research Associates, Dr. Mark Lehner, has mentioned that he noticed thin layers of tafla clay underneath blocks that were abandoned while being moved to construction sites, and blocks that were left in place at monument sites. Since both clay and water are easily obtainable and free materials, this likely helped ancient Egyptian architects in maintaining low construction costs.
Dr. Lehner also commented that substances that are even finer than tafla clay, such as gypsum mortar, could have been used for the final movements of building blocks, where any measurements that were imprecise would have disrupted the entire calculation of a pyramid’s construction. Those who have documented the raw physical majesty of ancient Egypt’s pyramids have long popularized the fact that the pyramids were built so efficiently and tightly that not even a razor blade can be slid through two blocks.
Dr. Bonn closed out the majority of his studies and the sand-wetting experiment with the observation that sand stiffness is directly related to the friction force, when the ancient Egyptians were carrying blocks on their sledges. For now, the historically curious can rest easy, knowing that ancient Egyptian pyramid builders used the optimal force provided by wetting sand with water and clay. As for the next ancient Egyptian archival escapade, future researchers will have to find out.
By Brad Johnson