How The Egyptian Pyramids Were Constructed
Pyramids were constructed by work gangs over a period of many years. The Pyramid Age spans over a thousand years, starting in the third dynasty and ending in the Second Intermediate Period. The Greek historian Herodotus was told that it took 100,000 men 20 years to build the Great Pyramid at Giza. Scholars today, however, think it may have been built by only 20,000 men over 20 years.
(Ramps were used to haul stone blocks on wooden sleds up the sides of the pyramids)
A pyramid’s large square base creates a very stable structure. A number of astronomical observations were used to precisely align its corners with the four cardinal points. Approximately eighty percent of the building materials are found in the lower half. This means that relatively few stone blocks were hauled to the upper levels. Since pyramids are solid, no walls or pillars were required to support the structure. Despite its simple design, a pyramid is an incredible engineering feat. Several theories attempt to explain how pyramids were constructed, but for now, the mystery has yet to be solved. One theory suggests that causeways were used to haul the stone blocks on wooden sleds up the side of the pyramids. The ramps were lubricated with water to reduce friction when hauling the blocks. As few as 10 men were needed to drag a stone block up a ramp. There may have been several ramps on each side of the pyramid at different levels, and a ramp may have been coiled around the pyramid as it grew in height. Once a stone blocks reached its desired level, wooden rockers may have been used to manoeuvre it into position. Another theory suggests that a wooden crane with a counterweight on one end may have been used to lift the blocks from one level to the next. This theory has been disputed, since the Egyptians did not have access to trees strong enough for this type of work. The enormous weight of the stone blocks would undoubtedly break a wooden crane before the blocks could be lifted. Another possibility involves the use of pulleys to hoist the blocks up the ramps and fulcrums to manipulate the blocks into place. Pulleys were used on ships at the time. The pyramids were probably not built by slaves because slave labour was not widely used in Egypt at the time. Peasant farmers, however, were required to spend a number of weeks working on construction projects. Since the fields were under water during the summer, wages earned in building the gigantic pyramids supplemented the family’s income. Pyramids did not stand alone; they were part of a funerary complex. The complex included a landing stage where boats docked, a mortuary temple, a processional causeway linking the mortuary temple to the pyramid, an open court, solar barks (buried beside the pyramid), and mastabas and smaller pyramids where the family of the king and nobles were buried.