New discovery sheds light on ancient quarrying technique

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Recent discoveries reveal how the ancient Egyptians moved stone blocks from the alabaster quarries of Hatnub, north of modern day Luxor, during the reign of King Khufu in the Fourth Dynasty.

Standing at 139 metres tall, the Great Pyramid was the world’s largest human-made structure for nearly 4000 years. However, it’s long stumped Egyptologists just how the Egyptians managed to transport the enormous blocks out of their quarries and across the desert.

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Now, archaeologists have discovered evidence of a sloped ramp with two sets of steps and numerous postholes on either side that they believe was used to help hoist alabaster blocks from the quarry via a sled. With the help of manpower and ropes, the wooden posts appear to have been used to leverage the sled uphill.

“The mission successfully discovered a unique system to pull and transfer the stone blocks from the bottom of the quarry after removing the debris used to cover it which can be dated to the reign of King Khufu of the Fourth Dynasty,” said Dr Yannis Gourdon, the archaeologist who directed the joint mission of the Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale and the University of Liverpool.

“The moving system consists of the central ramp surrounded by two set[s] of stairs contain[ing] pole holes which help lifting the alabaster stone block through at least 20 per cent coarse ramp,” he told the Luxor Times.

“There are at least 100 inscriptions discovered commemorating pharaonic expeditions to the alabaster quarries at Hatnub from the Old Kingdom to the New Kingdom.”

The primary construction material for the pyramids was limestone, but alabaster was used for flooring, as well as statuary and coffins. While it remains a mystery as to how the heavy limestone blocks were transported up the sides of the pyramids, the ramp system could provide some vital clues.