The pyramids of Egypt are truly a wonder of architecture and engineering. The great pyramid of Giza is as tall as a 50-story building. Constructing a building like that today would be an impressive feat, to say nothing of building it thousands of years ago. The pyramids were constructed with the most rudimentary of tools. They stand today as a true testament to man's determination and ability.
Tools were archaic during the time that the pyramids were built. Conceptually, they were engineered to accomplish the same tasks as today's tools, but the resources available were limited. The ingenuity of the men of the time, however, is apparent. Something harder than stone was needed to break the stones. Gold and copper were the two available metal alloys at the time. Gold was too soft to break stone, so copper was used to make chisels and saws to break into the bedrock and cut stones. Copper was also used to make an adze, a piece with a wooden handle used to file and shape the stone. A rudimentary drill was also used. These were comprised of pointed copper with a wooden handle. A piece of wood was attached at the center in the shape of a cross, and it slid back and forth like a bow. This would spin the copper piece being used as a drill bit.
Stones were not only the building blocks being used to create pyramids, they served as important tools as well. The two main stone types used in construction were limestone and granite. Low-grade limestone was used in creating the inner walls, while smoother white limestone was used on the outer walls. It is believed that the lesser limestone was more readily available. In the case of the Great Pyramid, the fine white limestone is believed to have been quarried from as far as eight miles away. The key in making the stones was to use a tool of harder stone to get softer stone. Hammers or balls made of granite were used to break the softer limestone. Transporting the stones was another tricky task. Sleds of wood were employed, and animals or slaves would drag the sleds by straps to haul the massive stones.
Leveling and Lifting
The pyramids are truly a marvel of engineering. The sides of the Great Pyramid are so geometrically precise that they all rise at the exact same angle and line up perfectly with the four points on the compass. Leveling the ground to construct these pyramids was itself a challenge. Levels, as we know them, did not exist. The Egyptians knew, though, that water always settles to its own level. Channels were dug around the site and filled with water. When the water leveled, rocks and sand were used to fill in the channels. All of this was done as a "tool" in the same way we would use a level today. Ramps were crucial tools used in pyramid construction. With no elevators and even without the wheel for a pulley system, ramps had to be built and added as the pyramids grew higher and higher. The heavy stones would be dragged up the ramps.
- great pyramid of giza image by Sammy from Fotolia.com