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How the Ancient Egyptians (Should Have) Built the Pyramids

samzenpus posted about three weeks ago | from the build-it-better dept.

Science 202

KentuckyFC writes The Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt is constructed from 2.4 million limestone blocks, most about 2.5 tonnes but some weighing in at up to 80 tonnes, mostly sourced from local limestone quarries. That raises a famous question. How did the ancient Egyptians move these huge blocks into place? There is no shortage of theories but now a team of physicists has come up with another that is remarkably simple--convert the square cross section of the blocks into dodecadrons making them easy to roll. The team has tested the idea on a 30 kg scaled block the shape of a square prism. They modified the square cross-section by strapping three wooden rods to each long face, creating a dodecahedral profile. Finally, they attached a rope to the top of the block and measured the force necessary to set it rolling. The team say a full-sized block could be modified with poles the size of ships masts and that a work crew of around 50 men could move a block with a mass of 2.5 tonnes at the speed of 0.5 metres per second. The result suggests that this kind of block modification is a serious contender for the method the Egyptians actually used to construct the pyramids, say the researchers.

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Corroborating Hieroglyphics? (5, Informative)

SydShamino (547793) | about three weeks ago | (#47759529)

While the science may not be settled, the "drag on sled while someone wets the sand" method is corroborated with available records:
http://i.kinja-img.com/gawker-... [kinja-img.com]

http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2014... [gizmodo.com.au]

Re:Corroborating Hieroglyphics? (2)

i kan reed (749298) | about three weeks ago | (#47759607)

I think it's just that people love to go "If I didn't have modern tools, I could do that. Here's how:"

Re:Corroborating Hieroglyphics? (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47759629)

Everyone knows aliens built the pyramids.

Re:Corroborating Hieroglyphics? (4, Funny)

Jason Levine (196982) | about three weeks ago | (#47759749)

Well, yes and no. The aliens did build it, but they used cheap human labor for the grunt work. Sure, they could have just moved the giant blocks with their minds, but aliens are so lazy.

Re:Corroborating Hieroglyphics? (4, Informative)

jedidiah (1196) | about three weeks ago | (#47759801)

...and the Easter Island heads "walked" into place.

They actually could have. A team of scientists actually worked out how this could be done and did a trial run with one of the heads.

The "walked it" down one of the roads from the stone quarries.

Re:Corroborating Hieroglyphics? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47760379)

One small problem with that is many of the heads are actually full bodies, making moving them that bit harder.

Easter Island statue [mentalfloss.com]

Re:Corroborating Hieroglyphics? (1)

F34nor (321515) | about three weeks ago | (#47760397)

They also cut down the last tree on their island to make them and descended into cannibalism. Read Guns Germs and Steel and Collapse by Jared Diamond.

Re:Corroborating Hieroglyphics? (1)

F34nor (321515) | about three weeks ago | (#47760385)

No the Aliens came down fucked the monkeys.

Re:Corroborating Hieroglyphics? (5, Informative)

flyingfsck (986395) | about three weeks ago | (#47760089)

Anyone that actually lived in the middle east knows that sand is everywhere. They simply stacked the blocks while building up a sand pile around it, then eventually dug the sand away again, while dressing the stone from the top down to the bottom. There are actually some unfinished spots in Egypt where the tools of the trade and the gravel heaps surrounding the still partially dressed stone remained. There is no mystery about it in reality - only on TV.

Re:Corroborating Hieroglyphics? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47760147)

I don't see what the big deal is. You can store up to 64 blocks of any kind of stone in each inventory slot. It is trivially easy for one person to carry lots of these around. And to stack them.

Re:Corroborating Hieroglyphics? (5, Informative)

stjobe (78285) | about three weeks ago | (#47760265)

simply stacked the blocks

I think this is the part you mistakenly think is easy.

There's roughly 2.4 million stones in the Great Pyramid of Giza [wikipedia.org] , some of which weigh up to 80 tons. "Simply stacking" them is anything but.

Re:Corroborating Hieroglyphics? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47760459)

Yes, there must have been a lot of planning and some serious engineering talent at work in those days. Saying the pyramids were straightforward to build because all you had to do was stack limestone blocks is a little like saying building the Petronas tower is easy so long as you can move concrete and steel pieces, thus missing out on the enormous amount of work required before one single element of the building was put in place & the epic logistics required to stop the thing from falling to bits.

It is estimated the Great Pyramid was built in just over twenty years. So say 7500 days - which means placing 320 blocks a day assuming you work 365 days 24 hours a day. Pretty sure the Egyptians would be limited to daylight hours work, so they'd need to cut & move at least 500 blocks a day. Hence a massive workforce would be required and said massive workforce would have to be fed & policed, as well as trained in various disciplines. I've seen figures bandied about that the total workforce was only 25,000 people which seems insanely low.

Re:Corroborating Hieroglyphics? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47760683)

It's somewhat interesting that even back then, human productivity had got to the stage where such huge accomplishments were attainable. Now, our productivity is through the roof but the government just inflates the currency, gives it to their banker friends and they buy a mega-yacht instead.

Re:Corroborating Hieroglyphics? (4, Informative)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about three weeks ago | (#47760581)

some of which weigh up to 80 tons.

The average core stone weighs something like two tons. That's the majority of them. The humongous ones are a few granite pieces.

Re:Corroborating Hieroglyphics? (1)

F34nor (321515) | about three weeks ago | (#47760365)

Nope! They are poured concrete, and now we use the same method to make landing strips in Saudi for the first Gulf War. You can land a c130 on them 48 hrs later. Nova had him cast 5 blocks in place in 1 day with 5 men. With copper tools it takes like 6 months just to cut one block. Who cares how they moved them, how did they machine them? Geopolymer answers all those questions and more.

The Pharos were also they only ones on the planet that knew how to make beer. The labor was paid for in BEER! They had two teams peer day that would race to see who could complete more blocks. I have no proof but I think the winning team got MORE BEER!

http://www.geopolymer.org/arch... [geopolymer.org]

Re:Corroborating Hieroglyphics? (1)

geekoid (135745) | about three weeks ago | (#47760749)

Doesn't mean they were formed in place.
Of course, a new valid theory about them seems to co out every decade, with little followup.

Re:Corroborating Hieroglyphics? (3, Informative)

Livius (318358) | about three weeks ago | (#47760465)

Basic fact that any hypothesis needs to allow for:

Dragging things across sand is easy.

Rolling things on sand is hard.

Re:Corroborating Hieroglyphics? (1)

meerling (1487879) | about three weeks ago | (#47760477)

And don't forget this article.
http://phys.org/news/2014-04-ancient-egyptians-pyramid-stones-sand.html

Re:Corroborating Hieroglyphics? (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about three weeks ago | (#47760549)

Certainly not, because "hieroglyphic" is not a noun. Perhaps you meant "hieroglyphs"?

So, is there any shred of EVIDENCE? (1)

jeffb (2.718) (1189693) | about three weeks ago | (#47759539)

This is very interesting, and maybe that's good enough. But isn't there some evidence of what method they might have used? Wood fragments? Tracks? Tools?

I'm asking this as a completely naive onlooker. I'm sure there is research on this spanning hundreds of years; anyone want to provide a quick summary?

Re:So, is there any shred of EVIDENCE? (5, Funny)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about three weeks ago | (#47759589)

Well, this method comes from physicists. So one can assume that whatever they used, it was perfectly spherical.

Problem solved.

Re:So, is there any shred of EVIDENCE? (2)

iggymanz (596061) | about three weeks ago | (#47759865)

Assume a pyramid worker is cow with a perfectly spherical body.....

Re:So, is there any shred of EVIDENCE? (1)

TheCarp (96830) | about three weeks ago | (#47760119)

That is absolutely preposterous. However, if you model the stone blocks as frictionless point masses.....

String Theorists (4, Insightful)

Roger W Moore (538166) | about three weeks ago | (#47760139)

Well, this method comes from physicists.

Clearly string theorists since, according to the summary, it creates a "dodecadron" cross-section. So having a cross-section somewhere between a 2D dodecagon and a 3D dodecahedron it clearly relies on converting the block into some multi-dimensional object with a strangely dimensioned cross-section.

Re:So, is there any shred of EVIDENCE? (1)

poetmatt (793785) | about three weeks ago | (#47759709)

No, it's not really interesting. It's settled science that wetting the sand and dragging the sled is how it was done. This is in the OP. It's not a question.

Re:So, is there any shred of EVIDENCE? (2)

jeffb (2.718) (1189693) | about three weeks ago | (#47759751)

Yeah, I guess I should've just shut up and waited for others to comment.

Re:So, is there any shred of EVIDENCE? (1)

Sarius64 (880298) | about three weeks ago | (#47759971)

I love settled science! BTW, how does this method designed for 2.5 ton blocks scale to 80 ton blocks?

Re:So, is there any shred of EVIDENCE? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47760327)

And not forgetting raising some of said blocks to a height of 400 feet. If you set out a ramp to go up it'd be bigger than the actual pyramid. There's a theory they used an internal ramp built up as the pyramid was constructed but mainstream archaeologists haven't taken much notice.

Re:So, is there any shred of EVIDENCE? (4, Interesting)

Gorobei (127755) | about three weeks ago | (#47759795)

For most blocks, they just strapped four quarter-circle cradles around the stone and rolled them up earthen ramps using ropes. The remains of the ramps still exist around some pyramids, and some original cradles are on display in the Cairo museum. Pretty much considered solved by the archeologists; it's just armchair physicists who want to invent problems and propose new solutions.

Re:So, is there any shred of EVIDENCE? (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | about three weeks ago | (#47760127)

Yup, as I posted above, there are places in Egypt where buildings were left unfinished and it is clear that they simply dragged the stones over sand. Basically they buried the building site in sand and later dug it out again, while dressing the stone from the top down. It is easy to do if you have enough people and time on your hands and they had those aplenty.

Re:So, is there any shred of EVIDENCE? (2)

careysub (976506) | about three weeks ago | (#47760229)

This is very interesting, and maybe that's good enough. But isn't there some evidence of what method they might have used? Wood fragments? Tracks? Tools?

I'm asking this as a completely naive onlooker. I'm sure there is research on this spanning hundreds of years; anyone want to provide a quick summary?

How about the edges of the stone blocks that would have rotated about 500 times on their way to the pyramid? There should be systematic chipping on the edges of all of the blocks if this was used. Also, this method of movement looks suspiciously like a wheel, which Egypt did not get until many centuries after the great pyramids were constructed. In a pre-wheel culture this mode of transport might not be at all evident.

Re:So, is there any shred of EVIDENCE? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47760663)

A wheel requires an axle and bearings, and that's the complicated part. Making something that is round roll with no axle or bearing being required is much easier.

They made the blocks into wheels (5, Informative)

myowntrueself (607117) | about three weeks ago | (#47759553)

http://www.ling.upenn.edu/~jas... [upenn.edu]

using wooden 'cradles' shaped like circle segments, 'wrapped' around each end of the block making them a lot easier to roll than the proposition in this article.

Re:They made the blocks into wheels (2)

justthinkit (954982) | about three weeks ago | (#47759815)

I came up with a similar theory. Except I think they then rolled them up the side [youtube.com] of the partially completed pyramid (since it was covered with a white limestone fascade).

Re:They made the blocks into wheels (2)

Artifakt (700173) | about three weeks ago | (#47759933)

Cradles have actually been found in archaological excavations, as the original article mentions. However, it also says the cradles as found don't have holes for ropes to tie them around the blocks, so we could be looking at a not very efficient design, for example one where the 'cradels" were really rockers which lay loose on the ground, and the workers have to keep building chains of rockers ahead of the blocks, piching up the trail or frockers as the block is moved, etc., or there's something we are missing, or the Egyptians didn't use these things for moving blocks (that last possibility seems really odd since the size of a cradle's straight edge seems to match really well with the correspondiing edge of the blocks). There's just enough ambiguity that professionals don't want to say the question is totally answered. The cradles actually found also don't really explain how bigger blocks, such as the 50 ton+ ones used to form the vaults over the inner chambers, and various statues and pylons were moved, but they could in principle. maybe someday, somebody will find some bigger cradles that match other objects equally well...

I'm going to propose the cradles were assembled around the blocks into rollers, but they were glued on. I have no evidence for that last, but what the hell.
I'd also like to point out, wood is somewhat scarce in that particular environment, and wooden items have both a low rate of preservation over archeological time and a high rate in post-dynastic days of getting burnt for fuel by people who didn't care about old stuff unless they could sell it, so we may never find ways to settle this question.
     

Re:They made the blocks into wheels (1)

myowntrueself (607117) | about three weeks ago | (#47760083)

I don't think they need holes, the rope could go around the rim of the 'wheel' forming a kind of tire.

Re:They made the blocks into wheels (3, Insightful)

careysub (976506) | about three weeks ago | (#47760329)

Did you read this article you linked to? It refutes this theory:

"However, even though this method is feasible and workable, it is unlikely that the GP's builders used it. The segments used by Bush had holes drilled into them to accommodate ropes which held the segments onto the block, yet none of the ancient segments found have such holes in them. How these alternative proposals fail is most clearly seen by considering the extreme case. Neither theory accounts for the movement of the fifty-ton granite slabs used in constructing the internal chambers of the GP. Considering the immense size of these monoliths, the flexible pole method would be rendered even more awkward. Forward motion would be extremely tedious--assuming that these monoliths could even be lifted by this method. Bush's idea would also be problematic. The dimensions of these slabs are not uniform, so each slab would have needed specialized circle segments. The largest monolith is about 27' x 4' x 8' at its ends.

The key failing of the cradle and the (actually extremely similar) pole theory is that it does not explain how they moved the far larger slabs that were not square blocks.

Also we have actual evidence of their methods - dragging on sledges. We have sledges, sledge tracks, and pictures of giant statues being dragged on sledges. They took the time to draw us a diagram, and people still look for other answers.

Re:They made the blocks into wheels (1)

Dins (2538550) | about three weeks ago | (#47760441)

It's also more or less refuted in TFA:

Another theory is that the Egyptians attached quarter circle rockers to the flat surfaces of the blocks effectively turning them into cylinders and allowing them to be rolled. Experiments have shown that this method allows the blocks to be moved relatively quickly with just a few men.

But this method also has a disadvantage— these cylinders would exert huge pressure on the ground causing considerable damage to roads. Modern estimates of the rate at which the pyramid was built suggest that workers put in place some 40 blocks per day. In that case, even well-engineered roads would have required considerable maintenance.

If you like damaged blocks ... (3, Interesting)

oneiros27 (46144) | about three weeks ago | (#47759559)

Their 'rolling' method is going to damage the corners of the blocks, and the surface of the path it rolls on.

Now, it's possible that the blocks were finished on site, and so they could use this trick to move the blocks from the quary to the worksite ... but it shouldn't be used to move finished blocks into their final location.

(and then you've got to roll all of the logs back to the quary ... assuming they're strong enough to survive this process ... which probably isn't as much work as what's needed for moving the stones, but it cuts into your energy savings ... as does transporting larger stones so you can finish them once they're at the worksite)

How did they build the pyramids (4, Insightful)

fermion (181285) | about three weeks ago | (#47759577)

Nice Explaination: Lots of beer and bread

Not so Nice:Whips and violence

Some of the confusion seems to come from an unwillingness to accept that humans can be very self absorbed and mean. While some form of simple machinery must have been used, the basic resource for the pyramids was an expendable supply of labor. People tend to accept harder or more dangerous work if that is the life they know. We saw that recently in coal mining disaster where many people died because the owners did not have a practice of clearing the mine between shift changes. It increases profits and make coal cheaper, but is a huge risk to the workers. Raising the pyramids was probably not different.

Re:How did they build the pyramids (3, Interesting)

i kan reed (749298) | about three weeks ago | (#47759645)

Oh, no, we have more than enough historical evidence to know that Khufu was an absolute asshole to his people. At least a couple different almost contemporary historians wrote about it. That Khufu was a vile tyrant isn't something that has a lot of denial.

Re:How did they build the pyramids (0)

geekoid (135745) | about three weeks ago | (#47759777)

No, there isn't.

Re:How did they build the pyramids (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about three weeks ago | (#47759831)

Yeah, I mean Herodotus is biased, but his isn't the only account that suggests that.

Re:How did they build the pyramids (1)

careysub (976506) | about three weeks ago | (#47760393)

Yeah, I mean Herodotus is biased, but his isn't the only account that suggests that.

It isn't that Herodotus was biased, it is that he really did not know anything at all about Khufu, who had lived 2000 years earlier. Herodotus was simply passing on the sorts of tales that travelers hear about events that occurred thousands of years earlier in a culture where historical scholarship as we think of it was unknown.

Re:How did they build the pyramids (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about three weeks ago | (#47760337)

Watch out, the "ends justify the means" crowd will be here shortly talking about how magnificent the pyramids are and how long they have lasted.

The graveyards of bodies [hawaii.edu] are a small price to pay for such greatness!

Re:How did they build the pyramids (3, Interesting)

Livius (318358) | about three weeks ago | (#47760491)

The labour was not expendable. When the River Nile floods and your whole population is 1) homeless and 2) unemployed, and public works projects in the desert start to sound like very good ideas, but you needed that labour in good condition to return to the farms once the annual flood ended.

Stupid theory... (5, Interesting)

internet-redstar (552612) | about three weeks ago | (#47759591)

They where moved by irrigation.
the flats around the pyramids are perfectly flat. And where flooded with water when the Nile was at a yearly peak.
The water was trapped inside. The fence to keep the water inside is still standing
A corridor in the middle towards the pyramid was build and had dams to move the ships upward
The signs of the dam plates are still there in the corridors
The pyramid itself was a water basin, with the outside walls keeping the water inside
That's why they are all perfectly level
The ships moved the bricks in and lowered them to fill the pyramid. as a result the water rises.
However, water evaporates, and the movement of the ships upwards needs a water displacement at least equal to the mass moved up
So the ancient egyptians left clues everywhere to explain how they did it: everywhere, in the tombs in the pyramids, and even in New Kingdom in the Valley of the Kings, they drew how they accomplished it: by carrying buckets of water on their head.
That's how they build the pyramids; by putting water in the top of the pyramid, till all the ships with the stones where there.
Now, was that so hard to figure out? Stupid archeologists!

Re:Stupid theory... (2)

DocSavage64109 (799754) | about three weeks ago | (#47759925)

I can't tell if this is a troll or real...

Re:Stupid theory... (2)

PeterM from Berkeley (15510) | about three weeks ago | (#47760163)

It's exactly what he says it is, a stupid theory, and he knows it!
I don't know HOW he got a +5 interesting moderation on it!

At most a +3 funny.

I mean, can you IMAGINE the dam structure you'd need to create a pool of water deep enough to float a block of stone to the top of the pyramid? Hint, it'd dwarf the pyramid!

Now, for getting the BASE of the pyramid really flat, yeah, a big shallow pool of water might have helped a lot with that, but anything above it? Not so much!

--PM

Re:Stupid theory... (1)

ultranova (717540) | about three weeks ago | (#47760349)

I mean, can you IMAGINE the dam structure you'd need to create a pool of water deep enough to float a block of stone to the top of the pyramid? Hint, it'd dwarf the pyramid!

Not really. Remember, the pyramid gets less wide towards the top. So your dam walls only need to be higher than one layer of stones: after a layer of is finished, move the walls on top of its outer edge and refill. Sure, you need a system of levees to get the ships to the lake at the top of the growing pyramid, but that's okay: it can just rest against the pyramid wall. 45 degree rise is no problem if you can move weight one bucket at a time.

And if you use windmills to pump the water, you don't even need all that much human labour.

Re:Stupid theory... (4, Funny)

geekoid (135745) | about three weeks ago | (#47760787)

", the pyramid gets less wide towards the top. "
That's what I've been doing wrong!

Re:Stupid theory... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47760353)

By dams I think he means locks, as in a canal.

Re:Stupid theory... (1)

evilviper (135110) | about three weeks ago | (#47760567)

Time-cube meets ancient Egypt...

Obligatory D & D joke (1)

Naatach (574111) | about three weeks ago | (#47759601)

+12 stonemasonry?

Re:Obligatory D & D joke (1)

Jason Levine (196982) | about three weeks ago | (#47759679)

Obviously, they had their slaves roll for initiative. The ones who didn't have good initiative were stationed in FRONT of the giant stone dice.

Not all the blocks (3, Interesting)

Lorens (597774) | about three weeks ago | (#47759603)

Saw a television documentary where they showed some blocks that seemed to have been poured like concrete, complete with marks of wooden crating. See http://www.visual--media.com/w... [visual--media.com] and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E... [wikipedia.org]

Re:Not all the blocks (1)

datapharmer (1099455) | about three weeks ago | (#47759847)

Yep. Saw this too and it passes the KISS test. Not sure why everyone thinks they were hauling giant boulders around.

Wrong (3, Funny)

lucm (889690) | about three weeks ago | (#47759605)

The Egyptians did not move those blocks into place. They did like those companies we know and admire, they made plans and outsourced the backbreaking work to unscrupulous partners in countries where labor is cheap and workers safety is not a priority. And then pretended they were not aware of the abysmal work conditions in the pyramid factories.

I'm pretty sure that if someone was to raise the pyramid there would be a Made in China label at the bottom.

Re:Wrong (1)

Jason Levine (196982) | about three weeks ago | (#47759691)

I know that was a joke, but at the time the cheap labor and no worker safety was right there. Why outsource when slaves will do anything you tell them to do? (Or else!) As for worker safety? Who cares if a few dozen slaves get worked to death? They're cheap enough to replace.

Re:Wrong (1)

geekoid (135745) | about three weeks ago | (#47759793)

Evidence at this time indicates it wasn't done by slaves.

Re:Wrong (1)

Stormy Dragon (800799) | about three weeks ago | (#47759863)

When you have an absolute monarch, the entire population is slaves for practical purposes, even if they're not formally slaves in the sense we mean the word today.

Re:Wrong (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | about three weeks ago | (#47759693)

We're talking 2500BCE here; the stamp would say "Made in Sumer" (or possibly "Made in Armenia"). This is waaay pre-Ghengis.

Of course, during this period, it could also have said "Made in Pakistan," "Made in Crete" or "Made in Peru."

Nobody else would have had the ability to handle the outsourcing (let alone S&R).

Re:Wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47760429)

Why would a label made in 2500BCE be written in English?

Slave labor is still the best explanation (5, Funny)

physicsphairy (720718) | about three weeks ago | (#47759653)

Surely the physicists should have just made their grad students move them?

Re:Slave labor is still the best explanation (4, Informative)

i kan reed (749298) | about three weeks ago | (#47759759)

Regarding slave labor:

"Slave" is a hard term to use. It evokes American chattel slavery, where on person owns another, and we're more likely talking about agricultural workers(peasants) who didn't have work to do during the floods of the nile.

In ancient Egypt, the food reserves were controlled by the temples and thus by priests and other upper class members of society.

So there was a socially powerless labor class, and a means to control them. Certainly they also had force, but it wasn't the "main" means of control. The line between "peasant" and "slave" in ancient societies is a vague one.

Re:Slave labor is still the best explanation (2)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about three weeks ago | (#47759875)

Sounds a lot like the meaning of "wage slave."

We're not so honest with our labels these days.

Re:Slave labor is still the best explanation (1)

jedidiah (1196) | about three weeks ago | (#47760289)

Slave is a pretty accurate term for that arrangement. It also works for midieval European peasants too.

Re:Slave labor is still the best explanation (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about three weeks ago | (#47760331)

I was just trying to say that being clear helps.

If it helps, Marx would agree with you.

Re:Slave labor is still the best explanation (1)

careysub (976506) | about three weeks ago | (#47760417)

...The line between "peasant" and "slave" in ancient societies is a vague one.

I would put it this way - the concept of a "free man" did not exist.

Re:Slave labor is still the best explanation (2)

Artifakt (700173) | about three weeks ago | (#47760539)

Working on a crew may have been an option the workers got to choose (here's why):
1. When a government taxes peasants, it's sometimes awkward to use the revenues. Imagine you are the guy who has to actually process the payments from a lot of really poor farmer types. Peasants may only be able to pay you with a share of their harvest. If they can't hand you gold coins, or anything easily stored and lasting, you end up having to sell their wheat or whatever to get the taxes into a form you can use.You have limited time to do this before the wheat rots in place. If there's not a lot of durable goods in the hands of the average Joe, and every time you insist on being paid in something easy to handle, it just drives up the price for those things, there gets to be times when nothing the peasants can pay you in is worth collecting.
2. Those same peasants work hard in harvest seasons, but they have idle time in other seasons. In a place like Egypt, where there isn't a real cold season, you can put that idle time to working seasons where the peasants don't have all that much else to do. Wars work for that, but if you get a war started, it may keep going until next planting season (This is serious - it keeps being a factor all the way up to the US civil war. Even that late in history, farming season was still an argument for people who's hitch was up and didn't think they should be delayed mustering out because they needed to get back home to help with the crops).
3. So you need to have a work project that can be stopped when planting and harvest seasons come on, and restarted without much waste, and that the peasants and craftsmen can both contribute to. This way, when all the granaries are full, you can offer people a chance to work off their taxes instead of paying them off in goods. You make the work just easy enough that it looks like a good deal compared to a share of the wheat, animals, and such the farmers raise, give the craftsmen shorter hours or some other perks for making stuff for the project, and you also gain having peasants that are trained to think they have to pay their taxes one way or another. How hard you work the peasants depends in large part on just how many of them you want to take the pay-in-work option instead of the pay-in-goods option - that means you really can't work them as hard as slaves, or too many will pick the pay-in-goods option, but if you make it a token duty, they'll all pick pay-in-work, and you don't want that either, so you set up a system where you pass out some prizes for best team, bonuses in beer, and such so just the right percentage pick work.

It's technically better than slavery. In fact, it's a precurser to modern wage slavery. The Egyptians practically invented giving people a token reward that makes them feel they are doing better than being slaves, but doesn't cost all that much, AND finding something more controllable than a war to occupy the masses idle time.

Re:Slave labor is still the best explanation (1)

hendrips (2722525) | about three weeks ago | (#47760545)

Careful though - what you say is pretty much correct as far as I know for Old Kingdom Egypt, but it's not universally true of ancient cultures.

In Rome, for instance, the distinction between slave and citizen-peasant was a Really Big Deal, with a whole host of legally enforced distinctions.

Sometimes it even varied within a single civilization - in the Byzantine Empire, the Anatolian lower classes did indeed form a single amorphous serf-like peasantry of the type you describe, while the European portion of the Empire maintained much stricter protections for the free lower classes, maintaining the tradition of their Roman predecessors.

A little late (4, Funny)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about three weeks ago | (#47759685)

Isn't this suggestion for a design modification just a little late?

Re:A little late (1)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47759803)

It could come in handy if we end up in a post-apocalyptic state where the class divide is even larger than it is now.

Casting bricks in place? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47759703)

I haven't spent any time looking into it, but I wonder if the giant blocks are man-made bricks, and if they made the bricks in place. They'd just need to bring buckets of sand, water and whatever else is needed to form the brick, and then move onto the next one. By the time you work your way around, the other bricks may have dried enough to build a brick on top.

Re:Casting bricks in place? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47759765)

Did you even read the summary? The first sentence specifically says what the blocks are made out of: quarried limestone.

Re:Casting bricks in place? (1)

Stormy Dragon (800799) | about three weeks ago | (#47759895)

Limestone is a segimentary rock. Are we sure they didn't quarry limestone aggregate that just turned into limestone blocks because of all the weight on top of them for hundreds of years?

Re:Casting bricks in place? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47760341)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Davidovits

Re:Casting bricks in place? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47760517)

Awesome, thank you!

Re:Casting bricks in place? (1)

F34nor (321515) | about three weeks ago | (#47760537)

Yep they were poured in place. Soft limestone, natron salt, fly ash, and water. Portable stone. They also used it to make thousands of identical stone vases.

Better idea (1)

Flavianoep (1404029) | about three weeks ago | (#47759715)

Instead of using men's force, the Egyptians *should* have invented the steam machine, then made railroads, steam powered convoys and steam powered cranes. That would be the way to do it all!

Re:Better idea (1)

iggymanz (596061) | about three weeks ago | (#47759823)

Egyptians *should* have invented the steam machine

Actually, they did.

Re:Better idea (1)

hendrips (2722525) | about three weeks ago | (#47760653)

Well yeah, but that was long after the pyramids had already been built.

It's really hard to get a proper sense of how long-lasting and unchanging ancient Egyptian civilization was. Ctesibius probably invented the aeolipile steam engine sometime around 250 BC in Alexandria. The first Egyptian pyramid was built ca. 2700 BC, and the last pyramids were completed ca. 1750 BC.

Hindsight is 20/20 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47759833)

'nuff said.

Is it so hard to say "Dodecagon"? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47759871)

So far I've heard "dodecadron", "dodecahedral", "dodecahedrons", et al.

The profile is a DODECAGON!

Re:Is it so hard to say "Dodecagon"? (2)

Megane (129182) | about three weeks ago | (#47760209)

You were expecting medium.com to know the difference between a polygon and a polyhedron?

And for the plebs who still don't know what we're talking about:

Dodecagon [wikipedia.org] Dodecahederon [wikipedia.org]

It's not that difficult (5, Interesting)

rabtech (223758) | about three weeks ago | (#47759903)

Anyone remember that guy who was moving Stonehenge size concrete blocks around his back yard and erecting them in place, single-handedly? To stand them upright he would fill the pit with loose sand and slope one side of the pit, then he kept dumping water in. The mud was soft enough to be compressed and ejected from the pit as the stone slowly sank into place.

If you counter-balance the blocks you can move them fairly easily with just a few people. Or put them on a sled and use logs to roll them. Or flood the basin using Nile flood water and float them into place.

It doesn't take super-geniuses or fancy technology, it just takes dedication and some manpower.

These dumb "How did the Egyptians do it?!?!?!" stories are highly annoying. They did it first and foremost by deciding they were going to do it, trying and failing several times, then perfecting their techniques. Same damn way we got to the moon. The hardest part is step 1.

Re:It's not that difficult (0)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47760151)

Yet noone recently has been able to move a 50 tonne block using things available at that time and place.

Re:It's not that difficult (0)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47760303)

Years ago I remember watching a TV program about how they might have set obelisks on their bases. There was much building of chambers with sand, people nearly drowning in said sand and all manner of hilarity. The hard work was done by a group of Egyptian laborers. Finally, at the end, they let the foreman of the laborers try his idea. So he set up a couple of simple A frames, and had it up an hour later with the aid of some ropes, perfectly placed on the base (which was supposed to be the impossible part). It was pretty funny that the experts had apparently missed the simple answer (not that simple answers always work).

In a similar vein, you can plan apparently complex stone circles and other such things with a few bits of rope, some stakes, and some lime to mark things out, allowing you to bisect angles, draw elipses and so on.

Re:It's not that difficult (1)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47760431)

Stonehenge reloaded.

here is a link.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-K7q20VzwVs
 
All it takes to build things like stonehenge and Göbekli Tepe is a will, a little ingenuity and a lot of labor. Anyone who refuses to believe that Humans built all those ancient wonders is insulting all our ancestors by saying they were too stupid to figure out how to do something cool. Hell, i remember hearing one nutjob saying there was no way humans could have invented gunpowder without help from aliens because the earliest recorded recipes had the ratios of the ingredients nearly perfect. The only thing that has changed in the last 50,000+ years is that now Humanity has a better idea how the Universe works. If you took a baby from some Neolithic tribe and gave them a modern education they wouldn't have any more trouble with it than the rest of "modern" humans in the classes.

Re:It's not that difficult (1)

evilviper (135110) | about three weeks ago | (#47760533)

It doesn't take super-geniuses or fancy technology, it just takes dedication and some manpower.

More technology can dramatically reduces the time and manpower needed. With the technology they had, it's hard to figure out how they made the huge structures they did, with the numbers of people they had, in the time-frame they had to do it.

The Egyptian pyramids are a much harder problem than something small like stone-henge. It's the difference between someone building a wagon in their garage, and an assembly line turning out automobiles. There are strict limits on how much time they had, how many people could possibly have been on-site, and with the limited technology they had, the numbers just don't seem to add-up to make what they did, possible.

Re:It's not that difficult (1)

F34nor (321515) | about three weeks ago | (#47760553)

I said it above somewhere but moving them is only one small problem with the quarried limestone theory. It takes 6 months with copper tools to cut each block.

Why dodecawhetever? (2)

tomhath (637240) | about three weeks ago | (#47759935)

It seems to me that if they used a bigger log in the center the profile would have more sides, making it easier to roll. I still wouldn't want to be the guy who pushes it up the side of the pyramid though.

It RAISES the question, godammit! (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about three weeks ago | (#47760039)

That raises a famous question.

No it bloody doesn't, it raises a...

Oh, wait. Carry on.

Two possible problems (1)

Dracos (107777) | about three weeks ago | (#47760113)

I see two possible flaws in this theory.

First, if the attached rods are wood, wouldn't there be a limit to how much the block could weigh before crushing the rods?

If the resulting dodecagon utilizes the block's original four edges among its vertices, wouldn't they suffer some damage while being rolled? If those edges are capped in some way to protect them, we inevitably return to #1 regarding the edge caps.

Dodecagons, not dodeca-something (2)

ebcdic (39948) | about three weeks ago | (#47760135)

They are not "dodecadrons", nor are they dodecahedral. They have a cross-section which is a dodecagon.

Stupid, stupid, STUPID (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47760169)

Everyone knows that the pyramids were made by the Egyptians, who were as as black as the blackest Africans. If you want to know how the pyramids were built, ask a true Egyptian; they can be found all over the continent, and their genetic knowledge has been transferred to all of African descent. To solve the riddle, just ask a black man. :) We know the ancient secrets. The white man is too stupid to comprehend the magnificence of our species.

They Used Water to Wet the Sand (2)

Zamphatta (1760346) | about three weeks ago | (#47760179)

Rolling the stones as huge cylinders would've been cool but they used water to wet the sand, which reduced friction. There's even some hieroglyphs that show it being done. Was big news back in the spring. See:

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