In Brief

How were the pyramids built?

New discovery hints at much quicker construction process than previously thought

It is a question that has puzzled historians and archeologists for centuries: exactly how Ancient Egyptians created the pyramids more than 4,500 years ago?

Now, a chance discovery in an ancient quarry has brought experts a step closer to solving the mystery. Archaeologists researching ancient inscriptions at a site in Egypt’s Eastern Desert have discovered the remains of a system that included ramps, stairways and postholes that they believe was used to transport building materials.

“This system is composed of a central ramp flanked by two staircases with numerous post holes,” Yannis Gourdon, co-director of the joint mission at Hatnub, told Scientific American. “Using a sled which carried a stone block and was attached with ropes to these wooden posts, Ancient Egyptians were able to pull up the alabaster blocks out of the quarry on very steep slopes of 20% or more.” 

Although the theory that the Ancient Egyptians used ramps to move massive stones has already been put forward, the structure found by the Anglo-French team is significantly steeper than was previously supposed possible, reports The Guardian.

“The system we have discovered would allow more people to exert force at one time, so it means you would be able to exert more force and move the blocks more quickly,” fellow co-director Dr Roland Enmarch, senior Egyptology lecturer at the University of Liverpool, told the newspaper.

Using inscriptions found on the ramp, the team were able to date it to the reign of Pharaoh Khufu, who masterminded the Great Pyramid of Giza. Although there is no proof that the method was used to construct that monument, Enmarch said it was reasonable to suggest it might have been if the technique was known across Egypt.

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