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Egyptologists Unlock Secret Of Pyramids’ Construction [audio extra]
A view of the Pyramids of Giza on the southwestern outskirts of Cairo. (Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images)

Egyptologists Unlock Secret Of Pyramids’ Construction [audio extra]

The recent discovery of a ramp in an ancient quarry might hold the key to how the ancient Egyptians built one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the World’

While studying Egyptian hieroglyphs at an ancient quarry about 300 km. (186 miles) south of Cairo, Egyptologists stumbled upon an intriguing find.

Members of the team noticed the remnants of a ramp and stairs dating back 4,500 years. They spotted postholes—holes dug deep into the ramp that would accommodate thick wooden pillars—which lined both sides of the stairs flanking the ramp.

Researchers now believe the postholes could be a key innovation allowing hundreds of ancient workers to build structures like the pyramids much more quickly than previously thought.

Workers wrapped ropes around the pillars protruding from the postholes—employing a rudimentary pulley system—to haul massive stone blocks on sleds up pyramids efficiently and at a much steeper gradient (20 percent or more) than once thought.

The discovery may very well put to rest a burning question that has given archeologists many sleepless nights: How did the ancient Egyptians, using primitive technologies to lift multi-ton blocks, build such towering pyramids?

Dr. Roland Enmarch, a senior lecturer in Egyptology at the University of Liverpool and the co-director of the project that made the discovery, told The Media Line his crew worked at the ancient quarry for some time.

“It was the most prestigious source in ancient times for the stone known as Egyptian alabaster, a milky white translucent stone which was much beloved to Egyptian civilization,” Enmarch said.

“What we’ve uncovered in our excavations is the trace of the ramp that led out of the open-cast quarry. And we removed the debris and rubbish on top of the rock-cut ramp.”

The team also uncovered stone-cut steps on both sides of the ramp, as well as cut postholes inside the steps, which would have held the wooden elements, he explained.

“Given that we can date this contraption to reign of King Cheops [who ruled from 2,589 to 2,566 BCE], the builder of the Great Pyramid at Giza—one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the World’—it is a reasonable inference that if this technology was being used at our quarry in his lifetime, similar technology may have been used in the construction of the Great Pyramid.”

Enmarch concluded that this ramp system “is an important part of the puzzle” to unlocking the secret of how the pyramids were constructed.

Dr. Penny Wilson, an Egyptologist at Durham University who was in touch with Enmarch about the find, told The Media Line that while the revelation is useful, it “wouldn’t necessarily stop discussion about various options that were available in terms of straight ramps or winding ones, as well as the kind of equipment available.”

Researchers have long assumed how things worked in ancient Egypt, she explained, but “it is always good to have the actual evidence for exactly why it was done. This would also feed into our more detailed understanding of Egyptian lifting technology and architectural practices,” Wilson added.

“It puts more meat on the skeleton of what we already have and understand, and it makes some of our suppositions a bit more solid,” she concluded.

Officials hope the discovery will help bolster Egypt’s struggling tourist sector. During the Arab Spring in 2011 and its aftermath, the number of visitors to the country sharply dropped, but has been recovering as of late.

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