For many centuries, limestone and sandstone were the predominant materials used by the ancient Egyptians. As their quarrying techniques improved, they turned to harder stones like granite and quickly learned how to quarry it.
Sooner or later, it became the most preferred type of stone for the building of monuments and obelisks as it had characteristics that promised it could withstand the tides of time. And thus, granite became the third most quarried material in Ancient Egypt, coming close to limestone and sandstone.
The focal point of quarrying when it comes to granite in Ancient Egypt was Aswan – a Southern city more than 900 miles away from Giza. How the Egyptians managed to transport the stone through such distances remains one of the greatest mysteries of the ancient world.
1. Granite quarrying in Ancient Egypt was originally done using stone pounders
2. The ancient stone hammers known as pounders were made from a hard stone called dolerite
3. Two-handed stone hammers were later created and used to knock out edges of excavated blocks
4. Experts consider this the sole method used by early Egyptians for shaping stones
5. The Dynastic Period saw the introduction of using fire and water as a method to weaken stone surfaces before processing
6. Workers hammered copper or bronze objects in natural stone cracks to widen the stone and set it apart from more easily
7. Stone blocks were detached using wood levers and splinters
8. Iron tools were first introduced around the 26th dynasty and replaced the old more primitive methods
9. Iron tools included chisels, wedges, sledgehammers, and picks
10. The chisel became the most used tool in Egyptian quarrying
Let’s summarize what we learned
Granite quarrying in ancient Egypt began in the most ancient periods of Egyptian civilization, but its extraction was extremely difficult with the presence of simple tools made again of stone.
Imagine that most of the spectacular ancient Egyptian monuments were built in the early dynastic period, and more advanced tools appeared almost at its end.
The extraction of granite began in the late pre-dynastic era or the beginning of Egyptian civilization, and the first iron tools for stone mining appeared around the 7th century BC.
And so, the early quarrying techniques involved pounding the base of the stone blocks in order to separate them into large pieces. This was done on hand using nothing but stone hammers made from dolerite. Hammers made from other similar materials have been discovered but dolerite was the predominant stone used.
Of course, the highest quality stone is never the one you see on the surface. In order to get to the deeper stone that was of the necessary quality, ancient Egyptians found a way to soften the stone using large fires. When the time came, they threw cold water on top of the glowing granite, thus, causing the first layers to crack and be easier to penetrate.
As you can see, ancient Egyptians knew a thing or two of simple chemistry although they likely did not see it this way.
Imagine how much the workers’ lives changed after the introduction of iron tools. The most significant invention – the chisel, should have made granite quarrying in ancient Egypt and the shaping of the blocks unimaginably easier than using hand-held stone tools. Moreover, chisels remain as useful to this day and are a mandatory tool for builders and construction workers in our modern world.
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