An artists recreation of the scene depicted inside the tomb of Djehutihotep . Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0.

Wet Sand and Wooden Sledges: Is This How Ancient Egyptians Moved Massive Stones?

Mainstream experts say that the ancient Egyptians moved massive stones weighing several hundred tons across the desert with no more than wooden sleds and wet sand. 

How did the ancient Egyptians manage to move supermassive blocks of stone across vast distances without technology?

Thousands of years ago, ancient civilizations across the globe built truly massive structures. No matter where we decide to look, we find ancient monuments that date back to when history was not even written yet. How these massive structures were built is a discussion subject to debate among experts, authors, and theorists.

One example is ancient Egypt.

There, we will find truly gigantic monuments that were built more than 4,700 years ago.

Not only are ancient Egypt’s pyramids a mind-boggling architectural phenomenon that has remained unexplained for decades, but many other monuments—temples as well as statues across the country—have drawn the attention of experts like a magnet.

The history of Egypt was written in stone.

When it comes down to ancient Egyptian pyramids, the transportation of the massive stones used in their construction and their construction are two of the most puzzling subjects.

These gigantic structures are so impressive that already in ancient times, people were left awestruck by their existence.

Roman writer Pliny the Elder, who condemned eh pyramids as an “ideal and foolish exhibition or Royal wealth,” found much to wonder at when studying the monuments.

He wrote: “The most curious question is how the stones were raised to such a great height.”

This is by far one of the most asked questions when it comes to the pyramids of Egypt.

Regrettably, and for reasons we are still unable to understand, not one ancient text dating back to the time when pyramids were built in Egypt has been recovered by experts.

Scholars argue that the first pyramid of Egypt is that of King Djoser.

The Step pyramid of Saqqara is believed to have been built around 4,700 years ago and came entirely abruptly, forever changing the history of ancient Egyptian architecture.

The 6-tier 4-sided structure is the earliest colossal stone building in Egypt.

It is an imposing structure, one that is considered being the earliest large-scale cut stone production.

An image of Djoser's Step Pyramid at Saqqara. Shutterstock.

Although the Step pyramid of Djoser is not the biggest pyramid Egypt would have, it still is mindboggling since the social implications of such a massive and carefully sculpted stone structure are without a doubt staggering.

Djoser essentially introduced stone building architecture to Egypt, and the monuments that would follow the Step Pyramid of Saqqara were only bigger and more complex.

Precisely therein lies the mystery. As larger buildings were built, the largest and heavier stones were needed. How did the ancient Egyptian transport the massive stones?

Without the help of modern technology, the ancient Egyptian civilization apparently moved massive stone blocks weighing several tons to build the pyramids with ease.

Somehow, the ancient Egyptians would go on to transport stone blocks ranging from several tons to several hundred tons in weight.

Despite the achievement of transporting such massive blocks, they apparently did not find much need to record how this was done.

Isn’t that strange?

How the ancient Egyptians moved massive stones

Despite the lack of descriptions, blueprints, and traces of “technology,” mainstream researchers say that it was achieved in the most primitive of ways, and it comes all down to friction.

Scholars maintain that the ancient Egyptians would transport their massive stone blocks across vast distances crossing rivers and desert sands. They would essentially quarry a massive block of stone and then just “sleds” to transport it to the desired destination.

However, transporting anything across the desert is challenging. Now imagine having to haul a 2.5-ton block placed atop a sled across several hundreds of kilometers.

You’d be faced with many issues. One problem is that as you haul the rock on the sled, it builds up sand ahead of it, which means that the ancient Egyptians must have figured out how to solve the issue.

Experts have therefore concluded that the ancient Egyptians solved the issue by pouring water in front of the sled: wet sand offers less resistance as it doesn’t build up as much as dry sand.

A study looking into the transportation of massive blocks of stone in ancient Egypt suggests that with just the right amount of dampness, the sand is prevented from berming in front of the sled, therefore cutting the force required to drag the sled across the sand in half.

As noted in the 2014 study by the University of Amsterdam:

The physicists placed a laboratory version of the Egyptian sledge in a tray of sand. They determined both the required pulling force and the stiffness of the sand as a function of the quantity of water in the sand. To determine the stiffness they used a rheometer which shows how much force is needed to deform a certain volume of sand.

Experiments revealed that the required pulling force decreased proportionally to the stiffness of the sand… A sledge glides far more easily over firm desert sand simply because the sand does not pile up in front of the sledge as it does in the case of dry sand.

That’s really cool. Right. Apparently, the ancient Egyptians knew that by making the desert in front of the sled wet, it would allow them to transport the massive blocks of stones with less effort.

All of this sounds great, and experts have put forth even evidence that sleds and wet sand were used to transport massive stones feasibly.

All we have to do is look at Djehutihotep, an ancient Egyptian nomarch who lived during the twelfth dynasty, c. 1900 BC.

Inside his tomb, there was—now destroyed—a famous decoration showing what seems to be the transport of a colossal statue of him. Egyptologists say that this statue was almost 7 meters high and had an estimated weight of 58 tons. According to the drawings inside Djehutihotep’s tomb, the massive statue was transported by 172 workers.

A schematic drawing of the transportion scene of the colossus Djehutihotep. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
A schematic drawing of the transportation scene of the colossus

This drawing was, until a few years back, dismissed by Egyptologists as a ritual. The study by UvA experts demonstrates its supposed feasibility.

The massive statue intricately depicting inside Djehutihotep’s has regrettably never been found, so we can’t actually know whether the drawing inside the tomb ever happened.

The study by UvA experts demonstrates the possibility of moving across the desert blocks of stone weighing around 3 tons.

However, does this apply when we speak of larger blocks of stone?

What about the transportation of a block of stone weight 150 tons?

If the alleged statue of Djehutihotep had a weight of nearly 60 tons, and was transported by 172 workers, then according to that logic transporting a stone of 150 tons would require nearly 400 workers.

But we know that the ancient Egyptians transported stones much heavier than that.

The question is, was it really done sing no more than a massive workforce, water, and wooden sleds?

Take, for example, the Colossi of Memnon. Each of the massive statues has a weight of 720 tons.

Located near present-day Luxor, the megalithic statues were somehow transported from a quarry near present-day Cairo to a location more than 650 kilometers away.

Walking the distance from el-Gabal el-Ahmar to the location of the colossi today without dragging massive blocks of stone is more than challenging. It would take a person 5.5 days without stopping to arrive where the colossi stand today.

Now add to that equation the fact that you are hauling a massive, 720-ton statue across the desert.

Thousands of workers would be needed, and the feasibility of transporting such a heavy block of stone seems minuscule when applying the proposed transportation method by UvA experts.

The statue of Djehutihotep that was supposedly transported by 172 workers had a weight of nearly 60 tons which means that just one of the colossi of Memnon is 12 times heavier than that of Djehutihotep.

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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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