Immutable Laws of Friction: Preparing and Fitting Stone Blocks into the Great Pyramid of Giza

By Stocks, Denys A. | Antiquity, September 2003 | Go to article overview

Immutable Laws of Friction: Preparing and Fitting Stone Blocks into the Great Pyramid of Giza


Stocks, Denys A., Antiquity


Introduction

The exact techniques employed by ancient Egyptian craftworkers in the construction of the Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza during the Fourth Dynasty (c.2649-2513 BC) are still uncertain. Two of the major problems concern the preparation and fitting of the large stone blocks, which were achieved to a high degree of accuracy. A key factor was the friction developed between two surfaces, which controlled the degree of sliding of one stone block over another. Here, data obtained from experiments in measuring the blocks shows how plane surfaces could be prepared which were nearly perfectly flat. Other experiments showed how the blocks could be moved, with the use of lubrication, to lessen the effects of the immutable laws of friction.

Preparing surfaces

The tasks of the mason consist of producing horizontal and vertical surfaces which are precisely flat, and these would require cutting and shaping tools and measuring instruments. Replicated and reconstructed copper, bronze and stone tools for shaping hard and soft stones have been manufactured and tested (Zuber 1956: 180, figures 18-20; Stocks 1986; 1988: 1, 17-99, II, 246-73). The tests indicated that stones of hardness Mohs 3, or below (including soft limestone), could effectively be cut with copper and bronze chisels and adzes. Stones harder than Mohs 3, including even calcite (Egyptian alabaster) had to be worked with different combinations of stone tools--pounders, hammers, picks, axes, chisels, punches, scrapers and sandstone rubbers. In addition to copper tools, stone implements were sometimes employed for shaping and smoothing soft limestone objects (Petrie 1938: 30)

Preparing the surfaces of the Great Pyramid's limestone core- and casing-blocks was a two stage process. The average size of the blocks, according to W.M.F. Petrie (1883: 210, note) is 50 x 50 x 28 inches (1.27 x 1.27 x 0.71m). The bottom surfaces were already flattened and smoothed before inserting them into the structure of the pyramid (Edwards 1986: 283). The blocks' top surfaces were only made truly horizontal, flat and smooth after being fitted into the pyramid (Clarke & Engelbach 1930: 100): this system ensured that any block's top and bottom surfaces were parallel, essential for making each layer of blocks horizontal throughout the pyramid. The four vertical sides of a core-black were only roughly finished (Clarke & Engelbach 1930: 81), and not intended to fit closely to neighbouring blocks. However, abutting end-faces on casing-blocks formed tightly fitting rising-joints.

Ancient masons needed reliable tools for checking that the horizontal joint surfaces of all stone blocks were made accurately flat and truly horizontal, in addition to making flat and parallel the rising-joint surfaces of adjacent casing-blocks. Known instruments for testing horizontal and vertical surfaces all depend upon a hanging plumb line. Such instruments were the frame for testing horizontal planes, shaped like the letter "A", and the vertical testing frame, both made of wood. Models of the horizontal and vertical testing tools were found in the Nineteenth Dynasty (c.1315-1201 BC) tomb of the architect Senedjem at Deir el-Medina, an Upper Egyptian workers' village (Petrie 1917: 42, plate XLVII, B57, 59). The earliest plumb bobs (Petrie 1917: 42, plate XLVIII, B64, 65) date to the Third Dynasty (c.2687-2649 BC).

Calibrating a replica 'A' flame (Stocks 1988: II, 368) required the two bottom ends to touch the surface of still water, while simultaneously marking a vertical line on the horizontal bar exactly behind the hanging plumb line. This tool proved to be as reliable as a modern spirit level (Figure 1). A replica vertical testing tool was also constructed (Stocks 1988: II, 369). Provided the two horizontal pieces of wood were accurately made and fitted to the vertical piece, the tool's reliability also compared favourably with a spirit level (Figure 2). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Immutable Laws of Friction: Preparing and Fitting Stone Blocks into the Great Pyramid of Giza
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.