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       Extreme Egyptian Masonry: (Egyptian Masonry Skills).

It is not surprising that the occasional eyebrow was raised in the past concerning the extent of the Egyptian masonry skills during the Early dynastic period. Not only were the structures superior in a visionary capacity, but also in precision, design and execution. The Dynastic period of Egypt heralded a time of extraordinary achievement, it was the age of the pyramid builders when some of the largest and most sophisticated structures of all time were built, including the last remaining 'Seven-Wonders' of the ancient world, all built in the Neolithic period.

Although apparently spontaneous, the technology underlying these huge constructions and was built on a foundation of science and mathematics which in turn, has provided us with traces of their manufacturing processes which are proving equally astonishing.


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   Machine Tools in Ancient Egypt:

Although the idea was first raised by Petrie, it has resurfaced recently through the work of Clive Dunn (1), who provides good evidence of 'Machined' artefacts at Giza. He reminds us that Petrie also recognised that the few remaining tools from the period were 'insufficient to explain Egyptian artefacts'.

Dunn reviewed certain igneous artefacts inspected by Petrie and concluded that they 'almost undeniably indicate machine power was used by the pyramid builders'. (1)

Egyptologists maintain that the work (including granite), was completed with copper and stone tools, although this has been contested on the basis that the spiral tool-marks in certain core samples indicate that a metal (or precious stone) stronger than copper would have been required.

The photo (right), is a close-up of the tool-marks on a granite sample. Their definition, length and regular separation denote the use of both a harder-than-granite tip, and a constant pressure.


Core-drilling - There is plenty of evidence that core-drills were used at Giza. The classic example being the tool-marks found inside the sarcophagus of the Great pyramid. As the stone that was being cut is granite, the surface of the drill-tip would have had to have included a material of equal or greater hardness in order to cut through the stone.

In itself, this is an amazing achievement, but when we look closer at the remaining drill marks, it is evident that a great amount of downwards pressure was applied to the drills as well, more than can be explained by conventional theory. The distance between the grooves created by core-drilling can be use as a measure of how much force was applied as drilling was in process. Dunn said of this

'On the granite core, No 7, the spiral of the cut sinks 0.1 inch in the circumference of 6 inches, or 1 in 60, a rate of ploughing out the quartz and feldspar which is astonishing'. The feed-rate of modern drills, Dunn calculates to be 0.0002 inch per revolution, indicating that the Egyptians drilled into granite with a feed-rate that was five hundred ties greater or deeper per revolution of the drill than modern drills. (1) 


Egyptian Stone VaseMass-Produced lathe-cut vases - Petrie submitted evidence that showed that the ancient Egyptians used Lathes.

It appears that vase making was a considerable post in ancient Egypt. We can read an inscription concerning 'Imhotep' which tributes him as the 'Chief vase maker' amongst his many titles. There have been literally thousands of stone-carved vases found in and around Saqqara, which are all considered to have originated from the first dynastic periods. Many of the vases have been cut from extremely hard stone, again requiring an equal or harder blade to cut them with.

The evidence suggests that a specialised drill would have been used to carve the interiors, which are remarkable in that they have been carved equally well as the outsides, including the difficult section inside and under the curve of the 'necks' of the vases.


Dunn (1), says 'There is also evidence of clearly defined lathe tool marks on sarcophagi lids'. The sheer scale of these lids makes this a bold suggestion, which he confidently supports with the observation that a Sarcophagus lid in the Cairo museum shows evidence of 'tool marks that indicate these conditions exactly where one would expect to find them'. (1)


Experimental Archaeology: Stone Vase Production.

The suggestion of 'machined' drilling has been explored by Dennis Stocks, an experimental archaeologist. His research sheds considerable light on the means whereby stone vases could be made using equipment available to Egyptians at the time. The resulting tool-marks have been shown to match those found in early dynasty stone vases, being produce not by a continuous revolving drill, but rather with a twist/reverse twist motion creating two arcs, as produced by using the following hand tool, rotating left, then right, then left etc. This system provides a suitable explanation for the production of stone vases made of alabaster or limestone, but we are still left without a suitable explanation for the core-drilling seen in granite and obsidian vases and sarcophagus.

(Left) stone borer, (Right) Images from 12th and 18th dynasty tombs showing the manual production of vases.

(Link to Article by Dennis Stocks)


Other Examples:


This schist disc was discovered at Saqqara. Its purpose is only to be guessed at. It is approximately 30cm in diameter, and is only 1cm thick.

It is currently on display in the Cairo museum, and is labelled as an incense container, although there is no evidence to support this. What is certain is that at this early time (Early Dynasty period), stone carving is already a sophisticated skill.




This finely carved stone 'funnel' is also from early dynastic Egypt. It is also currently on display in the Cairo museum.




This Schist (slate) plate is from the 3rd dynasty. It shows the same folded corners as the disc above from Saqqara. It is also currently on display in the Cairo museum.







   Extreme Masonry at the Giza Plateau:

It is often forgotten that before the pyramid was built, that the limestone plateau beneath was first levelled, and over it was placed a platform of carefully cut stones which can still be seen to protrude from under the pyramids base. This platform is around 0.5m thick and despite the passing of time and several earthquakes, remains level to within 0.8 of an inch (21mm) over the entire Giza plateau.

The whole of the Great pyramid was originally covered with a coat of polished limestone blocks which would have originally given the aspect of Giza a smooth and perfect finish all over. The faces of these blocks have butting surfaces cut to within 1/100 of an inch of mathematical perfection.


Petrie said this of it:

...'the mean variation of the cutting of the stone from a straight line and from a true square is but 0.1 inch in a length of 75 inches up the face, an amount of accuracy equal to the most modern opticians' straight edges of such a length. These joints, with an area of some 35 square feet each, were not only worked as finely as this, but were cemented throughout. Though the stones were brought as close as 1/500 of an inch, or, in fact, into contact, and the mean opening of the join was 1/50 of an inch, yet the builders managed to fill the joint with cement, despite the great area of it, and the weight of the stone to be moved- some 16 tons. To merely place such stones in exact contact at the sides would be careful work, but to do so with cement in the joints seems almost impossible'. (7)

Saw-Marks in the basalt stones on the east side of the Great pyramid at Giza:

The basalt pavement stones are irregular in thickness, and sometimes rounded on the bottom side. They were placed on top of blocks of Tura limestone which had previously been fitted to the underlying bedrock. It appears from the following photo's that the basalt blocks were cut to level 'in situ' (after they had been put in place on the ground).

The crisp and parallel the edges demonstrate the high quality of this work and indicates that the blade was held completely steady.  It appears that cutting basalt was not so slow and arduous that extra cuts like these would have been avoided as being an unnecessary waste of time. There are several places where over-cuts like these can be seen. If you find this spot, look around behind you to the north - there are several more within 30 ft. In one place you can find many vertical parallel saw cuts right next to each other.


There are several extraordinary sized stones recorded at the Giza plateau, with the largest regularly estimated at over 400 tons....



Temple East of 'Khafres' Pyramid.

'Largest stone estimated 468 ton block' (11).

 (J. Cook; The Pyramids of Giza; p. 22). - 'Khafre foundation stones > 400 tons'.




Mortuary temple of Menkaure (Mycerinus).   

[Edwards, p. 265] -  200 tons

http://atschool.eduweb.co.uk/ - 285 tons

'Reisner estimated that some of the blocks of local stone in the walls of the mortuary temple weighed as much as 220 tons, while the heaviest granite ashlars imported from Aswan weighed more than 30 tons'.

Ref:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyramid_of_Menkaure)



Valley temple.(ancient-wisdom.com)



The 'Valley Temple' - The Valley temple was built from huge granite blocks in the style of the Osireion at Abydoss. They are estimated at around 50 tons + each. The whole temple in turn was encased in even larger limestone blocks, the largest of which has been (enthusiastically) estimated at around 200 tons.




 The 'Great' pyramid of Khufu - The 'Kings chamber' in the Great pyramid is covered over with several granite stones estimated at 50-70 tons each. The Gable stones over the entrance (left) and several of the stones covering the descending passage are also several cubic metres in size.

Maximum weight of stone in great pyramid:

(Guinness, p. 119). 50 tons

(R. J. Cook; The Pyramids of Giza; p. 22).70 tons

(The largest stones of all time)

(More about the Giza Plateau)


   Obelisks (Ben-bens and pyramids):

What is not commonly known is that all the large 3rd - 5th dynasty pyramids around Giza (The Heliopean Pyramids) were built so that their corners aligned exactly towards Heliopois. This architectural fact leads to the idea that the pyramids were nothing more than large ben-ben's themselves, pointing to the Northern home of the Obelisk, Heliopolis. (In the South of Egypt, the Obelisk 'Capital' was Karnak).


Hatshepsut's obelisk barge.

This image reveals an important engineering factor for moving large stones: Namely, that they are lighter in water... The transport of heavy stones by water is suspected at several ancient sites such as Stonehenge, Giza and Carnac.

Herodotus described moving the 580 ton "Green Naos" under Nectanebo II: "This took three years in the bringing, and two thousand men were assigned to the conveying of it ..." (History, 2.175)

Pliny wrote of the transportation of an "eighty cubit" obelisk under Ptolemy II:

According to some authorities, it was carried downstream by the engineer Satyrus on a raft; but according to Callixenus, it was conveyed by Phoenix, who by digging a canal brought the waters of the Nile right up to the place where the obelisk lay. Two very broad ships were loaded with cubes of the same granite as that of the obelisk, each cube measuring one foot, until calculations showed that the total weight of the blocks was double that of the obelisk, since their total cubic capacity was twice as great. In this way, the ships were able to come beneath the obelisk, which was suspended by its ends from both banks of the canal. The blocks were unloaded and the ships, riding high, took the weight of the obelisk. (Natural History, 36.14).


(Obelisks and Menhirs Homepage)


   Concrete in the Pyramids:

 It has been suggested that concrete might have been used in certain ancient structures. As incredible as it may seem, there is evidence to support this idea.

In addition to achieving seamless joins between blocks, the highly polished limestone casing stones that covered the pyramid were fixed with a 'fine aluminosilicate cement'. The finished pyramid contained approximately 115,000 of these stones, (Over 13 acres), each weighing ten tons or more. These stones were dressed on all six of their sides, not just the side exposed to the visible surface, to tolerances of .01 inch. They were set together so closely that a thin razor blade could not be inserted between the stones.

Egyptologist Petrie expressed his astonishment of this feat by writing: - 'Merely to place such stones in exact contact would be careful work, but to do so with cement in the joint seems almost impossible; it is to be compared to the finest opticians' work on the scale of acres"

'The Hair in the Rock' - Prof. Dr. Joseph Davidovits of the French Geopolymer Institute discovered a hair sticking out of a boulder of the Cheops (Khufu) pyramid of Giza. He concluded that either the hair is older than the rock surrounding it, meaning the rock formed later, or the boulder is synthetic. (Either of which is pretty amazing)...

Examination and measurements of the boulders used in building the pyramid show an unusually high moisture content (similar to that found in concrete).


giza plateau skilled masonry/cement..?

The seam joins between the basalt and the limestone pavements: Basalt was used for the paving stones, still visible, in the Pyramid Temple of Khufu. It is suggested to have come from a quarry in the Faiyum, west of Dahshur.

(The fine sliver of remaining limestone is suggestive of either cement or 'moulded' masonry)


Concrete (Torba) is also known to have been used in the floor of the Ggantija temple on Gozo (Malta).

(More about the use of concrete in prehistoric buildings)



   Vaulted Burial Chambers:

One thing that is greatly over-looked is the incredible sized stones used in the burial vaults of the Pharaohs. It is unclear whether they had much clearance to install these vaults or how they lowered them. Several 5th and 6th Dynasty pyramids included gabled roofs with blocks weighing up to 90 tons but the subject is mostly ignored so it is hard to check facts. Some of them are known to have a clearance of less than an inch. This may have involved sliding it in straight in order to get it in place which would be extremely difficult with a vault that may have weighed over 100 ton.

The Sarcophagus of Amenemhet III , Egypt.

The quartzite sarcophagus of Amenemhet III weighing 110 metric tons (121 Imperial tons), was placed in a chamber with an interior length of 7 metres and walls 1 metre thick. (16) The monolithic lid was lowered onto the sarcophagus by means of sand-flow, and the chamber was later covered with another two huge 50-ton limestone vaulting stones. Above the burial chamber were 2 relieving chambers. This was topped with 50 ton limestone slabs forming a pointed roof. Then an enormous arch of brick 3 feet thick was built over the pointed roof to support the core of the pyramid. (26)

The sarcophagus was found to be empty when opened.


(The Great Puzzle of Giza: An In-depth analysis of the Great Pyramid)

(Extreme Masonry from around the Ancient World)

(Prehistoric Construction Techniques)

(Pyramids Homepage)


(Prehistoric Egypt Homepage)



1). C. Dunn. The Giza Power Plant. 1998.
7). W. M Flinders Petrie. The Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh. 1990. Histories and Mysteries of Man Ltd.
11). William Fix. Pyramid Odyssey. 1978. Mayflower Books.
16). P. Tompkins. The Magic of Obelisks. 1981. Harper and Row.
26). Edwards, Dr. I.E.S.: The Pyramids of Egypt. 1986/1947 p. 237-240
Further Research:
Dennis Stocks: Experiments In Egyptian Stoneworking Technology.

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