Wet Sand Helped Ancient Egyptians Move Pyramid Stones With Sleds

Saturday, 03 May 2014 10:27 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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It's long been believed that the ancient Egyptians used wooden sleds to haul stone to build the pyramids, but it's been a mystery about how the sleds dragged the stones across the desert's soft sands without mechanical assistance.

The answer, researchers at the University of Amsterdam say may be the simplest solution of all: they wet the sand with water.

Scientists participating in the university's study, published in the Physical Review Letters, said the use of water was nothing more than a "clever trick," reports The Washington Post.

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"For the construction of the pyramids, the ancient Egyptians had to transport heavy blocks of stone and large statues across the desert,” the university said in their report. "The Egyptians therefore placed the heavy objects on a sledge that workers pulled over the sand. Research … revealed that the Egyptians probably made the desert sand in front of the sledge wet."

The sleds used to transport the stone were wooden planks with upturned edges, reports Gizmodo. But when slaves dragged the planks, loaded with two-ton loads of stone through the hot desert sand, the sleds would dig into the grainy sand, creating a sand wedge that would lock up the sleds.

"[It] was perhaps observed by the Egyptians that in [a] dry case, a heap of sand forms in front of the sled before it can really start to move,” says the study, authored by a team of eight researchers led by Daniel Bonn.

Without wetting the sand, other slaves would have had to clear the piled-up sand out of the way, but dampening the sand slightly would have packed it down.

To test their theory, the study said, researchers put a small model version of an Egyptian sled into a bin of sand and then wetted the sand to measure its stiffness. As it turned out, if the sand was wetted to the proper level, "capillary bridges" formed that glued together grains of sand.

"I was very surprised by the amount the pulling force could be reduced — by as much as 50 percent — meaning that the Egyptians needed only half the men to pull over wet sand as compared to dry," Bonn told The Post.

The conclusion was backed up by a wall painting found in the tomb of Djehutihotep, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Djehutihotep, which shows a person at the front of one of the sleds, pouring water onto the sand as the sled was pulled.

"Egyptologists had been interpreting the water as part of a purification ritual, and had never sought a scientific explanation," Bonn said.

The university's experiment, said Bonn, solved the Egyptian mystery, as "the Egyptians were probably aware of this handy trick."

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Related stories:
Pyramids Discovered in Egyptian Desert Using Google Earth?


Egypt Pyramid Uncovered: Unlike Ones at Giza, It's Not a Tomb


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