Common Tools or Ancient Advanced Technology? How Did the Egyptians Bore Through Granite?
Ancient Egypt is known for many technological and artistic achievements, constructing pyramids and temples, inventing a system of writing, hieroglyphs, and making advancements in medicine, astronomy, and many other fields. One area for which the Egyptians are particularly famous, of course, is their stone working. A particularly controversial issue is how the ancient Egyptians were able to cut and bore through solid granite - which is considerably more difficult to do than cutting through softer, sedimentary rock such as limestone or sandstone.
View One: The Egyptians Used Common Tools to Bore Holes in Granite
The mainstream archaeological view is that it was done with copper, bronze, and wooden tools used by Egyptian masons today to cut granite. Others, however, have suggested that it was done with more advanced equipment that is yet to be discovered. For the time being, the balance of evidence seems to suggest the mainstream view that primitive metal and wooden tools used by common stone masons were sufficient for cutting through granite.
Reproduction Ancient Egyptian stone mason’s tools used for carving demonstrations. (St. Luke's Finsbury/ Stephen Critchley ) Were primitive metal and wooden tools used by common stone masons sufficient for cutting through granite?
The first modern Western archaeologists to study ancient Egypt in the 19th century were mostly upper class gentlemen who had no experience with manual labor. As a result, when they encountered structures which they didn’t think could be built with simple hammers and chisels, they assumed that it must have meant that the people at the time had access to more advanced tools than previously believed, advanced machinery with which they were more familiar - such as cranes and other industrial machinery.
- Controversy as evidence for ancient Indian Aviation Technology to be examined at Science Congress
- Roman nanotechnology inspires next-generation holograms for information storage
- Mysterious Viking Sword Made With Technology From the Future?
Later archaeologists decided to examine the work of stone masons to better understand how the ancient Egyptians built things. They realized that contemporary Egyptian masons of the day had been using primitive tools such as hammers, copper and bronze chisels, and wooden wedges to cut through granite for centuries, dating back to pharaonic Egypt.
Ancient Egyptian sculptors making a statue. ( Underground Science ) The mainstream view suggests ancient Egyptian stone masons used common tools to crave and bore holes in granite.
The current understanding of how Egyptians bored through granite among mainstream archaeologists is that they used a method where they would drive a wooden wedge into a crack in the rock and soak the wedge with water. As the water expanded, this would cause the crack in the rock to widen. After doing this, they would continue to drive the wedge in even further. Doing this repeatedly would eventually split the rock into blocks. This process happens all the time in nature through frost wedging. Water in the cracks of rocks, including granite and other igneous rocks, will freeze. Freezing of the water causes it to expand, which, over successive freezing and melting, will cause a crack to widen. This can sometimes cause an entire boulder to split in two. The stone mason, modern or ancient, would be using the same principle to cut granite blocks along pre-existing zones of weakness.
An unfinished Egyptian obelisk at Aswan with holes showing how the granite would be split. (Glenn Ashton/ CC BY SA 3.0 )
View Two: The Egyptians Used Advanced Technology to Bore Holes in Granite
This is still hard for some skeptical writers and observers to believe. They insist that the primitive methods used by early modern and ancient Egyptian stone masons were not enough and that it must have been with more advanced equipment that the ancient Egyptians bored through solid granite. They argue that this is evidence that the ancient Egyptians and other civilizations were much more technologically sophisticated than is currently believed.
While it is possible that more advanced technologies could have been developed by earlier civilizations then anticipated, there does not appear to be much reliable evidence to support this idea. If the ancient Egyptians did cut through granite with equipment such as electric drills or lasers or similarly advanced technology, these hewn granite slabs are the only evidence for it that we have. So far, there is no indisputable evidence of physical remains of electrical batteries or wires or anything else that would suggest that the ancient Egyptians used technology that was more advanced than what is expected for that period.
Abusir, Egypt. Remnant of granite pillar with lines etched on it. Photo Stephen S. Mehler, MA . 2007.