Building the ancient Egypt pyramids

Written by LetsBuild

Follow us


Share this story

Lean ebook cover

Now this is something about which there has been a lot of academic argument, most of which is baloney!

I know how they built the Great Pyramid of Giza because, in a previous life, I was a Site Supervisor on the job! 😉 We liked doing it, too! Over 15 year’s continuous employment, starting around 2085 B.C.; meant the wife and kids got fed and clothed! Managed to cough up a dowry for my two daughters and got them off my hands!

Anyway, something like 2.3 million blocks of stone were used weighing, in total, something like 5.9 million tonnes. These were stuck together, sorry, held apart, by around 50,000 tonnes of mortar. Not a piffling little job!

My role was getting the stones from the barge they came on up or down the Nile to roughly where they were supposed to go. There were quite a few of these gangs, mine wasn’t the only one. In my opinion the cleverest bit was done by whoever came up with the sizes and angles for all those stones to be quarried to fit! Their skill was followed by the men in the quarries because the stones arriving with us had a tolerance of within 0.1 mm!!! Setting it out was a doddle – it just got marked out on the ground and the first layer of stones stuck around that!

For the big blocks of stone weighing up to 60 tonnes, I had a gang of about 160 men heaving on the ropes to drag it along and some more moving the rollers, from the back to the front again as we cleared them pulling it along. Had four gangs because we didn’t want them too worn out so we just kept swapping them around. My lot were slaves, of which we had plenty, but I still didn’t whip them too hard; that would have messed up the gangs. As it was we usually had a few die on us most days! We had to use rollers to move the blocks; not having steel we couldn’t have made wheels and axles strong enough to take the weight. The rollers also gave better weight distribution on the roadway so maintenance of that was reduced. There were about 12 gangs at this all day every day to get enough stones there to keep the guys busy finalising them in their place. Each stone was marked in the quarry so they knew which went where.

Find here: How they built the Panama Canal

In total, quarries, barges and on site, there may have been as many as 40,000 men involved on the job! Most of these were actually skilled tradesmen used to working with stone. That meant a fair sized town sprang up to accommodate everyone! Some catering was done by wives, but we had cooks and bottle washers for the single or unaccompanied men like me. Too far to trot home every night after work!

As usual, but even worse in this case than usual, there was much delay on account of Pharaoh’s “consultants” changing their minds.

“Worse” because this lot tended to be Priests from the various Sects who stuck their noses in! Lots of wafting of incense, chanting, a few human sacrifices and all the while we had to be bowed down on our knees!

Once the first layer of stone was down each succeeding layer got higher and higher. That was a simple thing to sort out; we just built a straight ramp continuing the line we had dragged the stones along. The ramp got built up and out for every additional stage. We had none of the nonsense seen on earlier pyramids of ramps going around the pyramid!

Because we were always getting up on top of the job and looking down we could clearly see what was being done – the build, anyway, not the decoration which followed in some areas like the actual Burial Chamber. Internally some tunnels went down; other tunnels went up! Think the idea was to fool people in future if they tried to break in and rob the Pharaoh and deprive him of his amenities in his after-life amongst the gods. The biggest, heaviest of the stones we dragged in went over the Pharaoh’s tomb as a roof and were then built on top of.

Gaps between the load-bearing stones were just filled up with rubble. This stabilised everything so that the Pyramid would stand for all Eternity! Once the structure was up it got clad in polished white limestone slabs and became a thing of great beauty! Sadly, many of these slid off during earthquakes. These were taken away in later years and, indeed, the rest removed deliberately, to build mosques in nearby Cairo. That was in the 1st. millennium A.D., so the Great Pyramid looked pretty good for over 3,000 years!

For most of us, those who had the sense to save our wages, it was then back to the wife and a fairly lazy relaxed time of it, taking the odd small job just to give us a bit of interest. Ah! Those were the days!

Check other “How they Built” blogposts!