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13 MARCH, 2017 - 17:48 CALEB STROM

Common Tools or Ancient


Advanced Technology? How Did
the Egyptians Bore Through
Granite?
(Read the article on one page)
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.
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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.
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13 MARCH, 2017 - 17:48 CALEB STROM

Common Tools or Ancient


Advanced Technology? How Did
the Egyptians Bore Through
Granite?
(Read the article on one page)
There is one case which some proponents of the idea that ancient Egypt was more
advanced than contemporary archaeology would suggest - evidence that the ancient
Egyptians used light bulbs. The temple of Hathor at the Dendera complex in Egypt
contains several stone reliefs that appear to some observers to be a light bulb.

The so-called ‘Dendera light’ in one of the crypts of Hathor temple at the Dendera
Temple complex in Egypt. ( CC BY 2.5 ) Could the Egyptians have had electricity and
electric tools to bore through granite?
It is far from conclusive, however, that this is a light bulb and most experts agree that it is
a depiction of a djed pillar, a type of pillar associated with Ptah the creator god and a
lotus flower. It also involves other references to Egyptian mythology such as the sun
barge which the god Ra uses to travel across the sky. The fact that no unambiguous
ancient Egyptian lightbulbs have ever been discovered also makes the mainstream view
more likely for the time being. We know that the Egyptians had stories involving a djed
pillar, a lotus flower, and a sun barge. We do not however know, or have concrete
indications, that they had electric lighting (or electric drilling for that matter.)
At the moment, without independent corroborative evidence to support the existence of
electrical or other similarly advanced technology in ancient Egypt, these sorts of
explanations don’t seem to fair well against Occam’s Razor. They require us to assume
that the ancient Egyptians had mechanical or electrical technology - for which there is
currently no indisputable evidence from archaeology or from historical records written by
the ancient Egyptians.
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Resourcefulness Allowed the Egyptians to Bore the
Holes in Granite
There are still a lot of questions about how exactly the ancient Egyptians were able to
build their monuments with the tools that they had, but the fact that we know they had
these tools (as opposed to more advanced tools) makes it more likely that they used these
primitive tools in some way.

Aswan, Egypt granite quarry with hole where an obelisk block was carved out. (Glenn
Ashton/ CC BY SA 3.0 )
With our modern cranes, power tools, and lasers, we tend to assume that engineering
projects such as cutting or drilling through hard crystalline rock require reasonably
advanced, modern technology, but humans have always shown themselves to be
resourceful. Ancient civilizations were able to make up for their relatively primitive
technology by being clever in finding ways to accomplish great architectural
achievements with very simple means.
Perhaps we are the limited ones, relying too much on our own technology and not our
ingenuity to overcome obstacles. That is a lesson that we can learn from the ancient
Egyptians, the ancient Maya, the ancient Incas, and countless other cultures across the
world who brought us a collective cultural heritage.
Top Image: Using common tools to work stone in ancient Egypt. ( Egyptraveluxe
Tours ) The so-called ‘Dendera light.’ (Olaf Tausch/ CC BY 3.0 ) Giza, Egypt. Close-up
of drill hole in granite with spiral grooves. ( Chris Dunn.2007 )
By Caleb Strom
References
“Advanced Machining in Ancient Egypt” by Christopher P. Dunn (N.D.). Global
Education Project, Spirit and Stone. Available
at: http://www.theglobaleducationproject.org/egypt/articles/cdunn-1.php
“How did ancient Egyptians bore into solid granite without electric tools?” Undercover
Science. Available at: https://undergroundscience.net/other/how-did-ancient-
egyptians-bore-holes-into-solid-granite-without-electric-tools/
“Trades and Crafts.” Canadian Museum of History. Available
at: http://www.historymuseum.ca/cmc/exhibitions/civil/egypt/egcl05e.shtml
“Egyptian Symbols: Djed.” Egyptian Gods and Goddesses. Available at: http://egyptian-
gods.org/egyptian-symbols-djed/
“Tools for Stone Working.” Digital Egypt for Universities, University College London.
Available at: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt/stone/working.html
“’Technical Drawings’ at Dendera” by Keith Fitzpatrick Matthews (2007). Bad
Archaeology. Available at: http://www.badarchaeology.com/out-of-place-
artefacts/petroglyphs-inscriptions-and-reliefs/%E2%80%98technical-
drawings%E2%80%99-at-dendera/