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Article for Quarry Magazine

Submitted by Andrew Graham – MD


Mineral Strategies Pty Ltd

The Pyramids – Artificial Rocks, Naturally!

I read with great interest Bill Langer’s “Geology Talk” segment in the Quarry magazine (July,
2007) entitled “Creating green glass”. In that article Bill mentioned that soda ash (called trona
or natron in nature) was used by the ancient Egyptians as a component, along with
quicklime, various silicate minerals and aluminium-rich silts to produce a silica-aluminate
cement mortar.

These “cementitious” binders or mortars fall into a classification that, today, has been widely
termed geopolymers.

A brilliant materials scientist by the name of Joseph Davidovits (Professor) is recognised as


being the inventor and developer of geopolymerisation and first coined the term
“geopolymer” in 1978 to classify the newly discovered geosynthesis that produces inorganic
polymeric materials now used for a number of industrial applications.

Geopolymers exhibit characteristics that are far superior to many other construction materials
but in addition to this, one of the most exciting aspects is what geopolymer science has been
able to tell us about construction techniques in ancient Egypt.

Since the early eighties, Professor Davidovits has proposed that the pyramids and temples of
Old Kingdom Egypt were constructed using agglomerated limestone in a geopolymeric
matrix, rather than quarried and hoisted blocks of natural limestone.

Professor Davidovits postulated that Egyptian workmen went to outcrops of relatively soft
limestone, disaggregated it with water, then mixed the muddy limestone (including the fossil-
shells) with quicklime and tecto-alumino-silicate-forming materials such as kaolin clay, silt
and the locally occurring salt natron (naturally occurring soda ash).

The limestone mud was carried up by the bucketful and then poured, packed or rammed into
moulds made of wood, stone, clay or brick placed on the pyramid sides. This re-
agglomerated limestone, bonded by geochemical reaction (called geopolymer cement), thus
hardened into resistant blocks.

In 1979, at the second International Congress of Egyptologists in France, Professor


Davidovits presented his hypotheses. Obviously, such hypotheses were greatly disruptive to
the orthodox theory with its hundreds of thousands of workers taking part in this gigantic
endeavor side by side.

Despite much criticism, vindication finally came on November 30, 2006 when the Journal of
the American Ceramic Society released very important scientific research carried out on the
pyramid stones, which confirmed the theory developed by Professor Jospeh Davidovits on
agglomerated (artificial) limestone concrete (ancient geopolymer).

During the course of almost 10 years of geopolymer research and development I have not
only been able to produce many amazing geopolymers but have also made them using the
same raw materials as the ancient Egyptians.

The fascinating part is that the geopolymeric binder has been seen by geologists (of which I
am one) as either an impurity or as a natural material (i.e. micritic binder). Therefore, a
geologist who is not informed of geopolymer chemistry will assert with good faith that the
stones are natural, for that is what they appear to be.
Just because we use chemicals, we often assume that it is very easy to find these
ingredients in the final product. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Thanks to geopolymer
chemistry, we see chemical reactions generating natural elements, minerals that can and
have been analysed as naturally occurring simply because scientists are not aware of their
artificial nature.

Further archaeological research has shown that the High Priest Imhotep first utilised these
ancient formulations approximately 5,000 years ago. In fact, it has been shown that he even
developed different formulations depending on whether a low or high quality finish was
required.

Further investigations by Professor Davidovits even revealed that a section of the stele
known by scholars as “The Revelations of Imhotep” contained significant words. One of
those is ARI-KAT, a composite of two hieroglyphs which form one single adjective. ARI, is a
verb meaning “to work with, to fashion, or to form”. It is symbolized by an eye, alongside a
seated human figure, which represents the man who does the work. The addition of KAT –
two hands held aloft and a semicircle gave a new meaning: man-made, created by man.
ARI-KAT, therefore, is something fashioned by man and, when associated with minerals;
something processed or synthetically made.

Even the famous chemist and metallurgist, Henri Le Chatelier, born in France in 1850
noticed that the famous statue of Pharaoh Khafra revealed no sign of tool marks. Yet it had
been made of diorite, the hardest type of stone, at a time when artisans possessed only
simple stone or copper chisels. He concluded that with tools like these it would have been
impossible to produce such a masterpiece.

Le Chatelier suspected that it had not been carved at all, but made of agglomerated stone
cast in molds, so he began to examine other statues. He looked at ones that were apparently
enameled, and cut thin sections of them with a diamond-tipped saw, and found that the
enamel was not an applied coating but part of the material from which the statue was made.
He asserted that they were cast in some kind of synthetic material not sculpted in natural
stone.

In geology we often say “The past is the key to the present”. If we are careful to apply this, at
least in part, to the research and development work we undertake today there is a strong
likelihood that we will receive much revelation from those who have gone before. We
shouldn’t run the risk of assuming that “modern-man” and modern science holds all the keys
and all of the knowledge; as the High Priest Imhotep has certainly shown.

A line from a song I heard recently went like this, “Ancient words long preserved for our walk
in this world …” It bears careful consideration in all aspects of our lives, doesn’t it?