www.cheops-pyramide.ch Copyright 2006 Franz Löhner and Teresa Zuberbühler
Transporting stone blocks down the Nile. A new method by Franz Löhner
Along the Nile lie several quarries where different types of stones were quarried and brought to the building sites by boat. Granite stones from Aswan had to be ferried down the river on large barges about 934 km (approx. 700km linear distance). Ships transporting limestone from Tura had to cross the Nile and then cover about 13-17km on channels until they reached the harbor of Giza (see map).
Practically the whole year there is a strong north-south wind on the Nile, so the barges couldn't sail when going from Aswan to Giza, but only on their way back. Instead the barges used the river currents to drift down. In the lower part of the Nile, close to Giza, they probably used the Bahr Yussuf-channel (Bahr Jusuf or Josefs-channel) or a branch of that channel. On these channels the barge had to be towed by men.
Tomb of Qar at Giza (6th dynasty): Men towing the funerary boat of Qar
With heavy stones like the granite beams for the Kings' chamber of Khufu's pyramid, you have to consider, that if you load or unload them from barges, those barges are very likely to tilt and capsize. There are no good explanations, how this was done, except if you use hoists or cranes. Since those were not known at the time when the pyramids were built, there has to be another solution.
Franz Löhner has thought about a few details how the large and heavy stone blocks could have been loaded on the boats and transported down the Nile, for example from Aswan to Giza.
To transport the heavy stone blocks on the river Franz Löhner suggests combining two barges with a raft between, where the stone lies on top. The raft lies between the longitudinal sides of the vessels and is attached to them rigidly, so that the barges don't tilt inwardly from a heavy load. The two barges and the raft form a stable unit. The raft with the stone would have negative buoyancy, but the barges give an additional lift and compensate this.
According to G. Goyon  the Egyptian barges (or ships) can carry an average load of 40 tons. For his calculations Franz Löhner reduces this figure to 30-35 tons. With the combination of two barges and the rigidly attached raft the load-carrying capacity of the ships adds to 60 to 70 tons. In addition there is the raft which is constructed from at least two large layers of logs on top of each other (one layer lengthwise, one across) and which had a load-carrying capacity of about 10 to 15 tons. Together this adds to 80-90 tons load capacity. The stones weighting up to 50 tons can be carried with no problems downstream on such barges . This double ferry (we call it a ferry because it is carrying or ferrying the sledges with freight) can also be used for the shorter distance from the Tura quarry to Giza. Ferries like this were used in Europe on rivers and lakes during the last century to transport heavy loads.
The main problem with ships is how to load the heavy stones on top without the ships tilting to one side. Here the advantages of this kind of combination of a raft and two barges are obvious, because the stone can be hauled onto the raft on a simple loading ramp which slopes into the river.
In the granite quarries of Aswan the large stones, weighting up to 50
tons are split from the rock beds and topples on a soft bed of sand. Now
it is attached to a sledge and hauled to the work shop where the final
touches are made. Now it is already exactly the size and shape which the
pyramid engineers ordered. Afterwards it is brought to the harbor with
the help of rope rolls and a track system similar to the one used from
the harbor in Giza up to the foot of the pyramid.
A massive landing ramp (like a pier) is built at the shore of the Nile, where the two barges with the raft between are waiting. This landing ramp is sloping into the river, so the lower part is covered by water even if the river runs low. The ferry is berthed on the ramp in such a way, that the raft in the middle is lying on top of the ramp and the two barges (which have more draft) on both sides of the ramp.
Illustration: A raft (D) is tied to the longitudinal side of the two barges (C). Sloping loading ramp (A) with tracks (B) leading underneath the raft with the granite beam (F). Two rope rolls (E) are installed on the raft.
This kind of landing ramp and the way the barges are berthed has a lot of advantages, mainly, that the track system (B = round logs with joined by cross-pieces to form tracks) can be laid down all the way down the landing ramp (A), and joining the tracks which are also installed on the raft (D). On the side of the raft facing away from the shore two rope rolls (E) are installed permanently on the raft. With their help the sledge with the granite block (F) strapped to it can be hauled onto the raft. These rope rolls enormously facilitate the loading.
With this method the barges mainly serve to stabilize and to give more buoyancy. Another advantage is, that it is not necessary to hoist the heavy stones onto the ships. No Egyptologist has yet explained how you can accomplish that without the ships overbalancing and capsizing!
After casting off, in front of the bow of each ship a small raft (B) is tied to a rope so it floats in front of the barges and at the stern (back) a round longish stone (A) tied to a rope is let into the water. This stone is hauled lightly over the ground of the river and the two floats in front keep the combination of barges and raft steadily in the current. The two barges and the raft would be difficult to control, but by shortening and lengthening the ropes or even haul the weights on board, this ferry can be steered better than with a rudder. The stone is rounded, so it doesn't get ensnarled in anything on the ground of the river. (Herodotus' steering, tested and found effective by the Laboratoire Central d'Hydraulique de France - Herodotus' text - but the small float behind the boat suggested by G. Goyon  is not necessary).
Illustration: Small raft (B) in front of the barges and a stone (A) tied to a rope in the back.
If we assume, that this ferry can cover an average distance of 3 km hourly during twelve hours per day, to cover the distance of over 900 km from the quarries of Aswan downriver to the plateau of Giza it would need about 25 days. Of course at night they berthed somewhere at the shore of the Nile.
Having arrived at the Giza plateau after a journey of over 900 kilometers, the stones were unloaded and then rope rolls and sledges on tracks were used for transporting the heavy loads up to the pyramid.
Unloading the heavy granite stones (and any other stones) was again facilitated by a landing ramp sloping into the water. The raft in the middle of the two barges was maneuvereduntil it lay flush on the lower part of the ramp. Because the ramp was sloping this could be accomplished even if the water level was low. A track system made from round logs was installed on the landing ramp, so the sledges with the stones tied to them could easily be hauled down from the raft and onto the pier and from there up to the pyramid. At the same harbor over 70 stones (of 1.5 to 5 tons) used for the outer casing were unloaded daily from the Tura quarries.
For the granite blocks a separate route which goes from the harbor to
the foot of the pyramid is installed with heavy tracks and rope roll stations
about every 75 meters. The weight of the huge stone blocks is distributed
among more rope rolls and of course for these large weights you need more
haulers per team (using rope rolls a 40 tons block needs 320
haulers on a slope of 5°). It is also possible, that instead of two
hauling teams per section there were four teams with ropes of different
lengths, so they could walk one team behind the other. The granite beams
are hauled up lengthwise to produce less friction.
Franz Löhner stipulates that any method or theory for pyramid construction should fulfill the following 5 requirements, otherwise it should be rejected:
1. A solution that is as simple as possible using a technology that is
as simple as possible (Occam's razor)
Does the solution proposed on this page by Franz Löhner also meet those five requirements?
This kind of combined barge and raft is also known from ferries in Europe which were used until not long ago. Franz Löhner has seen a ferry like this on the Boiana where 6 cars filled with tourists or buses and trucks were transported across the river. This ferry was used by thousands of travelers. In 1957/58 while working in Holland he crossed the Water Waal (Rhine) daily with a ferry consisting of two boats and a wooden raft. This ferry was running several times a day from Thiel to Dreumel and crossed a distance of about a kilometer. It also worked for very heavy loads like trucks or cars.
Capacity of transporting:
Transporting really large loads with ships on the Nile is
also documented. A well known engraving in the temple of queen Hatshepsut
shows the transport of two obelisks (each 323 tons )
on a barque from Aswan to Karnak (reconstruction from a partial relief
from Deir el-Bahari). The ship should actually lay much lower in the water
than shown. Another well known engraving is on a relief in the pyramid
complex of Unas in Saqqara, which shows how columns
were transported by ship.
F. Löhner's answer:
F. Löhner's answer:
These methods for building the pyramids were first published 1993 in the book "Der Bau der Cheops-Pyramide" by Heribert Illig and Franz Löhner.
www.cheops-pyramide.ch Copyright 2006 Franz Löhner and Teresa Zuberbühler