www.cheops-pyramide.ch Copyright 2006 Franz Löhner and Teresa Zuberbühler

Cutting granite with bronze or iron tools? A new method by Franz Löhner

Franz Löhner doesn't allege, that the ancient Egyptians already knew the difficult and elaborate procedure of making wrought iron - but, that they acquired the valuable iron by trading. The Egyptian smiths then made tools from this iron or at least were able to maintain (= temper and sharpen) the tools acquired.


Which stone is suited for splitting?

Granite as well as limestone has to be split to obtain stone blocks that can be used for building purposes. Because granite is a crystalline rock and limestone a sedimentary rock the methods to do this differ in details. A quarry stone - and only this kind of stone can be used for a building like the pyramid - is a stone broken or split off.

Any stone, that has fine cracks or break lines is unsuitable for building. Suitable is only the healthy stone, the stone which is intact in its natural state of composition and aggregation with its structure the way it was grown. This is the reason why working the stone with the help of fire, heat or cold will not result in a stone that can be used for building. Heat or cold creates fractures and fissures and destroys the inner structure of the stone.

To build the pyramids the ancient Egyptians only used building stones made from granite and limestone in perfect condition and that is only a stone which has been split off.


Processing the granite from the quarries in Assuan (Aswan)

In the granite quarries in Assuan the stone working was done as follows: Granite grows in layers or sheets (beds). Quarrying takes a keen eye to determine the grain of the rock. The foreman (or rockman) chooses the place where the rock is intact. Then the stone is cleaved from the rock face by driving in wedges. A series of holes is now drilled along the line to be split, using a chisel (not a drill!).

Since granite is one of the hardest varieties of natural building stone, this can only be done with a chisel forged from wrought iron. With tools made from copper this type of stone simply can't be cut.

To cut stone in such a way, a man sits on the stone block and three men hit the iron chisel in turns with sledgehammers. After each blow the chisel is turned by an eighth, until the hole is 10 to 15cm deep. A series of these holes is driven along a line which is determined by the quarry master. Now wrought iron wedges are put into all the holes of the line (= splitting holes). They are well lubricated and then driven into the rock between two metal shims (or feathers - narrow at the top and flaring outward so that you can grip them). Each wedge is pounded once, moving down the line in consecutive order. When the wedges are all driven in deep enough, the granite is forced apart, breaks and starts to split along the line of holes. This break - along the so called cleavage plane - is very even and the stone has to be worked only very little to achieve a smooth surface. Sledgehammers used for this kind of work have a special shaft which is more elastic, so it puts less strain on the workers.

Granite is found in horizontal beds, between which lie thin sheets of sinter or quartz. This bed has to be split all the way down to the next sheet. Granite has a tendency to rend with comparative readiness and regularity along a plane at right angles to the cleavage. The stone splits along those original bedding planes and very clean and regular stone blocks are produced.

This way of splitting has been used by the Romans and also in pre-industrial quarries in New England until the 18th century [6]. In mines and quarries nowadays the holes are made with widia drills (a material with the hardness of diamonds) and using a jackhammer, but even a few decades ago this was still manual work (see English texts about manufacturing roofing slates [5]).
Detailed calculations how many workers were necessary to build the pyramid
Numbers and figures of the Cheops-pyramid (pyramid of Khufu)

Click on the thumbnail for enlargement (Photos Franz Löhner)

Wedges in drilled holes

Drilled holes with wedges

Tapped regularly with a hammer

Regularly tapping with a hammer

Already the first cleavage is seen

Already the first crack (cleavage) is seen

Only one more wedge

Only one more wedge

Detail with the wedge and the feathers

Detail of the wedge and the feathers

The broken off block falls on a soft bed of sand

The stone splits and the block falls on a soft bed of sand

Please notice: A stone block split off with this method breaks cleanly and regularly and needs very little additional work.
Photos Old tools and stone / Splitting / Splitting slate / Granite splitting / Preparation for blasting (Beattie's Ledge Granite Quarry)


The right tools for splitting and cutting granite

1. New To split the granite, chisels forged from wrought iron were used (doctrine = the same tools as for limestone are used, this is to say tools made from copper)
2. New

To achieve a smooth surface, the stone is split along a row of holes. Because granite splits relatively smoothly, the stones have to be burnished and polished only slightly (doctrine = the granite is sawed with copper saws)

3. New To further process the stone a wide chisel forged from wrought iron and a carver's mallet is used (doctrine = chisel made from copper)

Ancient Egypt: making a stone statue using chisel and carving mallet

Stone processing with a chisel and a carver's mallet. Tomb of Ankmahor in Saqqara (2200 BC) Entire frieze

A stone frieze in Saqqara shows, what kind of tools a stone mason uses to process (not split) a stone. The frieze shows several workstations, where statues were obviously manufactured in series.
Details of the chisel right / left
The pyramid building yard - the center of the construction project
Detailed calculations how many workers were necessary to build the pyramid


Comparing with the present-day processing of granite

A comparison with present-day processing of granite shows, that even in modern times granite is processed with difficulties and causing a lot of wear and tear on the tools.

Using jackhammers with rotary hammer drills which are carbide tipped, holes are cut along the line where the granite rock should split. Then the holes are filled with explosives, so several thousand tons of blocks can be moved to the side by a few centimeters, forming a crack.

Click on the thumbnail for enlargement (Photos Franz Löhner)

Drilling a series of closely spaced horizontal holes using a jackhammer

Drilling a series of closely spaced horizontal holes using a jackhammer

The explosives are detonated

The explosives are detonated

6500 tons of granite have been moved by 30cm

6500 tons of granite have been moved by 30cm

Quarrymen talking about how to proceed (where the block is split into smaller segments)

Quarrymen talking about how to proceed (where the block should be split into smaller segments)

A soft bed of sand is made, so the stones can fall without cracking

A soft bed of sand is made, so the stones can fall without cracking

Using the process described above, granite blocks can be split into smaller blocks until they reach the desired size. This can be done down to the size of a cobblestone. Only the sharp edges have to be dulled with a chisel.
Photos mine in Granicon: drilling holes / preparing drilling holes / soft bed of sand
Photos working in the stone quarries of Quincy (eighteenth century)


Sawing granite

Archeologists and Egyptologist claim, that granite stones were mainly sawed. One of them, the well known Egyptologist D. Arnold writes in his book about hard rock like alabaster and granite: "Sawing stone not only was carried on until Roman times, but remains the primary method of quarrying and producing stone today" [4]. This assertion is completely wrong. The primary method of quarrying this kind of stone is by splitting.

Until scarcely a hundred years ago, sawing and polishing granite was done with great difficulties and using quartz sand and steel. Only since Corundum (a gem with a hardness on Mohs scale of 9) can be synthesized and used as an abrasive, it is economically feasible to saw granite into slaps. This can only be done using pumps and saw blades or circular bands made from the hardest steel but even so, there is a lot of wear and tear! Wikipedia about Corundum / Mohs scale of mineral hardness

Circular saw with Widia covered saw teeth

Circular saw with Widia covered saw teeth

A set of multiblades of industrial blade block cutter are lifted up, the granite plate is put underneath

A set of multiblades of a industrial blade block cutter is lifted up, the granite plate is put underneath


Details of the wear and tear the saw blades incured

Details of the wear and tear these saw blades incurred

Saw blades with diamond or widia tipped teeth or so called diamond wire (Wikipedia) are used today to saw granite. The teeth of a widia saw blade have to be overhauled after about 8-900 hours of use and after 6000 hours they have to be replaced (costs about 50'000 Euros). A manufacturer writes about his applications for diamond band saw blades: "Cutting rates are 6-10 in² (= 9.8-16.4cm² - compare) per minute for granite with slower rates and lessened band life for higher quartzite bearing granite."
Photos North Carolina Granite Company: Drilling holes / wedges / crack after using wedges / Cutting with diamond saw / saw's teeth / hydraulic stone splitting


Origin of Egyptian iron

Egyptian iron was mined mostly in Nubia, but in the Old Kingdom (= the time, when the pyramids were built) it was brought from southern Turkey, mainly from the Armenian part, then the kingdom of the Hittites. A trade route ran from the Lebanon (resinous cedar wood for the pyramid tracks), Turkey (iron) via Cyprus (copper), Rhodes, Karpathos, Crete to the estuary of the nile. This route was following the main ocean currents in this area of the Mediterranean.

Iron was more valuable than gold!!!!! Important metallurgy processes were jealously guarded trade secrets.

According to conventional chronology, iron was first smelted about two thousand years BC. At the beginning iron was inferior to copper, because it was very brittle. Depending on the composition of the iron ore and the manufacturing process used, the iron produced in a so called bloomery can have either a lower or higher carbon content. By controlling the temperature and ratio of charcoal to iron ore carefully, the iron is kept from absorbing the carbon and becoming unforgeable. With temperatures of about 900° and more you only get cast iron which is comparatively brittle. It can be poured into molds, but it is of no use for forging, so it was probably not used much.
Wikipedia about Bloomery

So the so called bloom (or sponge iron) is used. This is highly porous and must later be reheated and beaten with a hammer to drive the slag (= impurities like charcoal ash, parts of the bloomery) out of it. This is done up to 40 times! Iron treated this way is called wrought iron. The rate of yield of iron out of ore is about 6%.

Wrought iron is too soft to be made into tools and weapons. Because extra hardness and strength are needed for knifes, hammer heads or chisels, iron has to be made into steel first, which is again a long process. First the iron has to be put into hot coal, then it has to go through a process of carburization, tempering, annealing and quenching to become tool steel.
Wikipedia carburization / tempering /annealing / quenching / tool steel

In ancient times a smith was responsible for the entire process of iron making. The quality of a steel sword - for example its hardness, elasticity or resilience - was solely owed to the skill and expert knowledge of the smith. At that time there was no known procedure to measure the carbon content of steel, but this is fundamental to its hardness and resilience. This kind of knowledge can only be gathered over many years and several generations of artisans, so of course this knowledge was jealously guarded!

If iron is found in strata which archeologists identify as originating from before the iron age, this find is often explained as consisting of iron which was extracted from an iron meteorite. If you consider the elaborate and long process of iron extraction there is no doubt, that this procedure could not have been developed if it could have been tried out only on a few meteorites somebody found by accident! This difficult procedure requires the skill and expert knowledge of generations of smiths.

Complex inventions like how to manufacture iron (or the alphabet) usually are not invented several times. Instead of trying to invent everything anew, the invention is copied or a master of his trade is enticed to work for you or the invention is stolen or taken by force. Important metallurgy processes were jealously guarded trade secrets, so probably for some time the Egyptians were only able to buy finished iron tools and didn't yet know how to manufacture them themselves. Sometimes the knowledge that a certain thing can be done is enough to interfere through experiments how it can be done.

We differ between blueprint copying and idea diffusion. With blueprint copying you copy or modify an available invention or concept. Idea diffusion happens when a group hears of a certain basic idea or result and have to reinvent the details. But because they know, that it can be done they try it themselves. The resulting solution may or may not resemble that of the first inventor. An example is building of the Russian atomic bomb - did spies steal the technical blue prints of the American atomic bomb or did the Russian scientists realize after Hiroshima, that it was possible to build a atomic bomb and reinvented the principles in an independent crash program? [10].

If an invention shows an evident advantage it spreads fast from its place of origin to other places. The invention of metalworking lead to overexploitation of the forests in the Mediterranean and to eventual desertification of large areas.


Limestone from the quarries in Giza (Giseh) and Tura (Thura)

Limestone is much softer and brakes more easily. Because limestone is a sedimentary rock which is laid down in layers called beds, it can be separated into slabs and then split into blocks by driving in wedges.

Block making is much faster and only needs a fraction of effort if you do it by splitting. If you want to split a limestone block along a particular line you lift the block up. Now you hit the stone on the narrow side along the line. After no more than 2 minutes the stone block splits exactly along the line and this split is very even. Now the stone has to be worked only very little to achieve a smooth surface.

To split limestone there is no need for special iron tools, but tools made from copper or stone are enough.

But if you want to further process the limestone blocks, Franz Löhner doubts, that copper tools are enough. These doubts mainly stem from the fact, that a copper chisel will deform after only a few hits from the impact on the stone, so no precise work is possible.


Five requirements that every pyramid construction theory should fulfill

Franz Löhner stipulates that any method or theory for pyramid construction should fulfill the following 5 requirements:

1. A solution that is as simple as possible using a technology that is as simple as possible (Occam's razor)
2. Continuity in technical matters and craftsmanship
3. Verification through pictures and/or text
4. Technology keeping with the time and culture
5. The supposed technique / method must really be a solution


A simple solution / method?

Does the solution proposed on this page by Franz Löhner also meet those five requirements?

About the 1st requirement (simple solution):
Franz Löhner's methods for splitting granite and limestone don't ask for time-consuming or complicated techniques, but what he proposes are by all means techniques, that are not as time-consuming as hitting granite with stone or copper tools.


What was found? The historical sources

About the 2nd requirement (technical continuity):
The process of producing wrought iron (forged iron) was known at the time by the Hittites. The ancient Egyptians could trade for this kind of iron or for the iron tools and then the Egyptian smiths would make tools from this iron or were at least able to maintain (= temper and sharpen) the tools acquired.

Because this process was only known to a few smiths, they were the elite of their profession. To anneal (harden) a point or an edge, a long procedure is necessary, where the color of the hot glowing iron must be closely observed. Often a specific temperature or color range gives the best results, if a certain type of forging task has to be accomplished. This demands a lot of skill and experience.
Color chart of iron and the approximate heat temperatures involved

Forging a chisel

Forging a chisel

Forging a chisel

Forging a chisel


About the 3d requirement (verification through pictures and/or text):
A piece of iron was actually found in the pyramid of Khufu (J.R. Hill in 1837). This find and the conclusion, that the Egyptians of the fourth dynasty already used iron is controversial though.

More important than discussing this piece of iron is the fact, that granite can't be cut with copper tools and then again, that iron was at that time more valuable than gold! Even in the middle ages iron tools were repaired often and re-used, they never were a disposable product!

We have to assume, that iron chisels were so precious, that the tools were given to the stone mason when their working day started and the tools were collected again when they finished their work. The use of iron tools was probably highly regulated and the worker who lost such a valuable tool was in big trouble! Iron tools were remelted and reused and because iron rusts, it is difficult to find much anyway after all those thousands of years!

Iron in ancient Egypt:
J.R. Hill was an assistant of Howard Vyse, who blasted a passage to the upper relieving chambers of Khufu's pyramid. When blasting away the two outer stone layers at the exit of one of the air shafts, he found a piece of iron (no tool) which was 26 cm by 8.6 cm large. J.R. Hill made the following statement:

"This is to certify, that the piece of iron found by me near the mouth of the air-passage, in the southern side of the Great Pyramid at Gizeh, on Friday, May 26th, was taken out by me from an inner joint, after having removed by blasting the two outer tiers of the stones of the present surface of the Pyramid; and that no joint or opening of any sort was connected with the above-mentioned joint, by which the iron could have been placed in it after the original building of the Pyramid. I also shewed the exact point to Mr. Perring, on Saturday, June 24th." [3]

The well known archeologist W. Petrie [9], who also investigated the pyramids said:

"That sheet iron was employed we know, from the fragment found by Howard Vyse in the masonry of the south air channel; and though some doubt has been thrown on the piece, merely from its rarity, yet the vouchers for it are very precise; and it has a cast of a nummulite on the rust of it, proving it to have been buried for ages beside a block of nummulitic limestone, and therefore to be certainly ancient. No reasonable doubt can therefore exist about its being really a genuine piece used by the Pyramid masons; and probably such pieces were required to prevent crowbars biting into the stones, and to ease the action of the rollers."

This find is controversial, even with Dr Sayed El Gayer and Dr M. P. Jones who had a look at the piece 1989 and found the following:

"The nickel content is far less than 7%, thereby confirming that it is not meteoritic iron - certainly man-made. It had been smelted at a temperature of between 1000º and 1100º centigrade. It had traces of gold on one face."

Using Franz Löhner's methods for stone cutting doesn't imply you will find iron tools on or inside the pyramid - since those tools were primarily necessary to cut the hard granite. Anyway, because the stones were cut and beveled at the stone quarries there is not much need of iron tools on the pyramid itself!
The pyramid building yard - the center of the construction project

Tools in ancient Egypt:
Several tools for processing stone have been found and also drawings of how stones were measured and worked.
Click here for an illustration of stone working.

About the 4th requirement (technology keeping with the time and culture):
Without iron tools it is not possible to use granite for the construction of the pyramid - this is the reason, that Franz Löhner states, that the Egyptians must have possessed iron tools to build the pyramid of Khufu.

For the construction of the pyramid of Khufu granite was used for the first time on a grand scale (an earlier pyramid, Djoser's pyramid, has an inner granite chamber) and for the pyramids of Khafre and Menkaure again large quantities of granite were used for building, actually the first 16 outer stone layers of the pyramid of Menkaure are entirely of granite [7].
Quarrying stones for the pyramid


Questioning this technique / method

About the 5th requirement (is this technique / method really a solution?):
The answer is yes - but on this page Franz Löhner is answering additional questions about the methods and techniques he suggests.
E-mail to Franz Löhner

Do you have any practical knowledge of the techniques of stone quarrying and stone processing you describe above?

F. Löhner's answer:
As a young men I worked in a granite quarry in Germany for several years, so I have an intimate knowledge of stones and tools. First I just laughed, when I read about copper tools being used in splitting and cutting granite and copper saws to saw through them. I then thought - that theory will soon be refuted, they just have to try it out with some granite and they will know straight away. This theory has persevered though and so I decided to build the copper tools described by Goyon [1] (these tools are still suggested today by Egyptologists) and determine to what degree the stone would be worn down and to what degree the tools deform.

1. Sawing granite with copper saws:
First I experimented with copper saws made from copper sheets of different thickness. I used soft, half soft and hardened copper sheets and made saw blades with different teeth (wavy, small teeth, large teeth). Then I tried to saw granite, it didn't work, the copper deformed. As an abrading medium I added quartz sand, then Corundum (a gem with a hardness on Mohs scale of 9) and even steel sand (made from steel grit and used to cut through concrete). But even after hours of work barley a scratch was visible on the surface of the granite block. In the same time and with the same effort I surely would have managed to split two or three blocks of granite if using the appropriate tools, ergo iron tools!

2. Drilling with a bow drill and copper bits:
Of course I also experimented with drilling. I built a simple Egyptian bow drill, as shown on several illustrations. After some experimenting I managed to find the right material for the sinew and determined the right tension to use. I used different wooden rods and even copper rods and also used different types of sand and mud. I added water, water and oil, milk and whey to emulsify the sands and prevent the drill bits from heating up too much. But as much as I tried, I didn't accomplish more than a slightly colored spot on the surface of the granite. Only when I changed to a chisel made from steel I managed to drill a couple holes into the granite.

3. Splitting granite with wedges:
I decided to try out an other technique attributed to the Egyptians - using wooden wedges soaked with water to cause the wood to swell and split the rock. I drilled holes and then put in dry wooden wedges and poured water on them so they would swell. But the wooden wedges didn't expand enough and didn't generate enough force to split the stone apart.

Mark Lehner [2], a well known Egyptologist, writes that copper saws and copper drills were used. Some experiments are described on the NOVA website.

F. Löhner's answer:
Using copper might possibly work for a short time with limestone, but then also only with a lot of abrasion and wear and tear of the tools. Anyway, on the same website a stonemason, Roger Hopkins, comments about copper tools and granite: "We're losing a lot of metal and very little stone is falling off" and further on it continues: "The Egyptians needed better tools than soft bronze and copper chisels to carve granite."

G. Goyon [1] and D. Arnold postulate, that stonemasons cut a channel which was 60cm wide crisscrossing each other, to get stone blocks of the same size. In the northwest of the pyramid of Khafre lies a quarry which is mentioned as proof for this method. Photo

F. Löhner's answer:
Only somebody who has never worked in a quarry can have an idea like this. Imagine the enormous effort, that kind of process entails. Then Goyon only allows his workers "stone and copper picks". The stone quarries where the stone for Khufu's pyramid were quarried look completely different and lie to the southeast. Limestone is a sedimentary rock with layers and this can be observed on the quarry walls.
Quarrying stones for the pyramid

All Egyptologists say, that only copper tools were used during the Old Kingdom. This is one of the reasons, why your ideas are refuted.

F. Löhner's answer:
I state, that for the construction of Khufu's pyramid granite was used for the first time on a grand scale. This can only have been possible, because the Egyptians now had access to iron tools. Copper tools can not be used to split granite, because copper is too soft and wears down and deforms immediately.

Because the procedure for making wrought iron and steel is very elaborate it is doubtful, that the Egyptians had already mastered it. But at that time the Egyptians already traded with the Hittites and Greeks and I think they acquired the valuable iron by trading. The Egyptian smiths then made tools from this iron or at least were able to maintain (= temper and sharpen) the tools acquired. I also don't believe in a mysterious process to harden copper which only the Egyptians knew about and which was then later forgotten!

Several experiments with stone cutting tools have been made - what is your opinion about them?

J. Röder [8] writes, that with a hammer made from Dolorite he reduced stone by about 12cm³ per minute and calculates, that 6000cm³ of material could be chipped off during a working day (= cube with a length of 18.2cm). The archeologist Mark Lehner [2] writes of an experiment, where he hit a stone during 5 hours with a stone tool and reduced an area of 30cm by 30cm by 2cm (= 6cm³ per minute, or a cube with a length of 14.3cm per day). R. and D. Klemm [7] write, that deep channels were driven in around granite blocks using stone tools made from Dolorite.

F. Löhner's answer:
This shows the total helplessness of the Egyptologists! Typically there are always pictures in those books that show workers using the wrong tools for this kind of task - for example photos in Mark Lehner's book show a pick-axe being used to cut stone ([2] chapter quarries - photo) - this shows, that Egyptologists often don't have the faintest idea about how you split stones but they blithely write about it in their books!
Again - if you hit stone on stone during an hour without a springy shaft (of a hammer or a carver's mallet), you are incapacitated during the rest of the day. So if somebody says, that he did this kind of work for 5 hours, I suspect, that he worked during a shorter period of time and then extrapolated or worked for one hour a day for 5 days - or that afterwards he had to visit a physiotherapist!

You demand verification through pictures and/or text - but no iron tools were found near the pyramid.

F. Löhner's answer:
Actually there is a documented find at the pyramid of Khufu, but it is rather contested, anyway it was a piece of iron and not a tool. As I have stated earlier, iron was very valuable at that time, more precious than gold. So imagine the trouble a worker would get into, if he lost one of these tools! The first find, that is actually accepted by all archeologists is from the tomb of Tutankhamun - the blade of a dagger. But it is doubtful, that this dagger was actually used to cut, because it was made from inferior iron, just like other typical grave goods.



These methods for cutting stones were first published 1993 in the book "Der Bau der Cheops-Pyramide" by Heribert Illig and Franz Löhner.

[1] G. Goyon Die Cheops-Pyramide
[2] M. Lehner Geheimnis der Pyramiden
[3] H. Vyse Operations Carried on at the Pyramids of Gizeh in 1837
[4] D. Arnold Building in Egypt
[5] From a text about manufacturing roofing slate: "...The hole is drilled by means of an ordinary drill, which may be used by one man lifting it up and down, or by two men, one holding and turning it in the hole, and the other striking it with a hammer..... The plug, a truncated wedge of steel, and the feathers, a half round malleable iron are used for unstratified stone. A row of holes is made with the drill on the line on which the fracture is to be made. In each of these holes two feathers are inserted and the plugs lightly driven in between them. The plugs are then gradually driven home by light blows of the hand hammer on each in succession until the stone is split." Another text / Additional information on Stone Quarries in the States
[6] J.E. Gage and M.E. Gage The Art of Splitting Stone: Early Rock Quarrying Methods in Pre-Industrial New England 1630-1825
[7] R. und D. Klemm Steine und Steinbrüche im Alten Ägypten
[8] J. Röder Zur Steinbruchgeschichte des Rosengranits von Aswan
[9] W. Petrie The Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh (Chap. 22)
[10] J. Diamond Guns, Germs, and Steel (Chapter Blueprints and Borrowed Letters)

www.cheops-pyramide.ch Copyright 2006 Franz Löhner and Teresa Zuberbühler