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

Quarries in Ancient Egypt

The pyramid construction project had to be planned methodically from quarrying the right kind and size of stone to transporting them to Giza at the right time. The stones came from several different quarries - the bulk from limestone quarries on the Giza plateau itself, then white limestone for the outer stones from Tura upriver and granite from Aswan. Smaller amounts of basalt and Graywacke were also used.


Properties of the stones used for building the Great Pyramids

  Granite [3] Limestone [3]
Density 2600 - 2800 kg/m³ 2600 - 2900 kg/m³
Water Absorption 0,2 - 0,5 % 0,2 - 0,6 %
Compressive strength 160 - 240 N/mm² 80 - 180 N/mm²
Bending strength 10 - 20 N/mm² 6 - 15 N/mm²
Abrasion resistance 5 - 8 cm³/50cm² 15 - 40 cm³/50cm²
Mohs hardness 6-8 [4] 4 [4]
Properties Granite from Assuan has a specially nice pink color (light pink to dark pink) Limestone from the Giza plateau has well visible fossils (Nummulites)

If you look at these numbers you see why it is doubtful, that these rocks could be cut with copper tools (Mohs hardness 3). Franz Löhner is sure - without using iron (Mohs hardness 4.5, wrought iron 7-8 [5]) it is not possible!
Cutting granite with iron tools


The Aswan stone quarries (granite)

Aswan (Assuan) lies 934km south from Giza up the Nile river (about 700 km air-line distance). The granite quarries lie south and southeast of the city of Aswan on the right side of the Nile and cover an area of about 20 km². The granite for the pyramids probably came from the northern part. For the construction of the pyramids the ancient Egyptians only used building stones in perfect condition and that is only a stone which has been split off. Some archeologists assert [2], that also weathered roundish granite boulders were used, this kind of stone always has small fissures and can break apart easily, so it is unsuitable for use as a building stone.
Photos quarry Assuan / Google Earth pictures / Rose granite 1 2 3 / Gray granite 1 2 / Diorite 1 2 3

Pyramid Where was granite used? [1 and 2]
Djoser 2624-2605
Sarcophagus made from granite / burial chamber
Sneferu 2575 - 2551
Bent Pyramid, Red Pyramid, Saqqara
Khufu 2551 - 2528
Grand Gallery and the King's chamber, sarcophagus. Granite beams (1.3 x 1.8 x 8m, 50-60t) for the relieving chambers and granite portcullis slabs. Pyramid temple with granite columns and basalt pavement around the pyramid.
Djedefra 2528 - 2520
Abu Rawash
Probably the whole outer casing
Khafre 2520 - 2494
Volume of 17'000m³ [1]: sarcophagus, lowest layer of the outer casing, funerary temple with 2 Sphinx statues (80t) and granite columns (14-19t), granite statue of Khafre
Menkaure 2490 - 2472
Volume of 15'000m³ [1]: burial chamber, the lowest 16 layers of the outer casing and for the satellite pyramid Menkaure IIIa the lowest layer or perhaps the whole outer casing, blocks of the funerary temple (3 x 5.3 x 8m, 100-200t)
Shepseskaf 2472 - 2467
The lowest layer of the outer casing of the mastaba
Neferirkare 2446-2427
The lowest layer of the outer casing or more?

An earlier pyramid, Djoser's pyramid, also had an inner granite chamber, but for the construction of Khufu's pyramid hard granite was used for the first time on a grand scale, mainly for the burial chamber, the passages and for the sarcophagus [1]. 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 [2].

Franz Löhner shows, that granite can't be processed without iron tools (see cutting granite with iron tools). He thinks, that the changes toward slowly using more and more granite for important buildings is consistent with his assumption, that the iron needed to split and cut granite was traded for with the Hittites and only after some time there were enough iron tools available that larger quantities of granite could be cut.


The Tura stone quarries (limestone)

The Tura quarries (or Maasara quarries) lie south of Cairo on the eastern shore of the Nile, about 13-17km from Giza. These quarries yield limestones of a very high quality - white, very fine-grained, not very porous and somewhat harder than the limestone from Giza. Tura limestone can easily be cut and formed but when being exposed to air it hardens after a certain time. Because the stones weather to a slightly yellowish tone, they were extracted already during the time of building the pyramids from layers deep down, and even from underground. The whole area where the quarries lie is almost entirely stratified horizontally, so the stones are relatively easily extracted. The stone layers are 0.8 to 1.5m thick and separated by small clayey layers. This is the reason, why the blocks can be detached from the bedrock simply by lifting them up [2].

Die Schrägung der Pyramidenvorderseite musste mit Hammer und Meissel zugehauen und mit speziellen Lehren genau nachgeprüft werden.If possible stones intented to be laid down on the pyramid next to each other were also broken next to each other in the quarry. This automatically meant, that the blocks were of the same height and that they fitted to each other along the line of cleavage (breakage). So after splitting the stones, the quarrymen only had to control the longitudinal side and check if the line of breakage really fitted to each other. This had to be done carefully, because only small changes could still be made after the stone had been transported up the pyramid. If the stones didn't fit well, this was changed with hammer, chisel and other tools.

Cutting the correct angle and the corner stones:
The outer casing stones had to be bevelled in the correct angle (52°) for the flank of the pyramid, this was done with hammer and chisel and controlled with a special wooden gauge (illustration above). The quarrymen paid special attention to the corner stones. These stones had to support and absorb the enormous weight of the pyramid that pressed down and sidewards, so they had a special shape and were very massive. The angle of the very corner was very difficult to achieve and asked for high precision in workmanship. The outer stones all had to be very precisely cut, because here the angle of inclination of the pyramid was defined.
Alignment of the pyramids and controlling the shape of the pyramid
The outer casing stones of the pyramid (corner stones)

Grobes Zuhauen eines Steins mit Hife eines Seked-DreiecksHere at the quarry the stone can be lifted up, canted and worked on all sides. This is not possible if done on the pyramid itself. Before leaving the quarry, a master stonemason controls the size, shape of the stone and if it is smoothed enough at the right places exactly, the way it is necessary for its intended place on the pyramid. Only after passing this inspection, the stone is tied to the sledge and brought down to the harbor. Here it is transferred to special ferry boats, similar to the ships for the granite blocks and then transported to the Giza harbor. The Tura stones had to be handled with special care when loading them on the sledges. The wooden levers were wrapped with straw and the cargo was specially secured.
Shipping the stone blocks down the Nile to Giza
Detailed calculations how many workers were necessary to build the pyramid

Please take note, that it is very important, that the stones were cut and bevelled at the quarries and not on the pyramid itself like it is proposed by most Egyptologists!
The outer casing stones of the pyramid (reasons why)


The Giza stone quarries (limestone)

The stones used for Khufu's pyramid is a gray-yellow colored nummulite limestone and belongs to the Mokattam formation. The Giza quarries only lie a couple hundred meters south from the pyramid of Khufu. Then the plateau itself where the pyramid lies was also used for quarrying stones [1].

The pyramid builders used stones of different size and height for the layers. The stone blocks of Khufu's pyramid were very large in the lower layers (1m x 2.5m and 1-1.5m high, 6.5 - 10 tons). For the layers higher up it was easier to transport smaller stone (1m x 1m and 0.5m high, 1.3 tons) [2]. For calculations most Egyptologists use 2.5 tons for an average stone block.

Petrie [6] measured the pyramid layers and noticed, that while the stones used for the layers of Khufu's pyramid overall get smaller the further up you go, again and again there are stones layers much thicker than the ones before. Franz Löhner thinks this is evidence, that the stones in one layer originated (if possible) from the same stone layer in the quarry and then were layed down on the pyramid next to each other.
Stone courses of the Pyramid of Khufu

This fact also speaks against the huge transport ramps - when employing a ramp it is crucial to use smaller stones further up because the ramp gets narrower and often also steeper. But while building Khufu's pyramid with the help of Löhner's rope roll the haulers must have gained enough experience to be able to transport even relatively large blocks up to greater heights. Thicker layers are also necessary to install intermediate rope roll stations.
Transport up the pyramid flank with Löhner's rope roll
The pyramid building yard - the center of the construction project

The archeologist Mark Lehner says, that the rubble covering the Giza quarries nowadays is what is left over after dismantling the transport ramps. But even if you think transport ramps are necessary - why cover up a perfectly good quarry which still can be used for many generations after the pyramid has been built (for example stones from Menkaure's quarry were used for tombs in Abusir [2])? Actually it is more likely, that rubble and sand have accumulated there after the quarries were abandoned because they were no more profitable.
Theories of pyramid ramp systems disproved

Limestone quarries on the Giza plateau, Egypt 

Orange = Limestone quarries on the Giza plateau. Dashed line = harbor facilities, their exact position is not known

There is a building in the harbor of Khafre which is about 70m long and there seemed to be two piers there. The stone blocks from Tura and Aswan were brought here on the Nile channel. The walls of the channel and the harbor were probably used to moor ships transporting materials like wood, ropes and other building materials.
Shipping the stone blocks down the Nile to Giza


Quarries in Ancient Egypt

Quarries for many different types of stones lie along the Nile. Most stones were transported on barges down the Nile. Granite for the King's Chamber in Khufu's pyramid was brought over more than 900km from Aswan and white limestone for the outer casing from Tura, a few kilometers south of Giza.

Map of quarries in Egypt - print version

map of stone quarries and mines in ancient egypt

Map of stone quarries for limestone, sandstone, granite, basalt and alabaster [2] and mines for copper, iron, lead and gold [3] in ancient Egypt. Print only map.



[1] J. Röder Zur Steinbruchgeschichte des Rosengranits von Aswan
[2] R. and D. Klemm Steine und Steinbrüche im Alten Ägypten
[3] Geo Dienst - List of rocks (in German)
[4] D. Arnold Building in Egypt
[5] Mohs' scale of mineral hardness characterizes the scratch resistance of various minerals through the ability of a harder material to scratch a softer material. A fingernail has a Mohs hardness of 2.5 / copper penny about 3.5 / a knife blade 5.5 / window glass 5.5 / steel blade 6.5.
[6] W. Petrie The Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh - Illustration stone layers

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