Pyramid construction with a rope roll. Theory of Franz Löhner

How many workers are necessary to build Khufu's pyramid?


The detailed calculations about how many men were needed to quarry the stones, transport them up the pyramid of Khufu are based on calculations by Dr. Heribert Illig and Franz Löhner [1].

Stone quarries - Transport by boat - Transport on land - Inspecting and fitting the stones in the building yard - Up the flank of the pyramid - Transport of the large granite blocks - Laying the stone blocks and polishing them - Total - Sources


Herodotus wrote about 2000 years later: "For this, they said, the ten years were spent, and for the underground chambers on the hill" and "For the making of the pyramid itself there passed a period of twenty years" and "they worked by a hundred thousand men at a time, for each three months continually" [6]. Modern egyptologists estimate a workforce of about 20'000 to 25'000 men [2].

But were such legions of workers really necessary?

Dr. Heribert Illig and Franz Löhner calculate a total number of 6'700 workers, which were necessary to build Khufu's pyramid. Most of those were highly skilled craftsmen and artisans, not unskilled workers or even slaves.

This is a rough estimate but it is based on relatively accurate approximations. The calculations are based on the minimum of workers necessary to finish the pyramid in 20 years time.

The number of persons employed probably varied due to daily and seasonal fluctuations and also because the character of the building project was changing. By the time less workers were needed to build the proper pyramid, more workers were needed to build the temple, the satellite pyramids and the causeway. We think, that it was also possible to build the pyramid of Khufu in only 10 to 15 years, if at the beginning all four sides of the pyramid were used to install tracks and rope roll stations and this without raising the number of workers too much!
Löhner's rope roll
Transporting the large granite blocks up the pyramid


Stone quarries

Quarrying stones for the pyramid
Cutting granite with iron tools
Overview pyramid building

Stone quarries in Giza (limestone for the main body of the pyramid)
  • In the stone quarries in Giza 500 blocks daily (an average of 431 blocks rounded to 500) were quarried from the wall in square formats. Using the usual methods where stones are levered with wooden beams from the bedrock a team of 8 men can lever 2 to 3 stones per hour. For the 500 stones daily you need 25 teams.
  • 80 men had to make sure, that the stones fell on soft ground instead of hard rock. A bed of soft material like sand or soil is put down where the stone is likely to fall. In such a way no stones crack and no corners are chipped.
  • 6 men fasten the stone to a sledge (incl. overseer and water carrier = 8 men). Calculating 4 hours to lever the stones and tighten them on the sledge a team could handle 32 stones per day. For 500 stones we need 16 teams (rounded)

Next step: Transporting the stones to the pyramid building yard

stone-breakers / quarrymen and stonemasons
(= 25 teams of 8 men)
men to make sure, the stones fall on a soft bed
men for loading stones
Stone quarries in Tura (white limestone for the outer casing)
  • The casing stones were primarily used during the first years of construction, so we calculate with 10 instead of 20 years. The white stones for the outer casing were made to order. The stone breakers cut the stone accurately to size and with the right inclination of 52°. The angles of the outer stones were cut here and not at the pyramid. If there were any cracks, the stone was discarded immediately. The corner stones had to meet even stricter criteria.
  • This precise work was slower, so we calculate that a team (see above) required 75 minutes for breaking off a stone. The daily output was around 6.5 stones per team. If we stipulate, that the work should be finished in 10 years, 69 Tura stones should be quarried per day (assuming 290 working days per year). We calculate 11 teams (88 men), together with helpers, overseers etc. about 120 men.
  • 40 men had to make sure, that the stones fell on soft ground instead of hard rock.
  • The stones had to be handled with care when loading them on the sledges. The wooden levers were wrapped with straw and the cargo was specially secured. A 8-men-team probably only handled 3 stones per hour which works out to 25 stones per day. With 69 stones per day we need 3 teams of 8 men each (=24 men, rounded to 30 men).
  • The stones had to be transported to the Nile. The sledges with the stones were loaded on boats and shipped to Giza. Hauling teams of 15 men [3] haul the stones down to the Nile. They can handle 6 stones daily. We calculate 12 teams of 15 men each, adding 10 men for supervising and helpers we get 190 men.

Next step: Transport to Giza on the Nile

stone-breakers / quarrymen and stonemasons
(11 teams of 8 men incl. overseer, helpers, water carriers)
men to make sure, the stones fall on a soft bed
men for loading stones
(3 teams of 8 men, rounded)
(12 teams of 15 men plus 10 helpers)
Stone quarries in Aswan (granite for the King's Chamber and the Grand Gallery)
  • In the open quarries of Aswan the granite was worked as follows (more information): The stone was pried from the bedrock by inserting several wedges. First a series of holes has to be drilled. We propose, that like in the ancient quarries of Europe not an actual drill was used but a forged chisel. With the hard granite this is only possible with iron tools. The stone has to be cut along its cleavage plane, that is the structure by which certain rocks split most readily.
  • A man sits on the stone holding the chisel perpendicular to the surface to where a hole is placed and three men pound on the chisel with sledge hammers by turns. After each hit the chisel is rotated by one eighth until the hole is 10 to 15cm deep. A row of holes is drilled in such a way along the cleavage. Now a pair of metal shims are inserted in each hole with a wedge between and lubricated. Each wedge in the row is pounded until a thin crack forms between the wedges and the rock can be levered apart.
  • For the granite stones we need 2 teams in two shifts with one man holding the chisel and 9 men (3 times 3 men) pounding. Each half hour the shift is relieved, because this kind of work is very exhausting. An average granite stone can be cut in such a way in one day. Even calculating that it takes 20 times longer to cut a granite stone (1 block every 20 days) it was still possible to cut the required blocks in only 10 years.
  • A team of 20 men is loading the granite blocks onto sledges and 25 men haul them to the harbor (1.5km away - we calculate 120 min. to haul a stone there and walk back). A team can haul 4 stones per day (with rope rolls). Still tied to their sledges the stones are shipped down the Nile to Giza.
  • If one of the large 40-tons block had to be transported, additional workers from other quarries were asked to help.

Next step: Transport to Giza on the Nile

stone-breakers / quarrymen
(4 teams of 20 men)
blacksmiths and helpers
masters, scribes, water carriers, helpers etc.
men for loading stones
additional large team for transporting the occasional 40-tons stone


TOTALLY 1170 workers in the quarries are extracting all the stones necessary by breaking them from the bedrock and into square blocks.


Transporting the stones by boat and barge

Shipping the stone blocks down the Nile to Giza
Overview pyramid building

Tura flotilla
  • 69 stones had to be transported daily to Giza from the Tura quarries. One ship could transport about 10 stones, so 7 ships were necessary.
  • For one transport a full day was necessary (a few kilometers up the Nile, then crossing the river, the next 6-7km the barge was towed on the Nile channel, some time to unload and for the trip back). We calculate 15 men per barge.

Next step: Transport from the harbor to the pyramid building yard.

(7 teams of 15 men)
men for towing barges
(7 teams of 20 men)
Assuan (Aswan) flotilla
  • A large river barge with a crew of about 20 men could load about 4 small granite blocks. The journey down the Nile and the Nile channels lasted at least 20 days until they reached the Giza harbor. For the journey back they needed at least as much time. We calculate 2 months per load.
  • For the 500 granite blocks - for some of the larger ones you needed a ship alone - we need about 350 runs. We calculate an average of 10 stones per ship and need 10 ships to complete the task in 8 years.
  • We don't know if the ships sailed on the Nile channels or if they were towed, so we add 6 teams of 30 men for towing. For maintenance we add 50 carpenters and for coordination an extra 20 men.

Next step: Transport from the harbor to the pyramid building yard.

(10 ships with 20 men)
men for towing barges close to the pyramids
(6 teams of 30 men)
coordination etc.
Shipping of material for general use
  • We think, that to transport all additional materials such as wood, ropes, food etc. we need about twice as much skippers as for transporting the Tura stones.
TOTALLY 1290 skippers were responsible for transporting all the stone blocks and other materials needed on the Nile to the harbor of Giza.


Transport on land up to the building yard

Transporting the stone blocks using a sledge on tracks
Calculating the force and kinetic coefficient of friction necessary

Transport from the Giza stone quarries to the building yard
  • To transport 500 stones daily from the three Giza quarries to the building yard at the pyramid you need 3 hauling routes (tracks for sledges) with rope rolls every 75m (= 300 meters distance). Because it is a slight slope we need 12 hauling teams of 30 men each [3]. With two shifts we double those numbers, so one team can haul while the other walks back to the starting point. One track can deliver a stone every 2 minutes, the transportation capacity of all the tracks together is one stone every 40 seconds (1 stone per minute is requested [4]).
  • At the beginning of the construction, when most of the stones are required, there were probably more than 3 hauling routes in service. With the help of Löhner's rope roll the stones could be hauled up on all 4 sides of the pyramid. It seems to be logical to use larger capacities if it doesn't require much additional effort and resources.
  • The sledges were used daily and had to be fixed and overhauled. For this carpenters had to be employed.

Next step: cutting the stone blocks to size

haulers from the quarries to the building yard
(24 teams of 30 men)
additional helpers (carpenters, greasers, water carriers)
Transport from the harbor to the building yard
  • 69 stones arriving from the Tura quarries had to be transported daily from the harbor to the building yard (= transport of all required blocks during 10 years). The stones arrived already tied to the sledges and were unloaded on special loading bays straight to the tracks.
  • We need a hauling track with rope rolls every 75m (= 525m route, perhaps longer), so we need 7 hauling teams of 22 men each. We add an other team if there are additional ships landing or specially large blocks have to be moved.

Next step: Inspecting the stones

haulers from the harbor (= 8 teams of 22 men)
additional helpers
TOTALLY 1020 workers were hauling all the stone blocks necessary for building the pyramid from the Giza quarries and from the harbor to the building yard.


Inspecting and fitting the stones in the building yard and transporting them to the foot of the pyramid

The pyramid building yard - the center of the construction project

Building yard
  • This is the center of the whole construction site. All the work, all assignments are planned and coordinated here. The route of each stone has to be scheduled and its shape and size and its intended place on the pyramid has to be decided in advance.
  • At the building yard the stones were placed in the right order to see if they fit together. This was written down on the blocks and then they were transported, still tied to the same sledge, in the correct order to the building site and up the flank of the pyramid.
  • Each stone was examined by a master builder and most passed without any changes necessary. But sometimes a stone with the wrong size or shape was delivered or a flawed stone had to be replaced. At the wokshop those stones were cut to the size and shape required.
  • For a standard size stone (stone blocks from the Giza quarries) a stonemason needed about 4 to 5 hours with good tools. For a casing stone (from the Tura quarries) about 8-10 hours, for a corner stone probably more like 10-12 hours. To process the 500 stones daily about 300 stonemasons were needed and as much helpers.
  • An important part was played by the smiths that had to manufacture and maintain the iron tools. We calculate 100 smiths and twice as much additional helpers.
helpers in the workshop
(water carriers, removal of scrap, tool suppliers)

supporting workers and helpers
(men at the bellows, men supplying material needed, water carriers etc.)

supervising, administration, planning etc.
Transport from the building yard to the foot of the pyramid
  • To transport the stones from the building yard to the foot of the pyramid (about 200m) it was expedient to install tracks that could be shifted and which connected to the five tracks (minimum) that were leading up the pyramid flank.
  • First we need 8 teams of 18 men each to maneuver the stones from the building yard onto the short tracks. These teams are large, because this had to be accomplished by levering each block. Then we calculate 5 teams of 15 men each [3] for hauling the stones over these tracks on even ground.
  • The number of teams can be increased, if there are more than 5 tracks leading up the flank of the pyramid. Since this can considerately reduce the time needed for the whole building process, it seems logical, that there were more tracks in use. Our calculations on this page are based on the minimum of workers needed to finish the pyramid in 20 years time.
haulers on even ground (= 5 teams of 15 men)
haulers from the building yard to the beginning of the tracks at the pyramid (= 8 teams of 18 men)
additional helpers
TOTALLY 1320 workers were processing the stone blocks, fitting them together and preparing them for the transfer to the pyramid tracks.


Transporting the stones up the flank of the pyramid

Löhner's rope roll
Transport up the pyramid flank with Löhner's rope roll
Calculating the force and kinetic coefficient of friction necessary
Numbers and figures of the Cheops-pyramid (pyramid of Khufu)

On the flank of the pyramid
  • The stones arrived still tied to the sledge and were hauled up the flank. Here at least 5 tracks were installed with pairs of rope roll stations each 35 meters. Thanks to the rope roll an average stone block could be hauled up the flank with a team of only 55 men [3].
  • Because the volume of stones needed is less with every new layer, those five tracks were reduced over time first to 3 then to a single track which leads up to the very tip of the pyramid.
  • For the first 35 meters we calculate 550 men to operate the five tracks (for each track two double teams = 110 men, one team hauling, one walking back). Then the tracks are reduced to 3 units. We calculate 2 pairs or 6 double teams (= 660 men). For the single track leading up to the top which has 4 rope roll stations we need 4 double teams (= 440 men).
  • We calculate that a maximum of 880 men were needed, namely when there were 4 tracks in use with 2 stations a piece.
  • Possibly the Egyptians built the tracks not only on the southern side of the pyramid but also on the west and east, so it was possible that more hauling teams were needed (1 double team per track per 30-37m = 110 men). Installing more tracks would of course also make a big difference in the time needed to finish building the pyramids.
5 hauling tracks up to 37m
3 hauling tracks up from 37m to 75m
1 hauling track up to the top of the pyramid (146.59m)
A MAXIMUM of 880 workers were necessary to transport the stones for the pyramid from the base of the pyramid to the planned height.


Transporting the large granite blocks from the harbor to the intended height

Transporting the large granite blocks up the pyramid
Cutting granite with iron tools

Transport of the heavy granite stone blocks
  • For transporting the heavy granite blocks of up to 40-50 tons, a separate track was built, because the transport was more difficult. This track went from the harbor up to the pyramid and without stopping straight up the flank of the pyramid (probably on the eastern or northern side). This track had to be specially constructed to bear more weight and with more rope rolls.
  • If one of the very large granite beams arrived at the harbor, workers from other parts of the building site were recruited to help. But on the flank of the pyramid only seasoned workers were employed, because work here was more demanding.
  • Since the granite blocks were made to measure in Assuan it was only necessary to slightly adjust or change them at the building yard.
Additional haulers for transporting the granite stones from the harbor to the building yard
TOTALLY 200 additional workers were needed to haul the large granite blocks from the harbor to the building yard.


Laying the stone blocks and polishing the casing blocks

The outer casing stones of the pyramid
Transporting the large granite blocks up the pyramid

Pyramid plateau
  • On the working plateau of the frustum, room was very limited, so each gang had its specific work allocated. Once the stones arrived on the pyramid plateau, they were hauled on movable tracks to the right place where they were levered and layed down in a specific order.
  • Specially the outer casing stones had to be aligned in a precise pattern and fitted neatly to their neighbor stone. Then the outer casing stones were burnished and polished (but not bevelled - that was done at the quarry) while the next layer of stones was laid down. A team of 20 polishers could finish a surface of about 1.5m² per day.
  • Over the whole construction period we calculate with an average of 4 tracks leading up, so we need 4 time 7 stone laying teams of 26 men each.
Haulers and stone layers (= 28 stone laying teams of 26 men)
building supervision and helpers
TOTALLY 820 workers are laying down the stones on the pyramid plateau in a specific order, fitting them and polishing the outer casing blocks.

Rough calculations give a total number of 6700 workers for the construction of Khufu's pyramid [1]

1170 workers in the stone quarries
1290 skippers on the Nile
1020 workers for the land transport
1320 workers in the building yard and at the foot of the pyramid
880 workers on the pyramid flank
200 workers for transporting the granite blocks
820 workers to position the stone blocks on the pyramid plateau


Even if we increase these numbers they are still at the scale of a large construction site - one, the ancient Egyptians could feed and pay for!
Overview pyramid building

These calculations show, that it was possible to build the pyramids without the numerous (slave?) workers most Egyptologists suggest. This was a very large, but manageable construction site, where skilled workers were employed over a number of years, each worker with a very precise assignment as part of a large planned undertaking - building the Great Pyramid of Giza!

For comparison: a known egyptologist calculates ([5] for the Dahshur pyramid) 30 men per 2.5 ton block just for the transport from the quarries and up the pyramid. Our calculations show, that without the rope roll, 30 haulers are not enough for the angle of inclination used for the ramps. We calculate with 37 haulers at an inclination of 5° / 136 haulers at 10° inclination. But other actors are even more important: First you also have to consider, that with the ramps there is only one hauling route going up, not five track systems. Second the sledge plus the hauling team walking in front of it use much more space than the sledge and the hauling team walking down on the side. Third, the haulers have to haul much longer distances and forth, each time you have to go around a corner you have to use levers which really takes a lot of time! Most egyptologists think 20'000 to 25'000 workers were necessary.
Calculating the force and kinetic coefficient of friction necessary (details)



[1] The numbers on this page were first published 1993 in the book by Heribert Illig and Franz Löhner "Der Bau der Cheops-Pyramide" and were calculated again for this website
[2] R. Stadelmann Die grossen Pyramiden von Giza
[3] Detailed calculations:
- Pyramid flank (52°): we get a hauling team of 55 men (48 haulers, a overseer, lubricator and men for checking the tracks and the ropes, stopping the stones from slipping down the tracks and for working the rope roll)
- Gradient of 5°: For small auxiliary ramps we need 24 haulers. Together with 2 men in reserve and 4 additional workers we get a hauling team of 30 men.
- On level surface: here 12 haulers are enough. Including a overseer, and some men to take care of the tracks and ropes we get a hauling team of 15 men.
[4] Detailed calculations:
Assuming 20 years to build the pyramid of Khufu (2'500'000 stones) we calculate 342 stones that had to be moved daily (working during 365 days a year) or 431 stones daily (working during 290 days a year). Assuming a 10-hour day a stone every 2 minutes / with a 8-hour day a stone every minute had to be hauled up the pyramid.
[5] M. Lehner The Complete Pyramids of Egypt page 22
[6] Herodotus was a Greek historian who lived about 2000 years later and wrote about how Cheops (Greek name for Khufu) and his sons build the Pyramids of Giza. He also insinuated, that the pharaohs had all kinds of vices. He wrote, that Cheops, "to such a pitch of wickedness, that being in want of money he caused his own daughter to sit in the stews" (= brothel). He also describes machines that were used for constructing the pyramids (translated as "hoisting apparatus" in some texts) and says, that Cheops must have spent a lot of money for the iron used for building the pyramids. (Herodotus, The Histories second Book, Numbers 124 to 128)


Copyright 2006:

Franz Löhner

Concept and Design, English Texts:

Teresa (Zubi) Zuberbühler

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