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posted: 12/18/2012 11:28 AM

Ancient Egyptians used pulley system to build pyramids

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  • An Egyptian man rides his camel near the Giza Pyramids in Egypt.

      An Egyptian man rides his camel near the Giza Pyramids in Egypt.
    Associated Press

 

A student in Gregg Thompson's sixth-grade social studies class at Woodland Middle School in Gurnee asked, "How did the ancient Egyptians carry blocks that were 1,000 times their weight to build pyramids?

The Pyramid of Khufu is the largest of the ancient Egyptian pyramids, constructed in 2650 B.C. using 1.3 million stone blocks.

The heaviest of these blocks, weighing up to 15 tons, were carved from a quarry in Aswan, 500 miles south of the Giza pyramid complex.

Pyramids were elaborate tombs built by Egyptian pharaohs for themselves or their family members. The ornate burial chambers included many objects found in daily life that were believed to be needed to accompany the mummified human remains in the afterlife.

These everyday objects, such as furniture and food items, and inscriptions carved in hieroglyphics on the walls of the pyramid rooms and passageways have enabled archeologists to learn about the daily lives of Egyptians who lived thousands of years ago.

"Although some of the blocks weighed more than two tons (4,000 pounds), the Egyptian engineers devised a pulley and sled system to move the blocks from the limestone cliffs to the site of the Pyramids at Giza and other places along the west bank of the Nile River," said James L. Phillips, curator of the "Inside Ancient Egypt" exhibit at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History.

The Field Museum exhibit includes replica tomb chambers and one of the largest collections of mummies in a U.S. museum. A special exhibit reveals artists' impressions of what the people behind the mummy masks might have looked like.

The Pyramid of Khufu is the tallest of the ancient pyramids at 481 feet and held the world record as the tallest man-made structure for thousands of years.

Phillips, UIC professor emeritus, said laborers hoisted the multi-ton blocks into place "using another pulley system."

Most blocks were carved from limestone quarries found nearby along the Nile River. Stonemasons would insert wooden wedges into the rock and soak them. Once soaked, the wood expanded and forced the rock to crack. Carved blocks were loaded onto boats and navigated up the Nile River to the pyramid site.

The Great Pyramid of Giza is in a complex that includes several pyramids, two temples and the Great Sphinx. Tourists can visit the complex and purchase tickets to enter the Great Pyramid.

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