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Ancient Egypt

Pyramids: how they were built

The pyramid construction siteThe pyramid construction siteThe building of a pyramid was a massive undertaking, employing thousands of workers for 20 years or more. We do not know for sure exactly how the pyramids were built. Our best guess is that, first, the plan of the pyramid was marked out on the ground. Then the ground was levelled and the pyramid built up layer by layer from giant limestone blocks like a massive staircase. The blocks were perhaps then hauled up the pyramid on a spiral ramp built of earth and rubble. The outside of the pyramid was faced with triangular blocks, called casing stones, made of a finer limestone than the building blocks. They were polished by hand until they were completely smooth.

A team of workers hauling blocksA team of workers hauling blocks

Construction workers

A vast army of workers were needed to build the pyramid. A large proportion of the workforce were peasants. Around 25,000 or so at a time would be drafted in to serve three months’ work on the site, before they were replaced by another workforce.

The workers were organized into small teams of 20-25 men. With one of their number as foreman, they hauled the stones and set them in place. A team could be expected to move an average of 10 stones a day from quarry to pyramid.

Using a dolerite stone (top) and a saw (above)Using a dolerite stone (top) and a saw (above)Around 4000 men worked at quarrying, cutting, hauling and setting the stones themselves. A large crew would be employed just to build and maintain the building ramps. Carpenters, metalworkers and potters were also needed, along with scribes, surveyors, masons and sculptors—the higher-ranking employees that had to be hired for the project.

The casing stones of the Great Pyramid of Khufu were fitted so perfectly it is impossible even to get a knife blade between them. Over the years, most of the casing stones have been removed for use in other buildings. Some of the casing stone still remains at the top of Khafre’s Pyramid.

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