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Quarry Map
"Pyramids and Quarries of the Old and Middle Kingdom" (detail)
from Egyptian Pyramids, © 1947, Leslie Grinsell

"Limestone Quarry" from Egyptian Pyramids,
©1947, Leslie Grinsell

There is little extant evidence of who the builders and architects of the Old Kingdom Pyramids were, the methods they employed or the tools which were used. It is believed that Imhotep was the architect of the Pyramid of Djoser, but none of the discovered texts reveal any details of the work done. The names of the builders of Giza are as yet uncertain. A number of old texts and tomb inscriptions refer to builders and artists of the Old Kingdom, but do not specifically refer to work on the Pyramids.

The following tools and techniques are generally thought to have been used by builders during the old Kingdom: copper chisels, transporting causeways, ramps, sledges, roller, mud brick construction embankments, levers, plumb rules, set squares, ropes, saws, dolorite pounders, tubular drills, and wooden molds. Of all these tools, only one plumb rule, one square, and a number of dolorite pounders have actually been found. However, there is visible evidence on some of the stones and statues of the use of saws, tube drills and lathes. (See Ancient Egyptian Stone Technology).

Coarse limestone, used for the core masonry, appears to have been quarried from the immediate vicinity of each pyramid. Quarries have been located at Giza around the Sphinx, southeast of the Pyramid of Menkaure, and south-east of the Pyramid of Khafre. Fine limestone, used for the exterior casing stones, and for lining the passages and chambers, appears to have mainly come from the region around Tura, southeast of Cairo. However, there are no direct references to this quarry until the Middle Kingdom. Alabaster appears as flooring in the Pyramid and Valley Temple of the Pyramid of Khafre.

Granite was used in the interiors of all three of the pyramids of Giza, most notably in the King's Chamber in the Great Pyramid. Granite also lines the Valley Temple of Khafre, makes up the casing stones of the first sixteen courses of the of the Pyramid of Menkaure, and the lower courses of the Pyramid of Khafre. Red granite also lines the north corridor of the Pyramid Temple of Menkaure. Nearly all of the granite apparently came from the area around Aswan and Elephantine Island, a distance of 500 miles. Each of the red granite blocks used in the King's Chamber ceiling and the chambers above it are estimated to weigh 50 tons—as much as a locomotive.

Basalt was used for the paving stones, still visible, in the Pyramid Temple of Khufu. It may have come from a quarry in the Faiyum, west of Dahshur. Diorite, an extremely hard, greenish brown stone, was mainly used for statues. The statue of Khafre, found in a shaft in the Valley Temple of Khafre, is of diorite.

Petrie found partial edging stones near the Great Pyramid, indicating that the satellite pyramids may have been edged in diorite.

The actual techniques used for quarrying, transporting and placing large stone blocks have been pondered and debated, but have not, as yet, been empirically demonstrated.

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Updated September 15, 2000.