Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Forgotten Stones of Aswan Quarry, Egypt

The unfinished obelisk in Aswan, Egypt, is estimated to be around 1168 tons, but the largest Obelisk that was actually erected in Egypt was no more that 500 tons. I visited the immense unfinished Obelisk first in 2010, and was immediately bemused by its gigantic size. The night before, I had visited Luxor Temple and was stunned into silence by the artificially lit Obelisk that sits alone at the entrance to the temple, trying to comprehend how on earth such a thing could exist (it’s twin was shipped to Paris - quite a feat in itself). It just looked so ‘alien’ and surprisingly ‘modern’, as though it was somehow designed on a computer. It is also much smaller than the unfinished Obelisk in the quarry.
Obelisk by Night at Luxor Temple There are several quarries in Egypt, but the preferred granite source came from the Aswan area. One of the earliest known directors of the Aswan quarry was employed by Ramses III, named Hori around 1170 BC (1). Much of the red, grey, and black granite used in the pyramids and Valley Temple on the Giza plateau was taken from here, and was utilized long before Ramses III. The stone from this quarry was transformed into the casing stones of Khafre and Menkaure’s pyramids, the 70 ton lintels above the Kings Chamber, and numerous sarcophagi, columns, and megalithic blocks on the plateau and beyond. The casing stones on Menkaure’s pyramid have caused some controversy. Robert Temple and his colleagues concluded, by using a technique called optical thermoluminescence, that the casing stones were dated between 3590 – 2640 BC, much earlier than Menkaure, and possibly confirming that the pyramids were built several hundred years before King Menes, the first Pharaoh, circa 3100 BC (2). This also dates the quarry at Aswan much earlier than previously thought, as that’s where the stone came from. 




Other notable monuments that were quarried at Aswan include the sarcophagus made from granite at the burial chambers of Djoser and Sneferu at Saqqara, the Osirion at Abydos, and Cleopatra’s Needle that was originally erected in the Egyptian city of Heliopolis on the orders of Thutmose III, around 1450 BC (1).
Menkaure's Pyramid Casing Stones at Giza
Menkaure's Pyramid Casing Stones at Giza
The big question is always this: How did they do it? There are diorite pounding stones placed all around the site to demonstrate the way in which they must have quarried the granite. Diorite is only slightly harder than granite. Several engineers, and Egyptologist Mark Lehner, tried pounding the granite with diorite balls to see how long it would take. Estimates went up to around 8 months to release the Obelisk from the bedrock. (3) Engineer Christopher Dunn calculated that it would have probably taken much longer to complete such a task, and almost impossible in the cramped conditions that the workers would have had to suffer. Then, of course, it has to be removed, erected, and transported to the final destination. There are many other Obelisks all over Egypt, and now in other countries, and their function and purpose is still a mystery, but at least we know where they came from. Even level-headed engineers speculate that advanced machinery was used, as evidence can still be seen at the site. Other researchers theorise that sound or some kind of sonic technology was used to quarry, cut, and levitate these stones, or did they literally have stone-cutting machines, as Chris Dunn speculates?
The strange 'scoops' on the Unfinished Obelisk
The strange 'scoops' on the Unfinished Obelisk
The strange tool marks on much of the stone in the quarry looks like ‘scoops’ of some sort. It’s a style that does not match the diorite pounding balls. Chris Dunn suggested that this was done by some kind of machine that he describes as a massive belt sander, attached to some kind of JCB or excavator. There are many theories as to how they did it, but all we are left with are diorite balls, bronze chisel, stone implements, and a mystery that is yet to be solved. Marcus Allen, Editor of Nexus Magazine (UK) lectures on the sophisticated technology of the ancient Egyptians, and believes the diorite balls may have had another purpose. He told me they could have been used to roll the big stones on, as they are tougher than granite and could evenly distribute the great weight of such blocks over short distances (such as a nearby boat on the Nile River bank).
Diorite Balls
Figure 5 - Diorite Balls, said to be used on the Granite
This gigantic Obelisk is said to have been abandoned due to a crack that appeared on its surface. Chris Dunn raised the question as to why none of it was ever again quarried or used in future projects, as it is a very useful and perfectly ‘prepared’ chunk of megalithic rock. Also, some time after it was originally abandoned, drill-holes were made in the top surface where perhaps a smaller obelisk was being marked out. This outline also went through the ‘crack’ which archaeologists say was the reason it was never originally completed. But then why would they start cutting out another smaller obelisk if there was a crack in it? Chris Dunn, in his book Advanced Technology in Ancient Egypt suggests the crack happened much later, and that the monolith was left there long ‘before’ the crack ever happened, as though it was abandoned. Furthermore, the rites and ceremonies of the ancient Egyptians hint that Obelisks were imbued with some special power, or spirit, so maybe that prevented them from ever being able to use that particular piece of granite again, suggesting, because it has been ‘charged’ and imbued with power, it had to stay there and remain untouched. Perhaps someone forgot that (maybe the Romans) when they started marking out the smaller Obelisk.
Close-up of holes and cuts on the top surface of the Obelisk
Close-up of holes and cuts on the top surface of the Obelisk
All over Egypt there is evidence of sophisticated technology, which Chris Dunn has become the leading expert on, but a century earlier similar observations were made by a British archaeologist. “It will probably surprise many people to know that evidence proving that the ancient Egyptians used tool such as straight saws, circular saws, and even lathes has been recognized for over a century.” (4) This comment from Dunn was talking mainly about Flinders Petrie, who was the first to note that some kind of machining took place in Egypt. Petrie worked in Egypt from 1880 for around 40 years. He credited them with methods that "we are only now coming to understand”. Machining technology was in its infancy in the early 1900’s, and it is only in recent decades that modern-looking machine tool marks have been fully recognized. As our technology gets more sophisticated, we then start to see evidence of that in the stonework of Egypt. Therefore, it could simply be that our current technology is simply not as advanced as that of the ancient Egyptians. In the years to come, as our technology advances, we may start recognizing how they did it. However, when gazing at the 2.5 million blocks that make up the Great Pyramid, the mighty Obelisks, and the precision engineering throughout this incredible country, perhaps that may take some time.
Referring back to a quote by the late Klaus Schmidt in my previous article on Gobekli Tepe, he stated: ”In ancient Egypt, the dragging and erecting of holy pillars was an important part of ritual events.” (5). He also went on to say that there might be some kind of common origin, as the obelisks of ancient Egypt usually come in pairs in front of temples. So, where is the other mega-Obelisk? There are suggestions that it was intended to complement an Obelisk that was originally at Karnak and is now outside the Lateran Palace in Rome.(5) Others suggest the pharaoh Hatshepsut ordered it to be built to celebrate her sixteenth year in power (6). However, neither of these match the immensity of this mighty sleeping giant at Aswan.
Old photo of Cleopatra's Needle being transported.
Old photo of Cleopatra's Needle being transported.
There is another theory that sounds more likely. Perhaps a single Obelisk, that was so important it had to be that size, was in the process of being created. It’s location is interesting as it is in the correct area to mark the lower boundary of Egypt, and acts as a geodetic and astronomical marker that was part of a great survey of not only Egypt, but of the circumference of the Earth. In 236 BC Eratosthenes of Alexandria was appointed Director of the Great Library at Alexandria. Not only was he a pioneer in prime number mathematics, he also calculated the meridian circumference of the Earth. He realised that by placing an Obelisk at the latitude of Aswan (then called Syene), and another at Alexandria, the difference in shadows, compared to the lengths of the Obelisks would reveal the distance between these two sites (see image and further detailed text below). At Aswan, the Obelisk casts no shadow on the Summer Solstice, so the latitude of this area was an ideal spot to work out these calculations. Syene also marked the lower boundary of ancient Egypt, so I propose that the unfinished Obelisk would have been erected very near to it’s quarry location and served two purposes – one to mark the boundary, and another to be used to calculate the meridian circumference of the planet. There may be some more esoteric reasons too, but they are beyond the scope of this article.
From 'Earth Grids' by Hugh Newman (Wooden Books 2008)
Eratosthenes' [276-195 BC] experiment to measure the size of the Earth. He calculated the polar circumference to within 180 miles by noting the angle of a midday midsummer shadow in Alexandria. He knew that at Syene, 500 miles to the south, the midday midsummer Sun cast no shadow. The angle of the shadow at Alexandria was roughly 7 degrees, or one-fiftieth of 360, so 50x500 miles gave him 25,000 miles as the circumference (24,821 miles is the modern measurement).
I took this a step further. When I was researching the geodetic connection between the unfinished Obelisk and the Great Pyramid at Giza, I found an interesting connection. The distance between the Great Pyramid and the unfinished Obelisk is exactly 365.4 Nautical Miles - also the number of days in a solar year. A Nautical Mile is an exact sub-division of the 360 degree circle of the Earth, and was used by ancient cultures in the surveying and placement of sites (It is still used in navigation and aviation today). Geodetic measurements were observed in Egypt well before the Greeks. For example, in the first century AD, Strabo the Geographer stated that “the science of land-measuring originated along the Nile in Egypt” (Book XVII)(7).  Estimates of the original length of the base perimeter of the Great Pyramid is recorded at 3,041.28 feet, a figure very close to half a nautical mile (8), showing that understood and worked with this ancient canon, whether it was within structures, or the geodetic relationship between the sites over vast distances. More work is to be done on this, but this could be a tantalizing glimpse in to the mindset of the ancient Egyptians, and why they placed their sites in accordance with where the stone originated from – the birthplace of the temple - the megalithic quarry.
Geodetic connection between the Great Pyramid and the unfinished Obelisk
Geodetic connection between the Great Pyramid and the unfinished Obelisk

Source: Ancient Origins