This old pyramid: New theories emerge on Egyptian construction with a nano twist

Cementing a new theory: After looking at the blocks of Egyptian pyramids through scanning electron microscopes, researchers now think that constructors poured the blocks like cement rather than carving them out of limestone rock.
Cementing a new theory: After looking at the blocks of Egyptian pyramids through scanning electron microscopes, researchers now think that constructors poured the blocks like cement rather than carving them out of limestone rock.Courtesy Nina Aldin Thune
Every once and a while a significant scientific discovery slides under the radar and goes past virtually unnoticed.

A colleague here the museum last week slipped me a printout of a web story broken this past spring that’s pretty big news but hasn’t seemed to catch public attention. So why not broadcast it out here to the Science Buzz community, where it will light people’s scientific imaginations and spread like wildfire.

We’ve all seen those old epic movies showing the enslaved Israelites toiling away carving and pulling huge stone blocks to create the pyramids of Egypt. Well, upon closer inspection is might not have exactly worked that way.

After about five years of researcher, primarily through the use of scanning electron microscopy, Michel Barsoum of Drexel University and his research team have built a convincing case that some of the blocks in the pyramids were constructed out of a poured concrete-type mixture, not out of cut blocks of limestone.

A couple small details jumped out big to help them reach this conclusion. First, little structures found in the inner and outer casing stones were much like materials found in cement binders. Second, the pyramid stones were also much higher in water content than limestone slabs found in the general area. Looking closer at the atomic structure of the cementing phase, it was amorphous. That means its atoms do not arrange in a regular pattern. Sedimentary rocks rarely, if ever, have an amorphous structure.

Since the pyramid blocks are made of stone that doesn’t seem to occur naturally in the area, the researchers now think they blocks were poured like cement out of a concoction of limestone, diatomaceous earth, lime and water. In many ways, the early Egyptians had figured out ways to alter everyday items on the nano-scale to be able to build great things.

The new theory certainly helps erase some of the unanswerable questions from the long-accepted carved-stone theory. Among those questions were how could basic tools match up blocks to fit together so smoothly? Why have no copper chisels, presumably used to carve out the stone blocks, never been found? How could manpower labor get heavy top-capping blocks to the tops of the tall pyramids?

For sure, there are more questions to be answered with these new discoveries. But now Egyptologists have a new direction and a new perspective to view these findings from.

What do you think about all this? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Ringer's picture
Ringer says:

Very cool! I'm very fascinated with the Egyptians - especially after seeing the King Tut exhibit when it was at the Field Museum in Chicago. (the SMM has reciprocity with Field Museum AND Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago)
I wonder what they actually found - 5000 years later - that led them to this new discovery.

posted on Thu, 01/24/2008 - 4:11pm
tiffany_88's picture
tiffany_88 says:

It's fantastic, because the Egyptians had a long history so they found new progress and new theories .

I love it the museum because had a lot information.

posted on Thu, 03/13/2008 - 10:14am
Candice_318's picture
Candice_318 says:

Egyptians probably were the best civilization...They rox my sox

Sponsered in part by
IM AWESOME Productions

posted on Thu, 03/13/2008 - 10:16am
The Pyramids Of Egypt's picture

The pyramids were built in the a many era before now they construction need to be renowned to preserve the history and wonders to the world. So the government has taken step for renewing the pyramids.

posted on Tue, 12/21/2010 - 12:15am

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