Stories tagged Great Pyramids

Jan
23
2008

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.

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