©2009 by Raymond Alexander Kukkee
Build a Pyramid the Barsoum Way: Use Concrete
“The way of human nature is to do the impossible in the easiest possible way.” Build a huge pyramid in part by forming concrete stones? “
How were the Great Pyramids in Egypt really built? Estimated to be over 4500 years old, it has been proudly postulated and historically promoted that to build the ancient megalithic structures, great stones, some weighing as much as 70 tons, were quarried, sawn from solid rock, and then hauled, carved, and fitted together so tightly a piece of paper cannot be inserted between them. The likelihood of that process being successful 4500 years ago naturally inspires much skepticism and logically encourages healthy debate and scientific challenge. Were the stones of the pyramids cut or cast?
A gargantuan construction project, by any standard, the size of the pyramids and the engineering concept required almost defies thought, and rightfully invokes wonder, pride and suspicion . The Great Pyramid alone covers almost 13 acres, is about 454 feet in height (40+ stories in modern terms) and is estimated to be built of some 2.5 million blocks of stone that occupy a total volume of approximately 90,000,000 cubic feet.
That pyramid, however constructed, is an astounding accomplishment by ancient builders using considerably more primitive tools and methods than are available today.
The construction method has, however, been brought under new scrutiny and drawn much further into question by research conducted by Michel Barsoum, a professor at Drexel University’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering in Philadelphia . ( The fascinating story ” Pyramid Scheme” was reported by Patrick Rapa in Philadelphia’s CityPaper, Jan 21, 2009 ) ¹
Citing substantial and inexplicable differences in the makeup of the stones themselves, Professor Barsoum has suggested that the stones were cast on site using a form of reconstituted limestone cement, a material suggested to be far superior to modern Portland cement. The only materials needed would be water, lime (manufactured by heating limestone) limestone rubble, and diatomaceous earth. The unique consistency of the cast stones may be an anomaly in history.
Chances are good that Michel Barsoum, at Drexel University for 20 years, has the concept right that the great pyramids were built, at least in part, by casting a type of cement to create the huge “stones”. That possibility has been raised in spite of the reportedly strenuous, not unexpected and vitriolic objections of Egyptologists that insist upon the traditional and romantic building theory as the only possible building method.
There are a number of additional, interesting, and significant reasons why Professor Barsoum’s concept may be reasonable and far more important than just dabbling in wet concrete, even though Egyptologists may express much dismay at the thought.
1. Concrete Forming
“ The way of human nature is to do the impossible in the easiest possible way.” Build a huge pyramid in part by forming concrete stones?
Forming of concrete block is not difficult regardless of size. The materials need merely to be mixed with water to a thick consistency, placed in a form, and allowed to set. For purposes of large numbers of blocks or a structure, one block formed and allowed to set would simplify the casting of the second adjacent block and subsequent blocks, which could easily, and quickly be “poured” using adjacent and previous blocks as the “form”. The resulting joints between the “stones” would, indeed, be tight, narrow and perfect, defined only by the shrinkage of the drying material. Logically, carrying baskets of concrete mix, dry or wet, somehow seems much easier and more logical than pulling 70 ton stones for miles across soft desert sands and 400 feet atop a structure using primitive sledges, rollers and ramps.
2. Current and Previous Knowledge of Rubble Fill Concrete Construction Methods:
It has been known for centuries that field stone, virtually any suitable stone made available, trimmed or not, or “laid up” dry brick has been used as rubble fill in hollow concrete wall and brick structures to act as filler, ballast and a load-bearing component. This economical practice minimizes the amount of concrete, brick, or finished block required to build a masonry structure.
It may be more than coincidence that a hole blasted in the south face of the Great Pyramid by a British Egyptologist H. Vyse (ref. Vyse’s Hole)² in the 1800’s reveals substantially irregular inner stones, with erratic, uneven and very loose jointing, as compared to the perfectly formed and jointed interior passage lining stones, the exterior stones, and particularly , the magnificent casing stones and their paper-thin jointing.
3. Work with Concrete:
Dedicated doubters and other critics may quickly expound the theory that “form marks” are absent from the pyramid stones. That objection is without foundation. Any capable, modern mason can confirm that for the initial period after concrete first solidifies, if a form is removed, the surface can be reworked , troweled, filled, corrected, carved, and smoothed to perfection. forming marks may be completely and easily removed. After concrete sets hard and has achieved full strength, it can be also substantially ground, cut, and even polished to a very high degree of lustre if desired. Modern polished and ground terrazzo might be a fine example of the closest modern equivalent.
4. Mineralization of the “Stone”
It could be reasonably predicted that stones formed of concrete made with various available components such as lime, diatomaceous earth, Nile river mud and crushed limestone, to the naked eye, would appear to be virtually indistinguishable from, and as durable as natural stone after 4500 years in desert heat. Mineralization, a rock-forming and continuous process, is indistinguishable except by microscopic study, and can be clearly differentiated to compare artificial (cast) and natural stone. A technology unavailable in 19th century evaluations, modern X-ray diffraction and thin-section petrology is capable of discerning differences and the chemical makeup of cementaceous materials in comparison to that of natural stone.
Concrete continues to harden for many years as a result of mineralization processes, which makes the concrete harder and more durable. As an aside, durability of cast stone is not the issue; even ordinary wood infused by siliceous solutions, or preserved by lime is highly durable. Examples of “stack wall” buildings, an ancient technique in which short lengths of dry wood were piled and assembled to form structural walls using lime mortar, still exist in parts of Europe and are known to be over 1,000 years old. A lime mortar was used to assemble the “stack walls” and even hide the exposed ends of the logs. The wood is preserved by the penetrating, mineralizing, preserving effect of lime. Petrified wood is another example of the same ‘mineralizing’ effect.
5. Rammed Earth Techniques used on Older Pyramids
Rammed earth involves pounding, “ramming” or compressing a dampened mix of earth and sand into a wooden form. Commonly used in the past, and even now returning as a form of environmentally friendly wall construction, rammed earth walls are ancient technology, and were invariably protected by overhanging roofs, or in the alternative, coated with a “mortar”, a limestone “stucco” or a “casing stone” to prevent the erosion of the earth wall.
Older, unprotected and poorly preserved pyramids in Egypt built using a similar process have deteriorated into “heaps” of crumbling blocks seemingly ill-constructed and were more likely built of a combination of early rammed earth construction, a mix of sand, soil, clay, and water, or even earlier versions of unproven concrete mixes. A fine example of poor construction is the Pyramid of Unas, which is little more than a heap of crumbling blocks and mud.
Considering the eternally hopeful, reasonable and evolution deemed necessary in civilization’s construction and engineering techniques, it can be easily hypothesized that builders of subsequent pyramidal construction projects were most likely to use existing, known and successful techniques –but also include new and “better”materials and techniques as well. As a matter of the advancement of civilization alone, the use of improved “cement” instead of rammed earth may be easily hypothesized to be a natural evolution, an improvement, and a substantial advancement in building technique.
6. Protective Sheathing Stones, or a Thick Masonry Coating?
Ancient rammed earth, stacked wall, and contemporary modern construction all included the concept of sheathing a structure with more durable materials for protection from the elements. The Pyramid of Unas is a fine example of an unprotected structure most likely constructed of rammed earth.
There are remnants of sheathing or “casing stones” on the Great Pyramid that remain visible today. The material is purported to be “stone”, but may have, in fact, again, been a casing troweled and smoothed, even polished to perfection at the time of construction. The casing “stone” was reportedly ravaged and removed –and used to build mosques and other structures, because of it’s spectacular beauty. The question might be asked, “if it was natural stone, why would the pillagers merely not quarry their own, instead?”
Modern technology can create artificial stone including authentic-looking polished granite, quartz, marble –even diamond and other gemstones; it is an assumption, foolish and perhaps even insulting or arrogant to believe that ancient Egyptians “could not ” formulate limestone cement to cast blocks, or figure out how to use it for a hard, durable, and protective and beautiful sheath in an application of any thickness, shape, or size desired.
7. The Human Element
The pyramid-builders are romantically pictured as thousands of slaves under the lash, heaving on long ropes at great effort, towing huge blocks of stone for miles and up steep ramps. Indeed, some stone may have undoubtedly been moved in that fashion, or using oxen.
Although rough stone quarrying was clearly done, tools available were only copper, and reportedly to date, few if any such tools have been discovered. Simply because of the technical difficulty, the skilled cutting of fine stones was more likely restricted and applied to the cutting of special purpose stones , such as the massive granite blocks used in interior structures.
Alternatively, thousands of slaves in lines passing reed basket after basket of “concrete mix” hand to hand, endlessly as a human conveyor belt, could in 20 years, very easily build a structure the size of the Great Pyramid, much as ants build huge, and very tall, natural structures. Insect structures equally impressive in proportion to the size of the individuals that built them do exist in nature; a common termite in Australia, nasutitermes triodiae of northern Australia builds huge structures up to 8 metres (26 feet) in height.³
Clearly many individuals working collectively, if organized, can create astounding structures, even “one grain at a time”. Many examples of labour intensive, large construction projects exist in the world today, such as the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, ancient temples and cities, and cathedrals world-wide.
8. The Stones Do Not Match
It must be noted and is of special and revealing interest to observe that not all of the stones in the pyramids consist of the same material, and the subject stones do not match the composition of stone from known sources or historically acknowledged quarries. Variations in “stone”, not explained by quarry source or availability, are evident. It is, therefore, unless locations and sources of identically matching stone can ultimately be located and proven, completely logical to hypothesize that building components may have been cast in place using a form of concrete.
9 Egyptian Concrete vs. Portland Cement
The Egyptian “concrete” is not similar to modern Portland cement. It is far more durable. Portland cement may last 150-200 years, but the pyramids have stood for 4500 years.
The Egyptian concrete may prove to be a superior building material today for any number of construction projects including homes.
“If some of the blocks are made of concrete, as Barsoum’s research shows, it’s not just archaeologists and historians but engineers, environmentalists and humanitarians who should take notice.” (¹ Ibid) The potential re-discovery of a superior building material may be close at hand.
A Different Concrete Also Used in History for Alternative purposes?
As a strange result of the interpolation of evidence, it may be difficult for Egyptologists to accept any hypothesis that the Romans did not invent concrete, because the Egyptians themselves did it first. As a potential revelation and understandable, it is human nature to rebel and want to claim and retain the “right” to superior and amazing technical achievements in history.
Such revelations may, some day, indeed confirm the construction of the Great Pyramid using concrete, or at least partially so. It might, however, be even more difficult for civilization to accept the thought-provoking offering and possibility that in addition to the pyramids, many beautiful artifacts, structures, and statuary in Egypt, the old world, Rome and Greece may have also been cast, using the same ancient concrete technology from ancient Egypt, rather than all having been merely carved.
It is a simple concept. Marble and other elegant stone objects can be manufactured and cast in today’s world, so why not in the ancient world?
That potential revelation would upset history for many historians, not just a few distinguished Egyptologists. Meantime, kudos to Michel Barsoum for the information discovered and the dedication shown in his work. The furor and puzzle may be only short-lived. The focus of any controversy must eventually fade, as everything involving humanity changes when facts are correctly dislodged from the sands of time.
The truth is always revealed.
Is that Incoming I hear?
2. Vyse’s hole, Egypt archive, http://chnm.gmu.edu/worldhistorysources/whmfinding
3. Earthlife: http://www.earthlife.net/insects/isoptera.html
1. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Belgium
2. Photo credit: By Dennis Jarvis from Halifax, Canada (Egypt-12B-028) [CC-BY- SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons