The top of Hatshepsut's fallen obelisk - Karnak
This is the top of one of Queen Hatshepsut’s obelisks which fell over, the other one is still standing in the background. I put my ugly mug in the frame to show you the size of these things, plus I like jumping over ropes to where I’m not supposed to be.
The Egyptians had a mastery of moving heavy objects that is perhaps unrivaled even in today’s world. They didn’t have hydraulics and steel alloys, they had things like math, levers, pulley systems and gravity and buoyancy and displacement. They understood these forces on a molecular level and their architects and engineers we’re probably the rock stars of their times as a result. Nobody else could do what they did so they could basically name their price. The standing obelisk in the background is 97 feet tall and weighs 320 tons. Knowing the attention to detail that was put into stuff like this. This fallen obelisk was the same dimension before it fell over and broke some time in antiquity.
They were a matched pair.
Both obelisks were coated in Electrum, which is a mixture of gold and silver. When they were finished you could see these two obelisks for many miles in every direction, gleaming in the morning light and a stunning tribute to Amun, the god of all gods. These massive objects were quarried from a single flawless piece of red granite in the Aswan quarries some 150 miles up the Nile from Luxor (Thebes). We know that because there’s another unfinished obelisk still sitting up in the quarry that cracked mid construction, so they abandoned it, you can see that on Google Earth.
Queen Hatshepsut was so proud of this project that she devoted an entire wall relief over at her temple on the west bank to the story of getting these two obelisks down to the Karnak complex.
To me anyway, this is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever laid eyes on and is perhaps the highlight of my Luxor trip or at least in the top 3!
In a nutshell the story of these goes something like this:
Over a two year period the obelisks were cut and decorated (the hieroglyphs on the faces) from the bedrock up at Aswan. Once freed of their moorings they were moved down to the river’s edge during the winter at low water and loaded onto a huge barge. There they sat until the following summer when the flood came and floated the barge. The displacement of this barge must have been immense to support this load and maintain stability; we’re talking about a 700 ton load here. This entire process from conception to execution to installation is something you really, really don’t want to mess up. The huge barge is then hauled down the Nile by 33 ships with 33 rowers on each ship pulling the load plus steering teams on each bank of the river all working in concert. That’s over thousand guys toiling probably for several weeks at least just to move them down to Thebes. The barge was grounded at high flood in Thebes. There they sat waiting for the Nile flood to recede. The following winter at low water the obelisks were off loaded and dragged into Karnak Temple.
We think they used a large earth ramp with a big hole at the end full of sand. The obelisks would have been dragged up this ramp and very gradually tilted over into the hole full of sand where they would have begun to stand upright. Using simple techniques like levers and force multiplier pulley rigs, and in a very methodical and well planned way they were able to get the obelisks to A: stand exactly where they wanted them, and B: stand absolutely vertical on their pedestals, which were Aswan granite as well and presumably had been set into place well in advance of the move. All of this with sand, water, logs and hemp ropes.
When you start to get your head around these processes it become obvious that contrary to Hollywood’s depiction of the ancient Egyptians, these workers weren’t slaves at all but were highly skilled and probably highly paid journeymen craftsmen. There was most likely a long waiting list to get these gigs too, sort of like when Hoover Dam was constructed, because slaves don’t produce this kind of quality.
Once the obelisks were set into place the dirt ramps and sand would have been removed and presto Queen Hatshepsut “here are the obelisks you ordered. Amun will be pleased”.
WE WENT TO THE MOON, & they did this.