On an Anthill in Aswan
by Peter Tyson
March 21, 1999
Today, the Aswan quarry where the NOVA team will attempt to raise a 25-ton
obelisk—possibly as early as tomorrow—was as busy as an anthill.
Here's a glimpse of what everyone was up to:
This is the obelisk as it looked early this afternoon, lying at
the ready on the earthen ramp. Shortly after I took this photo, team members
and quarry laborers thronged about the stone, fitting it with timber
lashing it with ropes, and otherwise preparing it for the attempt to put it
vertical. The next time you see the obelisk as it appears here—that is,
alone and unadorned—it might be in an upright position on its pedestal
(inshallah, or God willing, as the Egyptians say).
Henry Woodlock (foreground) and Mark Whitby,
engineers with the British firm of Whitby Bird & Partners, sit in the shade
of the obelisk, reviewing every eventuality in the upcoming attempt. Whitby,
will be in overall charge of the rotation once it gets underway, told me he
and Woodlock are thinking hard about how to ensure that the obelisk comes
down square on its base, and how to deal with stretching in the ropes that
team members will use to control the monolith's descent. But he added
optimistically, "I think we've got quite a bit covered."
Rick Brown puts the final touches on "the Hand
of God," as he and his son Wyle have dubbed the timber frame that will grip
the lower end of the obelisk, like a wooden hand, and play a key role in
tipping it down onto its base. The Browns, both members of the Timber
Framers Guild, have quietly assembled the "Hand" all week in a special
outdoor workshop near the pedestal.
Rick Brown assured me his timber frame would be
"worthless without Iolo's lashing." He was just being modest, but Iolo
Roberts' rope tying will be critical to controlling the obelisk's rotation.
As the Browns fashioned their timber, Roberts and his father Owain spent
the week preparing numerous lengths of thick rope, which they'll use to
brake the obelisk's descent. Here, with the help of some Egyptian laborers,
Roberts ties one of hundreds of knots he'll tie over the coming days.