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The sand pit "Before" and "during" shots of sand removal, a scorching, throat-choking job. The bundled ropes on the obelisk will come into play next week during the pulling phase.
In the Groove
Part 2 | Back to Part 1

2:30 p.m.
As the obelisk continues to pivot, I'm free to wonder, too, at the power of sand. It's astonishing how a single scoop makes all the difference whether or not this 25-ton behemoth moves. Our crew of sand-removers from Hanscom Air Force Base and the Massachusetts College of Art will hoe and shovel for many minutes, clouds of dust visually obliterating both them and their masked co-workers, who haul away the sand in baskets. Then, without warning, that crucial scoop comes and the obelisk plunges its ineluctable plunge, down a few more inches. The sound and accompanying movement are like the first crack of a building collapse that never occurs, thanks to the pure control these guys have over their rock.

4:25 p.m.
A cheer goes up deep in the sand pit and on top of the concrete containing wall. The obelisk has come full (quarter) circle, as it were, and come to rest against the ramp wall at the desired angle of 75°. Today's operation is half-complete; now we need to lower it the final foot-and-a-half into the still-unseen turning groove. What a contrast between the softly flowing, almost liquid sand and the package of hard rock and taut rope.

5:15 p.m.
Now, when the ropes become too stressed with the weight of the descending obelisk, Jim Kricker and Al Anderson (a bearded timberframer from Virginia who dubs himself the "brake-and-alignment" man and who, like the Browns and others here, belong to the Timber Framers Guild of North America), loosen the fat braking ropes. These extend from a pair of braking timbers wedged behind two giant granite blocks buried in the ramp, around the butt end of the obelisk, and back to the braking timbers, thereby cradling the obelisk as if in a sling. Then, under the direction of Grigg Mullen and Rick Brown, the sand-removers again begin to slowly hoe and shovel sand out from the pit, until the next creak-and-shift calls a halt so the ropes can again be loosened. It's that simple. (As Mullen confides to me with his earnest-looking deadpan: "Keep it simple, stupid.")

Obelisk in turning groove Moments before this photo was taken, the obelisk settled onto the edge of the pedestal's turning groove, seen here still slightly filled with sand.

6:20 p.m.
As the setting sun paints the first feathery clouds we've seen today a pastel orange, a request comes from below for more sand-removers, so I take a turn with the long-handled hoe. To dry it out, the sand was heated before delivery, and this morning a thermometer someone stuck into it topped out at 130°. Only the sand-removers have an idea how hot it really is, and as I hoe away in the growing darkness, I begin to wonder if the rubber soles of my sneakers are melting.

7:45 p.m.
Wyly Brown, self-described "Attila the Hoe," calls out tentatively, "We're in the turning groove." He's tentative, because while it's clear the back edge of the obelisk butt has indeed entered the groove, it's not clear whether the butt itself has fully settled onto the groove edge; a layer of sand may still be propping it up. As "Attila" and Kricker sweep sand off the pedestal stone, being careful to keep their hands out from under the obelisk, I wonder if the ancient Egyptians had special sand-sweeping slaves, who would crawl under the treacherously angled base of the obelisk to get every last grain off the pedestal stone.


The celebration A happy crew "groovin'" at 8 p.m. last night.
7:50 p.m.
With our flashlight beams illuminating the obelisk like some lost treasure inside a tomb, the word finally goes around that the obelisk appears to have finally come to a rest. Someone lets out a yahoo, and then everybody is whelping and whistling, cheering and chortling. The job is done.

And what a job. As I write this a day later, I'm still amazed at how seemingly effortlessly they pulled it off. A sandpit method like this one may or may not have been the way the ancient Egyptians erected their obelisks, but thus far Brown and Company have proved in spades that it can be done in this manner. They got in the groove, in every way.

Return to this web site September 11th to see if they get it all the way up.

Peter Tyson is Online Producer of NOVA.



Obelisk Raised! (September 12)
In the Groove (September 1)
The Third Attempt (August 27)
Angle of Repose (March 25)
A Tale of Two Obelisks (March 24)
Rising Toward the Sun (March 23)
Into Position (March 22)
On an Anthill in Aswan (March 21)
Ready to Go (March 20)
Gifts of the River (March 19)
By Camel to a Lost Obelisk (March 18)
The Unfinished Obelisk (March 16)
Pulling Together (March 14)
Balloon Flight Over Ancient Thebes (March 12)
The Queen Who Would Be King (March 10)
Rock of Ages (March 8)
The Solar Barque (March 6)
Coughing Up an Obelisk (March 4)



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