Everybody likes a second chance, and our NOVA obelisk-raising team is no
exception. Though they learned a lot in the process, their first attempt
failed, and they're positively itching to have another go of it. Join them in
their second attempt by following the itinerary below and reading the
dispatches as they come in. (Please note that schedules change, and this
itinerary is our best guess as to how the project will unfold.)
Week 1 (March 4-12):Cairo/Giza and Luxor
During the first week of this expedition to Egypt, the team will visit Cairo
(including Giza) and then Luxor. In artifacts, hieroglyphs, and other remains
from pharaonic times, they will investigate obelisks and references to how they
were made and transported.
Their first stop is Giza, where they will examine the Solar Barque, the
world's oldest planked boat, for clues to ancient boat-building. They will talk
with Zahi Hawass, Director of the Pyramids, and possibly Hag Achmed, who
reconstructed the disassembled vessel after it was discovered in 1954. Along
the Nile, the team will then test a model of an obelisk-carrying barge depicted
on the walls of Hatshepsut's mortuary temple in Luxor.
Smoking a shisha pipe at Deir el
Across the Nile in Cairo, they will interview Dr. Gaballa Ali Gaballa, head of
Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, on the meaning of obelisks. The
interview will take place in the garden of the Egyptian Museum, where they will
investigate artifacts that bespeak the ancients' facility with stonework,
sailing, and other technologies.
Traveling south to Luxor, site of ancient Thebes, the NOVA crew will first
visit various tombs in the Valley of the Kings to get a sense of the New
Kingdom pharaohs who were responsible for erecting these towers of stone. Just
over a hill from the Valley of the Kings lies Hatshepsut's mortuary temple at
Deir el Bahri, where the team will analyze the eroded wall relief showing two
obelisks being transported by barge down the Nile.
Great's obelisk towers over a carving of his head at Luxor Temple.
Next stop is Karnak Temple, lying on the east bank of the Nile in the modern
town of Luxor. Here the team will study and film two standing obelisks, those
of Tuthmosis I and Hatshepsut, as well as the remains of several others,
including the pedestal stone of Rome's Lateran obelisk, the largest existing
obelisk. Two miles south, they'll pay a visit to the standing obelisk of Ramses
the Great at Luxor Temple, then travel back across the Nile to contemplate the
engineering feat that resulted in the erection of the Colossi of Memnon, two
giant seated statues of the pharaoh Amenhotep.
Week 2 (March 13-19):Aswan
With preliminary investigations over, the team will travel on the 13th to
Aswan, where the attempt to raise a 35-ton obelisk will take place. In the
coming week, the crew will test methods for quarrying, dragging, and loading
and shipping obelisks on boats.
In the NOVA film
"Obelisk," Roger Hopkins demonstrates his theory of how the Egyptians might
have loaded obelisks onto a barge.
First, they will attempt to pull the 35-ton obelisk (or similarly sized granite
blocks), to get a sense of what the ancient Egyptians, who had neither horses
nor iron tools at their disposal, were up against. They will then examine the
Unfinished Obelisk, a massive monolith that would have weighed 1,100 tons had
the pharaohs not abandoned it mid-way through its removal (unsafe and unsightly
cracks appeared in it during quarrying). This obelisk gives important clues as
to how these huge stones were quarried—clues to methods that team members
will try themselves. Nearby, the team will search for hieroglyphs and other
unfinished artifacts that add to the story.
Down on the Nile, the crew will visit with a modern Egyptian boat builder and
then float models of ancient boats, including a catamaran and a wide-bodied
barge. Both were designed by Owain Roberts, who will demonstrate how these
vessels could have transported obelisks. The team will then drag a nine-foot
obelisk down a ramp to a specially designed dock, load it onto a barge, and
then off-load it—all to show how the pharaohs' engineers might have done