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Questions and Comments
Set 9, posted April 8, 1999
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I would attempt a method that would take advantage of the obelisk's own great weight, similar to martial arts techniques such as judo, which allows you to use your opponent's weight to your advantage. By balancing counterweights front and back with stops at critical points, the movement of the huge stone could be controlled much easier with fewer men. By using a carefully chosen pivot point just short of its center of gravity and a convex curved ramp to the base, along with the counterweights, I think the obelisk could practically pull itself into position using the extra manpower to guide and finely control the motion. I don't know if I'm describing what I'm thinking that well, but it's difficult to do with words; a diagram would be much easier.


Response from Henry Woodlock, Whitby Bird & Partners:

Well, if you followed the Web site you will by now know that we were aiming to do exactly this: use counterweights to provide the bulk of the required effort to rotate the obelisk and use pullers to do the controlling work. At the back, we had ropes as brakes rather than more counterweights. However, as you know, we had difficulty with the rigging and not enough time to make corrections. I still stand by the theory, though Mark Lehner, the archaeologist on our team, wasn't convinced by the counterweight idea. He feels that no real evidence exists for counterweights in comparison to sand in ancient times. I can understand this view, but we did find a translation of a story that uses the word 'machinery' to describe the obelisk-raising system. I don't know how significant this is, but it's interesting!


Why not use sand as a tool? You mentioned that they used a trap door. Maybe they let the sand out, transferring the sand from the chamber into some kind of vessel, which would lift the obelisk to vertical. Or maybe they placed a large stone on the ground, removed sand from beneath it, and the stone fell, pulling the obelisk to its upright position. It is very simple engineering. I expect that they might have done it this way. Thank you for the opportunity to input.

Dave Turner
Wainwright AB

Response from Roger Hopkins, stonemason:

Hi, Dave. In answer to your question: The sand pit method works beautifully because one has absolute control of the obelisk as it's descending. You would want another force working on it while it's being lowered. I think they just removed the sand very slowly. In addition, there would have been a ramp on the other side of the sand pit so that the workers would have a place to help pull the obelisk into position. If they were able to pull it into position, then they could easily just pull it up.


Why not dig under the obelisk? Gradually remove the earth/dirt from under the base end of the obelisk until you can, more less, tip the item upright. This, coupled with use of pullies or an A-frame to do the actual uprighting, would seem to work.

Stephen Kowalewski
Manassas, Virginia

Response from Henry Woodlock, Whitby Bird & Partners:

Removing material from under the obelisk is an option, but it means that a mound of material equal in height to the obelisk has to be constructed. The second obstacle is how you are going to control the movement of the obelisk as you excavate under it. Bear in mind that the pedestal stone is buried under the earth so the obelisk cannot be lined up as it tips! I think the idea of excavating is reasonable, but I am put off by the practical problems I have mentioned.


It's obvious a child setting up a basketball hoop encounters the same problem every day in America, i.e., get help from your friends and everyboby enjoys its rewards. Build a ramp on the oposite side as well with a group of people pulling from both sides to stabilize and slowly from the other side begin to "turn" the stone in its "turning groove. The problem of recreating ancient building techniques is we think "modern." Sometimes the solution is far easier than we want to admit! Trust me the pulley will do wonders.

J.C. Ford
Las Vegas, Nevada

Response from Henry Woodlock, Whitby Bird & Partners:

You mention pulleys, which most archaelogists consider to be an invention not available at the time, though the idea of keeping things simple is a fair point. When you think about the problem for awhile, however, it is difficult to resist introducing new ideas and techniques. I don't see any reason why the Egyptians wouldn't have attempted innovative solutions to their biggest challenges. I can't really justify my view but I feel it as an engineer. I believe they were ancient engineers and would have gone through the same thought process as I have on this project. Sadly, we'll never know!


I really like Egypt, and ancient cultures, and this site is really cool, keep up the good work.

Tom Miller
Pittsburgh, PA


I just finished studying Egypt in school. It was really cool! Since then I have decided that I want to be an Egyptoligist when I grow up. Egypt is an interesting country and I want to find out more about it. It must be fun to dig for lost tombs and find mummies. Thank you for this excellent web-site.

(name witheld by request)

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