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Solar Barque The 4,600-year-old Solar Barque of Khufu.
Second Chance
by Peter Tyson

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.

Shisha pipe Smoking a shisha pipe at Deir el Bahri.

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.

Ramses Obelisk Ramses the 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.

Hopkins demonstrating his barge theory 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 it.

Continue: Week 3

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