vendredi 11 février 2011

Les bâtisseurs égyptiens “dépendaient moins des machines que de la somme de travail de nombreuses personnes” (Dictionnaire universel de la connaissance - XIXe s.)

Le texte que je propose dans cette note est extrait de l’Encyclopaedia metropolitana, or Universal Dictionary of knowledge, vol. 5, 1845, qui fut éditée par Edward Smedley (1788-1836), Hugh James Rose (1795-1838)  et Henry John Rose (1800-1873).
Tout en faisant la part belle, une fois encore, à l’option Hérodote pour la technique mise en oeuvre dans la construction des pyramides, les auteurs relativisent toutefois l’importance de la “force mécanique”.
Ils proposent ensuite une étonnante description de l’intérieur des pyramides prises globalement (“all the pyramids”), passant outre les spécificités des unes et des autres, et prenant pour seule référence la pyramide de Khéphren.
Photo Marc Chartier

“Of all the great pyramids the bases are square ; the length of each side of the largest is about 700 feet, and its height about 450 feet. On the sloping surface are steps which lead to the top, where there is a square platform about 30 feet in extent each way. The lengths of each side of the bases of the second and third pyramids are 850 feet and 280 feet, respectively. The height of the former is about 400 feet, and of the latter 160 feet.
In order to form the pile, the sides of the natural rock upon which it was founded were cut in steps, and the stones were disposed about and upon these, to the required extent, being raised to their places by a very simple contrivance, which is described by Herodotus. He says, they placed on the ground, under the block of stone, two levers, by which the stone was elevated to the lower step ; then two other levers were placed under it to raise it to the next step, and so on, by which means the pyramid served for its own scaffold. This contrivance shows that, in those days, the builders must have had some knowledge of one of the mechanical powers ; though, most probably, they depended less upon machinery than upon the united labour of many persons. The whole exterior seems to have been intended to be faced with stone, in such a way that each side might form a smooth inclined plane : the revetment was begun from the top and completed by working downward ; and the passages and chambers were probably formed as the work advanced. According to Herodotus, the lower part of the second pyramid was covered with Ethiopian marble of various colours.
The faces of all the pyramids are invariably turned towards the four cardinal points of the horizon ; the entrances are on the Northern sides, and passages, inclining downward, lead to the chambers where the dead are deposited. The roofs of these chambers are formed by simply laying long stones across from one wall to the opposite, or where the breadth of the chamber was too great, the roof stones rested upon columns in the interior. The roofs of the passages are, in some cases, formed by laying stones horizontally above the side walls in two or more courses, the interior extremity of each stone projecting beyond that below till the courses on each side meet together at the top, as in the gallery of Tirynthus (...). In other cases, the roofs consist of blocks of granite resting on the side walls at one end, inclining towards each other, and meeting in an angle at the top.

Galerie voûtée des fortifications de Tyrinthe (cité mycénienne du Peloponnèse)
Source : Wikimedia commons
The disposition of their galleries and chambers may be understood from the following description of the interior of the pyramid raised by Cephrenes, which is taken from the account given by Mr. Belzoni, who lately reopened it.
The entrance is on the Northern side, and the first passage is built of granite, but the rest are cut in the natural sandstone rock, which rises above the level of the basis of the pyramid ; this passage is 104 feet long, 4 feet high, and 3.5 feet wide ; it descends in an angle of 26°, and at the bottom is a portcullis ; beyond this is a horizontal passage of the same height as the first, and at the end of 22 feet it descends in a different direction, and leads to some passages below. Hence it reascends towards the centre of the pyramid by a gallery 84 feet long, 6 feet high, and 3.5 feet wide, and leads to a chamber, which is also cut out of the solid rock. This apartment is 46 feet long, 16 feet wide, and 23.5 feet high, and contained a sarcophagus of granite 8 feet long, 3.5 feet wide, and 2.25 feet deep in the inside. Returning out of this chamber to the bottom of the gallery, there is a passage which descends at an angle of 26° to the extent of 48.5 feet ; at this place it takes a horizontal direction, and continues so for 55 feet, when it ascends again at the same angle, and proceeds to the base of the pyramid, where another entrance is formed from the outside. About the middle of the horizontal passage, there is a descent into another chamber, which is 32 feet long, 10 feet wide, and 8.5 feet high.”

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