jeudi 25 février 2021

La construction des pyramides égyptiennes selon Leslie Grinsell - 5e partie : méthodes de construction, chronologie

Methods of Construction.

As outlined for pyramids in the preceding pages, apply in principle also to the building of the temples, causeways, temenos walls, and other structures forming the pyramid complex, except insofar as the different types of structure required different individual treatment. 
The special problems involved in the building of the pyramid temples are outside the scope of this work, and the reader is therefore referred to the works of Choisy, Reisner, and Clarke and Engelbach (...). 

Sequence of Building

Evidence of the order in which the various parts of the pyramid complex were built is derived from unfinished pyramid complexes, and from dated inscriptions on some of the stones used. It was broadly as follows :
(1) The substructure of the pyramid was hewn out of the rock (example : Zâwyet el Aryân, North, where the building of the pyramid advanced little beyond this stage). 
(2) The sarcophagus was placed in the tomb chamber before the rest of the pyramid was built (example : Zâwyet el Aryân north pyramid). In at least one instance (Neit) the sarcophagus was placed in the tomb chamber in a rough-hewn condition.
(3) The sarcophagus chamber and other parts of the interior were walled, paved, and roofed (probably in that order). 
(4) The causeway was then, or perhaps earlier, built for transporting limestone and other materials. 
(5 ) The pyramid superstructure was added. 
(6) The casing blocks were dressed after being placed in position. 
(7) The upper temple was built after the pyramid was nearly completed, as shown by dated stone blocks from the pyramid complexes of Khendjer and Ammenemes.
(8) After the causeway had ceased to be used for transport of stone for the pyramid, temenos wall, and upper temple, it was paved, walled, and roofed. 
(9) The lower temple was probably built last of all. 
Although the main building sequence was most likely as outlined above, it should be noted that at the time of the death of Mycerinus his pyramid, upper temple, and lower temple were all well advanced although none had been actually completed. The lengthy process of dressing the pyramid casing must have proceeded while the other parts of the pyramid complex were being built. 

The Time Taken to construct the Pyramid Complex

It was said by Herodotus that it took ten years to build the causeway and twenty years to construct the pyramid of Kheops. As there are about 2,300,000 blocks in this pyramid, a building period of 20 years would have implied the quarrying, transport, and laying of over 300 blocks a day throughout each year. Available evidence suggests that the larger pyramids of the Old Kingdom may have taken between 20 and 30 years to build, although about 4 years would have been enough for some of the smaller pyramids of the Middle Kingdom, which were not well built.
The following table embodies the chief available data :



The drain on the country’s resources did not end when the pyramid complex was completed ; for a large staff of priests, overseers, and other officials were maintained, not only during the king’s lifetime but also for some centuries after his death. It was inevitable that such a state of affairs could not long continue, and the system eventually collapsed for economic and other reasons. Some of the kings were not above rewarding their favourites with funds misappropriated from the mortuary endowments of their predecessors.
With the passage of time each pyramid complex tended to be built smaller and smaller, and more and more crudely, although some exceptions there naturally were. By the latter part of Dynasty XII the main body of pyramids had degenerated to mud-brick, limestone being reserved merely for the internal chambers and passages and external casing. After Dynasty XIII no more pyramids were built, except some very degenerate examples not to be compared with those of the Old and Middle Kingdoms. Very soon afterwards the whole sixty-mile range of pyramids from Gîza to Maidûm had become a desert solitude.

extrait d' Egyptian Pyramids, 1947, par Leslie Grinsell (1907-1995), archéologue et conservateur de musée anglais. Durant la Seconde Guerre mondiale, il a rejoint la Royal Air Force et a servi en Égypte, où il s'est familiarisé avec les vestiges archéologiques de l'Égypte antique. 

La construction des pyramides égyptiennes selon Leslie Grinsell - 4e partie : la superstructure, l'intérieur et l'extérieur, la fermeture des pyramides

illustration extraite de l'ouvrage de Grinsell

The Superstructure

(a) Interior (Old Kingdom Pyramids)

(1 ) The Core. In the earliest pyramids, such as the Step Pyramid of Djeser at Saqqâra and the pyramid of Snefru at Maidûm, the substructure was covered by a mastaba-like edifice, either rectangular (Djeser) or square (most other examples), having a slope-angle of 75-80 degrees. The Step Pyramid was formed around this core by the addition of masonry both vertically and horizontally, giving the impression of a series of mastabas one above the other. Until the early part of Dynasty XII the core of the pyramids was usually of blocks of coarse limestone, faced with rather larger blocks.

(2) The Intermediate Walls. The royal tombs of Dynasty II were conjecturally reconstructed by Reisner with a series of walls outside of the mastaba-core. From Dynasty III onwards these walls occur in every pyramid sufficiently ruined to display its structure until the end of the Old Kingdom and probably the beginning of the Middle Kingdom. According to Petrie they were 'for binding the structure, and in a traditional succession from the primitive mastaba’. The intermediate walls were placed one outside the other, the outer ones being lower than the inner, on all four sides of the core, thus producing a stepped-pyramidal form. The slope angle of each wall was about 70 degrees, but steeper slopes occasionally occur.
Each intermediate wall consists normally of two parts :
a. The body of small blocks of coarse limestone.
b. The casing of large blocks of finer limestone.
The Step Pyramid at Saqqâra is essentially a very high mastaba core surrounded by a series of walls. The tops as well as the sides of these walls were cased with fine white limestone blocks which were dressed and smoothed into the finished stepped structure. The intermediate walls of Snefru at Maidûm were likewise cased with fine white limestone which was dressed smooth although later hidden behind the final casing of the pyramid ; for in this instance the gaps between the steps were filled in to form the earliest known true pyramid. From Dynasty IV onwards the facing of the intermediate walls was left rough. The construction of the various walls probably proceeded together at the same time and more or less at the same level. Good examples of exposed intermediate walls are to be seen at the Maidûm pyramid of Snefru, the small pyramids near those of Kheops and Mycerinus at Gîza, and the pyramids of Abu Sîr.

(3) The Backing Stones. After filling in the triangular gaps between the steps of the intermediate walls, it was necessary to add well-laid masonry which was to constitute a backing for the casing of the pyramid. These backing stones are nearly always of fine white limestone. In some instances the fitting together of the backing stones does not fall far short of the quality of jointing of the casing blocks. The outer faces of the backing-stones were often inscribed with graffiti written thereon by the architects, builders’ scribes and others. Some of them are of the nature of vertical and horizontal lines with extended triangles, and measurements in cubits ; these are evidently for measuring the progress of the work and checking the batter of the pyramid. Other graffiti, such as one on the west side of the pyramid of Neit at S. Saqqâra record the state of advancement of the building on a particular date. Others give the names of the crews of workmen employed, the name of the king whose tomb was being built, and other details.

(b) Interior (Middle Kingdom Pyramids)

Instead of having a core, intermediate walls, and backing stones, the pyramids of the Middle Kingdom were nearly all built on a different principle, the body of the pyramid being constructed of a series of walls radiating from the centre, their interstices being filled with mud bricks or other materials.
(1) The Interior Walling consisted of two walls crossing at right angles parallel to the sides of the pyramid, which divided it into four sections. Diagonal walls caused a subdivision into eight sub-sections, and often there were additional walls which made sixteen divisions in all. At the pyramid of Sesostris I at Lisht the walls were of limestone ; at the pyramid of Sesostris II at Lahûn the lower parts of the walls were of limestone and the upper parts of mud-brick ; in most other Middle Kingdom pyramids the walls were entirely of mud-brick.
(2) The Filling of the divisions between the interior walls was of mud-bricks or sand and rubble.
(3) Backing Layers and Backing Stones, between the body of the pyramid and the casing was a series of carefully laid bricks or ‘backing layers’ and backing stones, which were necessary in order to receive the limestone casing blocks.
(4) Making of Mud-Bricks. The manufacture of mud-bricks in ancient Egypt was similar to that of to-day. The method consists of getting a quantity of Nile mud or alluvium, mixing it with water until the resulting mass becomes plastic, and adding sand or chopped straw to give coherence and to prevent the bricks from warping when drying. The wooden mould (of which ancient and modern examples are identical) is rinsed with water to prevent the mud from sticking to the inner sides, and is then filled with the mud mixture. The resulting bricks are left in the sun for four or five days to dry, after which they are ready for use. By this method, which is best carried out by subdivision of labour (one mixing the mud, one man moulding, and one laying the bricks to dry) 4,000-6,000 bricks per day can be produced by three men.
The length of the bricks in the Middle Kingdom was twice their breadth, which enabled them to be laid ‘headers and stretchers.’ (...)

(c) Exterior (Old and Middle Kingdom).
(1) The Casing.
The casing of most pyramids was of fine white limestone, but granite was used for the first sixteen courses of that of Mycerinus, and for the lowest part of the casing of the pyramids of Khephren, Djedefrê, and Neferirkarê. The casing stones were first of all dressed to a smooth surface on their under sides, and then they were placed in position with the aid of levers. Their tops were next dressed, and marked with incised lines to indicate the position of the stones to be super-imposed. The front sides of the casing’ blocks were dressed last of all, and they were dressed from the apex of the pyramid downwards. This is shown at the pyramid of Mycerinus, where several of the red granite casing blocks are undressed and still have the projecting lugs to receive the positioning levers. On account of the premature death of Mycerinus the dressing of the casing of his pyramid was left uncompleted. The probability that limestone casing blocks were likewise dressed after being placed in position is revealed by a study of the pyramids of Djeser and Kheops ; but Petrie considered that they were sometimes dressed before being placed in position.
(...) In the setting of casing blocks a gypsum mortar was often used, but as a lubricant and not as a cement.
Pyramids of the Middle Kingdom sometimes have their casing blocks joined together with dovetail-cramps as at the pyramid of Sesostris in at Dahshûr. It has already been noted that during Dynasty III the masonry of the superstructure of pyramids tended to be inclined downwards from the casing towards the core. From Dynasty IV onwards the masonry was usually laid in horizontal courses on a level plane.

(2) The Pyramidion.
The apex of the pyramid was formed by a single block or pyramidion. In the Old and Middle Kingdoms this pyramidion was probably always of a black or grey-black stone, especially black granite (Ammenemes III) or basalt (Khendjer II). At other times pyramidia were occasionally of white limestone (Intef, Dynasty XI, in British Museum ; and the pyramidia of some of the private tombs of Dynasties XVIII and XIX at Deir el Madîna, Thebes). Pyramidia usually have a boss or disc projecting from their base, so that they could be firmly secured on a corresponding hollow cut in the stones on which they were to be placed.
No pyramidia of the Old Kingdom have yet been found ; but in his biographical text Uni relates how he was sent by King Mernerê to Ibhet (in Upper Egypt) to bring ‘the costly and splendid pyramidion for the pyramid called ‘‘Mernerê shines and is beautiful". The Egyptian Museum at Cairo contains nearly all the known pyramidia of Middle Kingdom ; they include the polished black granite example of Ammenemes III (Dynasty XII), and those of Khendjer II, his unknown neighbour, and Menneferrê (Dynasty XIII). The two examples at the foot of the pyramid of an unknown king adjoining the pyramid of Khendjer II are both unfinished and one of them still possesses the red guide lines intended to assist the mason in his work.

The Closing of the Pyramid

The closing of the tomb against robbers after the king had been buried presented a serious problem to the kings and their architects ; it worried Kheops so much that he was for ever seeking the locks of the Sanctuary of Thoth, 'to make for himself the like thereof for his "Horizon" (i.e. pyramid).'
The chief methods of closing the pyramids after the interment were as follows : 

(a) Sealing the Sarcophagus
The sarcophagi of Unis and Pepy II, and probably others, were intended to receive a wooden coffin let into it by ropes, grooves for which are still visible in those sarcophagi. Previous to the burial, the sarcophagus lid rested on mud-brick walls beside the sarcophagus (Old Kingdom), or was supported above it by piles of stones (Middle Kingdom). The lid was fixed on to the sarcophagus by an ingenious method combining oblique bevelling of three sides with the slotting of the fourth side, the fitting being assisted by the use of a resinous substance which served as a fixative as well as a lubricant. From a glance at Fig. 8 (cf. ci-dessus) the difficulty of breaking into a sarcophagus closed in that manner will be readily understood.

(b) Sliding the Portcullis Slabs
The horizontal passage leading from the sarcophagus chamber nearly always contained between one and three portcullis slabs. In the Old Kingdom they were of granite and dropped down vertically ; in the Middle Kingdom they were often of quartzite and slid across a slightly inclined transverse plane. In each case their object was to block the horizontal passage against intruders.
The methods of lowering the vertical portcullis slabs are as yet not fully understood. Borchardt suggested that they were sometimes suspended and subsequently lowered by a pulley and palm-log device. In other instances they were propped up by stones until the interment had been made, and then gradually lowered by removing the stones, assisted by levering. The latter was certainly the method intended to be used in the unfinished mastabas at Maidûm, the portcullises of which were never lowered, and were still propped up by stones when discovered by Petrie.

(c) Blocking the Ramp
Nearly every pyramid has a ramp extending downward from the entrance to the horizontal passage. After the portcullis slabs in the horizontal passage had been lowered, the ramp was filled with masonry. Nearly all the pyramids have since been reopened and their ramps cleared out, but the following instances of blocked ramps are on record :
(1) Pyramid of Kheops ; Vyse stated that the sloping passages were blocked with solid masonry for their whole length.
(2) Pyramid of Khephren ; Vyse stated that the lower entrance and passage were completely filled up with solid masonry, closely jointed and cemented ; the first stone was ten feet long, and the others six or seven.
(3) Pyramid of Snefru at Dahshûr still has the western entrance and most of the western ramp blocked with masonry.
(4) Pyramid of Ammenemes I at Lisht had the ramp blocked by granite monoliths.
(5) Pyramid of Sesostris I at Lisht had the ramp filled with obelisk-shaped granite monoliths, each between 7 and 9 metres long. As each was slid down the ramp with the pointed end foremost it crashed into its predecessor, causing the pointed ends to become truncated and fissured.
(6) Pyramid of Neuserrê at Abû Sîr still has two blocking-stones in the ramp.

d) Concealing the Entrance.
The entrance to each pyramid was concealed from recognition by being blocked with skilfully fitted masonry. Instances of flap-doors, although authentic (as in the pyramids of Snefru and Kheops, are most likely posterior to the construction of the pyramids. Concealment of the entrances to pyramids was assisted by the natural tendency for blown sand to accumulate to a much greater extent in the centre of each side than at the corners. This tendency is clearly shown on air-photographs of pyramids.

extrait d' Egyptian Pyramids, 1947, par Leslie Grinsell (1907-1995), archéologue et conservateur de musée anglais. Durant la Seconde Guerre mondiale, il a rejoint la Royal Air Force et a servi en Égypte, où il s'est familiarisé avec les vestiges archéologiques de l'Égypte antique. 

La construction des pyramides égyptiennes selon Leslie Grinsell - 3e partie : fondations et infrastructures

illustration extraite de l'ouvrage de Grinsell


(a) Preparation of the Pyramid Area
In certain instances, as at the pyramids of Abu Rauwâsh and Lahûn, and also at the tomb of Khentkawes at Gîza, the tomb superstructure was sited on a natural rock massif, which enabled a superstructure of the desired size to be constructed with a considerable saving of labour. In these instances the only levelling required consisted of dressing the natural rock surface for the reception of the masonry to be added.
In other cases a sloping surface has been levelled at great expense and labour in order to provide a suitable base. This has been done at the pyramid of Khephren, where the desert surface has been cut away considerably on the north-west part and built up on the south-east.
It has been suggested that the process of levelling was assisted by banking up the square base-area and flooding it, and then marking the water level on the inner sides of the bank. The plane of the base of the pyramid of Kheops slopes upwards from north-west to south-east to the extent of six inches, and this could have been caused if a slight north-west breeze was blowing at the time of the checking of the levelling by flooding.
After the levelling had been completed, the whole base area was often paved with slabs of fine white limestone. This is well seen around the base of the pyramid of Kheops, although it is thought that the paving does not extend over the whole area. Sometimes the paved base-area extends outside the pyramid to form an exposed pavement, as at the pyramid of Sesostris I at Lisht, where the paving stones were joined together by dovetail cramps.
(b) Foundation Deposits.
Our knowledge of the foundation deposits of pyramids is derived almost entirely from those of the Middle Kingdom. They consist mainly of specimens of the materials used in the construction of the pyramid complex, inscribed sometimes with the names of the king and his pyramid. Foundation tablets of brick, metal, stone and wood, bearing the name of Nebhepetrê Mentuhotpe, were found in the pyramid-temple of that king at El Deir el Bahari.
Beneath the south-west corner of the pyramid of Ammenemes I was a foundation deposit consisting of an ox-skull, some small and badly broken pottery vases and saucers, and six clay bricks. Each brick contained a tablet inscribed with names of the king and his pyramid ; two tablets were of copper, two of faience, and two of limestone.
Beneath the north-west, south-west, and south-east corners of the pyramid of Sesostris I were foundation deposits of food offerings, pottery, and bricks containing tablets of some of the materials used in the construction of the pyramid and temple. The tablets were of wood, metal, faïence, and alabaster, and were inscribed with the name and titles of the king and the name of his pyramid, ‘Sesostris Surveying the Two Lands’. From the overlapping of the different objects it was determined that the meat offerings were dropped in first, then the pottery, and then the bricks. In the south-east corner there were two deposits, one of which was probably inserted when the pyramid was completed.
The pyramid of an unknown king of Dynasty XIII, south-west of that of Khendjer II, contained foundation deposits of coarse pottery and models of copper and bronze implements.(c) Foundation Ceremonies.
Fragments of reliefs from a granite door-jamb of Khasekhemuy and from the solar temple and pyramid complex of Neuserrê, when studied in the light of more complete representations of later date (as at Edfu), provide a clear idea of the main episodes of the foundation ceremonies for a pyramid or other structure of Old or Middle Kingdom. These episodes were :
(1) Pegging the ground and stretching the cord ;
(2 ) Breaking the ground surface (usually done four times) ;
(3 ) Sprinkling of sand ;
(4 ) Making of bricks (done four times at Abu Girab) ;
(5 ) Laying the bricks.
The last two episodes may have been a survival from predynastic and Thinite times, when tombs were made of brick before the invention of stone masonry. The ceremonies appear to have been performed by the king, with the assistance of goddesses, sem-priests, ritualists and others.

The Substructure

The first step in the construction of the pyramid consisted of hewing out of the bedrock, with copper chisels, adzes, and other implements, those parts of the passages and chambers which were to be below ground level.
Good examples of these, open to the sky, are to be seen at Abu Rauwâsh and the unfinished north pyramid of Zâwyet el 'Aryân. The latter is of special interest as an example of an unfinished pyramid in which the substructure was nearly completed but the superstructure not even begun. The impressive stairway, ramp, passage, and sarcophagus chamber had been hewn out of the bedrock, and sarcophagus chamber had been paved with granite and received the fine red granite sarcophagus ; then for some unknown reason the work was abandoned.
It is well to distinguish between the ‘open trench’ substructure (Abu Rauwâsh and Zâwyet el ‘Aryân) and the ‘tunnelled’ substructure, seen in the lower passage and chamber of the pyramid of Kheops, the pyramids of Kheops’ queens, and the pyramids of Mycerinus and his queens.

(a) The Sarcophagus Chamber was usually wholly or partly in the substructure. The most important exception is the pyramid of Kheops, in which the position of the sarcophagus chamber was altered from the substructure to the superstructure in the course of building. It was generally lined with granite (Kheops and Mycerinus) or fine white limestone (as in the pyramids of Dynasties V and VI containing Pyramid Texts). The roofing was :
(1) Corbelled as in the Dynasty III pyramids at Dahshûr and Maidûm.
(2) Pointed as in the pyramids of Dynasties V and VI.
(3) False-arched with slabs placed end to end and hollowed concave on their undersides, as in the chambers of Mycerinus and Shepseskaf.
It is evident that the roofing blocks were cut to shape, arranged, and numbered before being placed in position ; indeed the roofing blocks of Djeser and Kheops have their markings and numbering still visible ; but those of Djeser were reversed in orientation when laid. In view of the great weight of superincumbent masonry which had to be borne by the roof of the sarcophagus chamber one or other of the following devices was used :
(*) Relieving chambers, as above the king’s chamber in the pyramid of Kheops.
(**) Relieving slabs, often of enormous thickness, as above most of the chambers with pointed roofs of Dynasties V and VI. Architects’ inscriptions on the walls of the antechamber and sarcophagus chamber of the tomb of Shepseskaf (Mastabet Fara’ôn) which read ‘upper side of the paving stone, true line’, almost certainly show that the walls were built before the floor-slabs were inserted.
The presence of the sarcophagus in the unfinished chamber of the north pyramid of Zâwyet el ‘Aryân, shows that the sarcophagus was dragged down the smooth rock-hewn ramp, which had a narrow stairway on each side as a foothold for the workmen, before the ramp was walled with stone slabs. That this was the usual custom is shown by comparing the dimensions of sarcophagi with those of completed passages and ramps. The sarcophagus of Queen Neit (Dynasty VI) is actually wider than the passage, while the horizontal or other passages in the pyramids of Kheops, Khephren, Mycerinus, Unis, and Pepy II are too narrow to have permitted the movement of the sarcophagus, the clearance space being either non-existent or less than 10 centimetres.
(b) The Antechamber,Serdab, Horizontal Passage and Vestibule presented no constructional problems other than those encountered in building the sarcophagus chamber.
(c ) The Portcullis Slabs of the Old Kingdom were normally of granite and let down vertically, although that in the Dahshûr pyramid of Snefru was let down obliquely. During the Middle Kingdom the portcullis slabs were frequently of quartzite and were nearly always slid transversely across a slightly inclined gap over the passage which they were intended to block. Before being let down, the Old Kingdom portcullis slabs were supported on piles of stones, as seen in unfinished mastaba tombs of Dynasty III at Maidûm. As a protection for the tomb, portcullis slabs had little effect as the robbers always worked their way under, above, or around them.
(d) The Ramp normally slopes downwards from the entrance to the horizontal passage of the pyramid. The angle of slope was usually between 15 and 30 degrees, although it was only 10 degrees in the pyramid of Ammenemes I at Lisht. Two important reasons for the downward-sloping ramp were to facilitate the lowering of the sarcophagus and canopic chest, and to assist in the blocking of the means of ingress by sliding down monoliths after the deceased had been interred. The pyramids of Dynasties III and IV had their entrance high up in the superstructure, and the ramp was therefore at least partly in the superstructure. From Dynasty V onwards the whole length of the ramp was in the substructure. In either case it had nearly always a flat roof, and the walls and roof were often lined with slabs of red granite or limestone.

extrait d' Egyptian Pyramids, 1947, par Leslie Grinsell (1907-1995), archéologue et conservateur de musée anglais. Durant la Seconde Guerre mondiale, il a rejoint la Royal Air Force et a servi en Égypte, où il s'est familiarisé avec les vestiges archéologiques de l'Égypte antique. 

mercredi 24 février 2021

La construction des pyramides égyptiennes selon Leslie Grinsell - 2e partie : les matériaux et leur transport

illustration extraite de l'ouvrage de Grinsell

Sources and Quarrying of the Soft Stones 

(I) Coarse limestone was normally obtained from the immediate vicinity of each pyramid. Coarse limestone quarries used for the Gîza Pyramids have been located around the Sphinx, south-east of the pyramid of Mycerinus, and south-east of the pyramid of Khephren. Quarries of coarse limestone for the Dahshur north pyramid are located south-west of that pyramid, to which they are connected by causeways. There is textual evidence that the coarse limestone for both of the Lisht pyramids was obtained from a quarry near the north Lisht pyramid.
(II) Fine limestone was used extensively for casing the pyramids, lining their passages and chambers, and lining the walls and pavements of the temples and causeways. The main source of supply was from the Moqattam-Tura-Ma'sara caves between Cairo and Helwan, which were worked from Dynasty III onwards. 
The history of these caves may be briefly related. Examination of the limestone facing of the pyramids and associated buildings of Dynasty III leaves little or no doubt that the quarries in question were being worked during that period. The earliest textual references to the Tura Quarries are of Dynasty VI. Among the titles of one Meryrê-‘ankh of this Dynasty was "Overseer of the Tura Quarries". A papyrus letter of Dynasty VI found at Saqqâra and now in the Cairo Museum (No. 49623) was written by an officer in charge of Tura quarrymen, and complains of delay in issuing clothes to his men. It is unfortunate that any Old Kingdom inscriptions that may have existed in the quarries themselves must have been destroyed by later quarrying. 
During the Middle Kingdom the quarries were extensively worked, and it is to this period that the earliest known surviving quarry inscription belongs. It described "the opening of the quarry-chambers anew in order to quarry good white stone of Tura for the buildings of this priest, of millions of years", and was written during the reign of Ammenemes III. 
During the New Kingdom and later, the quarries continued active, and about a dozen hieroglyphic inscriptions on the quarry walls are referable to these times. The working of the quarries has continued until the present day, and is still flourishing. 
Although most of the caves are now closed to the public, a few are still accessible, notably two examples at the Bektashi Monastery south of the citadel at Cairo, and two or three examples at the north end of the Tura group, accessible by road from Tura-Cozzika Railway Station.

The following features of the caves are of interest : 
1. Rows of notches arranged vertically on the walls ; these were footholds for the workmen to climb to the top of the quarry faces. 
2. Ledges beneath the ceiling at the top of each quarry face, where the quarrymen squatted in order to extract the stone. 
3. Parallel striae on each quarry face, caused by the use of copper chisels and adzes. 
4. Lines, symbols, and inscriptions on the ceilings, giving directions for quarrying and probably describing the progress of work.

The ancient quarrying of fine limestone was divided into two main operations : 
1. Working downwards with chisels or adzes on the four vertical sides of the block to be extracted. 
2. Striking the horizontal blows along the base in order to detach the block ; this was a comparatively easy process.
There is some evidence that convicts and prisoners of war constituted a considerable portion of the quarry labour. Convict labour is still used at Tura, and two mutilated inscriptions of Ahmose I (Dynasty XVIII) refer either to the Fenkhu (Phoenicians) or to cattle belonging to the Fenkhu as having been employed in the quarries.

(III) Alabaster was used for flooring the lower and upper temples of Khephren, and the upper temples of Unis and Teti. It was especially in demand for altars (that of Neuserrê at Abu Girâb) and offering tables (Mernerâ, Udjebten, and many others). 
The quarries at Hatnub about 25 km. east of El Amarna were the main source of supply during the Old and Middle Kingdoms. They contain inscriptions of the reigns of Kheops, Teti, Pepy I and II, Mernerê, Sesostris I and III, and Ammenemes II. The inscription of Uni, in Cairo Museum, described his journey to Hatnub in order to get an alabaster offering table for the pyramid of Mernerê.
There was also a small alabaster quarry in the Wadi Garâwi about 8 km. south-west of Helwan, which was worked during the Old Kingdom. 
The method of quarrying alabaster was similar to that for limestone, the chief tools used being probably copper chisels and adzes.

Sources and Quarrying of the Hard Stones

(1) Granite used very occasionally during Dynasties I and II, and for the main burial chamber of the Step Pyramid of Djeser at Saqqâra. From Dynasty IV onwards its use became common, notably in the pyramid complexes of Kheops, Khephren and Mycerinus. It was nearly always used for the portcullis slabs and other important parts of the interior of the pyramids of the Old Kingdom. Where roof-spans were more than about 3 metres, as in the so-called King’s chamber of the pyramid of Kheops, granite had to be used as limestone tends to crack if used for roofing such spans. When there was difficulty in getting granite, blocks of limestone were sometimes used instead and painted to resemble granite, (e.g. the false door of Udjebten ; the tomb of Mehu at Saqqâra, and many other instances). 
The source of supply of nearly all the granite used in ancient Egyptian building was the neighbourhood of Aswân, especially Elephantine Island. The beautiful red variety was most frequently used, but occasionally black granite was employed, notably for lining the walls of the north corridor of the upper temple of Mycerinus. The pyramidia were always of a black or grey-black stone, either granite, basalt, or schist. 
Among the Old Kingdom references to the quarrying of granite from Elephantine Island are two of special interest. That relating to the quarrying and transport of granite palmiform columns for the pyramid temples of Unis occurs in the form of reliefs and inscriptions on the walls of the causeway of that king’s pyramid at Saqqâra. The inscription of Uni in Cairo Museum includes an account of his journey to Elephantine to get a granite false door, offering slab, and doorway settings and thresholds for the pyramid complex of Mernerê.
Although there are great numbers of hieroglyphic rock inscriptions in the Aswân area, those so far published do not include references to the granite quarries, and there can be little doubt that the quarry inscriptions have been destroyed by later workings. 
The rounded surfaces of some of the untrimmed granite casing blocks of the pyramid of Mycerinus show that they were derived from boulders from the river at Aswân. On the other hand the large slabs used e.g. for roofing the King’s chamber of Kheops must have been quarried.
The ancient quarries south of Aswân are famous for the unfinished obelisk still in its original quarry, which exhibits the characteristic laboriously pounded faces and shows a few of the masons’ guide lines and other symbols in red ochre. In the vicinity of the ancient quarries are large numbers of pounders of greenish-black dolerite, used in quarrying and working all kinds of hard stone. It is certain that saws were also used in working granite and other hard stones, as saw-marks often occur on them. 

(2) Basalt. Black or dark grey basalt was used for flooring the upper temples of Kheops, Userkaf, Sahurê and Neuserrê. The material may have corne from Gebel-el-Qatrâni in the Faiyûm.

(3) Schist was often used for statues and offering vases, but seldom for building material. The main source of supply was the celebrated quarries of Wadi Hammâmât between Qus and Quseir, which contain some 250 hieroglyphic inscriptions, including examples of the reigns of Pepy I, the Mentuhotpes, Ammenemes I and III, Sesostris III, and many of later date. Among the inscriptions of the reign of Pepy I is a reference to a pyramid builder named Tjetjy. 
The quarrying of schist and other hard stones was sometimes accompanied by curious ritual. The inscription of Intef (Dynasty XII), in the Hammâmât quarries, relates how he prostrated himself before all the gods and goddesses of the desert, including Min and Mut, and burned incense to them, in order to obtain their assistance in guiding him to a large and sound block of stone, the like of which had never been brought since the time of the gods. 
On other occasions animals were sacrificed after suitable stone had been found. 
The numbers of men sent on some of the quarrying expeditions to Wadi Hammâmât often ran into thousands. Ammenemes III for example sent an expedition of 2,000 troops, 20 necropolis soldiers, 30 sailors, and 30 quarrymen to those quarries in order to quarry and hew ten statues, each of which was 5 cubits (about 8 1/2 feet) high.

(4) Quartzite. Although quartzite was used in Dynasties IV and VI  for statues of Djedefrâ and in the upper temple of Teti, it was not employed extensively until Dynasties XII and XIII, when it was used for the sarcophagus of Ammenemes III at Hawâra, and for portcullis slabs, sarcophagus chambers, and/or sarcophagi of Middle Kingdom pyramids between Saqqâra and Mazghûna. The main source of supply was most likely the quarries at El Gebel el Ahmar, about 10 kilometres north-east of Cairo, where hieroglyphic inscriptions of late date existed until recently. On the site there are still quarry-faces marked with red guide-lines to aid the quarrymen, and there is an unfinished recumbent royal statue. Dolerite pounders are common in the vicinity. North of Aswân is the remnant of another ancient quartzite quarry.

(5) Sandstone. Sandstone was seldom used in the building of any parts of the pyramid complexes, except at the pyramid-temple of Mentuhotpe II-III at El Deir el Bahari. There is evidence however that the sandstone quarries of the Western Nubian Desert, about 65 kilometres north-west of Abu Simbel were worked during the reigns of Djedefrê, Djedkarê-Isesi, Ammenemes I, Sesostris I (period of co-regency), and Ammenemes II and III. The earliest inscriptions in the sandstone quarries of Gebel Silsila, between Luxor and Aswân, are of Dynasty XVIII.
Sources of Other Materials. 
(1) Copper, for implements used in quarrying, probably all came from the mines in the vicinity of Serâbit el Khâdim and Wadi Maghârah in south-eastern Sinai where there are many inscriptions of Old, Middle and New Kingdoms. 
(2) Gold was used extensively for the royal grave furniture, nearly all of which was looted long ago. The articles from the tomb of Hetepheres (mother of Kheops) now in Cairo Museum may be taken as a sample of what every royal tomb of Old or Middle Kingdom must have contained. The source of supply was the quartz veins running through the granite, especially between Qena and Quseir in Upper Egypt.  
(3) Faïence was used in Dynasty III in the blue tile chambers of the monument of Djeser at Saqqâra. It is believed to contain natron from the Wadi Natrûn.
(4) Woods, imported largely from Syria, included ebony (from Dynasty I), juniper (from Dynasty III), fir (from Dynasty V), yew (from Dynasty VI) and cedar (from the Middle Kingdom and probably earlier). A coffin of cypress (Dynasty III) was found in the Step Pyramid at Saqqâra.

Transport of stone from quarry to pyramid, which may have been done with the assistance of oxen, involved the following operations :
(1) Transport from the quarry to the water’s edge. This process was often facilitated by constructing an embankment or causeway. Such embankments or causeways still exist at the granite quarries of Aswân, the alabaster quarries of Hatnub, the basalt quarry in the Faiyûm, and the limestone quarries in the Moqattam-Tura-Ma'sara area. The stones were moved on sledges as depicted on a stela from the Tura caves. At the river’s edge there was most likely a quayside (mryt) on which the blocks of stone were unloaded before embarkation. 
(2) Transport by river to the western bank. In the case of the transport of fine white limestone from the Moqattam-Tura-Ma‘sara area this merely involved the short journey across the river, and may have been done by a type of barge of which models were found near the pyramid of Queen Neit. Most of the transport across river was done during the inundation season in order to minimise land transport.
Accounts of journeys downstream with stone from the Upper Egyptian quarries have survived mainly in the inscription of Uni, who gave a detailed account of his expeditions to Upper Egypt to get materials for the pyramid complex of Mernerê at Saqqâra. He transported the alabaster from Hatnub in a cargo boat 60 cubits long and 30 cubits broad, built in 17 days. (...)
On the walls of the causeway of Unis at Saqqâra are reliefs and inscriptions of 'the coming (of the ships) from Elephantine Island loaded with red granite columns and cornice-blocks for the pyramid called ‘"the Places of the Son of Re Unis are beautiful"'. Carl V. Solver suggests that advantage was taken of a rising Nile for transport of stone from Upper Egypt, in order to minimise the risk of the vessel grounding on the way.
On the western bank of the river there were quaysides for the unloading of the stone. A block of fine white limestone from the Pyramid of Sesostris I at Lisht was inscribed, 'Brought from the
Rekhet landing stage'. It is possible that some of these quay-sides may have later served the lower temples of pyramids, as quays have been found near the lower temples of Sahurê, Neuserê, and Unis.
(3) Transport from the western bank of the river to the site of the pyramid was effected by sledges of acacia or cedar, evidences of which have been found near the pyramids of Sesostris III at Dahshûr and Sesostris III at Lahûn. It seems probable that most of the stone was taken to each pyramid along the causeway connecting the sites for the upper and lower temples."

extrait d' Egyptian Pyramids, 1947, par Leslie Grinsell (1907-1995), archéologue et conservateur de musée anglais. Durant la Seconde Guerre mondiale, il a rejoint la Royal Air Force et a servi en Égypte, où il s'est familiarisé avec les vestiges archéologiques de l'Égypte antique. 

La construction des pyramides égyptiennes selon Leslie Grinsell - 1e partie : études préliminaires, intervenants, organisation du chantier, outils, saisons

photo MC

"Architects, Sculptors, Artists and Scribes

Only in a few instances is there definite evidence as to the names and other particulars of the architects and other skilled personnel concerned in building the pyramids. It is recognised that the vizier and architect Imhotep was the builder of the Step Pyramid of Djeser at Saqqâra, but the available texts do not reveal any other details of his work in connection with that masterpiece of architecture. 
The names of the builders of the pyramids of Gîza and Abu Sîr are as yet unknown. 
More information is available concerning the builders of the pyramids of Dynasty VI. An inscription of the 18th year of the reign of Pepy I, in the quarries at Wadi Hammâmât, refers to a master pyramid-builder named Tjetjy. An inscription in the tomb of an architect named Nekhebu at Gîza states that he spent six years in superintending the work on the pyramid of Pepy I, after which that king gave him gold (amulets ?), bread, and beer in very great quantity. In his autobiographical text, Uni stated that he was sent to Ibhet, Elephantine, and Hatnub in order to obtain stone for the sarcophagus, the pyramidion, granite false door and settings, and offering tables for the pyramid complex of Mernerê. 
Middle Kingdom references to pyramid builders are rather scanty. An inscription of Dynasty XII refers to one Meri, architect of a temple of Sesostris I, the gates of which towered heavenward and were of Tura limestone ; but it is not known whether this was the temple of the pyramid of that king or one of his other temples (e.g. at Karnak or Heliopolis). British Museum Stela No. 569 records how a man named Sihathôr went to the pyramid of Ammenemes II to superintend the work on 15 statues of hard stone of millions of years ; and never had the like happened with any superintendent before. A large number of other texts (especially tomb inscriptions) refer to royal builders, sculptors, and artists of the Old and Middle Kingdoms, who must surely have had a hand in the building and decoration of pyramids and their associated temples and other buildings ; but as the texts do not specifically mention their work on pyramids they cannot here be introduced. 
The duties of scribes in connection with pyramid construction were important. They had to maintain records of the quantities of stone quarried and transported, the amount of labour employed, and the wages of the employees ; and they had to write on the quarried blocks of stone details of the crews or gangs of workmen by whom they were quarried, the date of quarrying, the parts of the pyramid complex for which they were destined, and many other details. Scribes of a superior grade were employed for inscribing the Pyramid Texts on the walls of the interiors of the pyramids from the end of Dynasty V to the end of Dynasty VI. Some important but fragmentary scribes’ accounts relating to the pyramids of Abu Sîr are still incompletely published.

Organisation of the Workmen

The unskilled labour employed in stone quarrying, transport of stone, and pyramid-building was excellently organised, and thanks to the researches of Mr Alan Rowe, the following brief outline can be given. 
The number of men employed on the larger pyramids must have run to many thousands, and according to Herodotus the builders of the pyramid of Kheops "worked always by ten myriads of men during each period of three months".
The largest group of workmen appears to have been the crew which is believed to have comprised between 800 and 1,000 men. These crews had various names of which the following examples must suffice : 
The crew "Kheops excites love". 
The crew "the Horus Medjedu (i.e. Kheops) is the purifier of the two lands". 
The crew "the White Crown of Khnmw-Khuf (Kheops) is powerful". 
The crew "Mycerinus is drunk". 
The crew "Mycerinus excites love". 
The crew "Sahure is beloved". 
The crew "Neuserre excites love". 
These crew-names often occur written in red on the stones used in building the pyramids. 
Each crew was divided into four watches, each of which contained 200-250 men. The watches had nautical names, such as "starboard watch", "larboard watch", "bow watch", "stern watch", etc., as recorded in incised hieroglyphs at the entrances to the storerooms in the tomb of Mererukai at Saqqâra (Dynasty VI). 
The watches were in turn divided into small gangs of 10-50 people, which had names of which "Antelope gang" and "Ibis gang" (both from the upper temple of Mycerinus) are examples. 


The chief appliances available to builders during the Old and Middle Kingdoms were as follows :
(1) Copper chisels, for quarrying limestone.
(2) Built causeways, for facilitating transport of stone from quarry to pyramid.
(3) Sledges, rollers, and sleepers, for transporting stones.
(4) Water, for levelling.
(5) Construction-embankments of mud-brick, for assisting in placing the higher courses of masonry ; remains of such embankments of mud-brick and rubble have been found at Maidûm, Lisht (Ammenemes I), and Gîza (near the pyramid of Khephren.
(6) Levers, for assisting in placing the stones into position.
(7) Plumb-rules, one of which was found near the pyramid of Sesostris I at Lisht.
(8) Set-squares, one of which was likewise found at Lisht.
(9) Ropes.
(10) Saws, used for cutting hard stones, e.g. note the saw-marks on the sarcophagi of Kheops and Khephren and behind the slate triads of Mycerinus. The length of the saw-marks on the sarcophagus of Kheops shows that the saw used was at least 8 ft. long.
(11) Dolerite pounders, for working and dressing granite and other hard stones ; they abound in the vicinity of all granite workings
(12 ) Tubular Drills, for hollowing the insides of hard stone sarcophagi and for working hard stones generally. That used in hollowing the sarcophagus of Kheops was 4.2 ins. diameter, as shown in two places where it was allowed to run too deep.
(13 ) Wooden moulds, for making mud-bricks.
(14 ) Plaster, for filling gaps and holes in masonry. The plaster was tinted red if used to fill flaws in red granite.
(15 ) Facing-Plates smeared with red ochre were, according to Petrie, applied to the casing stones to test their smoothness. Protuberances were shown by the red ochre adhering to them. 

Unit of Measurement

The unit of measurement used during the Old and Middle Kingdoms was the Royal cubit, the hieroglyph for which is an outstretched arm, the length of which is approximately one cubit (20.612 inches). It was divided into seven palms each of which had four fingers. 
Markings in cubits are often visible on the backing stones behind the casing of pyramids and on unfinished walls of interiors of tombs and temples.
The tendency to round figures is discernible in the following list of measurements of Old Kingdom pyramids : 

Plans, Models, and Calculations

Although no plans of pyramids have so far come to light they were certainly made. A plan of the tamarisk grove at the pyramid-temple of Nebhepetrê Mentuhotpe II was found by the expedition of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. A plan on papyrus of the tomb of Ramesses IV is in Turin Museum, and one on limestone of the tomb of Ramesses IX is in Cairo Museum. These give some indication of the probable character of an architect’s plan of a pyramid, and are useful in providing the ancient Egyptian names for the different parts of the tomb. 
It is most likely that the architects of the great monuments of ancient Egypt made use of scaled models, but no such architects’ models have yet been found. 
Mathematical problems connected with pyramids occur in two important papyri and have been studied by T. E. Peet and W. W. Struve. The problems in the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus are :
(1) to find the batter or slope-angle, given the base length and vertical height (problems 56 and 58), 
(2) to find the vertical height, given the base length and the batter (problem 57).
The, method, as illustrated by problem 57, is a follows : 
Problem : Pyramid 140 cubits long and 5 palms 1 finger in its batter. What is its vertical height ? 
Solution : Divide 1 cubit by twice the batter, which amounts to 10 palms 2 fingers (10 1/2 palms). Reckon with 10 1/2 to find 7, for 7 palms = 1cubit. Two thirds of 10 1/2 is 7. Reckon with 140, for this is the length of the side. Make 2/3 of 140, namely 93 1/2.  This is the vertical height thereof. 
The problem in the Moscow papyrus deals with a truncated pyramid. The method used by the ancient Egyptians for expressing the batter or slope-angle of the sides of a pyramid or other structure was to state it in terms of a vertical rise of one cubit on a horizontal base of so many palms and fingers. They had no other means of expressing angles. Thus the batters of the more important Old Kingdom pyramids are expressed as follows (those of Middle Kingdom are nearly all too ruined to be measured) : 

In the Cairo museum is a diagram showing the measurement of a curve, found near the Step Pyramid at Saqqâra and believed to be of Dynasty III.

The Work of the Seasons

The ancient Egyptian year was divided into three seasons, each of which consisted of four months : 
(1) Inundation from about 19th July till 15th November ; during this time most of the Nile Valley was submerged.
(2) Winter, from about 16th November till 15th March.
(3) Summer, from about 16th March till 13th July. 
Between 14th and 18th July were the five epagomenal days which made the year of 365 days, each month containing 30 days.
The broad divisions of work connected with large scale building operations were to some extent seasonal and may be stated as follows : 
(1) Quarrying of the fine white limestone from the cliffs east of the Nile was mostly done during winter and summer ; the bulk of the quarrying for granite, alabaster, and schist in Upper Egypt was done during the winter as the intensity of the summer heat prevented much from being done during the hot season. 
(2) Transport of fine white limestone across the river Nile was mostly done during the inundation season in order to minimise land transport. Transport of the Upper Egyptian stones downstream seems to have been done in early summer, just after the close of the quarrying season. 
(3) Building of the pyramids and other monuments is therefore likely to have been most active during the months following the inundation, when the stones quarried the previous summer had been transported to the west bank of the Nile, and when the heat of the summer was over. It is possible that the division of the workmen into boat-crews and watches may have originated from the transference of the crews of the transport barges to assist in the building operations. 
The conclusion seems to be that, although quarrying, transport, and building went on all through the year, the quarrying was done mostly in the winter and summer, the transport mostly during the inundation, and the building mostly during the winter. These tendencies are substantially borne out by the dates given in the quarry inscriptions and on the stones."  

extrait d' Egyptian Pyramids, 1947, par Leslie Grinsell (1907-1995), archéologue et conservateur de musée anglais. Durant la Seconde Guerre mondiale, il a rejoint la Royal Air Force et a servi en Égypte, où il s'est familiarisé avec les vestiges archéologiques de l'Égypte antique.

lundi 15 février 2021

Le choix "heureux" de Khoufou pour l'implantation de sa pyramide, selon Sir Erasmus Wilson (XIXe s.)

photo MC

"In considering the tombs of the Egyptians there is nothing more surprising than the ingenuity and contrivance which were enlisted for the purpose of securing the sarcophagus from disturbance ; and this increased in later times, when perhaps a greater necessity for caution was evinced by the prevalence of depredation. Valuable ornaments, rich gems, and precious metals were generally used for the decoration of the mummy ; but these were as nothing in comparison with the preservation intact of the body itself ; which patiently awaited reanimation. And so we are led on, as it were insensibly, to a full comprehension of the significance of the mighty pyramid, at once, as Brugsch observes, the mausoleum and the monument of the deceased king. To pile up a mountain as a tombstone was a thought well worthy of an Egyptian Pharaoh, of Ata, of Seneferu, Khufu and Khafra, and of their nephew Menkaura.
We can easily understand that the immortal sanctuary and the future abode of the Pharaoh should occupy his thoughts from the earliest period of his reign, for the undertaking was of mighty import, and its accomplishment required time and patient consideration. 
The spot selected by Khufu for the station of his pyramid was a happy one, the broad shelf of rock stretching like a promontory towards the royal city of Memphis, 100 feet above the level of the plain which lay at its foot, "where stands the temple of the goddess” Isis, the tutelary deity of the necropolis ; and where reclines the stately and regal Sphinx, type of the sun's daily emergence from the horizon, and of the Pharaoh's pilgrimage on earth. 
The Libyan mountains supplied in abundance a coarse nummulite limestone, fitted for the rough work of the builder. But a stone of finer quality, a compact magnesian limestone, almost a marble in density and appearance, was to be brought across the Nile from the Mokattam mountains of the Arabian range, for the better work. More than that, the red granite rocks of Syené, nearly 600 miles away, were made to yield up their riches for the great undertaking. The quarries at this time must have swarmed with skilled workmen ; a considerable army of masons must have been in possession of the rocky platform of Gheezeh ; whilst a multitude of labourers contributed their collective aid ; yet are told that the preparation of materials and the excavation of the core of the great pyramid alone occupied ten years, whilst three times that number of years were required for its completion.
Authors and travellers are universally agreed as to the beauty of the stone, and the accuracy of the setting of the red granite blocks which form the upper chambers and passages of the great pyramid ; but we should have wondered to find it otherwise, after the knowledge we have acquired of the excellence of the work of the pyramid of Meydoom, and the perfection of the statues of Rahotep and Nefert, found in the neighbouring tombs ; nor can we easily forget the skillful mosaic decoration of the tomb of Nefermat. And, just as we were impressed with admiration at the completeness of organization of the ancient kingdom at the uprising of the Pharaoh Mena, so now we must acknowledge the high standard of perfection in the science and art of the architect and builder which prevailed in the fourth dynasty ; between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago.
The plan of the building of the great pyramid would seem to have been to mark out upon the rocky platform an accurate square, which should be exactly oriented, that is, which should correspond with the four cardinal points of heaven, north, south, east, and west. Around this square centre the rock was removed and levelled, leaving the central block, 22 feet high, as a nucleus or core to the subsequent additions of masonry. In the meantime a shaft was tunnelled in the square mass of rock so as to form a descending passage, with a direction from north to south ; and, having reached a point corresponding with the vertical centre of the block, a chamber for the reception of the sarcophagus or coffin was carefully excavated.
Such a simple arrangement as this would have been sufficient for ordinary purposes, and is all that exists in smaller pyramids ; but the proportions of the great pyramid were so vast, that it became convenient at a future period to construct a sepulchral chamber in the centre of the masonry itself, 140 feet above the level of the original rock.
The next procedure was to build a broad course of masonry all around the square of rock ; and upon this square base another course of lesser diameter than the former, which should cover the rock centrally, and leave a broad step externally. By successive repetitions of this operation a stepped pyramid was erected, which only needed the adjustment of the apex to make it complete. To enlarge this stepped structure required the addition of a course from bottom to top ; and the graduated accretion of a succession of such stepped courses sufficed to raise the great pyramid, in the space of years, to its present stupendous proportions. 
The legend informs us that the Pharaoh commenced the building of his pyramid in the year of his accession to the throne, and added a course every year, so that at or near his death it simply awaited its final completion ; and it has been judged from this statement that if the number of successive additions composing a pyramid could be ascertained, we might arrive at a knowledge of the number of years of the king's reign.
But it is to be inferred that the Pharaohs of Egypt were too wise to leave any such duty to the gratitude or inclination of their successors, since the greater number of the pyramids were really finished, excepting notably the stepped pyramid of Sakkarah and the pyramid of Seneferu at Meydoom ; and in both these instances the reason of their present form may possibly be attributed to the early death of those Pharaohs.
The act of completion of the pyramids consisted in filling up the angles of the steps with blocks of fine white limestone, which were brought from the Toorah and Massoorah quarries of the Mokattam mountains.
This work was accomplished in tiers from top to bottom ; the blocks were carefully and accurately adjusted, and when each tier was perfected, the surface of the stones was beautifully polished. It happens fortunately that two of these casing blocks were discovered in situ by Colonel Howard Vyse, but the rest, without exception, had been carried away to assist in the building of the City of the Caliphs, Grand Cairo. Herodotus informs us that when the casing was accomplished, the surface of the stones was ornamented with hieroglyphs ; and the quantity of writing was so great that, could it have been copied, it would have covered more than ten thousand pages. But although the carving of the casing stones with hieroglyphs is hardly credible, an inscription in Egyptian characters was really found near the pyramid, which, according to Herodotus, designates the quantity of radishes, onions, and garlic consumed by the workmen during their prolonged labour. The value of these articles is stated to have been 200,000l. ; and he curiously observes, "what a vast sum must have been spent on the iron tools used in the work and on the feeding and clothing of the labourers." Professor Maspero, however, in one of his lectures delivered in the College of France, has satisfactorily shown that this register of roots was not a computation of the articles consumed by the workmen, but a simple enumeration of the nature and quantity of the oblations ordained for the offerings at the altar of the sanctuary annexed to the pyramid.
Exploration of the great pyramid of late years has established the fact that the passage of entrance into the pyramid is not central, but begins on the north face, 49 feet above the foundation, and 245 feet to the east of the middle line, as though to conceal it from the intruder. From this point the passage makes a sharp descent to the sepulchral chamber excavated in the rock, originally intended for the royal resting place. But, at a short distance beyond the entrance another passage branches upwards towards the centre of the pyramid, and ends in a large hall, which is called the King's Chamber, and actually contains an empty sarcophagus of red granite or porphyry. In its way upwards, this ascending passage crosses the mouth of a shaft leading to the subterranean chamber. And, at the same point, a third passage extends horizontally inwards to a third apartment, called the Queen's Chamber, but supposed to have been devoted to a younger brother of the king. 
Thus we may briefly summarize the accommodation of the pyramid as consisting of three chambers, three passages leading to the three chambers from a single passage of entrance, and a shaft which descends to the subterraneous chamber. Five spaces above the roof of the King's Chamber have likewise been designated chambers : they are, in fact, simply chambers of construction intended to relieve the roof of the King's Chamber from the superincumbent weight of the masonry above. They have received the names of Davison, Wellington, Nelson, Arbuthnot, and Campbell, and the blocks of which they are constructed bear numerous quarry marks traced in the red pigment called moghrah. Amongst the masons' marks are several ovals of Khufu, and another royal oval which reads Khnum Khufu, the double name of the same Pharaoh. These ovals are valuable as identifying, although indirectly, this magnificent structure with the name of Khufu, and, with the exception of the empty porphyry sarcophagus, are our only relics of the great pyramid.
After the committal of the royal corpse, enclosed in its gorgeous outer case, resplendent with gilding and covered with exquisite painting, to its magnificent receptacle of porphyry in the sepulchral chamber, constructed of highly polished granite from Syené, or, as Herodotus calls it, "the many-coloured stone of Ethiopia", the casing of white magnesian limestone proceeded apace.
The entrance passage was closed up with masonry, and all vestige of its position and existence obliterated. But there is reason to believe that those who were in possession of the secret, were likewise acquainted with another secret, no less, indeed, that an entrance by another way, perhaps beneath the foundation itself. How else can we explain the fact that many centuries later (A.D. 820), when the Arabs forced an entrance into the King's Chamber, they discovered that it had been already rifled of its contents ?"

extrait de The Egypt of the Past, 1882, par Sir Erasmus Wilson (1809-1884), chirurgien et dermatologue britannique.
Ce passionné de voyages à l'étranger s'intéressa particulièrement à l'étude des antiquités égyptiennes. En 1877, il paya le coût (environ 10.000 £) du transport de l'obélisque d'Alexandrie ("Cleopatra's Needle") vers Londres, où ce monument fut érigé sur le quai de la Tamise. 


vendredi 12 février 2021

"Ces géants du désert étonnent d'abord et frappent de stupeur, mais ensuite affectent douloureusement le voyageur réfléchi" (Amable Regnault - XIXe s., à propos des pyramides de Giza)

photo de Luigi Fiorello (1847 - 1898)

"Les pyramides ! ce nom magique qui, dans le sein des lettres antiques et mortes, nous berce de son éternelle monotonie, que sont-elles ? Le sépulcre, et en même temps l'âme du désert. Les rois, ces sages couronnés, qui toutefois se cramponnaient à la vie, et voulaient au moins éterniser leurs tombeaux, si ce n'est leurs noms, s'étaient efforcés d'assurer un asile inviolable, contre les bêtes et les hommes, à leurs restes terrestres, que l'âme devait laisser en remontant au ciel après les phases de la métempsycose. De là une pyramide pour des mausolées de rois.
Ces géants du désert, qui ont survécu à Memphis, dont ils étaient les tombeaux, éternels comme le Nil, qui vient quelquefois baigner leurs pieds, étonnent d'abord et frappent de stupeur, mais ensuite affectent douloureusement le voyageur réfléchi, qui mesure la grandeur et la durée du travail aux souffrances des travailleurs, la multiplicité des bras employés à les bâtir aux gémissements douloureux, aux cris d'agonie qui sont montés du pied des pyramides jusqu'au ciel ; car elles s'associent aux noms de deux rois qui les cimentèrent des sueurs et du sang de leurs sujets ; car elles suspendirent le cours de la justice, et tarirent l'abondance, qui, jusqu'à Rhampsinit, prédécesseur de Chéops et de Chéphren, avait fleuri dans toute l'Égypte. Elles firent fermer les temples, interdire les sacrifices à plus de cent mille Égyptiens, condamnés à souffrir chaque mois, tous pour un seul homme, à fouiller les carrières de l'Arabie, et à traîner les masses de pierres au bord du Nil, et au delà, sur des bateaux, jusqu'aux pieds de la montagne de Libye. 
La chaussée sur laquelle sont élevées les pyramides, les édifices souterrains destinés à la sépulture des despotes, dans une île formée par les eaux du fleuve, qu’un canal y introduisait ; les pyramides elles-mêmes avaient coûté des demi-siècles de travaux. On voudrait pouvoir admirer sans regret ces tours de Babel, si elles n'avaient pas été l'oeuvre lente et laborieuse de la main de l'homme, si elles étaient plutôt, comme dit Diodore, une superposition instantanée et miraculeuse par quelque divinité au milieu d'une mer de sable.
Les historiens de l'antiquité s'égarent en conjectures sur le procédé de leur construction. Ils supposent que les pierres étaient d'abord élevées du sol, et qu'à l'aide de machines faites de courts pieux de bois, on les montait sur un premier rang d'assises. La pierre qui y était parvenue était mise dans une autre machine placée sur cette première assise, d'où on l'exhaussait par le moyen d'une autre successivement, et ainsi de suite, car, dit Hérodote, par simple conjecture, il y avait autant de machines que d'assises. Par ce mode d'ascension incessante jusqu'à la dernière hauteur, les pierres s'élevaient toujours en se rétrécissant dans une forme conique, l'assise inférieure excédant celle qui était immédiatement au dessus. La pyramide quadrangulaire forme ainsi sur chacune de ses faces un escalier d'où, pendant l'ascension, l'oeil ne peut plonger sur la base, ni apercevoir la cime. Quand elle eut atteint sa dernière élévation, on exécuta sur son sommet un revêtement, une sorte de perfectionnement (...). Ce revêtement n'existe plus que sur la pyramide de Chéphren, vulgairement appelée pyramide Belsoni.
Le géomètre positif et le minutieux antiquaire calculeront les dépenses de consommation pour les malheureux ouvriers, ou bêtes de somme attachés à cette glèbe de sable ou de pierres, nourris de légumes et de raves, et les frais d'outils, d'instruments et de machines pour la taille des assises, pour leur transport, pour le percement des routes souterraines. Le philosophe méditera sur la destination de ces demeures colossales, sur la vanité des choses humaines, sur la cruauté froide et calculée de ces antiques despotes qui s'étaient plu à décimer des millions d'hommes pour occuper des bras à leur usage et à leur service. Il se réjouira peut-être, et poussera même un éclat de rire amer de Démocrite, en voyant que ces pyramides ambitieuses, où deux superbes monarques avaient préludé, pendant cinquante ans, à la pompe de leurs funérailles, frustrèrent les deux despotes pour qui s'étaient entassées ces masses indestructibles. Chéops et Chéphren n'y furent point inhumés ; craignant que l'indignation du peuple, épuisé et las de tant de maux et de souffrances amoncelés avec ces milliers de pierres, n'éclatât enfin comme la nue grosse de la foudre, et qu'après avoir servi leurs maîtres durant la vie, ce même peuple ne voulût les dépouiller après la mort, en les arrachant à cet asile sacré, ils avaient ordonné qu'on les enterrât en secret avec et sous la foule prolétaire. "Ainsi, comme le dit Bossuet, les constructeurs des deux grandes pyramides, oppresseurs de leur peuple, n'ont pas même joui de leurs tombeaux."
Mais en stigmatisant ces deux tyrans, l'histoire se désarme devant la troisième pyramide, celle de Mycérinus, qui, ayant horreur des cruautés de ses deux prédécesseurs, consola les Égyptiens de leur despotisme par la douceur de son règne. Il mourut lui-même avant l'achèvement de la pyramide, qui portait son nom sur la face septentrionale. Celle-ci avait été construite jusqu'à la quinzième assise avec la pierre noire thébaïque, tirée, dit Strabon, de la terre d'Éthiopie, plus dure pour ce travail, et aussi plus précieuse. Les reliques qu'elle renfermait n'en ont été exhumées que peu d'années passées, et le vaisseau qui en avait été chargé, et destiné pour l'Europe et l'Angleterre, fit naufrage sur les côtes du Portugal. La momie seule de Mycérinus fut transportée à Londres, où elle est déposée dans le Musée britannique."

extrait de Voyage en Orient : Grèce, Turquie, Égypte, 1855, par Amable Regnault (1798-1897),
historien, bibliothécaire et archiviste honoraire du Conseil d'État, membre de l'Académie des sciences, belles-lettres et arts de Lyon.

mercredi 2 septembre 2020

La pyramide de Chéops est "la plus durable des créations humaines" (D. S. Sergueïevitch )


Photo Zangaki, vers 1880
"La Pyramide de Chéops - deux millions trois cent mille blocs de pierre de deux tonnes et demie chacun - le poids le plus lourd qu’aient jamais élevé des mains humaines ; et la branche légère de mimosa posée sur le cœur du mort : n'est-ce pas là la même force, la même volonté de Résurrection dans cette pesanteur et dans cette légèreté ?

"Je ne peux pas décrire, car de deux choses l’une : ou bien mes paroles ne rendront pas la millième partie de ce qu’il faut dire ou, si j'en donne l’image la plus pâle et la plus faible, on me prendra pour un homme exalté, peut-être même pour un fou. Je ne puis dire qu’une chose : ces hommes bâtissaient comme des géants hauts de cent coudées." C’est Champollion qui parle ainsi de toute l'architecture égyptienne et l'on pourrait dire cela des pyramides en particulier.

C'est Philon de Byzance qui en parle le mieux dans son livre Des sept merveilles du Monde : "Les hommes y montaient vers les dieux, et les dieux y descendaient vers les hommes."

(...) Ç’aurait été une tâche difficilement réalisable, même avec nos moyens techniques actuels, que d’aménager comme le firent les architectes égyptiens de la IV° dynastie, dans l’épaisseur de masses de pierre telles que les Pyramides, des chambres intérieures, des couloirs, des galeries qui, malgré une pression de dizaines de millions de kilogrammes, conservent après soixante siècles leur régularité primitive, sans avoir dévié d’un point.
Dans le tombeau de Chéops, malgré des milliers d’années, malgré les tremblements de terre qui ébranlèrent toute la masse de la pyramide, pas une pierre n’a bougé d’un cheveu. Jamais personne n’a bâti et probablement ne bâtira plus solidement. C’est la plus durable des créations humaines.

Les blocs cyclopéens de granit sont si exactement joints qu'on ne peut glisser entre eux une aiguille ; ils sont polis comme une glace, et leurs facettes sont pareilles aux facettes d’un cristal parfait.
L’erreur moyenne de la pose des pierres égale un dix-millième par rapport à la longueur, au carré, à l’horizontalité mathématiquement exacte. Si parfaite est cette pose, les blocs de plusieurs tonnes sont assemblés avec une telle précision que les plus larges interstices ne dépassent pas un dix-millième de pouce. Les facettes et les arêtes ne le cèdent en rien au travail de nos opticiens modernes.
C'est la perfection, non plus du cristal, mais du vivant tissu organique.

Les rois constructeurs des pyramides furent "des tyrans cruels qui obligèrent le peuple à élever des tombeaux inutiles, témoignage de leur vanité insensée". La confiance naïve avec laquelle Hérodote raconte cette fable montre à quel point les Grecs eux-mêmes avaient déjà perdu la clé de l'antiquité égyptienne. Non, ces rois ne furent pas de cruels tyrans, mais des libérateurs qui délivraient du plus honteux des esclavages - l'esclavage de la mort, et la conduisaient victorieusement vers la Résurrection.

Si une tension, une concentration aussi inouïe des forces physiques et spirituelles d’un peuple entier fut possible, c’est seulement parce que la volonté d’un seul coïncida avec la volonté de tous. Et ce n’est point dans une tristesse servile que durant vingt années ces cent mille hommes peinèrent après la pyramide de Chéops, mais dans une joie enivrante, dans une sage démence, dans une perpétuelle extase de la foi et de la prière. Ce n’est pas le gémissement des victimes qui monte de dessous ces prières, mais le cri victorieux de l’homme qui a vu pour la première fois le chemin ouvert dans le ciel par la pointe des pyramides.

extrait de Les mystères de l'Orient, par Dmitri Sergueïevitch Merejkovski (1865 - 1941), écrivain et critique littéraire russe. Traduction du russe par Dumesnil de Gramont

samedi 8 février 2020

"La création de cette montagne de pierre était un miracle d'organisation" (Arthur Weigall, à propos de la pyramide de Khéops)

photo d'Émile Béchard (1844-18..?) 

"Le nouveau monarque qui est (...) le premier de la IVe dynastie et qui monta sur le trône en 2789 avant Jésus-Christ, s'appelait Khoufou, nom que les Grecs ont rendu par Khéops ; il paraît avoir été fils de Snefrou, bien que probablement d'une femme de rang inférieur. D’après les données dont nous disposons, il était fanatique en matière
religieuse et favorisa peut-être le culte du dieu-soleil Rê au détriment du reste du panthéon, car Manéthon dit de lui qu' "il était arrogant envers les dieux, mais écrivit néanmoins un livre sacré que les Égyptiens tiennent pour une œuvre de haute importance". Hérodote mentionne le fait qu'il aurait fermé certains temples et interdit les sacrifices. Mais, puisque sa mémoire a été révérée par bien des générations et que le culte de son esprit fut réintroduit deux mille ans plus tard, il semble que cette intolérance religieuse ait été inspirée par sectarisme et non par impiété.
Son œuvre la plus célèbre fut la construction de la Grande Pyramide qui dut commencer assez tôt sous son règne. En effet, à travers toute l’histoire de l'Égypte, la première préoccupation d’un pharaon, lorsqu'il montait sur le trône, était de préparer le lieu de son dernier repos et son équipement funéraire. Sur le plateau désertique situé derrière la ville de Memphis, s'élevait déjà la pyramide à degrés de Djeser et, quelques kilomètres plus au-sud, celle de Snefrou. Le choix du nouveau roi tomba sur un site plus au nord, en partie peut-être pour que son tombeau fût à l’écart des autres, en partie aussi afin d’être plus près du point géographique qui séparait la Haute de Basse Égypte, enfin pour avoir vue sur le temple duSoleil à On, de l’autre côté du fleuve. 
Au lieu choisi se trouvait un haut plateau de calcaire blanc d’où la vue s’étendait sur tous les environs. Vers le nord, la vallée s’ouvrait sur les grandes plaines du Delta ; vers le sud se déroulait le cours sinueux du Nil, bordé de champs verdoyants et de luxuriantes palmeraies et s’avançant du haut pays entre les falaises désertiques de l'est et de l’ouest. À quelques kilomètres au sud-est, les maisons blanches et les temples de Memphis se détachaient sur le vert des champs et, à une distance à peu près égale au nord-est, de l’autre côté du Nil, la ville sacrée d’On se profilait contre les falaises arides.
Sur ce plateau, on délimita un carré dont, chacun des côtés avait 230 mètres et dont la surface totale mesurait environ 54.000 mètres carrés. Sur cette base on édifia la pyramide dont la hauteur atteignit 146 mètres et dont les deux millions de blocs calcaires qui entrèrent dans sa construction représentaient un -volume de 2.500.000 mètres cubes. Dans les couches inférieures, la plupart des blocs pesaient deux tonnes et plus ; ces blocs devaient être portés par voie d’eau des carrières situées sur l’autre rive du fleuve, jusqu’au pied du plateau, et cela à l'époque des inondations, lorsque toute la vallée ne formait qu'un lac ; puis il fallait les hisser sur le plateau et les mettre en tas pour la construction. 
Durant les trois mois d'inondation annuelle, les paysans ne pouvaient pas travailler aux champs. Aussi, au cours de cette période, une armée d'ouvriers pouvait-elle être employée aux constructions sans que la prospérité du pays en souffrît. En fait, de fréquents rapports ultérieurs relatent qu’en utilisant une centaine de milliers d'hommes chaque année durant ces trois mois, toute la pyramide pouvait être terminée en vingt ans. Si ces chiffres sont exacts, il fallait poser au cours de chaque journée de travail une moyenne de 1200 blocs. 
Les blocs étaient hissés sur des traîneaux le long de rampes en zigzag, construites temporairement en briques séchées au soleil sur la face extérieure de la pyramide, une trentaine d'hommes sans doute ayant à s'occuper d'un seul bloc ; si chaque équipe avait besoin de deux jours en moyenne pour mettre en place un bloc, les mille deux cents qu'on édifiait chaque jour requéraient les services de 70.000 hommes, 17 à 18.000 ouvriers étant occupés sur chacun des quatre côtés de la pyramide.
Il y avait probablement 18 à 20 rampes en zigzag sur chaque face et tous les jours, au plus fort du travail, 80 équipes environ se succédaient les unes aux autres sur le sentier en pente, chacune hâlant un bloc sur son traîneau dont les patins avançaient facilement sur la surface qu'on avait rendue glissante en l’arrosant d’eau. (...)
L'extraction des blocs ses poursuivait probablement durant toute l’année et comme on employait à chaque saison environ 100.000blocs, il en fallait produire environ 2000 par semaine, soit près de 300 par jour, tâche que pouvaient facilement accomplir quelques milliers de carriers.
La création de cette montagne de pierre était un miracle d'organisation et le revêtement final des côtés de la pyramide au moyen de blocs polis et parfaitement ajustés constituait un chef-d'œuvre de technique. Les couloirs intérieurs et les chambres funéraires attestent dans leur construction une habileté inégalable car leurs blocs sont joints de façon presque invisible. L'entrée s'ouvre assez haut sur la face septentrionale ; après l’enterrement on l'obtura avec de la maçonnerie analogue à celle qui revêtait toute la surface, de manière que rien ne décelât sa position sur la face lisse et inaccessible de la pyramide. 
Pourtant le tombeau fut pillé à une époque où les pharaons n’existaient plus ; mais l’entrée ne fut découverte que lorsqu'on eut enlevé les pierres du revêtement pour les employer à d’autres constructions ou pour chercher à découvrir des trésors cachés. Durant toute l’antiquité, le pharaon reposa en paix au cœur de ce vaste benben du Soleil et son esprit semblait présider éternellement aux destinées de son peuple ; il vivait à jamais dans sa montagne de pierre blanche et resplendissante et son nom se transmettait d'âge en âge, révéré et inoubliable." 

extrait de Histoire de l'Égypte ancienne, 1949, par Arthur Edward Pears Weigall (1880-1934), égyptologue britannique, ancien inspecteur général des Antiquités du gouvernement égyptien