www.cheops-pyramide.ch Copyright 2006 Franz Löhner and Teresa Zuberbühler

How were the pyramids built?

Transporting stones: using sledges, tracks and rope rolls

A new method by Franz Löhner

Franz Löhner suggests, that the stones were transported up the pyramid with a system of sledges on tracks and rope roll stations installed directly on the pyramid flank. On this page you find the details about tracks and sledges.

How to solve the transport problems

Accepted doctrine says that huge construction ramps were used to haul the stone blocks on wooden sleds up the side of the pyramids. But with the help of rope roll stations no large ramps are necessary at all.

1.       The stone block is fastened to a wooden sledge (= doctrine)
2. New    The stone is tied to the same sledge during the whole journey from the quarry until it reaches its intended place on the pyramid plateau. If something has to be changed it is done in a workshop at the foot of the pyramid (no doctrine)
3. New    The sledges are simply made and manufactured in bulk, only two round long beams interlocked with two, maximum three cross pieces (doctrine = elaborately carpentered sledges)
4.      Small auxiliary ramps are built from the quarries and from the harbor to the pyramid of Khufu (= doctrine) They should be as short as possible, because every additional meter adds to the time needed for building.
5. New   

Because the stones are transported on fixed routes, tracks are laid down. The tracks are made with round logs which are laid down to form rails and are joined with cross beams or anchored to the ground. Resinous wood which is more rot resistant, for example cedar from the Lebanon, is used (doctrine = sledges on round movable wooden logs)

6. New   

The sledges don't move with skids on the outer side of the tracks, but the cross-pieces slide on the wooden tracks (doctrine = skids on round wooden logs which lie diagonally)

7. New   

Slightly watered oil is used to lubricate the tracks and the skids of the sledge (doctrine = water on clay)

8. New   

Löhner's rope rolls are used on all tracks, if the angle of inclination is more than 5°. The haulers are walking downwards on both sides of the tracks while the sledge is hauled upwards (doctrine = hauling teams pull sledges up ramps, walking in front of the sledges)

Transport up the pyramid flank with Löhner's rope roll
Click on the photo for enlargement (photos Franz Löhner): model with brick

Löhner's rope roll
The pyramid building yard - the center of the construction project
Calculating the force and kinetic coefficient of friction necessary


Rails or rollers - or - rolls on rails?

Baumstämme in schienenartiger Anordnung und SchlittenThe best solution, that results in the least friction are simple sledges on tracks. Round logs are laid down lengthwise, so they form rails and are anchored to the ground. The stone is laid on a sledge made with round crossbars (no rolling rollers) and then, skidding diagonally over the logs; behind 2 men with strong levers, in front a hauling team with ropes, the logs lubricated with watered oil. (illus. 1 - sledge on round crossbars on tracks according to Löhner)
Illustration of rope roll station and tracks on the pyramid flank

If a monument takes a long period of time to build, it is well worth while to build permanent tracks. While building the pyramid thousands of stone blocks had to be transported (total of 2'500'000 stones), always on the same routes, including the very large and heavy granite blocks. These blocks should be moved with as little friction as possible on a smooth and unobstructed surface.

Rollers can be used, if you have to move a stone a couple of meters or if the terrain is reasonably flat. But if you try to haul a stone up a steep and bumpy slope, you will overcome only a few meters per hour. But using rollers to move a sledge is impractical. Men have to continually carry rollers from the back to the front of the sledge as it moves forward. It is also cumbersome because the rollers can easily roll askew and at angles that are not 90 degrees to the sledge rails. (illus. 2 - carpentered sledge on diagonal rollers)

However for a one-time transport of a colossal statue (see below) it was not practical to build tracks but the logs were used several times. It is easier to lay them down lengthwise and not crossways in front of the sledge. (illus. 3 - rollers laid down lengthwise under sledge)

Egyptologists suggest that wooden timbers were laid like railway cross-ties (sleepers) on the ramps so that the heavy sledges could slide over them. The spaces between the ties would be filled with clay and water would be used for lubrication. But you have to bear in mind, that clay has some very fine but grainy components, those would rub continually against the wood and abrase and wear it down. Clay is not a good lubricator, on the contrary large braking forces accrue. (illus. 4 - sledge on ties)

Are tracks necessary?
Transports with sledges can also be made without tracks, it just takes much longer and is riskier. If you have to transport huge quantities of stones over large distances, this has to be accomplished with as little friction as possible. If you evaluate all possibilities, tracks are best and second best is dragging the sledge over a plain surface such as bedrock. The friction caused here is less, but you have to build some kind of guiding rail to keep the sledge on its course. Every irregularity, every skidding and slipping, even a small stone on the surface means higher friction, more force needed and more haulers. That is why a well prepared route over bedrock must be preferred to a ramp made from rubble or bricks.


Mass produced sledges for the pyramid

500 stones daily had to be transported from the quarries to the pyramid. Because a stone was lashed to the same sledge for the whole route, we conclude:

  • The sledge had to be reusable
  • It had to be as simple as possible to assemble
  • There must have been several defect sledges per day. Those had to be replaced or repaired
  • The sledges have to be as stable as possible but not excessively heavy. We assume, the sledge, rope and hauling harness together weighted about 300 kg

Franz Löhner thinks, the sledges used for building the pyramids were simple models and mass produced. Actually only illustrations of perfectly carpentered sledges are known, but those were probably used to transport very large and heavy loads or very fragile statues. In ancient Egypt wood was very valuable and was always used sparingly and if possible reused several times.
Numbers and figures of the Cheops-pyramid (pyramid of Khufu)


Lubrication for the rails

Franz Löhner has tried out several lubricants and had the best results with slightly watered oil. By performing practical tests, the Egyptians must have been able to reduce the friction between the materials used to a low value on the scale.
Calculating the force and kinetic coefficient of friction necessary

On level surface and a slight slope, the friction between sledge and rail is very important, but on the pyramid flank it can nearly be disregarded. Experiments show, that only the hindmost cross beam of the sledge lies on the rail and with this kind of gradient, the pressure on the rail is not very high, because of the drag exerted by the haulers on the rope.


Anchoring the tracks and the ladder on the pyramid flank

About every two meters special Tura-stones are left (larger illustration) to the left and right of the tracks and the ladder-like rig. These stones are left sticking out and are cut in such a way, that crossbars can be attached (a similar way to hold crossbeams was used in the Kings chamber to hold the portcullis slabs - photo). These crossbars are connected and attached to the tracks and the ladder-like rig used for the hauling teams. The crossbars only anchor the tracks and the ladder-like rig and don't have to bear the sledge or stone, the rope roll bears the main load.

The ladder-like rig is safeguarded with a guardrail made from ropes, which is affixed at the outer side. This rail helps to prevent members of the hauling teams from falling.
Illustration of rope roll station and tracks on the pyramid flank
Transport up the pyramid flank with Löhner's rope roll (details anchoring)


What kind of ropes were used?

Two ropes (red) were attached left and right to the cross beam in the front part of the sledge. In order to create an even pull on each side of the sledge Franz Löhner suggests, that the two ropes were attached in the form of a loop and the actual hauling ropes (blue) were attached in the middle. The danger of pulling one-sided is considerately reduced and it is much easier when changing the hauling ropes at the intermediate rope roll stations.
Transport up the pyramid flank with Löhner's rope roll

The old Egyptians used ropes made from hemp fibre (Cannabis sativa), which are made from the true hemp plant (called "smsm t" in Egyptian). A rope made from hemp with a width of 3cm can easily bear 3 tons (information of the German rope maker association), Guerrier even thinks up to 5.1 tons [5]. If several rope strands are twisted together even more weight can be carried. Two ropes, if routed parallel would allow for extra safety. Ropes made from dom palm fibers (Hyphaene thebaica) are probably not strong enough.

Length of ropes: when using Löhners rope rolls on a slight incline of 5°, a rope roll station is installed every 75m, so you need ropes of about 85-90m length. On the 52° pyramid flank there are rope roll stations every 30-37m, so you will need ropes of 45-50m length. Using those lengths, the weight of the rope doesn't have to be taken in account.
Löhner's rope roll


Hauling gear

Schleppmannschaft mit Knebel vor BrustThe haulers form two groups to the left and right of the tracks. They walk in pairs, the rope in the middle of the two haulers. They grab a crossbar handle (wooden toggle) attached to the rope and, holding it in front of their chest, they push. The haulers are not fastened to an actual harness, because if an accident happens, the whole hauling team would be in danger of being thrown and hurling down the slope. The distance between two haulers walking one in front of the other should be about a meter, that is enough for them to be able to pull or push without hampering each other.

This kind of hauling arrangement has several advantages:

  • Each hauler has a good grip, not on a slipping rope, but on a fixed wooden handle
  • The force exerted by the hauler is transferred uniformly to the rope and to the sledge
  • If you assign to each hauler a steady partner, probably choosing men of the same height and who have about the same strength, those two can easily march lock-step.
  • With this kind of hauling gear the hauling team can easily coordinate and adjust the tempo, walking slower or faster or stop the sledge at a precise position
  • Since the hauling teams are walking on fixed routes and on specially constructed lanes (ladder-like rig) where they will not hinder in any way the progress of the sledge, they can walk uniformly. That is to say, without using a lot of strength for every stop and start. Every time the sledge has to be stopped and restarted you have to overcome the static friction (stiction) between sledge and tracks.

Considering, that thousands of stones had to be moved up the pyramid flank, each well coordinated hauling teams had to be a reliable element in the effort to build the pyramid. Graffiti painted by these teams on the stone slabs of the pyramid were found - with pride they gave themselves names like "friends of Khufu"! [7]
Illustration of rope roll station and tracks on the pyramid flank
Advantages of this kind of hauling
Transport up the pyramid flank with Löhner's rope roll

The size of a hauling team depended on the weight of the stone and on the gradient that had to be surmounted. Heribert Illig and H.U. Niemitz calculate the following number of haulers for an average stone block of 2.5 tons:

  • On level surface: 11 haulers (rounded to 12 = 2 groups of 6 men)
  • Gradient of 5°: 23 haulers (rounded to 24 = 2 groups of 12 men)
  • Pyramid flank (52°): 46 haulers (rounded to 48 = 2 groups of 24 men)

Calculating the force and kinetic coefficient of friction necessary

To walk coordinated side by side is always difficult - the structure of the hauling team like Franz Löhner suggests also has other advantages - a maximum of 12 men are walking behind each other (48 = 2 times 2 groups of 12 men), this can be coordinated with some ease. If we compare this with the huge hauling teams that would have to walk on transport ramps, 4 rows or more, hauling the stones blocks and lever them around corners, you have to say - why do it in a complicated way if you can also do it in a simple way!
Theories of pyramid ramp systems disproved


Five requirements that every pyramid construction theory should fulfill

Franz Löhner stipulates that any method or theory for pyramid construction should fulfill the following 5 requirements, otherwise it should be rejected:

1. A solution that is as simple as possible using a technology that is as simple as possible (Occam's razor)
2. Continuity in technical matters and craftsmanship
3. Verification through pictures and/or text
4. Technology keeping with the time and culture
5. The supposed technique / method must really be a solution


A simple solution / method?

Does the solution proposed on this page by Franz Löhner also meet those five requirements?

About the 1st requirement (simple solution):
Franz Löhner's methods don't ask for time-consuming or complicated techniques, but what he proposes are by all means techniques, that the ancient Egyptians knew and had mastered!

The solution suggested by Franz Löhner (sledges on tracks) is much simpler than what the Egyptologists suggest - huge ramps over which elaborately carpentered sledges are hauled over ties (sleepers) or with the help of rollers.


What was found? The historical sources

About the 2nd requirement (technical continuity):
The ancient Egyptians knew how to work with wood, the sun barge found near the pyramid of Khufu shows their high skills and also proves, that resinous wood from the Lebanon was imported to Egypt. The Egyptians knew ropes made with different fibers, several types of ropes were found (sun barge, Deir el-Bahari). Oil was used to embalm their dead.

We know, that the Egyptians were able to move up to 700 tons, for example the Memnon colossus of Amenhotep II in Qurna or the colossus of Ramses II in Tanis and Ramesseum.

About the 3d requirement (verification through pictures and/or text):
There are several illustrations of stone blocks or colossus being transported. The most well known is a wall painting in the tomb of Djehutiotep where a colossus is transported on a sledge from the quarries of Hatnub.
Quarrying stones for the pyramid (map with quarries)

There are no illustrations of tracks used for sledges, but the Egyptologist Mark Lehner [4] describes an installation with wooden beams, that he found on the Giza plateau. He thinks, that the cross beams were put down, so the skids of the sledges could be hauled over them. The spaces between the ties would be filled with clay and water would be used for lubrication. Unfortunately wet clay, would abrase and wear the wood down in no time. Franz Löhner thinks, that the ancient Egyptians were smart and attached round logs on top of those beams, thus forming tracks. Now the sledges could be easily hauled, the cross beams of the sledge diagonally to the rails and those lubricated with watered oil. We think, that those findings on the Giza plateau need some reinterpretation.

The wood from the tracks was most probable reused. Large-sized wood had to be imported (for example cedar from Lebanon) and was much sought-after, so it was surely reused. There are not many findings of wood, but we know, that the Egyptians were excellent carpenters and joiners.

Building rails and tracks was well within the capabilities of the ancient Egyptians. Even without tracks it is possible to transport stones on sledges, but much more effort and much more haulers are needed (see remarks further up).

Interesting insights can be gained from several stone friezes found in Niniveh (Assyria) - although they are from a later period of time - but they show the transport of a large and heavy statue.

Statue of a winged human-headed bull being hauled on a sledge (from the palace of Sennacherib, Niniveh, about 700 BC) [3]

An interesting detail is shown here: The logs just in front of the sledge are not lain across but lengthwise. The ropes are attached to the sledge on the outside, one in front and one in the back. The frieze is one of several panels, all showing how the statue was first quarried and then transported to the palace. On the illustration of the whole frieze you can also see a wagon which is hauled by two men - but the heavy statue is hauled on the sledge! So although the Assyrians knew how to build wagons, they preferred sledges for heavy work. The wagon was not stable enough, the weight probably would have broken the axle of the wagon right away.

Statuentransport auf einem Schlitten mit einer Schleppmannschaft von 172 Mann

Pulling a colossal statue on a sledge from the stone quarries of Hatnub. From a wall painting in the tomb of Djehutiotep (Djehuti-Hetep or Djehuty-hotep) at Deir El Bersheh (El Bersha). Large illustration of the wall painting [8]. Hieroglyphic text

The men standing in front of the statue is pouring a liquid from a jar onto the ground in front of the sledge. The accepted doctrine is, that this liquid is water, but Franz Löhner thinks, that watered oil was used to lubricate the tracks and the skids of the sledge. The hauling ropes are attached to a thicker rope at the front of the sledge in the same way Franz Löhner suggests. Three other men are carrying yokes with two jars of watered oil each, while other men walk behind the statue, behind them three men are carrying what appears to be a large lever or wooden beam.

The monolithic statue was probably 6.81m high (written in an inscription on the left is the size of 13 cubits, 1 cubit = 0.524m ) and weighed 58 to 60 tons [2]. Four teams in pairs with 43 haulers each (= 172 men) are shown. If we take 12kp for each man, then the 172 haulers will exert 2'064 kp. As a coefficient of friction μs we calculate 0,03 (2'064 : 60'000 = 0,03), which is a realistic value if the skids of the sledge and the tracks were lubricated with oil.
Calculating the number of haulers per team for transporting stone blocks

About the 4th requirement (technology keeping with the time and culture):
With this and other illustrations the use of sledges for heavy loads is proved. The Egyptians of that time didn't yet know how to make wheels, and horses were brought to Egypt with the invasion of Hyksos around 1700 BC. Another relief (this relief dates from 1580-1588 B.C. - 1000 years after the building of the Great Pyramid), known as the Tura Stele, show six oxen pulling a block of stone on a two-rail flat-bottom sledge across flat ground.

von Ochsen gezogenen Schlitten

Illustration of the sledge transporting stones 1 and 2
Illustration reconstruction of the sledge
Illustrations of the wall painting of Djehutiotep whole painting (in color) / whole painting, illustration / only sledge / haulers (Osirisnet)


Questioning this technique / method

About the 5th requirement (is this technique / method really a solution?):
The answer is yes - but on this page Franz Löhner is answering additional questions about the methods and techniques he suggests.
E-mail to Franz Löhner

Which of these methods or techniques have you tried out?

F. Löhner's answer:
1991 I used a pair of rope rolls to haul a 5 tons stone in a stone quarry in Germany. That is to say I first built a sledge made with round timber and interlocked with two cross pieces and tracks made from logs. Two rope rolls made from wood and with copper bearings were installed on top of an incline of a bit more than 45°. The rolls had a diameter of 14cm and a length of 22cm (only 5cm left for the rope). The bearings of the roll were well lubricated, I assume, the Egyptians also did it like that. However I didn't have enough humans at my disposal for hauling, but I had a measuring device. We used a forklift and installed the measuring device in front of it. Everything worked without problems, the stone was pulled up the incline, the rope roll didn't break and the rope didn't tear.



These methods for building the pyramids were first published 1993 in the book "Der Bau der Cheops-Pyramide" by Heribert Illig and Franz Löhner.

[1] R. and D. Klemm Steine und Steinbrüche im Alten Ägypten
[2] D. Arnold Building in Egypt
[3] British Museum: Illustrations of the stone blocks 45-47 of the southwest palace of Sennacherib in Nineveh. The frieze is part of several panels, all showing how the statue was first quarried and then transported to the palace: Quarries of Balatai Plate 66-68 / The statue is hauled out of the quarry plate 63-64 / Further Transport plate 54-56 (Arthistory)
[4] M. Lehner Development of the Giza Necropolis
[5] E. Guerrier Le principe de la pyramide égyptienne
[6] M. Lehner The Complete Pyramids of Egypt
[7] G. W. Reisner History of Giza Necropolis
According to Reisners assistant Alan Rowe the graffiti in the relieving chambers in Khufu's pyramid can be translated as the following: The gang, The Horus Mededu-is-the-purifier-of-the-two-lands / The gang, The Horus Mededu-is-pure (or the purifier) / The gang, Cheops-exites-love / The gang, The-white-crown-of Khnumkhufuw-is-powerful. Further names of the phyles [6]: Drunkards of Menkaure, Great (starboard), the Asiatic (port), the Green (bow), Little ones (stern), Last (Lowest). Illustration
[8] P.E. Newberry und G. W. Fraser El Bersheh Part I
Hieroglyphic text (from [9]): "Following the statue of 13 cubits in stone of Hetnub. Behold, very wonderful was the road upon which it came, more than anything. Behold, wonderful to the minds of men was the dragging of valuable stone along it on account of the stone and already difficult for a mere square block of sandstone. I caused to come troops of goodly youths in order to make for it the road, together with guilds of tomb-sculptors and quarrymen, the foremen with them knowing how to point out the strong-armed. I came to bring it, my heart enlarged, the townsmen all rejoicing: exceeding good was it to see more than anything."

www.cheops-pyramide.ch Copyright 2006 Franz Löhner and Teresa Zuberbühler