Ancient Egyptian Pyramids |

While, with the paucity of our knowledge, speculations on the exact methods of pyramid construction must remain idle, it is, by simple technological reasoning, relatively easy to arrive at an estimate of the total working force which should be correct within an order of magnitude. We know that in the space of about one century roughly 25 million tons of material, mostly limestone, but also mortar and brick, were piled up at the desert plateau above Meidum, Dahshur and Giza. Since the force exerted by one man in dragging up, together with others, a laden sledge amounts to 10 or 15 kilograms, we can calculate the average number of workers in the Pyramid Age, provided we can put in a figure for the speed of the operation. Assuming, as seems not unreasonable, that the time needed for one crew to bring building material from the quarry to the pyramid and putting it into place there varied between one to three days, we end up with a work force of about 50,0 men. Naturally, this time depended on the height to which the block had to be raised, but we have already accounted for this by making the time for the journey variable.

Our calculation includes the workers who had to build and dismantle the approach ramps but not the effort in quarrying and dressing the stone. A similar order of magnitude estimate yields about 10,000 or 20,000 men, counting all the auxiliary workers who had to keep the transport lines under repair, supplying lubrication water for the sledges, bringing food and water for the workers, etc. These 70,000 or so men were all seasonal workers who would be fully employed during the whole century under the assumption of steady work for three months. It cannot be emphasised too strongly that such an order of magnitude calculation can never give an accurate figure, but we are unlikely to have gone wrong by more than a factor or two, one way or the other.

In addition to the seasonal, and essentially unskilled, labour force there had to be employed skilled and semi-skilled masons who would cut, fit and smooth the casing stones. These, incidentally, are practically the only stones which bear quarry marks and, in some cases, dates. All the casing stones came from the underground quarries at Tura in the Mokattam hills on the east bank of the Nile and had to be transported, not only across the river but also a considerable distance overland. It is likely that these skilled masons were not seasonally employed but were working at Tura and on the pyramid site all the year round. Petrie found workmen’s huts near the Khafre pyramid which he estimated as providing sufficient accommodation for 4,000 people. A rough calculation of the labour involved in providing the casings and also the sculptured causeways would lead us to a somewhat higher estimate for the permanently employed artisans, which may have numbered close to 10,000. However, this force was not critical in the effort as a whole.

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