An international team of archaeologists from the French Institute for Oriental Archaeology in Cairo, Egypt, and the University of Liverpool, UK, has discovered an ancient ramp system used to haul massive alabaster blocks out of a quarry.
The remains of the 4,500-year-old ramp were discovered at Hatnub, the location of ancient alabaster quarries and an associated workers’ settlement in the Eastern Desert, about 40 miles (65 km) southeast of modern Minya.
“The Hatnub quarries were the most prestigious source for Egyptian alabaster, the milky white banded stone which was much beloved of Egyptian civilization,” said Dr. Roland Enmarch, senior lecturer in egyptology at the University of Liverpool.
“Their importance today lies in the fact that they are archaeologically very well preserved.”
“The quarry preserves large numbers of inscriptions left by ancient quarrying expeditions from 4,500-4,000 years ago. These enable us to better understand the personnel and logistics of organizing expeditions to these desert quarry sites.”
“Equally remarkably, the archaeological context of the quarries is very well preserved.”
“They sit in a broad landscape of Bronze Age structures related to stone extraction and transport: huts for sleeping and stone working, pathfinding cairns, ancient footpaths, and even simple dry-stone religious structures.”
The Hatnub quarries are connected to the Nile by one of the best-preserved Bronze Age roads in Egypt.
“Since the newly-discovered ramp dates to the reign of Khufu, our research offers the exciting possibility for offering further insights into the logistics and technologies used in constructing that astonishing building,” Dr. Enmarch said.
Along the sides of the ancient ramp are two staircases lined with postholes, to which ropes were likely tied thousands of years ago to drag the huge stone blocks.
Such a design would have alleviated some of the burden for the workers who had to pull these huge loads.
“This system is composed of a central ramp flanked by two staircases with numerous post holes,” said Dr. Yannis Gourdon, a researcher at the French Institute for Oriental Archaeology.
“Using a sled which carried a stone block and was attached with ropes to these wooden posts, ancient Egyptians were able to pull up the alabaster blocks out of the quarry on very steep slopes of 20% or more.”