BMCR 2011.05.61

The Stones of the Pyramids: Provenance of the Building Stones of the Old Kingdom Pyramids of Egypt

, , The Stones of the Pyramids: Provenance of the Building Stones of the Old Kingdom Pyramids of Egypt. Berlin/New York: De Gruyter, 2010. v, 167. ISBN 9783110221237 $98.00.

Dietrich and and Rosemarie Klemm have published extensively in the past on the geology of Egypt, the stones used in ancient Egyptian construction and the quarries from which building stone was obtained in antiquity. Their work, employing petrographical and geochemical methods, has become something of a model for the analysis of ancient construction material and its sources in Egypt. This text is concerned with the provenience of the stone used in the pyramids of the Old Kingdom, differentiating between the material of core and casing, as well as the stone of attendant structures (Valley Temple, Causeway, and Pyramid Temple, where they exist.) Proximity of quarries to the monuments is taken into consideration as a natural element in the study of the logistics of supply.

Each pyramid is discussed chronologically beginning with the Step Pyramid of Djoser and ending with the Pyramid of Pepi II, but also including the Mastabat el-Faraoun and the Sun Temples of Userkaf and Niuserre. The geological setting of each structure and any physical factors that may have influenced its building and condition are given as preliminary information. Number and source position of stone samples are given and the results of the petrographical and geochemical analysis for structures and quarries are presented in textual and graphic form. Each structure is given its exact geographical coordinates, height, base and slope. Original height and preserved height are sometimes indicated. The size of the base is stated in meters. “Slope” indicated the inclination of side. In general the text is simply and direct and there are only occasional infacilities in the English translation from the German. Numerous photographs both aerial and ground of structures and quarries, plus construction details where appropriate, are included.

The samples for study and analysis taken were made with the permission, agreement and supervision of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities. Analysis was carried out with the assistance of the Institute of Egyptology, University of Munich, in the laboratories and with the technical assistant of The Institute of General and Applied Geology of the same institution. Some tentative conclusions suggest that the establishment of a correlation between stone source and monument may lead to explanations other than those generally accepted by Egyptologists. As an example, it is posited that the physical nature of the stone derived from the limestone quarries used in the construction of the Step Pyramid of Djoser may have dictated the size of stone elements, counter to the widely held theory that the size of the units used imitated traditional mud brick in this early example of stone construction (p. 15). A similar contrary conclusion concerning the Medium Pyramid suggests that exhaustion of the high quality stone in the nearby quarry may have been one factor in its abandonment before completion (p.47).

In addition to the specific discussion of each monument there is included a short digression on the somewhat popular idea that pyramids were built of poured concrete blocks. In the past many theories have been advanced to explain the transport and placement of the blocks, particularly for the Pyramid of Khufu. The poured concrete theory is only one of the latest such. After a technical explanation based on their own work and observations, the authors conclude: “However it must be emphasized that such theories are nonsense” (p. 81)

In general the evidence is presented in a convincing manner and the relation of monument to quarry is demonstrated with little room for argument. The evidence of the microphotographs and other graphic representations can only be challenged by a geologist or geochemist. In a conversation with a geologist about the methods employed, the only negative comment, however, concerned the translation of the technical language from the German by a translator who was not completely familiar with English technical usage. The publisher’s price, like those of many works of a technical nature, seems prohibitively high for what is relatively modest publication of 167 pages on glossy paper.

The Contents: Preface, Acknowledgements, Introduction, I. The Step Pyramid of Djoser, II. The “Buried Pyramid” of Sekhemkhet, III. The Pyramids of Zawiyet el-Aryan, IV. The Meidum Pyramid, V. The Pyramids of Snofru at Dahshur, VI. The Gizeh Pyramids, VII. The Pyramid of Djedefre at Abu Roash, VIII. The Mastabat el-Faroun of Shepseskaf, IX. The Pyramid of Userkaf at Saqqara-North, X. The Sun Temples of Userkaf and Niuserre at Abu Gurob, XI. The Pyramids of Abusir, XII. The Pyramid of Djedkare at Saqqara-South, XIII. The Pyramid of Unas at Saqqara-North, XIV. The Pyramid of Teti, XV. The Pyramid of Pepi I at Saqqara-South, XVI. The Pyramid of Merenre, XVII. The Pyramid of Pepi II, XVIII. Concluding Remarks, Notes, References.