To build, but how big to build; that is the question. Relative to prior pyramid building projects, the logistical undertaking of Saqqara was enormous. Pyramid building required a highly organised supply system that involved quarries, mines, shipyards, storehouses, workshops and a labour force that encompassed thousands of workers.
The pyramid itself consisted of 600,000 tons of limestone blocks. The main burial chamber was made up of ten blocks of granite. Each block weighed 12 and a half tonnes. It had been transported to its destination from the quarries at Aswan. But it didn’t end there. The construction went even further, seeking to outdo its previous accomplishments.
It was an ambitious undertaking.
The pyramid was set within a 40 acre complex of buildings that was enclosed by a mile-long rectangle of perimeter walls built of fine white stone. Estimates indicate that the number of copper chisels required to cut such a vast assembly of stone blocks would have amounted to 70 tonnes worth. It was delivered to workshops from newly opened copper mines of the eastern desert.
The peak of pyramid building, however, would come a century after Saqqara. This happened four and a half millennia ago. Shortly after he claimed the throne, Pharaoh Khufu ordered the construction of a monumental resting place far grander than any of his predecessors. He chose the site known as the Giza plateau, which was further downstream from Saqqara.
Over a period of approximately three decades, a labour force that numbered into the tens of thousands came together to complete the monument that still stands till this day. This included: stonemasons, toolmakers, craftsmen, quarry workers and haulage labour. The scale of the endeavour was extraordinary for no one had attempted anything of this scale in prior dynasties.
The entire edifice was engineered with remarkable precision. The base, which extended over more than 13 acres, was a near-perfect square that was closely aligned to the four cardinal points of the great compass. It had a precise orientation to what we would describe as a true north.
The pyramids of Giza would hold the accolade for the tallest building in the world for the next 38 centuries. Even till this day, the pyramids continue to captivate the human imagination.
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