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Gebel el Silsila

Quarries - Builders - Builders & Buildings

Where: 65 km north of Aswan in Upper Egypt

Known for: Sandstone

What Remains:
– Temple stone for the Temples at Karnak, Luxor, Ramesses III’s Medinet Habu, Kom Ombo, and the Ramesseum;
– Stele from Pharaoh Amenhotep III;
– Stele from Pharaoh Seti I showing him before the Gods Amun-Re, Ptah and a Goddess;
– Stele from Pharaoh Seti I showing the Commander of troops of the fortress of the Lord of the Two Lands, named Hapi adoring the cartouche of Pharaoh;
– 2 unfinished ram-headed sphinxes or criosphinxes

“In Gebel el Silsila the quarry faces are cluttered with literally thousands of pictorial and textual representations; together they form a window of information to the ancient activity in the area and provide us with a prosopography of its workers and an idea of the ancients’ contemporary ideology.

The more complex category of representations is quarry marks, a form of graffiti that appears in abundance with some 5,000 examples, dating from the New Kingdom to early Roman Imperial times.

Engraved into the surface, the marks are all executed technically in the same way, carefully carved with a metal chisel. They are located as singulars or in linear series in all the cardinal directions and all over the full heights of the quarry faces, measuring between c. 10 cm up to sometimes 1.5 m in height.

Their character is comparable with contemporary script systems, concrete pictograms, abstract geometrical patterns, etc. and as such they fall into the category of pseudo script or non-textual.” 

Dr Maria Nilsson: Archaeologist, Associate Professor, Lund University, Director at Gebel el Silsila Project 

How did an Ancient Egyptian Quarry work?

Step 1:
remove bad stone, dust, sand and rubble

Step 2: the Quarry Master chooses the place in the bed where the rock is intact. surface was painted with red ochre to mark the stones for cutting

Step 3: stone is cleaved from the rock face by driving in wedges. One theory is that a series of holes is then drilled along the line to be split

If Granite is the Stone being quarried, then the tools used would be made of Bronze, Copper and Corundum, which in hardness is second only to diamond, as copper tools are known not to be strong enough to work the stone alone. If it was Limestone or Sandstone, then Copper or Stone Tools were strong enough alone.

Step 4: each wedge is pounded once, moving down the line in consecutive order. When the wedges are all driven in deep enough, the stone is forced apart, breaks and starts to split along the line of holes. This break would be very even

Step 5: cutting the stones with the relevant tools to the dimension and shape ordered. They are then called undressed stones

Step 6: stones are moved with levers and then it is tied to a sledge and pulled on tracks to the River Nile

Step 7: the stone remains tied the whole time to the same sledge during the whole journey from the quarry until it reaches its intended place on site of the Temple, Palace or Pyramid

Step 8: if needed the shape of the stone is then changed by a stonemason in his workshop in front of the site

Step 9: each stone is examined by the Master Builder and most pass without any changes necessary

Step 10: route of each stone is scheduled and its shape and size and its intended place on the site is already decided before it is even cut. The Stone is marked for its intended place according to a site plan. If at all possible, the Stone is transported to the construction site in a specific sequence to avoid the Stone being unnecessarily stored until use

Any stone that had fine cracks or break lines was unsuitable for building. To build the pyramids they only used building stones which were in a perfect condition


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