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Quarries

Builders - Builders & Buildings

The same Quarries appear to have been continually in use in Ancient from Old Kingdom to Greco Roman period, apart from some exceptions. The Pharaohs of Egypt commissioned all Quarries under different “Directors”. As can be expected, they produced stone for the construction of all Egypt’s monuments. Over 80% of the Quarries are within the Nile Valley allowing their stone to be easily transported to the erection sites at Temples and Palaces along the Nile. Since 2006, the Egyptian Government has been conserving these quarries and making them suitable to be opened to the Public for viewing.

For every Temple, Palace or Pyramid

Each stone was cut to order, delivered on schedule, physically controlled and if necessary reshaped, transported to the site and laid on schedule. The 3 major types of quarries produced:

Limestone      
Found in the more northerly areas from Thebes to Cairo
Typically used in the Old, Middle and early New Kingdom

Sandstone
Located in the lower Nile Valley from Sudan to Edfu
Typically used from the 18th Dynasty onwards
Some Southern Upper Egyptian examples were in use in the Middle Kingdom

Granite
Located in the lower Nile Valley from Sudan to Edfu
Used throughout the Pharaonic period
Limestone and Sandstone were usually found only inside a mountain, meaning that massive galleries were cut. Every new Quarry opening was celebrated, often with a record in hieroglyphic inscription.

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

Individual Quarries

Gebel El Silsila Quarry

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

Gebel El Ahmar Quarry
Where: Near Heliopolis, Cairo, East Bank of the Nile 
Known for: Celestine and quartzite or red sandstone
Noted for: Colossi of Memnon 
Used by Amenhotep III, Akhenaten, Tutankhamun & Ramses III

El Amarna Quarry
Where: 312km south of Cairo and 402km north of Luxor
Known for: Alabaster

Widan El Faras Quarry
Where: Faiyum, 60km Southwest of Cairo in Western Desert
Known for: Basalt and Gypsum

Koptos Quarry
Where: Wadi Rohanu
Known for: Black Slate 

Sehel Island Quarry

Where: The Nile, about 3km southwest of Aswan
Known for: Red, Gray and Black Granite
Quarried: Cleopatra’s Needle, Hatshepsut’s Obelisks at Karnak Temple, Djoser’s and Snefru’s Sarcophagus’ 
Noted for: There are many inscriptions in the island’s granite boulders viewed from the Nile. Some were inscribed by travellers marking either the start or end of their journey to Nubia. One of the several famous inscriptions is the Famine Stela, which is Greco-Roman but claims to record events from the time of Djoser and Imhotep.

Muqattam Hills Quarry
Where: Memphis
Known for: Limestone 

Ed Dibabiya Quarry
Where: Near Gebelein 

Shellal Quarry 
Where: Southern Aswan, Northern and Southern quarries on the West Bank
Known for: Granite 
What Remains: There are the incomplete statues of Osiris, Ramesses II and unfinished Roman baths still left on site

Gebel El Ahmar Quarry
Where: Near Heliopolis, Nile’s East Bank

Wadi Hammamat Quarry
Where: Eastern Desert
Known for: Basalt

Qurna Quarry
Where: Near Thebes
Known for: Limestone

Gebel Abu Dukhan Quarry
Where: Near Hurghada
Known for: Purple Porphyry
Notes: Used by the Romans and the only world known source of Imperial Porphyry
Quarried: The porphyry togas on busts of Roman Emperors;
Porphyry panels in the Pantheon; the portrait of 4 Tetrarchs

Idahet Quarry
Where: Barren desert
Known for: Diorite
Notes: Abandoned during the Middle Kingdom

Elephantine Island Quarry
Where: Downstream of the First Cataract of the Nile River, Aswan
Known for: Granite

Edfu Quarry
Where: 8km North of Edfu
Quarried: Stone blocks used by the engineers of Septimius Severus to reconstruct the north Colossus of Memnon

Tura Quarry

Where: Between Cairo and Helwan 
Known for: Finest and Whitest Limestone
Quarried: Facing stones for the tombs; the floors and ceilings of mastabas; Bent Pyramid of Snefru, the Great Pyramid of Khufu, the sarcophagi of many old kingdom nobles, the pyramids of the Middle Kingdom and some Temples of the New Kingdom such as the Temple of Ptah at Memphis and the Southern Harem of Amun at Thebes.
Notes: The limestone was deep underground so had to be tunnelled out, while leaving some limestone behind to support the caverns. The caves were adapted by British forces during World War II to store ammunition, aircraft bombs, and other explosives.