May 11, 2021

Mysterious Obelisk From the 18th Dynasty Reveals the Incredible Engineering of Ancient Egypt

The Unfinished Obelisk in Aswan, Egypt is an incredible monument of the 18th dynasty, more than 3,500 years ago. An obelisk is a monument that was usually placed at the entrance of temples, and they were considered the hallmark of ancient Egyptian ingenuity and engineering. More than half of the remaining ancient obelisks actually reside outside of Egypt, having been especially prized by Romans. 13 of them are located in Italy.

Unfortunately, the Aswan obelisk was never finished. If so, it would have measured about 137 feet (42 meters) it’s estimated to weigh around 1,200 tons. It is not known what happened to this particular obelisk and the reason why it was left unfinished, but today it serves as an open-air museum that gives great insight into the construction techniques of ancient Egypt.

Photo: xiaotao / Shutterstock

Carving the monuments directly in the bedrock was a common technique, and stone balls were used by masons to pound out any imperfections until the surface was smooth. There are still examples of these Dolerite balls, on-site as Aswan. Harder than granite, the Dolerite wouldn’t crack or break after repeatedly pounding against the stone surface.

One of the more interesting aspects of the Unfinished Obelisk is that it allows us to see just how they would have liberated the mammoth structure from the bedrock had it not cracked. It sounds unbelievable, but wet wood was the answer. Workers carved small cavities in the stone, creating a line that is not unlike a perforated piece of paper. The slots were filled with sun-dried wooden wedges. The wedges were then repeatedly soaked in water, and the expansion of this wood caused the rock to break free from its home.

Photo: Hidden Inca Tours

Image from 1904 by Travelers in the Middle East Archive (TIMEA). Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: emel82

Photo: xiaotao / Shutterstock

Photo: Chad Bontrager / Shutterstock