For interactive discussion in Science by topic, visit The Science Forum.

The Science Forum
click the image to join a discussion today!


  1. Mr. Feagans,

    I am a working Industrial and QA Engineer. I have read a lot of pseudoscience claiming that artifacts or construction could not have been done by our ancestors with the tools available to them at the time. To your knowledge has anyone tried describing the stone-work, assembly, or other processes from the industrial engineering discipline?

    • Yes, absolutely. There has been a lot of good work done in this area and it’s commonly referred to as experimental archaeology. You mentioned stone work: archaeologist Mark Lehner teamed up with a stone mason a few decades ago and the two experimented in quarrying techniques as well as pyramid construction techniques and not only demonstrated that period tools and knowledge was sufficient, it was efficient.

      There are many other examples of experimental archaeology out there, ranging from lithic studies of small tools to large scale studies of migration. You might try these for stone working:

      Lehner, Mark (1997). The Complete Pyramids. Thames and Hudson. New York.
      Arnold, Dieter (1991). Building in Egypt: Pharonic Stone Masonry. Oxford University Press. New York, New York.

  2. Dear Dr. Feagans,
    As I’m sure you know the Serapeum of Saqqara contains huge stone sarcophagi. What were the tool(s) used to hollow them out. Apparently they didn’t have a crank at that time but a bow driven tube drill hardly seems up to the task (IMO). Any thoughts?

  3. The 28 granite and diorite bull sarcophagi found by Auguste Mariette in the 1850s at Saqqara were probably hollowed out using bronze or copper tubular drills. Other methods would have been more impractical or simply taken too long. Pounding the stone to hollow it out with flint adzes and stone mauls, for instance, would have likely cracked the granite blocks completely through. And flint chisels and punches would have taken an unreasonable amount of time when the much easier and more efficient method of copper tube drills was available. Experimental archaeology has shown that these drills can actually penetrate granite at rates up to 30 cm^3 / hour and would probably require 3-person teams: two on each end of a bow to move the drill and 1 exerting pressure on a lubricated capstone at the top of the drill at about 1 kg / cm^2.

    I highly recommend the book, Experiments in Egyptian Archaeology: Stoneworking Technology in Ancient Egypt, by Denys Stocks (Routledge 2003). You can find it at this Amazon link or through your local library’s Inter Library Loan (ILL) service.

    I hope this was helpful and thanks for visiting Archaeology Review!

    -Carl Feagans

  4. Yes – A book first published in 1941 (AD)
    Luckily I had a copy on the shelf to refer to.

    It’s not a bad book, and it does demonstrate that basic drilling and carving of hard stone is possible with simple tools, and can be made more efficient with the addition of abrasive substances. Although Denyse A. Stokes try’s hard to stay clear (when possible) of it; and stick to softer materials such as lime stone Etc.
    But – As usual, the practicality of the methods suggested are far from acceptable when considering the huge and highly accurate projects created by the Ancient Egyptians.

    The experiments detailed do produce results, although fairly ruff.

    Page 129 – “The Aswan sawing and drilling experiments” pretty much demonstrates the sheer futility of working with Granite using the methods suggested, rather than defending them.

    All in all, Denyse A. Stokes desperately tries to prove that the techniques investigated can be applied to far more that the very basic of stone working, here it fails.

    You are left with the feeling, yet again, that Archaeologists in 2018 are relying on a book written nearly 80 years ago; that relies heavily on examining the work of Flinders Petrie in the 1880s, simply because we don’t like the plain facts 2018’s science now suggests.

    I leave you with a quote from the publication:

    Page – 19

    “Tomb artists never recorded certain important techniques, one of them being
    the manufacture of the sarcophagus from a single block of stone. Furthermore, all
    of the functions of the tools we do possess may not be known, obscuring our
    understanding of ancient technology. This lack of information of manufacturing
    methods also conceal the manner in which ancient workers organized their work.
    Although much is known of the lives of ancient Egyptians in general, the
    craft worker still remains an indistinct figure on the technological landscape.
    However, recent experiments with faience manufacture now suggest that several
    crafts were connected. It is possible that stone vessel and sarcophagus workers
    supplied the finely ground waste drilling and sawing powders to the faience
    manufacturers, to the stone bead drillers and to the stone polishers.”


    • Yes – A book first published in 1941 (AD)
      Luckily I had a copy on the shelf to refer to.

      Clearly you have a different book than the rest of the literate world if it is of the same title. Unless Stocks was a time traveler and was able to publish it in the year of his birth. But Experiments in Egyptian Archaeology: Stoneworking Technology in Ancient Egypt was first published in 2003.

      …Denyse A. Stokes…

      And therein lies your problem. You have the wrong author. Or, if you do not, then spelling only his middle initial correctly is indicative of the attention you gave the book.

      All in all, Denyse A. Stokes desperately tries to prove that the techniques investigated can be applied to far more that the very basic of stone working, here it fails.

      Any fair reader of the book would come away with a drastically different opinion. In fact, if one weren’t already predisposed to accept the raving lunacy of pseudoscience proponents like Graham Hancock, et al, one would easily finish Stocks’ work with a sense of pride and accomplishment for simply being a part of the same human species that was so clearly able to accomplish so much with so little available to them. The greatest resources of civilizations like the Egyptians were their intellect (that same intellect that has helped us reach the Solar System, design skyscrapers, and capture the power of the atom) and their numbers along with vision and determination. Someone who is willing to read Stocks’ book from cover to cover rather than cherry-pick a few isolated experiments will come away with a very different opinion of the validity of the work he documented.

      Stocks wasn’t performing experiments on what he new the ancient Egyptians did, rather, he was performing experiments to show that, given available resources, the results could happen. The idea with experimental archaeology is less about proving a method than it is exploring results in order to look for material remains consistent with those results. In this way, a better understanding of the archaeological record is gained. What experiments have believers in fake, fraudulent, and fantastic archaeology (i.e. Hancock and his ilk) created in the hopes of increasing knowledge?

      You are left with the feeling, yet again, that Archaeologists in 2018 are relying on a book written nearly 80 years ago

      I still don’t understand this assumption that Stocks wrote Stoneworking at a time before he could likely even read. This was a work created in 2003, based on a decade or so of experiments in the 1990s. The work is still quite relevant and there are professional publications that have published follow on experiments that stand on the shoulders of this giant in experimental archaeology. The sheer ignorance of his work that you display is profound.

      that relies heavily on examining the work of Flinders Petrie in the 1880s, simply because we don’t like the plain facts 2018’s science now suggests.

      This also reveals your sheer ignorance of the both the latest science and the reason Stocks relied on Flinders Petrie and others. Out of curiosity, what other works of actual archaeologists (fake science like Hancock, Bauval, West, et al aside) have you read on the topic? What citations do you refer to? Are you aware of the significance of the context Stocks cites Flinders Petrie? Or was this just an off the cuff attempt at poisoning the well by suggesting that Petrie’s work is somehow tainted because of its own antiquity. If so, this would be a grand and embarrassing logical fallacy.

      Your quote of page 19 is interesting. Perhaps you were including it to highlight the depth and breadth of what we don’t know in Egyptian archaeology as a way of showing what you perceive as a weakness among modern archaeologists. In fact, this was Stocks way of setting up the remainder of the text. Page 19, in the first chapter, is still introducing the reader to the topic of craftworking in ancient Egypt as a discreet concept of its own. He understood that the lay-reader of topics related to ancient Egypt is likely more familiar with grandiose ideas like pyramids and temples. And less familiar with the minutia of daily life among the average egyptian. In addition to being a fine text on experimental archaeology, Stocks created a work that paints a fascinating picture of what it meant to be an average Egyptian. This is something that I think archaeology has gotten much better at in recent years. Rather than succumb to our innate desire to seek out the grandiose as wanton significance-junkies, we’ve turned toward looking at social systems and the people. The temples are still important, but only in the context of how they’re related to the society itself: those worker communities that emerged at the perimeter of the centers of monumental architecture. This is where the real treasures are. But they aren’t treasures based in gold, silver, and marble, rather they are of data, knowledge, and context.

      A better paragraph of that chapter for you to quot, would have been the last. In this paragraph, Stocks speaks of the “many questions that require definitive answers,” though none of them are about the nonsense and silliness that charlatans like Hancock espouse. Instead, he recognizes that we need to be anthropologists and understand the average citizen of ancient Egypt–the people who make things happen. So much of what we know is based on hieroglyphs and texts and monumental art that describes probably less than 10% of the Egyptian population in any given dynasty. To discover what the majority of Egypt was like, we need to turn to the minute details and clues in the archaeological record.

      I’ll be honest. I probably came off a little harsh in this comment, but having someone show up to promote fake, fraudulent, and fantastic ideas about archaeology in comments as long as some of my articles is cause for me to take offense. I hope I haven’t been directly insulting to you personally, but I mean ever insult to your beliefs that you imagined. However, I recognize that I’m part of a community that is to blame. It may be debatable whether or not archaeology itself is a science, but archaeologists definitely rely on science to get the job done. And, like most scientists, they often have difficulty presenting their work to the lay public.

      We publish in journals that cost $35 per article to read in a language that even we have trouble understanding. We present at conferences that are over-booked; over-stuffed; and overly-boring to each other and we pretend to enjoy it.

      One of the things I’m attempting to sort out among colleagues in my field are ways to make news available and accessible to the average consumer of archaeological news and information. In that way, works like that of Denys Stocks can be seen as the seminal publication it is instead of isolated idea.

  5. Hi.
    I am pretty sure I have the same book, I also did state that the book is actually no bad.
    I am also sure that the author is correct in his description of the methods shown to work with stone.
    But where we have a problem is with the accuracy these large pieces of Granite and Diorite Etc were cut and carved.

    Page 26 shows a photograph of some replica tools with the following description.

    “Two replica copper adzes (bottom and second from top), a serrated copper woodcutting saw (second from bottom) and a round-form copper axe, with fastening lugs (top). The middle tool is a test, ?at-edged copper saw.”

    How ever much skill, time and patience you have, these tools are never going to produce anywhere near the quality of work we see in Egypt.

Leave a Reply