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Scientists might've finally figured out how ancient Egyptians moved the pyramid stones

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May 1, 2014, 1:08 PM EDT

The Egyptian pyramids are one of the great wonders of the world, and one of the main reasons is that we still have no clue how the heck the ancient Egyptians moved the massive stones they used to build those even-more-massive structures.

Now scientists think they’ve finally figured it out.

It’s a question that has stumped engineers and Egyptologists alike for centuries, because no one could figure out how the ancient civilization managed to move all those 2.5-ton stones without modern tech. Well, a team from the University of Amsterdam thinks it's cracked it — and all it took was a little bit of water. So, not aliens, then?

The Egyptians had to move the massive stones from quarries to monument sites across the desert sands, and we believe they used sleds to do it. But if you toss a 2.5-ton rock on a sled, it digs into the sand. But all that changes if you wet the sand in front of the sled.

If you do that, and can hit just the right amount of water, microdroplets of water start to bind the grains of sand together via “capillary bridges.” That essentially doubles the stiffness of the sand, and prevents it from digging in and piling up in front of the sled. At least, enough to where it can be moved with a boatload of slaves pulling on it.

Here’s how a press release from the research team explains the theory, via Gizmodo:

The physicists placed a laboratory version of the Egyptian sledge in a tray of sand. They determined both the required pulling force and the stiffness of the sand as a function of the quantity of water in the sand. To determine the stiffness they used a rheometer, which shows how much force is needed to deform a certain volume of sand.

Experiments revealed that the required pulling force decreased proportional to the stiffness of the sand...A sledge glides far more easily over firm desert sand simply because the sand does not pile up in front of the sledge as it does in the case of dry sand.

It’s a fascinating concept, and could go a long way toward explaining how on earth they moved those massive stones across the desert. Plus, it’s something we could’ve figured out just by looking a little closer at Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Just take a look at the drawing below, discovered during the Victorian era in the tomb of Djehutihotep, which seems to show a guy pouring water on the sand in front of a sled pulling a statue. Maybe the aliens showed them the water trick?

(Via Gizmodo)