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obelisk
An ancient obelisk in its native habitat, at Karnak Temple.
quarry
Wyly Brown considers the unfinished obelisk still in the quarry at Aswan.

Raising the Obelisk

August-September, 1999

Obelisks -- massive spires of solid granite weighing up to 500 tons -- were created to glorify and honor the ancient Egyptian gods. How the Egyptians managed to raise these huge monoliths has been a topic of enduring mystery and controversy.

Some 3,000 years later, Rick and Laura Brown turned their attention toward discovering how the ancient Egyptians raised these monuments with little more than rope, wood, muscle and brainpower. After several months of investigation and study with extensive deliberations with local engineers, Laura and Rick assembled a team of experts at a Massachusetts quarry to prove their theory.

The team included stone mason Roger Hopkins and archaeologist and Egyptologist Mark Lehner, as well as a diverse group of members of the Timber Framers Guild and the Massachusetts College of Art. The project was documented by a crew from WGBH/NOVA to film the raising of the obelisk. This followed the failed attempt in the Spring of 1999 by a team of experts that included Rick and his son, Wyly, to raise an obelisk in Aswan, Egypt. (You may view a report of this attempt at the WGBH/NOVA site at www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/egypt/dispatches/990325.html.)

The plan, based on Roger Hopkins's original idea demonstrated on a smaller scale in Egypt, was to haul the huge obelisk, on its side, up a gravel ramp to the edge of a sand-filled pit lined with stone blocks. As the sand was removed from two doors at each side of the pit, slowly and painfully by human diggers and carriers of the sand, the base of the obelisk slowly lowered into a turning groove, to a 75 degree angle, where it could be then pulled by ropes into an upright position. Extensive ropes and rigging master-minded by Jim Kricker and Grigg Mullen allowed all of this to happen in a controlled and careful manner.

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