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Sunday, May 4, 2014

It wasn’t in the text books

Researchers at the University of Amsterdam have discovered that sleds will pull easier across wet sand that across dry sand.  Their conclusion is then that the ancient Egyptians could have poured water on the sand and, thus been able to move the enormous blocks to build the pyramids.   Here is the article http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/05/02/the-surprisingly-simple-way-egyptians-moved-massive-pyramid-stones-without-modern-technology/?tid=pm_pop .

I am embarrassed for them.  Anyone who has walked along a wet beach and then walked across the dunes a few feet away has discovered the different properties of wet sand vs. dry sand.  I do not know the credentials of the Amsterdam researchers, but perhaps part of an education should be about things that do not come out of a book.  Spend a summer on a farm or go barefooted for a few days.


  1. Tom, I think one of the problems with judging these research projects based on articles published for the general public consumption is that the articles often totally miss the point of the research and leave the reader thinking that these professional scientist researchers were working on a middle school science project...one that probably was not destined to get a good grade. But in looking at the actual research that was done on this, it seemed to me that the point was not whether wet sand or dry sand was easier to move an object on, but rather the quantity of water applied to sand / weight of object being pushed/pulled ratio that would optimize the ability to move that object over the sand and whether there was evidence that the Egyptians had figured this out and used the knowledge to drag the pyramid stones to the building sites. To be sure it is not a burning issue. But these calculations could prove useful to people trapped on a desert island with a need to move big stones.

  2. I Googled “coefficient of friction wet sand” and got a lot of hits including this one http://www.supercivilcd.com/FRICTION.htm which amazingly has one for wet sand. I think the researchers have rediscovered what is common knowledge to engineers.

    If the researchers really wanted to know how the Egyptians moved stones without 21st Century technology they should probably visit someone that works with large stones on a daily basis. I think this is a mystery only to the researchers.

    My dad once asked me to help him move a tree that had blown down in a storm. It was a VERY large tree and I remarked that I did not think we could do it since we had neither a tractor nor a chain saw. My dad replied that we would be able to move the tree because we were smarter than the tree. He was correct.

    There are people among us that know how to move blocks of stone without a crane. As for the desert island, surely the Professor and Gilligan could have done it.