The Unfinished Obelisk in Aswan
The History of the Unfinished Obelisk
The Unfinished Obelisk In Aswan is a huge block of Granite which dates back to the ruling period of the New Kingdom lies unfinished in its original location in the Southern Granite quarry of Aswan.
Scientists claim that if this gigantic piece of granite was completed, it would have been the largest solid piece humans ever dealt with! With its weight being more than 18 million kilograms and its height, if ever erected being 134 meters, this would have been the largest obelisk constructed by the Pharaohs. However, due to the defect discovered near the base, the obelisk was deserted and left in its original location.
The southern end of Aswan town was an area of ancient granite quarries, where the most valuable stone for the building of many of Egypt’s monuments was obtained. Visitors on tours are often taken to see the ‘unfinished obelisk’ which still remains in situ attached to the rock on one side. Situated in the northern part of the quarries, this gigantic single piece of granite was intended to be an obelisk and is generally attributed to Queen Hatshepsut, being very similar to her obelisk in Karnak Temple in Luxor. Some fine reliefs depicting the transportation methods of an obelisk can be seen in Hatshepsut’s Deir el-Bahri temple.
The Techniques Behind Cutting Obelisks
In ancient times obelisks and other large stone objects were usually blocked out roughly before they left the quarry. There are several techniques suggested for the splitting of hard stone away from its surrounding rock. One method may have been to cut a groove along the line where the stone was to be detached and then to drive in wooden wedges which were soaked with water. The force of the swelling wood would act to split the granite – there is certainly evidence that this method was used in Roman times. Another method may have been to cut a groove with stone tools, or a primitive saw used with an abrasive, which would then be heated with charcoal and rapidly cooled with water, causing the stone to split.
Given the primitive soft-metal tools of the ancient Egyptians, the obelisk in the Northern Quarry shows us an amazing feat of technology and archaeologists have learned much about the techniques of stone-cutting from examining this abandoned monument and from the tools which have been left behind. It would appear that the stone, which measures 42m in length and would have weighed around 1216 tonnes, developed a flaw during quarrying and was never completed, left to lie still attached to the rock for the next 3000 years. It has been a tourist attraction for almost as long.
The Northern Quarry is a fascinating place to visit for those interested in early technologies. It is famous for producing the granite used in the construction of the burial chamber of the Great Pyramid of Khufu as well as some of the casing stones in other pyramids. Every rock face shows the imprint of ancient stoneworkers with many cut-marks or artists sketches still to see. You can almost believe that the workmen have only just put down their tools and gone home for the night.
There are more than 20 obelisks in many locations all around Egypt. This is beside a large number of obelisks which are now situated in many European cities like Rome, Paris, London, and Istanbul as many of the ancient dynasties when they took control of the Land of the Nile; they transported obelisks to their homeland.
The site is now landscaped and re-opened and offers wide wooden walkways and steps between the many different levels of the quarry with a good viewing platform at either end of the unfinished obelisk. A visitors centre and open-air museum to display some of the artefacts, along with the inevitable tourist bazaar complete this unique experience.