Egyptian engineering in the Early Dynastic period

the sites of Saqqara and Helwan

Angela Sophia La Loggia

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding contribution


Well before the Pyramid Age, the Egyptians built monumental structures as is demonstrated by the massive mud-brick tombs and funerary enclosures of the Early Dynastic kings at Abydos and the mastabas in the contemporary elite cemetery at Saqqara. Timber in this early period was most often used to roof the sub- and superstructures, whilst some tomb owners also utilised this material for the lining of their burial chambers. A few of these tombs incorporated ston,e in their structures, such as the granite pavement in the tomb of King Den (Dynasty) J, the limestone blocks lining the burial chamber of King Khasekhemwy (Dynasty 2), and the stone roofing of the Dynasty 1 Tombs 3507, 2185 and 3121 at Saqqara.ln addition, monolithic limestone slabs were used to line, pave and roof some of the tombs of the Early Dynastic officials and lower classes at He/wan, located on the east bank of the Nile. Although less than 0.5% of the more than 10,000 tombs so far excavated contained stone, the Helwan tombs are exceptional in their use of stone in this period. It was, however, the humble mud~brick that was the most commonly-used building material of this early period. The massive mud-brick structures built at this time not only show impressive architectural skill, but also demonstrate the high degree of proficiency of the early builders when evaluated against engineered designs that are centred on rational mathematical analysis of the loads and strengths of the materials used in the structure. Ancient Egyptian building methods were based on empirical design, which was determined by the practical and experimental limits of wall heights and thicknesses for standing walls and roofing. The engineering analysis undertaken for this paper ultimately aims to demonstrate that these structures were not built in an ad hoc manner, but were constructed with a significant level of expertise, ingenuity and resourcefulness at this early period in Egyptian history.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEgypt at its Origins 3
Subtitle of host publicationProceedings of the Third International Conference "Origin of the State. Predynastic and Early Dynastic Egypt", London, 27th July - 1st August 2008
EditorsRenée F. Friedman, Peter N. Fiske
Place of PublicationLeuven
PublisherPeeters Publishers
Number of pages24
ISBN (Print)9789042924901
Publication statusPublished - 2011
EventOrigin of the State. Predynastic and Early Dynastic Egypt - London
Duration: 27 Jul 20081 Aug 2008

Publication series

NameOrientalia Lovaniensia Analecta
PublisherPeeters Publishers


ConferenceOrigin of the State. Predynastic and Early Dynastic Egypt

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