How did the Ancient Egyptians make & move statues?

I recently saw this video, from the wonderful Museo Egizio in Turin, showing them moving a number of Sekhmet and other Egyptian statues from the museum to an exhibition in Pompeii. Watch the video below and you’ll see that it was a huge task to manoeuvre these statues, many of which can weigh a tonne or more, out of the museum, into crates and onto the truck, and then reverse the process in Pompeii.

This got me thinking – if it is this much work to move the statues today, how on earth did the Egyptians, achieve a similar task? Sure, they had lots of manpower, but they didn’t have complex technology.

First they cut the blocks, hundreds and hundreds of blocks of stone – granite and granodiorite are among the hardest stones on earth to cut, especially when you haven’t got steel drills. Then they had to get those stone blocks moved from the quarries to the riverbank and onto boats.

The so-called Colossi of Memnon, which stood at the entrance to Amenhotep III's vast mortuary temple at Thebes. Own photo
The so-called Colossi of Memnon, which stood at the entrance to Amenhotep III’s vast mortuary temple at Thebes. Own photo

They then moved them hundreds of miles up river from Aswan to Thebes (modern Luxor), where Amenhotep III was constructing his mortuary temple. There they unloaded the blocks and moved them to workshops, presumably near the temple site. It is possible that some were also made for the Mut temple at Karnak, or were moved there by later pharaohs, where they can still be seen ranged around the temple courts today.

 

Sekhmet statues at the Met Temple, Karnak. Hundreds of Sekhmet statues are still to be found here, possibly moved from Amenhotep III mortuary temple by later kings. Own photo.
Sekhmet statues at the Met Temple, Karnak. Hundreds of Sekhmet statues are still to be found here. Own photo
Sekhmet Statues ranged around the outer courts at the Mut Temple, Karnak. Photo by Edward Stumm.
Sekhmet Statues ranged around the outer courts at the Mut Temple, Karnak. Photo by Edward Stumm

Finally they needed hundreds of skilled craftsmen working to shape and carve hundreds of these Sekhmet statues. Again this would have been an enormous challenge when the tools at your disposal are diorite pounding balls, copper chisels, and abrasives like sand or corundum. But they somehow achieved all this to an incredibly high standard, an artistic feat that makes even Michelangelo look like a bit of an amateur. And finally they had to move all these completed statues into position in the temple precinct.

Detail of a Sekhmet statue at the Met Temple. Note the finely carved fingernails. Own photo
Detail of a Sekhmet statue at the Mut Temple. Note the finely carved fingernails. Own photo

I’m not entirely sure how they did it, but I’m astounded that they managed it with such consummate skill. As my research into these amazing statues continues I hope to gain some further insight into the incredible efforts and artistic skill of the ancient Egyptian craftsmen.

by Tara Draper-Stumm

** for information on use of abrasives in statuary production read this article by Anna Serotta at the Metropolitan Museum, NY here

** learn more about he astounding collections of the Museo Egizio in Turin here 

 

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