Egypt is a great nation when it comes to ancient engineering. No other country has such a concentration of impressive monuments and such an interesting history as over there. If you are not convinced that modern Egyptians are not capable of great engineering feats you are wrong. Last Monday, Omar Karam graduated at our R&D department of Damen Dredging Equipment1 on his thesis about ‘CSD Rock Cutting.’
Cutting processes have been extensively described by Sape Miedema in ‘The Delft Sand, Clay & Rock Cutting Model’2. Omar has been using the frame work of Miedema to make some useful tools for the estimation of the production of our dredging equipment in rock. In due time, you will find the results of his thesis in the online dredge selection tool ‘Sandy’. Omar’s curiosity and ingenuity does not end here. He will continue studying at a university, but I do hope to meet him again, as he would be a valuable asset for our dredging community. Keep an eye out for him.
His graduation brings me back to my first lessons in dredging technology at the Delft University of Technology by the illustrious professor de Koning. In a sense he was an old school engineer, who hammered it in to us that thinking is done by doing it with your hands3. Back than the Polytechnic School was just rebranded to University and he was mocking that as a university, we had to set the topics in a broader perspective. So, he started his introduction on cutting technology with some slides of the unfinished obelisk at Aswan4 as every aspect of the cutting process could be illustrated.
The story according to de Koning is: ‘Around the quarry of the obelisk, they have found diorites5. These are some sort of volcanic balls of rock. In combination with the marks and scratches all around the obelisk, archaeologists believe these stones have been used to pound the granite. The impact compresses the bedrock and the resulting stresses fracture the contact surface(1). For every hit a whiff of dust is created. Eventually the dust is collected and scooped away for the next layer. Next, trees would be planted in the trench on one side of the obelisk. The growing root system displaces volume and create shear stress underneath the obelisk that would sever the obelisk from the bed rock(2). At last the trees are removed and dry wooden dowels would have been inserted in the shear cracks. Saturating the wooden dowels will make them grow. The last strands of rock will now be broken due to tensile stresses(3). Repeated insertion of new dry dowels and saturating them will lift the whole obelisk enough to pull some ropes under and carry the obelisk away to the building site.’
Although the diorites and the scratch marks are a smoking gun, current archaeologists argue about the feasibility of this process as experiments yield a very low production and it is doubted that the obelisk could be finished in the lifetime of the client6. Even if disputed, de Koning told a story that conveys the message; I vividly remember it and makes me understand the rock cutting process.
These mysterious monolithic ornamental spires have been an inspiration for many legends and stories. When we have solved the riddle of the rock cutting with diorite balls, it may inspire the development of new rock cutting technology for the dredging community and we can put the story of the obelisks to an end.7
- Innovation, Damen
- The Delft Sand, Clay & Rock Cutting Model, TU Delft
- De Koning (1978), Denken met de handen’, TU Delft
- Unfinished obelisk, Wikipedia
- Diorite, Wikipedia
- The Unfinished Obelisk, NOVA
- Asterix and Cleopatra, Goscinny-Uderzo