1 copy

The Pyramid of Djoser is the mother of all pyramids and over 4600 years old. It is a step pyramid built by the Vizier Imhotep for Pharaoh Djoser, comprising six “mastabas” or rectangular, flat-roofed tombs stacked in decreasing size to a height of 62metres. Clad in polished white limestone, the pyramid measured 109m x 125m at the base and was designed to contain the Pharaoh Djoser’s mummified remains. However, with the ravages of time – weathering, looting and seismic activity – Egypt’s oldest pyramid has been steadily turning to dust.

Considered the “most ambitious challenge in archaeological history”, the race was on to save the oldest pyramid. Hundreds of Egyptian labourers along with a team of engineers were about to embark on a mission, which involved the restoration of a building while parts of it were falling all around them.

Above ground, the challenge was to repair the badly eroded steps and replace them with thousands of stones which had fallen or been stolen over past millennia! The most dangerous restoration work, however, was located 30m below ground level where the King’s burial chamber was feared to be collapsing.

It is not merely the outwardly visible step pyramid that is architecturally inspiring, but its magnificence which lies within. Several tunnels, radiating from the base of the pyramid, built to store food and wealth for the king’s afterlife lay hidden several metres below ground. It was feared that the collapse of the burial chamber would preclude further discovery of places of architectural interest within.

CINTEC, a renowned British archaeological company, was hired for the dangerous undertaking of restoring this marvel of the ancient world. The initial plan was to bury stainless steel anchors deep into the earth in order to stabilize the internal collapse – but the Egyptian engineers worried that this would cause additional collapse!

Upon revisiting the site five years after the planning process before the commencement of physical restoration, CINEC realized that the damage was more extensive than previously estimated. A team comprising of British and Egyptian engineers worked out a three phase plan, where phase one was to stabilize the building, phase two was to fix the loose stones and the third and final phase was to place anchors which would limit further collapse.

In phase one, CINTEC used its Waterwall Technology of patented self-inflating air-filled bags to prevent the ceiling from collapsing. These airbags, which were first used in Afghanistan to facilitate the disposal of roadside bombs, were made of thousands of nylon fibers capable of withstanding a load of three tons. Phase two, considered the most dangerous and challenging, consisted of identifying the fallen stones individually, transporting them out of the tomb one at a time and looking for clues that would help determine how the stones were initially fixed. Finally, CINTEC strengthened the central chamber with its patented anchoring and reinforcement system, giving this 4600 year old building a new lease of life.

“Though each project presents a different set of challenges, CINTEC uses solid engineering principles and creative thinking to develop effective restoration solutions,” said Peter James, Managing Director of CINTEC Worldwide. “We are very excited to have applied our expertise to the Step Pyramid Project.”