Monday, August 11, 2014
Story of Step Pyramid (1): Welsh 'sock' saves the 3,500-year-old Djoser Pyramid
What do you do if the world’s oldest pyramid is falling down? Call in expert engineers from Wales, of course...... The 3,500-year-old Djoser Pyramid - the world's oldest brick building - is being restored by Welsh specialist engineers using a grout-filled 'sock' they invented
When Egypt’s 3,500-year-old Step Pyramid suffered earthquake damage, the country’s department of Egyptian Antiquities got on the phone to Newport firm Cintec. The company, experts in stabilising historic buildings, sent engineer Dennis Lee and a team to help save the Third Dynasty Pyramid – the first large stone building in the world.
No one has ever tried anything as dangerous or ambitious inside a pyramid before but working in temperatures of up to 40C they held up the monument with grout-filled “socks”.
Lead Cintec engineer Dennis said: “It was nerve-wracking. It’s not a crumbling wall in front of you, it’s right over your head. “It’s also very historic so you have to take everything very slowly. When I drilled the first hole there were 50 archeologists and people from the department of Egyptian antiquities watching. That made me nervous!”
Political unrest in Egypt has now halted the vital work and Dennis is worried the building, also known as The Pyramid of Djoser, will suffer more damage.
Starting work just after revolution in the country saw Dennis and his team forced to return to Wales earlier this year when trouble erupted again. “I was staying on the outskirts of Cairo, 20 minutes’ drive from the site and there were demonstrations but I didn’t see any violence personally,” the 54-year-old specialist engineer added.
“Our work is on hold now because of the unrest, which is frustrating because we needed another three months.”
The ancient pyramid, located in Saqqara, a sacred burial ground, had been neglected as well as suffering earthquake damage, and was not secure when the team had to leave – although they are in regular contact with Egyptian colleagues working on it with them.
Now Dennis can’t wait to get back to the site where he crawled on his stomach though newly-discovered tunnels beneath the ancient pyramid. “There are catacombs and tunnels going on for 12km,” he added. “It is a bit claustrophobic down there but it is exciting. They found new tunnels while I was there and there are beautiful blue tiles in the burial chambers and hieroglyphics on the tomb doors.
“It’s too dangerous for tourists to go inside but they can glance in.” To reach the crumbling ceiling Dennis placed air bags on a 28m scaffold, before drilling holes in the ceiling’s stones. The team inserted steel rods into the holes, each wrapped in a fabric “sock”.
With the rods in place the socks were filled with special grout, invented in Wales by Cintec, which has worked on some of the world’s most famous buildings such as Buckingham Palace, as well as mosques, pyramids and bridges worldwide.