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No. 94: Jul-Aug 1994

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Earth's oldest paved road

Forty-three miles southwest of Cairo lies a basalt quarry favored by ancient Egyptian artisans. Old Kingdom craftsmen laboriously cut this hard, black, glassy rock into royal sarcophagi and pavements for the mortuary temples at Giza just outside Cairo.

To transport the heavy blocks of basalt from the quarry to Giza, the Egyptians built a quay on Lake Moeris, which then had an elevation of 66 feet above sea level and was located 7½ miles southeast of the quarry. (The Lake is now much smaller and 148 feet below sea level, indicating a large climate change.) Then, when the Nile flooded and its waters reached a gap in the hills separating the Lake and the Nile, the Egyptians were able to float the blocks of basalt over to the Nile and down to Cairo.

Good thinking! But how did they transport the heavy blocks 7½ miles from quarry to quay? The answer: What was apparently the first paved road on the planet. This 4,600-year-old engineering feat averaged 6½ feet wide and was paved with thousands of slabs of sandstone and limestone, with some logs of petrified wood thrown in. Since the slabs show no grooves, it is thought that the stone-laden sleds moved on rollers.

(Wilford, John Noble; "The World's Oldest Paved Road Is Found near Egyptian Quarry," New York Times, May 8, 1994. Also: Maugh, Thomas H., III; "Earth's Oldest Highway," San Francisco Chronicle, May 22, 1994. Cr. J. Covey)

From Science Frontiers #94, JUL-AUG 1994. 1994-2000 William R. Corliss