The Unfinished Obelisk

The Unfinished Obelisk

A cry from a Bennu bird—the first living creation to awake the cosmos. God Atun Ra the creator stands watching the beginning of Heliopolis over the Benben, the primordial mound that is represented by the obelisk. It is where life has begun in ancient Egyptian mythology.  The Greek historian Herodotus was the first to write about it. He gave it the name “Obelisk”, which means “spit” in Greek, as in a long pointed piece of wood used for cooking. In ancient Egypt, they called obelisks “Tekhenu” meaning “to pierce the sky”.

What are the Obelisks?

They are a tall, four-sided, narrow tapering monument ending in a pyramidion (Benben). Obelisks played a vital religious role, placed in front of temples in pairs. They were built from a single stone of granite, which gave it the name monolithic obelisk “Monolith” in Greek means “single stone”. The Obelisks were believed to be a symbol of resurrection. The top of the pillar is thought to break up the clouds allowing the sun to shine upon the earth, belieiving firmly that the sunlight will bring rebirth to the deceased. This is why obelisks were placed in older cemeteries. 

Building the Obelisk

The obelisk is made from a single granite stone, plated in the finest electrum, quarried, decorated, transported, erected, and glided in seven months. This was what Queen Hatshepsut inscribed on one of her obelisks braggingly to explain her kingliness and how much the gods love her. True obelisks were crafted from a single piece of stone of granite, which on Mohs scale is a 6.5. Thus to shape it, they would have needed harder metals than the ones available in that era ( gold, copper, bronze). To build an obelisk before the Egyptians learned how to melt iron requires an immense human effort. Hundreds of workers would have been needed to pound the stone in addition to moving it to its final destination. 

The Unfinished Obelisk

3500 years ago, Queen Hatshepsut commissioned the work on the unfinished obelisk in the 18th dynasty. If the obelisk was completed, it’s believed that it would’ve been about 137 feet and 1200 tons, making this obelisk one third larger than any other existing one. This resulted in the crack that made Queen Hatshepsut leave the obelisk abandoned on a bedrock.  The unfinished obelisk allowed us to analyze techniques used to carve such magnificent monuments, such as the dolerite balls that helped workers carve through hard granite. The creative technique of utilizing wet wood to separate the monument smoothly from the bedrock allows the wood to expand in cavities causing the obelisk to detach from its base easily. The unfinished obelisk, unlike the rest of the ancient Egyptian monuments, sheds light on the craftsmen who failed in accomplishing the pharaohs’ unprecedented command. Their failure has been on display since then. This abandoned giant lies in Aswan, Egypt in the northern region of the ancient stone quarries. The unfinished obelisk takes you on a historical trip through time, peering at more aspects of the Pharaonic era of Egypt on what is considered an open-air museum showcasing the ingenuity of ancient Egyptian construction techniques.


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