05/05/2021

Historical Figures in Engineering Imhotep

From healer and physician to an ancient god, Imhotep has been in the spotlight for many things. But what was his role in the world of engineering?

Leonardo Da Vinci, Henry Ford, James Watt. These names often spring to mind when you think about historical figures in engineering. But if we dive deeper, some great feats of engineering happened long before their time.

Ancient Egypt is the perfect example of how engineering was extremely advanced, even before technology. And one of the most important figures from this time period is Imhotep. He built the very first pyramid, and even to this day, there are still some mysteries surrounding their construction.

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Who was Imhotep?

Born in the 27th Century BCE in Memphis, Egypt, Imhotep was a man of many talents. He was a well-known sage (healer), he was an experienced astrologer, he was a priest, and he was also vizier (the highest royal official) to King Djoser.

His achievements in medicine were so notable that he was later worshipped as the Asclepius, the God of Medicine, in both Egypt and Ancient Greece.

But his biggest work is in engineering the stepped pyramid at the necropolis Ṣaqqārah, which is the first pyramid ever built. It consists of six steps at 61 metres high, and is the oldest extant monument of hewn stone to known to man.

While previous Pharaohs were buried in mastabas (rectangular underground structures with a flat roof), this was to be the very first royal tomb constructed with pyramid-shaped masonry to house King Djoser’s body for all of eternity.

How was the Step Pyramid built?

The pyramid itself was constructed from six mastabas, placed on top of one another. The point of difference from traditional mastabas was that Imhotep chose to use stone instead of mud. This would mean great structural integrity and also the scope of building much higher than before.

To finish the pyramid, Imhotep instructed 13 false doors which were cut into the stone with a 750cm long trench in the ground. These fake doors were put there to discourage visitors, and an internal maze formation was created to keep Djoser’s body hidden from trespassers.

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How has Imhotep impacted engineering?

The first pyramid was the tallest structure of its time, and would change the course of history for Pharaohs to come.  It was a hub of activity, providing a surrounding complex with a temple and shrines, courtyards, storerooms and living quarters for priests.

Including everything in this vast complex, the entire area was the size of a city. This means Imhotep’s achievements in engineering were much more than advanced works of architecture. His works formed the foundation of the culture and traditions in Ancient Egypt.

The very same methods of engineering were used to build every other pyramid that followed, all used by Pharaohs as their final resting place.

Today, the famous Egyptian Pyramids stand as one of the most important engineering milestones in human history, and has inspired many others to build great things. No matter what type of engineering you specialise in, his contributions to modern engineering and society are worth celebrating.

Knowing how things work and finding solutions is the heart of what we do as engineers, whether that’s civil engineering, computer engineering or electronic engineering. And the Pyramids of Egypt are an example of genius industrial design at practice.

Study MRes Engineering Management

If you’re an engineering graduate or an experienced professional looking to upskill in your field, the University of Bolton’s MRes Engineering Management course could be for you.

Combining study in our vibrant higher education environment with practical and focused work-based learning, this programme aims to prepare you for complex engineering roles, including leadership and management.

To find out more about enrolling in September 2021, visit our course page.

Alternatively, if you’re interested in civil engineering, take a look at our postgraduate courses in this subject area.

Or if you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch on +44 (0)1204 903 394 or admissions@bolton.ac.uk.

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