Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Crash test mummies: Egypt's oldest pyramid saved from collapse by giant airbags

Egypt's oldest pyramid has been saved from collapse by giant airbags which have been used to prop up the ceilings.
The 4,700-year-old building has been stabilised so engineers can carry out permanent repairs.
The giant structure was built as a burial place for Pharaoh Djoser, a warrior who reigned in the third dynasty for 19 years but has been damaged in an earthquake
Top support: The Pyramid of Djoser in Memphis, north-west Egypt, was likely to collapse before giant airbags were used to support the ceiling

The British team - who helped repair Windsor Castle after it was damaged by fire in 1993 - used technology first developed to aid in the safer disposal of improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan.
Engineering boss Peter James said: 'The entire structure could be destroyed at any point due to the damage caused by the earthquake.
'But we have stabilised the roof with these inflatable airbags and we will soon start repairing this magnificent building

The historic pyramid was feared to be so unstable that no-one has taken on the challenge of securing it in the last 19 years.
Peter James, a former Royal Navy lieutenant-commander who served in the Falklands War, has won a £1.8million contract to carry out the repairs.
His company Cintec adapted the airbags used by the British army to support the buidling.
The water filled bags work by surrounding an explosive with a bag which cushions the blast. But for the pyramid Mr James adapted his technology by substituting compressed air for water
The British engineering firm that used airbags to support the structure are now going to carry out permanent repairs to the pyramid of Djoser now that these airbags are in place

The specialist structural engineers have previously worked on Buckingham Palace, Iron Bridge Gorge and The White House.
Mr James said:'It was very unstable when we got in there.
'The earthquake in 1992 had shifted everything sideways and it was a massive task trying to hold everything up without dislodging anything further.
'Until we got the scaffolding in place, we had no idea what was holding up the remaining 60m of stone.' 
'It was a lethal and massive game of Ker-Plunk - trying to hold everything up, without dislodging anything further.'
He said: 'We had planned to use our water system but as soon as we got a good look at the chamber it was clear that inflating the bags with water wasn't going to work
Pharoah dynamics: These airbags first used in Afghanistan to help with the disposal of roadside bombs have been used to support the 4,700-year-old pyramid

The rocks in the ceiling were too jagged and there was a risk of deluging the pyramid which has been bone dry since it was built.'
The team will now thread thermo-dynamic steel rods diagonally through the steps of the pyramid to stabilise the roof.
Mr James said: 'The really tricky parts are the visible bits of the pyramid.'
'Underneath the surface we're able to use 21st Century technology to make it as strong as we know how to - but on the outside it needs to be per cent authentic.'
'That's involved finding the strongest blend - by using components which would have been available to the ancient Egyptians

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