Solomon’s Shamir worm: mysterious ancient tool used to cut stones

Many tales about the biblical King Solomon existed in ancient times, and many of them were based on fact. They were all in agreement that peace and prosperity reigned between Egypt, Israel, and Mesopotamia throughout the reign of the wise monarch.

During this era of prosperity, in 950 BC, Solomon started construction on the temple, which would eventually become the most recognized structure in the world for its splendor and beauty.

The king’s engineers were presented with a challenging issue, right from the start of the construction process: how to create a massive structure without touching the stones with any iron tools?

This is due to the fact that Solomon, recalling the words of Yahweh himself, which were spoken to prophet Moses on Mount Sinai (“And make there an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones, without raising iron on them”), ordered that the temple be built without touching it with iron in order to avoid desecration of the site.

In search of a useful instrument

According to legend, the wise men pointed out to Solomon the valuable stones in the breastplates of the high priests, which he then placed on his shoulders. These gemstones were cut and polished by an even harder instrument than the gems themselves. Shamir was the name given to the creature. Shamir has the ability to cut through things that no iron could.

Shamir has the ability to cut through things that no iron could.
Shamir has the ability to cut through things that no iron could

Solomon summoned spirits because the priests themselves were ignorant of the properties of stones. The spirits guided Solomon to Shamir and informed him that Shamir was… a worm that was no bigger than a barley grain but possessed such strength that even the hardest stone could not withstand its influence.

According to the Dictionary of the Hebrew Language, the term “Shamir” has its roots in Egyptian mythology. Diamond is the only word that appears in the Bible, which seems to be entirely natural. Ancient Egyptians, on the other hand, possessed only crystal quartz (also known as rock crystal) as cutting tools, as shown by archaeological artifacts. They did not employ diamonds since they were completely unfamiliar with the material.

Nonetheless, at the very beginning of the twentieth century, researchers discovered the remnants of Pharaoh Sahura’s pyramid on the left bank of the Nile, who reigned at the zenith of the Ancient Kingdom, in the neighborhood of Abusir on the left bank of the Nile (about XXV century BC).

The researchers discovered precisely drilled holes cut at a single angle in exceptionally hard stone rocks (granite, basalt, and diorite, with a Mohs hardness of 8.5 on the scale of 10) from which the pyramid was constructed. There are more than 30 of these types of drilled holes in all.

Following in the footsteps of our forefathers

At this point, the English archaeologist Flinders Petrie became interested in the ancient Egyptians’ stone-cutting method, which he investigated further. “When drilling granite,” Petrie wrote, “the drill bit was under a load of at least 2 tons, as the granite core has a step of the spiral risk left by the cutting tool, equal to 2.5 mm with a length of the circumference of the hole of 15 cm… Such geometry of spiral ribs cannot be explained by anything other than the feeding of the drill bit under a huge load…”.

As a result, the drilling operation in Abusir, which includes core drilling of rock formations, can only be explained by the employment of methods that are identical to our own. Even the most skilled drillers in the period of the Ancient Kingdom would have been unable to accomplish such a feat since they were limited to copper instruments – a hand drill and a chisel – at their disposal.

However, we have no doubts that to complete challenging drilling operations, procedures that were specifically designed for this purpose were used.

Petrie was at a loss for words when it came to explaining this conundrum. He was also unable to explain what instrument was used to carve the hieroglyphs on the diorite bowls from the 4th dynasty (which were about 5,000 years old) that he discovered at Giza.

Shamir’s depiction of a worm consuming stones

A vast number of vessels dating back to antiquity and carved from the toughest rocks may be found in Egyptian museums. In Saqqara, more than 30,000 pieces of stone tableware were discovered under the step pyramid of Djoser, according to archaeologists (jugs, vases, plates, and other utensils). The vessels discovered exhibit the finest level of craftsmanship.

However, no tool has yet been invented with which to cut such a shape of a vase, because it must be narrow enough to fit through the neck and strong enough to be used on the shoulders and rounded radius surfaces.

The “divine instrument” has been discovered in other civilizations as well, but it is doubtful that we will ever be able to fully comprehend what it was since, after completing the task, the master often removes the tool from the scene

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