Some of the most impressive artistic endeavors were the ancient Egyptian sculptures. They had very limited tools back then; yet we have gigantic and magnificent statues that are still in great shape till today, towering over temple entrances.
The tomb and temple walls were decorated with carved reliefs... obelisks as well. When you see all of this you're bound to be amazed at the artistry and precision of the ancient Egyptian workers. And they were more like workers than artists – chiseling and carving for hours on end in the heat and sun.
These carvings and statues all served a purpose of course, there was no such thing as having "art for art's sake" back then.
The carved reliefs, like the paintings, were stories and incantations – all for religious reasons. The statues were houses for the souls of the deceased. That is also why the ancient Egyptians made ritual offerings to the statues.
Ancient Egyptian sculptures were of 3 types. You have the carved wall reliefs – one of which is raised, where they would chisel away the background so the figures and objects would be protruding forward; the other one is sunken, where they would chisel away the actual figures and objects and the background would be protruding forward.
This was done on the walls of things. The third type is of course the beautiful third dimensional statues that take our breath away. Those were made in many sizes, shapes and materials. Materials include limestone, alabaster, sandstone, wood (cedar and sycamore), copper, and granite.
Depending on the material used, the ancient Egyptians had a number of tools they used to do the cutting and shaping. Mostly, they would just use tools made of stone that is harder than the stone they were cutting.
They did have other methods though, like make-shift drills with wooden handles and metal or stone drills, and copper saws.
Another popular method used to split blocks of stone was the wedge. It's actually one of the methods used to make the large blocks of stone used to build the pyramids. They would drill holes around the perimeter of the block, then insert wooden wedges into the holes and then water the wood. It would expand and split the blocks!
Finally, the almost-finished project would be buffed till it was smooth and shiny, and sometimes painted as well.
And just like painting, ancient Egyptian sculptures reflected the wealth, rank and social status of the person it is intended for. The materials and size of the statues and reliefs would be one way to tell the VIP from the not so VIP :-)
I guess now we've replaced all that with the size of the house and the brand of the car (or the label of the purse)...