Thousands of laborers were used to build the pyramids. Some historians claim they were slaves forced into working by cruel supervisors. Other historians say the workers were reasonably paid and happy to have a job. [Sources: Virginia Morrell, National Geographic, November 2001; David Roberts, National Geographic, January 1995]

Based on inscriptions describing the quantities of garlic, radishes and onions consumed, the Greek historian Herodotus wrote in the 5th century B.C. that a 100,000 laborers working simultaneously in three month shifts spent 20 years building the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops).

Scholars now suggest that it probably took 20,000 to 30,000 men, setting stones at a rate of one every two minutes, approximately 20 years to set the 2.3 million blocks (five million tons of rock) needed to build the 481-foot-high Great Pyramid of Cheops. To prove this a team led by Egyptologist Mark Lehner of the University of Chicago built a 30-foot-high pyramid and then extrapolated how much labor was needed to build a larger one. Some say the work could have been done by as few as 500 hundred skilled craftsmen and 5,000 laborers.

The people who built the pyramids were likely made up of several thousand highly-skilled and well-paid craftsmen supported by thousands of manual laborers. Based on the number cattle, goats and sheep consumed it has been estimated that there were 6,000 to 7,000 workers at the site at one time, many times more if they only ate meat on special occasions. Supporting the pyramid builders were bakers, brewers and butchers and other service people.

Dr Joyce Tyldesley of the University of Manchester wrote: “All archaeologists have their own methods of calculating the number of workers employed at Giza, but most agree that the Great Pyramid was built by approximately 4,000 primary labourers (quarry workers, hauliers and masons). They would have been supported by 16-20,000 secondary workers (ramp builders, tool-makers, mortar mixers and those providing back-up services such as supplying food, clothing and fuel). This gives a total of 20-25,000, labouring for 20 years or more. The workers may be sub-divided into a permanent workforce of some 5,000 salaried employees who lived, together with their families and dependents, in a well-established pyramid village. There would also have been up to 20,000 temporary workers who arrived to work three-or four-month shifts, and who lived in a less sophisticated camp established alongside the pyramid village. [Source: Dr Joyce Tyldesley, University of Manchester, BBC, February 17, 2011]

Websites on Ancient Egypt: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt ; Discovering Egypt; BBC History: Egyptians ; Ancient History Encyclopedia on Egypt; Digital Egypt for Universities. Scholarly treatment with broad coverage and cross references (internal and external). Artifacts used extensively to illustrate topics. ; British Museum: Ancient Egypt; Egypt’s Golden Empire; Metropolitan Museum of Art ; Oriental Institute Ancient Egypt (Egypt and Sudan) Projects ; Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre in Paris; KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt; Ancient Egypt Magazine; Egypt Exploration Society ; Amarna Project; Egyptian Study Society, Denver; The Ancient Egypt Site; Abzu: Guide to Resources for the Study of the Ancient Near East; Egyptology Resources

Pyramid Building Workers

Egyptologists Mark Lehner and Zahi Hawass believe that Giza housed a contingent of full-time workers who labored on the Pyramids year-round and a larger group of temporary seasonal workers. During the summer and early autumn wet season, when the Nile flooded large swaths of agricultural land, a large labor force of farmers and local villagers unable to work their fields appeared at Giza to work on the Pyramids. [Source: PBS, NOVA, February 4, 1997]

The workers worked hard. Exhumed skeletons show many workers had compressed vertebrae, likely the result of carrying heavy loads, and even missing fingers and limbs. Some had healed fractures and successful amputations. Most died in their thirties. The bodies of excavated women also showed considerable wear and tear and some scholars believe they may have been pyramid builders too. Laborers who died on site were buried in the town cemetery along with the tools of their trade.

Most of the pyramid builders were paid conscripts. Some were full-time employees. An inscription on a tomb of a priest judge buried near the pyramid builders city read: “I paid them in beer and bread, and I made them make an oath that they were satisfied.

Archaeologists believe that the pyramid workers believed in the importance of the task. The workers were fed, housed and clothed. Inscriptions on the stones reading the "Boat Gang," "Craftsman Gang," ''Friends of Menkaure'', “The Pure ones of Khufu," “Those Who Know Unas," “The Drunks of Menkaure," “Friends of Khufu," "Vigorous Gang," "Enduring Gand," and "Sound Gang," apparently made by the teams of workers appear to show they were proud to be a part of the monument building process.

Egyptologist Zahi Hawass believes the pyramid builders were motivated by higher forces. He told National Geographic: “They were proud of their work, yes. It's because they were not just building the tomb of a king. They were building Egypt. It was a national project, and everyone was a participant."

Some of the laborers are believed to have been temporary workers. Dr Joyce Tyldesley, University of Manchester: “Thousands of manual labourers were housed in a temporary camp beside the pyramid town. Here they received a subsistence wage in the form of rations. The standard Old Kingdom (2686-2181 B.C.) ration for a labourer was ten loaves and a measure of beer. We can just about imagine a labouring family consuming ten loaves in a day, but supervisors and those of higher status were entitled to hundreds of loaves and many jugs of beer a day. These were supplies which would not keep fresh for long, so we must assume that they were, at least in part, notional rations, which were actually paid in the form of other goods-or perhaps credits. In any case, the pyramid town, like all other Egyptian towns, would soon have developed its own economy as everyone traded unwanted rations for desirable goods or skills...As we might expect, their hurried graves were poor in comparison with those of the permanent workers who had a lifetime to prepare for burial at Giza. [Source: Dr Joyce Tyldesley, University of Manchester, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

Managing and Organizing the Pyramid Workforce

Dr Joyce Tyldesley, University of Manchester: “The tombs of the supervisors include inscriptions relating to the organisation and control of the workforce. These writings provide us with our only understanding of the pyramid-building system. They confirm that the work was organised along tried and tested lines, designed to reduce the vast workforce and their almost overwhelming task to manageable proportions. [Source: Dr Joyce Tyldesley, University of Manchester, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“The splitting of task and workforce, combined with the use of temporary labourers, was a typical Egyptian answer to a logistical problem. Already temple staff were split into five shifts or 'phyles', and sub-divided into two divisions, which were each required to work one month in ten. Boat crews were always divided into left-and right-side gangs and then sub-divided; the tombs in the Valley of the Kings were decorated following this system, also by left-and right-hand gangs. |::|

“At Giza the workforce was divided into crews of approximately 2,000 and then sub-divided into named gangs of 1,000...These gangs were divided into phyles of roughly 200. Finally the phyles were split into divisions of maybe 20 workers, who were allocated their own specific task and their own project leader. Thus 20,000 could be separated into efficient, easily monitored, units and a seemingly impossible project, the raising of a huge pyramid, became an achievable ambition. |::|

“As bureaucracy responded to the challenges of pyramid building, the builders took full advantage of an efficient administration, which allowed them to summon workers, order supplies and allocate tasks. It is no coincidence that the 4th Dynasty shows the first flourishing of the hieratic script, the cursive, simplified form of hieroglyphics that would henceforth be used in all non-monumental writings.” |::|

Structure of the Pyramid-Building Labor Force

Jimmy Dunn wrote in The “phyle were named for the different parts of a boat, including the Great (or Starboard), the Asiatic (or Port), the Green (or Prow), the Little (or Stern), and the Last (or Good) Phyle. The name of the fifth phyle is uncertain, but may have referred to the helmsmen's position. It should be noted that even the priesthood was arranged in a similar fashion. These phyle were then divided into four, or later, two smaller groups that also had names , usually related to their geographical origin, or sometimes related to the required skills or virtues of the workers. [Source: Jimmy Dunn, =]

“According to Miroslav Verner, there were apparently, at any one time, no more than three phyle comprising six hundred men, working on the Great Pyramid. However, Lehner seems to believe that an entire crew of 2,000 men would have been employed. While we know of the organization of this work force, we know less about what they actually did. Most Egyptologists believe they were involved with transportation and various other logistical supply work. =

“Verner also tells us that a second type of team system was employed. These workers were divided up according to the cardinal compass points, north, south and west. There was probably a forth team that was not referred to as the eastern team, because east, like left, was considered by ancient Egyptians to be a sinister direction. These four teams made up a "troop", and included the craftsmen and specialized workers on the pyramid construction sites. Unfortunately, there is no real evidence of the number of men making up the troop or the various teams. =

“It is possible, or even probable that these two types of construction teams may have been largely made up of a relatively skilled, permanent royal work force. However, it is clear, given the volume of work required to construct the Great Pyramid, that more workers were needed. These workers were probably helpers, and if slaves were used at all, they would have probably been included in this larger workforce. However, many of these helpers were probably unskilled agricultural workers employed on a seasonal basis during the Nile inundation.” =

The public works program went far beyond the construction of the pyramid itself. Canals were dug to transport the pharaoh and the stones to the site and large scale irrigation programs were launched to grow enough food so large numbers of people were freed up to build the pyramids.

Teams of workers were comprised of 10 to 20 men. These were organized into larger groups known to archaeologists as phyles and they in turn were organized into large work crews. Each unit had its own supervisors. The layout of the cemeteries near the pyramids gives clues on how the work was organized. At the upper part of the cemetery for the pyramid builders were the people with the highest status: with titles like "director of the draftsmen," “overseer of the masonry," “director of workers” and "inspector of the craftsmen." Units of 40 workers slept in long gallery-like barracks. Each barrack have had its own bakery, dining area and porches with rows of sleeping platforms.

Lehner sees the organization of the pyramid building as critical step in state-building. He told Smithsonian magazine, “I think of the site as something like a giant computer circuit. It's like the state left its huge footprint there and then walked off." He also estimated the city around the pyramid was only occupied a few generations and perhaps only existed while the pyramid were being constructed.

Village and Tombs of the Pyramid Builders

In 1888, during his investigation into the Middle Kingdom pyramid complex of Senwosert II at Ilahun, British archaeologist Flinders Petrie the remains of a village and cemetery used by pyramid builders. Dr Joyce Tyldesley, University of Manchester: “Here an associated walled settlement, Kahun, yielded a complete town plan whose neat rows of mud-brick terraced houses provided a wealth of papyri, pottery, tools, clothing and children's toys-all the debris of day-to-day life that is usually missing from Egyptian sites. |[Source: Dr Joyce Tyldesley, University of Manchester, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“The sacred precincts of the Giza pyramid village cemetery were defined by the 'Wall of the Crow', a massive limestone boundary which separated the land of the living from the land of the dead. The main pyramid village lay outside this wall, close by the valley temple of the Great Pyramid. Unfortunately, this settlement now lies beneath the modern town of Nazlet es-Samman, and is largely inaccessible. |::|

Herodotus's idea of how the Pyramids were built

Were the Pyramid Builders Slaves?

Scholars have long suggested that the pyramids were built with slaves labor. This view was suggested by Exodus in the Bible, and the A.D. first century historian Josephus. In an off-the-cuff remark the late Israeli Prime Minister Menacham Begin suggested they were built by Israeli slaves. Most Egyptologists now discount the slave labor theory. Hieroglyphics that show the laborers moving the blocks show no whips, sadistic foremen or other evidence of forced labor.

Scholars now believe that the laborers were peasant farmers and conscripted workers who came from villages and hamlets around Egypt and were hired in rotating shifts of three months or during periods when the annual flooding of the Nile made farming impossible. They worked along side skilled pyramid builders and craftsmen who worked year-round.

Based on the presence of beer and bread and other supplies for the afterlife found in the graves of pyramid builders buried near the pyramids between 2575 B.C. And 2467 B.C. , archaeologists believe that laborers were free men, not slaves, who do what they did out of reverence for the pharaohs and the promise to be buried near the pyramids, A piece of limestone on their graves contained an inscription identifying them as pyramid builders.

The construction of the pyramids required great artistic and architectural skill and a large amount of social organization to achieve. Each pharaoh utilized a great deal of "his country's manpower and wealth to build his tomb and the entire civilization was organized to insure the immortality of it ruler."

Alternating teams of workers had to be rotated in and out and the arrival of goods had to be worked out. Support for the pyramid must have also included facilities for food, ceramics and building materials (gypsum mortar, stone, wood) and metal tools, storage facilities for food, fuel and other supplies, housing for workmen and their families, priests responsible for services in the pyramid temples, and a cemetery for workers who died.

area around the Pyramids

“The village dead-men, women and children-were buried in a sloping desert cemetery. Their varied tombs and graves, including miniature pyramids, step-pyramids and domed tombs, incorporate expensive stone elements 'borrowed' from the king's building site. The larger, more sophisticated, limestone tombs lie higher up the cemetery slope; here we find the administrators involved in the building of the pyramid, plus those who furnished its supplies. |::|

“Tomb robbers more or less ignored these workers' tombs, their rather basic grave goods being of little interest to thieves in search of gold. Consequently many skeletons have survived intact, allowing scientists to build up a profile of those who lived, worked and died at Giza. Of the 600 or more bodies so far examined, roughly half are female, with children and babies making up over 23 per cent of the total. Thus we have confirmation that the permanent workers lived with their families in the shadow of the rising pyramid. |::|

Life of the Pyramid Builders

The pyramid builders are regarded as good examples of Egyptian commoners. They lived in crowded, dirty villages consisting of mud brick houses with thatched roofs, some of which had a bakery in the back room. Men wore loin clothes and women dressed in long sheaths attached above the breasts with a shoulder strap. Children went nude until they were teenagers. In ancient times, Egyptian commoners showed respect to people of superior castes by crawling on their stomachs. The teeth of the non-elite were worn down from eating course bread. They suffered from anaemia and had thick bones, more arthritis (indication of hard work) and more fractures and scars that members of the upper classes.

Dr Joyce Tyldesley, University of Manchester: “To the south of the pyramid town lay an industrial district, a gigantic, cohesive complex divided into blocks or galleries separated by paved streets equipped with drains, and including some workers' housing.” There “Lehner has already discovered a copper-processing plant, two bakeries with enough moulds to make hundreds of bell-shaped loaves, and a fish-processing unit complete with the fragile, dusty remains of thousands of fish. This is food production on a truly massive scale, although as yet Lehner has discovered neither storage facilities nor the warehouses. [Source: Dr Joyce Tyldesley, University of Manchester, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

Lehner told National Geographic, "I'm less interested in how the Egyptians built the pyramids than in how the pyramids built Egypt...Imagine yourself as a 15-year-old kid in some rural village of about 200 people in the 27th century B.C. One day the pharaoh's men come. They say, 'You and you, and you.' You get on a boat and sail down the Nile." "Eventually you came around a bend and you see this huge geometric structure, like nothing you've ever known. there are hundreds of people working on it. They put you to work. And someone keeps track of you: your name, your hours, your rations. All this was a profoundly socializing experience . You might go back to your village, but you would never be the same."[Source: David Roberts, National Geographic, January 1995]

Lehner told PBS: “You're rotated into this experience, and you serve in your respective crew, gang, phyles, and divisions, and then you're rotated out, and you go back because you have your own large household to whom you are assigned on a kind of an estate-organized society. You have your own village, maybe you even have your own land that you're responsible for. So you're rotated back, but you're not the same. You have seen the central principle of the first nation-state in our planet's history—the Pyramids, the centralization, this organization. They must have been powerful socializing forces. Anyway, we think that that was the experience of the raw recruits.” [Source: PBS, NOVA, February 4, 1997]

“But there must have been a cadre of very seasoned laborers who really knew how to cut stone so fine that you could join them without getting a razor blade in between. Perhaps they were the stone-cutters and-setters, and the experienced quarry men at the quarry wall. And the people who rotated in and out were those doing all the different raw labor, not only the schlepping of the stone but preparing gypsum.” [Ibid]

A excavation near the Sphinx and underneath the Cairo suburb of Nazlat as Samman has revealed the first settlement occupied by the pyramid builders. As of 1992 the dig had reveled 159 tombs with the remains of an overseer and major craftsmen; a storage building, perhaps a granary; a massive bakery with a hearth and containers resembling egg cartons, which held the thousands of loaves of bread baked daily; and a huge wall with a 21 foot high gateway through which workmen passed to and from the Pyramids. [National Geographic Geographica, May 1992]

Food of the Pyramid Builders

Dr Joyce Tyldesley, University of Manchester: “The animal bones recovered from this area and from the pyramid town include duck, the occasional sheep and pig and, most unexpectedly, choice cuts of prime beef. The ducks, sheep and pigs could have been raised amidst the houses and workshops of the pyramid town but cattle, an expensive luxury, must have been grazed on pasture-probably the fertile pyramid estates in the Delta-and then transported live for butchery at Giza.” [Source: Dr Joyce Tyldesley, University of Manchester, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

Alexander Stille wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “Judging by remains at the site, they were eating a great deal of beef...Beef cattle were mostly raised in rural estates and then perhaps taken by boat to the royal settlements at Memphis and Giza, where they were slaughtered. Pigs, by contrast, tended to be eaten by the people who produced the food. Archaeologists study the “cattle to pig” ratio as an indication of the extent to which workers were supplied by the central authority or by their own devices—and the higher the ratio, the more elite the occupants. [Source: Alexander Stille, Smithsonian Magazine, October 2015 |=|]

“At Lehner’s “Lost City of the Pyramids” (as he sometimes calls it), “the ratio of cattle to pig for the entire site stands at 6:1, and for certain areas 16:1,” he writes of those well-stocked areas. Other, rather exotic items such as leopard’s teeth (perhaps from a priest’s robe), hippopotamus bones (carved by craftsmen) and olive branches (evidence of trade with the Levant) have also turned up in some of the same places, suggesting that the people who populated Lehner’s working village were prized specialists.” |=|

Meat and the Giza Pyramid Builders

Dr. Richard Redding and Brian V. Hunt wrote: “In an area of the world where people have traditionally reserved meat eating mostly for special occasions and feast-days, we have found evidence that the ancient state provisioned the pyramid city with enough cattle, sheep, and goat to feed thousands of people prime cuts of meat for more than a generation—even if they ate it every day. [Source: Dr. Richard Redding, Archaeozoologist, University of Michigan and Brian V. Hunt, Ancient Egypt Research Associates.,, January 11, 2012 |]

“We have examined and identified over 175,000 bones and bone fragments from the excavations at the Giza pyramid settlement. The bones are from fish, reptiles, birds and mammals. About 10 percent have been identifiable to at least the level of the genus (a group of closely related species). Cattle and sheep dominate the fauna. We have found: 3,356 cattle fragments; 6,897 sheep and goat fragments; 536 pig fragments The ratio of individual sheep and goat to individual cattle is 5 to 1. |

“It might appear that sheep and goats were more common at Giza than cattle, and that sheep and goats were more important. But remember that an 18-month-old bull produces 10 to 12 times as much meat as an 18-month-old ram The ratio of sheep to goats at Giza is biased towards sheep. For the entire settlement site, the ratio of sheep to goat is 3 to 1. There is a low frequency of pig bones. |

“The cattle and sheep consumed at the settlement were young. 30 percent of the cattle died before 8 months, 50 percent before 16 months, and only 20 percent were older than 24 months. 90 percent of the sheep and goats survived 10 months, only 50 percent were older than 16 months, and only 10 percent older than 24 months. The cattle and sheep are predominately male. The ratio of male to female cattle is 6 to 1. The ratio of male to female sheep and goats is 11 to 1.” |

How Was So Much Meat Supplied for Giza Pyramid Builders

slaughtering livestock

Dr. Richard Redding and Brian V. Hunt wrote: “What does this tell us about life at the pyramid settlement? The agrarian society of ancient Egypt was centered on crops and animals. The Egyptians’ colorful tomb paintings depict a rich agricultural life and we find evidence of this life in the archaeological remains of their settlements. The Egyptians could not catch fish, birds, and wild mammals in numbers adequate to support a large settlement like that at Giza. [Source: Dr. Richard Redding, Archaeozoologist, University of Michigan and Brian V. Hunt, Ancient Egypt Research Associates.,, January 11, 2012 |]

“Feeding the pyramid builders required an increased production of domestic mammals: sheep, goats, cattle, and pigs. But there may have been inadequate space near Giza to support large herds of animals to feed the pyramid builders. Where did the supply of meat protein come from? Our models of animal use in the Middle East and Egypt are based on studies of the ecological, reproductive, productive, physiological and behavioral characteristics of domestic cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. These models help us make predictions. |

“The royal administrators had to develop a system that encouraged the production of animals beyond the needs of the villages of the Nile Delta and the Nile valley. They then collected the surplus and moved it along the Nile to Giza. If the Giza settlement was organized and provisioned by a central authority (the royal administration), then we expect certain evidence to emerge from the archaeological data. Based on our knowledge of agrarian societies and food production, the evidence at Giza should show: |

“Based on the data above, we see that the pyramid settlement at Giza was a well-provisioned site, supplied by the central authority; the archaeological pattern is not one of a livestock producing site. A central authority gathered predominately young, male sheep, goats, and cattle and brought them to the site to feed the occupants; the bones of these animals dominate the faunal remains and pigs are in very little evidence. |

“Without a central authority, this surplus creates a labor problem for herders and agriculturists. Do they reduce the herd size or increase meat consumption seasonally? It would therefore have been relatively easy for administrators to encourage villages to increase production. The central authority then becomes a convenient market for the surplus in exchange for goods and services. Imagine a division across the Nile Delta or Valley: cattle and goats in the middle and sheep and goats along the edges. Sheep and goats would go out into the high deserts in the rainy season and returned to the edges of the delta or valley in the dry season.” |

Animals Consumed by the Giza Pyramid Builders

Dr. Richard Redding and Brian V. Hunt wrote: “Pigs would have been unsatisfactory for provisioning a workforce on a large-scale in the ancient world. They cannot be herded and do not travel well over long distances. There are no nomadic pig herders anywhere in the world today. Pigs have a dispersed birthing pattern that is not seasonal; they give birth up to three times a year. Therefore, young pigs are available at almost anytime for consumption. Pigs provided no secondary products (hair, milk, etc.) and were therefore less valuable than cattle, sheep, and goats. Because of the pig’s unsuitability for feeding workers on a large scale, the Egyptian workforce administrators were not interested in them as stock, and pigs were not involved in inter-regional exchange the way other animal stocks like cattle, sheep, and goats were. [Source: Dr. Richard Redding, Archaeozoologist, University of Michigan and Brian V. Hunt, Ancient Egypt Research Associates.,, January 11, 2012 |]

“Our studies indicate, however, that while the central authority did not consider pigs a valued provisioning resource, Egyptian families reared pigs for protein. Even today, in rural and urban areas around the world, farmers and non-farmers use pigs (where they are not proscribed by religion). |

“We know that the Egyptians recorded regular and detailed counts of animal stocks throughout the Nile Valley. These counts are a clear indication of the value of animals as a commodity to the state. Although they cannot provide the quantity of meat that cattle do, sheep and goats are valuable for similar reasons. They can be herded and provide secondary products. |

“Sheep, goats, and cattle can and do travel long distances. Americans in the 19th century drove cattle to market over vast distances. Nomadic sheep and goat pastoralists today move animals 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) by hoof in migration (e.g. Qashghi in Iran). In the 4th Dynasty, it was not possible to rear sheep, goats, and cattle around Giza in the numbers needed for the pyramid builders. We are working on an estimate of the farm area required to rear these animals in sufficient numbers to provide a surplus that would support 8,000-10,000 workers laboring at ancient Giza. Preliminary estimates suggest a required area substantially larger than the Giza environs would allow.

In Egypt, ranchers would have raised cattle in grassy areas with wells and watering holes like the Nile Delta. They would have raised sheep in the drier areas. Goats could have thrived in both places and would have complimented cattle rearing because these animals do not compete for food. The administrators would have organized drives of sheep, goats, and cattle between the Nile Valley and the high desert to move the required animals to Giza. In a foreshadowing of modern manufacturing, the animals would arrive in waves—a “just in time” delivery system. |

“Sheep, cattle, and goats all have secondary products beyond their meat: Sheep’s wool can be woven for cloth. Leather is valuable for clothing and tools. Cattle bones can be used to make tools. The ancient inhabitants may also have consumed milk from cows and goats, but not in such large quantities that it would have been signficant for the diet of the pyramid labor force. Secondary produce makes all of these animals more valuable resources. Sheep and goats have tight birthing seasons (compared to pigs) and produce age classes from which the young male surplus needs to be harvested. As with cattle, female sheep and goats are needed to produce offspring, while only a few males are needed for breeding.” |

Kom el-Hisn: the Meat Supply Center for the Giza Pyramid Builders?

Dr. Richard Redding and Brian V. Hunt wrote: “The Old Kingdom (5th and 6th Dynasty, 2465-2150 B.C.) Egyptian village, Kom el-Hisn, was excavated by archaeologists in 1985, 1986, and 1988. A contradiction appears in the archaeological record there. There is abundant evidence of cattle dung from the Old Kingdom level at Kom el-Hisn, which means there must have been large herds there. Yet the cattle bones indicate two things: the numbers of cattle slaughtered at Kom el-Hisn are relatively few and the bones that exist are from very old or very young individuals. [Source: Dr. Richard Redding, Archaeozoologist, University of Michigan and Brian V. Hunt, Ancient Egypt Research Associates.,, January 11, 2012 |]

“Where are the prime, young males, which provide the best cuts of beef? The residents were not consuming the cattle they reared and were consuming few of the sheep. They only used very old animals or animals that were very young and ill. The residents of Kom el-Hisn were dependent on the pig as a source of protein and, unsurprisingly, we find a dominance of pig bone at the site. |

“Kom el-Hisn is just 4 kilometers from the ecotone where the Nile Valley meets the desert. The Egyptians could have reared cattle in the grassy areas around their villages and sent herders out with flocks of sheep and goats to exploit the ecotonal area. The royal cattlemen periodically gathered up herds of young, male cattle and sheep (1 to 2 years) and drove them along the Nile to a central point for redistribution. These young male animals were not consumed locally and so their remains did not enter the archaeological record at Kom el-Hisn. |

“Cattle were raised at Kom el-Hisn but not consumed there. Where were the consumers? We hypothesize that Kom el-Hisn was a regional or provincial center for raising cattle, but that the young males were sent to the core area of the Old Kingdom state—the capital zone and the pyramid zone—for feeding cities. Our systematic excavations and retrieval of animal bone from such core-area settlements, like Giza, allow us to test our hypothesis. In fact, we find the inverse ratios of Kom el-Hisn: lots of cattle, sheep, and goat but very little pig.” |

Pyramid Workers: A National Workforce

Dr Joyce Tyldesley, University of Manchester: “After comparing DNA samples taken from the workers' bones with samples taken from modern Egyptians, Dr Moamina Kamal of Cairo University Medical School has suggested that Khufu's pyramid was a truly nationwide project, with workers drawn to Giza from all over Egypt. She has discovered no trace of any alien race; human or intergalactic, as suggested in some of the more imaginative 'pyramid theories'. |[Source: Dr Joyce Tyldesley, University of Manchester, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“Effectively, it seems, the pyramid served both as a gigantic training project and-deliberately or not-as a source of 'Egyptianisation'. The workers who left their communities of maybe 50 or 100 people, to live in a town of 15,000 or more strangers, returned to the provinces with new skills, a wider outlook and a renewed sense of national unity that balanced the loss of loyalty to local traditions. The use of shifts of workers spread the burden and brought about a thorough redistribution of pharaoh's wealth in the form of rations. |::|

“Almost every family in Egypt was either directly or indirectly involved in pyramid building. The pyramid labourers were clearly not slaves. They may well have been the unwilling victims of the corvée or compulsory labour system, the system that allowed the pharaoh to compel his people to work for three or four month shifts on state projects. If this is the case, we may imagine that they were selected at random from local registers. |::|

“But, in a complete reversal of the story of oppression told by Herodotus, Lehner and Hawass have suggested that the labourers may have been volunteers. Zahi Hawass believes that the symbolism of the pyramid was already strong enough to encourage people to volunteer for the supreme national project. Mark Lehner has gone further, comparing pyramid building to American Amish barn raising, which is done on a volunteer basis. He might equally well have compared it to the staffing of archaeological digs, which tend to be manned by enthusiastic, unpaid volunteers supervised by a few paid professionals. |::|

4,500-Year-Old Logbook Documents the Great Pyramid's Construction

A logbook with records detailing the construction of the largest pyramid of Giza was discovered at the Red Sea harbor of Wadi al-Jarfin in 2013. Dated to about 4,500 years ago, making it the oldest papyrus document ever discovered in Egypt, the logbook was written in hieroglyphic letters on pieces of papyri by an inspector named Merer, who was "in charge of a team of about 200 men,"archaeologists Pierre Tallet and Gregory Marouard wrote in an article published in 2014 in the journal Near Eastern Archaeology. [Source: Owen Jarus, Live Science July 19, 2016 ^^^]

Tallet and Marouard wrote: "Over a period of several months, [the logbook] reports — in [the] form of a timetable with two columns per day — many operations related to the construction of the Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza and the work at the limestone quarries on the opposite bank of the Nile," Tallet and Marouard wrote. ^^^

Owen Jarus wrote in Live Science: “Merer recorded the logs in the 27th year of Khufu's reign. His records say that the Great Pyramid was near completion, with much of the remaining work focusing on the construction of the limestone casing that covered the outside of the pyramid, Tallet and Marouard wrote. The limestone used in this casing, according to the logbook, was quarried at Tura near modern-day Cairo, and was brought to the pyramid site by boat along the Nile River and a system of canals. One boat trip between Tura and the pyramid site took four days to complete, the logbook notes. ^^^

“The logbook also says that in Khufu's 27th year, the construction of the Great Pyramid was being overseen by the vizier Ankhaf (also spelled Ankhhaf), the half-brother of Khufu. (A vizier was a high official in ancient Egypt who served the king.) The papyri also reveal that one of the titles Ankhaf held was "chief for all the works of the king," Tallet and Marouard wrote in the journal article. Though the logbook said Ankhaf was in charge during the pharaoh's 27th year, many scholars believe it's possible that another person, possibly the vizier Hemiunu, was in charge of pyramid building during the earlier part of Khufu's reign.” ^^^

Alexander Stille wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: Merer and his crew of 200 men “traveled from one end of Egypt to the other picking up and delivering goods of one kind or another. Merer, who accounted for his time in half-day increments, mentions stopping at Tura, a town along the Nile famous for its limestone quarry, filling his boat with stone and taking it up the Nile River to Giza. In fact, Merer mentions reporting to “the noble Ankh-haf,” who was known to be the half-brother of the Pharaoh Khufu and now, for the first time, was definitively identified as overseeing some of the construction of the Great Pyramid. And since the pharaohs used the Tura limestone for the pyramids’ outer casing, and Merer’s journal chronicles the last known year of Khufu’s reign, the entries provide a never-before-seen snapshot of the ancients putting finishing touches on the Great Pyramid.” [Source: Alexander Stille, Smithsonian Magazine, October 2015]

Significance of the 4,500-Year-Old Logbook on Pyramid Construction

20120211-Stepped pyramid Saqqara.jpg
Stepped pyramid of Snefu
Wadi al-Jarf, which was a mining and seafaring town in 2500 B.C., is 120 kilometers south of Suez , which in turn is 125 kilometers west of Cairo, meaning than Wadi al-Jarf was a considerable distance form the Pyramids of Giza. Alexander Stille wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “ After visiting Wadi al-Jarf, Lehner, the American Egyptologist, was bowled over by the connections between Giza and this distant harbor. “The power and purity of the site is so Khufu,” he said. “The scale and ambition and sophistication of it—the size of these galleries cut out of rock like the Amtrak train garages, these huge hammers made out of hard black diorite they found, the scale of the harbor, the clear and orderly writing of the hieroglyphs of the papyri, which are like Excel spreadsheets of the ancient world—all of it has the clarity, power and sophistication of the pyramids, all the characteristics of Khufu and the early fourth dynasty.” [Source: Alexander Stille, Smithsonian Magazine, October 2015 |=|]

“Apparently all parts of Egypt were involved in the great building project at Giza. Granite came from Aswan far to the south, food from the delta in the north near the Mediterranean, and limestone from Tura, about 12 miles south of Cairo on the Nile. The burst of maritime activity was also driven by the monumental undertaking. “It is certain that the shipbuilding was made necessary by the gigantism of the royal building projects,” Tallet writes in a recent essay, “and that the great majority of the boats were intended for the navigation of the Nile and the transport of materials along the river, but the development of Wadi al-Jarf exactly in the same period allows us to see without doubt the logical extension, this time toward the Red Sea, of this project of the Egyptian state.” |=|

“Working on the royal boats, it seems, was a source of prestige. According to the papyri found at Wadi al-Jarf, the laborers ate well, and were provisioned with meat, poultry, fish and beer. And among the inscriptions that Tallet and his team have found at the Wadi al-Jarf gallery complex is one, on a large jar fashioned there, hinting at ties to the pharaoh; it mentions “Those Who Are Known of Two Falcons of Gold,” a reference to Khufu. “You have all sorts of private inscriptions, of officials who were involved in these mining expeditions to the Sinai,” Tallet says. “I think it was a way to associate themselves to something that was very important to the king and this was a reason to be preserved for eternity for the individuals.” Clearly these workers were valued servants of the state. |=|

“The discovery of the papyri at such a distant location is significant, Tallet says: “It is not very logical that [the writings] should have ended up at Wadi al-Jarf. Of course [the managers] would have always traveled with their archives because they were expected always to account for their time. I think the reason we found [the papyri] there is that this was the last mission of the team, I imagine because of the death of the king. I think they just stopped everything and closed up the galleries and then as they were leaving buried the archives in the area between the two large stones used to seal the complex. The date on the papyri seems to be the last date we have for the reign of Khufu, the 27th year of his reign.” |=|

“The work that Tallet and his colleagues have done along the Red Sea connects with Lehner’s work at Giza....“Sailors may have figured among the visitors to the pyramid town, according to Merer’s papyrus journal. It mentions carrying stone both up to the lake or basin of Khufu and to the “horizon of Khufu,” generally understood to refer to the Great Pyramid. How did Merer get his boat close enough to the pyramids to unload his cargo of stone? Currently, the Nile is several miles from Giza. But the papyri offer important support for a hypothesis that Lehner had been developing for several years—that the ancient Egyptians, masters of canal building, irrigation and otherwise redirecting the Nile to suit their needs, built a major harbor or port near the pyramid complex at Giza. Accordingly, Merer transported the limestone from Tura all the way to Giza by boat. “I think the Egyptians intervened in the flood plain as dramatically as they did on the Giza Plateau,” Lehner says, adding: “The Wadi al-Jarf papyri are a major piece in the overall puzzle of the Great Pyramid.” |=|

“Tallet believes that the Lake of Khufu, to which Merer refers, was more likely located at Abusir, another important royal site about ten miles south of Giza. “If it is too close to Giza,” Tallet says, “one does not understand why it takes Merer a full day to sail from this site to the pyramid.” But Tallet has been persuaded by Lehner’s evidence of a major port at Giza. It makes perfect sense, he says, that the Egyptians would have found a way to transport construction materials and food by boat rather than dragging them across the desert. “I am not sure it would have been possible at all times of the year,” he said. “They had to wait for the flooding, and could have existed for perhaps six months a year.” By his estimate the ports along the Red Sea were only working for a few months a year—as it happens, roughly when Nile floods would have filled the harbor at Giza. “It all fits very nicely.”“ |=|

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt ; Tour Egypt, Minnesota State University, Mankato,; Mark Millmore,; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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