Tombs offer clue to building of pyramids

Egyptian archaeologists yesterday displayed newly discovered tombs more than 4,000 years old and said they belonged to people who worked on the Great Pyramids of Giza, citing it as more evidence that slaves did not build the ancient monuments.

The latest findings come from a dozen skeletons in newly discovered pits more than 4,000 years old, perfectly preserved by dry desert sand, along with jars that had once contained beer and bread to feed the dead in the afterlife.

The mud-brick tombs, each nine feet deep, were found last week beyond a larger burial site first discovered near the pyramids in 1990 and dating to the 4th Dynasty (2575 B.C. to 2467 B.C.), when the giant structures were built at Giza, on the fringes of modern-day Cairo.

The previously discovered graves already pointed to their occupants being pyramid-builders, and the latest findings reinforced the paid-laborer theory, according to Egypt's archaeology chief, Zahi Hawass. They are the first to be found containing supplies for the afterlife, indicating how respected the workers were, and one tomb was found containing a limestone piece with an inscription identifying its occupant as Idu, a supervisor of a group of builders.

Herodotus, the Greek historian of the ancient world, described the pyramid-builders as slaves. Hollywood films and an offhand remark by the late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin put forth the idea that those slaves were ancient Israelites.

The Jewish angle did not come up at Hawass' presentation to reporters Monday, but it has long rankled Egyptians, for whom the pyramids are a source of national pride. Even as Egypt was negotiating peace with the Jewish state in the late 1970s, the argument flared anew with Begin's remarks during a visit here.

Archaeologists, Jewish and other, generally agree that the Jewish role is a myth.

"No Jews built the pyramids because Jews didn't exist at the period when the pyramids were built," said Amihai Mazar, professor at the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "If the Hebrews built anything, then it was the city of Ramses as mentioned in Exodus," said Mazar.

Dorothy Resig, an editor of Biblical Archaeology Review in Washington D.C., said the idea probably arose from the Old Testament Book of Exodus, which says: "So the Egyptians enslaved the children of Israel with backbreaking labor" and the Pharaoh put them to work building ancient cities such as Ramses.

Menachem Friedman, professor emeritus at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv who specializes in religious identity in society, said few Jews believe "this fantasy that that their ancestors built the pyramids."

"Most Jews believe the ancient Hebrews were made to do forced labor in Egypt like the other slaves of the period," he told The Associated Press.

Dieter Wildung, a former director of Berlin's Egyptian Museum, said centuries separate the construction of the pyramids and the story of the Israelites in Egypt.

"The myth of the slaves building pyramids is only the stuff of tabloids and Hollywood," Wildung said in a telephone interview. "The world simply could not believe the pyramids were built without oppression and forced labor, but out of loyalty to the pharaohs."

Hawass said the builders came from poor Egyptian families and were so respected for their work that those who died on the job were honored with a burial near the sacred pyramids and preparation for the afterlife.

The tombs survived grave robbers because they contained no valuables, and the bodies were not mummified. The skeletons lay in a fetal position, head pointing west and feet east according to ancient Egyptian beliefs, surrounded by the jars once filled with supplies for afterlife.

Hawass said some 10,000 laborers — not the 100,000 chronicled by Herodotus — worked in three-month shifts, and ate 21 cattle and 23 sheep sent to them daily from farms.

Because the bodies were not mummified, there is no likelihood of finding DNA evidence in the bones, said Adel Okasha, supervisor of the excavation.

But from their arthritis and lower vertebrae, "their bones tell us the story of how hard they worked," he said, and Wildung agreed.

They were free men and ordinary citizens, Wildung said, "but let's not exaggerate here; they lived a short life and ... suffered from bad health, very much likely because of how hard their work was."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
A poster by Durham Constabulary
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Emily McDowell Card that reads:
artCancer survivor Emily McDowell kicks back at the clichés
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvBadalamenti on board for third series
Life and Style
Standing room only: the terraces at Villa Park in 1935
Ben Stokes celebrates with his team mates after bowling Brendon McCullum
sportEngland vs New Zealand report
Amal Clooney has joined the legal team defending 'The Hooden Men'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine