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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£30 - 35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Guru Careers: Software Engineer / Software Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software Engineer / Softw...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before