Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Builders of the Pyramids Volume 50 Number 1, January/February 1997
by Zahi Hawass and Mark Lehner

[image] Found in a tomb at Giza, these four statues depict Inty-Shedu, a carpenter who may have made boats for an Old Kingdom pharaoh, at different stages in his life. (Zahi Hawass) [LARGER IMAGE, 52K]

For centuries adventurers, scholars, and tourists have been drawn to the wonders of Giza--the pyramids of Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure, the Sphinx, and tombs of Old Kingdom nobles (2551-2152 B.C.). But what of the workers and artisans who built these great monuments? When the Greek historian Herodotus visited Egypt in the fifth century B.C., he was told by his guides that 100,000 workers had labored for 20 years to build Khufu's pyramid. Even 20,000 workers, a number closer to recent estimates, is comparable to the populations of large cities in the Near East during the third millennium B.C. An enormous support system must have existed at Giza for at least 67 years, the combined minimum lengths of Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure's reigns. Such support would have included production facilities for food, ceramics, and building materials (gypsum mortar, stone, wood, and metal tools); storage facilities for food, fuel, and other supplies; and housing for workmen, their families, and priests responsible for services in pyramid temples. For years the support facilities, residential areas, and cemeteries of the workers who created and maintained the pyramids remained among the least explored areas of ancient Egypt. But 20,000 people, or three generations of pyramid builders, cannot have disappeared without leaving a trace. Where to look?

© 1997 by the Archaeological Institute of America