Pyramid Builders' Village Found in Egypt

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
Updated September 18, 2002

New evidence uncovered at Giza is adding to our knowledge of who built the great pyramids, and how they accomplished this timeless feat.

The University of Chicago/Harvard University Giza Plateau Mapping Project, sponsored in part this season by National Geographic and led by archaeologist Mark Lehner, has made several new discoveries in an area lying south of the Sphinx near the workers' cemetery.

The area, often called the "workers' village," is the site of a vast community that thrived some 4,500 years ago on the Giza Plateau. It may have housed as many as 20,000 people.

Every discovery in the area is an important piece to a puzzle with no written key. "On the site we really have no texts," Lehner says, "so we interpret from what we find on the ground."

Ancient Beds Suggest Barracks Structures

Among this season's interesting finds are mud ramps approximately one meter wide, believed to be bed platforms. Ancient beds were often designed with the foot a bit lower than the head.

The beds were found within large "galleries," or colonnaded porches half open to the sky, which allowed sunlight to stream in and smoke to float out. Lehner believes the galleries may have served as a dormitory or barracks for temporary workers, providing sleeping quarters for as many as 2,000 people at once. Originally excavated during the 1999 to 2002 field seasons, the galleries appear to be part of a vast complex that also housed activities such as copper-working and cooking.

Chambers in the rear of the sleeping galleries may have been used for cooking, roasting, and baking—suggesting that some of the food production for workers might have been done on site.

The presence of a barracks could help explain the abundance of pottery, ash, and refuse found in the area, especially the tremendous amounts of animal bone. "When we excavate we find enough animal meat bone to feed several thousands of people," Lehner reported. "This would explain why."

The bones in the area suggest that workers enjoyed quite a lot of prime beef. Previous excavations have discovered that they also ate bread and fish, and drank beer.

Analysis of human remains has suggested that workers apparently had access to medical treatment. Evidence has been found of healed broken bones, amputated limbs, and even brain surgeries.

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