WHO BUILT THE PYRAMIDS?
This is a question that has been asked for centuries. Most people think they know, but there is little consensus as to the answer. Maybe the question should be who REALLY built the pyramids? In contemporary times there is a general belief that it wasn’t the Egyptians themselves. Maybe it was some ancient lost civilization, slaves brought in from Israel, or even extraterrestrials. First, we will clarify who DIDN’T build the pyramids, and then we will disclose who actually built them.
JEWS, HEBREWS, AND ISRAELITES
A quick note of clarification: A “Jew” is a person who believes in the Jewish religion/philosophy. A “Hebrew” is a person who speaks the Hebraic language (one of the Semitic languages that also include Arabic). An “Israelite” refers to a citizen of Israel, either in ancient times or today. An individual can be all three, or two, or even just one to the exclusion of the others. Today there is a dominant perception that all three terms are synonymous, they aren’t. This is an important distinction when discussing the ancient peoples who might have lived in Egypt.
Among Christian groups that interpret the Bible literally, the belief is that Jewish slaves built the pyramids under the whips of their Egyptian overseers. Though the Bible doesn’t mention pyramids at all, it does tell the story of the exodus from Egypt. “The Exodus” as such is not corroborated in any other ancient text, Egyptian or otherwise. But that is secondary to our question of who built the pyramids, which we know do exist. Hollywood has reinforced the image of Jewish slaves building at least some of the pyramids with films such as “The Ten Commandments.” And in 1977, Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, added his own credence to this image by saying “We built the pyramids.”
Returning to known facts, the age of the pyramids themselves has been well established. The Great Pyramid of Cheops, one of the oldest and certainly the largest, was completed about 2540 BCE. Most of the rest of Egypt’s pyramids were constructed during a 900 year period running from 2650 BCE to 1750 BCE. The first Jews known to live in Egypt arrived over ten centuries later. They were not Hebrews or Israelites. They were a unit of soldiers sent by the Persian Empire to assist the Pharaoh in his conquest of the Nubians. They arrived about 650 BCE (1100 years AFTER the pyramids were finished), and were garrisoned on an island in the Nile River. Their beliefs were a blending of Judaism and pagan religions. The history of this group was not discovered until 1903. As allies and trading partners with Egypt, they would not have been part of any construction effort. They even owned Egyptian slaves. Around 200 BCE, other Jews arrived in Egypt to assist another Pharaoh in his military conquests.
The first reference to “Jews” building the pyramids was interpreted from the works of Greek historian Herodotus (484-425 BCE). He is known as the first historian to systematically collect information. Herodotus wrote in his book “The Histories” that 100,000 workers had built the Great Pyramid. He didn’t identify them as either slaves or Jews. Interestingly, Herodotus frequently reported what others had told him without verification; thus he is also known as the “Father of Lies.”
The Bible’s book of Exodus was also set down during the time of Herodotus and he could have referenced it, but didn’t. The Pharaoh Ramesses II (1303 - 1213 BCE), depicted in the Bible as forcing the Jew/Hebrew/Israelite exodus from Egypt wasn’t born until 1,200 years after the Great Pyramid, and 450 years after the last pyramid was built. Therefore, Jews migrating out of Egypt were not pyramid builders.
If Jews were not involved in pyramid building, what about the Israelites? Certainly some of them may have been Jews as well. Israel was established by various Semitic tribes joining together in Canaan about 1100 BCE. This was 600 years AFTER the last pyramids were completed. So no Israelites were present in Egypt, either slave or free. The Hebrew language, and thus people calling themselves Hebrews, also appeared about the same time that Israel was founded.
Timelines, history, and ancient documents, have ruled out Jews, Hebrews, and Israelites as being the builders of the pyramids.
LOST CIVILIZATIONS AND EXTRA TERRESTRIALS
People who hold theories about “ancient aliens” close to their hearts cannot accept that humans built the pyramids. Ancient mankind was just too primitive. “Alien Theorists,” as they like to be called, believe that 4,500 years ago human society did not have the technology or knowledge to build such sophisticated constructions; and that only extraterrestrials could have done it.
While we may have accumulated technical knowledge over the centuries, our species’ brains haven’t changed all that much. Ancient humans were probably just as intelligent as we are today. Before the pyramids were built, human societies in the eastern Mediterranean had developed agriculture, writing, religion, astronomy, mathematics, metal working, as well as monumental stone architecture. Critics claim that pyramids appeared suddenly out of nowhere. In fact, the perfection of architectural engineering evolved over the centuries as evidenced by the progression to more and more complex structures. Many intermediate designs were refined before the Great Pyramid of Giza was begun.
But still people point to what they see as incongruities. How could humans, 45 centuries ago, have built the pyramids facing true north without having a compass? While it’s true that compasses weren’t first used until about 200 BCE, amazing precision could have been achieved just by watching the stars. The architects of the Great Pyramid sighted on two stars (Ursae Minoris and Ursae Majoris) rotating around a point in space and deduced that this point was an extension of the Earth’s axis, the North Pole.
Critics also contend that the perfect right angles of a pyramid would not have been possible in ancient times. The right angle corners of the pyramid’s base were likely achieved by either using a set square, of which ancient specimens have been preserved, or by using the “Pythagorean” triangle (which was known by the Egyptians and others even before the Greeks). Examples of other special surveying tools are even depicted in ancient human wall art.
The Great Pyramid, they say, is located exactly along longitude and latitude lines at 31 degrees north and 31 degrees west. The Egyptians could not have known of this intersection. It had to be planned by aliens. The human concept of latitude and longitude was first devised by the Greeks about 300 BCE. But there is no certainty that latitude and longitude are any kind of universal measurement. The location of pyramids was determined by local terrain, access to materials, and royal wishes. Because it matched a modern specific point on the Earth’s surface is just a coincidence.
Radiocarbon dating of the Great Pyramid indicates its age between 2809 and 2660 BCE, which fits well with the historical records. The wooden boat buried within its walls was dated to 2,600 BCE, not thousands of years earlier as ancient alien theorists claim.
Finally, they assert that there is so much discussion of the “alien theory” that there MUST be something to it. But this kind of logic is unsound at best.
So who was it that built the pyramids? It was none other than the EGYPTIANS. And NOT enslaved Egyptians, but citizens of the empire.
For years the archeological and historical aspects of ancient Egyptian construction have been overshadowed by the magnificent artifacts found. But over the past 20 years, archeologists and cultural anthropologists have been piling up evidence that proves that the pyramids were within the capabilities of Egyptian society. And surprisingly, they required fewer workers and less time to construct than we traditionally thought.
THE OVERALL DESIGN
The design for the later, grander pyramids had been worked out over the generations. Many alternate early structures were built and then evaluated over the centuries. Engineers developed very specific calculations on every aspect of the construction from the gravel for the ramps to the baking of bread. Contemporary engineers, when examining the Great Pyramid, do not support the idea that lost civilizations or extraterrestrials were needed to execute the construction. They recognize it as an impressive job but that it could have been done - it was a human-built monument. All levels of Egyptian society were mobilized to make the pyramid construction a reality.
If, in fact, large numbers of workers were required, where were they housed and fed? The land around the Great Pyramid was flat and barren. Beginning about 1990, excavations were done to find a “worker-city” in the shadows of the structure. A large stone wall was discovered between the pyramid and the location of an ancient harbor. After its excavation, a massive complex was found.
The housing and food preparation areas were built with designs similar to common Egyptian houses, but on a much greater scale. The dining areas were huge and filled with low benches. A cooper-working area, a fish processing building, and many bakeries were uncovered. There were large quantities of cattle, sheep, and goat bones discovered. This indicated that several thousand people could easily eat meat every day.
But there was a problem. Even though the complex was very large, it wasn’t big enough to house the 100,000 workers that Greek history suggested were used. Then a realization surfaced. Maybe the pyramids were built by a rotating labor force. Most of the housing structures were each only adequate for 1,600 to 2,000 workers. This prompted a re-evaluation of the number of laborers needed for construction. By recreating the construction process using contemporary workers (with no modern equipment, but using an incline plane, lever, and pulley), the number of workers required to move a certain number of blocks in a certain period of time was calculated. The results indicated that between 20,000 and 30,000 workers could build the Great Pyramid in about 30 years. By the way, 600 ancient skeletons have been found at the site so far, and genetic identification has confirmed that all were Egyptian.
ORGANIZATION OF THE LABOR
There was a small, experienced group of professionals at the center of the organization who directed the work force as a whole. This included engineers, stone cutters, and quarry men. Two dozen names of construction specialties have been found so far.
There is evidence that unskilled workers were rotated into and out of the raw labor force. Not as slaves but as people willing to donate their efforts to the community and to their leaders. It was very similar to the European feudal system where everyone owed a duty to the ruling class, and their projects. The Egyptians called it “bak” and every one owed this allegiance to those above them in the social hierarchy.
Labor was recruited from the general population which was usually located some distance from the project and had to be transported there by boat. The whole process had a powerful socializing influence. Some anthropologists see this not only as “Egypt building the pyramids” but as “the pyramids building Egypt.”
The most compelling piece of evidence is the inscriptions and ancient graffiti found on the pyramids themselves, discovered in places that were previously hidden like the tunnels and foundations below the floor level. These gave us examples of the organization of the construction effort. Crews of workmen were organized into groups as in the modern system of a division of labor. These divisions were not anonymous but the crews had names that were painted onto the walls in the area where they worked. The names include things like “The Drunkards of Menkaure” or the “Friends of Khufu Gang.” Occasionally, a crew would identify their work on one side of the monument while another crew would mark the other side. It appears that they were in competition. This contradicts the notion that they were slaves.
The artisans were paid by the Pharaoh, but the workers were duty-bound volunteers. All arrived at their work stations at sunrise and returned to their housing at sunset. If injured at the site, there is evidence that they were medically treated; even some operations were performed. Workers who died accidently were found to have been between 30 and 35 years old.
The pyramids were constructed during the second and third millennia BCE. All were built by the Egyptians themselves (not by slaves). The existing technology of the time was used and it was successful. The workers were treated well, fed properly, and many were even paid by the Pharaoh.