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Pyramids were built by free workers, not slaves

world Updated: Jan 11, 2010 01:14 IST
Paul Schemm
Paul Schemm
Hindustan Times
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Egyptian archaeologists discovered a new set of tombs belonging to the workers who built the great pyramids, shedding light on how the labourers lived and ate more than 4,000 years ago, the antiquities department said Sunday.

The thousands of men who built the last remaining wonder of the ancient world ate meat regularly, worked in three months shifts and were given the honour being buried in mud brick tombs within the shadow of the sacred pyramids they worked on. The newly discovered tombs date to Egypt’s 4th Dynasty (2575 BC to 2467 BC) when the great pyramids were built, according to the head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass.

Graves of the pyramid builders were first discovered in the area in 1990, he said, and discoveries such as these show that the workers were paid labourers, rather than the slaves of popular imagination.

“These tombs were built beside the king’s pyramid, which indicates that these people were not by any means slaves,” said Hawass in the statement. “If they were slaves, they would not have been able to build their tombs beside their king’s.”

Evidence from the site, Hawass said, indicates that the approximately 10,000 labourers working on the pyramids ate 21 cattle and 23 sheep sent to them daily from farms in northern and southern Egypt.

He added that the workers were rotated every three months and the burial sites were for those who died during the construction. Discoveries like these reveal other aspects of ancient Egyptian society besides just the stone monuments and temples of priests, rulers and nobles, explained Salima Ikram, a professor at Cairo university.

“It is important to find tombs that belong to lower class people that are not made out of stone and tell you the social origin and wealth of a range of people,” she said.

Workers’ tombs from the 4th Dynasty were typically made up mud brick and shaped like cones and covered in white plaster, probably echoing the nearby limestone-clad pyramids of the kings.