Feeding Egypt's 10,000 pyramid builders

The builders of the famous Giza pyramids feasted on food from a massive catering-type operation, the remains of which scientists have discovered at a workers' town near the pyramids.

Feeding Egypt's 10,000 Pyramid builders
The Pyramids of Giza [Credit: WikiCommons]
The workers' town is located about 1,300 feet (400 meters) south of the Sphinx, and was used to house workers building the pyramid of pharaoh Menkaure, the third and last pyramid on the Giza plateau.

The site is also known by its Arabic name, Heit el-Ghurab, and is sometimes called "the Lost City of the Pyramid Builders."

So far, researchers have discovered a nearby cemetery with bodies of pyramid builders; a corral with possible slaughter areas on the southern edge of workers' town; and piles of animal bones.

Based on animal bone findings, nutritional data, and other discoveries at this workers' town site, the archaeologists estimate that more than 4,000 pounds of meat - from cattle, sheep and goats - were slaughtered every day, on average, to feed the pyramid builders, Discovery News reported.

Feeding Egypt's 10,000 Pyramid builders
An image of the Old Kingdom Corral with the Giza pyramids in the distance. Researchers note that it was large enough to hold 55 cattle with feeding pens. There may also have been areas for slaughter [Credit: AERA Inc.]
This meat-rich diet, along with the availability of medical care (the skeletons of some workers show healed bones), would have been an additional lure for ancient Egyptians to work on the pyramids.

"People were taken care of, and they were well fed when they were down there working, so there would have been an attractiveness to that," Richard Redding, chief research officer at Ancient Egypt Research Associates (AERA), a group that has been excavating and studying the workers' town site for about 25 years, said.

"They probably got a much better diet than they got in their village," he said.

At the workers' town, which was likely occupied for 35 years, researchers have discovered a plethora of animal bones.

Feeding Egypt's 10,000 Pyramid builders
Chief Research Officer Richard Redding with some of the tens of thousands
of animal bones found at the Giza workers' town [Credit: AERA Inc.]
Although the researchers are still unsure of the exact number of bones, Redding estimates he has identified about 25,000 sheep and goats, 8,000 cattle and 1,000 pig bones, he wrote in a paper published in the book "Proceedings of the 10th Meeting of the ICAZ Working Group 'Archaeozoology of southwest Asia and adjacent Areas'" (Peeters Publishing, 2013).

About 10,000 workers helped build the Menkaure pyramid, with a smaller work force present year-round to cut stones and complete preparation and survey work, the AERA team estimates.

This smaller work force would have ramped up for a few months starting around July of each year.

"What they would do is, for about four or five months a year, they would bring in a big work force to move blocks, and they would do nothing but move blocks," Redding, who is also a research scientist at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology and a member of the faculty at the University of Michigan, said.

Feeding Egypt's 10,000 Pyramid builders
A section of the workers' town which archaeologists call the "galleries" supported
what appears to be barracks style accomodation for workers [Credit: AERA Inc.]
Needless to say, pyramid building is hard work. The workers would need at least 45 to 50 grams of protein a day, Redding said.

Half of this protein would likely come from fish, beans, lentils and other non-meat sources, while the other half would come from sheep, goat and cattle, he estimated.

Milk and cheese were probably not consumed due to transportation problems and the cattle's low milk yield during that time, Redding said.

Combining these requirements and other protein sources with the ratio of the bones (and the amount of meat and protein one can get from an animal), Redding determined about 11 cattle and 37 sheep or goats were consumed each day.

Feeding Egypt's 10,000 Pyramid builders
Reconstruction of what one section of the galleries may
have looked like [Credit: AERA Inc.]
This would be in addition to supplying workers with grain, beer and other products.

In order to maintain this level of slaughter, the ancient Egyptians would have needed a herd of 21,900 cattle and 54,750 sheep and goats just to keep up regular delivery to the Giza workers, Redding said. 

Source: ANI [April 25, 2013]

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2 comments for Feeding Egypt's 10,000 pyramid builders

  1. History & culture of pyramids in Giza is really superb. I want to know every detail over that so please suggest me. If you need to gain the knowledge over the pyramids of giza then have touch on it.

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