Egypt says Jewish slaves didn't build pyramids
Egyptian archeologists presented new evidence Monday that the people who worked on the Great Pyramids of Giza were not Jewish slaves, but paid laborers. Newly discovered tombs show construction workers were honored by being buried near the pyramids.
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Dieter Wildung, a former director of Berlin’s Egyptian Museum, said it is “common knowledge in serious Egyptology” that the pyramid builders were not slaves and that the construction of the pyramids and the story of the Israelites in Egypt were separated by hundreds of years.Skip to next paragraph
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“The myth of the slaves building pyramids is only the stuff of tabloids and Hollywood,” Wildung told The Associated Press by telephone. “The world simply could not believe the pyramids were build without oppression and forced labor, but out of loyalty to the pharaohs.”
Hawass said the builders came from poor Egyptian families from the north and the south, and were respected for their work — so much so that those who died during construction were bestowed the honor of being buried in the tombs near the sacred pyramids of their pharaohs.
Their proximity to the pyramids and the manner of burial in preparation for the afterlife backs this theory, Hawass said. “No way would they have been buried so honorably if they were slaves,” he said.
The tombs contained no gold or valuables, which safeguarded them from tomb-raiders throughout antiquity, and the bodies were not mummified. The skeletons were found buried in a fetal position — the head pointing to the West and the feet to the East according to ancient Egyptian beliefs, surrounded by the jars once filled with supplies for afterlife.
The men who built the last remaining wonder of the ancient world ate meat regularly and worked in three months shifts, said Hawass. It took 10,000 workers more than 30 years to build a single pyramid, Hawass said — a tenth of the work force of 100,000 that Herodotus wrote of after visiting Egypt around 450 B.C.
Hawass said evidence from the site indicates that the approximately 10,000 laborers working on the pyramids ate 21 cattle and 23 sheep sent to them daily from farms.
Though they were not slaves, the pyramid builders led a life of hard labor, said Adel Okasha, supervisor of the excavation. Their skeletons have signs of arthritis, and their lower vertebrae point to a life passed in difficulty, he said. “Their bones tell us the story of how hard they worked,” Okasha said.
Wildung said the find reinforces the notion that the pyramid builders were free men, ordinary citizens. “But let’s not exaggerate here, they lived a short life and tomography skeletal studies show they suffered from bad health, very much likely because of how hard their work was.”
Associated Press Writer Ian Deitch contributed to this report from Jerusalem.