Who Really Built the Pyramids

Once upon a time, there was a prince whose father was so obsessed with Pyramids, that he built three of them, just to get it right. Once his father died, the prince decided hey, you know what dad, I really like the trend you were getting going there, but it was a bit overkill, so I’m gonna just build one, pyramid, but I’m gonna make it epic! And this guy’s name, was Khufu.

Khufu was a pharaoh of the 4th Dynasty of ancient Egypt, and he’s most famous for his tomb- the Great Pyramid of Giza. The great Pyramid covers an area of 13 acres, is 230m long, and 146m tall. It’s made out of 2.3 million stone blocks that weigh 2.5 tonnes on average.

It’s so great that the two rulers that followed him, Khafre and Menkaure had major fomo and decided to build theirs right next to it.

Egyptians didn’t always use pyramids as tombs, and even when they were popular, only pharaohs built them. Ancient Egyptians used to bury their dead in the ground, very similar to how we do it today. But over time, people started placing mounds over the graves to protect the bodies, which later turned into mastabas. Then along comes Djoser of the 4th dynasty who was like, you guys, I don’t want one mastaba, want 6 mastabas built on top of each other! And thus the concept of the pyramid was born! Today, archaeologists have uncovered evidence for over 100 pyramids in Egypt.

But of course, due to their size, longevity, and growing legend over the years, the pyramids at Giza are the ones that get the most attention, and the most far-fetched stories told about them.

A lot of people believe that the pyramids of Giza were built by either slaves, or aliens. And I’m here to tell you that neither of them actually did.

The pyramids were large, state funded building projects that were aimed at leaving an everlasting legacy for the pharaoh.

The project seemed so big, that for a long time, people thought it took 100,000 people to build the great pyramid. And while we don’t know the exact numbers, recent research has pointed to of estimate of about 10,000 skilled workers who would have gotten the job done.

How do we know that thousands and thousands of people were here? Because they constructed an actual town for all the builders to live in during their stay called Heit el Ghurab, or what people like to reference at “the lost city of the pyramid builders.” The site is most likely to have housed the workers for the two later pyramids of Khafre and Menkaure, but it shows just how complex this whole pyramid building operation was.

The site of Heit el Ghurab

In this town we have evidence for administration buildings, fish processing areas, bakeries, there’s evidence for beer brewing, there was even a hospital discovered there! It was a fully functioning town purposed for the construction of the pyramids. Think of any sort of mining town today and you might get an idea as to what it might have been like.

The town housed the managers, labourers, engineers, doctors, bakers, quarrymen, yes men, all the men. And even women, but we don’t have evidence for women taking part in the construction, they would have been based in the village and participated in other work there.

The workers on site were divided into what we hypothesize were rotating labour forces of 10-20,000 men on some sort of team-like basis. Work rotations of about three-month terms each or so have been suggested.

When on site, the pyramid builders were assembled into crews of 2,000 men, which were then separated into two gangs of 1,000. These gangs were then in turn were divided into 5 groups of 200 men called sa’a. These groups of 200 were further divided into either 10 groups of 20 men, or 20 groups of 10 men.

We know this, because we have graffiti The gangs all had different names like Friends of Khufu or the Drunkards of Menkaure. Man can you imagine Friday night happy hour with the Drunkards of Menkaure? Oh to be a fly on that wall…

Friends of Khufu graffiti

Each gang had their own task during the construction of the pyramids and we’ve actually found skeletal remains during excavations around the pyramids, which have allowed us to learn a lot more about the pyramid builders.

We’ve looked at the health and lifestyle of these workers in comparison to higher ranking officials, and found that while the workers died earlier (10 years earlier for men and 5 years earlier for women), and their spines show that they had significant spinal trauma from all of that work, they were still treated quite well and were fed to the highest standards of society.

The villages of Khafre and Menkaure have evidence of animals that were not normally part of the everyday diet of a common Egyptian like cattle, sheep and goats. From studying the faunal remains on site, archaeologist Richard Redding was able to determine that on average, 4,000 pounds of meat was produced every day to feed the pyramid builders. Of course the higher officials would get more meat than the common workers, but the diet was still probably a lot better than what they would be getting in their hometown. That right there is a clear indication that the pharaoh valued the work being done by the pyramid builders and saw that they were well taken care of.

So if the pyramids were built by these organised groups, then why do people keep thinking and shouting very loudly, that they were built by slaves and aliens?

We first get this mention that slaves built the Pyramid from book 2 of Herodotus’ Histories. He says:

“[Pharaoh Khufu] brought the country into all sorts of misery. He closed all the temples, [and] then, not content with excluding his subjects from the practice of their religion, compelled them without exception to labour as slaves for his own advantage. … A hundred thousand men laboured constantly, and were relieved every three months by a fresh lot. … The pyramid itself was twenty years in building.”

Well, let’s just start off by saying that Herodotus, while being called the Father of History, is now also known as the Father of Lies.

Herodotus visited Egypt about 2,000 years after the pyramids were built, and he got a lot of his information from everyday people. 2,000 years is a long time for history to become legend, to be turned into myth, and to get changed along the way. Also, maybe the guy Herodotus was talking to just wanted to spice up the story a little bit and make it more interesting for this exotic tourist.

The idea that the Israelites could have built the pyramids probably comes from the Bible. Chapter one of the Book of Exodus, Chapter 1 says:

“[T]hey set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. … The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor.”

The bible does mention slave labour in the building projects of Ramses, but nowhere does it say anything about Pyramids. Also, by saying Ramses, the bible places itself around the New Kingdom, so 1,000 years after the pyramids would have been built.

Yes, the people working on the pyramid were conscripted for labour, but that doesn’t quite add up to slavery in the terms that we think of today. To look at it properly, we need to understand what obligatory labour meant for people in Ancient Egypt. There is a range for this kind of work that starts at the extreme of what we define as slavery today, and goes to you and your uncle building a shed for your grandpa. You build that shed out of respect for your elders, and as a community obligation. In Egyptian society, every person, even the higher officials owed service to people above them in the social hierarchy. It was ingrained into their society, and it was called “bak”. We can’t use the word bak as a synonym for slavery though, because everyone owed bak.

I’m not saying that the Egyptians never had slaves, because they definitely did. What I’m saying is that they didn’t build the pyramids. The pyramids were highly complicated building projects, and would have required a workforce reflective of that.

Now a lot of other people out there who like to watch the History Channel will be like chyea no duh, slaves didn’t build the pyramids- the Aliens did it! And to that I answer….

Aliens did not build the pyramids. People built the pyramids. Highly skilled engineers, architects, mathematicians…. they are the guys who built the pyramids.

How could they have done it so well? Because they freakin’ practised! The Great Pyramid is not the first and ONLY pyramid. It was the result of years and years of building innovation and learning from mistakes. Centuries of trial and error, and advances in engineering that have contributed to where we are today.

We have the first step pyramid of Djoser, built out of stones that are similar size of mud bricks for the time. And they used this size because before we started building big things in stone, we built big things out of mudbrick. This is evolution, you guys!

How do we know that people cut the stones and didn’t have aliens laser slice it for them? By looking at them. The limestone would have been cut with dolerite hammers and similar tools like stone and copper drills. It was no easy job and would have taken a lot of work, but you can see the evidence on the stone. You might also notice that they’re pretty roughly cut, and there are smaller stones and mortar filling in all the gaps between them. These stones were originally covered with a finer limestone casing, which is what they would have spent a lot more time on perfecting.

And yes, they would have been able to cut perfect limestone. They were carving and drilling into limestone and stones that are a lot harder in the pre-dynastic era. Also, the pyramids aren’t built to perfection, which means they were most definitely built by humans. Khufu’s pyramid is about 40 cm off from it’s true north orientation, and Khafre’s has a slight twist at the top to get all the edges to meet in a peak. Y’all think aliens would have made such careless mistakes?

Here are my qualms with Ancient Aliens.

They like to spew off a lot of numbers in order to create “facts” that mean absolutely nothing. They’ll take a number and divide it up by another weird specific number and say it means something, or they’ll just say big numbers really fast to be confusing and to sound significant. Here’s the thing: When you look for numbers, you will find numbers.

If you look for evidence to support an idea you might have, you’re going to find it by any means necessary. It’s up to you as a proper researcher, a proper scientist, to look at evidence with as little bias as possible, look at it from multiple angles, and come up with results based not on what you want to find, but what is actually there.

Ancient aliens does nothing but discredit ancient civilizations for their feats. You might notice that in the show, aliens visit a lot of countries that aren’t white, and very few, if any places where the population is. The Moai statues on Easter Island were built around the same time that Notre Dame was constructed and no one ever questioned if the French had help from aliens, did they?

What these people are saying is that people of colour could never have had the intelligence or technology to build these amazing things, so someone else must have done it for them. They are discrediting ancient civilizations, they are discrediting people of colour, and I will have none of that, thank you very much.

Looking to find out more?

Digital Atlas of Egyptian Archaeology- Heir el-Ghurab, Fourth Dynasty by Hannah Trevino


The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt by Ian Shaw

The Fauna from Gallery III.4 at Heir eh-Ghurab, Giza by Richard Redding


The Giza Plateau mapping Project. Volume 1. Project History, Survey, ceramics and Main Street and Gallery III.4 Operations

Science and Technology in World History: An Introduction by James Edward McClellan and Harold Dorn


Who Built the Pyramids? by Jonathan Shaw


Experiments in Egyptian Archaeology: Stoneworking Technology in Ancient Egypt by Denys A. Stocks


Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt by Kathryn A. Bar

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