Pyramid workers were paid locals. Yet historical narratives and Hollywood films have made many believe the Jews built the pyramids while enslaved in Egypt.
There’s no end to conspiracy theories about who built the pyramids. Frequently they involve ancient aliens, lizard people, the Freemasons, or an advanced civilization that used forgotten technology. Scientists have tried and failed to combat these baseless ideas. But there is another misconception about pyramid construction that’s plagued Egyptian scholars for centuries: Slaves did not build the pyramids.
The best evidence suggests that pyramid workers were locals who were paid for their services and ate extremely well. We know this because archaeologists have found their tombs and other signs of the lives they lived.
The Lives of Pyramid Workers
In 1990, a number of humble gravesites for pyramid workers were found a surprisingly short distance from the tombs of the pharaohs. Inside, archaeologists discovered all the necessary goods that pyramid workers would need to navigate passage to the afterlife — basic kindnesses unlikely to have been afforded common slaves.
But that’s not all. Archaeologists have also spent years excavating a sprawling complex thought to have been a part-time home for thousands of workers. The site is called Heit el-Ghurab, and it was also likely part of a larger port city along the Nile River where food and supplies for the pyramid workers, as well as pyramid construction materials, were imported from across the region. Inside the rubble of Heit el-Ghurab, they found evidence for large barracks where as many as 1,600 or more workers could have slept together. And archaeologists also uncovered extensive remains from the many meals they ate, including abundant bread and huge quantities of meat, like cattle, goat, sheep and fish.
These workers’ graffiti can also be found all over the buildings they created. The marks, written in Egyptian, were hidden on blocks inside the pyramids and were never meant to be seen. They record the names of various work gangs, including “the Drunkards of Menkaure” and “the Followers of the Powerful White Crown of Khufu.” (Both gangs were named after the respective pharaohs of their day.) Other marks signify towns and regions in Egypt. A few seem to function as mascots that represent a division of workers, and they feature images of animals such as ibises.
Together, these hieroglyphics give archaeologists hints about where the workers came from, what their lives were like, and who they worked for. Nowhere have archaeologists found signs of [ … ]