Archaeology

Slaves Didn't Build Pyramids: Egypt Says

If slaves didn't build the pyramids in Egypt, who did?

Egypt displayed on Monday newly discovered tombs more than 4,000 years old and said they belonged to people who worked on the Great Pyramids of Giza, putting the discovery forth as more evidence that slaves did not build the ancient monuments.

The series of modest nine-foot-deep shafts held a dozen skeletons of pyramid builders, perfectly preserved by dry desert sand along with jars that once contained beer and bread meant for the workers' afterlife.

The mud-brick tombs were uncovered last week in the backyard of the Giza pyramids, stretching beyond a burial site first discovered in the 1990s and dating to the 4th Dynasty (2575 B.C. to 2467 B.C.), when the great pyramids were built on the fringes of present-day Cairo.

The ancient Greek historian Herodotus once described the pyramid builders as slaves, creating what Egyptologists say is a myth later propagated by Hollywood films.

Graves of the pyramid builders were first discovered in the area in 1990 when a tourist on horseback stumbled over a wall that later proved to be a tomb. Egypt's archaeology chief Zahi Hawass said that discovery and the latest finds last week show that the workers were paid laborers, rather than the slaves of popular imagination.

Hawass told reporters at the site that the find, first announced on Sunday, sheds more light on the lifestyle and origins of the pyramid builders. Most importantly, he said the workers were not recruited from slaves commonly found across Egypt during pharaonic times.

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. 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.

A tourist on horseback discovered these mud-brick tombs in 1990.

King Tut's Mask

"Tutankhamun: His Tomb and the Treasures" is a new exhibition now in Zurich that has meticulously reconstructed the tomb complex and its treasures. Specially trained craftspeople in Cairo built more than 1,000 exact replicas under scientific supervision. The work took over five years. Here is a replica of the famous mask of King Tut, weighing 24 lbs, which was pressed over the head of the king's bandaged mummy. The idealized portrait of the young king echoes the style of the late Amarna period. The life-like eyes are formed by bright quartz, with obsidian inlays for the pupils.

King Tut, With Wife

This scene, depicted on the backrest of King Tut's throne, shows how Tutankhamen used to lean back in a relaxed manner while his wife, Anchesenamun, stood beside him and rubbed ointment into his shoulder.

Tomb Discovery

This is how the tomb of the boy king Tutankhamun appeared to archaeologist Howard Carter when he discovered it in 1922.

King Tut's Tomb in 3-D

Tutankhamun's tomb and its contents, as viewed in a 3-D model. A corridor led to an antechamber and an annex filled with objects. The antechamber opened into the coffin chamber with King Tut's sarcophagus. The coffin chamber led to another small room filled with King Tut's treasures.

Treasures Galore

Two tiny mummified female fetuses were found in the tomb with the king. But they were not the only companions placed in the tomb for King Tut's journey to the afterlife. The boy king was buried with more than 5,000 priceless objects, including this treasure chest.

Boy Throne

The famous gold throne found in the tomb was ordered when Tutankhamen became king at the age of nine.

Lion Head

The dead king in the underworld was akin to the sun at night and, in the New Kingdom, this was identified with the god of death, Osiris. The heads of lions corresponded to the time the sun god spent in the body of the god of heaven in feline form. The facial details of the lion head –- the rims of the eyes, tip of the nose and tear ducts -- are given almost life-like properties through the use of glass.

Hired Help for the Afterlife

These figures were supposed to take the place of the king in performing the daily tasks that came up in the afterlife. A total of 413 of these figures, known as ushabtis, were found in Tutankhamun's tomb. Among the collection, 365 were responsible for carrying out day-to-day duties, 36 ushabtis served as overseers for groups of 10 workers each, and 12 acted as monthly supervisors