History of the Pyramids

History of the Pyramids

In 2611 B.C. the first pyramid was finished being built. The structure was intended to hold Pharaoh Djoser’s body and it began as the usual flat mastaba and by the end of his reign the building had grown to be a six step pyramid and it was 204 feet tall. The pyramid was the largest of its time. And it started a new phenomenon that would become one the modern world’s most researched mysteries. Some people believe that the Great Pyramids of Egypt were built by slaves and foreigners but in reality they were built by Egyptians that lived in villages near the building sites that were overseen by the pharaoh supervisors.

After the first pyramid was built many more were built after it to hold the dead Pharaoh’s body and ‘spirit’. Most of the pyramids had different chamber inside that were meant to hold different things. “To shelter and safeguard the part of a pharaoh's soul that remained with his corpse, Egyptians built massive tombs” (National Geographic). It was believed that when a ruler died he became the ‘King of the Dead” and the new ruler was the “King of the Heavens”. If the dead Pharaoh’s body wasn’t taken care of he wouldn’t be able to carry out his duties as King of the Dead. “Before the pyramids, tombs were carved into bedrock and topped by flat-roofed structures called mastabas. Mounds of dirt, in turn, sometimes topped the structures” (National Geographic). The Great Pyramid is said to have take 20 to 30 years to build, and that at least 36,000 laboring men had to work 10 hour days to complete the job. It’s said that the later design of the pyramid came from the shape of the initial tombs. But it’s more likely that the Egyptian pyramids were modeled after a sacred, pointed stone called the benben. The benben symbolized the rays of the sun and the ancient texts claimed that pharaohs reached the heavens via sunbeams. After the first pyramid was built many more followed. Each one became more elaborate than the previous.

Some historians believe that they pyramids were built by the slaves of the reigning pharaoh. But in actuality the complex structures were built by Egyptians that lived in nearby villages that were developed and overseen by the pharaoh’s supervisors. Some of the builders were permanent employees of the Pharaoh, others worked for a limited time from other villages. Some of the workers could have been women. This proves that the builders weren’t slaves because none of the Pharaohs had women as slaves. Some of the skeletons excavated from the sights were of women so if they did help build the pyramids they worked willingly. Not as slaves. Other skeletons that were taken from the areas prove where the builders were from and where they lived. Not just builders worked on the pyramids there were also people who cooked for the workers, and worked as doctors. There were bakers and farmers who came from all over to help with the building.

Some of the pyramids have graffiti on them that tell about the work the builders did. “Graffiti indicates that at least some of these workers took pride in their work, calling their teams "Friends of Khufu," "Drunkards of Menkaure," and so on—names indicating allegiances to pharaohs” (National Geographic). The drawings show that even if the work was hard they were proud to be a part of it. They liked doing it and liked feeling close to the Pharaoh. An extensive study done by Mark Lehner went inside the pyramid to find any sort of clues that would tell about the people that built the pyramids. During an interview with NOVA Lehner was asked if he thought the pyramids were built by slaves. After explaining that research found out that the builders were free working Egyptians he proceeded to tell that excavators found some stunning evidence about the builders. “One of the most compelling pieces of evidence we have is graffiti on ancient stone monuments in places that they didn't mean to be shown” (Lehner). This statement goes on to tell about how the workers were broken down in various groups that probably worked on different things. Lehner goes on to say that the groups were gangs. Later through the interview he continues to speak on how the team of historians discovered that the crews were in some sort of gang. “Were these militaristic kinds of conscripts? Certainly they weren't slaves...And the divisions are identified by single hieroglyphs with names that mean things like endurance, perfection, strong” (Lehner). Later in the conversation Lehner tells that the gangs in those times were usually named after the kings. “So for example, we have a name, compounded with the name of Menkaure, and it seems to translate 'the drunks or the drunkards of Menkaure.' There's one that's well attested, actually in the relieving chambers above the Great Pyramid, the Friends of Khufu gang, the Drunks of Menkaura gang, and then you have the green phyles and then the powerful ones. None of this sounds like slavery, does it?” (Lehner).

The building of these great structures couldn’t have been done without the laborers and the planners. And people fail to realize that anyone who is willing to think of all the schematics of something so big must have had some reason other than being forced by slavery. The minds behind the pyramids were more than willing. Not only would they have had to have been willing they would have been known by the king for him to entrust such a responsibility. During another NOVA interview Zhai Hawass was asked about who built the pyramids and how he knows. He responded “We found 600 skeletons. And we found that those people, number one, they were Egyptians, the same like you see in every cemetery in Egypt…” (Hawass). If out of an estimated 35,000 people that worked on the pyramids were Egyptians, why would the rest be slaves? The extreme amount of planning it took to create the pyramids doesn’t compare to all the smaller industries that were including in the successful creations. Throughout the building there were plenty of injuries that had to be taken care of quickly or the worker could have died. “Number two, we found evidence that those people had emergency treatment. They had accidents during building the pyramids. And we found 12 skeletons that had accidents with their hands. And they supported the two sides of the hand with wood. And we have another one, a stone fell down on his leg, and they made a kind of operation, and they cut his leg and he lived 14 years after that” (Hawass). If the workers were slaves why would there be “hospitals” to fix their injuries? If the builders were slaves wouldn’t they be disposable? Couldn’t the king have found other people to take a dead man’s place?

Opposing sides to this long argument claim that the Pharaoh’s had slaves who built the pyramids to pay off debts and because of their religious beliefs. This is not true because some of the laborers came from surrounding areas and were brought to the sights on boats. In the time of the pyramids if you lived outside of Egypt you only saw the small maybe 100 people who lived in the same villages as you. Imagine being on a boat and someone telling you what you’re going to work on and seeing this monstrosity that protrudes into the sky and is truly massive. Anyone who is a part of something clearly much bigger than themselves is nothing more than proud and willing to work for free if it meant that some part of them would be in this world forever.

To say that something so amazing mysterious as the Great Pyramids were built by slaves takes away from the beauty and meaning to the pyramids. To establish such a monument that can stand time and raise such controversy is truly amazing on its own. Not only were the builders, planners, bakers, farmers, doctors, nurses, and overseers doing something for themselves they were aiding in the burial of the king and making history for their country. Something so big couldn’t have been done by slaves. It couldn’t have been something selfish. Only real passion and hard work could complete this task. More than one skeletal excavation proves where the laborers were from and what they did in the building of the pyramids. Plenty of graffiti made by workers in places that only the man who layed that stone could have gotten to proves that the workers felt as though they were ‘friends of Khufu’. And sense nothing so huge could ever work without smart people that were also trusted by the king to plan the work; the Great Pyramids of Giza were not built by slaves.