Egypt displayed Monday newly discovered tombs more than 4,000 years old and said they belonged to people who worked on the Great Pyramids of Giza, presenting the discovery as more evidence that slaves did not build the ancient monuments.
CAIRO — Egypt displayed Monday newly discovered tombs more than 4,000 years old and said they belonged to people who worked on the Great Pyramids of Giza, presenting the discovery as more evidence that slaves did not build the ancient monuments.
The series of modest 9-foot-deep shafts held a dozen skeletons of pyramid builders, perfectly preserved by dry 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 in films.
Most Read Nation & World Stories
- Sports on TV & radio: Local listings for Seattle games and events
- 12-year-old dies in Russian Roulette; murder charges brought
- Grand Canyon park changes campground name that haunted tribe
- They were surrogates. Now they must raise the children
- ‘Gangnam Style’ brought K-pop to the world, but haunted its creator
Egypt’s archaeology chief Zahi Hawass said the workers were paid laborers, rather than the slaves of popular imagination.
One popular myth that Egyptologists say was perpetrated, in part, by Hollywood movies held that ancient Israelite slaves — ancestors of the Jewish people — built the pyramids.
Amihai Mazar, professor at the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, says that myth stemmed from an erroneous claim by former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, on a visit to Egypt in 1977, that Jews built the pyramids.
“No Jews built the pyramids because Jews didn’t exist at the period when the pyramids were built,” Mazar said.
Dorothy Resig, an editor of Biblical Archaeology Review in Washington, D.C., said the idea probably arose from the Old Testament Book of Exodus, which says: “So the Egyptians enslaved the children of Israel with backbreaking labor” and the Pharaoh put them to work to build buildings.
“If the Hebrews built anything, then it was the city of Ramses as mentioned in Exodus,” Mazar said.
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.
Hawass said the builders came from poor Egyptian families 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.