Monday, April 26, 2010

The Cemetery of the Pyramid Builders (Zahi Hawass)

With photographs

Many people have claimed that the pyramids were built by slaves, or even by aliens. In the past, it was difficult to convince the public that it was actually ordinary Egyptians who constructed these great monuments. With the discovery of the Cemetery of the Pyramid Builders, however, I was finally able to reveal the truth to people around the world.

In my 1987 doctoral dissertation for the University of Pennsylvania, I predicted that we should look for the tombs of the workmen who built the pyramids in the area to the south of an ancient stone wall known as the Wall of the Crow (Heit El-Ghurob). This wall lies to the south of the Great Sphinx, and I theorized that it had been built to separate the area where the workmen lived and were buried from the royal necropolis that they had labored to construct. Earlier excavations south of the wall had found traces of the activities of workmen. Egyptian archeaologist Selim Hassan found architectural remains, along with a few potsherds and 4th Dynasty seal impressions, in the 1930's when he was helping the local villagers to find an alternative site for their cemetery. In the late 1980's my friend Mark Lehner and I excavated to the southeast of the wall. We found the remains of what we thought might be granaries, although we did not see any sign of tombs. We left the area without exploring further to concentrate on other things. Although we were beginning to see signs of the daily lives of the pyramid builders, the location of their tombs was still a mystery.

In April of 1990, I was sitting in my office at Giza when a guard came to tell me that an American tourist had been thrown from her horse when the animal stumbled over the remains of a mud-brick wall. The guard took me and my assistant Mansour Boraik to the site - south of the Wall of the Crow, in an undeveloped area of desert only about thirty feet from where Mark and I had been digging a few years earlier.

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