Egypt Finds Tombs of Pyramid Builders, And More Evidence They Were Free Men

By Andrew Moseman | January 11, 2010 2:39 pm

PyramidsForget the myths about massive numbers of slaves or Jews building the great pyramids, Egypt‘s chief archaeologist argues this week. He says Egyptian researchers have found the tombs of more pyramid builders, and in those tombs more evidence that free men erected these monumental tributes to the ancient pharaohs.

Zahi Hawass this week unveiled new research on 4,000-year-old tombs found near the pyramids—tombs he says belonged to pyramid builders. 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 [Canadian Press]. These new ones stretch beyond those previously-discovered tombs, and contain a dozen skeletons.

What matters for the historical interpretation, Hawass stressed, is location, location, location. “These tombs were built beside the king’s pyramid, which indicates that these people were not by any means slaves,” said Mr Hawass. “If they were slaves, they would not have been able to build their tombs beside their king’s” [The Times]. In addition, Hawass says that the walls of the tombs (which the builders probably built for themselves) bear graffiti like “friends of Khufu (a pharaoh).”

For Egyptologists like Dieter Wildung, a former director of Berlin’s Egyptian Museum, this is more confirmation than surprise. “The myth of the slaves building pyramids is only the stuff of tabloids and Hollywood…. The world simply could not believe the pyramids were build without oppression and forced labour, but out of loyalty to the pharaohs” [Canadian Press], says Wildung. In particular, Egyptian officials like Hawass, who have national pride at stake, have long pushed against the idea slave-built pyramids, saying it undermines the skill involved in their construction, and the sophistication of ancient Egypt’s civilisation [BBC News].

Actually, the slave myth dates back much further than “tabloids and Hollywood,” to ancient texts. The Greek historian, Herodotus, visited Egypt several thousand years after Khufu’s pyramid was built, he wrote that Khufu forced his people to “labour as slaves for his own advantage” thus prompting the first accounts that the pyramids were built by slaves [The Times]. Legends have also held that Jews worked on the pyramids, and the first century A.D. Jewish historian Josephus includes a mention. But Jews did not arrive in Egypt until long after construction was completed.

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Image: Wikimedia Commons / Ricardo Liberato

  • Mike

    Really ? …since the estimates of the oldest Pyramids are between 5000 and 6000 years old…, and that “4000 year old tombs” would only cover the tail end of the pyramid building period…if at all…this makes a very large leap . And since it took tens of thousands of pyramid builders…. How many graves did they find???? Another “large leap”…. Let’s just say I wouldn’t count on this guy picking my sports ladder.

  • Twilightened

    I’m sorry but that sounds a little BS to me. I can understand the architects and the master builders not being slaves, but the vast number of people who gave their lives for these monuments, can’t be there doing “day jobs”.

  • Susan

    There is much more info supporting the non-slave theory than is contained in this short article. Do some research; you may be surprised that the data supports the theory rather completely.

  • Em

    Yea, I don’t think it would be plausible to have millions of people doing manual labour on building sites, getting paid low wages to work long hours and encouraged by the leadership of the nation to keep working for the good of everyone, and the glory of building something so colossal… Like, I don’t know, the people who built the empire state building, despite the danger, those who worked and died on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, or the builders who were worked to death building the Titanic. Not to mention the conditions of the building industry in countries with developing economies…

    Will people in the future look at the Burj Khalifa in the distant future and assume that slaves were needed to build it?

  • dookie

    Em you may be right for the wrong reasons. We live in a secular society. Comparing us to a country where leaders are seen as living dieties is a mistake. Japan in WWII had a diefied emporer, and plenty of people jumped off cliffs for him.

  • Keith Payne / Shemsu Sesen

    Susan nailed it. There is much more to the story than this article provides. In fact neither the article nor the press release from Dr. Zahi Hawass mention, much less credit, Mark Lehner. Dr. Lehner discovered the worker’s village back in 1999-2000, along with proof that there were royal offices within the workers’ village.

    Another name to google would be Richard Redding, who discovered plenty of actual evidence that the buildier ate literally like kings.

    For the pyramids, think less “Ten Commandments” and more Manhattan Project.

  • LuAnne

    Sounds to me like the tomb says it all they were “friends of Khufu (a pharaoh).” . I think more archealogical evidence is needed as always. Such as what artifacts or objects if any were found? If looted then “graffiti”, sayings could be a sort of mocking these few dozen individuals. Maybe these individuals where the most least likely to be friends with the pharaoh. I think slavery would be eliminated do to the fact that there is no evidence or record of a mass grave. Even we have a mass grave site in tribute.

  • http://na G-D




  • scribbler

    Someone should switch to decaf…

  • Richie

    Believe it or not in the Middle East, while white-collar builders would claim they’re handsomely paid, there are the construction workers who feel they labor and are compensated like slaves.

  • Whallie

    All you people have it wrong. The pryamids were build by aliens. Geez!

  • Keith Payne / Shemsu Sesen

    Built by aliens?

    Aliens can’t build pyramids worth a darn. They can’t even drive their saucers to Earth without crashing in the middle of the desert!

  • Twilightened

    So are we all slaves now ? Or just the construction workers ?

  • Brian Too

    Yeah, and not only were the aliens the pyramid builders, but they used anti-gravity beams too. Because, you know, there’s no way the ancient Egyptians could possibly understand how to build things*.

    * Everything I know about pyramids and ancient Egyptians, I learned from Chariots of the Gods and StarGate (movies, TV, it’s all there).

  • Theron

    Not my area, but my understanding of the more recent research was that the grunt work was probably done by corvee laborers after the harvest season. Not slaves – just folks paying their taxes, a story older than dirt. These graves would be, then, of the more skilled workers.

  • HA-HA

    [Moderator’s note: this comment has been deleted because it was racist and offensive.]

  • HA-HA

    [Moderator’s note: this post has been deleted because it was nonsensical and offensive.]

  • http://youtube loool

    bla bla bla it was built by aliens fools how can it really be facing the magnetic north pole without a compass think like that and could they really carry all that (2 tkae a big chunk of metal second stands waits and takes) thats retarded

  • http://PT Johnny Costello

    The graves in question are obviously the CONTRACTORS graves, dodo!

  • Traci

    give me a break … people are just looking for one more reason for sympathy and a payout for their supposed suffering … maybe just maybe this time no one suffered ? it was done of free will ??
    stop whining

  • Alyce

    Okay, well I gotta say, aliens didn’t create the pyramids, that is just a silly little thing people created. They may be out there but they didn’t come here. They are no where near us.
    I have to agree that people would’ve thrown away their lives for their leaders years and years ago, so I don’t believe it was slaves that made the pyramids. Hell everyone is a slave one way or another in some way of life. Even now, so if they were slaves, they had a choice to be loyal or not. You guys are crazy.

  • Yasir

    Well guys!! i will not say there are allians who built it, but whoever have done that was not to be done b’cuz according to our religion “Islam” buildings shouldnot be built in triangular shape having only 3 walls and no roof it can be build in any other shape rather than triangular….the reason is it creates negative thoughts in the people living inside and mostly a person living inside a triangular building gets overtaken by his own evil thoughts and starts doing bad deeds which leads to hell as he starts following “Shaytaan”. So thats not the question who built it the question is y it was built like that and where are those people who built it, nobody can get these answers accept “Quran”. in Quran its mention who built it and happen to those people and y…..

    Allah Hafiz

  • Fatima

    I’m with Susan and Keith. The idea that slaves built the pyramids has been popularized by Hollywood but is not as popular among real historians. This article contains only a fraction of the evidence that the slave-labor theory is false, as excavated villages and abundant grave goods support the author’s thesis as well. The available archaeological evidence overwhelmingly implies that pyramid builders were not only free men but well-paid men at that.

  • roshean

    i believe that these “slaves” wouldnt written on the walls praise Khufu if they didnt mean it. why would you want to be buried next to it if you didnt believe it. They wanted to do it cause they seem to have gone to such lengths. If they didnt they would havent done such a good job!!

    …..and aliens……
    i dont think so buddy

  • Chris Rambarran

    this makes me question everything about history. nothing is as i seems then. for all we know everything we know is a big fat lie since none are reliable.

  • hydrona

    Those graves were filled with men that died all at the same time?
    What did they die from?
    Were they placed there by the armies of an opposing force?
    Was this the only known type of occupation available to them?
    Were they so hungry or drugged that they feared not doing the work?
    Can a large group of people be intoxicated by entheogens to the point they envision deities telling them they must do these buildings or their entire family will suffer great pain and disfigurement?
    can any of these questions lead in the direction of truth?
    Isn’t truth a matter of opinion first and then followed by fact?
    Look beyond that what you see!
    just saying : )

  • http://yahoo jo ann

    Someone said earlier that the builders were not slaves, but people who did it for the well paid wages etc. Sorry to disagree with the pay theory…….. coinage was not in use yet. The workmen only got paid in foodstuff. Many times, workmen would stop work if they did not get their food.

  • Alberta Minerd

    Pitiful, Lew, but I argue with you at this point. When Making it very rely on folks for my best news given that ‘journalists’ happen to be too #$% lazy to check facts when exposure sensationalist bs, This wasn’t conclude that the blogosphere are the much lower about couple of evils. Also, if you ever acquired a shot located at me Document make sure you it earphones use of any motor function. Giant fan, even if.

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    My developer is trying to convince me to move to .net from PHP. I have always disliked the idea because of the costs. But he’s tryiong none the less. I’ve been using Movable-type on various websites for about a year and am worried about switching to another platform. I have heard excellent things about Is there a way I can transfer all my wordpress posts into it? Any kind of help would be greatly appreciated!

  • JAW

    So, in modern society we get “paid”, but it’s still slave labor. Where do you make the distinction?
    And it was probably far more inspiring to get out there and build a mountain for a “god on earth” then, than it is to go and make a bigger paycheck for your asshole boss now…

    Think about it.

  • S Goncho

    This is NOT Proof that they were the builders of the pyramids at all.
    Did it not dawn upon anyone that they may just have been those who were the upkeepers or restores or those who remotved the outer casing.

    Where is the proof of the planning and logistical operation let alone the plans for the largest building project the world had ever known.

    As for Khufu were again is the proof it was his tomb. (Graffit on one stone out of 2.2 million) Which pharoah would start a project that would never be finished in his lifetime???

    We are fed a lot of supposition and told that it is scientific proof.



  • Alan VanderKnight

    Quran has NO answers to it, please move along with your fiction.

  • Alan VanderKnight

    *Yawn* you do realise that China already had the magnetic compass lol. In fact China was more advanced at that stage than Egypt was but at that time China was still closed off to outsiders because the fear of attackers.


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