Were the Egyptian pyramids built by slaves? © Getty Images

Were the Egyptian pyramids built by slaves?

Asked by: Laura Price, Cardiff

Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t slaves who built the pyramids. We know this because archaeologists have located the remains of a purpose-built village for the thousands of workers who built the famous Giza pyramids, nearly 4,500 years ago.

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I had the good fortune to work on the site in 2005-2006, and it was incredible to watch as the finds came in. There were ancient name stamps and seals – bureaucratic evidence of how the officials kept track of the huge operation to feed and house the workers. Animal bones found at the village show that the workers were getting the best cuts of meat. More than anything, there were bread jars, hundreds and thousands of them – enough to feed all the workers, who slept in long, purpose-built dormitories. Slaves would never have been treated this well, so we think that these labourers were recruited from farms, perhaps from a region much further down the Nile, near Luxor.

The labourers would have been enticed by the mix of high-quality food and the opportunity to work on such a prestigious project. Today, many of the highly experienced archaeological workmen at the pyramids come from the same region, though they are paid in hard currency, rather than prime beef and accolades.

Building the pyramids was not an easy job. The skeletons of some of the workmen show that their muscles were under a large amount of strain. But they may not have resented their jobs too much – in graffiti left near the pharaoh Khufu’s burial chamber in the Great Pyramid of Giza, they painted the name of their work crew: ‘The Friends of Khufu Gang’.

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