10 of History’s Most Fascinating Archaeological Finds

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4. Burial Tombs Disprove That the Great Pyramids Were Built by Slaves

Until early in the 20th century, Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza, built around 2530 BC for the Pharaoh Khufu, was the world’s biggest building. Raising it had been a massive endeavor, that involved moving and piling up six and a half million tons of stone, in blocks weighing as much as nine tons. All of that was accomplished via manual labor, using little more than ropes and wood.

The Old Testament’s portrayal of the Ancient Israelites’ forced labor for Pharaoh popularized the notion that widespread slave labor was common in Ancient Egypt. Ancient Greek writers such as Herodotus and subsequent historians, fiction, as well as film in the modern era, further cemented the perception that the Pharaohs used slave labor for their great building projects. As a result, the notion that slaves built the Egyptian pyramids became entrenched in the popular imagination.

However, graffiti from inside the Great Pyramids, made by the workers who built the monuments, had long suggested otherwise. Still, the idea that the pyramids were built by slaves remained widespread until Egyptologists discovered the city of the Great Pyramids’ builders in 1977. Archaeological digs at the site further demonstrated that the builders were not slaves.

Then, in 2010, archaeologists unearthed the tombs of the Great Pyramids’ builders, and their contents finally and conclusively debunked the notion that the edifices had been built by slave labor. The modest tombs, which held the perfectly preserved skeletons of about a dozen pyramid workers, showed that their occupants were paid laborers, not slaves.

The builders hailed from poor families from all over Egypt, and were not only paid for their work, but were so respected for that work that those who died during construction were honored by burial near the tombs of the sacred Pharaohs. That proximity to the sacred sites, and the care taken in preparing their bodies for their journeys to the afterlife, disproves the notion that the builders were slaves. Slaves would simply never have been extended such honors.