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Archaeologists solved the mystery of how Egypt's great pyramids were built

The construction of the Egyptian pyramids remains one of history's most enduring mysteries
The construction of the Egyptian pyramids remains one of history's most enduring mysteries. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

The construction of the Egyptian pyramids continues to be one of history's most enduring mysteries. For centuries, both historians and the public have wondered: how did an ancient civilization, without modern technology, move massive stone slabs over great distances to build these architectural marvels?

However, recent discoveries by a group of archaeologists might provide some answers. Investigating the areas around the Great Pyramid of Giza, the team sought to validate a theory about how the ancient Egyptians could have accomplished this incredible task.


To grasp the magnitude of the challenge, consider this: The Great Pyramid is composed of over 2.3 million blocks of limestone and granite, each weighing a staggering two tons. "It's a task that even today would require significant resources and engineering expertise," says Dr. Laila Hassan, a leading archaeologist. So, how did the ancient Egyptians do it?

The pyramids at Giza have puzzled historians for centuries.
The pyramids at Giza have puzzled historians for centuries. (CREDIT: Edwin Remsberg/VWPics/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

One intriguing clue might come from the environment itself. The research team, through an in-depth analysis of the surrounding area, posits that the Egyptians cleverly utilized the waterways around them, specifically a tributary of the Nile, to transport the massive stones to the desert.


To validate this hypothesis, researchers first had to obtain and study ancient soil samples from the Giza floodplain. This necessitated digging an impressive 9 metres (30 feet) deep, where they unearthed five fossilized soil samples. These samples were promptly dispatched to a sophisticated laboratory in France for comprehensive analysis.

The goal? To look for signs of ancient pollen and vegetation native to the Nile, evidence that would confirm the presence of an erstwhile waterway. Their persistence was rewarded when the analysis pinpointed traces of the Khufu Branch, an ancient tributary believed to have dried up in 600 BC.


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A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences states that the former waterscape and higher river levels around 4,500 years ago facilitated the construction of the Giza Pyramid Complex.

Not only did this discovery confirm the existence of the tributary, but it also bolstered the theory that it was instrumental in transporting the stone slabs that would later become an integral part of the pyramid's construction.


Moreover, the meticulous research unearthed a biodiversity hotspot. The team identified an astounding 61 species of plants during their analysis, providing a richer picture of the ancient Egyptian landscape.

Location of the cores on the Giza floodplain.
Location of the cores on the Giza floodplain. The two cores used to reconstruct Holocene variations in Khufu-branch levels (cores G1 and G4) are located where the Khufu basin was connected to the Nile. The Giza Pyramid Complex currently lies >7 km from the present-day Nile branch. (CREDIT: PNAS)

Environmental geographer Hader Sheisha, who was part of the research group, articulated the significance of this find. "Without this tributary," Sheisha explained, "it would have been virtually impossible to build the pyramids. It acted as a natural conveyor belt, easing the logistical nightmare of moving such enormous stone blocks."


The spark that ignited this groundbreaking research was a fascinating piece of papyrus discovered in the Red Sea. This historical document detailed the account of an officer named 'Merer', who was tasked with transporting limestone up the Nile to a construction site in Giza.

Reconstructed Khufu-branch variations of the Nile during the last 8,000 y
Reconstructed Khufu-branch variations of the Nile during the last 8,000 y. Pollen-derived Khufu-branch levels (K-1, blue line) expressed as Loess smoothing scores (with 2.5 and 97.5 percentiles) compared with Nile Delta sedimentation rates (red line). (CREDIT: PNAS)

When Sheisha was introduced to the papyrus, it immediately caught her attention. “I was so interested because this confirms that the transport of the pyramid’s building materials were moved over water,” she said.


"Understanding more about the environment and infrastructure of that time can help decode the perplexing enigma of the pyramid’s construction,” she emphasized.

The revelation that the ancient Egyptians may have used a network of natural waterways to facilitate the movement of the pyramid's construction materials is a testament to their ingenuity.

It not only provides a plausible explanation for the construction of these wonders but also offers a captivating glimpse into the resourcefulness and adaptability of this ancient civilization.

As modern technology and techniques continue to intersect with ancient history, it's exciting to think about what other mysteries we might unravel next.


For now, though, we have a tantalizing glimpse into how the Egyptians might have accomplished one of the greatest architectural feats in human history.

For more science news stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.


Note: Materials provided above by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


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