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Pyramids

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Slaves Didn’t Build Pyramids

The tombs of ancient Egyptian pyramid builders suggest these artisans were respected — and paid — for their work.

Egypt displayed on Monday newly discovered tombs more than 4,000 years old and said they belonged to people who worked on the Great Pyramids of Giza, putting the discovery forth as more evidence that slaves did not build the ancient monuments.

The series of modest nine-foot-deep shafts held a dozen skeletons of pyramid builders, perfectly preserved by dry desert sand along with jars that once contained beer and bread meant for the workers’ afterlife.

The mud-brick tombs were uncovered last week in the backyard of the Giza pyramids, stretching beyond a burial site first discovered in the 1990s and dating to the 4th Dynasty (2575 B.C. to 2467 B.C.), when the great pyramids were built on the fringes of present-day Cairo.

The ancient Greek historian Herodotus once described the pyramid builders as slaves, creating what Egyptologists say is a myth later propagated by Hollywood films.

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. Egypt’s archaeology chief Zahi Hawass said that discovery and the latest finds last week show that the workers were paid laborers, rather than the slaves of popular imagination.

Hawass told reporters at the site that the find, first announced on Sunday, sheds more light on the lifestyle and origins of the pyramid builders. Most importantly, he said the workers were not recruited from slaves commonly found across Egypt during pharaonic times.

Hawass said the builders came from poor Egyptian families from the north and the south, and were respected for their work — so much so that those who died during construction were bestowed the honor of being buried in the tombs near the sacred pyramids of their pharaohs.

Their proximity to the pyramids and the manner of burial in preparation for the afterlife backs this theory, Hawass said.

“No way would they have been buried so honorably if they were slaves,” he said.

The tombs contained no gold or valuables, which safeguarded them from tomb-raiders throughout antiquity. The skeletons were found buried in a fetal position — the head pointing to the West and the feet to the East according to ancient Egyptian beliefs, surrounded by the jars once filled with supplies for afterlife.

The men who built the last remaining wonder of the ancient world ate meat regularly and worked in three months shifts, said Hawass. It took 10,000 workers more than 30 years to build a single pyramid, Hawass said — a tenth of the work force of 100,000 that Herodotus wrote of after visiting Egypt around 450 B.C.

Hawass said evidence from the site indicates that the approximately 10,000 laborers working on the pyramids ate 21 cattle and 23 sheep sent to them daily from farms.

Though they were not slaves, the pyramid builders led a life of hard labor, said Adel Okasha, supervisor of the excavation. Their skeletons have signs of arthritis, and their lower vertebrae point to a life passed in difficulty, he said.

“Their bones tell us the story of how hard they worked,” Okasha said.

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Egyptian Pyramids Found With NASA Satellite

Egyptian Pyramids Found With NASA Satellite | As many as 17 pyramids, more than 1,000 tombs and 3,000 settlements were uncovered using infrared technology.

THE GIST

NASA satellite technology has revealed previously unknown sites from the ancient Egyptian world.

The satellites used powerful cameras that can pinpoint objects less than three feet long on Earth’s surface.

The technology was helped by the density of houses and other buildings, made of mud brick so that they showed up somewhat clearly.

Archaeologists have uncovered as many as 17 buried pyramids in Egypt with the help of NASA satellite imagery, according to a documentary to be aired by the BBC on Monday.

Led by researcher Sarah Parcak at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the team has already confirmed two of the suspected pyramids through excavation work.

NEWS: Pyramid-Exploring Robot Reveals Hidden Hieroglyphs

The BBC, which funded the research, released the findings this week ahead of a broadcast describing the technique and what was uncovered.

“I couldn’t believe we could locate so many sites all over Egypt,” Parcak was quoted as telling the BBC. “To excavate a pyramid is the dream of every archaeologist.”

The team also found more than 1,000 tombs and 3,000 ancient settlements, according to the report.

Infrared images, which were taken by satellites orbiting 700 kilometers (435 miles) above the Earth, revealed the below-ground structures.

NEWS: Great Pyramid May Hold Two Hidden Chambers

The satellites used powerful cameras that can “pinpoint objects less than one meter (three feet) in diameter on the Earth’s surface,” the report said.

The technology was helped by the density of houses and other buildings, made of mud brick so that they showed up somewhat clearly against the looser soil cover.

The documentary, “Egypt’s Lost Cities,” airs Monday on BBC One and will also be shown on the Discovery Channel in the United States.

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The Great Pyramid’s Secret Doors

Big Question for 2012: The Great Pyramid’s Secret Doors. Will the mystery over the Great Pyramid’s secret doors be solved in 2012?

I dare say yes. After almost two decades of failed attempts, chances are now strong that researchers will reveal next year what lies behind the secret doors at the heart of Egypt’s most magnificent pyramid.

New revelations on the enduring mystery were already expected this year, following a robot exploration of the 4,500-year-old pharaonic mausoleum.

But unrest in Egypt froze the project at its most promising stage after it produced the first ever images behind one of the Great Pyramid’s mysterious doors.

Now the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), once led by the controversial yet charismatic Zahi Hawass, is slowly returning to granting permits for excavations and archaeological research.

Zahi Hawass, the famous Egyptian archaeologist

WIDE ANGLE: BIG QUESTIONS FOR 2012

“As with other missions, we have had to resubmit our application to be allowed to continue. We are currently waiting for the various committees to formalize the approval,” project mission manager Shaun Whitehead, of the exploration company Scoutek UK, told Discovery News.

“Once we”re allowed to continue, I have no doubt that we can complete our work in 2012,” he added.

Built for the pharaoh Cheops, also known as Khufu, the Great Pyramid is the last remaining wonder of the ancient world.

The monument is the largest of a family of three pyramids on the Giza plateau, on the outskirts of Cairo, and has long been rumored to have hidden passageways leading to secret chambers.

Archaeologists have long puzzled over the purpose of four narrow shafts deep inside the pyramid since they were first discovered in 1872.

Two shafts, extend from the upper, or “Kings Chamber” exit into open air. But the lower two, one on the south side and one on the north side in the so-called “Queen’s Chamber” disappear within the structures, deepening the pyramid mystery.

Widely believed to be ritual passageways for the dead pharaoh’s soul to reach the afterlife, these 8-inch-square shafts remained unexplored until 1993, when German engineer Rudolf Gantenbrink sent a robot through the southern shaft.

After a steady climb of 213 feet from the heart of the pyramid, the robot came to a stop in front of a mysterious limestone slab adorned with two copper pins.

NEWS: Giza Pyramids Align Toward City of Sun God

Nine years later, the southern shaft was explored on live television. As the world held its breath, a tomb-raiding robot pushed a camera through a hole drilled in the copper pinned door — only to reveal what appeared to be another door.

The following day, the robot was sent through the northern shaft. After crawling for 213 feet and navigating several sharp bends, the robot came to an abrupt halt in front of another limestone slab.

As with the Gantenbrink door, the stone was adorned with two copper pins.

BLOG: The Great Pyramids’ Amazing Non-Mysteries

The current Djedi project, a joint international-Egyptian mission named after the magician whom Khufu consulted when planning the layout of his pyramid, has gone further than anyone has ever been before in the pyramid.

The project began with an exploration of the southern shaft, which ends at the so-called “Gantenbrink’s door.”

A robot, designed by Rob Richardson at the University of Leeds, was able to climb inside the walls of the shaft while carrying a “micro snake” camera that can see around corners.

Unlike previous expeditions, in which camera images were only taken looking straight ahead, the bendy camera was small enough to fit through a small hole in a stone door at the end of the tunnel.

This gave researchers a clear view into the chamber beyond — one that had not been seen by human eyes since the construction of the pyramid. Images of 4,500-year-old hieroglyphs written in red paint began to appear.

According to some scholars, the markings are hieratic numerical signs that record the length of the shaft. The theory has not been confirmed by the researchers.

“Our strategy is to keep an open mind and only draw conclusions when we have completed our work,” Whitehead said.

The Djedi team was also able to scrutinize the two puzzling copper pins embedded in the door to the chamber.

NEWS: Pyramid Hieroglyphs Likely Engineering Numbers

Images showed that the back of the pins curves on themselves, possibly suggesting an ornamental purpose.

Equipped with a unique range of tools which also included a miniature “beetle” robot that can fit through a 0.74-inch diameter hole, a coring drill, and a miniaturized ultrasonic device that can tap on walls and listen to the response to help determine the thickness of the stone, the Djedi team was ready to continue the pyramid’s exploration last August. But the political turn of events in Egypt halted the project.

Whitehead is confident that the robot will reveal much more once the team is allowed to resume their research.

“The plan is the same as it always was. We will completely survey the shafts leading from the Queens Chamber and look beyond the first and second blocking stones in at least one shaft,” Whitehead said.

“Even if we do not look further beyond the blocking stones, accurately mapping the shafts will be a fantastic result and will provide significant clues to determine the purpose of these unique archaeological features,” he concluded.

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Pyramid of Khafre

Pyramid of Khafre – Giza, Lower Egypt. Khafre (Chephren) sited his pyramid at Giza, a short distance to the south-west of the monument of his father Khufu. Khafre’s brother Djedefre had succeeded their father on the throne but only reigned for around eight years and had chosen to site his own pyramid at Abu Roash to the north. Returning to Giza, Khafre’s monuments have survived better than most and his pyramid makes an impressive backdrop to the Great Sphinx which lies next to his causeway and was probably part of the pyramid complex.

Appearing to be bigger than Khufu’s pyramid because of the rising ground on which it was built and its steeper angle of slope, Khafre’s pyramid actually had a base measurement of 215m and a height of 143.5m, making it slightly smaller than his father’s. It is the only pyramid to be preserved almost to its full height by the casing stones remaining at its apex. Belzoni, in 1816, was the first to enter the pyramid in modern times. He discovered the upper entrance and underground chambers and is commemorated in an inscription by the English Colonel Fitzclarence on the upper entrance. In 1860 Auguste Mariette found seven statues of Khafre while excavating the valley temple, including a wonderfully preserved diorite statue of the king protected by a Horus falcon, one of the great masterpieces of Egyptian sculpture now in the Cairo Museum. More recent investigations of Khafre’s pyramid complex, using modern archaeological techniques, have been undertaken by the Giza Plateau Mapping Project under the directorships of Mark Lehner and Zahi Hawass.

The core of the pyramid, which was built on a levelled terrace, was of rough irregular limestone blocks, left behind when the casing blocks of Tura limestone were stripped off in antiquity, although a band of more regular-shaped stone can be seen just below the remaining casing. A lower course of the pyramid’s outer skin is composed of red granite which are well preserved on the southern side.

There are two entrances on the northern side of the pyramid. The first or ‘upper entrance’, found at a height of 11.5m, leads to a descending corridor which straightens out to join an ascending passage from the ‘lower entrance’. It is the lower entrance, at ground level which is used today to access the structure. This leads to a lower corridor which has an unfinished chamber cut into its western side and it is suggested that the lower gallery was begun on the assumption that the pyramid was to be built further north, or was intended to be larger, as the two entrances show. This may have been a serdab chamber however, similar the the ‘Queens Chamber’ in Khufu’s pyramid. The lower passage then ascends to meet the entrance corridor from above, and continues horizontally to the burial chamber.

Khafre’s burial chamber lies on the vertical axis of the pyramid and is simply constructed in a pit in the bedrock. The roof of the chamber is composed of pented limestone blocks, similar to those used in Khufu’s pyramid to relieve the weight of stone. The words ‘Discovered by G Belzoni – March 2 1816′ (in Italian) appear on the south wall of the burial chamber, although he had already discovered writing on the west wall showing that the pyramid had been entered previously, probably around the 12th century AD. The burial chamber was found to contain Khafre’s red granite sarcophagus, sunk slightly into the floor, it’s cover broken and a nearby pit which would have contained the canopic chest.

A satellite pyramid (G2-a) belonging to Khafre’s complex is now almost gone, with only the foundations remaining on the southern side of the king’s pyramid. It is currently believed to have been a cult pyramid and not to contain a burial.

The huge mortuary temple of Khafre’s complex is separated from the east face of the pyramid by a limestone pavement, which runs around all four sides of the pyramid. The temple was excavated in 1910 by Holscher and von Sieglin and shown to have consisted of an entrance hall, courtyard, five statue chapels, store-rooms and an offering hall. Sadly the structure was quarried for its stone in ancient times, but the surviving foundations show its innovative construction method, using massive core blocks of limestone cased with finer quality stone and lined on the inside with red granite. In the massive open courtyard there were recesses for huge statues of the king. Five boat pits were discovered to the north and south of the mortuary temple, but all of them had been plundered.

The ruined causeway leads from the mortuary temple, 494m south to Khafre’s valley temple, which is in a better state of preservation – the only well preserved valley temple found to date. This too was constructed from huge limestone monoliths, faced with granite and was discovered by Mariette in 1852 who wrongly described it as the Temple of the Sphinx. Huge rectangular blocks of Aswan granite form pillars and lintels, giving the structure a very distinctive style, reminiscent of the Osirion at Abydos. Originally there were 24 diorite statues of the king seated on his throne around the walls, of which only one survives to be seen in Cairo Egyptian Museum. Although it’s function is not yet clear, it is thought that the valley temple may have been used for the embalming rites before the king’s funeral and in 1995, traces of a ‘purification tent’ were found near the temple, along with two ramps and underground tunnels.

To the north of Khafre’s valley temple lies the Great Sphinx, inside its own enclosure. It is currently thought to have been modelled during Khafre’s reign, and would have been the first colossal statue in ancient Egypt.

Entrance

The three main pyramids are open on an annual rotation with one of them usually being closed for restoration each year. Tickets for Khafre’s Pyramid cost EGP 30 and are on sale at 8.00am and 1.00pm. The numbers may be limited.