Archaeologists at ‘the Lost City of the Pyramid Builders’, which housed workers constructing the last of the 3 pyramids at Giza, have unearthed remains of the huge catering operation which kept them fed.
As well as discovering a cemetery containing the bodies of pyramid builders, the researchers found the remains of a cattle corral, slaughter areas, and thousands of animal bones. The archaeologists estimate that more than 4,000 pounds of meat – from cattle, sheep and goats – were slaughtered every day to feed the workers. It is believed that availability of a meat-rich diet and medical care (the skeletons of some workers show broken bones that had healed), would have been an incentive for ancient Egyptians to work on the pyramids.
Dr Richard Redding of the Ancient Egypt Research Associates (AERA) group, which has spent the last 25 years investigating the workers’ town site, said: “People were taken care of, and they were well fed when they were down there working, so there would have been an attractiveness to that. They probably got a much better diet than they got in their village”.
The AERA team estimates that the workers’ town, which was located around 400 meters south of the Sphinx, was occupied for 35 years and housed up to 10,000 seasonal labourers who helped build the pyramid for the pharaoh Menkaure. A smaller, skilled work force was present year-round to do survey work and stone-cutting. The work force surged in numbers for a few months from around July each year.
Dr Redding said that, moving blocks of stone all day, the workers would need a daily intake of at least 45 to 50 grams of protein. While half of this would likely have come from sources such fish, beans and lentils, the other half would have come from sheep, goat and cattle, in addition to other supplies such as grain and ale. Combining these requirements with the ratio of bones found, Dr Redding reckoned about 11 cattle and 37 sheep or goats were consumed each day. To maintain a regular supply to the Giza workers would therefore have needed a herd of 21,900 cattle and 54,750 sheep and goats, requiring 155 square miles of grazing land and 3,650 herders to tend them.
These herds would have been spread out across the villages of the Nile Delta, then brought to Giza to be slaughtered and cooked at a recently unearthed structure that the researchers have called the ‘OK Corral’ (‘OK’ meaning ‘Old Kingdom‘).
The research revealed that the meat wasn’t distributed evenly. The overseers – who lived in the ‘north street gatehouse’ – got most of the beef, while the labourers – who lived in the ‘galleries’ – mainly got mutton and goat meat.
The researchers found that the residents of a settlement close to the workers’ town, dubbed ‘eastern town’, mainly ate pigs and that they traded with the workers for hippo-tusk fragments. Dr Redding explained that the ‘eastern town’ residents “were not provisioned; they were not given their meat and food every day. It’s more of a typical urban farming settlement, and there was a symbiotic relationship between the two, probably.”
The researchers have also found evidence which suggests that not all the seasonal workers could be accommodated at workers’ town and some may have lived in temporary camps by the pyramids. Dr Redding said: “They probably didn’t need much in the way of housing; they would need more shade than anything else. They wouldn’t need any kind of warmth because it wouldn’t be winter.”