Long Gone Landscape May Finally Unlock the Mystery of the Pyramids

Using fossilized pollen, scientists think they have unearthed the final piece of the puzzle of how the ancient Egyptian pyramids were actually built.

Builders of the pyramids of Giza may have taken advantage of annual floods

Clare Watson writing for sciencealert.com, recently reported that ‘It is possible that the pyramids’ mysteries can be explained by an invisible landscape that we can no longer see.’ 

A study led by Hader Sheisha and published by PNAS concludes that the ancient Egyptians who built the pyramids of Giza took advantage of the Nile River and its annual floods. They did this by using a system of canals and basins that formed a port complex at the foot of the Giza plateau. This allowed them to transport materials to the plateau and build the pyramids.

Reaching conclusions about past landscapes with a lack of evidence

The study was particularly challenging as there is a lack of evidence regarding the ancient landscapes and how they evolved. This makes it difficult to determine when and where these landscapes existed and how they may have changed over time.

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Archeologists have been scratching their heads for years, trying to figure out how the ancient Egyptians built the pyramids. Some have speculated that they may have used canals and harbors, dredging them from the Nile River. This would have allowed them to take advantage of the river’s annual floods, using the water as a hydraulic lift to move building materials.

Archeologists believe that a port complex that provided services to the pyramids of Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure once existed more than 4.3 miles (or 7 kilometers) west of the Nile River. It is thought that this port had inlets deep enough to allow barges carrying stones to remain afloat. The discovery of stratigraphic evidence of rock layers consistent with an ancient branch of the Nile extending towards the base of the pyramids was made public after core drillings were carried out during urban engineering works around modern-day Giza.

Fossilized pollen grains may hold the key to ancient mysteries

How did the Egyptians build a way for water to reach the Giza Pyramids? No one is sure, but scientists have looked at fossilized pollen grains to get a better idea of how the river system worked thousands of years ago. Pollen grains can be found in old sediments and have been used in other studies to figure out what the climate and plant life was like in the past, which were very different from what it is now.

Misc pollen
Pollen by Dartmouth College Electron Microscope Facility

The pollen grains were extracted from five cores drilled on the present-day Giza floodplain to the east of the pyramid complex. The team was able to identify a large number of grass-like flowering plants that grow along the banks of the Nile River, as well as marsh plants that thrive in environments adjacent to lakes. They claim that this proves the existence of a permanent waterbody that once flowed through the Giza floodplain at a time when it was significantly larger than it is today.

The researchers then looked at how the Nile River’s water level in the Khufu branch changed over 8,000 years of Egyptian history. They compared this to other historical records. According to what the researchers have written, their findings show that “during the reigns of Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure, the Khufu branch was maintained at a high water level.” This would have made transporting building materials to the Giza pyramid complex easier.

After King Tutankhamun, who ruled from 1349 to 1338 BCE, the Khufu branch of the Nile started to go down slowly. This continued until the end of the dynastic period when it was recorded to be at its lowest level in the last 8,000 years. This was the lowest level that has been documented. This decline coincides with the discovery of chemical markers in the teeth and bones of Egyptian mummies. These markers and other historical records point to a dry environment at the time.


The theory of the study makes sense when you put the pieces together

This study is kind of like a puzzle. When all the pieces fit together, it provides evidence that ancient Egyptians might have carved out river channels when building the Dahshur pyramids. But sometimes, there are lots of pieces that don’t fit together, so we shouldn’t be too sure about the results of this study.

Bent Pyramid 曲折金字塔 panoramio
Bent Pyramid in Dashur by lienyuan lee under CC BY 3.0

Egyptians carved out river channels to build the pyramids

Archaeologists looked for missing fractals to determine that ancient Egyptians might have carved out river channels when building the Dahshur pyramids. According to Arne Ramisch, a geologist from the University of Innsbruck, the ancient Egyptians carved out river channels when building the Dahshur pyramids.

The people who did this study think similar methods could be used to recreate the ancient waterscapes that surrounded other Egyptian pyramid complexes, like the Dahshur necropolis, while they were being built.


Pollen helps solve an ancient mystery

So, basically, some researchers found some pollen and used it to figure out that there was once a river near the Giza pyramids. And this river was really helpful to the people who built the pyramids because it made it easier for them to transport building materials.

This just goes to show that you can find anything if you look hard enough, even if it’s just a bunch of pollen. Who would have thought that pollen could be so helpful? Maybe someday something equally unlikely will unlock one of the greatest archaeological mysteries, how exactly Stonehenge was built.

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