The six pyramids at Giza, with Menkaure’s the first of the big three.

Plagued by Floods Yet the Giza Pyramid Builders Refused to be Relocated

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The building of the pyramids at Giza was a huge project and it is not surprising to learn that a substantial administrative and accommodation center grew up close to the construction area. This town was once known as Heit el-Ghurab and is now known as the Lost City of the Pyramids. It was home to what is estimated to 10,000 construction workers assigned to the pyramid projects, as well as the managers, architects and accountants etc. who were necessary to the task. What is remarkable is that this center was built on a flood plain that suffered catastrophic inundation on a regular basis. According to a team of archaeologists from the University of Texas who studied the area recently, the area was hit by heavy floods 10 times in 45 years around the time of construction. So why insist on rebuilding in the same jeopardized place again and again?

Egypt. Village and pyramids during the flood-time. ca. 1890

Egypt. Village and pyramids during the flood-time. ca. 1890 ( Public Domain )

Pharaoh Menkaure was believed to have reigned Egypt between 2532 and 2503 BC while Heit el-Ghurab was a busy center for the pyramid builders including house, workshops, bakeries and all the amenities that were needed for a small society to be maintained. But analysis of the area showed it was prone to floods which practically wiped out the town every few years. Researchers were stumped as to why the ancient Egyptians continued to rebuild the city in the same flood prone area. "It doesn't make any sense" commented Karl Butzer of the University of Texas team.  People do build houses in flood areas, but not if the houses continue to be destroyed on a regular basis.

Greywacke statue of Menkaure, Egyptian Museum, Cairo.

Greywacke statue of Menkaure, Egyptian Museum, Cairo. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

During the 26 years before Menkaure’s reign, the area had been hit by flooding three times, so awareness of the problem would have been established. However, the situation worsened soon after the administration complex had been built. “A huge flood came barreling through,” says Butzer, and this brought with it rocks and mud which destroyed the town. But the inhabitants were undeterred. The Texas team found, ‘layer after layer of foundations and then rubble’, showing how the town had been damaged and rebuilt 4 or 5 times.

Eventually, Menkaure ordered the construction of what seems to be a 200-meter-long (656 feet) defensive barrier called the Wall of the Crow, thought to be an attempt to protect the area - but the flooding continued.

Why this particular location was seen as so vital to the proceedings is unknown. It is particularly perplexing considering the ancient Egyptians’ knowledge and understanding of the weather, said Stefan Kröpelin of the University of Cologne in Germany. "Generally, they were much more sensitive – they knew the weather was changing and they reacted." Even the foundation of the Egyptian kingdoms may have been driven by climate, Kröpelin said.

One possible suggestion was that the self-important Menkaure insisted on rebuilding in the same place as he was linked to the deities and so believed all would be well, provided he kept the gods pleased. This thinking doesn’t seem to have worked out very well for him though.

For now, the question of why remains unanswered. Perhaps further excavations and studies will reveal why the location of the city was so important that they were willing to risk their lives and homes to remain there.

Top image: The six pyramids at Giza, with Menkaure’s the first of the big three. ( Public Domain )

By April Holloway

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