Missing arm of the Nile helped ancient Egyptians transport materials from the pyramids

When the ancient Egyptians built the pyramids at Giza some 4,500 years ago, the Nile River had a branch — which has long since disappeared — with high water levels that helped workers send materials to the construction site, according to a new study. .

The discovery builds on previous archaeological and historical discoveries that the Nile had an extra branch flowing through the pyramids.

But now, analyzing ancient pollen samples taken from earth cores, it’s clear that “ancient waterscapes and higher river levels” gave the builders of the Pyramid of Giza an advantage, wrote a team of researchers in a paper published in August 29 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

The research sheds light on how the pyramids – royal tombs for pharaohs Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure – reached monumental heights. Its imposing stature was achieved, in large part, thanks to the now extinct Khufu branch of the Nile, which “remained at a high level during the reigns of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure, facilitating the transport of building materials for the Giza Pyramid Complex” , wrote the team in their article.

Researchers have known for decades that the ancient Khufu Branch extended all the way to the Giza Plateau in ancient times, but the new project aims to find out exactly how water levels have changed over the past 8,000 years.

To reconstruct the Nile’s past, in May 2019, the team drilled five cores in the Giza floodplain. The researchers measured the amount of pollen found in different parts of the nuclei to determine how pollen levels changed over time.

Periods of time when water was plentiful should have more pollen than arid periods, the study authors wrote.

Pollen analysis revealed that at the time the ancient Egyptians built the Giza pyramids, water was plentiful enough for the Khufu branch to flow near the Giza pyramids. “It was a natural canal at the time of the fourth dynasty [when the pyramids were built],” study lead author Hader Sheisha, a physical geographer at the University of Aix-Marseille in France, told Live Science via email.

Sheisha noted that the water level was important for the construction of the pyramid.

“It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to build the pyramids without the Khufu branch and without it being of a good level, providing enough space to accommodate the boats that transport such heavy stone blocks,” she said. When exactly the branch became extinct is not certain, but research shows that 2,400 years ago the water level in the branch was very low.

The finds fit well with previous archaeological finds, which revealed a harbor near the pyramids, as well as ancient papyrus records that detailed workers bringing limestone to Giza via boat, the team noted in their paper.

Live Science reached out to several experts not involved with the research to get their thoughts. Most could not comment at this time, but one that did, Judith Bunbury, a geoarchaeologist at the University of Cambridge in the UK, praised the research.

“The paper is an exciting contribution to our understanding of the dialogue between humans and their environment in Egypt within the context of climate change,” Bunbury told Live Science via email.

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