If the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, what were the first steps Hemienu took when starting the construction of the Great Pyramid? Six letters from Hemienu is a work of epistolary historical fiction, with a very heavy emphasis on historical, which explores the sort of details that would have required his attention immediately after choosing a building site for Khufu’s Pyramid.
The purpose of these imaginary missives from the desk of the Overseer of All the King’s Works is to give the reader an idea of the amount of planning, materials, and manpower involved not only in building the Great Pyramid, but in preparation for the work itself. There were mines and quarries to be opened, a fully functional workers’ city to be constructed, and an entire nation to be mobilized.
In many ways this is a re-introduction to the Hemienu to Houdin series, but it is also intended to be a stand-alone monologic narrative (fancy-speak for letters from just one person that tell a story) of how Hemienu initiated the project that would occupy all of Egypt for more than two decades. Methods and materials, labor and logistics, tools and tasks, they are all here for your evaluation, along with a short annotated bibliography at the end.
Note: The names used, with the exception of the Grand Vizier himself, are invented but not without some forethought (the Overseer of the Expedition to the Sinai to open the copper mines, for instance, is named Biah-Ahky, which translates to copper miner), and the titles and positions they hold do have their historical counterparts.
Letter 1: The Selection of the Building Site
From the Greatest of the Five of the House of Thoth, Chief Justice, Grand Vizier and Overseer of All the King’s Works, Hemienu, Holder of the King’s Seal, to the overseers, administrators, and nomarchs of the Two Lands: Life, Prosperity, Health!
All of Upper and Lower Egypt Rejoice! A place has been chosen for the pyramid complex of our pharaoh, Khufu, May He Live! May He Prosper! May He Be Healthy! The pyramid where our king shall rest in body will be called Akhet Khufu—Khufu on the Horizon.
Many of you have travelled with me the length of the Nile and have surveyed numerous sites, providing good counsel. Many days and nights have we held court on the land and on my barge, and many passionate cases have been tendered. Your service to our king will be remembered by all people, for all time.
I have good reasons for this choice. First, there is a vast quantity of good yellow limestone there from which to build the inner structures of the pyramid and temples. Second, there is a gentle slope which begins in the low area, suitable for a quay, and which connects the best location for the main quarry to the top of the plateau. A donkey released at the summit will follow this same natural ramp down to an easy path to the Nile. Donkeys have uncanny judgment in these matters and we should heed his guidance.
Of equal consideration are the plateau’s qualities of expanse and orientation. It is an elevated plane with room enough for at least three, possibly more, large pyramids and numerous precincts for cemeteries. Its elevation and orientation will make these monuments visible from Saqqara and Dashur and provide a desirable view when approached from the capital at Memphis. In particular, I have decided upon the site that we identified as the lesser quarry, on the northeast extreme of the plateau. This location is not the highest, but I have good reasons for this choice as well.
By constructing the first pyramid at the northeast corner, the natural ramp formed by the slope is left open to allow future building projects on the plateau. Building on the highest point first would block access to the northeast corner. To make the best use of the space, the plateau should be developed in the northeast first, with successive pharaohs building their pyramids along a southwest trajectory. This will assure that the natural ramp remains open to future construction on the summit.
Building the pyramid within the lesser quarry is advantageous in other ways as well, not the least of which is 147 setat of limestone that needn’t be transported once cut. Another advantage is the lay of the land, which slopes upward to the west. When the outline of the pyramid is leveled, the elevated section inside the perimeter will be left intact. By shaping this hill to fit within the construction, one tenth of the pyramid’s core will already be complete.
The main quarry at the bottom of the slope holds another 176 setat of good limestone, which together with the northeast quarry will provide more than enough blocks to construct the greatest pyramid complex ever built.
All of Upper and Lower Egypt: Unite for our pharaoh, Son of Re, Khufu, May He Live! May He Prosper! May He Be Healthy!
Letter 2: Expedition to Open the Sinai Copper Mines
To Iahbty-Semyt, Administrator of the Eastern Desert, and to Biah-Ahky, Overseer of the Expedition to Sinai, Peace upon your goings!
There can be no doubt, Khufu on the Horizon is the greatest project ever undertaken by the people of Egypt, but this great work will require more resources than we have on hand. There is enough copper for chisels and other tools to begin operations, but as work progresses we will have need of much more than we have now. By way of investment, I have apportioned such supplies as you will require to lead a mining expedition to the Sinai.
Copper picks, saws, and drilling tubes have been made available, along with the powdered quartzite needed to make the drills and saws cut. I call this an investment because these resources are in need all throughout Egypt as the great work begins. In return, the pharaoh will need 840,000 deben of processed copper over the course of your operations. Your work will be hard, but your afterlife will hold every luxury.
To avoid the transport of unnecessary waste materials, all smelting will take place at the mines. You will be provided with mud brick to build the kilns and granite pounders for crushing the ore. Moulds will be provided for pouring the copper into 50 deben ingots. A supply train will make regular deliveries of wood for the kilns and will return with your finished ingots.
The number of donkeys and carts, baskets, and other equipment required has been left to your expert discretion, you need only inform the Overseer of Provisions of your needs. A company of soldiers will be attached to your expedition to protect you in your journey, and will remain with you throughout operations to defend against the wild people of the desert.
For this expedition you will select fifty of your best miners, no slaves or prisoners. Your route will take you across the Eastern Desert to the Red Sea, where ships will bear you to the Sinai. From there you will continue on donkey to the Plains of Markha and the mines at Wadi Maghara, where the greenest veins of ore—the easiest to smelt—are to be found.
If in the course of your work turquoise is discovered and may be extracted with ease, please do so, but not at the expense of mining the ore.
In addition to reopening the copper mines at Wadi Maghara, you are to assemble missions to Sewew and the Faiyum to cull the dolerite which is abundant in those lands, and which is vital to the operation of the granite quarry at Aswan.
It is imperative that your expeditions depart as soon as your equipment, supplies, and provisions may be gathered. The quarries at Rostau and Tura require more copper as soon as you can deliver it, and the work at Aswan must not be delayed if the granite is to be delivered on schedule.
May Isis watch over you.
Letter 3: Recruitment of the Unskilled and Semi-Skilled Labor Force
To Ahwet-Tepey, Administrator of the Corvée, Life and Peace!
An important task is given you, for you are my eyes and voice throughout the Two Lands. You are to send recruiters to every nome, from Theb-Ka in the Delta to Ta-Seti at Aswan. These recruiters will identify those men whose privilege will be to pay their bak debt working to raise Khufu on the Horizon from the Plateau of Rostau. All the strongest men of the realm are summoned to pit their endurance and athleticism against one another for the glory of the king and the honor of their towns and families!
These recruiters will arrange the schedule of rotation and provide the men with their work assignments. Men will be needed for the quarries at Aswan and Tura, as well as the main quarry at Rostau and the lesser quarry where the pyramid will be raised. Men will also be needed to provide supporting services to the great work, both at home and in the quarries.
There will be jobs for hearty men of few skills who will work under direct supervision. For these jobs select men who are stout of body and spirited in nature. These men they will be working in teams with others from their families and villages, competing in their labor with men from all over Egypt for glory and honor. Tell these men they will travel, gain experience and character, and will come to be all they are capable of being. And they will eat better every day in service to the king than they do on festival days at home!
When selecting these men bear in mind the sort of labor they will be doing. Their backs will move the levers that free the blocks in the quarries, pull the laden sleds, and load, unload, and arrange the great blocks of Khufu on the Horizon. Their arms will clear the debris and bust rocks for filler material. They will grind gypsum and pour mortar. Their legs will carry water for the work, wood for the fires, and tools to and from the sharpeners and the stonecutters. They will work in quarries, on docks, and on the pyramid itself.
Of course, some men will need to remain behind on their farms to do their part for Khufu on the Horizon. These men will till the earth, fish the Nile, and tend their flocks and herds as they have always done. Their bak debt will be paid on hooves, in barrels, and in grain sacks. Cattle and goats, and the drovers to deliver them. Fish and fowl. Emmer and Barley, garlic and leeks. Onions, radishes, cucumbers, dates, honey, and figs. Salt and herbs. All for the glory of Egypt, all for the glory of the Pharaoh, all for the sake of Ma’at!
Your recruiters must also seek men with useful talents or the ability to learn quickly. Unlike the unskilled men, who will be constantly told come here and go there, these men will have regular assignments such as positioning levers, rough shaping stone, and sharpening tools. They will operate machines which have been designed to lift and turn the laden sleds. They will cook the meals in the barracks and assist the bakers and brewers.
These are coveted positions to which they will return for their season of bak labor year after year, with prospects for advancement. They are opportunities to learn a trade, and a clever man may find himself apprenticed to a master. For this reason your recruiters should know that bribes and nepotism will not be tolerated. Any man who corrupts this great work will find himself and his family made destitute, his lands seized, and his place in the afterlife forfeit.
Your men need not worry about skilled artisans and craftsmen, as these will be recruited by their nomarchs and overseers. Your recruiters need only concern themselves with mobilizing the main body of the corvée to the pharaoh’s service.
Arrange shifts and rotations of the corvée, send the right workers where they are needed most, and coordinate with the Royal Treasury and the Overseer of Provisions to assure that the granaries and storehouses remain stocked.
It is important for your men to work with haste, but of especial importance that those who will be recruiting from Lower Egypt, particularly the nomes of Khensu, Ka-Khem, Heq-At, and lower Aneb-Hetch—those nomes closest to Rostau—immediately send workers to the plateau to begin construction of the city where the permanent residents and rotating labor force will dwell.
This city will grow over time, but even in Year One there will be need for barracks, granaries, bakeries, breweries, and other facilities necessary to support the great work.
I wish you peace! May you live, prosper, and be healthy!
Letter 4: Recruitment of the Skilled Labor Force
To the Nomarchs and Overseers of Upper and Lower Egypt—Life, Prosperity, and Health!
Let word go out to all nomes and territories—men and women of wisdom and ability, your skills are required at the main site and in the quarries for Khufu on the Horizon!
To all the nomarchs: send proclamations throughout your domains saying that Pharaoh Khufu (May He Live! May He Prosper! May He be Healthy!) requires the immediate services of skilled tradesmen of all professions!
Potters, weavers, metallurgists and smiths, woodworkers, carpenters, drovers, millers, butchers, bakers, and brewers–come to Rostau to serve your bak debt. If you choose to remain, opportunities abound for you to make your fortunes. There will be commerce and industry the year round.
A worker’s city is to be constructed at Rostau straight away—barracks, administrative buildings, granaries, bakeries, breweries, work yards, smithies, and foundries. There will be permanent dwellings for those who bring their families to settle, and your king encourages this heartily! Already the workers gather to build this city, to labor in the quarry, and to cut the foundations for Khufu on the Horizon! Those craftsmen and artisans who are first to arrive will have the most desirable jobs, the finest housing, the best in all things!
To Sha-Asha, the Overseer of Craftsmen, there is immediate need at Rostau for journeymen of all professions—mudbrick makers, thatchers, carpenters, wood workers, potters, smiths, rope makers and weavers. There is need in the quarries for men skilled in the working of copper and the making of tools. Everywhere there is demand for basket makers. There are ships to be built and sails to be made. All sons and daughters of Egypt owe bak, but those who have a trade can truly better their lives.
To Henem-Meha, Overseer of the King’s Quarries and Inspector of Masons, there is need at Rostau to build containment walls for the workers’ city, to construct a quay at the foot of the plateau, and to pave the access road from the quay to the northeast quarry. There will also be need for a canal to be dug from the Nile to the quay, a distance of more than half an iter. Plan for the canal to be at least 12,380 cubits in length and wide and deep enough to support a barge carrying granite beams equal in weight to well over 2 million deben of copper.
In addition, operations are to commence at the quarry at Tura, eight miles upstream from Rostau, from which the fine white limestone for the pyramid and temple facings will be cut and dressed. Work is also to begin at the granite quarry at Aswan.
There is need in all places for surveyors, stone cutters, breakers and ledgemen, masons, dredgers, drillers, pounders, and grinders. Your teams will be provided with related specialists, such as carpenters and smiths, as they require. The unskilled and semi-skilled help are being dispatched.
To Qai-Sesh, Magistrate, Overseer of the Scribes, and Overseer of the Priests of Re, to you I bid Life, Prosperity, and Health! In all work centers, but especially at Rostau, there is need of architects and master surveyors, engineers, overseers of labor, priests to advise and bless construction and to sanctify grounds, astrologers, lawyers, physicians and herbalists, counters and inspectors, logisticians, provisioners, and scribes of all varieties.
With all haste let word go out! As the Nile rises in Akhet, let all Egypt rise to the great work of Khufu on the Horizon! As the crops emerge in Peret, let the wise and skilled of Upper and Lower Egypt emerge and come forth to the pharaoh’s service! As grain is harvested in Shemu, nomarchs and overseers: gather the bounty of Egypt’s craftsmen, artisans, and experts in all things!
Letter Five: The Opening of the Quarry at Tura
To Iner-Sedjenajeninmer, Quarry Master and Overseer of the Expedition at Tura, Long Life!
Soon the professional craftsmen, semi-skilled workmen, and main force of no less than 500 men will begin arriving at Tura for the commencement of work. The luminous white limestone of Tura shines in the sun like the surface of the Nile, unlike the dull and course yellow limestone of Rostau.
For this reason the Tura limestone will be the finished outer facing of Khufu on the Horizon, as well as the mortuary and valley temples, ka and queens’ pyramids, and the finished causeway. All of Khufu’s (Life! Prosperity! Health!) pyramid complex will shine like a diadem on the brow of Isis!
But those who say take leisure, that the outer casing stones will not be needed until the core is erected, are in serious error and know nothing of what my father Snefru (May He Have Life in the East!) achieved. If the outer surface of a smooth-sided pyramid is not laid first, the corners will not meet at the top. Small errors at the beginning grow to colossal failures in the end. The angle and its maintenance are determined by the surface, not the core. For these reasons, the limestone of Tura will be needed before the first course of Khufu on the Horizon can be laid.
This need is compounded by the qualities of the limestone of Tura. The limestone you will be working with is soft when it is first quarried and cuts easily in straight lines. This makes extraction, precise shaping, and polishing very easy.
But as soon as the surfaces are exposed to the air they begin to calcify and form a hard shell. This increases their durability, but means that all shaping and polishing must be completed at the quarry before they are ever shipped. This means, of course, that some blocks will sustain damage in transport, but these can be easily patched and mortared.
Dressing the blocks will require a high degree of exactitude. To finish the stone before the surface hardens the workers will need to move fast. You will be provided with enough copper to assure that as each chisel dulls there will be another to replace it. Runners will be in constant motion, carrying away dulled tools and returning with sharpened ones. Each tool will have to be reheated to be sharpened, so other runners will keep the fire of the smithies stoked. Coordination of your workforce will be essential.
As the blocks are cut, they must each be lined up side by side exactly as they will be installed on the pyramid. Once the face is cut to a perfect angle of 14/11 seked, the angle of the pyramid, it must be polished with quartzite powder. To assure an ideal fit, a toothless copper saw with quartzite grit will need to be passed between each block to perfect their sides to their one another.
Each block will be numbered to ensure that it is placed correctly when installed. By installing the outer layer of Tura limestone first, the surveyors and architects will be able to observe that all the angles are correct, which if your work is exact, they will be. With the facing stones in place, a supporting layer of well calibrated Rostau limestone forty cubits thick will be erected behind them. The internal ramp will be built into this sturdy layer. The rough core filling, as well as all chambers, passageways, and some machinery necessary for construction, will be contained behind the support layer.
Course by course, this is how Khufu on the Horizon will come into being. Iner-Sedjenajeninmer, you have been chosen to oversee the work at Tura because of your qualifications, and the pharaoh is counting on you. As you cut, shape, and perfect each numbered course of blocks, you will be essentially building the pyramid first at Tura and then shipping it to Rostau. The rest of the pyramid will be built within what you provide. It is imperative that you know this. Great will be your reward, and you will dwell with the pharaoh forever. Friend of the King, go in peace!
Letter Six: The Opening of the Quarry at Aswan
To Emratab-Neb, Quarry Master and Overseer of the Expedition to Aswan, Prosperity!
A workforce of no less than 500 men, including quarry workers, supportive staff, and all manner of experts has been dispatched to Aswan. Although we will not have need for granite until Year Twelve, work must begin immediately. The qualities of the stone and the logistics required to deliver it to Rostau will make your work slow and tedious and even more reliant on the seasons than other quarry work. Rest assured, all of these difficulties have been resolved, but your mastery and patience will be demanded in equal measure. The pharaoh asks much of you, and great will be the glory.
The granite you will be quarrying is too hard for chisels, so expect a minimum of copper to be rationed to your operation. Instead you will be receiving large quantities of dolerite, which is harder than the granite of Aswan. Wooden wedges driven into natural cracks and those opened with dolerite mallets can be soaked with water, causing them to expand and free the stone. Once extracted, the granite can be shaped into great beams with dolerite pounders.
Dolerite is being collected by missions dispatched to Sewew and the Faiyum for that purpose. Additionally, teams have been sent forth to the cataracts, where the Nile gives up dolerite shaped into spheres. These special pounders will allow your most expert stone cutters to shape the hard granite into the specific forms needed for the great work.
These great beams will weigh up to 2 million deben [around 60 tons], some of them possibly more. They will be used to protect vulnerable chambers within the pyramid, to bear and direct the pressure of incredible amounts of weight, and to span wide reaches with minimal support, where limestone would crack under its own mass. They will likewise be used for structural purposes in the temples connected to Khufu on the Horizon.
You will have to quarry, shape, and ship more than 118 million deben [3,500 tons, give or take] of granite from Aswan before this great work is done, more than has been used in the entirety of Egypt’s past. The beams will make the twenty-day journey down the Nile on mighty barges. An expedition has been sent to Lebanon to acquire cedar for the manufacture of these barges, and the Overseer of Shipwrights and Chandlers, who has already begun work on the lesser barges for the Tura limestone, has the plans for these vessels at the ready.
Along with the other experts being sent to Aswan, you will receive a team of dredgers who will oversee the digging of trenches in the flood lands during the season of Shemu, when the plains are dry. These trenches will be deep enough to hold the barges so that their decks are level with the land. As granite beams are completed they will be loaded onto great sleds, wood for which is also being procured from Lebanon, and these sleds will be towed onto the barges and left there. When the plains flood in the season of Akhet, the barges will be lifted by the Nile and carried to Rostau on the rapid currents of the inundation.
As you can see, you will need every day of the following twelve years to maintain the schedule required by the construction. The quarrying will be slow, and the dressing of the stone many times more so. Beams should be shipped in the Akhet immediately following their completion, to be stored on site at Rostau.
The center of all this effort, the primary reason for the great work, is the 10 by 20 cubits chamber in which the king’s body will rest. Everything else, from the bottom of the causeway to the tip of pyramidion, is there to physically and spiritually support that sacred space.
The granite beams you will be sending to the plateau are what make this sacred space possible. Without them, the great work will fail. You labor for the king, for Ma’at, and for the glory of all Egypt.
- Brier, Bob, and Jean-Pierre Houdin. The Secret of the Great Pyramid: How One Man’s Obsession Led to the Solution of Ancient Egypt’s Greatest Mystery. New York: HarperCollins, 2008.
In this paradigm-shifter, Jean-Pierre Houdin and Bob Brier introduce M. Houdin’s theories about the construction of the Great Pyramid. Written for a general audience, but without skimming over details or dumbing down the material, The Secret of the Great Pyramid is a detailed explanation of the internal ramp theory and the physical and circumstantial evidence in support of it.
The Secret of the Great Pyramid accomplishes the delightful achievement of being a book that is equally at home in your Works Cited page and your beach bag. But don’t confuse its mass appeal with being light on scholarship. I do not use the words paradigm-shifter lightly–Jean-Pierre Houdin’s work takes us around the corner and into the next phase of understanding how the monuments of the Memphis Necropolis, from Saqqara to Giza, were constructed, and The Secret of the Great Pyramid is your introduction to the future of comprehending the past. A strong endorsement, I know.. And I stand behind every word!
For this article the following sections were especially helpful: Pyramid site selection (pp. 58-78); details of the Tura limestone (pp. 67-72); the granite quarry at Aswan (pp. 67-69); the workers’ city (pp. 64-66); logistics (pp. 70-1); Sinai mining operations (pp. 71-2).
- Hitchins, Derek K. The Pyramid Builder’s Handbook. Self-published via Lulu, 2010.
In The Pyramid Builder’s Handbook, Derek K. Hitchins sets out to explain how these massive national building projects were carried out in terms of systems engineering. Hitchins brings his experience as an engineer to the task of exploring the history of pyramid development, logistics, and how the process of problem resolution utilized existing technologies and methods as well as led to new ones.
Hitchins is effective in debunking the construction theories involving external ramps only (pp. 141-5), but does not address the possibility of an internal ramp, much less a combined solution of an internal and external ramp. He favors what he calls “rocking methods” (pp. 146-48), which involves balancing the stones on two facing wedges and inserting planks beneath each wedge while the block is “rocked” onto the other, thus raising the stone step by step.
While this method could certainly work in raising individual blocks, and was possibly used in certain applications, compared to the internal ramp theory it seems to this writer to be tedious and impractical. Hitchins is an expert in systems engineering and the Gentle Reader is encouraged to evaluate his arguments for him/herself. But in the writing of this article, The Pyramid Builder’s Handbook was most useful in describing the corvée and the division of labor.
The Pyramid Builder’s Handbook is well written and presented in a textbook-style, with ample photographs and illustrations. The material can be fairly technical at times, and general readers may find it more useful as a reference work, as opposed to something you will read from cover to cover. While I do not agree with all of Hitchins’ conclusions, I found the book to be incredibly informative and packed with useful data and information.
For this article the following sections were especially helpful: The corvée and labor organization (pp. 9-12, 123-26. 138-41); logistics and feeding the workforce (pp. 117-21); Khufu’s Pyramid in general (pp. 39-45).
- Houdin, Jean-Pierre. Khufu’s Pyramid Revealed. Giza: Abydos Pub., 2010.
In Khufu’s Pyramid Revealed, Jean-Pierre Houdin expands on the materiel introduced in The Secret of the Great Pyramid, going into much greater detail regarding how all of the elements of both his theory and the pyramid itself fit together into a cohesive whole. While still a highly readable work, Khufu’s Pyramid Revealed delves further into Hemienu’s simple solutions for the complex problems posed by the Great Work of building Khufu on the Horizon.
Nearly every page is beautifully illustrated by the aesthetically pleasing and intricately detailed computer graphics produced by M. Houdin and Dassault Systemes (some of which appear in this article), who have graciously supported Jean-Pierre in every aspect of his work. Khufu’s Pyramid Revealed leaves—literally—no stone unturned in showing how the Great Pyramid was constructed using tools and techniques known to have been in use during the period in question.
For this article the following sections were especially helpful: Details of the Tura limestone (p. 17); tools and logistics (pp. 19-21); requirements for the King’s Chamber (pp. 29, 53); building from within (pp. 33-35); pyramid site selection (p. 43); the corvée and workers’ city (pp. 45-47).
- Lehner, Mark. The Complete Pyramids. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1997.
Mark Lehner’s magnum opus of all things pyramidical, The Complete Pyramids covers the history and development not only of the pyramids themselves, but of the people who have studied them. From the first instance of stacking one mastaba on top of another to the pyramids of Late Antiquity, Lehner explicates the design, function, and evolution of these complex tombs and “resurrection machines.”
The Complete Pyramids predates the publication of Jean-Pierre Houdin’s work by a couple of years, so the internal ramp theory gets a grand total of one paragraph (p. 216) and is limited to the theories proposed by Dieter Arnold. However, for his detailed treatment of the individual pyramids, the people who built them, and the tools they used, Lehner’s Complete Pyramids is required reading for every Egyptologist, amateur and professional alike.
Heavily illustrated and presented in textbook format, The Complete Pyramids is as accessible to laypersons as it is useful to experts, which is to say, very. Again, I have to admit my biases in favor of Jean-Pierre Houdin’s work as being the most thorough and up to date treatment of pyramid construction, but it is difficult to fully appreciate the achievements of the latter without understanding the historical and cultural context which Lehner gives to the subject.
As always, the Gentle Reader is encouraged to explore these books first hand and with a joyous heart and an open mind reach his or her own conclusions—and reading The Complete Pyramids is a joy.
For this article the following sections were especially helpful: Khufu’s Pyramid in general (pp. 108-19); pyramid site selection (pp. 12-13); the Giza Plateau (pp. 106-07); logistics (pp. 202-05); quarries (pp. 206-07); tools (210-11); the corvée (pp. 224-25); the workers’ city (pp. 230-33, 238-39); feeding the workforce (236-37).
- Lehner, Mark. Et al. AERAgram: The Official Newsletter of Ancient Egypt Research Associates. Vol. 1-10.
The Ancient Egypt Research Associates (AERA) is the organization founded in 1985 by Mark Lehner and Matthew McCauley for the purpose of funding and facilitating the Giza Plateau Mapping Project, and extension of Lehner’s work with the Great Sphinx. AERA’s primary focus in the last decade has been the excavation and analysis of the pyramid workers’ city at Giza.
AERAgram is the newsletter and biannual report of the work at the site and has been extremely valuable in understanding the corvée and the bak system, as well as how the various social strata of the pyramid city worked and lived. All ten volumes of AERAgram, which are available in pdf format from the official AERA website, were consulted in writing this article.
- Siliotti, Alberto. Guide to the Pyramids of Egypt. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1997.
Alberto Siliotti’s Guide to the Pyramids of Egypt is an excellent introductory-level encyclopedia of pyramids, with hundreds of photographs, maps, and diagrams. Siliotti’s large-format book has entries on all of the major pyramids and necropolises, with details of the temples and complexes associated with them.
While the photography provides a veritable tour of the architecture and landscape, I found the site and structure maps especially useful. While clearly an entry level book, its thoroughness and layout makes it a handy reference for Egypt aficionados of all varieties. This is one of those coffee table books you often see on the bargain tables and in the remainder bins, and if you come across a copy you will not regret picking it up.
For this article the following sections were especially helpful: Khufu’s Pyramid in general (pp. 48-53); the Giza Plateau (pp. 46-7); tools and construction (pp. 40-4); workers’ city (p. 45).
- Wilkinson, A. H. Toby. Early Dynastic Egypt. New York: Routledge, 1999.
Early Dynastic Egypt explores how government and the world’s first bureaucracy developed in the earliest phase of Old Kingdom Period of Egypt, from Dynasties Zero to Three. In this heavily researched work (nearly every paragraph in this book has at least one citation!), author Toby A. H. Wilkinson delves into the subjects of administration, foreign relations, and the establishment of urban centers with the thoroughness of a master who knows his subject and sincerely wants you to know it as well.
Wilkinson provides individual mini-biographies for every Egyptian ruler from the unnamed kings of Dynasty 0 through to Huni and Qahedjet. The section on the establishment of authority (pp. 92-279) explains in detail how the royal administration developed, from the petty nobility to the creation of the vizier, and the growth (by necessity) of a complex system of titles and functionaries.
Although the timeframe of Early Dynastic Egypt (just barely) predates the subject of this article, it was an invaluable resource in understanding the foundations of the political system and hierarchy in which Hemienu operated and how it was vital to mobilizing the nation toward the singular goal of building Khufu’s Pyramid. It has been stated that while the Egyptians built the pyramids, the pyramids built Egypt. In other words, the national political system emerged from the process of organizing the great work of pyramid construction. Toby Wilkinson shows that the roots of the nation-state of Egypt actually reach considerably further back than the Fourth Dynasty.
For this article the following sections were especially helpful: Administration and royal titles (pp. 92-126); Sinai mining operations (pp. 121-22; 139-46); mines and quarries in general (144-45); development of the corvée (pp. 94-95, 120); the institution of the vizier (116-118); administration of royal building projects (pp. 113-14).
Copyright by Keith Payne, 2010. All rights reserved.
Graphics “Workers’ city”, “Building from within”, Granite beams qued”, and “King’s chamber” by Jean-Pierre Houdin/Dassault Systemes are copyrighted by Jean-Pierre Houdin and Dassault Systems and are used with their kind permission—all rights reserved. Graphic “Contour Map of the Giza Plateau” by Jean-Pierre Houdin/Albert Ranson is copyrighted by Jean-Pierre Houdin and Albert Ranson and is used with their kind permission—all rights reserved. Photographs “The Pyramids of Dashur and Giza as viewed from Saqqara” by Gaspa, and “Aswan granite quarry” by Joe Pyrek are used in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Photographs “Dolerite Sphere”, “Cubit measuring rods”, “Old kingdom figure showing beer making”, “Basalt drill core”, and “Copper adze” by Jon Bodsworth have been kindly released by Mr. Bodsworth to the public domain. Drawings “Stone-cutters finishing the dressing of limestone blocks”, “Colossal statue being dragged on a sled”, and “Measuring wheat and depositing it in the granaries“ drawn by Faucher-Gudin (Maspero, Gaston. History of Egypt, Chaldea, Syria, Babylonia, and Assyria. Vol. II, Part A. London: Grolier Society), courtesy of Project Gutenberg, and plates “Metal workers” and “Mudbrick makers”, by Achille-Constant-Theodore Emile Prisse d’Avennes (Atlas de I’Histoire de I’Art Egyptien, d’apres les monuments, depuis les temps les plus reculesjusqu’d la domination romains, 1877), are in the public domain as their copyrights have expired.
Tags: Aswan, Bak, Corvee, Egyptian Measurements, External Ramp, Facing Blocks, Giza Plateau, Hemienu, Internal Ramp, Jean-Pierre Houdin, Khufu, Khufu's Pyramid, King's Chamber, Lebannon, Logistics, Pyramid City, Quarries, Sinai, Tools, Tura