Posts Tagged ‘Corvee’

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. 

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In the first part of January the media began breaking the news that the old yarn about slaves having built the pyramids had finally been dispelled.  Dr. Zahi Hawass of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities announced that three large tombs had been newly discovered very close to the pyramid itself.  As the final resting place of some of the overseers of the workforce, both the structure and location of the tombs made it clear that these were no slaves.

Dr. Hawass’ statement that “These tombs were built beside the king’s pyramid, which indicates that these people were not by any means slaves” (source) was widely repeated in the press under headlines announcing that the belief that slaves had built the pyramids could now be retired.  But Egyptologists have long known that the Slave Hypothesis was pure Hollywood. 

Along with Hawass, Egyptologist Mark Lehner began uncovering the truth of the pyramid builders more than 20 years ago.  Lehner was consumed with the question of where such a large workforce could have lived.  After conducting the first detailed “to scale” survey of the Giza Plateau, he narrowed his focus to the area around the enigmatic Wall of the Crow, a colossal wall with no apparent related structures.

Lehner hit pay dirt, and his dogged pursuit of these ancient builders led to the excavation of the very city where they lived and worked—a large complex of barracks and permanent housing, distribution centers, industrial sites, and scribal workshops.  The recently discovered tombs tell us something of the status of the workers, but the Lost City of the Pyramid Builders gives us the everyday details of their lives.

Most of Em Hotep’s readers will be familiar with Dr. Lehner and his work.  But if you are not, then his total absence from the recent news stories may have left you with an incomplete picture of just how strong the case against the Slavery Hypothesis really is.  In this three-part series we will take a look at what Lehner discovered about the pyramid builders.  We will examine the evidence that the workforce had a surprisingly modern division of labor, followed by a tour of the city itself.

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