Just look at these incredible monuments. What would it be like to build them? Imagine that you have to wake up at the crack of dawn every day, and perform backbreaking, dangerous labor.
There is a high chance you and your co-workers would die on site and if that was the case you would all be buried together. Sure, you’ll get respect for helping to build a pyramid. But if you only live to be 35, will it be worth it? If you found yourself building the Ancient Pyramids of Giza what would you do?
When you think about building the Great Pyramids of Giza, you might picture 100,000 slaves hard at work, creating these massive structures. But in the past 30 years, archeologists have found that there much fewer people working on the pyramids together. And they weren’t slaves.
In fact the life of a pyramid builder wasn’t as horrible as you would think. It’s thought that around 4,000 laborers worked in the quarry at Giza, shaped the stones, and hauled them to the jobsite.
Another 16,000 to 20,000 others worked in support roles. These included building ramps and tools, mixing the mortar, and supplying food to the workers. Strong evidence shows that the builders were salaried workers. At the base of the pyramids are tombs, and the skeletons have arthritis and bone damage. Food and water were buried with them, for the afterlife.
No slave would be honored by being buried so close to the king’s pyramid. So if you were building the ancient pyramids of Giza, what could you do to survive?
You’ve signed the contract and commited yourself to work on these impressive structures. How are you going to get through it alive?
Step 1: Work smart, not hard.
Many workers moved the stones from the quarry to the pyramid site, and up the pyramid. It’s thought that wooden sleds moved these huge stones from the quarry to the pyramids.
Putting the right amount of water on the sand in front of the sled would cause the grains of sand to stick together, making a capillary bridge.
Researchers from the University of Amsterdam discovered that it cuts the amount of force needed to move the sled by over 50%. So make sure you have plenty of water for wetting the sand.
Step 2: Watch Out
As a salaried pyramid worker, your living conditions aren’t as bad as those in Hollywood movies. But this is a tough job. Construction sites in ancient Egypt didn’t have have the safety equipment, or safety regulations, we know today.
The limestone blocks weigh over 2,000 kg (5,000 lb). If one of them drops, it could kill you. The pyramids were the largest structures on Earth for centuries, standing up to 150 m (480 ft) tall, and there were no guard rails. If you slip, it’s a long way down. So watch where you are, and what’s going on around you.
Step 3: Rest Up
This is heavy work, so make sure that you allow your injuries to heal. Take care of muscles you strain while moving or pulling the blocks, and bones broken by on-site accidents.
There is evidence from ancient texts that pyramid workers were allowed to rest and heal. Ancient records explain when and why individual workmen were absent from their jobs. The doctors probably treated the workmen with remedies and incantations in their medical papyrus. So far, about a dozen of these extensive medical papyri have been discovered.
Step 4: Stay Mentally Strong
Although there were permanent workers, most pyramid builders were only on-site for three to six months. So remember, after the yearly Nile flood retreats, you can go back to your farm and your family. Or, you could return to your village with new skills.
And to help you stay focused on your job, try adding gamification into your workflow. Set some goals and rewards for yourself. Or enjoy some friendly competition. This can help you keep a positive mindset when you’re repeating the same tasks for hours on end, day after day. And after work, make some new friends. And think of the reward you’ll get in the afterlife. You’re doing all this for your king, and your country.
Step 5: Fuel Up
Whether you work baking bread, delivering food or supplies, or cutting stones in the quarry, or hauling those stones, you’re working long hours. So make sure your body is properly fueled. Thankfully, as a pyramid builder, you’ll eat well. Animal bones found around the builders’ camp show that they ate meat daily, mainly from cattle and sheep.
About 1,800 kg (4,000 lb) of animals were slaughtered for food every day. Since you’re working under the hot Sun in the Egyptian desert, stay hydrated. Beer and other alcoholic drinks are available, but drink plenty of water too.
Being a pyramid builder is exhausting, hard labor. But if you look after yourself physically and mentally, you might live long enough to see a finished pyramid. But what if you get stuck, alone, in the desert? How could you live without any food or water?
- “This is How to Use Gamification to Make Boring Tasks Fun!”. Rick, Melnyck. 2018. Prime Your Pump.
- “Ancient Egyptian Tomb Builders Had State-Supported Health Care”. Austin, Anne. 2015. Slate Magazine.
- “How Did Egyptians Build The Pyramids? Ancient Ramp Find Deepens Mystery”. 2021. HISTORY.
- “Giza Secret Revealed: How 10,000 Pyramid Builders Got Fed”. Owen, Jarus. 2021. livescience.com.
- “Who Built the Pyramids?”. 1997. pbs.org.
- “Great Pyramid tombs unearth ‘proof’ workers were not slaves”. 2010. The Guardian.