Ancient engineers may have built pyramids using hidden landscape- here's how

Ancient engineers might have built a canal on the Nile.
Nergis Firtina
Giza pyramids
Giza Pyramids


No one has solved the mystery of the Giza pyramids for centuries. Although archaeologists and scientists have tried to reveal how they were made over the years, it is difficult to say the "exact method" for sure. However, very recently, an idea has been put forward by researchers about how the pyramids were built.

According to a recent study — published in PNAS in August. 29 —the pyramids of Giza may have been built using a former arm of the Nile River. This river branch would have served as a navigable route for the transportation of goods not previously known.

In light of the research, archaeologists have suggested that perhaps the pyramids were built by Egyptian pyramid workers who put to good use the Nile's annual floods. These ancient engineers could have built canals and harbors designed so that floods acted as hydraulic elevators for lifting building materials.

Ancient engineers may have built pyramids using hidden landscape- here's how
Exactly how the pyramids were built is still a mystery.

"To edify the plateau's pyramids, tombs, and temples, it now seems that ancient Egyptian engineers took advantage of the Nile and its annual floods, using an ingenious system of canals and basins that formed a port complex at the foot of the Giza plateau," physical geographer Hader Sheisha of Aix-Marseille University in France and colleagues.

"However, there is a paucity of environmental evidence regarding when, where, and how these ancient landscapes evolved."

Archaeologists also suggest that the port complex thought to have served the construction of the pyramids Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure, was located 7 kilometers (or 4.3 miles) from where the Nile River is today.

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Archaeologists found their answer in 'pollen grains'

Well, you might think archaeologists are building a new construction to understand how the system works, but it's not that way.

To understand the system that was established centuries ago, archaeologists used pollen grains. That's because pollen grains can be preserved in ancient strata, says ScienceAlert.

The team discovered an abundance of marsh plants that grow along lake edges and grass-like blooming plants. Such fauna border the banks of the Nile River, and were extracted using five cores dug on the modern Giza floodplain, east of the pyramid complex.

According to the researchers, this method reveals the presence of a permanent waterbody that cut through the Giza floodplain and swelled thousands of years ago.

Then, the rise and fall of water were traced

"Our 8,000-year reconstruction of Khufu-branch levels improves understanding of fluvial landscapes at the time of the construction of the Giza Pyramid Complex," Sheisha and colleagues said.

"The Khufu branch remained at a high-water level… during the reigns of Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure, facilitating the transportation of construction materials to the Giza pyramid complex."

So, could the Dahshur pyramids have been built in the same way?

We don't know for sure. However, researchers speculate that the pyramids at Dahshur may have been built using a similar mechanism. That is, a hydraulic elevator system was constructed in the Nile River.

Study abstract

The pyramids of Giza originally overlooked a now defunct arm of the Nile. This fluvial channel, the Khufu branch, enabled navigation to the Pyramid Harbor complex but its precise environmental history is unclear. To fill this knowledge gap, we use pollen-derived vegetation patterns to reconstruct 8,000 y of fluvial variations on the Giza floodplain. After a high-stand level concomitant with the African Humid Period, our results show that Giza's waterscapes responded to gradual insolation-driven aridification of East Africa, with the lowest Nile levels recorded at the end of the Dynastic Period. The Khufu branch remained at a high-water level (∼40% of its Holocene maximum) during the reigns of Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure, facilitating the transportation of construction materials to the Giza Pyramid Complex.

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