Is the pyramid building mystery finally solved?

As the nursery rhyme says: “He went this way, but he will not go this way again.” The Nile is a meandering river that, throughout its history, has seen its course change, its course filled up, and its numerous arms dried up or even disappeared. What confuses Egyptologists, who are still wondering about the location of the pyramids of the Giza plateau. Architectural questions aside, the path of the raw materials, namely the millions of blocks of limestone coming from the Tura quarry in particular, and the blocks of granite from Aswan (800 kilometers) that allowed them to be built, has long been a mystery. path to a solution in a new study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Necessary river transport

“Such material can only be transported by river, but today the Nile is 7 kilometers from the pyramids,” explains Christophe Morange, professor at the European Center for Research and Education in Environmental Geosciences (Cerege) in Aix-en-Provence (Bouches). -du-Rhône), who led scientific research. But for the past twenty years there has been a sort of consensus that there was a kind of pool along the arm of the Nile at the foot of the place where precious cargoes could be transported. be delivered. This hypothesis was put forward by the independent American archaeologist Mark Lehner, who conducted surveys during the construction of the Giza collectors in the 1970s, and a little later, Pierre Tallet, director of the Egyptological research department of the Sorbonne (Paris), discovered one of the oldest known papyri with a description of the topography of river works, confirming this theory.

“Although over the past ten years, the suburbs of Cairo have condensed significantly up to Giza, which has made archaeological excavations very difficult,” continues Christophe Morang. The originality of our approach was that, thanks to Google Earth, we selected a number of places of several square meters where we were able to take sediment cores at a depth of ten meters.” The fruits of these wells were taken to France, where an Egyptian doctoral student from Serezha, Khadir Sheisha, analyzed the pollen and spores under a microscope. In this way, the researcher was able to identify three groups of “embalmed” pollen in the sediments, providing valuable information about the nature of the area. “The first indicates a dry environment, the pyramid plateau, close to the semi-arid steppe. The second is more typical of marshy areas, while the third, which we continue to explore, shows agricultural land with cereals (barley and oats), plant fibers (cotton),” explains Christophe Moran.

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New discoveries in perspective

According to the importance of these three groups, experts noted that “4500 years ago there was still a lot of water at the foot of the pyramids.” This “paleohydrology” of the Nile provides a better understanding of its evolution over nearly eight millennia. “We are seeing a kind of hydrological decline, that is, a relative drying up of the river, which will accelerate after the construction of the three pyramids of Giza,” says geographer Tserege. and monuments, but other disciplines such as palynology are now bringing new ideas. Studying ancient pollen allows for a better understanding of the environment.” It remains to find out the exact route of this famous disappeared arm of the Nile.

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Now, with the hope of exhuming the piers, ports, and why not the wreckage of the cutting boats that made it possible to deliver the stone blocks. And, finally, to update the entire supply chain, which allowed the Egyptian builders to build the pyramid of Cheops, the only one of the seven wonders of the world of the ancient world, preserved in an upright position.


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