Archaeologist visits Ancient Egypt - part 3


Dr. Greene: I then visited an archeological site not very far from the pyramids and met the archeologists there who showed me their work. A bit of work just starting here on part of their site, looking very much as it would have 100 years ago or even 200 years ago. But what has been discovered in this area that we're looking at here and there's Giza coming right up to the edge of this particular area are the accommodation for the pyramid builders, barrack like buildings, large barrack like buildings which could accommodate large numbers of men who would have built the pyramids.

They were made of mud, mud bricks, and therefore we're not seeing spectacular stone remains. We're looking at a material which most buildings in Egypt, both in the ancient period and until very recently were made of, mud brick.

They've been covered over again and various experiments are taking place to see how that might be displayed using modern mud bricks. But essentially this was a planned town with these buildings alongside. It provides, if you like, the final confirmation that the people who built the pyramids were not slaves. Far from it, they were actually having a very good diet.

They were being provided with cattle and sheep from the delta and that was very unusual for people in Egypt at the time unless you were of a particularly high born status.

What's more, nearby some of the tombs of the pyramid builders have been found. This all confirms, as I say, these are not slaves, these are skilled people employed to do a fantastic national project, building a pyramid for their king.

This is where some of the mud brick experimental archeology is taking place. I was able to be taken over all of this area by the archeologist from the Ancient Egypt Research Associates, and up onto that bluff, which I showed you before, and looked down at this amazing landscape.

You tend to see pictures of the pyramid and perhaps overlook the fact that there are whole towns of tombs, and houses for priests, and temples. There is the Valley Temple of Menkaure here and the tomb of Queen Khentkawes, which is the biggest of the buildings you can see there.

But in the foreground there's more archeological work going on. You can see there is a tent there, drill cores are being taken down into the sand and the silt there. It's proving, well pretty well definite, that one of the harbors which opened off the Nile while it was in flood, came right up to this area here.

So the causeways, I showed you one before, linked a valley temple up a causeway to the mortuary temple alongside the pyramids in each of these cases. So understanding the whole of this landscape is something that the archeologists that I met are doing. And all the time, new discoveries are being made.

Well, I went to Saqqara and this is some of the things that you can see in Saqqara. But before going up the hill to the Pyramid of Djoser, I just turn around through 90 degrees and you see the stark contrast between the desert and the fertile area. You can almost draw a line either side of the Nile of this fertile area and then beyond that is the desert. The sandy, rocky desert, which the ancient Egyptians called the red lands. They called the fertile land the black land.

It's at Saqqara that a fantastic experiment in architecture took place by a man called Imhotep who was a priest and an architect. This is a museum on the site which commemorates his work. Some fantastic work has taken place to reconstruct some of the buildings which lead into the great courtyard.

This is the passage in, past these columns like bunches of reeds, bundles of reeds to the Pyramid of Djoser. This piece of architecture, and it's not just a pyramid, it is this courtyard as well and buildings which lie alongside it, marks a real step forward in architecture 4,600 years ago.

What Imhotep did was take the existing tomb pattern, the mastaba tomb, which means bench in Arabic, which was a low structure with one or more shafts underneath, and superimposed one on top of another, on top of another, on top of another and so on, hence the birth of the pyramid.

Underneath this is a maze of passages and chambers. But it looks in a much better condition than this. This is also a pyramid. This is a sixth dynasty pyramid as well of King Teti, which once would have been encased in fine ashlar masonry. But which, of course, has been stripped away.

One of the things that I was interested in, visiting these sites, was looking at the conservation problems. You can see this is one hell of a conservation challenge. In the foreground you can see some of the fine masonry of the chapels which adjoin this particular pyramid.

I was able to go down underneath it, into the burial chamber and the walls are covered in hieroglyphs which relate to what developed later into the Book of the Dead, the instructions of finding your way to the afterlife through all the hazards which faced you.

There's the stepped pyramid and you'll see that also conservation necessary here and what a gargantuan task it is, involving these timber scaffolds and lots of manual labor. But you can also see that it was an experimental work and the design changed as the project went forward.

You can see that there's one casing here to which more masonry has been added as the structure got higher and higher. I mentioned the manual labor. There's some of it happening.

We're going back to fertile Egypt. A photograph like this shows the sort of vegetables that would have been growing there at the time of Tutankhamun, the cabbages, the onions, and so on. It is extraordinarily productive. Of course in the heat of the Egyptian sun, capable of producing many crops during the year.

Flying over, looking down on the Nile, you see the fertile land spreading either side, but it doesn't take long to get to the edge of that. We're now approaching Thebes and you can see that there is a very strict dividing line. There's a bit of irrigation has extended it a little bit further towards the hills. But essentially there are just two lands here.

Now, in Thebes I went to Karnak and my archeological colleagues took me and showed me the new discoveries which are coming out of the ground. There were houses and buildings going right up to the edge of this amazing temple complex, temple devoted to the Theban triad of Amun, Mut, his consort, and Khonsu, their son.

Those have been cleared away in order to improve the access to the temple. But in the process what has been discovered are slipways leading to a quay side. There's the wall of the quay.

This is a typical archeological section and you can see how material has built up against it, particularly silt, of course, from the flooding of the Nile. But also there's some building debris above that from later buildings on the site. Even steps, you can see how worn they are.

So this is where ships, not dissimilar to the one we saw before, could tie up and tie up to these blocks like this. You can see again where the rope has worn particularly on the underside of that block there.

A very important part of religious life in Thebes was the Opet ceremony which took place for a week every year, in which the images and shrines of those three gods that I mentioned before were moved between Karnak and Luxor temples. This is where the boats could tie up.

So this is the archeologist who is supervising this particular work who took me round. He had other exciting things to show me.

About this Video

Part 1 of 6 of Dr Greene's lecture 'An Archaeologist visits Ancient Egypt'
Length: 12:30