An arm of the Nile today disappeared in the heart of the construction site of the pyramids

An arm of the Nile today disappeared in the heart of the construction site of the pyramids

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Artist's impression representing the arm of the Nile, which has now disappeared, which bathed the feet of the pyramids of Giza at the time of their construction.
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Culminating at almost 140 meters, the pyramid of Cheops, in Egypt, was for several millennia the highest monument in the world. Its construction and that of its two neighbors required millions of blocks of stone, some of them coming from quarries far away from the Giza plateau. How, more than four thousand years ago, did the Egyptian people manage to bring them there?

Over the past twenty years, a scientific consensus has been built around a hypothesis: along an arm of the Nile that is now dry, an artificial basin was dug to allow ships to deliver their cargo to the foot of the construction sites. By retracing the hydrographic past of the region over the last eight millennia, a new Franco-Egyptian study adds elements to this already solid theory. Results published Monday, August 29 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“A very complicated puzzle”

The team of Christophe Morhange, professor at the European Center for Research and Education in Environmental Geosciences (Cerege) in Aix-en-Provence (Bouches-du-Rhône) and director of the study, carried out corings at different places in the area where this ancient branch of the Nile is supposed to have been.

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“In these samples, we identified pollen grains originating from about sixty plants thanks to which it is possible to follow the changes in vegetation that the region has experienced in the past”explains Hadeer Sheisha, the first author of the study, who is doing her doctorate on the subject.

Map of corings taken at the foot of the Giza pyramids (red dots).  The study of the pollens made it possible to trace the evolution of the water level in an arm of the Nile which has now disappeared (light blue) likely to have favored the transport of building materials.

Each plant being adapted to specific environmental – and especially hydrological – conditions, this paleopalynologist traced the evolution of the water level in the region. The results confirm the existence of an arm of the Nile which would have dried up over the centuries, but whose level, at the time of the construction of the pyramids, would have been adapted to exploitation by the Egyptians.

This work “sheds new light on the evolution of the Nile, as well as a new piece to a very complicated puzzle”, comments Cécile Blanchet, paleoclimatologist at the Earth Sciences Research Center in Potsdam (Germany).

The local geography has changed

“In 1970, the first core samples were taken during the installation of a sewer networkrecounts Pierre Tallet, director of the Center for Egyptological Research at the Sorbonne. Their analysis by the American archaeologist Mark Lehner, a pioneer on the subject, already indicated the existence of a series of artificial basins dug by the Egyptians to facilitate access to the plateau for barges. » The excavation of an ancient port by Lehner, then the discovery, by the French Egyptologist, of papyri describing the topography of the river developments then gave credibility to this hypothesis.

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