'Workers Town' Fed 10,000 Giza Pyramid Builders

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The builders of the famous Giza pyramids in Egypt feasted on food from a massive catering-type operation, the remains of which scientists have discovered at a workers' town near the pyramids.

The workers' town is located about 1,300 feet (400 meters) south of the Sphinx, and was used to house workers building the pyramid of pharaoh Menkaure, the third and last pyramid on the Giza plateau. The site is also known by its Arabic name, Heit el-Ghurab, and is sometimes called "the Lost City of the Pyramid Builders."

So far, researchers have discovered a nearby cemetery with bodies of pyramid builders; a corral with possible slaughter areas on the southern edge of workers' town; and piles of animal bones.

Based on animal bone findings, nutritional data, and other discoveries at this workers' town site, the archaeologists estimate that more than 4,000 pounds of meat — from cattle, sheep and goats — were slaughtered every day, on average, to feed the pyramid builders. [See Photos of the Unearthed Giza Pyramid Site]

This meat-rich diet, along with the availability of medical care (the skeletons of some workers show healed bones), would have been an additional lure for ancient Egyptians to work on the pyramids.

"People were taken care of, and they were well fed when they were down there working, so there would have been an attractiveness to that," said Richard Redding, chief research officer at Ancient Egypt Research Associates (AERA), a group that has been excavating and studying the workers' town site for about 25 years.

"They probably got a much better diet than they got in their village," Redding told LiveScience.

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At the workers' town, which was likely occupied for 35 years, researchers have discovered a plethora of animal bones. Although the researchers are still unsure of the exact number of bones, Redding estimates he has identified about 25,000 sheep and goats, 8,000 cattle and 1,000 pig bones, he wrote in a paper published in the book "Proceedings of the 10th Meeting of the ICAZ Working Group 'Archaeozoology of southwest Asia and adjacent Areas'" (Peeters Publishing, 2013).

About 10,000 workers helped build the Menkaure pyramid, with a smaller work force present year-round to cut stones and complete preparation and survey work, the AERA team estimates. This smaller work force would have ramped up for a few months starting around July of each year. "What they would do is, for about four or five months a year, they would bring in a big work force to move blocks, and they would do nothing but move blocks," explained Redding, who is also a research scientist at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology and a member of the faculty at the University of Michigan. [In Photos: The Beautiful Pyramids of Sudan]

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