Needless to say, pyramid building is hard work. The workers would need at least 45 to 50 grams of protein a day, Redding said. Half of this protein would likely come from fish, beans, lentils and other non-meat sources, while the other half would come from sheep, goat and cattle, he estimated. Milk and cheese were probably not consumed due to transportation problems and the cattle's low milk yield during that time, Redding said.
Combining these requirements and other protein sources with the ratio of the bones (and the amount of meat and protein one can get from an animal), Redding determined about 11 cattle and 37 sheep or goats were consumed each day.
This would be in addition to supplying workers with grain, beer and other products.
In order to maintain this level of slaughter, the ancient Egyptians would have needed a herd of 21,900 cattle and 54,750 sheep and goats just to keep up regular delivery to the Giza workers, Redding estimates.
The animals alone would need about 155 square miles (401 square kilometers) of territory to graze. Add in fallow land, waste land, settlements and agricultural land for the herders, and this number triples to about 465 square miles (1,205 square km) of land — an area about the size of modern-day Los Angeles. Even so, this area would take up just about 5 percent of the present-day Nile Delta.
These animals also needed herders — likely one herder for every six cattle and one herder for every 50 sheep or goats, based on ethnographic observations. This brings the total number of herders to 3,650 overall and, once their families are included, 18,980, just under 2 percent of Egypt's estimated population at the time.
These herds would have been spread out in villages across the Nile Delta, then brought to the workers' town at Giza to be slaughtered and cooked. At the end of their lives, the animals were likely kept in the southern part of the town, in a recently unearthed structure that researchers have dubbed the "OK corral." ("OK" stands for "Old Kingdom," the time period in which the Giza pyramids were built.) The structure, which includes two small enclosures where animals may have been slaughtered and a rounded pen, is partly hidden under a modern-day soccer field. [Image Gallery: Amazing Egyptian Discoveries]
The research revealed interesting details about life in the workers' town. For instance, the overseers — who lived in a structure the archaeologists call the "north street gatehouse" — got to eat the most cattle, and those living in an area called the "galleries," where the everyday workers lived, ate mainly sheep and goats.
Redding said it wasn’t surprising that the overseers preferred to dine on beef, considering it was the most valued meat in ancient Egypt. "Cattle is, of course, the highest-status meat," he said, noting that it appears far more frequently then sheep or goat in tomb scenes, and that pigs never appear in tomb scenes.
The settlement located adjacent to the workers' town, dubbed "eastern town," wasn't as rigidly planned as workers' town, and its residents were eating a considerable number of pigs, the researchers found. Evidence also suggested the people in eastern town were trading with people in workers' town for hippo-tusk fragments.