Stories tagged pyramids

Archaeology doesn't always mean digging in the dirt. Read how satellite images have uncovered 17 buried pyramids near Saqqara, Egypt. And the researchers think there's even more stuff hidden under that site.
Apr
01
2009

Calling ancient Egypt: Believe it or not, archaeologists in Egypt have discovered this crude device believed to be the first cellular signal transmitting device.
Calling ancient Egypt: Believe it or not, archaeologists in Egypt have discovered this crude device believed to be the first cellular signal transmitting device.Courtesy GAP archaeology specialists
With an avalanche of new archaeological discoveries coming from Egypt in recent weeks, this latest find has thrown all previous ideas of ancient Egyptian culture on end.

Archaeologists working at the site of the Giza pyramids just west of Cairo have found evidence of what is believed to be primitive cellular telephone technology. While ancient Egyptians were considered to be way ahead of their time in architecture, engineering and language development, previous work in Egypt has not shown any signs of electronic communication potential.

Here is the fully annotated report from the Giza Archaeology Project’s (GAP) website.

Researchers admit they were slow to report their findings since people would find it so hard to believe. In fact, they couldn’t fully believe it themselves until they did more analysis.

Back in December, they discovered a tomb wall rendering of a device that looks a lot a cell phone. But they quickly turned their attentions to other meanings for the symbol since it couldn’t have possibly been a telecommunications tool. Then in mid-February, members of the same research team looking in a newly discovered burial chamber in the Pyramid of Khafre found an unbelievable discovery: a wooden device that looks similar to a cell phone was mixed in among the gold and treasures buried with the royal dead at the scene.

“At first we thought it was simply a religious relic,” said lead research Mike Lohnor of GAP. “Then one of our more nerdy archaeologists started poking around on it during his coffee break and discovered there was a crude network of wires in a hollowed out area inside the device.”

Doing some chemical tests on the unit, the archaeology team found that the wood was actually a special strain of cedar that has properties that conduct, and actually amplify electricity.

Click here to see photos and diagrams of the inside the wood cell phone.

“The network of wires inside the wood block was arranged in such a way that when held out in the sun at about a 45-degree angle, a fairly strong electrical field could be induced,” Lohnor said. “While the Egyptians hadn’t figured out a speaker system to tie into this electrical format, they did have a ten-digit numerical keypad that allowed them to send coded messages.

Tomb art confirmation: This piece of tomb art inside the Pyramid of Khafre confirmed researcher's beliefs that they had found a crude text-messaging device.
Tomb art confirmation: This piece of tomb art inside the Pyramid of Khafre confirmed researcher's beliefs that they had found a crude text-messaging device.Courtesy GAP archaeology specialists
“I essence, the leaders of ancient Egypt were text messaging each other,” he added.

Just a couple days after finding the inner workings of the wood device, archaeologists doing more work inside the Pyramid of Khafre found a narrow vertical passage leading to the tip of the pyramid. Inside was another tight web of crude copper wires.

“So the pyramids were serving a dual purpose,” said Lohnor. “As we’ve known for a long time, they were burial monuments. But it also appears they were cell phone signal towers.”

Click here to see photos of the antenna shaft.

Hieroglyphic experts have been brought on to the project to see if there are any recorded samples of these ancient text messages might have said.

“We’re really at a loss to figure out how these text messages were used,” Lohnor said. “Like a lot of ancient Egyptian language, it was probably only used by the elite: the ruling authorities and the religious leaders. Maybe it was a quick way to communicate with masons working in quarries in Upper Egypt, or a way for the Pharaoh to get updates from generals in the battlefield. We won’t really know until we can get our hands on more message samples.”

So far, the only text samples that have been uncovered are a warning to not text while driving a chariot and another passage noting that there was a daily limit of 10 texts per day to vote for Egyptian Idol.

And if you’ve made it this far without figuring it out: Happy April Fool’s Day!!!

Mar
16
2009

Bending pyramid rules: An engineering adjustment on the fly changed the dimensions of the Bent Pyramid of Dasher, giving the pyramid its unique shape and its name.
Bending pyramid rules: An engineering adjustment on the fly changed the dimensions of the Bent Pyramid of Dasher, giving the pyramid its unique shape and its name.Courtesy Ivrienen
The pyramids of Giza get all the hype, but there are plenty of other cool pyramids to check out in Egypt. And this week, one of the most unique pyramids in the region will have greater access to the public.

The burial chamber of the Bent Pyramid in Dashar will have its inner chambers opened to the public. Only about five percent of the tourists in Egypt go to see the Bent Pyramid, which is too bad in my mind.

I actually haven't been to Egypt but have been working on a new traveling exhibit about Egypt and archaeology, and that's how I learned about the Bent Pyramid. As you can see by the accompanying photo, it has a very unique shape. It's believed that the Bent Pyramid started out to be the tallest pyramid ever constructed. But engineering problems encountered along the way forced a redesign of that concept, lowering the angle of the pyramid's ascent and giving it a "bent" appearance.

Having full access into a burial chamber of a pyramid is a rare thing. Human traffic, and the moisture that comes from all those people's breaths, are not conducive to a pyramid's dry interior. Zahi Hawass, Egypt's top archaeologist, was so concerned with the twists and turns of the Bent Pyramid's winding tunnels on his first trip inside that he had aides tie a rope around his waist so they could pull him out if he got lost.

All in all, it adds up to be another great reason to some day visit Egypt. Have you already been there, or some other points of interest in Egypt? Share them here with other Buzz readers.

Archaeologists in Egypt have found made a massive find of mummies at an excavation near Saqqara. Read all the details of the find here.

Jun
06
2008

Buried neighbor: The Step Pyramid of Saqqara is a close neighbor to the buried pyramid that was discovered recently in Egypt. Archaeologists had to dig throug 25 feet of sand to find the pyramid's remains.
Buried neighbor: The Step Pyramid of Saqqara is a close neighbor to the buried pyramid that was discovered recently in Egypt. Archaeologists had to dig throug 25 feet of sand to find the pyramid's remains.Courtesy Charlesjsharp
Are you missing a pyramid? Well, one was found this week in Saqqara, Egypt, under about 25 feet of sand.

Actually, it’s the base of a collapsed pyramid that is believed to have been built for King Menkauhor, who ruled Egypt in the mid 2400s B.C.

And the discovery should really come as no surprise. During the 1800s, German archaeologist Karl Richard Lepsius had recorded that there were remains of a collapsed pyramid at the site. No one really did anything with that information until recently.

It took crews a year and a half to dig through the 25 feet of sand that had accumulated over the pyramid site just to get to its remains. Saqqara, located near Cairo, is the site of several other famous pyramids. It is also the site of the ancient city Memphis, which was the royal seat of power during much of early Egyptian history.

And this could all just be the start of a lot more to come. Egyptian government officials want to relocate people who now live close to the Saqqara site so more extensive digging can be done in the area. Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, estimates that only 30 percent of the temples and tombs of Saqqara have been found.

"Saqqara is a virgin site," he told National Geographic. "It's very important for us to do this excavation to understand more about the pyramids of the Old Kingdom."

Links:
National Geographic report
National Geographic video of the find

From all the posts I do about ancient Egypt, can you tell I'm involved in developing an exhibit on Egypt? Here's a pretty cool interactive computer game where you get to explore the secret chambers of an ancient Egyptian tomb. Can you figure out who's buried there? Also, here's a link to an article examining the history of curses associated with those who go into mummy tombs. Don't worry, playing this game shouldn't make you vulnerable to the curse.

Mar
19
2008

Public project: Growing evidence in the Giza monument area of Egypt is showing that the work crews that built the pryamids were motivated by community or spiritual pride, erasing any lingering impressions that the work was done by slave labor.
Public project: Growing evidence in the Giza monument area of Egypt is showing that the work crews that built the pryamids were motivated by community or spiritual pride, erasing any lingering impressions that the work was done by slave labor.Courtesy en:User:Hajor
You know all about Habitat for Humanity, right? A huge group of people come together and under the guidance of a few experts, erect a house in just a few days for a needy family.

A variation on that same concept was very likely in play in building the great pyramids of the Giza Plateau. On going research at the archaeological site near Cairo, Egypt, is showing that a very organized process was at play in building those pyramids.

The clues are coming from the remains of a buried city south of the monuments. Archaeologists/Egyptologists Mark Lehner and Zahi Hawass are overseeing the projects that are digging up this lost city and the adjoining graveyard.

They estimate that the city could have handled between 20,000 and 30,000 people. That population was made up a smaller group of permanent residents -– masons and artisans—who had the expertise in building and decorating the pyramids along with a crew of volunteer manual laborers who rotated into the workforce from their regular duties in the surrounding Egyptian countryside. Rounding out the population was a support crew that baked bread, processed food and handled other chores to keep a hard-working labor force fed and happy.

The latest evidence puts to rest any of the old “Hollywood” notions that the pyramids were built with slave labor toiling miserably under the hot sun.

So what are these new clues?

Hawass has found inscriptions inside of the pyramids that indicate that there were specific work crews on the job who were proud of their work. Graffiti found in out-of-the-way locations inside the pyramids bears that out.

“The workmen who were involved in building the Great Pyramid were divided into four groups, each group had a name, and each group had an overseer,” Hawass said in a recent interview. “They wrote the names of the gangs. You have the names of the gangs of Khufu as 'Friends of Khufu.' Because they were the friends of Khufu proves that building the pyramid was not really something that the Egyptians would push.”

Lehner adds that public production work has been a rallying point in other civilizations, including the Incas and Mesopotamians.

“I wonder if that wasn't the case with the Great Pyramid of Khufu. You know, it's almost like an Amish barnraising,” he says. “But you know, the Great Pyramid of Khufu is one hell of a barn.” And it took 20 years to complete instead of a few days.

He goes on to explain that Egyptian society likely was organized in a feudal system, where all members of the society owed some degree of service to their superiors. The concept, in Egyptian, is called bak. "But it doesn't really work as a word for slavery," Lehner says. "Even the highest officials owed bak."

Large-scale baking and meat-processing facilities have also been found in the buried town. Based on the large number of young animal bones and fish scales found on the site, workers ate well on the projects. The foundations of barracks, often as long as city blocks, show that there was a lot of temporary housing in the city.

Hawass’s work in the neighboring graveyards has also revealed some important clues. Regular workers were buried in simple graves near the town. Closer to the pyramids was a second graveyard where the high-skilled workers were buried. Their graves often contained markers that noted what special expertise they provided to the project.

Medical analysis of bones found in the cemetery show injuries that are consistent with working on a large-scale construction project. Says Hawass: “We found 600 skeletons. Number one, we know that they were Egyptians, the same like you see in every cemetery in Egypt. Number two, we found evidence that these people had emergency treatment. They had accidents during building the pyramids. We found 12 skeletons that had accidents with their hands. On another one, a stone fell down on his leg, and they made a kind of operation, and they cut his leg and he lived 14 years after that.”

In a day and age 5,000 years ago when most people’s lives were pretty simple, being part of building a pyramid could have served as a rallying point to bring people together. And with the prospect of building a great structure for the king who would become a god after he died, there was likely good motivation to curry favor in the afterlife in being part of such a project as well.

Links:
Harvard Magazine

National Geographic

PBS Nova

And here's a link to a seperate research project being done on graves of ordinary Egyptians further south of Giza.

Jan
23
2008

Cementing a new theory: After looking at the blocks of Egyptian pyramids through scanning electron microscopes, researchers now think that constructors poured the blocks like cement rather than carving them out of limestone rock.
Cementing a new theory: After looking at the blocks of Egyptian pyramids through scanning electron microscopes, researchers now think that constructors poured the blocks like cement rather than carving them out of limestone rock.Courtesy Nina Aldin Thune
Every once and a while a significant scientific discovery slides under the radar and goes past virtually unnoticed.

A colleague here the museum last week slipped me a printout of a web story broken this past spring that’s pretty big news but hasn’t seemed to catch public attention. So why not broadcast it out here to the Science Buzz community, where it will light people’s scientific imaginations and spread like wildfire.

We’ve all seen those old epic movies showing the enslaved Israelites toiling away carving and pulling huge stone blocks to create the pyramids of Egypt. Well, upon closer inspection is might not have exactly worked that way.

After about five years of researcher, primarily through the use of scanning electron microscopy, Michel Barsoum of Drexel University and his research team have built a convincing case that some of the blocks in the pyramids were constructed out of a poured concrete-type mixture, not out of cut blocks of limestone.

A couple small details jumped out big to help them reach this conclusion. First, little structures found in the inner and outer casing stones were much like materials found in cement binders. Second, the pyramid stones were also much higher in water content than limestone slabs found in the general area. Looking closer at the atomic structure of the cementing phase, it was amorphous. That means its atoms do not arrange in a regular pattern. Sedimentary rocks rarely, if ever, have an amorphous structure.

Since the pyramid blocks are made of stone that doesn’t seem to occur naturally in the area, the researchers now think they blocks were poured like cement out of a concoction of limestone, diatomaceous earth, lime and water. In many ways, the early Egyptians had figured out ways to alter everyday items on the nano-scale to be able to build great things.

The new theory certainly helps erase some of the unanswerable questions from the long-accepted carved-stone theory. Among those questions were how could basic tools match up blocks to fit together so smoothly? Why have no copper chisels, presumably used to carve out the stone blocks, never been found? How could manpower labor get heavy top-capping blocks to the tops of the tall pyramids?

For sure, there are more questions to be answered with these new discoveries. But now Egyptologists have a new direction and a new perspective to view these findings from.

What do you think about all this? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.