How Egypt’s biggest pyramids were built: Revealed


Scientists have recently discovered a hidden branch of the Nile River, providing insight into how ancient Egyptians carried large stone blocks to build over 30 pyramids in Egypt.

For thousands of years, the 40-mile-long river branch that originally fed the Giza Pyramid complex and other ancient monuments lay hidden beneath desert and farmland. Its discovery was announced in a study paper published on Thursday in the journal ‘Communications Earth & Environment’.

“Many of us who are interested in ancient Egypt are aware that the Egyptians must have used a waterway to build their enormous monuments, like the pyramids and valley temples, but nobody was certain of the location, shape, size, or proximity of this mega waterway to the actual pyramids site,” said Eman Ghoneim, an earth and ocean sciences professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington who led the team. “Our research offers the first map of one of the main ancient branches of the Nile at such a large scale and links it with the largest pyramid fields of Egypt.”


How was the study carried out?

The team used radar satellite photos, geophysical data, and deep soil coring to study the subsurface structure and sedimentology in the Nile Valley near the pyramids. This method enabled them to penetrate the sand and discover hidden features such as buried rivers and old ruins.
They discovered pieces of an important extinct Nile branch known as the Ahramat Branch, which runs through the foothills of the Western Desert Plateau, where the majority of the pyramids are found.

“Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery and radar high-resolution elevation data for the Nile floodplain and its desert margins, between south Lisht and the Giza Plateau area, provide evidence for the existence of segments of a major ancient river branch bordering 31 pyramids dating from the Old Kingdom to Second Intermediate Period (2686−1649 BCE) and spanning between Dynasties 3-13,” according to the research.

What did the study discover?

According to the scientists, the Ahramat Branch played an important role in the construction of these monuments by serving as an active transportation channel for workers and constructing materials to the pyramid sites.

The presence of this long-buried watercourse offers a credible explanation for why the 31 pyramids were built in a chain along a barren desert strip in the Nile valley between 4,700 and 3,700 BC.
The river’s existence indicates that it played an important role in conveying the massive building materials and laborers required for pyramid construction. Many pyramids had a ceremonial raised walkway that extended beside the river, connecting to Valley Temples that acted as harbors.

According to research co-author Suzanne Onstine of the University of Memphis, these hefty commodities, the majority of which came from the south, “would have been much easier to float down the river” than carry over land.

She speculated that the riverbanks may have been where pharaohs’ funeral entourages were received before their remains were carried to their ultimate resting place within the pyramid.


The river may also explain why the pyramids were built in various locations.

“The water’s course and its volume changed over time, so fourth dynasty kings had to make different choices than 12th dynasty kings,” she explained.

“The discovery reminded me about the intimate connection between geography, climate, environment and human behaviour.”

The once-mighty river gradually became covered in sand, most likely beginning during a significant drought some 4,200 years ago.

The research emphasizes the strong link between geography, climate, environment, and human behavior in ancient civilizations. It also provides new insights into how the ancient Egyptians constructed such large and long-lasting monuments.

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