Joshua J. Mark
published on 02 September 2009
Giza is a plateau southwest of modern Cairo which served as the necropolis for the royalty of the Old Kingdom of Egypt. Most famous for the pyramids of Khufu (2528 BCE) Khafre (2494 BCE) and Menkaure (2472 BCE) and the Great Sphinx, recent excavations on the plateau have revealed numerous private tomb complexes and workers' quarters. The Great Pyramid of Khufu (also known as the pyramid of Cheops, the pharaoh's Greek name) is the last remaining of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World. The Great Sphinx sits on the eastern side of the complex (the head of the Sphinx believed by Egyptologists to be that of the Pharaoh Khafre) and further on, the great solar barge of Khufu, which is the oldest intact ship extant, was found buried in a pit. Near the Pyramid complex there is a number of smaller structures known as the 'Queens Pyramids'.
The pyramids were once encased in polished limestone which, according to ancient writers, reflected the light of the sun brilliantly. The limestone was stripped away over the years for use in other building projects, most notably the mosques of Cairo. Of the three major pyramids, however, only Menkaure's is seen today without any of its original limestone casing; Khafre's Pyramid retains its casing stones at its apex while Khufu's has a smaller remainder at its base. The sides of all three of the Giza pyramids were oriented astronomically to be precisely north-south and east-west within a small fraction of a degree.
The original layout of the necropolis at Giza seems to have been very precise and well-ordered, but after the end of the Old Kingdom, other tombs were dug without regard for the original pattern. Sometimes they were dug above existing tombs, making present-day Giza a wealth of archaeological material. Recent excavations have uncovered tombs of high officials, magistrates, and supervisors of building projects, as well as monuments honoring Egyptian workers on the pyramids and others buried there.
Largely due to engravings and etchings from the 19th century and early 20th centuries CE (and postcards and calendars of modern times) many people think of the Giza plateau and the pyramids as resting in a remote, wind-swept desert locale, when in reality it sits at the very edge of urban sprawl of Cairo today. In its time it would have also been a center of daily activity with many buildings, colonnades, terraces and even shops.
No evidence of Hebrew slave-laborers has been discovered at Giza nor anywhere else in the entirety of Egypt, contrary to popular opinion and film-versions of Egyptian history based on the Biblical Book of Exodus.
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