This is the sixteenth in a series of repeated posts (e.g. published elsewhere before) from outside of China, detailing the start of my expatriate life. There will always be a post a day about China so if you’re not interested in other material – you can stop reading now.
Stefan asks how I have heard that the pyramids were built. “Slave labour?” I reply. This is an error, the Egyptians are really angry about the idea of the pyramids being built by slaves. They feel that our feeble British education system is to blame for this misconception and he spends the next few minutes giving me the approved academic view currently in circulation in Egypt.
Essentially it boils down to this. The pyramids were a huge undertaking; nearly 200,000 men would have been involved at any one time, it would have been nearly impossible to make 200,000 slaves taken from around the world (think language and cultural difficulties as well as numbers) to work together on a project. He also points out that generally slaves do not work willingly or to their highest standards for their captors, and that if they had been slaves the pyramids would have resembled a Trabant and would have disintegrated long ago.
Instead he advances the idea that they were free men from the Nile Delta, with one language and culture who built the pyramids. He says that as the Nile Delta would have flooded for 3/4 months of the year, those who made it their home and farmed there would have had nothing to do except wait it out. So instead the kings brought them together to build their pyramids, and those who made outstanding contribution would have the honour of being buried around the outside of the pyramid (when they died of natural causes, not being put to death because of a whim by a king) and there is evidence of these grave sites available for further perusal.
I like this theory, because it does make more sense, and reminds me that no matter how much we think we know, there is always more to learn.
The pyramid of Khafre, is close by and it looms above us, which is in fact a bit of an optical illusion, it is not bigger than the great pyramid, it is around 5 metres shorter than it, but it is built with a higher angled side (making it thinner) and on a naturally occuring rock ledge which adds another 10 metres or so to its height.
The other pyramid of Menkaure is also nearby, but is substantially smaller than these two and is often referred to as the little pyramid by locals. Apparently Menkaure was a really nice chap, so I guess they didn’t feel as obliged to work so hard for him. Tyranny had its benefits even then I guess. It also has a few mini-pyramids scattered around it, known as Queen’s pyramids, maybe that’s another dig at his niceness, who knows?
We walk round the site of all 3 for a little while and then I attempt to enter the burial chamber of Khafre, this is not a good idea, firstly the tunnel and stairs down are built for dwarves, I am required to stoop so low you’d think I was testing for shit on my shoes, secondly they are filthy more rubbish and urine, and thirdly I have hurt my neck quite badly at some point in the evening.
I make it about half way down and the pain is getting worse and worse, I decide to go back sliding my way over all the grime to get out. It’s a shame, but it was hellaciously claustrophobic in there and if my neck decided to seize completely, I’m not sure I’d want to spend 3 days inside a pyramid’s tomb to get better.
Outside I am accosted by yet another camel rider, I am too miffed at missing out on the burial chamber to even entertain debate so I ignore him completely and he shouts after me for about 5 minutes before finally coming to the conclusion that he is wasting his time.