I had remembered reading something about strange markings a robot discovered while exploring the tunnels in the Great Pyramid of Giza a while ago and talking about pyramids in class recently made me curious to see what had become of them. I came across two articles, which I’ll link below. One of them, from CNN examines hidden graffiti that has recently been examined at the Great Pyramid, and the second is a NOVA interview with Zahi Hawass and Mark Lehner about who built the pyramids.
The robot, named Djedi after the magician Khufu consulted when building the Great Pyramid, captured images of a number of hieroglyphics written in red. A Harvard professor remarked that the marking were similar to ones found across Egypt, and that they usually marked the work gang that built the room. These graffiti marking often show up in places that were never meant to be found like the foundations exposed when archaeologists dig below floor level. These marking give us a picture into the organization of the workers who built Egypt’s large monuments, the Great Pyramid in particular. Any particular gang of workmen was divided into two crews which were then divided into five phyles, the Greek word for “tribe”. The phyles are divided into divisions with each division identified by a single hieroglyph. This knowledge comes from the burial chambers within the pyramids where these marking are found. Archaeologists find a cartouche of a king with some red markings beside it, this represents the group of workers who were working there. In the Old Kingdom, gangs of workers were named after kings, and then the divisions differentiated by what they called themselves. One well preserved marking, in the King’s Burial Chamber of the Great Pyramid, reads “The Friends of Khufu Gang”. Now this really interested me because many traditional, older theories for the construction of the pyramids involved large slave forces. But workers calling themselves “The Friends of Khufu” doesn’t sound a whole lot like slavery. On some monuments, archaeologists have found the sign of one gang on one side of the monument, and the sign of another gang on the other side, making it seem like groups of workers were competing with each other to see who could get the most done.
Reading about how workers in ancient Egypt were tagging their works makes me think that these workers were proud of what they were doing. They weren’t coerced into manual labor by oppression, and they certainly weren’t treated like slaves. These workers saw the grandeur and magnificence of what they were undertaking and they were proud to do the work.
Here are the articles: