The ancient Egyptians built the impressive pyramids of Giza in what is now a desert landscape.
How they transported the heavy building blocks to the pyramids has long been a mystery.
By tracking ancient pollen, scientists have discovered a branch of the Nile that disappeared thousands of years ago.
Researchers have discovered a now dried-up branch of the Nile that reached the great pyramid complex of Giza some 4,500 years ago.
The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, explain how the ancient Egyptians were able to transport millions of tons of building blocks to the site of the iconic pyramids over four miles of what is now a desert landscape.
“It was impossible to build the pyramids here without this branch of the Nile,” study author and geographer Hader Sheesh told the New York Times.
A 4,500-year-old architectural wonder that still baffles scientists
Magnificent in size, perfectly geometric and adorned with intricate decorations, the pyramids at Giza, on the outskirts of modern Cairo, served to demonstrate the power of the pharaohs in Egypt’s golden age.
The site includes three pyramids and the Great Sphinx of Giza, built as elaborate and awe-inspiring mausoleums for the pharaohs Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure between about 2560 BC. and 2540 BC
Khufu’s pyramid, known as the Great Pyramid, was the first to be built and the largest of the three. It includes approximately 2.3 million blocks of limestone and granite. Each block weighs between 2.5 and 15 tons, per National Geographic.
The Great Pyramid is the oldest of the famous Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and the only one that remains largely intact. It originally rose about 481 feet, making it the tallest man-made building in the world for nearly 4,000 years.
However, the Nile is about four miles east of the pyramids. How the builders at that time managed to transport the huge boulders to the pyramid construction site has long puzzled scientists and archaeologists.
He works as a detective to discover a river bed
Scientists had already thought that the Egyptians might have brought the stones to the site by water.
A papyrus discovered in 2013 indicated the location of an ancient port near the Red Sea where the stones were loaded, suggesting the Egyptians knew how to move the blocks along rivers.
Other excavations had shown that a port was built next to the pyramids and that the builders had carved out complex waterways near the port.
To determine whether the Nile took a different path at the time, scientists dug holes in the desert surrounding the pyramids in search of ancient pollen from plants such as papyrus and cattails, which thrive in an aquatic environment.
The study showed that during the rule of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure, about 4,500 years ago, a fixed branch of the Nile River extended towards the pyramids.
This branch is long gone. Pollen from drought-tolerant plants such as grasses showed that this branch of the river had been in decline for centuries since King Tutankhamun came to power in about 1350 BC, according to the Times.
“Knowing more about the environment may solve part of the puzzle of how the pyramids were built,” Sheisha told the Times.
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