The Great Pyramid – the largest of several found at Giza – is the only surviving wonder of the ancient world. With such a fantastical past, it has long been debated how such an astounding structure was built without the help of modern technology. Over the years, it has been conjectured that ancient Egyptians carried large hand-carved rocks up massive ramps to set them in place, but that doesn’t explain how these enormous limestone blocks were transported to the Giza plateau in the first place.
However, in 2017, archaeologists made a fascinating new discovery: a papyrus scroll that finally explains how the building materials were brought from far away. Consisting of one person’s first-hand account, this discovery uncloaks a mystery that has fascinated archaeologists, researchers, and armchair historians for years. Zahi Hawass, minister of antiquities and former chief inspector of the site of the pyramids of Giza, called it “the greatest discovery in Egypt in the 21st century.” It's no wonder the discovery made headlines around the world.
A team of Egyptian and French scholars discovered a papyrus diary written by an official named Merer. What makes this discovery so compelling is that his diary is the world's sole first-person description of how the Great Pyramid was built. Archaeologists found Merer's papyrus in the Red Sea port of Wadi al-Jarf.
In his diary, Merer references working for "the noble Ankh-haf," who was Pharaoh Khufu's half-brother, and that he was in charge of about 40 men. These documents evidence that Ankh-haf was one of those in charge of the Great Pyramid's construction.
In Merer's diary, he recounts how limestone quarried in Tura (about 12 miles south of Cairo) was transported by boat across the Nile River to Giza through specially built canals built by his team. One such vessel was unearthed at the bottom of the pyramids. After traversing the river, the stone blocks were then deposited near the building site by workers using ropes. The blocks were further moved on tracks. The workers transported approximately 170,000 tons of limestone in this manner.
It's believed a similar system was used to move granite from Aswan, which is located several hundred miles from Giza.
Around 2550 B.C., Pharaoh Khufu started construction on the Great Pyramid at Giza. It is made up of approximately 2.3 million stone blocks. Each block is absolutely massive and weighs between 2.5 to 15 tons. When the Great Pyramid was built, it was reportedly 481 feet tall. Over time, the structure sunk a little into the desert and is now 455 feet tall.
The second pyramid was built about 30 years later by Khufu's son, Pharaoh Khafre, who also constructed the Sphinx. Pharaoh Menkaure built the third, smallest, pyramid 30 years later, in approximately 2490 B.C.
The individuals who built the pyramids required strong tools to cut the stone for the pyramids. Workers mined copper across the Red Sea and transported it to the port of Wadi al-Jarf before it reached Giza. Pharaoh Khufu, also known as King Cheops, built the harbor about 111 miles from Suez - which is hundreds of miles from Giza.
In addition to copper, the harbor was used to import other minerals for tool making.