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Discovery of ancient Nile tributary prompts reassessment of pyramid construction methods

Discovery was made through the use of satellite data

A general view of the Pyramids of Giza (L-R) Menkaure, Khafre, and Khufu (Photo: DPA/Picture Alliance)

Researchers have recently uncovered an ancient branch of the Nile River located near 31 pyramids in Egypt, including the three iconic structures at the Great Pyramid of Giza.

This discovery was made through the use of satellite data. This branch, now hidden by desert sands and farmland, is believed to have been a crucial naval route for transporting the immense boulders and stones necessary for building the iconic pyramids from southern Egypt.

This significant finding was published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment. It reveals that this Nile River tributary extended roughly 64 kilometers (40 miles), running close to the renowned Giza Pyramid (dated to around 2600 B.C.) and other major Egyptian pyramids.

For thousands of years since, it remained unknown and hidden under layers of desert and agricultural land, potentially holding the key to understanding the construction of these monumental edifices.

Historically, archaeologists have assumed and posited that ancient Egyptians must have utilized a proximate waterway to transport the colossal stones used in pyramid construction, but no one knew exactly where.

The area near ancient Memphis encompasses the pyramid of Giza – the only surviving wonder of the ancient world – as well as the pyramids of Khafre, Cheops and Menkaure. The discovery of this ancient Nile branch provides insights into why these 31 pyramids were built in a linear arrangement along a desert corridor in the Nile Valley between 4,700 and 3,700 years ago.

Radar-based satellite imagery utilized by the research team was instrumental in mapping the buried river branch. Dr. Eman Ghoneim, a professor in the Dept. of Earth and Ocean Sciences at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, emphasized that the radar technology offered "a unique ability to penetrate the sand and reveal hidden features, including buried rivers and ancient structures." Subsequent field tests and sediment analyses confirmed the existence of this ancient waterway.

One of the enduring mysteries of history is how the ancient Egyptians managed to erect their massive structures. Transporting the heavy building materials from southern Egypt via the river would have been considerably easier than overland transport, noted Susan Onstine, the associate professor of Egyptology and Ancient History from the University of Memphis, who also contributed to the study.

Once believed to have been built by the Hebrew slaves, the pyramids of Giza, Khafre and Menkaure are not dated to the time of the biblical passage of the Hebrews in the land of Egypt (between 1800/1600 to 1400/1200 B.C). In fact, these pyramids were built by thousands of conscript laborers, according to most of today’s scholars.

The researchers propose that this ancient branch, which became increasingly buried under sand over time, might indicate a severe aridity that affected Egypt approximately 4,200 years ago. The Giza pyramids were situated about one kilometer (about half a mile) from the river branch's banks.

Prof. Ghoneim suggested there may have been an ancient port in the vicinity.

"This indicates that the river was vital for moving the massive building materials and the workforce necessary for the construction of the pyramids," she remarked.

The banks of this ancient Nile branch could have also been the gathering point for funeral processions before transferring a pharaoh's body to his final resting places within the pyramids, Onstine pointed out. This could also shed light on why the pyramids were constructed in their specific locations.

The American researcher added: "Water flow and volume varied over time, necessitating different decisions by the Fourth Dynasty kings compared to those of the Twelfth Dynasty. This discovery highlights the intricate relationship between geography, climate, environment, and human behavior."

The potential resolution of one of history's greatest puzzles is now in sight. Scientists believe that the discovery of this ancient Nile River branch could finally explain one of archaeology's longstanding questions: How did the ancient Egyptians transport the massive stones used in their iconic pyramid constructions?

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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