In Brief

Egypt’s Oldest Written Papyri Reveal Routines of Great Pyramid Builders

(photo courtesy Ministry of Antiquities)
A fragment from a collection of Egypt’s oldest papyruses (photo courtesy Ministry of Antiquities)

The Egyptian Museum in Cairo has unveiled the country’s oldest written papyri that archaeologists have found so far, placing the delicate fragments on display last month. Roughly 4,500 years old, they describe the daily routines of workers during the Fourth Dynasty reign of King Khufu as they worked on national projects, highlighting in particular the physical labor of constructing the pharaoh’s Great Pyramid of Giza.

In 2013, egyptologists Pierre Tallet and Sayed Mahfouz had found a total of 30 papyri inside caves in the ancient port of Wadi el-Jarf, located about 75 miles from Suez. As the AP reported, six of them are now on display.

“These show the administrative power and the central nature of the state at the time of Khufu,” ministry official Hussein Abdel-Bassir said. Most of the documents preserve notes related to accounting, according to curator Sabah Abdel Razek; experts have even managed to determine that one belonged to an officer of middle ranking named Merer. It reveals that he had headed a team of about 40 men whose day-to-day duties consisted of transporting limestone from quarries on the east back of the Nile to Khufu’s pyramid.

As Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities said in a statement, Tallet and Mahfouz’s findings predate, by a slim margin, documents known as the El-Gebelein papyri — which date to the end of the fourth dynasty — and the Abusir papyri, dating to the end of the fifth dynasty.

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The papyri on display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (screenshot via AFP/YouTube)
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The papyri on display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (screenshot via AFP/YouTube)
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