20 Awe-Inspiring Discoveries That Prove Just How Truly Special The Egyptian Pyramids Are

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Although the Pyramids of Egypt have been extensively studied since the 19th century, new discoveries are constantly in the news. And the accumulated body of knowledge about this extraordinary ancient civilization exemplifies the richness and variety of human heritage from thousands of years ago. Read on to learn about 20 of the most stunning discoveries from the pyramids.

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20. Lost Pyramids revealed

Modern technology came up trumps in 2011 when satellite imagery revealed 17 previously unknown Egyptian pyramids. Experts analyzing the images taken by Quickbird and NASA equipment also uncovered 3,000 lost settlements and over 1,000 tombs. The images were analyzed with infra-red and thermal techniques in an 11-year study led by University of Alabama archaeologist Sarah Parcak.

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Archaeologists then confirmed the accuracy of the satellite images with an excavation at Saqqara, a well-known ancient Egyptian location. There, researchers found physical evidence of one of the pyramids revealed by the study. Talking about the use of tech to uncover the hidden secrets of Egypt, Professor Parcak told the BBC in 2011, “Indiana Jones is old school, we’ve moved on from Indy. Sorry, Harrison Ford.”

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19. Secret void in Great Pyramid

Without doubt, the best known of Egypt’s more than 100 pyramids are the three at Giza. And they include the Great Pyramid, sometimes called the Pyramid of Cheops or the Pyramid of Khufu. In 2017, archaeologists revealed a startling find within it, which was a surprise since this massive monument has been the subject of intensive study for over a century. Yet it still had secrets to yield.

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Using muon radiography, an advanced exploratory technique, researchers revealed a previously unknown space inside the pyramid. Extending for around 100 feet, this enigmatic void looks like a passageway, but its true purpose remains a mystery. Speaking to National Geographic magazine, Egyptologist Yukinori Kawae said, “This is definitely the discovery of the century. There have been many hypotheses about the pyramid, but no one even imagined that such a big void is located above the Grand Gallery.”

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18. Giza pyramid town

Obviously, the massive pyramids required a huge amount of work in their construction. And the ancient Egyptians who toiled on this astonishing project – from architects to laborers – needed somewhere to live. Luckily, researchers found just such a place. Archaeologists discovered a settlement close to the Pyramid of Menkaure. This pharaoh ruled from around 2530 B.C., and built the last of the tombs erected at Giza.

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Archaeologists discovered the town, dating from the time of Menkaure, during excavations that started in 1988. It included a large house for senior officials to live and a military barracks. There was also a harbor on the River Nile where supplies for the townsfolk, along with building materials for the pyramid’s construction, landed.

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17. Great Pyramid papyri

It was in 2013 that archaeologists uncovered a trove of papyri, ancient Egyptian documents written on paper made from papyrus plants. Researchers were exploring an extraordinary 4,500-year-old port, the oldest ever discovered, on the shores of the Red Sea when they came across the texts. And one of the topics they discussed was the Great Pyramid at Giza.

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The journal of Merrer, a port administrator, was among the papyri. And according to the documents, he was closely involved in the Great Pyramid’s construction. As Pierre Tallet, a University of Paris-Sorbonne Egyptologist, told Discovery News, “He mainly reported about his many trips to the Tura limestone quarry to fetch blocks for the building of the pyramid. This diary provides for the first time an insight on this matter.”

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16. The Khufu ship

Egyptian archaeologist Kamal el-Mallakh spent 14 years of his life excavating around the monuments of Giza. And all that work paid off, as one of his discoveries was spectacular. In 1954 El-Mallakh opened a sealed rock-hewn chamber near the base of the Great Pyramid. Inside was a complete, full-size ship from around 4,500 years ago, a sensational find.

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It’s believed that this 143-foot-long ship was built for Khufu, the pharaoh interred in the Great Pyramid. The vessel, made largely from cedar wood, was probably meant to take the ruler on his voyage to the afterlife. It may also have doubled as a water-borne hearse for the ruler’s final journey along the Nile to his tomb in Giza.

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15. The Bent Pyramid

The Bent Pyramid gets its strange nickname from the abrupt change of angle in its lines towards the structure’s summit. Located in the royal necropolis of Dahshur, about 25 miles from Cairo, this tomb was built for Pharaoh Sneferu who ruled Egypt around 4,600 years ago. Researchers believe it shows evidence of an important transition in the building of these structures, from smooth to stepped sides.

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Various theories have sought to explain the strange change in direction along the Bent Pyramid’s sides. Some believe that the steeper angle created an instability as the structure rose from the desert surface. Flattening it might, therefore, have corrected this problem. A competing theory, though, has it that Sneferu was already near death and the variation allowed for quicker completion of the tomb.

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14. Red Pyramid

The Red Pyramid, also known as the North Pyramid, is one of three large structures at the Dahshur necropolis on the River Nile’s west bank. At a height of 344 feet, it’s the tallest of the trio and takes its name from the red tint on its exterior. In antiquity, though, white limestone from the Tura quarry covered its faces. However, most of that was removed during the Middle Ages for reuse in other building projects.

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Like the Bent Pyramid, the Red Pyramid was built by Sneferu around 4,500 years ago. Researchers there discovered an inscription about periodic cattle counts on the tomb, indicating that the pharaoh may have ruled for at least 27 years. This conclusion, however, remains controversial. In fact, some Egyptologists give wildly differing figures for the length of the his reign.

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13. Building the pyramids

One of the enduring mysteries posed by those massive pyramids is how they were built. However, evidence from the ancient alabaster quarry at Hatnub offered some intriguing insights into construction methods. During a dig in 2018, researchers paid special attention to a ramp at the site. This slope, dating from about 4,600 years ago, appeared to be too steep to handle the massive blocks of stone needed to erect the tombs.

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But experts discovered a series of steps and post-holes beside this particular ramp. Speaking to the Phys Org website, archaeologist Dr. Yannis Gourdon explained, “This system is composed of a central ramp flanked by two staircases with numerous post-holes. Using a sled which carried a stone block and was attached with ropes to these wooden posts, ancient Egyptians were able to pull up the alabaster blocks out of the quarry on very steep slopes.”

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12. Unfinished Pyramid of Djedefre

Experts believe this ruined pyramid, at a site called Abu Rawash, was built for Pharaoh Djedefre. He was the son and heir of Khufu, the ruler who built the Great Pyramid at Giza. Some researchers reckon that this tomb was one of the most exquisite ever built, with facings of highly burnished granite and limestone. It’s also thought that the Romans eventually destroyed the monument, plundering its stone for their building works.

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However, there is an alternative narrative about the Pyramid of Djedefre. In 2010 an expert from Paris’ Louvre Museum, Dr. Michael Baud, suggested that, in fact, it was never completed. However, he does assert that work was at an advanced stage. Speaking to the Archeology News Network website, Baud said, “There are such huge piles of granite that it, of course, means that this monument was at least half finished and probably more.” But today, all we see are ruins.

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11. Egyptian princess’ face revealed

In 2017, archaeologists made a stunning find. They unearthed the coffin of a bona fide princess called Hatshepset. Researchers from Cairo’s American University made the discovery at Dahshur as they investigated a wasteland of broken stone that was once a pyramid. Unfortunately, it appears that ancient grave looters found the wooden coffin first. They smashed it open, stole the valuables within and then scattered her remains.

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But experts carried out a painstaking conservation process on the remains of the nearly 4,000-year-old coffin. And as they did so, a stunning image of Hatshepset emerged. Dr. Yasmin El Shazly of the American University explained to The Daily Mail, “Coffins normally had features that were similar to the owner, but idealized, because that’s what they would look like for eternity. Why would I want to look ugly for eternity?”

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10. Egyptian mummification: the ‘recipe’

The process of mummification that the Egyptians used to preserve their dead, especially those from the elite classes, was complex. And contemporary scientists are still working to understand fully the sophisticated methods that the ancient society used on royal corpses before committing them to pyramid tombs. But a major breakthrough came in 2018.

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Scientists at England’s University of York carried out advanced forensic analysis on a mummy interred around 5,000 years ago. They discovered that the necessary elements included oil, perhaps from sesame seeds, pine resin, a root extract, probably from bulrushes, and a gum, likely from acacia trees. Archaeologist Dr. Stephen Buckley told the BBC that this recipe “literally embodies the embalming that was at the heart of Egyptian mummification for 4,000 years.”

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9. The oldest tattoo

Plenty of modern Americans have tattoos, but how far back in human history can we trace inked body art? A very long way it turns out, to the time of the ancient Egyptians. This came to light in 2018 when scientists examined two mummies, both some 5,000 years old and found that they had tats. These are the oldest examples yet discovered.

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One of the Egyptian mummies, a man, had two tattoos, both on his upper arm. They depicted a Barbary sheep and a wild bull. The second, a woman, had s-shaped designs on her shoulder and upper arm. Daniel Antoine of the British Museum, who worked on the project, told the BBC, “Only now are we gaining new insights into the lives of these remarkably preserved individuals. Incredibly, at over 5,000 years of age, they push back the evidence for tattooing in Africa by a millennium.”

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8. Who built the pyramids?

It’s widely held that the massive royal tombs of ancient Egypt could only have been built using slave labor. But experts know different. Speaking to The Guardian in 2010, the one-time director of the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, Dieter Wildung, said, “The myth of the slaves building pyramids is only the stuff of tabloids and Hollywood. The world simply could not believe [they] were built […] out of loyalty to the pharaohs.”

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And a 2010 analysis of a 1990 discovery showed that Wildung’s words were more than mere assertion. Having excavated a 4,500-yeard-old cemetery near Giza’s pyramids, researchers discovered multiple graves belonging to those who toiled on the monuments. And they contained jars of bread and beer, essential supplies for the afterlife. These are decent graves and, according to Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s chief archaeologist, “No way would they have been buried so honorably if they were slaves.”

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7. Thermal scans unveil pyramid anomalies

In 2015, an international team of scientists started to analyze the 4,500-year-old Giza pyramids with a technique new to archaeology. Speaking to Ahram Online, Mamdouh Eldamaty, Egypt’s minister of antiquities at the time, explained the innovative methods. “The survey will be implemented through invasive – though non-destructive – scanning techniques using cosmic rays, in cooperation with scientists and experts from Japan, France and Canada.”

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The thermal scans revealed something unexpected in the inner depths of Giza’s Great Pyramid. At various points in the monument’s interior, there were strange temperature anomalies. These inconsistencies point to potential voids within the structure. And it’s possible that those empty spaces might actually be secret chambers or passages. Speaking to the Huffington Post, archaeologist Beth Ann Judas said, “At the very least, this anomaly will shed additional light on the construction techniques of the 4th dynasty Egyptians.”

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6. Using astrology to date the pyramids

Dr. Kate Spence, an archaeologist from Britain’s prestigious Cambridge University, came up with some intriguing findings in 2000. She theorized that the ancient Egyptians relied on the constellations to line up their pyramids. Specifically, they used the positions of both the Big and Little Dipper stars to place the monuments on a north to south axis. And that alignment is astonishingly accurate, to within 0.05 of a degree.

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This knowledge allows us to more accurately estimate the dates of the pharaohs who ruled ancient Egypt. And once we’ve calculated the historic positions of stars in the night sky, we can work out when the Egyptians were making their measurements for north to south alignment. All of which means we can figure out when the monuments were built to within five years.

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5. The talented Imhotep

Imhotep was a high official in ancient Egypt who lived around 4,700 years ago. He’s long been thought the probable designer of the Pyramid of Djoser, built for the pharaoh of that name. And he was clearly revered at the time, as he remains one of only two non-royals deified following their death. But research published in 2007 indicates that he was far more than a skilled administrator and architect.

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Scientists from Britain’s University of Manchester studied ancient texts from around 1500 B.C., and they revealed a startling new facet to Imhotep’s achievements. It appears that he was responsible for formulating a range of medical treatments. In fact, the administrator is among the fathers of modern medicine. Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, Dr. Jackie Campbell said, “Many of the ancient remedies we discovered survived into the 20th century and, indeed, some remain in use today, albeit that the active component is now produced synthetically.”

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4. Robot reveals Great Pyramid secrets

Increasingly, researchers deploy modern technologies to unlock the secrets of Egypt’s ancient tombs. These techniques have distinct advantages, since non-invasive methods diminish the risks of destroying invaluable archaeological material. One example of this came in 2011 with the use of a remotely controlled robot to explore a narrow passageway leading to a small chamber in Giza’s Great Pyramid.

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This robot, dubbed Djedi after an Egyptian sorcerer, crept along a tunnel in the 4,500-year-old monument. Equipped with a camera able to peek around corners, the droid revealed what might be ancient graffiti left by the pyramid builders. Explaining the red-colored writings to New Scientist magazine, Peter Der Manuelian, a Harvard Egyptologist, said, “They are often masons’ or work-gangs’ marks, denoting numbers, dates or even the names of the gangs.”

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3. Poetry of ancient Egypt

The ancient quarry at Hatnub has been a rich source of evidence to explain how the pyramids were built, including the aforementioned stone-hauling ramps. But in 2018 two researchers revealed some surprising new finds they’d uncovered there. And this time it came in the unexpected form of poetry. Archaeologists studied graffiti written on the walls by workers and found some intriguing and informative verses.

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Archaeologists discovered around 100 previously unearthed texts. The graffiti included information about the stone used to build the pyramids and the men who labored in the quarry. In a piece on the Conversation website, one of the researchers, Roland Enmarch, wrote, “At Hatnub we have an actual Bronze Age wall whose texts speak across the years, and create a solidarity among those who came to work in the quarry, generation after generation.”

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2. Two tombs uncovered

The area around the three iconic pyramids at Giza is, as we mentioned, the subject of extensive investigation. Yet it continues to yield fascinating finds. In May 2019, one recent particularly compelling excavation came to light. A team led by Mostafa Waziri of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities uncovered the 4,500-year-old graves of two high officials, one named Behnui-Ka, the other called Nwi, at a newly discovered cemetery.

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Both men it appears, served the Pharaoh Khafre. Nwi acted as the king’s Chief of Great State and Behnui-Ka held the important positions of priest and judge. According to the Live Science website, an inscription also noted a grand title held by the former. He was “the purifier of kings: Khafre, Userkaf and Niuserre,” indicating that he served three pharaohs. Interred in ornate, painted coffins, the notable pair’s graves included a variety of artifacts, such as limestone statues and wooden masks.

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1. A queen’s jewelry

Queen Weret II was the most important of the four wives of Pharaoh Senwosret III who ruled Egypt for 41 years from 1879 B.C. Her tomb is at the Dahshur royal necropolis, famous for its fine pyramids, but unfortunately ancient grave robbers plundered it. However, for centuries afterwards, sand concealed the entrance to her monument. A team from New York’s Metropolitan Museum eventually uncovered it in 1994.

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Under Senwosret III’s pyramid the archaeologists found an underground burial chamber where the queen had been interred. And researchers were astonished to find a stash of Weret’s jewelry left behind by the ancient looters. Hidden in the tomb’s entrance shaft, these precious jewels stayed hidden for almost 4,000 years. The stunning collection included bracelets, a girdle made with gold shells and a pair of amethyst scarabs.

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