That is, they didn't join the stones very accurately. You have great spaces between the stones.
Dating Giza's Pyramids
And you can actually see where the men were up there and they didn't, you know, they may have like four or five, even six inches between two stones. And so they'd jam down pebbles and cobbles and some broken stones, and slop big quantities of gypsum mortar in there. I noticed that in the interstices between the stones and in this mortar was embedded organic material, like charcoal, probably from the fire that they used to heat the gypsum in order to make the mortar. You have to heat raw gypsum in order to dehydrate it, and then you rehydrate it in order to make the mortar, like with modern cement.
So it occurred to me that if we could take these small samples, we could radiocarbon date them, not with conventional radiocarbon dating so much, but recently there's been a development in carbon dating where they use atomic accelerators to count the disintegration rate of the carbon atoms, atom by atom. So you can date extraordinarily small samples.
Egyptian pyramids - Wikipedia
So we set up a program to do that. And it involved us climbing all over the Old Kingdom pyramids, including the ones at Giza, taking as much in the way of organic samples as we could. We weren't damaging the pyramids, because these are tiny little flecks and it's a very strange experience to be crawling over a monument as big as Khufu's, looking for a bit of charcoal that might be as big as the fingernail on your small finger. We noted, not only the samples of charcoal, sometimes there was reed. Now and then in some of the pyramids we found little bits of wood.
But we saw in many places, even on the giant pyramids of Giza, the first pyramid and the second pyramid and the third one, fragments of tools, bits of pottery that are clearly characteristic of the Old Kingdom. And it occurred to us, you know, these are not just objects, these, the pyramids themselves were archaeological sites during the time they were being built. If it took 20 years to build them—and now we begin to think that Khufu may have reigned double the length of time that we traditionally assign him—if people were building the Great Pyramid over three decades, it was an occupied site as long as some camp sites that hunters and gatherers occupied that archaeologists dig out in the desert.
So you see the pyramids are very human monuments. And the evidence of the people who built them, their material culture is embedded right into the very fabric of the pyramids. And I think I could take just about any interested person and show them this kind of material embedded in the pyramids as well as tool marks in the stones and say, hey, folks, these weren't lasers. These were chisels and hammers and you know, people who were really out there.
What does the radiocarbon dating tell us about the date of the pyramids? Well, we did a first run in , actually, funded by the Edgar Cayce Foundation because they had definite ideas that the pyramids were much older than Egyptologists believed. That they date as early as 10, B. Well, obviously for them it was a good test case because radio carbon dating does not give you pinpoint accuracy. If you have a plus or minus factor, but I say it's kind of like shooting at a fly on a barn with a shotgun.
Well, you're not going to hit the fly exactly, you're going to know which side of the barn, which end of the barn, you know, the buckshot is scattering. And it wasn't scattering at 10, B. But it was significantly older than Egyptologists believed. We were getting dates from the study that were on the average years too old for the Cambridge Ancient History , the Cambridge Ancient History is a reference dates for the kings who built these monuments.
So just recently we took some samples, and in collaboration with our Egyptian colleagues, we are now in the process of dating these samples. The outcome we are going to announce jointly in tandem with our Egyptian colleagues, and maybe we can pick up the subject of the results when we're over there in Egypt together with Dr. Zahi Hawass during the February excavation of the bakeries at Giza. Is there any evidence at all that an ancient civilization predating the civilization of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure was there?
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It's a good question. If they were there, you see—civilizations don't disappear without a trace. If archaeologists can go out and dig up a campsite of hunters and gatherers that was occupied 15, years ago, there's no way there could have been a complex civilization at a place like Giza or anywhere in the Nile Valley and they didn't leave a trace, because people eat, people poop, people leave their garbage around, and they leave their traces, they leave the traces of humanity. Now at Giza, I should tell people how this has come down to me personally.
Because I actually went over there with my own notions of lost civilizations, older civilizations from Edgar Cayce. When I worked at the Sphinx over a five-year period we were mapping every nook and cranny, every block and stone, and actually every fissure and crack as well. And I, on a couple of different occasions was able to excavate natural solution cavities in the limestone from which the Sphinx is made. Natural solution cavities are like holes in Swiss cheese. When the limestone formed from sea sediments 50 million years ago there were bubbles and holes and so on, and fissures later developed from tectonic forces cracking the limestone.
So for example, right at the hind paw of the Great Sphinx on the north side, this main fissure that cuts through the whole body of the Sphinx and then through the floor opens up to about 30 centimeters wide and about a meter or more in length. And in tandem with Zahi Hawass in '80, we were clearing out this fissure, which now is totally filled with debris again. But we actually reached down to our armpits, lying on our sides on the floor, scooping out this clay. And in the clay was embedded, not only charcoal, but bits of pottery that were very characteristic of the pottery that was used during the time of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure, the 4th Dynasty.
We did that again on the floor of the Sphinx temple which is built on a lower terrace directly below the paws of the Sphinx. Directly in front of the Sphinx, we found a solution cavity in , during what's called the SRI Project, which has been written about. We actually cleared out this cavity. We found dolomite pounders, these round balls of hard dolomite that are characteristic hammerstones of the age of the pyramids that they used for roughing out work in stone. Beyond that, Zahi and I excavated deposits on the floor of the Sphinx, even more substantial, deposits that were sealed by an 18th Dynasty temple, built by Tutankamen's great grandfather when the Sphinx was already 1, years old.
They put the foundation of this temple right over deposits of the Old Kingdom, and sealed it, so that they were left there and were not cleared away by earlier excavators in our era in the s. Zahi and I sort of did a stratographic dissection of these ancient deposits.
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That is we did very careful trenches, recorded the layers and the different kinds of material. The bottom material sealed by a temple built by Tutankamen's great or great great grandfather, was Old Kingdom construction debris. They stopped work cutting the outlines of the Sphinx ditch—the Sphinx sits down in this ditch or sanctuary. We then compared our results with the mid-point dates of the kings to whom the monuments belonged Cambridge Ancient History, 3rd ed. In spite of this discrepancy, the radiocarbon dates confirmed that the Great Pyramid belonged to the historical era studied by Egyptologists.
We also took samples from our Giza Plateau Mapping Project Lost City excavations 4th Dynasty , where we discovered two largely intact bakeries in Ancient baking left deposits of ash and charcoal, which are very useful for dating. The set of radiocarbon dates tended to be to years older than the Cambridge Ancient History dates, which was about years younger than our dates.
The number of dates from the two projects was only large enough to allow for statistical comparisons for the pyramids of Djoser, Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure. First, there are significant discrepancies between the and dates for Khufu and Khafre, but not for Djoser and Menkaure. Second, the dates vary widely even for a single monument.
We have fair agreement for the 1st Dynasty tombs at North Saqqara between our historical dates, previous radiocarbon dates, and our radiocarbon dates on reed material. We also have fair agreement between our radiocarbon dates and historical dates for the Middle Kingdom. Eight calibrated dates on straw from the pyramid of Senwosret II BC ranged from years older to 78 years younger than the historical dates for his reign.
Stars Date Egyptian Pyramids
Four of the Senwosret II dates were only off by 30, 24, 14, and three years. It is likely that, by the pyramid age, the Egyptians had been intensively exploiting wood for fuel for a long time. Because of the scarcity and expense of wood, the Egyptians would reuse pieces of wood as much as possible. Some of this recycled wood was burned, for example, in mortar preparation.
If a piece of wood was already centuries old when it was burned, radiocarbon dates of the resulting charcoal would be centuries older than the mortar for which it was burned. We thought that it was unlikely that the pyramid builders consistently used centuries-old wood as fuel in preparing mortar. The results left us with too little data to conclude that the historical chronology of the Old Kingdom was wrong by nearly years, but we considered this at least a possibility.
Alternatively, if our radiocarbon estimations were in error for some reason, we had to assume that many other dates obtained from Egyptian materials were also suspect. This prompted the second, larger, study.
If the Middle Kingdom radiocarbon dates are good, why are the Old Kingdom radiocarbon dates from pyramids so problematic? The pyramid builders often reused old cultural material, possibly out of expedience or to make a conscious connection between their pharaoh and his predecessors. Beneath the 3rd Dynasty pyramid of pharaoh Djoser, early explorers found more than 40, stone vessels.
Did Djoser gather and reuse vases that were already years old from tombs at North Saqqara? He took pieces of Old Kingdom tomb chapels and pyramid temples including those of the Giza Pyramids and dumped them into the core of his pyramid at Lisht. Test results from 5th Dynasty pyramid Sahure.
The other five range from to years older.
Our radiocarbon results from the Lost City site suggest that the dates on charcoal scatter widely, like those from the pyramids, with many dates older than the historical estimate. The inhabitants were very likely recycling their own settlement debris during the 85 or so years that they were building pyramids. It may have been premature to dismiss the old wood problem in our study. Radiocarbon dating can only tell us when a tree died, not when it was last used.
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