The Lost City of the Pyramids
“Whether [building] galleries or enclosures, these ancient Egyptians had a penchant for organization of rank and file, a penchant that may have built the great Giza Pyramids within the lifetimes of their kings.” — Mark Lehner
Since 1988, the excavations of the Giza Plateau Mapping Project have focused on an ancient urban site about 400 meters (1312 feet) south of the Sphinx. Our goal is to find evidence of the social and economic structures that supported the building and maintenance of the Giza pyramids.
After testing an old hypothesis about a barracks west of Khafre’s pyramid, and inspecting the desert bowl of Area B, we turned our attentions to an area Mark Lehner proposed as the most likely place to find the pyramid city and the infrastructure for pyramid building. Popularly referred to as the Lost City of the Pyramids, locally known as Gebel Qibli, we have designated the site Area A.
View the Lost City map
Our concession (the area where the Supreme Council of Antiquities permits us to dig) is a tract of low desert that was until recent decades covered with deep sand, apparently laid down during the later Old Kingdom (2575-2134 BC).
Beneath the sandy layer lies a compact surface of gray soil, which resulted from a rapid, seemingly intentional, toppling of mud brick settlement walls. Inhabitants abandoned the settlement and stripped nearly everything of value: wooden columns, stone doorsteps, even many mud bricks.
Before our 1999 season, workers from the many riding stables in the nearby town took sand from our site to the stables for cleaning the floors, and then returned it used, disturbing much of the protective cover of sand over the settlement ruins. Heavy machinery, such as backhoes and front loaders gouged huge trenches into the eastern part of the site.
Beginning in 1999 we began to work longer, more intensive excavation seasons, in collaboration with the SCA Giza Inspectorate, to salvage the ancient urban complex. During the past 17 years, we have completed more than 43 months of work at Giza.
All of the evidence—pottery, seal impressions, and stratigraphy—suggest that the ancient occupants abandoned the settlement at the end of the 4th Dynasty (2575-2465 BC), the period of Giza pyramid building.
We are fortunate to know, with a high degree of probability, the stratigraphic relationships—what came before what—of major components of a 4,500-year- old urban site covering an area of about ten football fields.
We can now summarize this broad time sequence easily because of months and years of painstaking work on the part of team members.
The development of this urban complex must have been quite rapid. All of the construction probably happened in the 35 to 50 years that spanned the reigns of Khafre and Menkaure, builders of the Second and Third Giza Pyramids.
The following list provides a broad overview of the probable sequence that major features of the site were built.
In order of construction:
- Gallery Set I (and possibly Sets II-IV)
- Wall of the Crow
- Eastern Town
- Western Town (at least part is older than the Enclosure Wall)
- Royal Administrative Building
- Enclosure Wall
A planned settlement
The picture that emerges is that of a planned settlement, some of the world’s earliest urban planning, securely dated to the reigns of two Giza pyramid builders: Khafre (2520-2494 BC) and Menkaure (2490-2472 BC).
Nearly 2,000 years after the end of the 4th Dynasty, in the Late Period (747-525 BC) hundreds of commoners were buried across our site. Most of these burials were dug right through the 4th Dynasty settlement walls and foundations. In the future we will post more from our osteoarchaeologists about the burials.
Why did activity cease at our site between the end of the 4th Dynasty and the beginning of the Late Period? The search goes on for answers to this question and many more.