Pyramid Builders Had Happy Hours, Too

From Associated Press

Beer in the morning, beer in the afternoon, beer at night. A little wine thrown in for good measure. And after a hard day of cutting stones for the Pharaoh, time and energy left for hanky-panky.

Life wasn't all work and no play for the workers who built the pyramids of Giza Plateau.

"History is life," said Egyptologist Zahi Hawass, in charge of an ancient cemetery yielding volumes of information about the life and times of the pyramid work force.

Archeologists poking through garbage dumps, examining skeletons, probing texts and studying remains of beer jars, wine vats and bakeries have discovered all kinds of information about the pyramid builders:

* Beer was dished out three times daily. There were five kinds of beer and four kinds of wine available.

* Neatly trimmed pencil mustaches were in vogue, and workers had nicknames still popular today, like Didi and Mimi.

* Their lives averaged 36 to 38 years, and industrial accidents took a toll. Six skeletons revealed deaths from injuries. Many others had bent spines from the weight of stone blocks they carried.

Much of the new information comes from excavations over the past nine months in cemeteries found near the pyramids about three years ago.

Recently found texts indicate that the pyramid builders were not slaves, as was long believed, but were free Egyptians working for the gods, Hawass said. The Pharaoh gave them food, clothing, shelter.

It is not clear how many workers were involved in building them, but the three major pyramids at Giza and the queen's pyramids nearby were built over 70 years beginning about 2551 BC, when Cheops ascended to the throne.

Archeologists have found 600 tombs of foremen and workers. Job descriptions include "decorator of tombs," "the official in charge of one side of the pyramid" and "overseer of the stone movers."

One tomb gave excavators a surprise. It was already known that, unlike the pharaohs, ordinary Egyptians were monogamous. But the man buried in this tomb lay between his wife and another woman.

"Texts show she had to be a girlfriend," said Hawass. "It's surprising the wife put up with it."

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