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Merer’s diary, a 4,500-year-old papyrus detailing the construction of the Great Pyramid




Merer’s diary, a 4,500-year-old papyrus detailing the construction of the Great Pyramid
The Great Pyramids of Giza have been one of the world’s greatest enigmas: how did an ancient society build such massive monuments without the aid of modern machinery? The first and largest of these, the Cheops Pyramid, is 146 meters high and, until about 800 years ago, it was the tallest man-made structure on Earth. The mystery of the pyramids may never be fully solved, but certain discoveries have helped us understand how they could have been built.

One of these discoveries occurred in 2013 at a site called Wadi al-Jarf, which was an ancient port on the Red Sea coast. While excavating some dry-stone buildings and artificial caves used to store wooden boats, archaeologists Pierre Tallet and Gregory Marouard discovered entire papyrus scrolls, some a few meters long and others in fragments.

They were written in hieroglyphics and hieratic, which was the cursive script that the ancient Egyptians used for everyday communication. Some of the papyri were even dated to the “year after the thirteenth count of cattle” of King Cheops, that is, around the 26th or 27th year of his reign. This makes them the oldest papyrus documents found so far.

Fragment of Merer’s diary | photo Ministry of Antiquities and Tourism of Egypt
Even more surprising is that the papyri were written by men who participated in the construction of the Great Pyramid. Some of them were account books, detailing the movement of bread, beer, cereals, and meat to feed the 20,000 workers scattered throughout the pyramid site, quarries, and transportation equipment. “The documents are laid out like a modern spreadsheet, showing what was needed, what had been delivered, and what was still due.”

Others were diaries detailing daily activities. Among them was one written by an “inspector” named Merer, who led a gang of about 200 men who Traveled from one end of Egypt to the other picking up and delivering merchandise of one kind or another. His main job was to transport limestone blocks from the “Ro-Au” (Tura) quarries to the Giza site, some 15 to 20 kilometers away.

We already know that the pharaohs used limestone from Tura, a city along the Nile famous for its limestone quarrying, to provide the outer cladding for the pyramids, which has since been stripped away exposing the roughly coarse blocks of granite. carvings that are visible today. Merer’s diary chronicles the last known year of Cheops’ reign, when the ancient Egyptians were putting the finishing touches on the Great Pyramid.

Another view of the great pyramid of Cheops | photo Yasmin elkassem mohamed on Wikimedia Commons
Merer’s records describe his crew hauling stones in Tura, filling their boats with stone and taking it up the Nile River to Giza. The trip lasted two days. The return journey without cargo only took one day. The crew made a round trip between Giza and the Tura quarries two or three times in every ten-day Egyptian week.

This could only happen at the time of the annual flood, when the high waters of the Nile made it more navigable for heavily laden ships. It has been estimated that the boats could carry a load of 70-80 tons, that is, about 30 of the 2.5-ton blocks used to line the Cheops pyramid. This means that Merer’s team would have moved about 200 blocks a month, up from 1,000 in the period when the river and canals were navigable.

Merer also mentions that he reported to the “noble Ankh-haf” (Anjaf), who acted as director of “the entrance to the Pool of Cheops”, probably an artificial lake, used as a stopping point on the journey north from Tura to the Giza plateau. Anjaf was Khufu’s stepbrother and apparently the director of the pyramid project during its completion. This was the first time that a person was identified as supervising part of the construction of the Great Pyramid. The newspaper also mentions the original name of the Great Pyramid: Akhet-Khufu, which means “Horizon of Cheops”.

Fragmentos del diario de Merer | foto Mission Archéologique du Ouadi el-Jarf

El arqueólogo egipcio Zahi Hawass, antiguo inspector jefe del yacimiento de la pirámide y ministro de Antigüedades, dice que es «el mayor descubrimiento de Egipto en el siglo XXI».

Los registros de Merer y Dedi nos ayudan a dar cuerpo a la geografía del bajo Egipto y a la red de canales y puertos que permitían el traslado de piedras, trabajadores y suministros al emplazamiento de las pirámides, escribe el egiptólogo Dan Potter. Los equipos eran muy hábiles y versátiles, no sólo trasladaban material para la pirámide y los templos, sino que también se dedicaban a la gestión de almacenes, a la posible construcción de un muelle en el Delta y a la participación en misiones mineras al Sinaí.

Se cree que los cuadernos y los libros de cuentas se quedaron en Wadi al-Jarf después de la última misión del equipo. Imagino que a causa de la muerte del rey… simplemente lo pararon todo y cerraron las galerías y luego, al marcharse, enterraron los archivos en la zona situada entre las dos grandes piedras utilizadas para sellar el complejo. La fecha que aparece en los papiros parece ser la última que tenemos para el reinado de Keops, el año 27 de su reinado, dice Pierre Tallet.

Tras el cierre del yacimiento, las operaciones del sucesor de Keops, Kefrén, se llevaron a cabo en Ain Sukhna, al norte.