How Pyramids Work

Pyramid Workforce

The Greek historian Herodotus described the building of Khufu's pyramid by more than 100,000 slaves. Hollywood seized upon this image of slaves and their taskmasters in movies like "The Ten Commandments." But when Harvard archaeologist Mark Lehner led an expedition to uncover clues about the people who built the pyramids, he found no evidence of housing for such a large population. Instead, his group discovered housing and food storage places for small gangs of workers. It appears that at any one time about 2,000 workers were on site, divided into two large divisions and smaller groups of about 200 men. The evidence indicates that they were probably paid and well fed. The working groups were periodically rotated over the years of pyramid construction, and the total workforce may have been about 30,000 [source: Harvard Magazine].

Pyramid building stopped in Egypt long ago. When the Spanish conquered the Aztecs and Mayans, the Central American pyramids were abandoned in the jungles until archaeologists uncovered and studied them. Archaeological research continues on these structures today to resolve the many mysteries of how they were built.


Related Articles


  • Archaeology magazine, "How to build a pyramid." Volume 60 Number 3, May/June 2007.
  • Barsoum, Michel. Drexel University Dept. of Materials Science & Engineering. "Engineering the Pyramids."
  • British Museum, "Pyramids: Houses of Eternity"
  •, "Inside the Pyramids"
  •, "Exploring the Ancient Pyramids."
  • Ferguson, William M. and Arthur Rohn, "Mesoamerica's Ancient Cities." University of Colorado Press, 1990.
  • Harvard magazine online, "Who built the pyramids?" July/Aug 2003.
  • NOVA Online "Pyramids: the inside story."
  • NSF Discoveries Online, "The Surprising Truth Behind the Construction of the Great Pyramids." May 18, 2007.
  • Parry, Dick, "Engineering the Pyramids." Sutton Publishing, 2004.
  • Smith, Craig B., "How the Great Pyramid was Built." HarperCollins Publishers, 2004.
  •, "Building Maya Pyramids and Temples" ­maya_pyramids_and_temples
  • Tour Egypt, "The Pyramids of Egypt."
  • Tour Egypt, "The Pyramids of Egypt: Overview of Pyramid Construction."
  • USA Today Online, "Architect: great pyramid was built inside out." March 30, 2007. pyramid-mystery_N.htm
  • USA Today Online, "Scientists ramp up for pyramid theory." May 16, 2007.