How did ancient Egyptians build the pyramids if ancient Israelites didn't?

A team of Egyptian and French researchers has found evidence of a tributary of the Nile called the Khufu branch that dried up centuries ago but used to connect the desert and to the Giza plateau.

 An artist’s reconstruction of the now defunct Khufu branch of the Nile River (photo credit: Alex Boersma/Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)
An artist’s reconstruction of the now defunct Khufu branch of the Nile River
(photo credit: Alex Boersma/Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)

Jews cannot claim that their ancestors, the Israelite slaves in Egypt, built the Great Pyramids on the western bank of the Nile River that have fascinated mankind for four millennia. They did perform construction work for the Egyptians during their four centuries of bondage and likely built cities and storehouses in the vast empire.

But how did Egyptian architects move more than two million granite and limestone blocks, each weighing at least two tons, from the banks of the Nile to the Giza plateau, where the pyramids are located some eight kilometers away?

They could not have rolled them over lumber; this would have been too exhausting. Scientists have hypothesized that they sent them over a channel or river, but there is no such body of water connecting the Nile and Giza.

Now, a team of Egyptian and French researchers has found evidence of a tributary of the Nile called the Khufu branch, which apparently had bisected the desert and joined the two sites. The area dried up about six centuries Before the Common Era and has since been turned into a cemetery.

What did the researchers find?

A man waits for tourists to rent his camels in front of the Great Pyramids of Giza last month.  (credit: MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY/REUTERS)A man waits for tourists to rent his camels in front of the Great Pyramids of Giza last month. (credit: MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY/REUTERS)

Looking at specimens preserved in the desert soil, they studied the Khufu branch over the past eight millennia. Their findings were recently published in the Proceedings of the [US] National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) under the title “Nile waterscapes facilitated the construction of the Giza pyramids during the 3rd millennium BCE.”

Hader Sheisha, an environmental geographer at the European Center for Research and Teaching in Environmental Geoscience at Aix-Marseille University, was one of the 10 authors of the study. The discovery of specimens – small pieces of papyrus – that were dug up near the Red Sea nine years ago spurred the findings, she said.
Writings on some of the fragments described the transport of stone via an offshoot of the Nile to Giza. The team collected sediment near the pyramid site by drilling into the sand and studying pollen grains that provided evidence of ancient plant life that could not have survived without water.

“The pyramids of Giza originally overlooked a now defunct arm of the Nile,” the authors wrote. “This fluvial channel, the Khufu branch, enabled navigation to the Pyramid Harbor complex, but its precise environmental history is unclear. To fill this knowledge gap, we used pollen-derived vegetation patterns to reconstruct 8,000 y of fluvial variations on the Giza floodplain… Our results show that Giza’s waterscapes responded to a gradual insolation-driven aridification of East Africa, with the lowest Nile levels recorded at the end of the Dynastic Period. The Khufu branch remained during the reigns of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure, facilitating the transportation of construction materials to the Giza Pyramid Complex.”