So now we know how the stones were transported to build the pyramids of Egypt!! They were moved by boat. We know now this, thanks to a discovery in 2013 of a papyrus, in some boat storage caves on the Red Sea. The find has caused a bunch of picture stories online this summer, such as this one at the Smithsonian, the Sun, and I believe a TV documentary by Channel 4, Egypt’s Great Pyramid: The New Evidence. The first volume of papyri from the find has just been published in book form.
Like most people, I tend to be sceptical of newspaper reports about wonderful finds in Egypt. But this is entirely genuine! There is some hard info here, and a very nice article from “The harbour of Khufu on the Red Sea coast at adi al-Jarf, Egypt” in Near Eastern Archaeology 77:1 (2014), 4-14 (PDF here), which shows a piece of the papyrus:
The papyrus is from the early 4th Dynasty, around 2,500 BC. It is the journal, daybook, or logbook, of Inspector Merer, who perhaps wrote it with a reed pen himself, and was in charge of a team of about 200 men. It is, in fact, the most ancient inscribed papyrus ever found in Egypt. It dates from the reign of Cheops, or Khufu as we must call him, the builder of the Great Pyramid. In fact it dates from year 27 of his reign, when the pyramid was actually being finished, and its outer casing of fine Tura limestone was being fitted.
Most of the new book will be specialist stuff. But, bless them, the team have put online a great deal of useful material!
The website of Prof. Tallet and his team is AMeRS, the “Association Mer Rouge-Sinai”. An interview with Dr. T. is available in video here. But even better, at this post, there is a PDF containing those portions of the book of general interest, with an analysis in English. This includes … translations into English and Arabic (why not French?), and the post also has an English abstract:
At the end of this month, the first volume dedicated to the Wadi el-Jarf papyri will be published at the French Institute for Oriental Archaeology in Cairo. These documents, found at the entrance of the storage galleries, are exceptional, since they are the most ancient inscribed papyri ever found in Egypt. Like most of the remains of the harbor of Wadi el-Jarf, they are from the reign of Khufu. Pierre Tallet choose for this first volume, to deal with two of the best preserved papyri (papyrus A and B), belonging to the logbook written by the inspector Merer, whose team was engaged in the transportation by boat of limestone blocs from the quarry of Tura to the construction site of the great pyramid of Khufu at Giza.
English and Arabic translation of the Egyptian text and synthesis of the data [1705_Tallet]
This is wonderful, and it is remarkable how few people have linked to it.
I’ve reformatted the English translation for ease of reading, and here it is. “Akhet-Khufu” is the Great Pyramid, the “Horizon of Khufu”. “She Khufu” means “the pool of Khufu”, short for “Ro-She Khufu”, the “entrance to the pool of Khufu”, which is perhaps the headquarters for the administration of the pyramid project, situated on the artificial lake near the mortuary temple. Ankhhaf was Cheops’ half-brother, and in charge of works including the pyramid construction.
First day : […] spend the day […] in […].
[Day] 2: […] spend the day […] in? […].
[Day 3: Cast off from?] the royal palace? [… sail]ing [upriver] towards Tura, spend the night there.
Day : Cast off from Tura, morning sail downriver towards Akhet-Khufu, spend the night.
[Day] 5: Cast off from Tura in the afternoon, sail towards Akhet-Khufu.
Day 6: Cast off from Akhet-Khufu and sail upriver towards Tura […].
[Day 7]: Cast off in the morning from […]
Day 8: Cast off in the morning from Tura, sail downriver towards Akhet-Khufu, spend the night there.
Day 9: Cast off in the morning from Akhet-Khufu, sail upriver; spend the night.
Day 10: Cast off from Tura, moor in Akhet-Khufu. Come from […]? the aper-teams?[…]
Day 11: Inspector Merer spends the day with [his phyle in] carrying out works related to the dyke of [Ro-She] Khuf[u …]
Day 12: Inspector Merer spends the day with [his phyle carrying out] works related to the dyke of Ro-She Khufu […].
Day 13: Inspector Merer spends the day with [his phyle? …] the dyke which is in Ro-She Khufu by means of 15? phyles of aper-teams.
Day : [Inspector] Merer spends the day [with his phyle] on the dyke [in/of Ro-She] Khu[fu…].
[Day] 15 […] in Ro-She Khufu […].
Day 16: Inspector Merer spends the day […] in Ro-She Khufu with the noble? […].
Day 17: Inspector Merer spends the day […] lifting the piles of the dy[ke …].
Day 18: Inspector Merer spends the day […]
Day 19 […]
Day 20 […] for the rudder? […] the aper-teams.
[Day 25]: [Inspector Merer spends the day with his phyle [h]au[ling]? st[ones in Tura South]; spends the night at Tura South
[Day 26]: Inspector Merer casts off with his phyle from Tura [South], loaded with stone, for Akhet-Khufu; spends the night at She-Khufu.
Day 27: sets sail from She-Khufu, sails towards Akhet-Khufu, loaded with stone, spends the night at Akhet-Khufu.
Day 28: casts off from Akhet-Khufu in the morning; sails upriver Tura South.
Day 29: Inspector Merer spends the day with his phyle hauling stones in Tura South; spends the night at Tura South.
Day 30: Inspector Merer spends the day with his phyle hauling stones in Tura South; spends the night at Tura South.
[First day ] the director of 6 Idjer[u] casts of for Heliopolis in a transport boat-iuat to bring us food from Heliopolis while the Elite (stp-sȝ) is in Tura.
Day 2: Inspector Merer spends the day with his phyle hauling stones in Tura North; spends the night at Tura North.
Day 3: Inspector Merer casts off from Tura North, sails towards Akhet-Khufu loaded with stone.
[Day 4 …] the director of 6 [Idjer]u [comes back] from Heliopolis with 40 sacks-khar and a large measure-heqat of bread-beset while the Elite hauls stones in Tura North.
Day 5: Inspector Merer spends the day with his phyle loading stones onto the boats-hau of the Elite in Tura North, spends the night at Tura.
Day 6: Inspector Merer sets sail with a boat of the naval section (gs-dpt) of Ta-ur, going downriver towards Akhet-Khufu. Spends the night at Ro-She Khufu.
Day 7: sets sail in the morning towards Akhet-Khufu, sails towing towards Tura North, spends the night at […]
Day 8: sets sail from Ro-She Khufu, sails towards Tura North. Inspector Merer spends the day [with a boat?] of Ta-ur? […].
Day 9: sets sail from […] of Khufu […].
Day 10: […]
[Day 13 …] She-[Khufu] […] spends the night at Tur]a South.
[Day 14: … hauling] stones [… spends the night in] Tura South.
[Day 15:] Inspector Merer [spends the day] with his [phyle] hauling stones [in Tura] South, spends the night in Tura South.
[Day 16: Inspector Merer spends the day with] his phyle loading the boat-imu (?) with stone [sails …] downriver, spends the night at She-Khufu.
[Day 17: casts off from She-Khufu] in the morning, sails towards Akhet-Khufu; [sails … from] Akhet-Khufu, spends the night at She-Khufu.
[Day 18] […] sails […] spends the night at Tura .
[Day 19]: Inspector Merer] spends the day [with his phyle] hauling stones in Tura [South ?].
Day 20: [Inspector] Mer[er] spends the day with [his phyle] hauling stones in Tura South (?), loads 5 craft, spends the night at Tura.
Day 21: [Inspector] Merer spends the day with his [phyle] loading a transport ship-imu at Tura North, sets sail from Tura in the afternoon.
Day 22: spends the night at Ro-She Khufu. In the morning, sets sail from Ro-She Khufu; sails towards Akhet-Khufu; spends the night at the Chapels of [Akhet] Khufu.
Day 23: The director of 10 Hesi spends the day with his naval section in Ro-She Khufu, because a decision to cast off was taken; spends the night at Ro-She Khufu.
Day 24: Inspector Merer spends the day with his phyle hauling (stones? craft?) with those who are on the register of the Elite, the aper-teams and the noble Ankhhaf, director of Ro-She Khufu.
Day 25: Inspector Merer spends the day with his team hauling stones in Tura, spends the night at Tura North.
[Day 26 …] sails towards […]
Day x+1: [sails] downriver […] the bank of the point of She-Khufu.
Day x+2: […] sails? from Akhet-Khufu […] Ro-She Khufu.
Day x+3: [… loads?] […Tura] North.
Day x+4: […] loaded with stone […] Ro-She [Khufu].
Day x+5: […] Ro-She Khufu […] sails from Akhet-Khufu; spends the night.
Day x+6: [… sails …] Tura.
Day x+7: [… hauling?] stones [in Tura North, spends the night at Tura North.
Day x+8: [Inspector Merer] spends the day with his phyle [hauling] stones in Tura North; spends the night in Tura North.
Day x+9: […] stones [… Tura] North.
Day x+10: […] stones [Tu]ra North;
Day x+11: [casts off?] in the afternoon […] sails? […]
x+1 […Tura] North […] spends the night there.
x+2: […] sails [… Tura] North, spends the night at Tura North.
x+3 [… loads, hauls] stones […]
x+4 […] spends the night there.
x+5 […] with his phyle loading […] loading a craft.
x+6 […] sails [… Ro-She?] Khufu […]
x+7 […] with his phyle sails […] sleeps at [Ro]-She Khufu
It is really fascinating to read this account of the days of a man much like ourselves, writing some 4,500 years ago! Well done, Dr Tallet and friends, for making this accessible to us all!
20 thoughts on “The log book of Inspector Merer from Wadi al Jarf and the pyramid of Cheops / Khufu”
I remember watching a TV show that mentioned some of this work gang papyrus stuff, back a couple years ago. I think it was the show where they were doing ancient engineering stuff, and they built an Egyptian boat with some help from looking at some of the boats in the boat caves. But they didn’t mention all the stuff about the canal routes, although I remember they said they were taking supplies to the pyramid.
I’m sure it won’t stop some people from thinking the aliens built the pyramids… but it cracks me up that paperwork and stuff filed in weird places can survive the centuries!
Yes… I saw some of the same programmes. But the point I take away is that archaeology by itself once again tells us a lot less than a narrative account.
Archaeology is for filling in the gaps where there is no direct information. The two things work best together.
But direct information is always going to include more information than land and objects do, even if it needs a lot of careful consideration.
Of course, what we all really want is time travel and the ability to do interviews!
For the philologers, this logbook looks formulaic. It might not be as much help for the study of the Egyptian language. At this stage the hieroglyphic / early-hieratic system itself may have been too blunt a tool.
A few centuries later, in the Middle Kingdom period, we will start to see belles-lettres in Egyptian. And then in the Late Bronze Age we get a literature worthy of the Greeks.
Small but important correction. You said 4500 BC in the 3rd paragraph, whereas I think you must have meant 4500 years ago.
Good catch – thank you! That’s what I get for blogging when tired. Fixed.
Very useful to see the complete translated text. However, the article is misleading in stating that this explains how the pyramids were built. It simply shows (what we knew already) that the casing stones were shipped over from the Tura quarries. It says nothing about the vast bulk of stones (probably quarried on-site), or how they were raised into the pyramid.
Thinking the construction of the pyramid for Khufu, as told by his half-brother Mercer, it a tale of semantics. What I mean by that is the Great Pyramid we call Cheops isn’t necessarily the one Mercer is describing. Mercer reports that 170,000 tons of stone was quarried and carried to the location by barge, but this only accounts for the weight of one small pyramid, the grand procession that was built with a temple to Khufu for devotions. The Cheops Pyramid weight is 23 Billion pounds, and 170,000 tons is only 230 Million pounds. Someone didn’t study the site history or the math.
The weight/volume you are interested in (i.e. what was shipped over by Merer) is just that of the casing stones of Khufu’s pyramid – thus just a small proportion of the total, which explains the shortfall you describe.
It is clear that the ship got stones from Tura, but how can you be sure that they were shipped to Giza and not somewhere else?
I mean… How do we know for certain that the “Akhet-Khufu” truly means Great pyramid / Giza district and not something else?
What evidence links this papyrus to building the great pyramid?
What real evidence we have that Khufu (Cheops) actually had it to be built?
Sounds like it is only assumptions that are used to link it to the great pyramid.
Do we have any actual descriptions on building it?
Timing and how long buidling work lasted?
Is the whole story built on assumptions and guesses – I want real evidence!
Best thing to do is to research it yourself, and see what you find! And then write it up and put it online. 🙂
I did not see any indication in Merer’s account as to the use the stone would be put. It also seems to me that the dating is speculative, too. The diary talks about moving rocks, and researchers think the Great Pyramid went up about 2,600 B.C. Therefore, the rocks must be for the pyramid and the diary must date from that time. Has there been no carbon dating?
why was there no evolution in the technology of egypt over 3000 years no new tools etc no development like industrial revolution best work the earliest declining over very long period makes no sense whatever , no one dare explain this too many problems
To answer Jay’s point first: The stones from Tura were the fine, white casing stones which covered the pyramids. Re carbon-dating, I take it that you are asking about the papyrus. I don’t think anyone has seen a need to do it.
To answer Robin’s question about technological development: you are right that there was little technological development over long periods in antiquity, and indeed it was only in the West that an industrial revolution took place. What innovations are we currently using that came from the east? Egypt remained a backwater throughout Muslim rule.
I think technical progress is a feature of liberty. This website would never have existed if I’d had to ask permission of some bureaucrat. If you live under the rule of a God-King whose laws are all divinely ordained then any change – even for the better – is risky.
Vandaag NG gekeken waarin de papyri werden vermeld. Ben al een aantal jaren op zoek naar dit soort documenten. Dit omdat er een paar vragen nog steeds onbeantwoord zijn.. De schepen met hun lading. Zijn er ook vermeldingen van verlies tijdens transport? Zo ja, is daar onderzoek naar gedaan?