Feeding the pyramid builders: Early agriculture at Giza in Egypt

Hader Sheisha, David Kaniewski, Nick Marriner, Morteza Djamali, Gamal Younes, Zhongyuan Chen, Gad El-Qady, Amr Saleem, Carla Khater, Alain Véron, Edward Anthony, Mohamed Mustapha Abdelmaguid, Mohamed A.R. Abouarab, Zahra Akacha, Maria Ilie, Christophe Morhange

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While the exact technical processes employed in the construction of the pyramids are still a subject of ongoing debate, it is widely recognized that the Giza Plateau served as a hub where various trades converged with the common objective of building the necropolis. Of particular importance was the development of a local and sustainable food supply for the thousands of laborers involved in this monumental undertaking. Here, we explore the long-term behavioural mechanisms that led human societies to gradually colonize the Nile swamps at Giza. They developed herding and farming, paving the way for greater human exploitation of the area during the Dynastic Egypt. We show that transhumance tribes, originally from the Eastern Sahara, settled along the Giza Plateau 5200 years ago, primarily engaging in herding and, more sporadically, agriculture. Giza was transformed into a pastoral landscape, with the development of large swaths of the floodplain, providing societies with permanent access to livestock produce (e.g. proteins, milk, meat and wool). Our palaeoecological data reveal that the initial complex societies at Giza were deeply rooted in transhumance, pastoralism and animal husbandry. These activities played a fundamental role in establishing the foundations of a robust and sustainable food system, while also serving as a crucial logistical support for the subsequent construction of the monumental structures that celebrated the grandeur of pharaonic Egypt.

Original languageEnglish
Article number108172
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
StatePublished - 15 Jul 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Elsevier Ltd


  • Agriculture
  • Dynastic Egypt
  • Giza necropolis
  • Khufu branch of the Nile
  • Livestock breeding
  • Palynology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology
  • Geology


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