During the reign of the pharaoh Menkaure, thought to be between 2532 and 2503 BC, Egypt was run from a city on low ground near the Giza plateau. Known as Heit el-Ghurab, this was a large administrative centre surrounded by houses, workshops and bread ovens. After decades of occupation, it was abandoned and buried under tens of metres of sand.
Karl Butzer of the University of Texas at Austin and colleagues have been excavating Heit el-Ghurab since 2001. They discovered layers of muds and sands, which they dated by identifying the relics in them, as well as radiocarbon dating.
The team found that the site was hit by three floods in 26 years during the reign of the previous pharaoh, Khafre. The first destroyed the town, while the others caused widespread damage. But under Menkaure the devastation multiplied.
“A huge flood came barrelling through,” says Butzer. It carried a torrent of rocks and mud, smashing buildings to pieces. … Menkaure ordered the construction of a 70-metre-long defensive barrier called the Wall of the Crow, yet flooding continued. Another flood struck soon after Menkaure’s death. In total, Heit el-Ghurab flooded 10 times within about 45 years.
It’s not clear why the ancient Egyptians kept rebuilding the city in the same dangerous place. “It doesn’t make any sense,” says Butzer. People do build houses on floodplains, but not if they get swamped every four years. … Menkaure might be to blame, says Butzer. “He had a problem with his sense of importance. He was the divine offspring of the gods, and he thought if he prayed hard enough things would be OK. They weren’t.”
The floods may explain why there are only three pyramids at Giza. Menkaure built the last, and smallest, of them. Later pyramids were built elsewhere, despite the Giza plateau’s prime position, which meant its pyramids are visible from great distances. “Menkaure was the last one,” says Butzer. “Maybe there was a reason his son wanted to go someplace else.”
Source: Michael Marshall, Egypt’s City of Bean Counters Suffered Flash Floods, New Scientist (June 5, 2013).