The workers who built the pyramids received emergency medical care and even brain surgery, the head of an Egyptian archaeological team said yesterday.
The excavation of 20 workers' tombs near the pyramids of Giza has thrown light on the lives of ordinary Egyptians of the Old Kingdom, which dates to 4,500 years ago, Zahi Hawas said.
"This discovery provides clear evidence of worker lives, a chance to understand how these people lived," said Hawas, director of antiquities for Giza.
Archaeologists found six skeletons, and X-rays revealed that one had been operated on for a brain tumor in what may be the earliest evidence of brain surgery, Hawas said.
The leg of another worker had been amputated, and he lived for 14 years after the operation. Tests on a third skeleton showed what could be the earliest evidence of syphilis, and the hand of a fourth skeleton was found in splints, Hawas said.
Ancient Egyptians were long believed to have been capable of performing complex medical procedures, including brain surgery.
Hawas said about 600 skeletons from two cemeteries for the pyramid builders have been exhumed and tested recently. Twelve skeletons had splints on their hands, which presumably had been injured by rocks.
"These were not slaves who built the pyramids. They were workers. This much care would not have been afforded to slaves," he said.
The workers were allowed to build small mud-brick pyramids to place above their own tombs, Hawas said.
"The (small) pyramids are like democracy. They were available for everyone," he said.
Some tombs bore inscriptions that gave the worker's position, such as "Inspector of Pyramid Building" and "Overseer of West Side of Pyramid."