Shape shifting lizard people, Israelite slaves, and other theories of pyramid building: Notes on labor, nationalism, and archaeology in Egypt
At the turn of the millennium, Egypt prepared for a vast New Year celebration on the Giza Plateau, amidst rumors about the Masonic symbolism of the planned party. At the same time, Egyptologists were excavating the tombs of the pyramid builders of Giza and billing these as proof that the pyramids were built by Egyptian nationals, not Israelite slaves. Both were topics of fierce local political debate about the external appropriation of Egypt's national monuments. Based on ethnographic research in Giza and Cairo and analysis of popular publications by and about Egyptologists, this article explores the links between Egyptology, Egyptian nationalism, and theories about the labor force that built the pyramids. It shows how debates over pyramid building and conspiracy theories about the millennium celebrations resonate in both the historical context of European imperialism in Egypt and current international political tensions. It examines archaeological accounts of the relationship between the pyramid builders and ancient state building, and the parallels between such accounts and the discipline's contemporary relationship with archaeological labor. It concludes by asking whether Egyptologists, both Egyptian and foreign, have not only a nationalist but also a disciplinary interest in particular narratives of the labor that built the pyramids.