I’m the director and president of Ancient Egypt Research Associates, Inc. (AERA), an American nonprofit organization and an NGO registered with the Egyptian government, and my archaeological work in Egypt spans 40 years.

In 1972, I went to Egypt in quest of the legendary Hall of Records of the lost civilization of Atlantic. But when I first encountered the reality of the Giza pyramids, my aspirations drastically changed. I graduated with a BA in Anthropology from the American University in Cairo, and then spent years mapping the Great Sphinx stone-by-stone from 1979 to 1983. My Sphinx mapping catalyzed a mission to explore “ground truth” at Giza—to find and excavate the missing city that must have housed thousands of pyramid builders—and to use the best scientific methods learn about their everyday life.

I began the Giza Plateau Mapping Project in 1984 to understand how the pyramid builders organized and changed this landscape. I then completed a Ph.D. at Yale University and began a tenure track faculty position in Chicago. But in the mid-90s, I left to help save the “Lost City of the Pyramid Builders” from dire threat of urban expansion.

To carry on this mission, I developed the Ancient Egypt Research Associates (AERA). AERA grew into one of the largest missions in Egyptian archaeology, with its own research center two blocks from the entrance to the Giza Pyramids Plateau. Between 1999 and 2012 AERA teams salvaged 10 acres of the “Lost City of the Pyramids,” which, 4,500 years ago, housed the pyramid builders and served as the major Nile port of its time. The teams excavated workers’ barracks, granaries, bakeries, scribal offices, cattle corrals, and a harbor basin.

Alongside USAID, we also founded an archaeological field school for Egyptian students

at the world heritage sites of Giza, Luxor and Memphis. We aim to teach young Egyptian archaeologists[SB1] to write and publish preliminary reports on rescue excavations and empower them to pursue and succeed in a field dominated by foreign scholars.

My work has been featured in National Geographic, Discover, Archaeology, New Yorker, and Smithsonianarticles, and documentaries by National Geographic’s Explorer, Discovery, BBC, and NOVA. Most recently, I was featured in NOVA’s “Decoding the Great Pyramid,” which premiered on Feb. 6, 2019, and explored the discovery and translation of the oldest papyrus documents ever found, revealing new clues about the construction of Khufu’s Great Pyramid.

Ask me anything about my career as an archaeologist, life in ancient Egypt, and working in Egypt.

Comments: 169 • Responses: 16  • Date: 

thalos3D28 karma

Any thoughts on the controversy around the age of the Sphinx?

MomsSpaghetti177119 karma

He's a buddy of Zahi Hawass'. What do you think he will answer? Lol

oxycontiin4 karma

Well, I was going to ask if he would agree with the sentiment that the Egyptian government is actively blocking research which may reveal links between the pyramids and other (non-Egyptian) cultures. However, not only has no one's questions been answered, but if he agrees at all with Hawass I'm guessing we wouldn't hear much of interest on this topic anyway.

Mark_Lehner16 karma

Nope, I do agree with the sentiment that the Egyptian government is actively blocking research which may reveal links between the pyramids and other (non-Egyptian) cultures. Although I know some think so. The Egyptian government is generous and supportive in granting research concessions to archaeological missions from other countries.

Mark_Lehner6 karma

That was a typo, obviously. I do NOT agree that the Egyptian government is actively blocking research which may reveal links between the pyramids and other (non-Egyptian) cultures. The Egyptian government is generous and supportive in granting research concessions to archaeological missions from other countries.

Mark_Lehner4 karma

I go with what I see at ground truth, bedrock reality at Giza and the Sphinx. I've been there much of the last 46 years. What do you go on?

Mark_Lehner4 karma

Yes quite a lot of thoughts on that, actually.

ApXv26 karma

When will the stargate be operational?

Mark_Lehner19 karma

When you want it to be.

Dwarfskinnr20 karma

Has your understanding of ancient civilizations changed at all with the discoveries around Gobleki Tepi? And if so how?

Mark_Lehner17 karma

Yes. I think the discoveries in Gobleki Tepi are changing all archaeologists understanding of ancient civilizations and the human career. I wish I had more time to learn more about them.

asshole_for_a_reason12 karma

Were the pyramid builders slaves? Hebrews? Well fed workers?

How were the blocks moved? Boats, sleds, wet sand & ramps? Or wheels?

Were the pyramids originally covered in another material? Or just stone?

What do you think of the concurrent building of pyramids or step pyramids by people all over the world? Egyptians, South Americans, and byzantines all did it.

Also, do you think North American native burial mounds are primitive pyramids? Would they have eventually built pyramids?

How is the current relationship between the Egyptian government/ people and foreign archeologists?

Mark_Lehner6 karma

Lot of questions there. May I take the first and last?

Labor was obligatory in much of premodern times, worldwide. So it was for ancient Egyptians of all periods, and so it was for my two uncles on my grandfather's farm in North Dakota. It IS probable that the ancient Egyptians would sometimes capture people in conflicts and put them to labor on royal projects. Evidence is also, however, they would integrate these people into Egyptian society. And that in certain instances they would become personnel in the very temple lands and estates that they helped to build.

Current relations between the Egyptian government / people and foreign archaeologists are excellent. The Egyptian government and Egyptian archaeologists working for Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities work very hard, year round, to maintain and protect sites where they allow foreign missions to work, and they work very hard year round to take care of discoveries, that is new exposures of ancient surfaces, that they allow foreign missions to make in the interests of scholarly research. Foreign missions come and go in fieldwork "seasons,' while personnel of Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities must be on duty year round. This is extremely generous, in my view, and shows a deep commitment to mutual research and the advancement of knowledge about Egypt's cultural heritage and Egypt's substantial contribution to the human experience on this small planet.

alexfront9 karma

Did the ancient Egyptians consume psychedelics? Any evidence? Thank you.

Mark_Lehner10 karma

Dr. Ben Harer has published the idea that the Egyptian lotus contained a narcotic, which Egyptians may have consumed at banquets and the like, where some show themselves with a lotus over their heads - sign of being stoned? But check with him and his publications on this.

wwabc9 karma

how much grain do the pyramids hold?

-asking for Ben Carson

Mark_Lehner9 karma

The pyramids never held grain. It was an idea, centuries ago, before people started exploring them, that they were granaries.

DoktorThodt8 karma

What's your opinion on Djedefre's Pyramid?

Mark_Lehner10 karma

Djedefre's pyramid is a real wrinkle between Khufu and Khafre. What was he thinking - moving like that to Abu Roash? OK, the location does look down onto Giza - being much higher in elevation. But he seems to have ditched all the innovations - innovation toward pyramid perfection - implemented by Khufu, following all the R&D of his father, Sneferu's three pyramids at Medium and Dasher. Want to discuss further?

MomsSpaghetti17718 karma

Lots of people argue that the head of the Sphinx is too small for the massive leonine body that it sits upon. Does this suggest that once it originally had a different head…like that of a lion?

Mark_Lehner14 karma

Some think the head of the Sphinx may be too small, yes. From my experience with sorbing and mapping the Sphinx, the head is especially too small for the length of the lion body. A "normal" Egyptian Sphinx body, that is, a lion body, is three heads long. That is usually a king's head wearing the nemes headdress (nemes is the name for a way of folding a plated scarf, such as you see on Tutankhamen's golden mask). The face-plus-headdress makes a good proportion with the barrel-vaulted lion chest and fore-body. The Giza Sphinx body is five heads long. Its as though they pulled the lion body and stretched it out. I think the sculptors may have done this because a huge fissure cuts through the bedrock just at the waist. They could not complete the rump, haunches and tail (upswinging against the right haunch) because of the fissure, which opens two meters wide at the top of the back. So they stretched the body out. The head is more proportional for the front view of the Sphinx. This is hat I glean from looking at bedrock reality.

Max_W_7 karma

Netflix, PBS/NOVA, "History Channel", TLC etc. are littered with shows on Egypt and the Great Pyramids. What makes this one different?

Mark_Lehner14 karma

Yes, I know. But NOVA films are always special, and a cut above. Here we tried to pull together all the new evidence and understandings from several directions. Not least, the Wadi el-Jarf Papyri, which include accounts and a log book - an actual diary! - of one team actually working on building Khufu's Pyramids. Real people, names, individuals in history. Those papyri are like opening a window onto the people building the last surviving Wonder of the Ancient World.

Tigrepaper7 karma

Do mummies have a specific smell?

Mark_Lehner14 karma

I can't speak for all mummies. I haven't sniffed but a few. But once I had to map a labyrinth of shafts, passages, and chambers cut out of the bedrock and stacked with cat mummies - at Saqqara. In one chamber, cat mummies were stacked up like cordwood. They smelled like dirty socks, socks worn but not washed for a week or two.

A_Feathered_Raptor4 karma

What did you think of Tom Cruise's The Mummy from 2017?

Mark_Lehner5 karma

The worst of the mummy shows. The oldest ones are the best.

malau11 karma

Why are Egyptologists covering up the true age of the Pyramids and The Sphinx?

Mark_Lehner6 karma

Egyptologists are not covering up the true age of the Sphinx and Pyramids. They are trying their best to suggest the most probable date of the Sphinx and Pyramids. I am aware that some have the idea of such a coverup. It is simply not true. Sorry. We can discuss why some believe this if you like.

truck_de_monster0 karma

Do you think Egyptian gods were influenced by Greece? And how old do you estimate the pyramids are?

Mark_Lehner1 karma

We think about 40 people could have stretched out in the long, gallery-like barracks, About 20 to a side. The galleries are about 35 meters long and from 4.6 to 4,7 meters wide. The front open parts, in which we found sleeping platforms, are around 20+ meters long. Sorry, after 46 years in Egypt, I think metric.