Drawing of an Egyptian granary carving showing how the grain was put in. The small doors in the
right corners of a, and b. show how it was intended for the grain to be taken out. (Found at Thebes)
Text:  Genesis 41:48-49  - "And he gathered up all the food of the seven years, which were in the land of Egypt, and laid up the food in the cities: the food of the field, which was round about every city, laid he up in the same. And Joseph gathered corn as the sand of the sea, very much, until he left numbering; for it was without number."  (KJV)

Much speculation has been given as to how grain was stored in ancient times, especially the huge quantity as described in the story of Joseph preparing for the  seven yeas of Egyptian famine. In the Bible, the word for corn in Hebrew is bawr and can mean any type of edible grain including corn, wheat, barley, spelt and rye.  It can also have the symbolic meaning of food.

Ancient Egypt produced an abundance of food. The annual flooding of the Nile River created a perfect fertile environment for bountiful crops, especially wheat and barley. Plus, the Egyptian diet included meat, poultry, fish, fruits, vegetables and spices, all of which the Egyptians had methods for preserving. The introductory scripture is not only giving an indication of Egypt's vast food wealth (corn as the sand of the sea) but also alluding to the assortment (food in the cities and in the field) that was stored.

In the ancient world, granaries were common. They came in a number of styles and designs; and every group of people built some form of them to store their harvest or food supply. The type of granary adopted by the people usually depended on whether the people were settled or nomadic; meaning how much time did they have to build a storehouse and could that structure become permanent with their lifestyle.

According to early monuments, granaries in Egypt were numerous and show that a number of different styles of storehouses were in use. However, granaries constructed of brick, stucco or rock appear to have been the most popular.

From Rev. James Freeman: "Some of these store-houses were low flat-roofed buildings, divided into rooms or vaults, into which the grain was poured from bags. Similar structures were also used in Palestine. ("Bible Manners and Customs", #81, p. 49. Published 1901, New York.)

From Rev. J.G. Wilkinson: "The (Egyptian) granaries were also apart from the house, and were enclosed within a separate wall." (Customs and Manners of the Ancient Egyptians, Vol 1. Page 372 .)

Dr. John Kitto:
"In the tomb of Amenemhe at Peni Hassan, there is a painting of a great storehouse, before the door of which lies a large heap of grain, already winnowed. The measurer fills a bushel in
order to pour it out into the uniform sacks of those who carry the grain to the granary. The bearers go to the door of the storehouse, and lay down their sacks before an officer, who stands ready to receive the corn. This is the owner of the storehouse. Nearby stands the bushel with which it is measured, and the registrar who takes the account. At the side of the windows there are characters which indicate the quantity of the mass which is deposited in the magazine. From the subjoined (wood)cut it seems that the granaries of Egypt consisted of a series of vaulted chambers; and as the men are engagedin carrying the corn up the steps to the top of these vaults, it is manifest that it -was cast in through an opening at the top, which does not appear in the engraving—just as coal is cast into our cellars from the street." The Pictorial Bible Vol 1, pps. 140-141 (London 1855)

Woodcut. Taking corn to the granary.

Another popular mode of ancient grain storage was the "pit".

From Rev. James Freeman: " It is a very ancient custom in many parts of the East to store grain in large pits or cisterns, dug in the ground for this purpose. In Syria these cisterns are sealed at the top with plaster, and covered with a deep bed of earth to keep out vermin. They are cool and dry and light. [Bible Manners and Customs. P.49 - #81 Granaries. (NewYork 1902)]

 From Dr. Thomas Shaw: "The Moors and Arabs continue to tread out their corn after the primitive custom of the East. After the Grain is trodden out, they winnow it, by throwing it up into the wind with Shovels; lodging it afterwards in Mattamores or subterraneous magazines." (According to Pliny, this was the custom of many nations.) 

I have sometimes seen two or three hundred of them (Mattamores) together; the smallest of which would contain four hundred Bushels." ("Travels or Observations of Barbary and the Levant". P.221-222/ Published 1738,  Oxford.)

Grain was not only an important food and silage source, it was also valuable for trade and might be used as currency in the marketplace. Ancient people went to great lengths to insure the safekeeping of their grain, especially in the time of war. Losing their store of grain and other food supplies to the enemy could mean annihilation by starvation.

 From F.C. J. Spurrell: "(Aulus)Hiritus says that it was the custom of the people of Africa to deposit their corn privately, in vaults underground, to secure it in time of war, and that Cesar having intelligence of this, organized an excursion to Agar (perhaps the modem Souza), and obtained by this means barley, com, oil, and wine." ("Denholes and Artificial Caves with Vertical Entrances".  Archaeological Journal, Vol 39. P.12. Published 1882, London.)

So where does the idea come from that  Egypt's  famous  pyramids were once the storehouse for Josephs' seven years of grain collecting?

Such notable and imaginative authors as Joulius Honoirus (Cosmographis – 4th or 5th century AD), Gregory of Tour's (History of the Frank - 594 AD.), the Irish monk Dicuil (825 AD) all described Joseph's granaries as built of stone --wide at the bottom, narrowing as they went up and containing holes at the top through which grain might be dumped. They associated these grain storehouse with the pyramids.

From John Mandeville:  (14th century traveler).  "I will speak about something else that is beyond Babylon across the Nile River towards the desert between Africa and Egypt: these are Joseph's Granaries, which he had made to store the wheat for hard times. They are made of well-hewn stone. Two of them are amazingly large and tall and the others are not so big. And each granary has an entrance for going inside a little above the ground, for the land has been ravaged and ruined since the granaries were built. 

Inside they are completely full of snakes; and outside on these granaries are many writings in different languages. Some say that they are tombs of the great lords of antiquity, but that is not true....if they were tombs, they would not be empty inside, nor would they have entrances for going inside, nor are tombs ever made of such a large size and such a height—which is why it is not to be believed that they are tombs."  ("The Travels of Sir John Mandeville",
Ch. 8, p 30. First editied 1725.  Published 1900, London.)

However, while the famous burial sites of Egypt's royalty my not be the repositories for Joseph's corn, there is good evidence that a type of pyramid does play a part in the preservation of grain."

"The House of a Great Egyptian Lord". Drawning by Faucher-Gudin from a water color by Broussad, "Le Tombeau d'Anna" in the "Memoires de la Mission Francaise" . The house was situated at Thebes and belonged to the 18th dynasty. The tomb of Anna reproduces in most respects...the appearance of a nobleman's dwelling at all periods. At the side of the main
building we see two corn granaries with conical roofs and a great storehouse for provisions.
("From History of Egypt, Chaldea, Syria, Babylonia, and Assyria" by G. Maspero",
Vol 2, P.103. Published 1903, London.)

The following is an account of subterranean granaries covered by pyramids

 From Louis de Chenier: "After the harvest the Moors used to enclose their corn in subterraneous granaries, which are pits dug in the earth, where the corn is preserved for a considerable time. This custom is very ancient, and ought to be general in all warm countries, inhabited by wandering people. To secure the corn from moisture, they line these pits with straw, in proportion as they fill them, and cover them with the same; when the granary is filled, they cover it with a stone, upon which they put some earth in a pyramidical form, to disperse the water in case of rain." (Translated from the French) [Recherches Historiques, sur les Maures, vol. iii. P. 219. Published 1787, Paris.)

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