WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT PYRAMIDS ???
There is no structure more associated with Egypt than the pyramids. The image of the three massive pyramids at Giza are probably the single most common thing that people associate with Egypt, followed closely by King Tut.
But here are some fun facts about pyramids that may help you understand their significance in Egypt and the world.
Egyptians were not the only pyramid builders.
Other cultures and civilizations utilized the pyramid shape in their religious rituals and political life. In Peru there are stone and mud brick pyramids at Caral in the north that date from 2,600 B.C, the same time frame as the oldest Egyptian pyramids. From what we can reconstruct pyramids were both used as tombs but also as places associated with religions. The symbol of the pyramid is a powerful image and it is interesting that cultures that had no contact with each other would use the same symbolic structure. Theories about their religious significance include reaching to the heavens and the pyramid as a symbol of the sun’s rays spreading over the earth giving life.
There are hundreds of pyramids in Egypt.
The three large pyramids at Giza are by far not the only pyramids in Egypt. In fact near to Giza, there are three other large concentrations of pyramids. They just do not get as many tourists. There have been over 135 pyramids identified in Egypt.
There are pyramids of all sizes and materials throughout Egypt. Through the period of the greatest amount of pyramid building Egyptian architects experimented with many different pyramid angles and materials. At the very first pyramid built for the pharaoh Djoser around 2,600 B.C. , you can actually see in the size of the pyramid was changed mid construction as the builder Imhotep became more confident in its stability.
On the other end of the scale the Bent Pyramid at Dashur illustrates a plan apparently gone wrong. During construction the chamber inside the pyramid cracked, most likely from the soft material that is was built on. The builders angled in the design to reduce its weight, thereby giving it is unique design.
It is believed that the pyramid design evolved from previous burial monuments, which were flat platforms called mastabas. The brilliant Imhotep apparently came up with the design to stack the mastabas as a staircase for his pharaoh to ascend to the sun and the cycle of rebirth
The Egyptian pyramids are not just built of large blocks of stone.
Many pyramids from the time of the first pyramids to the very last pyramid of Tetisheri in Abydos were built of mud brick. Mud brick was easily accessible and used for most other types of construction during much of the period of the pharaohs. It may also have had symbolic significance having to do with the annual flooding of the Nile and the covering of the land with mud which resulted in the extremely fertile growing areas along the Nile.
Even the block built pyramids were covered in limestone. There is a small amount of limestone left on the tip of the Kahfre pyramid at Giza (look for it). Imagine the three Giza pyramids covered in limestone and glistening white in the Sun. It certainly must have portrayed the power of the pharaoh.
Not all pyramids were solid either. The last pyramid that was ever built was built of walls and chambers with some vaulted ceilings inside. We also see the mud brick vaulting at the great pharaoh Ramses II’s funerary temple.
One aspect that is consistent throughout the pyramids is that all but one were built on the west side of the Nile. The Egyptian beliefs of the pharoanic period held that life, death and rebirth were tied to the rising and setting of the sun. The pyramids were gateways for the pharaohs into that cycle and were built on the west bank, where the sun sets.
The inside of the pyramids are also a wonder. They rarely, if ever, consisted of a single shaft and burial chamber. Even the Giza pyramids are still being probed for shafts that are hidden in their massive bulk. My favorite pyramid is the Red Pyramid as Dashur. There are three interconnected and very large vaulted chambers inside the pyramid. I have been inside several times and stared up at the elaborate vaulting wondering: “how the heck did they do that”.
No, Aliens did not build the pyramids.
There is still debate about how the great stone block pyramids were built. I take no sides in the debate !!! The latest thought is that internal ramps may have been used to build successive layers. Unexplained chambers have been found in the Giza pyramids that could have been used to turn the blocks into position. The more popular explanation is that great sand ramps were built that encircled the pyramid as it rose to the sky and the blocks were moved up the ramps.
But what is certain is that people built the pyramids. The core of the pyramid builders were highly skilled artisans and supervisors who lived at the pyramid sites. Their houses have been found and many excavated. They probably had high status in society and certainly the overall supervisor of a pyramid was honored by the pharaoh. We even find some small pyramids that adorn the graves of the royal artisans.
The labor used to actually do the manual work was probably a mix of slave labor from enemies captured in wars with its neighbors and labor from all over Egypt who were called on by the pharaoh to devote a percentage of their time to pyramid building. Someone asked me if the workers would have resented this work. I guess you can’t really like moving massive blocks in the 115 degree sun. But Egypt’s religion was centered for over 4,000 years on maintaining order out of chaos (Maat). The workers probably saw it as their contribution to maintaining this order.
Ancient Egyptians did not always build pyramids
The Nile valley has been occupied by human beings for 700,000 years since Paleolithic
times. Pyramid building began in the early dynasties when Egypt became a single political entity. The first pyramid was built in 2,600 B.C. The peak of pyramid building was during the early dynasties from 2,600 to 1,800 B.C., a period of 800 years.
The last known pyramid was built around 1,525: 1,100 years after the Djoser pyramid. A long span of time for us, but short by the time line of Egyptian civilization.
Although there are many consistent threads that run through the 2,700 years of the Egyptian pharaohs there are also many differences. The religious beliefs evolved. The capital and religious center of the country moved several times. The use of Pyramids as places to bury the pharaohs eventually shifted to underground burial chambers such as those we find in the Valley of the Kings, where Tutankhamen’s tomb was found.
Pyramids are mainly but not always burial chambers.
As soon as new pharaoh came to power the pharaoh began planning and building for the afterlife. The cycles of the Nile and of the daily journey of the sun permeated Egyptian religious thought. One theme that is consistent in Egyptian life from before the pharaohs until the advent of Christianity was the belief in the afterlife. In the early dynasties the pharaohs would start planning and constructing their burial pyramids almost immediately.
But after the demise of pyramids as places of burial for the pharaohs, pyramids continued to be built. In the location I worked at this summer in Abydos there are two pyramids, one dedicated to the pharaoh Ahmose and the other built by him to honor his grandmother that are not places of burial but of worship or representations of the power of the pharaoh. (in fact we do not know where Ahmose was originally buried).
I hope this information has given you some insight into these amazing structures and will tickle your curiosity to find out more.
This guest post was written by Doug Tilden, who is the President of Round the World with Us. Thank you, Doug!