Pyramids of Egypt

        There are few things that fascinate the world like the Pyramids of Egypt. Their sheer size alone mystifies all and when the time period of these pyramids is taken into consideration, it’s truly unbelievable. No machines or huge cranes to place each block. No modern day technology. It was the ancient world that produced these wonders and the fascination has remained.  

Purpose of the Pyramids

Why did the Egyptians use the shape of the pyramid? Historians believe that it is based on the sun god Ra, and the pyramid shape is meant to look like the rays of the sun, one of the most important symbols for the ancient Egyptians. According to Egyptian beliefs, the god Ra was created out of a pyramid shaped mound of earth before creating the rest of the Egyptian gods and goddesses. The purpose of the pyramids of Egypt was for tombs for the Pharaohs. The pharaohs of Egypt were the rulers, or kings, but they were viewed as divine or god-like so they were called “pharaoh.” Because of this view of Pharaohs, the Egyptians believed they needed to be buried in a place worthy of keeping the mummy of the pharaoh safe and ensuring its passage into the afterlife.  The inside of the pyramid was an elaborate scheme of tunnels, rooms and traps. The mummy was buried in one of the rooms along with all the jewels, riches, and anything else the pharaoh might need in the afterlife. Other rooms might be used for the queen, nobleman, and other earthly things. Once completed, the pyramids were sealed shut with the hopes of the mummy of the pharaoh never being disturbed. The immense size of the pyramids was meant to discourage even the most persistent tomb robber.  The earliest known pyramid to be built in Egypt was the “Step Pyramid” for Pharaoh Djoser. The best known pyramids are the three huge pyramids at Giza, built for Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure. Along with the three pyramids at Giza is the Sphinx, which is a body of a lion and head of a man, who stands as the guardian of the Giza complex. In addition to the step pyramid and the three pyramids at Giza, Egyptian historian’s estimate there are over 70 pyramids built along the Nile River, only these are not as large as the ones at Giza.

Building the Pyramids

Some believe the pyramids of Egypt were built by aliens, while others believe the secret of how the pyramids were built has been lost and will remain an ancient secret forever. However, excavation of the pyramid sites has revealed some clues as to how the pyramids were built. The blocks, weighing over 5,000 pounds were quarried, or dug, out of limestone. These huge blocks of limestone were then brought up the pyramid on a temporary ramp that was built. These ramps spiraled around the pyramid so the builders could get the blocks to the top. The process of getting the blocks up the ramp was a tough and dangerous one. Each blocked would be placed on a sledge, which looks like a sled one might use in the snow. The sledge containing the limestone block would then be placed on log rollers and the builders would push, pull and roll each block up the ramp until they reached its resting point.  Teams of up to twenty men or teams of oxen would pull the limestone block, while others would constantly replace the log rollers in front of the block. There would be a team of men who would lubricate the logs and path with oil to make the sledge slide easier. After each block was put in place, the ramps were removed and the “steps” were filled in with a smooth, finer quality limestone, which gave the pyramid a white, shiny look that could be seen for miles. The Great Pyramid at Giza, the largest of any pyramid ever built, was for the Pharaoh Khufu. The Great Pyramid contains over 2.3 million blocks. Khufu ordered the construction of the pyramid the moment he took control of the throne. It took about 23 years to build the Great Pyramid.  The pyramid construction site was carefully chosen by the pyramid committee appointed by the pharaoh. The pyramids were almost always built on the western side of the Nile because the spirit of the pharaoh was meant to join the setting sun, which is in the west.  Also, the pyramid was built as close to Memphis as possible, since Memphis was the central city of ancient Egypt.  

The Pyramid Builders

        The pyramids of Egypt were built by massive numbers of workers. For the Great Pyramid, it is estimated that over 20,000 people built the pyramid. It has been a long standing myth that slaves were forced to build the pyramids. However, it is now believed that the pyramids were built by free people, people who chose to work on the pyramids. These pyramid builders were given tax breaks, food, shelter and a place to live in exchange for working on the pyramid. The pyramid builders lived with their family in “worker villages” which were complete villages that were set up at the construction site solely for the pyramid workers. Since the pyramids would take years and years to build, these workers would live at the job site. The worker villages would have butcher shops, granaries, houses, cemeteries and bakeries.  Because of the scorching sun and physically demanding nature of pyramid building, workers usually wore little clothing, often times just a white cloth wrapped around their waist. In our world, it would look like a white pair of shorts. They would typically work barefooted or with sandals. The life of the pyramid builder was a very difficult one. Skeletons of pyramid builders show a lot of arthritis and strain on their spine. These skeletons offer more evidence that the pyramid builders were not slaves. The manner in which these skeletons were buried would not be consistent to how slaves were buried.

Tomb Robbers

        We know that the pyramid was built to protect the mummy of the pharaoh and all his riches, but did it actually work? Did the pyramid do its job and keep the pharaoh safe? The answer is a most emphatic no. The three most popular pyramids, the big three at Giza, were completely robbed. The first pyramid, the one built of Djoser was also cleaned out by tomb robbers. The other smaller ones at Saqqara were also robbed. Everybody knew that these massive structures contained unimaginable wealth and riches. The pyramids were designed to stop tomb robbers with trap doors, trip wires, false pits, and dead end tunnels. Some burial chambers were built so when someone broke into it, a huge pile of sand would fall. Despite these things, the tomb robbers were not stopped. Some believe that the builders themselves were the robbers since they knew exactly where everything was. Ancient Egyptians tried to keep it a secret where the mummy and all his riches were buried but with such a massive work force, it was difficult to keep it a secret. Eventually, the Egyptians began burying the mummies in underground burial chambers such as the Valley of the Kings, but this also did not stop the thieves. The tomb robbers would simply tunnel around in the general area until they found the tombs.