Built in the prime of the Egyptian civilisation, the Pyramid of Giza is the oldest and only survivor of the seven wonders of the ancient world. We do not, however, have much insight into its construction, due to the lack of photographic devices, to give one example of modern technology we take for granted.
The astonishingly prescient achievement of the pyramids that stood for thousands of years and until today have left people awestruck and dumbfounded. Silva (n.d.) highlighted that the detailed geometrical structures have sparked much curiosity on how the Egyptians have created a work of such magnificence. Many speculated theories that the pyramids have been made by an alien species or giants. And this leave us a question on how the ancient Egyptians with crude tools, limited scientific knowledge, and no industrial production build the pyramids?
What are these pyramids for?
Now, before the how, here is another question, what, and another yet, why? The purpose of these structures, that certainly took enormous effort, and we know from Macdonald (2015) that many types of pyramids exist, speculating their purpose as to entomb pharaohs and their queens. Giza’s Pyramids were for three such pharaohs, , Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure, and their size reflects the ruler’s role in their society. The following comes directly from the article:
Ancient Egyptians left instructions inside the pyramids: Archaeologists have found funerary text inscriptions inside pyramid chambers built between 2375 and 2160 BCE, which serve the sole purpose of instructing the dead pharaoh's soul how to cross over to the afterworld.
There's evidence of burial inside the pyramids: "Pyramids were definitely used as tombs: burial equipment, such as sarcophagi, jewellery, mummies or mummy parts were found in some of them. (The others were robbed in antiquity, or in a few cases the burial chambers are below the water table)," archaeologist Deborah Sweeney from Tel Aviv University in Israel told Jewish news site Haaretz over email.
How was it built?
Jarus (2016) discussed that over the past two decades, scientists and researchers have studied and pieced together clues as to how these towering monuments were constructed. The techniques used to build the techniques were developed over a period of centuries, with all of the problems and setbacks that any modern-day scientist or engineer would face.
Developing pyramid building techniques
Jarus (2016) highlighted that the Pharaoh Djoser (reigning from around 2630 BC) advanced the design of the pyramids: from an originally simple, rectangular ‘mastaba’ tomb, of whose design we see examples of dating back over 5,000 years ago discovered by archaeologist Sir Flinders Petrie, to development of a six-layered step pyramid with underground tunnels, as well as chambers.
The next move forward occurred during the reign of pharaoh Snefru (starting around 2575 BCE), who has at least three pyramids under his belt (Very sleazy pun intended). Snefru’s architects decided on smoothening the surface of the pyramids he chose to build, thus giving us the Egyptian pyramids we all know and love.
They did, however, hit one roadblock. At Dashur, we know of a pyramid called the ‘bent pyramid’, due to the angle of the pyramid changing halfway up, distorting the image of the pyramid somewhat. Scholars today generally treat this strange angle as a design flaw.
The architects would later correct the flaw, in the second pyramid at the same location, and the result of this correction in design is known today as the ‘red pyramid’, in light of the colour of stones used in its construction. This ‘red pyramid’ has a more constant angle, fitting the ideal of a true pyramid.
Khufu, Snefru’s son, would learn from his father and previous pharaohs, and construct the ‘Great Pyramid’, the largest in the world.
Quarrying and Moving the blocks
Jarus (2016) also pointed out that the blocks used to build the Giza pyramids were quarried from an as of yet unknown quarry, though speculation suggests the south-southeast of Menakure’s Pyramid. This was followed by a furnishing of the externals with limestone, later recycled for later projects. The moving of the stone blocks was later accomplished via a wetting a slope, and this method has been proven effective by University of Amsterdam physicists in 2014. Ramp systems are thought to have transported the materials upwards, many Egyptologists are in agreement on this fact at least, though they are not sure how the ancient Egyptians were able to think up such an advanced idea, and many hypotheses on these designs have come forward in time past.
Significance to History
As Wealth of Knowledge
According to Handwerk (n.d.), the significance of pyramid lies in the fact that much of Egypt’s history is preserved, either as hieroglyph written on the wall, in the bodies of Mummies and the possession that was buried with the mummies.
Sesen (2011) pointed out that It is known that the burial chamber of many Pyramids and Mastaba are sealed from the outside world for many centuries. This means that erosion and oxidation is kept to the minimum and that the environment of the burial chamber presents the perfect place for the perservation of not only mummies but also sacred text and pottery. The uncovering of such burial chambers then leads to a wealth of knowledge previously unattainable by Historians. Knowing how wealthy was the country (through golds and jewelleries buried with the Pharaoh) and how did the people of ancient Egypt live (through hieroglyph on the wall) allows Historians to infer and recreate as accurate as possible, the lives of ancient Egyptian.
We all know the saying, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’, in ‘The Life of Reason’, Volume 1: Reason in Common Sense, by George Santayana, and history can never be regarded as unimportant, though it is, needless to say, dated (Pun intended). In this spirit, we must therefore treasure the fact that these archeological discoveries are imperative to our study of the world, as well as the meanings and lessons from their era, that we can learn from, be it their culture, politics, or in the case of this post, Architecture!
An Inspiration for Architecture
In addition, the architecture of the pyramids is also apart of what makes them significant. Dietsch & Stern (n.d.) highlighted that their construction was extremely precise, with the bottom of the structure being level, something not very easy in the desert, and the joints between the framework are narrow. This gives us a feel of the technological and architectural capacity of the Egyptians in their era, and guides us on the story of how we have our own buildings today!
To such an extent was their architectural technology so advanced, that some have speculated the possibility of extraterrestrial influence. Called ‘Ancient Astronaut Theorists’, these individuals claim that humanity was the result of alien genetic engineering, and the Pyramids were built for astronomical reasons, with their position relative to the constellations being proof of this. (Cryptid, 2016)
These beliefs are not held by the research members of this group, but we added this section as we feel it gives us a feel of how advanced the Egyptians were in their architecture, to inspire individuals such as the ancient astronaut theorists the possibility that mankind was not alone able to complete such feats, and that external, advanced civilisations were involved. These, shall we say, extravagant claims, are a testament to the advancement of the Egyptians.
According to Ancient Egyptian Astronomy (n.d.), Egyptian are known to be obsessed with anything relating to space as evident from basing most of their gods and goddesses to celestial bodies. The Milky Way galaxy was linked to the sky goddess Nut who eventually give birth to the god Ra (who is based on the Sun) while the Orion’s belt represent Osiris. Thus it was not strange that ancient Egyptian placed Astronomy as an important aspect of their culture. Ancient Egyptian may have even made a rudimentary map of the celestial bodies by placing buildings/monuments to mirror the location of celestial body. There are a few evidence that demonstrate that the ancient Egyptian have intentionally mirror their building with celestial bodies. One such evidence is the way the Great pyramid of Giza was made, specifically the direction faced by the Southern Shaft of the King’s chamber. It has been said that the Southern shaft actually points towards the brightest star of the Orion’s belt, Al Nitak. This further symbolise ancient Egypt’s relationship with the God Osiris. (Astronomical Alignment in Egyptian Pyramids, n.d.)
Ending our post with 25 fascinating facts about Egyptian pyramids that most people may not know!
Ancient Egyptian Astronomy. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://starteachastronomy.com/egyptian.html
Astronomical Alignment in Egyptian Pyramids. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.math.nus.edu.sg/aslaksen/gem-projects/hm/0102-1-pyramids/extra02.htm
Cryptid. (2016). Did Aliens Build the Pyramids? Retrieved from https://exemplore.com/ufos-aliens/Did-Aliens-Build-Pyramids
Dietsch, D & Stern, R. (n.d.) Exploring the Ancient Pyramids. Retrieved from http://www.dummies.com/education/history/world-history/exploring-the-ancient-pyramids/
Handwerk. B. (n.d.). Giza Pyramids Hold Pharaohs' Ancient Secrets. Retrieved from http://science.nationalgeographic.com/science/archaeology/giza-pyramids/
Jarus, O. (2016). How Were the Egyptian Pyramids Built? Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/32616-how-were-the-egyptian-pyramids-built-.html
Macdonald, F. (2015). Here's How Scientists Know The Pyramids Were Built to ... Retrieved from http://www.sciencealert.com/here-s-how-scientists-know-the-pyramids-were-built-to-store-pharaohs-not-grain
Pyramids. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.ancientegypt.co.uk/pyramids/home.html
Sesen. S. (2011). Two Entrances To The King's Chamber and How They Were Sealed - More With Jean-Pierre Houdin. Retrieved from http://emhotep.net/2011/05/03/locations/lower-egypt/giza-plateau-lower-egypt/two-entrances-to-the-king%E2%80%99s-chamber-and-how-they-were-sealed%E2%80%94more-with-jean-pierre-houdin/
Silva, E. (n.d.). How were the Pyramids Built? Retrieved from http://www.curiosityaroused.com/history/how-were-the-pyramids-built/