Pyramids are a part of Egyptian culture. Pharaohs, the rulers of Ancient Egypt, built pyramids as burial chambers to support them in their afterlives.
The first pyramid in Egypt was built in 2630 B.C. Earlier pharaohs were not buried in pyramids. Instead, they used clay bricks to build low, rectangular buildings called mastabas. The body of the pharaoh would be kept in a chamber underneath the mastaba. This presented a problem because everyone knew that the pharaohs were buried underneath the mastabas, and all of their treasures were kept in the mastaba. Grave robbers would ransack the burial site to steal treasures and often destroy the body of the pharaoh.
Ancient Egyptians believed that the human body had to stay intact in order to allow the soul to pass into the afterlife. This is why people were turned into mummies when they died. The process stopped the body from decaying, so it would be intact and the person would be able to live forever in the afterlife. So, the destruction of the pharaoh’s bodies was a big problem.
In 2630 B.C., Djoser, a pharaoh, came up with a solution. He built the first Egyptian pyramid. It was formed by stacking mastabas to form a stairway to heaven.
Around sixty years later, another pharaoh, Sneferu, attempted to built a step pyramid similar to Djoser’s pyramid. Unfortunately, the limestone blocks began to slip and Sneferu abandoned the pyramid.
Soon, Sneferu started a second pyramid. This pyramid was not a step pyramid, but a “true” pyramid with flat sides. Unfortunately, the corners of this pyramid were built on unstable ground. The walls of the rooms inside the pyramid began to crack and shift. The builders changed the angle of incline for the second half of the pyramid in an attempt to save it. This is why today we call it the Bent Pyramid.
The Bent Pyramid was never used. Instead, Sneferu began construction on his third pyramid. This pyramid was built using red limestone bricks. Today we call it the Red Pyramid. The Red Pyramid was the first successful true pyramid ever built in Ancient Egypt. Sneferu may have been buried in the Red Pyramid, but some scientists think he was buried in a mastaba nearby. The remains found in the mastaba were lost before they could be fully studied.
Sneferu’s son, Khufu, also built himself a pyramid. It is the biggest pyramid ever built in Egypt. It is called the Great Pyramid of Giza. It was once thought that slaves built the pyramid, but we now know that Egyptian workers built the pyramids. For three months of the year, the Nile would flood the valley, and it was impossible to farm. The pharaoh provided good jobs for workers during the flood and was celebrated for his generosity.
Standing at almost 500 feet tall, the pyramid was the tallest structure on Earth for nearly 4,000 years. It was covered with polished limestone “casing stones” that made the white pyramid shine brightly. Centuries later, many of these slabs were removed from the pyramids to build mosques in Cairo. When the pyramid was covered with the casing stones, it was so bright that it is believed that it could be seen from the moon.
In addition to being giant, the pyramid was also designed with precise accuracy. It was aligned to face exactly north. The Descending Passage, which leads from the entrance of the pyramid to the unfinished chamber under the pyramid, is aligned with the star, Alpha Draconis. This was the North Star at the time the pyramid was built.
The Great Pyramid of Giza has stood for almost five thousand years. It has lasted this long because the stones that made up the pyramid were cut so precisely that no water could get between the stones. In most structures, water can seep into the tiny spaces between stones. When the water freezes, it expands. This causes cracks in the stones which can eventually destroy the structure. Not only were the stones placed to prevent water getting between the stones, but granite was used to build the pyramids. This type of stone doesn’t soak up water like other stones. Keeping water out of the stones was key to the longevity of the pyramid.
Scientists have discovered three burial chambers in the Great Pyramid of Giza. One chamber is underground, carved into bedrock. The second chamber has been called the Queen’s Chamber. However, we now know that this chamber was never designed to hold one of Khufu’s wives. The third chamber is in the center of the pyramid. A red granite sarcophagus was found in the exact center of the chamber.
Recently, researchers with the ScanPyramids project have been studying the Great Pyramid of Giza using new imaging techniques. They believe they have found a new open space within the pyramid. This could be another chamber or a hidden passage. It is even possible that the sarcophagus in the main chamber is a decoy, and the real pharaoh is hiding somewhere else within the pyramid.
Another possibility is that the pharaoh’s body was taken when the pyramid was raided thousands of years ago. Pyramids, like mastabas, were susceptible to grave robbers. People knew that the pyramids would be filled with treasures. It was worth the danger and difficulty of breaking into the pyramids to get to the immense riches within the pyramids.
As much as we have learned about the pyramids of Egypt, there are still many secrets hidden within the structures. New technology allows us to explore the pyramids like never before and learn about the Ancient Egyptians. Their advanced building techniques could help us build better buildings today.