The pyramids are the most distinctive and best-known feature of ancient Egypt. The pyramids are the symbols of ancient Egyptian civilization and reflect the great power of the Egyptian kings, known today as pharaohs. Today there are at least 118 known pyramids, all of which were constructed during the Old Kingdom (2575 BCE to 2150 BCE). Of these the largest and best-known to modern tourists are the three large pyramids that dominate the Giza Plateau in Lower Egypt.
The Great Pyramid of Giza is shown above. Photo by Nina Aldin Thune.
Unfortunately, there has been a lot written about the pyramids by people with no understanding of either archaeology or Egyptian history and which is based more on fantasy than fact. Pyramidology seems to have developed into a subject of its own, with data based on movies, novels, and popular books rather than any insights or data from scientific archaeology. There is a concern for the shape of the pyramids, their precise size, their spatial disposition, and the internal arrangement of their chambers.
Why the pyramid shape?
From the perspective of civil engineering, the pyramidal shape is simply the most structurally sound way of building as high a structure as possible given the building resources available and a concern for long-term stability. Civil engineers understand that this is the reason this shape has been used in many different parts of the world by peoples who have had no interaction with each other.
The problem with the engineering explanation for the shape of the Egyptian pyramids is that it ignores: (a) the possibility of colonization of the earth by aliens from advanced civilizations from other galaxies; (b) the possibility of a highly advanced civilization that disappeared before the Egyptian civilization emerged; and (c) that the pyramidal shape keeps razor blades sharp. (Snark intended).
Archaeologists have reported pyramids in locations all over the world. They are simply a logical and practical way of building a tall structure. They are not related to each other nor do they indicate any kind of unity of ancient esoteric knowledge. They did not require any extraterrestrial skill or knowledge.
Who built the pyramids?
Since the pyramids are located in Egypt, it might be logical to start by considering the possibility that Egyptians built them. However, this logic doesn’t really apply to some writers who seem to feel that anyone other than the Egyptians were involved. Some of the pseudoarchaeology reports about the pyramids make some outlandish claims about who built them.
The psychic Edgar Cayce, who got his information about the pyramids through dreams rather than through archaeological fieldwork, felt that the Great Pyramid of Giza was built by refugees from the mysterious civilization/continent/island of Atlantis. Unfortunately, there is no real evidence that an advanced civilization with mysterious powers existed at the time the pyramids were built.
Then there are those who feel that the pyramids were actually constructed by ancient aliens with mysterious powers who came to earth from some distant planet. As with Atlantis, there is no real evidence that this ever happened.
Another common misconception is that the pyramids were built by slaves. According to this stereotype the pharaoh is viewed as having enslaved entire groups of people who were then forced to build these large structures with overseers standing over them with whips, driving them like cattle to haul the large stones into place. While there was some slavery in Egypt, the pyramids were not built by slaves nor was there any wholesale enslavement of people because of their skin color, religion, or ethnic background.
The archaeological evidence shows that the pyramids were built by teams of workers from throughout Egypt. The construction of the pyramid complexes served as a kind of public works project which united the people. The workers lived in villages close to the construction site. Each of the pyramids had at least one workers’ village associated with it. These villages included dorms, dining halls, bakeries (bread was important in feeding the workers), and breweries. Archaeologists working in these village sites have uncovered evidence of sewage systems and paved streets with drainage facilities.
The thousands of workers worked in three month shifts. Their diets included meat on a regular basis. It is estimated that the 10,000 laborers working on the pyramids consumed about 21 cattle and 23 sheep each day. The cattle and sheep were provided by farms throughout Egypt.
Those who worked on the pyramids were given the honor of being able to be buried in mud brick tombs within the shadow of the pyramids. The former head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities Zahi Hawass has pointed out:
“These tombs were built beside the king's pyramid, which indicates that these people were not by any means slaves. If they were slaves, they would not have been able to build their tombs beside their king's.”
Zahi Hawass also writes:
“The presence of regional variation among the workers’ tombs also tells us that the building of the pyramids was a national project worked on by households from all over Egypt.”
Only those who died during the construction were buried in these tombs. The workers’ tombs were typically shaped like cones and covered with white plaster.
Why were the pyramids built?
Some of the pyramid mystics seem to feel that the pyramids were built as a prophecy written in stone, or as a beacon to people living on other planets, or a special message to the Anglo-Saxon race.
In 1859 John Taylor put forth the idea that the Great Pyramid at Giza was guilt by non-Egyptian invaders acting under God’s guidance. Taylor, like many writers before and after, assumed that the construction of the pyramids had to have been built with some connection to events recorded in the Bible. Many of the early scholars who studied Egypt were theologically motivated by Christian mythology.
The archaeological data makes it very clear that the pyramids were royal tombs, a reflection of Egyptian concepts of death and resurrection. The pyramid is best described as a religious complex: it is the focal point of a number of structures. The pyramid is enclosed by a wall and it has a chapel near the northern entrance to the burial chamber. A smaller pyramid is usually included within the walled area as well as burial areas for the wives of the pharaoh.
Shown above is a map of the pyramid complexes at Giza.
A mortuary temple is located on the east side of the pyramid. It is in this building that the priests would tend the soul of the dead pharaoh. They did this by presenting offerings and prayers for his well-being in the land of the spirits, the Land of the West. From the entrance of the mortuary temple there is a long causeway which leads to the valley temple. The body of the pharaoh would be brought to the valley temple by boat, and then it would be carried in a procession along the causeway to the mortuary temple.