The pyramids that we see in Egypt today continue to be ‘Wonders of the World’. They were built thousands of years ago and yet still stand. The ancient Egyptians created the pyramids as burial tombs to honor their pharaohs and since they believe them to be both man and god, they made the pyramids in a grand style.
It’s believed that the original burial tombs for pharaohs and high ranking officials were flat monuments called ‘mastabas’. Over the years, each new burial tomb would have another smaller layer added to the top until they began to look like steps. The building of pyramids reached its height in the Old Kingdom time, between the Fourth and Sixth Dynasties; 2575 BC to 2150 BC. There are over 70 pyramids near the Nile River. It is thought that the first smooth sided pyramid was built between the years of 2680 to 2560 BC for the pharaoh King Snefru.
Archeological excavations have found that unlike what most people might think, the pyramids were not built by slaves, but were Egyptians that lived in the area. They have found living areas that appear to be for the laborers and their families in an almost community style. The villages seem to be set up with shops, houses, butcher shops and even bakeries for the thousands of loaves of bread that was needed to feed the workers.
There was a lot of planning that went into building a pyramid. Because of the weight, the location had to be on firm rock because building on sand would cause it to collapse. Specific measurements had to be made on the base size width and length. This was one of the most important decisions because it they were off, the pyramid would fall. Rock was cut out from quarries that were often quite a distance and carried on boats on the River Nile to the pyramid location. There were millions of pieces of rock that had to be just the right size to fit in place.
Egyptologists are not really sure how the ancient Egyptians managed to get the heavy rock, often weighing many tons up to build the pyramids. Some think that they used ramps, while others think that they may have used sand to release and balance. There are many people throughout the world today that have tried to build smaller pyramids to figure out exactly how it was done.
One of the things that everyone notices about the pyramids of Egypt is that they are incredibly large. The smallest of the Giza pyramids is over 200 ft high. The pyramid built by the pharaoh Khufu (pronounced Koo-foo) was originally 480 ft high and is made up of over 2.3 million stone blocks. Each of the blocks weighs about 5,000 lbs and had to be cut to the right size, brought to the pyramid and put in place by hand. The engineers of ancient Egypt were familiar with the difficult mathematics that were involved in creating a structure of such size.
If building the pyramids isn’t enough of a challenge, the ancient Egyptian engineers planned the blocks so that there were inner chambers and tunnels. It was thought that the pyramid chambers were for the burial of the pharaohs. Some of the huge stone burial sarcophagus have been found inside the pyramids but never any of the mummies or anything that would have been buried with the pharaoh.
Once a pyramid was completed, it had armed guards to try to protect it from tomb raiders. The tombs were raided on such a regular basis that it is thought that the secrets were told to others by the builders. If anyone was caught raiding a pharaoh’s tomb, it was an instance death sentence.
The pyramids that we see today have crumbled quite a bit and don’t look at all like they would have upon completion. Once all of the stones were in place, the entire pyramid was covered in white limestone and the top or cap of the pyramid would have been tipped in gold. In the bright Egyptian sunshine, the white and the gold would have gleamed brightly.