Ancient Egyptian Pyramids

I recently read an article of ancient Egyptian culture, and was amazed by the great pyramids.

The pharaoh of each city was obviously considered very important, and also thought to be a god rather than a human, by the people. Pyramids seemed to have tied religion and technology together. They had a very ritualistic religion, which involved the sacrificial killing of royal people when the pharaoh died, and then burying them inside the pyramid/tomb. Technologically, it is apparent that the ancient people had and established system of measurement and very good understanding of geometry.

One can an make and inference that religion may have made the Egyptians build the colossal pyramids. However, I am wondering if people have any other opinions on why the great pyramids were built. And, why they Egyptians stopped building the pyramids after the first 500 years of their history.

Thanks people!

Well, I’m not sure where the idea that they only built pyramids for 500 years came from. The period of the “Great” pyramids lasted about 350 years, but pyramids of one sort or another were built throughout 2700 years of Egyptian history, not ceasing until the time of the (Greek) Ptolemeys.

The pyramids prior to the “Great” pyramids were often truncated and did not reach great size and pyramids following the 6th Dynasty were generally smaller than their predecessors. The earlier ones were probably smaller and less refined because the engineers had not perfected their arts. The later ones were probably “more modest” because of the reputation for avarice and cruelty that the builders of the “Great” pyramids earned in taxing their people to build their monuments.

(There is one “Great Pyramid,” that of Khufu/Cheops. There are a couple more of similar size (for his son and grandson) that are considered “Great” as a group.)

The Encyclopædia Britannica has recently opened itself up to free inquiry at . You might try looking up pyramid and histroy of Egypt, there.


Egyptians believed that the afterlife required that the body remain ‘intact’, so they mummified their dead (well the rich ones anyway). They also left grave goods in tombs for use in the afterlife. This made tombs a target for thieves, and a pyramid is a pretty big target. Pretty much a big sign saying, “Royal grave goods here! Gold, gems, and alabaster canopic jars! Free for the digging!” After a couple hundred years of having pyramids robbed and mummies destroyed (to get the golden amulets and scarabs in the wrappings), they started to make the tombs a bit more subtle.

Shpaiers ponders:

The principle purpose of the pyramids was to prevent grave robbers from getting at all of the valuable artifacts. The great pyramids were intended to be inpenetrable and very, very secure, however it was a relatively short time before they were broken into and pillaged. The great Egyptians that came after, most likely decided that they were better off relying on deception and secrecy to hide their burial chambers.

Besides being very stable, the shape of the pyramid evokes the rays of the sun. Stand at the base and the lines of the pyramid represent the rays. This effect is especially visible if you’re standing on the shady side just as the sun peeks over. Also, one can imagine the pyramid reaching toward the sun. This effect is more overt with really big structures.

Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to relive it. Georges Santayana


I think I meant: And, why did the Egyptians stop building the pyramids after the first 500 years of their history?

Brain lapse!

Thanks for the responses, by the way :slight_smile:

I think there was an economic component to the pyramids. With a large population, stable government, no major enemies to go to war with, building pyramids was an excellent industry to keep the workforce busy and stimulate the economy. The statues on Easter Island would be another example of this. The magnificent highway in Glacier Park in Montana, built by hand during the Great Depression, is another example.

The earliest of the pyramids, that of Djoser at Saqqara (designed, by the way, by Imhotep-- the first artist for whom we have a name) was originally a big mastaba, a flat rectangular structure over a pit grave as had been previously done. It was apparently not impressive enough, so Imhotep expanded the base and began to STACK mastabas up-- this pyramid has a stepped appearance. As the burial itself was still below ground level, the idea that the pyramids “prevented robbery” is unlikely to have been their main function (and apparently didn’t work even had this been the intention) and is more likely just meant to be aesthetically pleasing and impressive, politically (implying a wealth of manpower and resources at one’s disposal). From there pyramids got progressively larger for a while, each pharoh one-upping his predeccessor, until the tie of Mycerinus (Menkaure) who seemed to be interested int he notion of humanizing the pharoh a bit (his pyramid is the latest, but smallest, of the three biggies at Giza). After the Old Kingdom, royalty prefer rock-cut tombs instead.

As Jeff Foxworthy teaches us, the Pyramids are not truly great achievements. They were built by people with diminishing goals…


I’m glad no one has claimed they were built by Martians!

Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to relive it. Georges Santayana

Why would you use the word “martians” for the inhabitants of Alpha Centauri?

Besides Martians are much smarter than that, they would just architect the things and utilize the cheap local labor to do the actual building…

I remember an excellent special on pyramid building on PBS (an episode of Nova, I believe), where they gave an engineer a bunch of money and three weeks to build a pyramid in Egypt, using only proposed ancient techniques.

The engineer hired around twenty guys, including stonemasons, who shaped the blocks and finished them using bronze tools. They found that two ton granite blocks move easily with six men pulling a sled over a log road that was kept wet. A ramp built up the side made it (relatively) easy to get blocks to the top as the height increased.

After three weeks, a six meter pyramid was built and finished on two sides in limestone. The engineer complained that they could have finished it if they hadn’t had to experiment with proposed techniques that didn’t work (like elevating blocks by propping them up and placing beams beneath sequentially).

The best part was the narrator’s interview with an Egyptologist who theorized that the pyramids were cast in place: the shell was built, one level at a time, and the interior filled in with something like concrete. Pointing to an exposed level of a pyramid, the narrator observed that there were blocks of stone loosely spaced, with the gaps filled by sand. “Doesn’t that refute your theory?”

“Well, you see, it is only a theory.”

hansel wrote:

I saw that, too. Actually the engineer only stated that this was an impractical method of setting ALL of the stones. This seemed to be the best method of setting some stones (in particular, the cap stone).

I remember hearing this theory many, many years ago. Supporters of this theory pointed out that some of the stones contained fossilized bits of straw, which they presumed could only have gotten there if the stones were poured. They also felt that pouring was the only way to explain the tight fit between stones. I think this theory has been pretty much discredited by a few key facts. (1) It is not uncommon in sedimatary rock formations to find grasses, stones and other debris trapped as a natural consequence of the sedimentary process (2) There would have to have been some sort of dividing form between stones to prevent them from fusing and there’s no evidence of any divisional material (3) The time that would be required for each layer to cure before setting the next layer would have meant that it would have taken 3 times as long to finish the construction (4) There are clearly quarries where the stones were taken out nearby , plus beds of stone chips from the shaping process.

to be specific about the method, they would tilt the block on one end and stick a beam beneath, then tilt the other other and place a beam. Then they repeated the process, perpendicular to the first beams, eventually building a tower of cross beams beneath the block while simply levering it back and forth.

The most impressive footage was when the tower was three feet high, the two tonne block was levered just a bit too far, and tumbled down the side of the pyramid, nearly crushing someone.