Research Paper: Pyramids of Egypt

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Egyptian Pyramids: History And Construction

The pyramids in Egypt serve as a testament to ingenuity of man. We often dismiss ancient civilizations because we think they were not as smart as we are. When we think of the pharaohs in Egypt and their belief that they entered into an afterlife beyond death, we might tend to think of them as uneducated or simply silly. This is a mistake because while these people might have believed something unusual about the afterlife, they were not dumb by any means. Their beliefs about the afterlife are what compelled them to build the pyramids, that to this day, astound those who look at them. The complexity of the construction of these structures proves to our advanced society that ancient civilizations were intelligent, hard working, and dedicated.

The Egyptians did not think that death was the end of life and immortality was important beyond what many of us stop to comprehend. Along with mummification, many rituals were performed at death to ensure eternal life. The burial process was, by all account, very significant because it was seen as part of the journey of life. Multiply this by one thousand and we have the significance of the death of a pharaoh. A pharaoh was special in life and death and the means for him to make it from one realm into the next was absolutely essential. This Egyptian belief system stems from the notion that once the pharaoh dies, he became "Osiris, king of the dead" (National Geographic). In short, he became a god, which explains why a pyramid honored him even in death. The man to follow in the pharaoh' footsteps became Horus, "god of the heavens and protector of the sun god" (National Geographic). This transformation, or transfiguration, symbolized the "rising and setting of the sun" (National Geographic). Death and the ritual following it was taken very seriously because without the proper care, the "former pharaoh would not be able to carry out his new duties as king of the dead" (National Geographic). Without proper burial, the rotation would be broken and "disaster would befall Egypt" (National Geographic). To avoid such an outcome, the dead pharaoh was mummified and buried in a pyramid, a vehicle that would allow him to make his way into the afterlife. The pyramids not only contained the body of the pharaoh but all the things he would need in his afterlife, including gold, food, furniture, and food. The afterlife proved to just as important as life on earth.

The pyramids of Egypt are grand masterpieces, regardless of when they were created or even why. There are more than one hundred of these structures throughout Egypt with the most popular of them in Giza. Part of the reason why they are so popular is because they are considered to be some of the largest structures on the Earth. The Khufu Pyramid, or the Great Pyramid, is the largest of the pyramids at Giza. Many historians believe that it took 15 to 20 years to complete the structure that stands about 480 feet tall. It is estimated that somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 people worked to build each of the Giza pyramids and it would take an entire lifetime to construct. Historians believe the first true pyramid was the Red Pyramid, built around 2600 B.C.E. This pyramid is one of three located at the Dahshur necropolis. Many believe the Red Pyramid was the first attempt at building at a smooth-sided pyramid and it took approximately ten years to construct. The Red Pyramid contains a single burial chamber while the Great Pyramid contains three. The difference between these elements demonstrates the education gained from building previous pyramids. The Great Pyramid was built around 2500 B.C.E., roughly one hundred years after the Red Pyramid. The additional chambers in the Great Pyramid include a Queen's Chamber and an ascending and descending passage. The workmanship demonstrated with the construction of this pyramid is astounding and demonstrates, if anything, that the Egyptians were intelligent. The sides of the pyramid are almost exactly the same size and the sides of the base are aligned with the four cardinal compass points. The Great Pyramid alone is thought to be comprised of over two million limestone blocks.

Construction on the pyramids was incredibly complicated and still not completely understood to this day. Workers were not slaves, as previously thought. Instead, they were actually chosen by the pharaoh to work on the pyramids as special projects. Workforces were organized by the state and workers were placed under "paramilitary command" (Verner 64) before they were sent into the quarries, according to Miroslav Verner. They used pickaxes, chisels and hammers that were made of granite, dolerite and other hard stone to gather and shape the blocks that would eventually make their way to the pyramids. The work, according to Verner, was "controlled by means of a stick, provided with a scale, wielded from the top of the shaft" (Verner 63). Large chunks of stone were broken into smaller blocks and then listed in "their registers with bureaucratic precision, in interest of both monitoring performance and of determining whether the blocks met the demands of the construction project that was planned" (63). Men and animals working in unison dragged smaller blocks on the banks of the Nile River. Verner notes that wall images in Tura illustrate three brace of oxen pulling a wooden sledge of block limestone, which supports this theory. In order for this process to work efficiently, the path on the bank was "well prepared, leveled out and sprinkled with water mixed with mud from the Nile, in order to reduce the friction' (63). This work was not interrupted, according to Verner, but carried out periodically, depending on the "size of the edifice under construction" (64). For royal construction, stone other than limestone was needed. This type of stone was not found within the city and called for expeditions and constructions sites farther away from the city. For example, pink granite was quarried from the far south, alabaster near central Egypt, and slate quarried from the desert. Unskilled labor was used for the quarrying and transportation of stone, while "more qualified workers" (64) were sent to more distant areas when precious stone were located. These workers often traveled with soldiers that offered protection in dangerous areas.

One challenge for construction involved transporting the blocks. Verner notes that not all scholars agree on the fact that the "main transportation work" (66) was done during the time when the Nile River flooded. They maintain that boats with heavy loads would never have been able to navigate a flooded river without certain risks. He also mentions that Georges Goyon estimates that the transportation of stones took place over an entire year, which forced the Egyptians to use an artificial waterway, called the "great Canal" (66). This canal branches off from the Nile in Upper Egypt, runs parallel to it for more than two hundred kilometers, and turns west into the Fayyum oasis.

Construction involved much more than discovering and transporting the necessary materials. Specialists followed a "royal master builder" (69) or vizier who was responsible for all royal works and the ultimate success of projects. The first step of the process involved specialists drawing up plans on papyrus of slabs of limestone. Verner believes that entire projects were sketched out in this way. Sketches found in Rhind reveal the extent of Egyptian mathematical knowledge. Problems and formulas found demonstrate while "Egyptians were not able to formulate mathematical laws with precision, they possessed sound practical knowledge and knew how to make the fullest use of it" (Verner 70). They did use a decimal system and fractions and they could calculate the area of a triangle, circle, and rectangle as well as determine volumes of cylinders, cones, and pyramids. They also understood Pythagoras' theory. Verner maintains that they "best evidence" (70) for the Egyptians mathematical knowledge is the Giza Pyramid, which shows us that while they Egyptians did not define the "value of pi, in practice they used it" (70). Verner notes that how the large blocks of stone were lifted still boggles the mind. He quotes Herodotus' theory, which estimates that the pyramids were constructed like a staircase, where stones intended for construction were lifted by a scaffold. Each block of stone served as a step for the next block of stone. Diodorus offers another suggestion, which involves ramps. (Verner 82) Other theories about construction include sling-like devices that could move smaller blocks of stone but most theories support Diodorus' theory, which suggest inclined planes and ramps. Ramps are supported by ancient Egyptian documents, according to Verner.

Donald Redford, a Penn State professor of Classics and ancient Mediterranean studies says. "But the process of building pyramids, while complicated, was not as colossal an undertaking as many of us believe" (Redford). By comparison, he says, Notre Dame Cathedral took almost 200 years to build (Science Daily). Because time was crucial and the process long, building a… [END OF PREVIEW]

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