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Egyptian Pyramids Research Paper

For ancient Egyptians, it was of key importance that when someone died their physical body should continue to exist on earth, so they could progress properly through the afterlife. For that reason, providing proper eternal accommodation for their body after they had died was very important to them. The afterlife they wanted to attain was thought of as a bigger and better version of the earthly Egypt. The deceased, in whatever ethereal form, however, required sustenance for eternity, and it was with this basic fact in mind that the Egyptians built tombs.

The development of the Egyptian pyramid complex was a slow process, taking over six dynasties to establish itself.  The kings and queens of the pre-dynastic period were buried in elaborate brick and head lined pit graves. The burial chambers were cut into rock and lined with mud bricks. It is believed that the tombs had vaulted roofs, although nothing of their superstructure remains today. Some early royal tombs were surrounded by smaller burial chambers bordering each other. This is confirmation to indicate that some royal servants and women of the court were buried at the same time as their king or queen. The evidence for these pre-dynastic tombs is located at Abydos where more than 1300 of these subsidiary burials have been discovered.

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The usual form of burial in the pre-dynastic period was the simple pit tomb. The body was laid in the foetal position. The sand tended to dry out the body, so it would be preserved naturally. This process was called desiccation. A good example of a body from this period is called ‘Ginger’ and is located in the British museum. Many materials accompanied the dead body. This would suggest that a strong belief in the afterlife was even prominent in this period. Goods which were buried with the deceased were food offerings as well as small objects such as stone vessels, ivory and ebony tablets and royal jewellery. Towards the end of the predynastic period the subsidiary tombs were expanded and elaborated on.

New tomb innovations included a superstructure (above the ground) as well as the substructure. There were from five to seven compartments of which the central one was the burial chamber. More detail was given to the design of the tomb and construction advanced, until these pit tombs progressed into what we now know as a Mastaba tomb.

Mastaba tombs were flat topped, rectangular, mud brick buildings. They were built over an underground shaft and burial chamber which had been cut into the rock. The section above the ground was divided into rooms for storage of wine, beer and grain for the dead to use in the next life. On the eastern face of the superstructure were two niches where relatives could place offerings to the deceased.

The development of a first and second dynasty Mastaba tomb differed from a pre-dynastic tomb. First and second dynasty tombs were slightly more complex than those of the pre-dynastic period due to advances in architecture and construction methods. The earlier oval-shaped pits covered by a mound of sand were replaced by rectangular shaped pits.

However the rectangular shape could only be achieved by lining the walls with sticks and basket work covered with a layer of mud and placed around the body. As the size of the pits increased to accommodate more funerary items previously used materials were substituted for timber and mud bricks. During the first dynasty officials began to build large, rectangular mud brick superstructures on top of their graves. These mud brick Mastabas were often decorated with a type of panelling similar to that used on the front of houses and palaces. Towards the end of the Second dynasty Egyptian architects worked to keep out grave robbers. They did this by enclosing the mud brick walls with a core of rubble. The development of First and Second dynasty Mastaba tombs also advanced dramatically throughout the time period. A prime example of first dynasty tomb innovation was the tomb of Djer, which was the first tomb to have an extended amount of objects accompanying the deceased. Djer’s tomb was cut into dead rock with the burial chamber larger than the surrounding rooms. A great variety of copper items such as weapons, vessels and tools were found. Not to mention an unusual gold-handled flint knife, never seen before. Queen Meryet-Neith was the first royal to be buried with her servants. This advancement is significant as it shows that her servants also believed in the power of the afterlife and that by dying with her they could possibly gain entry to the afterlife. The tomb of Djoet was larger, more intricate and sophisticated than those before it. It consisted of 45 chambers and contained many objects not previously seen. The tomb of Den included more innovations. A stairway led into its substructure, which was filled in with rubble after the burial. The earliest example of manufactured papyrus was found in this tomb. Lastly the tomb of Enezib featured a stepped pyramid built over the substructure; however this was hidden by the surrounding walls. This advancement in tomb construction might have been the influence for the third dynasty’s Step pyramid.

It was Imhotep, King Djoser’s vizier who designed the first step pyramid at Sakkara. In constructing Djoser’s pyramid, Imhotep experimented with stone as a building material.

All previous royal tombs had been made of mud brick but Imhotep decided to use small, brick sized blocks of local limestone for the interior. The step pyramid appears to have been the first building in Egypt ever to be made completely from stone. The six stepped pyramid was the result of successive changes made by Imhotep. Imhotep’s motivation to build a 60 metre high pyramid is shown in third dynasty beliefs on the afterlife of royalty and what lengths need to be taken for an imperial afterlife. When Djoser died he was expected to ascend into the sky to spend eternity with the gods. This view which was held at the time of his reign suggested that the king needed to gain access to the heavens. This may have been the reason why Imhotep designed this revolutionary structure, so Djoser would be closer to the heavens. Imhotep was a pioneer. He broke all previous tomb conventions to create for his king the Step pyramid. From this point onwards Imhotep paved the way for further development in pyramid design.

“To review the Step pyramid as a whole, it is certainly not an exaggeration to describe it as one of the most remarkable architectural works produced by the ancient Egyptians. The later generations regarded it with exceptional esteem, not only from the veneration which they accorded to Imhotep, but also from hieratic graffiti on the passage walls of the northern and southern buildings, which record the admiration felt by some Egyptians who visited the monument more than a thousand years after it was built. No other pyramid was surrounded with such an array of imposing buildings to supply the needs of the king in his afterlife.”

The construction of the Step pyramid was a completely new process for everyone involved as nothing like this had been built before. The end result was not planned, instead it developed slowly as Imhotep felt inspired.

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