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Ancient Egypt The Great Pyramids Name _______________________________________ Date ________________________ Core _______ READING What are the Pyramids? The pyramids of Egypt are massive structures built as a tomb or grave to house and protect the body of a pharaoh for the afterlife and as a monument to honor the pharaoh and his accomplishments on earth. A true pyramid has four triangular sides that meet at a point. The Egyptian pyramids were made from huge blocks of stone, mostly limestone and granite. Before pyramids were constructed with smooth sides, the sides of the earliest pyramids looked like steps. These stepped pyramids might have symbolized a stairway to heaven and might have been seen as a way for the dead pharaoh to climb up into the sky to become a star. The stones of the pyramids were cut from rock quarries with primitive tools such as chisels, saws, mallets, hammers, and wedges. Much of the stone used in the construction of the pyramids came from areas very close to the building site so that it did not need to be transported long distances, but some stone came from farther away. To make it easier to move the stones to the pyramid sometimes they were placed on wooden sleds that were pulled through canals of water leading to the building. No one knows exactly how the large, incredibly heavy blocks were first lifted and then put into place. Some of the different methods that have been suggested by scientists are the use of wooden sleds, the use of cranes, or possibly the use of a complicated system of levers and rockers. It also seems certain that ramps were used to make it easier to move the blocks. As the pyramid grew taller the ramps would be extended. Remains of long straight ramps have been discovered, but it is also believed that a series of smaller ramps, forming a type of scaffolding, would also have been used and later removed. There are about eighty to ninety Ancient Egyptian pyramids known about today. Many are long gone, but their foundations or building sites have been found. Some, however, have survived and the three largest and best-preserved of these were built on the plateau at Giza around the beginning of the Old Kingdom which was from around 3100 B.C. to 2600 B.C.. So, the best known symbols of Ancient Egypt were built very near the beginning of the great Egyptian civilization. The largest and most well-known of the pyramids was built for the Pharaoh Khufu. It is known as the “Great Pyramid”. The Three Pyramids When the Great Pyramid of Egypt was completed it was 484 feet high. Time has worn the pyramid down by about 30 feet and it still continues to erode. The pyramid was once covered with limestone that was possibly painted a bright red color. The sides of the pyramid are carefully positioned to point north, south, east, and west. The base of the pyramid has sides that measure 755 feet in length. The angle of the sides of the pyramid is 51 degrees. It was designed so accurately that the error margin between the sides is less than 1 percent. The Great Pyramid is made up of approximately two million blocks of limestone with each weighing more than two tons or over 4000 pounds each. That means each block weighed about as much as a pick-up truck or a large SUV. The Great Pyramid was built for the Pharaoh Khufu and once held his body. His body in not there anymore. Today, this pyramid is the last wonder of the ancient world that is still standing. The second Pyramid on the Giza Plateau belongs to the Pharaoh Khafre. Unlike the pyramid of Khufu, the angle of this pyramid is 53 degrees. This pyramid is about 10 feet shorter than Khufu’s and stands on the northern side of the Giza Plateau. The top of this pyramid still has some of the original limestone left with a white cap on top of the pyramid that can be still seen. This large tomb had been looted (robbed) long before archeologists found it. The pyramid of Menkaure, or the third Pyramid, is the smallest of the three pyramids. It’s design is not as well detailed as the other two pyramids. Although the pyramid was not complete when Pharaoh Menkaure died, his son Shepseskaf took the task to finish the large project. This pyramid stands only about 216 feet high and is somewhat shorter than the other two. The pharaoh Khufu, like the pharaohs before him, began planning his tomb or 'house of eternity' as soon as he took the throne. So, the pyramid was being built while he was still alive. A spot was chosen for building on the west bank of the Nile River. Cemeteries were usually built on the west bank because Egyptians believed that each night the sun 'died' or went to the land of the dead on the western horizon. Khufu's architects were wise and experienced men. They knew the importance of building the pharaoh's final resting place so that its sides faced directly north, south, east and west. They planned a large pyramid- the largest one ever built in ancient Egypt. The outlines of the pyramid were measured and marked in the desert sand. Then the building began. Large blocks of stone were cut from quarries nearby. They were dragged by groups of men across the desert to the site of the pyramid and set in place. Most of the workers were farmers who worked on building the pyramid during the flood season when their fields were under water. They were required by the government to spend a certain amount of hours a year working on public projects like the pyramid. After the first level of blocks was in place, the workers built ramps of mudbrick, limestone chips and clay. The workers dragged the large stones up the ramps to build the next level of the pyramid. For about 20 years, hundreds of men worked on building the pyramid. As they built each level, they also built up the ramps around the pyramid. When the pyramid was almost finished, a special smooth, shiny block (some thought it was either gold or electrum but it was really polished limestone) was placed on the top of the pyramid. Then, blocks of white limestone from quarries across the Nile were used to cover the pyramid. The blocks were trimmed to make the outside of the pyramid smooth. The casing blocks from the Great Pyramid were all removed in the 14th and 15th centuries A.D. and used to build the city of Cairo. Some casing blocks still remain on the top of the pyramid next to Khufu's (belonging to Pharaoh Khafre). Finally, the pyramid was finished. Inside The Great Pyramid 1. Burial Chamber The burial chamber consists of an empty sarcophagus (a large stone container for a coffin) with smooth walls and a polished ceiling. The floor is made with blocks of pink granite, which covers almost 200 square feet. This chamber is almost 20 feet tall, and was built by solid blocks of granite that all together weigh about 50 tons. The blocks were transported from Aswan from the south. Egyptologists conclude the sarcophagus was built inside the pyramid during construction. It would have been almost impossible to transport such a heavy stone structure in such a confined and narrow passage. 2. Grand Gallery The Grand Gallery rises gradually to the King’s Chamber with a stepped hall. This hall is over 160 feet long and about 36 feet tall. The walls are made of polished sand stone with roofing that overlaps stone blocks to create a stepped effect. Its remarkable architecture was thought to once be a ramp for large giant blocks said to seal the pyramid for eternal life. From the bottom of this hall one can choose to enter the Queen’s Chamber or proceed to the top and enter the King’s Chamber. 3. Shafts The shafts are thought to have been built to allow air to proceed into the King’s Chamber. They extend about 480 feet outward and travel in a sloping path. It is thought that the shafts were built as a path to the stars, which allowed the pharaoh’s soul to escape. Although these shafts are more predominant in the King’s Chamber, some also exist in the Queen’s Chamber. The other two shafts that are present in the Queen’s Chamber do not exit the pyramid but rather stop about midway. These shafts are believed to point to Sirius and Orion in the constellation. 4. Queen’s Chamber This chamber is located under the King’s Chamber and is smaller. Its name has falsely led people into believing that this room once held the mummy of a queen. This chamber never held the body of Khufu's wife. 5. Underground Chamber This is thought to be the oldest chamber in the pyramid. This chamber was never fully completed and holds very little oxygen. The low oxygen levels make it impossible to burn lanterns and make it very difficult to breathe. One can only imagine why this section of the pyramid was never completed. 6. King’s Chamber The King’s Chamber is located at the exact center of the pyramid. Khufu's pyramid was only part of the complex built for him at Giza. This complex had many different parts including three pyramids for Khufu's queens, several deep pits containing boats that had been buried, a mortuary temple where Khufu would be worshipped after he died, a roadway leading from the pyramid complex down to the valley temple, a valley temple down near the Nile River where the pharaoh's funeral would begin, a much smaller 'satellite' pyramid, and many mastabas tombs of nobles buried nearby. So, the pyramids do not stand-alone in the Giza plateau. There are many other objects that surround these monstrous masses. What is the Great Sphinx? The Great Sphinx is a large humanheaded lion that was carved from a natural outcropping of rock. The ancient Egyptians carved the giant statue into the stone around 2500 B.C.. To make it even taller than the height of the outcrop they chipped out a depression around the base of the statue. The paws were constructed from stone blocks. The entire statue was painted in ancient times: red for the face and body, yellow with blue stripes on the headdress. Finally, a temple was built in front of the statue as a place visitors could offer gifts to the creature. It is located in Giza where it guards the front of Khafre's pyramid. Legends have been told for many years about the Great Sphinx. These stories tell about the powers and mysteries of this Sphinx. Some people even believe that there are hidden passageways or rooms underneath the Great Sphinx, but nothing has been found yet. Legends claim that visitors would press their ear to the statue's lips seeking wisdom. As time passed the statue was given less attention and, after a few centuries, desert sands covered the Great Sphinx up to its neck. The beginning of one story about the Great Sphinx is written on a tablet between the sphinx's paws. Around 1400 B.C. a Egyptian prince, named Thutmose, while on a hunt, sat down to rest next to the Sphinx and fell asleep. While napping he heard the Sphinx tell him it would make him ruler of Egypt ahead of his older brothers if he promised to clear the sand away. When he woke up, the prince promised to clear the sand. Sure enough, as the story goes, he became the Pharaoh and he kept his promise and ordered his people to uncover the statue. Historians believe that the prince made up the dream to cover up murder of his brother. If his brother had not died, the prince, Thutmose, would have had to wait to become king. Some people believe that Thutmose had his brother killed so that he could become king quicker. Since according to the story, it was what the Sphinx promised, the people accepted Thutmose as Pharoah. Why Were the Pyramids Built? This is an age-old question that had eluded many Egyptologists for centuries. Until recently, we began to have a better understanding of why these great monuments were built. The Pyramids of Egypt are the last of the “Seven Wonders of the World” that are left standing today, and through centuries of history and excavations, we are beginning to truly appreciate the last true wonders left on earth. It is thought by many that the Ancient Egyptians were a culture obsessed with death and dying due to the great tombs and pyramids that have been found and erected throughout; however, this can’t be further from the truth. In fact, these prestigious monuments were built to prolong their lives even through death. To fully realize why the pyramids were constructed, we must first begin to understand the beliefs of the Ancient Egyptians. They believed the dead would go on to the next world, which was filled with happiness and a life better then they had known on this earth. In order for this to happen, they had to somehow keep their bodies preserved and in good shape for the next world. This led to the process of mummification or making mummies. Each body was embalmed and wrapped in fine linen. Once the process of mummification was complete the body was buried with its most prized possessions. These prized possessions could include items such as jewelry or other items that would help them live comfortable in the afterlife. While Egyptologists know that pharaohs did this for sure, it appears that this burial ritual was of great importance to all citizens. So, tombs or mastabas were built as “the home for eternity” and they had to be stronger or more durable than the palaces of everyday life to withstand time and the harsh desert. The mastabas were the parts of the tomb structure that you could see sticking out above ground. These were rectangular tombs with a flat roof and were made out of mud, brick or stone. The mastaba also usually had underground chambers that were dug into the ground with connecting shafts to the entrance. The walls of the mastaba were painted with scenes that would show scenes everyday life of the person for whom it was built.