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Integrated ART Lesson
Lesson title:
Ancient ART: The Pyramids
Overall Focus: Students will examine Ancient Art and some of the
art associated with Egyptian culture and the art forms of the pyramids.
Art in architecture and shapes will be the focus.
Length of lesson:
Grade range:
Integrated subjects:
45 minutes-1 hour.
Elementary & Middle. This lesson may be
adapted for specific grade levels.
Visual Arts
Language Arts
Social studies (Geography, History,
Cultural arts)
The student(s) will:
- View works of art from Egyptian culture and examples of
Discuss the classification of pyramids and the shapes within
this art form.
Explore possible methods of construction of the pyramids
Examine the cultural significance and reasoning behind the
building of the pyramids in varied cultures.
Examine Egyptian hieroglyphics and the visual language of
the symbols
Utilize materials and ideas for creating their own personal
paper pyramids.
Write their name utilizing Equation hieroglyphics symbols on
their pyramid artwork.
Sunshine State Standards:
The Arts:
Skills and Techniques: The student understands and
applies media, techniques, and processes.
Creation and Communication:
The student creates
and communicates a range of subject matter, symbols,
and ideas using knowledge of structures and functions of
visual arts.
Cultural and Historical Connections:
The student
understands the visual arts in relation to history and
Aesthetic and Critical Analysis:
The student assesses,
evaluates, and responds to characteristics of works of art.
Applications to Life:
The student makes connections
between the visual arts, other disciplines, and the real
Materials should be compiled prior to implementing the lesson.
Hieroglyphics symbol chart (download form site)
Pyramid template (downloadable)
Construction paper
Colored pencils
Introductory activity:
Begin by asking students the following questions:
o What is a pyramid?
o What shapes are found in the pyramid?
o Where are pyramids?
o What are (were) their uses?
Discuss symbolic written language (Egyptian hieroglyphics)
and the art involved in this written language as well as the
Core activity:
View and discuss pyramids and Egyptian art forms. Discuss
classifications of pyramids:
The earliest form of pyramid, the step,
The Step Pyramid
dates back to the 3rd Dynasty, and
consists of several steps. A descending
passage from the north leads to the burial
chamber. Underground galleries surround
the pyramid on all but the south sides.
The first, and probably the only step
pyramid ever completed, is that of King
Netjerykhet Djoser at Saqqara. The Step
pyramid is not near as pleasing to the eye
as the True pyramid, which could explain
the quick abandonment of this type of
The True Pyramid
The true pyramid is a natural
development and improvement on
the step pyramid. The first true
pyramids were introduced in at
the beginning of the 4th Dynasty.
The structure of a True Pyramid is
virtually the same as a step
pyramid. Packing blocks are
stacked until the dimensions were
right, and then finishing blocks
(usually limestone) were the last
touch. The aesthetics are much
more pleasing than the step
pyramid, but the construction isn't
really that different.
Look at Egyptian hieroglyphics and discuss.
Students utilize the symbols in hieroglyphics to write their
won name.
Use the art materials to create their own pyramid artwork.
Closure activity:
Students share their pyramid creations.
Explores and views pyramid and the art work associated
with Egyptian Art Culture. (observation)
Creates an original pyramid creation (product)
Utilizes symbolic writing to write their name (product).
Teacher Follow Up idea:
“Display” the students’ pyramid art creations within the
classroom to be shared at school.
Follow Up/ Independent Activities:
Students may research other pyramid forms.
Utilize other written language and discuss the symbolism
from varied cultural groups.
Explore methods of pyramid construction in varied ancient
Additional pyramid notes:
The Various Possible Methods of Pyramid Construction
A major problem facing the builders of
the Ancient Egyptian Pyramids, was
that of getting the Large stone blocks to
the height they required. The method
shown at left, is the only one proven to
have been used. The ramps were built
on inclined planes of mud brick and
rubble. They then dragged the blocks
on sledges to the needed height. As the
pyramid grew taller, the ramp had to be
extended in length, and its base was
widened, else it would collapse. It is
likely that for the construction of each
pyramid, several ramps were probably
The arrangement of the ramps used for
building is in much dispute. Assuming
that the step pyramid was built before
the outer structure, and then the
packing blocks were laid on top, the
ramps could have run from one step to
another rather than approaching the
pyramid face at right angles
Some of the pyramids indicate an
accurate understanding of Pi, but the
mathematical knowledge of the
Egyptians did not include the ability to
arrive at this by calculation. It is possible
that this could have been arrived at
"accidentally" through a means such as
counting the revolutions of a drum.
The internal construction of most true
pyramids consists of a series of buttress
walls surrounding a central core. The
walls decrease in height from the center
outwards. In other words, the core of
the true pyramid is essentially a step
pyramid. The internal arrangement
added stability to the structure. Packing
blocks filled the "steps" formed by the
faces of the outermost buttress walls
and casting blocks (often Limestone)
completed the structure of the true
Architects and builders used a different
form of construction in the pyramids of
the 12th and 13th Dynasties. Mainly
because of economy, for it was suitable
for relatively modest structures in
inferior materials. Solid walls of stone
ran from the center, and shorter cross
walls formed a series of chambers filled
with stone blocks, ruble or mud bricks.
An outer casing was usually added, and
although quite effective in the short
term, it did not even come close to the
earlier construction methods. Pyramids
which were built with this structural
design are quite dilapidated and worn.
Historical Information:
The ancient Egyptians built their tombs on the west side of the Nile River and their
temples on the east. This practice corresponded to the rise and setting of the sun which
represented the cycle of life itself. The east signified rebirth and the west signified death.
With the tombs on the west or left bank, the spirits of the dead would be ready to journey
into the cycle of life. The Egyptians believed strongly in the afterlife and made complete
preparation for this journey.
The three pyramids are actually tombs of three pharaohs of the Old Kingdom. In its most
common form, a pyramid is a massive stone or brick structure with a square base and
four sloping triangular sides that meet in a point at the top. Pyramids have been built by
different peoples at various times in history. Probably the best-known pyramids are
those of ancient Egypt, which were built to protect the tombs of rulers or other important
persons. Pyramids were also built as platforms for temples by pre-Columbian
civilizations in Central and South America. Still other pyramids exist in Sudan, Southwest
Asia, and Greece.
In the 26th century BC, as Egyptian civilization was reaching its height, three kings
Khufu, his son Khafre, and his grandson Menkure ordered the construction of three huge
pyramids that would serve as their tombs. The first of these, the Great Pyramid, is the
largest ever built. It stands with the other two pyramids and the Great Sphinx in a cluster
near the town of Giza.
The ancient Greeks named the pyramids one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and
today they are the only one of
those wonders that still exists.
King Khufu's pyramid rests on a
base that covers 13 acres (5.3
hectares), and each side of the
base is about 756 feet (230
meters) long. The Great Pyramid
once rose to a height of 481 feet (147 meters), but the top has been stripped. Originally
471 feet (143 meters) high, Khafre's pyramid was only 10 feet (3 meters) lower than his
father's tomb. Menkure's pyramid, much smaller, rose to 218 feet (66 meters). Three
small pyramids built for Khufu's queens stand near his pyramid. Also nearby are several
temples and rectangular tombs built for other relatives and courtiers.
The Egyptian rulers ordered the pyramids to be built because they feared their remains
would be disturbed by grave robbers. They chose a site on the west side of the Nile
River because they believed that the home of the dead was toward the setting sun. The
burial chambers were placed under the exact centers of the pyramids. Passageways,
which were built angling down from the sides and leading to the chambers, were later
sealed with heavy stones. The pyramids did not achieve their purpose of protecting the
ancient tombs, however. Over the centuries looters broke into most of them and stole
the jewels and other treasures that had been buried in them.
The Greek historian Herodotus, writing 2,400 years ago, estimated that 100,000 men
labored for 20 years to complete the Great Pyramid. It is also estimated that 2.3 million
stone blocks were used to build the pyramid. It was once thought that the blocks
weighing an average of 2 1/2 tons each were floated on rafts down the Nile from
quarries hundreds of miles away. A more recent theory holds that the blocks were cut
from limestone quarries that have been found near the pyramids. Another theory
suggests that the blocks were formed in wooden molds at the site. Many authorities
believe that the blocks of stone were moved up a circular ramp constructed around the
pyramid as it was built up.
Other scholars have studied the relationship between the position of the pyramids and
the apparent motion of the sun and other stars. They suggest that the pyramids' design
may have been influenced by a religion based on sun worship.
The pyramids of Giza were not the first built in Egypt. Structures of this type appeared
during the century preceding Khufu's reign. After burying their dead in sandpits, the early
Egyptians placed a mastaba, a solid rectangular structure of brick or stone, over the
grave to keep the sand from blowing away. This structure is considered the prototype of
the true pyramid. Later King Djoser's architect, Imhotep, designed the step pyramid,
which was simply a stack of six mastabas, each smaller than the one below. King
Snefru, the father of Khufu, built a smooth-sided pyramid. It is called the bent pyramid
because its lower half is steeper than its upper half. At least 80 royal pyramids have
been found in Egypt, but none rival the three at Giza. Many of the lesser pyramids have
been reduced to rubble. The great pyramids of Egypt still stand. They were built between
2650 and 2500 BC. Except for parts of the Mausoleum and of the temple of Artemis,
they are the only one of the seven ancient wonders still standing.
One of its most spectacular features is the enormous sloping Grand Gallery. At the
Gallery's top is a low corridor which leads into the King's Chamber, the walls of which
are made of polished granite. A large granite sarcophagus is open and no burial goods
have ever been found.
To the east of the pyramid, some of the smooth basalt paving of the mortuary temple
remains and the causeway which led to the river temple is now buried with the valley
temple being under modern buildings. Small pyramids for queens are adjacent to the
Great Pyramid, as are boat pits.
In 1954, a large cedar boat was uncovered in one of the
pits and then reassembled. It is now on display next to
the pyramid. A second boat remains in pieces in another
covered pit. The boats may have been provided for the
deceased king to travel through the underworld.
The Giza Plateau also is home to two other large
pyramids for the subsequent kings, Chephren and
Menkaura. As with the Great Pyramid, both of these
pyramids have valley temples and mortuary temples
connected by causeways. However, next to Chephren's valley temple is the famous 73metre long Sphinx and its associated temple.
Most Egyptologists believe that the Sphinx was carved from a rocky outcrop at the same
time as Chephren's pyramid.
The resources for building enormous pyramids during the rest of the Old Kingdom
could not be mustered and the pyramids were both smaller and less well built. The 5th
Dynasty pyramid of Unas at Saqqara is famous for its Pyramid Texts - the first funerary
texts carved into the walls of any pyramid. The pyramid is located just south of the
walled enclosure of the pyramid of Djoser.
There are about 108 pyramids currently known in Egypt, many in a state of great
disrepair and almost unrecognizable. Some were built as burial places for kings and
others for queens. A pyramid also may have represented a stairway for the king to
ascend to the heavens. Another possibility is that it was symbolic of the primeval mound
on which the sun god/creator was born.
How the Egyptians managed the complex organization of labor and the physical
movement of large stone blocks is still a matter for debate. Pyramid construction may
have involved ramps being erected around the pyramid. Blocks of stone would have
been pulled up on sledges and the ramps dismantled later. It is believed that most of the
labor for the construction of the pyramids would have come from farmers who were
available during the inundation season when the Nile River flooded and farmland was
underwater. It would also have been an ideal
time for the transportation by boat of large stone
blocks from their quarries to the pyramid sites.
The earliest pyramid was the Step Pyramid of
king Djoser of the Old Kingdom's 3rd Dynasty
over 4,600 years ago. The pyramid (at right)
was the largest structure ever erected at Saqqara the necropolis that overlooked the
ancient capital of Memphis. Its construction was initially in the form of a low mastaba
tomb upon which extra levels were gradually added to give it a step-like appearance.
Underneath Djoser's pyramid was a complex system of corridors with a burial chamber
lined with Aswan pink granite about 28 meters underground. The entrance was sealed
with a three-ton granite plug. The pyramid's outside would have been cased with fine
limestone, but this was removed long ago. Nearby were the Mortuary Temple, a Great
Court and various other structures.
The first true pyramid was developed for King Sneferu during the 4th Dynasty of the Old
Kingdom. It is referred to as the Red Pyramid, because of its color, or the North Pyramid
because of its position at Dashur south of Cairo. It was about 105 meters high with its
sides measuring 220 meters.
During the Middle Kingdom, kings again built themselves pyramids, but being largely of
mud-brick, they have not survived very well. Elaborate interior designs failed to stop
ancient tomb robbers from breaking in and stealing the burial goods.
The time of large pyramids had passed, although small pyramids were used in some
New Kingdom private burials as superstructures for funerary chapels. Restored
examples exist at Deir el-Medina, the village of the workmen who constructed the royal
tombs in the Valley of the Kings.
Pyramids were also built south of Egypt in ancient Nubia (the northern part of today's
Sudan), where there are actually more than in Egypt. Although being influenced by the
Egyptian pyramids, the pyramids in Nubia had their own style and were built on a
smaller scale and with steeper sides. In the case of the Nubian pyramids, the tombs of
owners were usually underground with the pyramid built on top. The last pyramid was
built in Nubia in the 4th century AD.
The Pyramids of Egypt
Built: From about 2700 to 2500 B.C. Location:
Giza, Egypt, on west bank of Nile River near Cairo
History: The Egyptian
Pyramids are the oldest and only surviving member of the ancient wonders.
Of the 10 pyramids at Giza, the first three are held in the highest regard. The first, and
largest, was erected for the Pharaoh Khufu. Known as the Great Pyramid, it rises about
450 feet (having lost about 30 feet off the top over the years) and covers 13 acres. It's
believed to have taken 100,000 laborers about 20 years to build the mammoth Khufu
pyramid, using an estimated 2.3 million blocks. By one theory, crews dragged or pushed
limestone blocks up mud-slicked ramps to construct the royal tombs. Many scholars
think the pyramid shape was an important religious statement for the Egyptians, perhaps
symbolizing the slanting rays of the sun. Some speculate the sloping sides were
intended to help the soul of the king climb to the sky and join the gods.
The Complete Pyramids by Mark Lehner
Mummies made in Egypt by Aliki
Ancient Egypt by Judith Crosher
The Egyptian Cinderella by Shirley Climo & Ruth Heller
Cleopatra by Diane Stanley
Reference Web sites:
Art and Culture Center of Hollywood:
Museum of Art- Fort Lauderdale:
PBS-Pyramids site:
Lesson plan prepared by Dr. Timothy Leistner, Arts in Education
Coordinator, The Art and Culture Center of Hollywood