Most of us identify the Egyptian pyramids as massive, impressive structures, built centuries ago in the midst of nowhere. They served as the main burial sites of pharaohs, the ancient Egyptian kings. The most recent pyramid was discovered as late as November 2008, when Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, informed they have found the tomb of Sesheshet, mother of Sixth Dynasty pharaoh Teti at Saqqara. But there are a lot more interesting things to these grand structures that not many people are aware about. Here are some amazing facts about ancient Egyptian pyramids that you may have missed.
Several books, films, and other works of historical fiction, especially the often re-imagined biblical story of Moses have claimed the pyramids to have been built by slaves or servants. While ancient Egyptians did keep slaves, more recent archaeological research has revealed the pyramids were actually constructed by contractors and workers. Villages and remains of these workers have not only shed light on the race and ethnicity of these workers, but also on amenities available to them. Besides the craftsmen, the villages had cooks, priests, bakers, and medical practitioners.
While the pyramids are the most recognizable relics of the pharaohs, these complex tombs were not built throughout the entire ancient Egyptian civilization. The Step Pyramid at Djoser, is the first known structure, built around 2630BC. Most of the larger structures, including the Giza pyramids, were built shortly after. The Great Pyramid was erected around 2530BC. After some initial pyramids, construction activity fully stopped around 2200BC, the end of the sixth dynasty. Construction resumed between 2000-1700BC, but the results were far less imposing than the earlier ones.
The first known architect of the ancient Egyptian pyramids was Imhotep, a veteran engineer, physician, and a polymath. He’s considered to be the designer and chief builder of the Step Pyramid at Djoser. Over 100,000 people were supposedly involved in the construction of the pyramids at Giza over time.
The technology used to construct the ancient Egypt pyramids still remain a mystery. But the fact that they have stood for over 4500 years is a testament of their superb construction. Structural engineers and archaeologists marvel at the precise sizing of each individual limestone blocks. Researchers believe the blocks were quarried and shaped with copper chisels. It was the toughest equipment Egyptians had back then. While films have often depicted thousands of workers pulling the blocks, each weighing around 2.5 tons, they were actually floated from quarry sites to the location during the frequent Nile floods.
With advancement in technology, archaeologists noticed anomalies in the composition of the pyramids that increasingly became difficult to reconcile. Exhaustive X-ray and chemical analysis of both the internal and external pyramid stones by Miche Barsoum, a Drexel University materials engineering faculty, revealed that some parts of the structure were actually made from concrete and not stone. Barsoum’s findings contradicted the popular image of thousands of workers painstakingly pushing up the stone blocks along the side of the pyramids. Further analysis has lent credence to his research.
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