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Pyramids, Building of the Great

The actual date of the Pyramid’s construction is still widely under speculation. This event, however, is listed on the Bible Timeline around 1904 BC. Ziggurats in Mesopotamia preceded Egypt’s pyramids by several hundred years. So it is hypothesized that the pyramids’ design was based on these ancient high-rise buildings. The earliest pyramids were step pyramids that resembled their Mesopotamian counterparts. Receding tiers or mastabas were built on top of the other to form a proto-pyramid structure. The perfect example of this was the pyramid of the 3rd Dynasty pharaoh Djoser in Saqqara. It was built around 2630 BC and rose to a height of 204 feet.

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Egyptians were in a transition during this period. They were on their way of perfecting the design of the pyramids as shown in the Bent Pyramid of Sneferu. And later the predecessor of ‘true’ pyramids, the Red or North Pyramid built by the same pharaoh. By circa 2500 BC, Egyptians have perfected the art and engineering of the now smooth-sided pyramids of Giza, also known as the Great Pyramids.

“The reconstructed facade of the Neo-Sumerian Great Ziggurat of Ur, near Nasiriyah, Iraq”

True Pyramids of the Old Kingdom’s 4th Dynasty

Khufu, Sneferu’s son, built Egypt’s largest and first true pyramid at Giza, which is located south of Cairo. The chosen site was the high end of a natural plateau to ensure the visibility of the pyramid. It once had an original height of 481 feet but was reduced to 455.2 feet when the pyramidion was stolen. Khafre’s pyramid sits right beside his father Khufu’s and is the second largest at 448 feet while Menkaure’s pyramid is the smallest at 215 feet.

Khufu’s Great Pyramid

The pyramid had a perfect orientation to the points of the compass and was designed with precise dimensions. The south shaft of the King’s chamber of the Great Pyramid was aligned to face Orion and the other shaft in the Queen’s chamber was aligned to Sirius. There are still debates whether these are for astrological purposes as Orion was associated with Osiris, god of the underworld or for a practical reason such as an air shaft.

Thousands of tons of granite, limestone, as well as mortar were quarried from Aswan, Tura, and surrounding areas and transported to Giza. The Great Pyramid weighs 6.5 million tons with each block of stone averaging about 2.5 tons and covers an area of 756 feet (13 acres). Each side measures 5.5 acres, and it has 203 level of steps toward the summit. The interior chamber blocks and casing stones (Tura limestones) were cut with high precision, but many of these casing stones were loosened after a massive earthquake in early 1300 AD. So what remains today is the original interior blocks. The loosened casing stones were later on carted off mid-1300 AD as materials to build a mosque in Cairo.

Khufu’s pyramid was built by thousands of men. The Greeks hypothesized that it took 20 years to finish the Great Pyramid, and approximately 100,000 slaves were employed seasonally to build it. But there is evidence that up to 20,000 skilled craftsmen were employed and worked in the area on a permanent basis.

Pyramids were built throughout the 6th Dynasty, but these generally fell out of fashion later on. The high cost of building these royal tombs contributed to their halt and succeeding dynasties switched from pyramids to carved cliff-side tombs to reduce looting by grave robbers.

Bard, Kathryn A. “6.4 Khufu’s Great Pyramid at Giza.” Introduction to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2007. 137-40. Print.
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