Ancient Pyramids under the night sky. Shutterstock.

3 Things We Got Wrong About the Ancient Egyptian Pyramids

Towering. Massive. Aligned. Perfect and Otherworldly. One cannot just define the Great Pyramid of Giza in simple words.

Tens of thousands of years ago, people started gathering near the Nile river in small, nomad-like settlements. These people eventually developed, creating stable year-to-year settlements that developed into towns. Agriculture arose, the settlements expanded, religion appeared, and trade developed with nearby regions.

The prehistory of Egypt spans the period from these early human settlements up into the Early Dynastic Period, which is believed to have appeared around 3,100 BC, more than 5,100 years ago.

Then, the first Pharaoh Narmer for some Egyptologists, Hor-Aha for others, united Egypt, marking the beginning of the Early Dynastic Period.

Most of the archaeological discoveries discovered from times of Predynastic Egypt were made in areas of Upper Egypt. This is because the silt of the Nile River was more heavily deposited at the Delta Region, completely burying most Delta sites long before modern times, throwing into oblivion a large part of the ancient, predynastic history of Egypt.

With Narmer taking the throne of ancient Egypt, the First Dynasty begins. This period immediately follows the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, to which Narmer is believed to have greatly contributed. The exact date of this period is subject to debate among scholars, but it is usually agreed upon that it falls within the early Bronte Age, beginning around the 34th and the 30th centuries BC.

Ancient Egypt’s Second Dynasty does not offer many archeological traces. Evidence of the time is scant; contrasting data from the Frist and Third Dynasties indicates important institutional and economic developments during the Second Dynasty. Khasekhemwy was most likely the last Pharaoh in the Second Dynasty and was Djoser’s father.

The Second Dynasty basically laid down the necessary foundations for major architectural revolutions in the Third Dynasty.

Ancient Egypt’s Third Dynasty kick-started with Djoser. Egyptologists agree that the lands of Upper and Lower Egypt were united into a single kingdom around 2686 BC. The period following the unification of the crowns was one of prosperity and great success, marked by the start of the Third Dynasty and the Old Kingdom of Egypt.

During the Third Dynasty, Egypt was revolutionized by Pharaoh Djoser, who would go on and build the most impressive monument Egypt had ever seen: the Pyramid Complex at Saqqara, whose central feature was the towering, never-before-seen Step Pyramid, designed by Imhotep.

The Step Pyramid was a revolutionary structure that would forever change ancient Egyptian architecture.

Pharaoh came and went after Djoser. Many attempted to build a pyramid similar to that of Djoser but failed. It wasn’t until King Sneferu, the last Pharaoh of the Third Dynasty, that Egypt was given another Pyramid: the Pyramid at Meidum. This pyramid most likely collapsed during building or not long after it was completed. It was a kind of Step Pyramid with certain “transitional” elements pointing towards a shift to smooth-sided pyramids. Although partially successful, it wasn’t until Sneferu built the Bent Pyramid at Dahshur that Egypt would get a standing pyramid.

The Bent Pyramid of Ancient Egypt. Shutterstock.

The Bent Pyramid is notorious for its obvious, bent appearance, resulting from an abrupt change in the pyramid’s inclination halfway through the project. The pyramid most likely showed signs of instability due to the steepness of the angle of inclination, so the builders were forced to change the pyramid’s slope, reducing it from a 54-degree inclination to a shallower angle of 43 degrees. This pyramid is believed to have been built around 2,600 BC.

Then came the Red Pyramid, which marked the first successful attempt in Egypt in building a true smooth-sided pyramid. After completion, the Red Pyramid would become the first smooth-sided pyramid in Egypt and its largest and tallest structure. Sneferu built the third pyramid, and the structure was a towering monument 105 meters in height, with a total volume of 1,694,000 cubic meters (59,823,045 cu ft).

Then came Khufu to the throne of Egypt, and ancient Egyptian architecture was once again revolutionized with the appearance of the Great Pyramid of Giza, a structure that would become the greatest, most impressive pyramid ever built in ancient times.

Towering. Massive. Aligned. Perfect and Otherworldly. One cannot just define the Great Pyramid of Giza in simple words. It is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and the only one that remains standing today, largely intact. The Pyramids casing stones are missing, and its top is entirely gone.

Nonetheless, the pyramid saw pharaohs come and go. Wars waged. Climate changed. Earthquakes tested its integrity, and people tried destroying it. But as cultures went and came, the Great Pyramid endured.

Upon completion, the Great Pyramid is believed to have stood at 146.5 meters tall and remained the tallest man-made structure for more than 3,800 years.

It was cased with beautiful, highly-polished limestone, which made the pyramid shine like a star from a great distance. These casing stones have now disappeared, loosened by an Earthquake around 1303. Instead, we see today the underlying core structure that made up the “rough” parts of the pyramid.

With a total volume of 2,583,283 cubic meters (91,227,778 cu ft), the Great Pyramid of Giza may not be the largest in terms of volume. Still, it certainly is the most sophisticated, precisely aligned, mysterious pyramid of them all.

The exact purpose of the structure, according to Egyptologists, is that it served as the royal tomb for Pharaoh Khufu of the Fourth Dynasty. This, however, is mostly academic speculation and guesswork, as there isn’t one piece of conclusive evidence that has been found to suggest the Pharaohs’ mummy was ever inside the Great Pyramid.

Curiously, neither the mummies of Djoser, Sneferu, Khufu, Khafre, or Menkaure have been found inside of their pyramids. Instead, all of their mummies are strangely missing. This, say Egyptologists, is because the pyramids were broken into in ancient times, and their contents were looted together with the mummified remains of the pharaohs.

The purpose of the ancient Egyptian pyramids would be a little clearer had we found any text that mentions the purpose or construction methods of the pyramids. Regrettably, no ancient texts from ancient Egypt happen to mention why or how the pyramids were built. The only document we have found, which does not directly tell us anything about the Great Pyramid, is an ancient papyrus called the Diary of Merer, which tells us that some of the limestone blocks and other construction materials were transported via boat from Tora to Giza.

An image of the ancient Egyptian pyramids at sunset. Shutterstock.

There are no other contemporaneous engravings that link the Great Pyramid’s construction to Khufu or any pharaoh of ancient Egypt for that matter. The only thing we have is a single controversial cartouche of Khufu’s name in red ocher paint on a stone, completely hidden, in a relieving chamber in the core of the structure, above the King’s Chamber, deep inside the Pyramid.

We do have evidence that not all pyramids of Egypt served as tombs, as Egyptologists suggest. The provincial pyramids, for example, were monuments built thousands of years ago that were constructed as cenotaphs.

It is truly mindboggling to find out that the ancient builders of the pyramid used more than 2.3 million blocks of stone to construct the pyramid. Interestingly, the largest granite stones used in the Great Pyramid’s construction and found in the so-called King’s Chamber–weigh between 25 and 80 tons. These supermassive stone blocks were transported from Aswan, an ancient city and quarry located around 800 (500 miles) kilometers to the south.

Egyptologists have estimated that the Pyramid builders made use of around 5.5 million tons of limestone, 8,000 tons of granite from Aswan, and approximately 500,000 tons of mortar.

3 Things we got wrong

The construction of the pyramid is well documented. Essentially, when it comes down to the pyramids of ancient Egypt, we have a lot of nothing to go by. However, when the pyramid of Djoser was completed, it marked the beginning of a resolution in ancient Egyptian architecture. The Step Pyramid was the first massive stone-cut structure of Egypt. What lies beneath it is worthy of astonishment. Beneath the pyramid, the architects created a massive, 5.7km long underground world whose purpose remains shrouded in mystery.

For some reason, no one found the need to document anything thousands of years ago, meaning that we have no written evidence whatsoever about the construction of the first pyramid, or any pyramid for that matter. Many people argue that Merer’s Diary, an ancient set of papyri discovered in 2013, mentions how the Great Pyramid was built. This is false.

The diary merely mentions how the limestones were transported from Tura to Giza via boat. The ancient text does not mention how the pyramid was built, nor does it refer how the ancient builders managed to stack up as many as 2.3 million blocks of stone to build the pyramid.

The pyramids were tombs and only tombs. Wrong. The mere fact that the so-called provincial pyramids in Egypt exist is enough evidence to contradict the claims that the ancient Egyptian pyramids were tombs and only tombs. Although Egyptologists refuse to accept the idea that the pyramids were anything but tombs, various evidence may suggest a different purpose for the pyramids of Egypt.

Everything there is to know about the pyramids, we already know. Although many people believe that we’ve already found out everything there is to know about the pyramids, the truth is that these incredible structures continue surprising us more often than we are aware of. For example, the ScanPyramid project has made a series of stunning discoveries in the Great Pyramid. One such discovery is the existence of a previously unknown chamber hidden deep inside the Great Pyramid. The Scan Pyramids project also revealed that the Great Pyramid is home to anomalous thermal hotspots, whose exact significance remains shrouded in mystery.

Researchers from ITMO University (Russia) and the Laser Zentrum Hannover (Germany) discovered a unique feature of the Great Pyramid that not many people are familiar with. The scientists concluded that the Great Pyramid of Giza could concentrate electromagnetic energy.

Using multipole analysis, the scientists were able to confirm that the scattered fields concentrated inside the Pyramids chambers and beneath its base. “Applications of modern physical methods and approaches for investigations of pyramids’ properties are important and productive,” the scientists explained in their paper.

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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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