7 Ancient Egyptian Pyramids That Predate The Great Pyramid Were Not Tombs

Some of the oldest pyramids in ever built in ancient Egypt, even older than the Great Pyramid of Giza, are known to have never been tombs.

Several hundred years before the Great Pyramid of Giza was built, the ancient Egyptians were already creating incredible pyramids, starting around 2,700 BC. Out of nowhere, the architecture and building techniques changed, and the ancient Egyptians stopped building intricate mastabas as burial chambers and opted for the construction of pyramids.

Mainstream scholars point to the Step Pyramid of Djoser, ancient Egypt’s first pyramids as the finest example of the revolution of tomb building in ancient Egypt.

In Egypt, it all started out with Pharaoh Djoser and his royal vizier and architect Imhotep. Around 2,700BC, the building techniques in ancient Egypt evolved. Although the ancient Egyptians were not the first civilization to erect pyramids, their building style evolved through time and they ended up erecting the most impressive pyramid of all, the Great Pyramid of Giza.

For example, much before the pyramids were built in Egypt, ancient Mesopotamia saw the birth of Ziggurats, the earliest form of pyramid structures on Earth. Although equally imposing, ziggurats were different from Pyramids mostly because they were built of sun-dried mud-brick, unlike the Egyptian monuments which were built of stone.

The-Great-Pyramid-of-Giza-and-its-Missing-Capstone. Shutterstock.
Shutterstock.

The Egyptian pyramids were structures that were meant to stand the test of time. They were imposing, stunning, and well-built. The Egyptian pyramids were built as a worship to the sky. To the Sun. The Egyptian pyramids reached for the sky. Most of the Egyptian pyramids are believed to have been finished off with an outer casing composed of highly polished, reflective limestone. This addition to their outer structure made the pyramids reflect the rays of the sun, allowing them to shine almost like a mirror. The pyramids in Egypt are thought to have been topped with a capstone that was usually made of either granite and basalt and plater with gold or silver, giving the monument an additional shine.

From 2700 the ancient Egyptian developed pyramids and would continue to build the massive structures until around 1,700 BC. Back in the day, pyramids were of extreme importance to the ancient Egyptians. The Egyptian sun god Ra acknowledged as the father of all pharaohs was said to have created himself from a pyramid-shaped mound of earth before creating all other gods.

The initial idea of a pyramid is believed to have been drawn from several precedents, the most relevant of which was a mastaba at Saqqara labeled as 3038. This structure, built around 2,700 BC is believed to almost have been a pyramid by accident. In fact, scholars have revealed that the mastaba was constructed inside a deep put with mudbricks covering walls up to six meters high. The mastaba had three sides which were extended and built composed of eight steps that were placed rising towards the sky at an angle of 49 degrees. Experts say that had the remaining side not been left uncovered, the structure would have become, unintentionally, the first elongated pyramid in Egypt.

But it did not, and soon after Imhotep would come up with the idea of stacking several mastabas on top of each other, resulting in the world-famous step pyramid, laying down the foundation for future pyramids that quickly followed.

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A stunning view of the The Step Pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara. Shutterstock.
A stunning view of The Step Pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara. Shutterstock.

The Pyramid of Djoser was an impressive achievement that left an important mark in ancient Egyptian history.

The pyramids that followed were equally impressive. However, they are evidence of a pyramid building transition in Egypt.

It is usually admitted that the second attempted pyramid in ancient Egypt was the structure at Meidum and the very first attempt to building a straight-sided pyramid. The pyramid, which collapsed in ancient times, is usually acknowledged as having been commissioned by Pharaoh Huni, the last pharaoh of the Third Dynasty, although some scholars argue that Sneferu was the one who built the pyramid at Meidum.

The transition from the third dynasty to the fourth dynasty marked an important step in the evolution of pyramid building. It was precisely then, during the reign of Huni and the reign of Pharaoh Sneferu, the first king of the fourth dynasty of ancient Egypt, that the ancient experimented with pyramids.

The Bent Pyramid, also knew as the False, or Rhomboidal Pyramid because of it changed angle slope, commissioned by Pharaoh Sneferu. Shutterstock.
The Bent Pyramid also knew as the False, or Rhomboidal Pyramid because of its changed angle slope, commissioned by Pharaoh Sneferu. Shutterstock.

The pyramid at Meidum was succeeded by the Bent Pyramid in Dashur, a structure that was commissioned by Pharaoh Sneferu. This pyramid is a unique example of the development of pyramid building in Egypt. Scholars indicate that the builders of the pyramid began building a monument with a 54-degree angle, but were forced to decrease the angle because the pyramid developed instability signs during construction.

Therefore, in order to avoid the pyramid from collapsing, the builders decided to continue building the pyramid with a much shallower angle.

The pyramid was successful and provided much-needed construction details that would be used to build the next kind of pyramids.

But precisely during the time when ancient Egypt transitioned between the third dynasty into the fourth dynasty, the ancient Egyptians built a series of mysterious pyramids in upper Egypt.

Edfu; The Pyramid that wasn’t a tomb

For some people, all pyramids are a mystery because we really know little about them.

And let’s face it, there’s only so much we truly know about the pyramids. Although it has been claimed by mainstream scholars that Egyptian pyramids were intended to serve as tombs and that Egypt’s first pyramid–the Step Pyramid of Djoser–was built as the Pharaoh’s eternal resting place, there are several reasons why people remain skeptical about the Pyramid being a tomb theory.

Take Egypt’s three most famous pyramids; The Pyramid of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure.

Supposedly, all three pyramids were built as the eternal resting places for the Pharaohs, but none of the three pyramids actually held a mummy in their interior. Furthermore, of the three burial chambers inside the three pyramids, none of them was actually decorated or built with elegance and beauty. In fact, the burial chambers inside the pyramid at Giza look cold, dirty, unfinished, and unworthy of a king. In other words, the interior of the pyramids at Giza does not look like the beautiful tombs of the pharaohs were are acquainted with, in Egypt.

This makes me wonder, what if the pyramids weren’t meant to serve as tombs?

And a pyramid located nearly 800 kilometers south of the Pyramids at Giza may hold many answers in our quest to understanding the purpose of the pyramids.

Edfu.

Located on the west bank of the Nile River are the remnants of an ancient settlement known as Wetjeset-hor, or as the ancient Greek would later call it Apollinopolis Magna.

There, not far from the ancient settlement are the remnants of seven ancient step pyramids, believed to have been built by Pharaoh Huni. One of the pyramids believed to date back 4,600 years is the subject of archeological debate.

Although the pyramid’s existence was well documented since 1894, we’ve not been able to figure out much about it.

The pyramid, which is now in ruins, is believed to be one of several identical pyramids that were built in southern Egypt from Seila in the Fayum, Zawiet el-Meitin, Abydos, Naqada, Hierakonpolis, and Elephantine near the famous city of Aswan.

The South Pyramid of Edfu is orientated to the cardinal points by its faces. Image Credit: University of Chicago.
The South Pyramid of Edfu is orientated to the cardinal points by its faces. Image Credit: University of Chicago.

Although it is assumed Huniwas the pone who commissioned the pyramid, experts aren’t sure. IT was either Huni 2637-2613 B.C., the last ruler of the Third Dynasty of Ancient Egypt, or his son, Pharaoh Sneferu, 2613-2589 B.C., the first king of the Fourth Dynasty of ancient Egypt.

The pyramid at Edfu, although much smaller in size, is believed to follow the shape of the first stone pyramid ancient Egypt gave birth to. And while Djoser’s pyramid is usually considered the Pharaoh’s tomb, the monument at Edfu was never intended to serve the purpose of a tomb.

Like the other six pyramids found in the province, the pyramid of Edfu did not contain any burial chambers. This is a massive detail that raises numerous questions about the entire meaning of pyramids.

Why would Huni, or Sneferu follow Djoser’s footsteps in terms of pyramid style, but decide not to include any burial chambers inside the pyramid? This is one of the greatest mysteries in ancient Egyptian pyramid building evolution.

We’ve got absolutely no idea why the pyramid et Edu was built, nor do we know anything about its purpose. There are speculations that range from the pyramid being a representation of the Pharaoh, a depiction of the benben, or just a symbol of the Pharaohs political and religious unity, a cenotaph of his rule.

The Edfu South Pyramid was originally around 12.55 meters tall, consisting of a core structure that measures 8.3 meters on each side. It was surrounded by two courses of stones about four cubits think. It is believed that the pyramid had initially anywhere between three or five steps.

The pyramid is in ruins today, so its hard to known the structures slope angle, but experts estimate it was probably between 10 and 14 degrees. The structure was oriented North, although it has been found to be slightly off true north. The structure is thought to have been positioned in order to be parallel to the Nile River. As revealed by scientists from the University of Chicago, “the structure is orientated to the cardinal points by its faces.”

As revealed by the study and survey by scientists of the University of Chicago, “except for the case of Seila in the Fayyum Oasis (31 m in length), the other step pyramids show very similar dimensions which lie between 18.30 m (Zawiet al-Meitin), 18.40 m (Elephantine and Nagada) and 18.60 m (al-Kula and Sinki).”

So we know that the southern pyramids of ancient Egypt, built around 4,700 years ago are all similar in design. They most likely followed the same pyramid building principles laid out by Imhotep, the builder of Djoser’s step pyramid, but created much smaller versions of the pyramid.

Now if Djoser’s pyramid was used as a tomb, then why did Pharaoh Huni build pyramids in southern Egypt that were not tombs?

Were they just ordinary statues that served to remind the people of the region that the mighty pharaoh was looking over them? Mainstreams scholars argue that the provincial pyramids were dedicated to the worship of the pharaoh.

Then why did previous pharaohs built pyramids as tombs, and why did Sneferu, the son of Pharaoh Huni, decide not to follow his father’s footsteps in building pyramids as temples of worship but rather tombs, as experts suggest?

Following the construction of the seven provincial pyramids, and after the construction of the Bent pyramid, Egypt saw the rise of the Red Pyramid also known as the Northern pyramid, constructed by Sneferu as the largest pyramid to that date.