In the deserts of Egypt lie the colossal remains of an ancient civilization. These enormous works of human endeavor are the only member of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World that time has passed down to us. These are, of course, the great pyramids of ancient Egypt. But these imposing structures were not built to impress civilization millennia down the road. The pyramids in fact had a purpose to the ancient Egyptians. While they seem very simple in nature, as they are simply four-sided pyramids with square bases, they had a meaning for those that had them built. Even by today’s standards, the pyramids of ancient Egypt were an impressive feat of engineering, due to their enormous size, both in building materials and finished product. Indeed, there is more to these mysterious pyramids of the ancient Egyptians than meets the eye.
Before a decent discussion of the pyramids is begun, a bit of background history must be set forth. The ancient Egyptian empire lasted for over 3,000 years, beginning at around 3,100 BCE and ending just shy of 300 years before the dawn of the Common Era. Historians break up the empire chronologically into nine separate eras. The second of these eras, known as the Old Kingdom, is when all of the pyramid construction took place, and dates from 2,686-2,181 BCE (Edwards 1). During this era, Egypt’s kings and queens were buried inside these pyramids. Presently, there are about ninety such pyramids—or remains of pyramids—which stretch along the desert just to the west of the Nile River (Edwards 2).
The previous style of burial of Egyptian pharaohs was the mastaba, a flat-roofed structure made of brick. However, at the beginning of the Old Kingdom, stone was introduced as a building material. Building with stone has been attributed to Imhotep, the most ancient of all known architects. He was the designer of the first type of Egyptian pyramid, the step pyramid, which was first introduced at the burial complex of Zoser, just outside the ancient city of Memphis. It was achievements such as these that gained Imhotep great respect among later Egyptians who not only saw him as a great architect, but also “a magician, astronomer, and the father of the art of medicine” (Edwards 35). Step pyramids are similar to the pyramids we know today, but instead of being flat on all four sides, they have setbacks as they rise, giving the appearance of giant steps.
These step pyramids were not true pyramids, however, but by the second dynasty of the Old Kingdom, true pyramids began to take shape. The now-ruined pyramid of Meidum is an early example of a true pyramid. While the ruined core of the superstructure is the only thing that really remains of this pyramid, archaeologists have deduced that it was originally built as a step pyramid, and then later converted to a true pyramid by building over the steps, thereby flattening the sides (Edwards 74-77). However, the evolution of the true pyramid was not without its flaws. One good example...