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The Age of the Great Pyramids

written by: Jayant R Row•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 9/26/2010

The Pyramids are still looked on in awe by most civil engineers because the monumental work involved was done with practically none of the mechanization that we are now used to. The age of the pyramids is considered to be the period from the Fourth Dynasty of Egyptian history.

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    The Age of the Pyramids

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    It is largely believed that the pyramids were meant to function as tombs for the pharaohs. They were built during the time of the Old Kingdom which extended from 2686 BC to 2181 BC, a period of about five hundred years also called the “Age of the Pyramids” and which included the Third to Sixth dynasty.

    Before this period tombs evolved from being open pit graves to pits that were lined with bricks and roofed with wood. The number of chambers increased, and the superstructure gradually gave way to brick corbel roofs which had the appearance of a dome. Then came the “mastaba” superstructure with its bench-like shape that had structures that were rectangular in plan and had flat roofs and walls that sloped outward to the ground. This was the way royal tombs were built in the Second dynasty.

    The true pyramid structures started out in the Third dynasty as stepped pyramids, which were the mastaba structures built in tiers, which each upper layer being smaller than the one below. The stepped sides gave way to smooth sides, which are a hallmark of the true pyramids, and the Pyramid Age at the beginning of the 4th dynasty saw the construction of the pyramids of Giza, which are considered some of the most famous of manmade objects in the world. Pyramids were built as part of complexes that include a temple near the river and another temple for the mortuary. A small cult pyramid also was built along with smaller pyramids for the pharaoh’s wives and other family members. Storage for the temple and residences for the priests and workers who took care of the dead king were also built.

    Image source: Flickr: Pyramids and Sphinx

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    The Construction of the Pyramids

    pyramid 1 The theories that have gone into the way the pyramids were built are many and probably none of them may be the truth. Theories that the pyramid blocks are synthetic stone and were cast in place using limestone rubble and cement is made plausible by the fact that the stones show an extremely close fit with each other, something not easy to achieve with primitive cutting tools. Some theorists believe the pyramids were built in tiers and each tier was used to position levers that raised the stones to the next level. This theory is lent credence by the fact that most stone blocks had recesses which helped to secure the block to the lever. Others believe that the pyramids were surrounded by temporary ramps going round the pyramids in an incline which made it easier for the stones to be pulled up by manual or animal power. Levitation of the blocks of stone using energy coils is one suggestion made. Then there are some who believe that the pyramids were built by a superior alien race that came to this planet.

    Image source: Flickr: Pyramids

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    The Builders of the Pyramids

    Large cemeteries have been discovered near the pyramids and have lent credence to the theory that the building of the pyramids involved lots of labor. These could have numbered in the tens of thousands and most likely involved a lot of slave labor. During this time the kings of Egypt were dictators and owned all minerals and water. They shared this wealth with people but demanded their obedience and taxes in return. It is likely that these citizens formed a part of the labor force during the building of the pyramids. The king ruled his kingdom through provinces that were governed by officials.

    It is said that the Nile River periodically flooded the farms and other lands in Egypt and during this time the peasants looked for work which was to be had in building all the monuments and pyramids. This was paid for by the taxes that the peasants had paid, but the fact that they did find employment led to a stability that lasted for centuries. The only wars that were fought by the kings of that day were raids in to other countries like Nubia to bring back material for their monuments and some slave labor for the work.