Pyramids – Tombs of Kings
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When people around the world think of Egypt, they think of pyramids. While other peoples of the ancient world built these interesting structures, the countryside of Egypt is best known for them. These ancient structures stretch up from the sandy desert ground toward the skies, timeless reminders of the power of the kingdoms of this historic country.
Most pyramids are three or four sided structures, meeting at the top in a triangular, pointed tip. The solid base and small top made for a solid building design. The largest pyramid, the Great Pyramid of Khufu, covers an amazing 13 acres and originally stood 488 feet (149m) high. Due to wear and theft of the beautiful limestones used as the outer walls, the structure now stands only 455 feet (138m) high. Around 1,300,000 bricks were used, but not bricks like we think of today. The ‘little’ cut limestone pieces weigh 5,500 pounds each and the larger ones weigh 33,000 pounds!
Pyramid building became more and more efficient, with early pyramids, such as the step pyramid tomb of Pharaoh Djoser, in ruins. Built on a poor foundation, the pyramid architect did not carve the stones so that they leaned slightly inward, making the weight of the stones lock the pyramid into place. Later structures, such as the three Great Pyramids of Giza, were put together much better and have stood the test of time with little damage.
Some people believe that a huge slave population built the pyramids. While some slave labor probably played an important role, not all the workers were slaves. For four months of the year, the Nile River floods, making it impossible for farmers to work the land. It is likely that, during this time, farmers worked alongside the year-round workers to construct the massive monuments.
Archeologists now believe that the larger pyramids only took about 20 years to build, with a work force of 100,000 men. (Some female skeletons have also been unearthed that show the results of hard labor, so some workers may have been women.) But conditions were not as harsh as once believed. Large towns have been discovered at the bases of pyramids that included everything from bakeries to medical care centers. Pharaohs made sure their workers were strong and able to work hard.
So why would so much effort and so many man hours be put into a monument? Egyptians believed that pharaohs were gods. One of dozens of gods, the Pharaoh was the protector of the heavens and of the sun god. Once the ruler passed away, he became god of the dead. Even though he was gone from the earth, a part of his spirit stayed with his body. Because of this, his body stayed important to the Egyptians. They made sure it was mummified (kept from decay), that he had food, weapons and sometimes even slaves in his pyramid-tomb, and that his final resting place was elegant – fit for a king! Not all Egyptian pyramids held the bodies and property of Pharaohs and their queens. Some were erected by wealthy individuals who just wanted to be remembered after they died. Whether pharaoh or simple Egyptian, the age of the pyramids lasted approximately 1000 years, ending in 1700 BC.