How did the majestic pyramids of Ancient Egypt appear in their original form?
By: April Carson
Giza's Egyptian pyramids, emerging majestically from the desert sand, are a reminder of our inherited wisdom and engineering capabilities. Constructed as tombs to honor pharaohs long gone, these breathtaking monuments have stood tall for thousands of years.
Throughout the centuries, Egypt's pyramids have undergone alterations because of construction workers repurposing materials and pillaging. As a result, their original forms have been largely obscured.
At the time of their construction, both in Giza and throughout Egypt, Ancient Egyptian pyramids were not simply a sandy brown color; instead, they were adorned with a lustrous layer of sedimentary rock.
According to Mohamed Megahed, assistant professor at the Czech Institute of Egyptology at Charles University in Prague, all pyramids were sheathed with a smooth and polished layer of fine white limestone. This gleaming outer covering would have made them shimmer brilliantly under the Egyptian sun's rays.
The limestone coating was in place to protect the underlying pyramid structure and also prevented erosion due to weathering. Without its protective layer, the pyramids would not have been able to endure for millennia as they have done.
The immense Great Pyramid of Giza required over 6.1 million tons (5.5 million metric tons) of limestone for its construction, as concluded by National Museums Scotland which current owns and displays an original block from the pyramid itself.
Commissioned by Pharaoh Khufu during his reign (circa 2551 B.C. to 2528 B.C.), the Great Pyramid, also known as Khufu's Pyramid, is the largest and oldest of all standing pyramids in Giza. Sadly its casing stones were later stripped away for other building projects under subsequent Egyptian rulers, a sad fate that befell most pyramid shells around this period. Although the exterior of the pyramid is now mostly naked limestone, it was believed to have been originally encased in polished white limestone with a golden-hued capstone at its apex.
The original block that is being displayed here is a fragment of this casing stone, and it still bears the same color and texture as the exterior. The material has held up remarkably well since its installation more than four thousand years ago, demonstrating the skill and craftsmanship of those ancient builders.
Though the Giza pyramids have endured some wear and tear since their ancient creation, an impressive amount of original limestone casing remains. As Megahed noted, "You can still observe this original stone at the summit of Khafre's Pyramid in Giza."
The Pyramid of Khafre, built by the pharaoh Khafre (2520-2494 BC), has a peculiar feature—its peak contains casing stones that give it an appearance as if two peaks had been placed atop each other. Not only was the Great Pyramid of Giza encased in grand red granite, but Miroslav Verner's book "The Pyramids: The Archaeology and History of Egypt's Iconic Monuments" (The American University in Cairo Press, 2021) reveals that even the much smaller Pyramid of Menkaure - named for ancient Pharaoh Menkaure who ruled from 2490 B.C. to 2472 B.C.- featured a similar regal stone casing at its lower levels as well.
The Giza pyramids, which remain void now, were once adorned with capstones or pyramidions composed of electrum - a blend of gold and silver. These pyramidions gave the pyramids a radiant sheen, resembling an eye-catching jewel at the very top.
Interestingly, it isn't known what the exterior of the Great Pyramid of Giza looked like. Most historians agree that it was originally covered in casing stones made from highly polished white limestone from Tura, which were taken and used to construct Cairo's mosques and fortresses centuries ago.
Through the years, most pyramidions have been lost. However, several surviving artifacts are displayed in various museums and offer insight into their religious purposes. For instance, the British Museum is home to a limestone pyramidion from Abydos in Egypt that's adorned with hieroglyphics showing people honoring Osiris (an ancient Egyptian deity) and mummifying under Anubis’s jackal-headed guidance.
The pyramids of Giza, built during the Fourth Dynasty between 2550 and 2490 BC, still serve as tourist attractions today. Despite the ravages of time, much of their grandeur is still intact due to preservation efforts from archaeologists over the years. The limestone casing stones around the pyramids have been replaced with granite blocks, some of which are still the original stones used to construct the pyramids. These casing stones were originally designed to reflect sunlight and make them appear even more majestic.
Although the Pyramid of Menkaure's gash may be an eyesore in modern times, it serves as a helpful window into understanding how ancient pyramids were constructed. According to Kawae, "This is also a crucial region for archaeologists since we can determine the inner structures of these monuments." As such, this historic destruction has provided us with invaluable knowledge and insight.
Even though their original grandeur is no more, the Pyramids of Ancient Egypt still stand as some of humanity's greatest engineering and architectural feats. The precise construction techniques used by ancient Egyptians to craft these timeless monuments remain a mystery, but their final products continue to awe us to this day.
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April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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