3.1 pyramids & history of Giza

3.1 The Pyramids of Giza
Week 6
TRANSCRIPT FOR The Pyramids of Giza
Forty-five centuries ago, when the sun rose over the desert of ancient Egypt, its rays struck
pyramids encased in white limestone. Pyramids were important to the Egyptians; they built
around a hundred of them. These gleaming monuments were symbols of the sun god Re, the
most important of Egypt’s gods. Re traveled across the sky in a boat by day, and by night
descended into the river of the underworld to emerge the next day bringing light to the world.
The pyramids were also tombs for the rulers of Egypt, the great pharaohs. The pharaoh was the
head of the civil administration, the leader of powerful armies, and the chief priest of every god
in the kingdom. The pharaoh himself was a god: the embodiment of the falcon-god Horus. When
a pharaoh died he became Osiris, the divine father of Horus, and was buried deep inside a
Many ancient pyramids can still be seen in Egypt, but the greatest of them all—long considered
among the Seven Wonders of the World—stand at Giza, near the modern city of Cairo. These
pyramids were built by three pharaohs: Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure.
The largest was Khufu’s pyramid: 756 feet on each side, and 481 feet tall. Without any advanced
technology, the Egyptians stacked about 2.3 million blocks of stone, weighing an average of 2½
tons each, to form a perfect pyramid shape. Their calculations were so incredibly accurate that
the greatest difference in the length of the sides was only 1¾ inches.
The limestone casing of the pyramids was stripped away long ago, but some can still be seen
atop Khafre’s pyramid.
Deep inside the pyramids were passageways that led to the burial chamber of the pharaoh. Khufu
was buried in a coffin of red granite inside a chamber 19 feet tall. Archaeologists think he was
buried with great riches, but we will never know; his tomb was robbed over 4,000 years ago.
The three great pyramids did not stand alone. They were part of an enormous city for the dead.
Each pyramid was surrounded by a wall. The entrance to the complex was through the pharaoh’s
valley temple. A causeway led to the mortuary temple, a sort of palace for the dead king, where
daily rituals were enacted by subjects who continued to worship him.
During the reign of the Pharaoh Khafre hundreds of statues were carved. To one side of Khafre’s
causeway stood the largest sculpture of all: a colossal statue of a mythical beast, with the body of
a lion and the head of a human, wearing a royal headdress. This is the Great Sphinx of Egypt.
Carved from the natural bedrock, the Sphinx towers 66 feet tall. The Sphinx’s lion body
represented the power of the pharaoh, and its head the intelligence of the ruler. Khafre’s builders
made a temple for the Sphinx at Giza, but it was never finished and is now ruined.
Building Khufu’s pyramid alone took more than 20,000 laborers twenty years or more. Why
were such resources devoted to burying the royal and noble dead? We know from their Books of
the Dead that ancient Egyptians believed that death marked a passage to an afterlife. A dead king
would “go forth to the sky among the Imperishable ones” and “go around the sky like the sun.”
It was vital that the body was prepared for this next stage of existence and supplied with all it
needed. The first step was to mummify the body. First, the internal organs were removed,
carefully wrapped, and stored in special vessels we call canopic jars. The body was then treated
with a salt called natron, wrapped, and preserved inside a succession of coffins.
The dead were supplied with all the things they needed in the afterlife. Servants, in the form of
small statues called shabtis, attended the dead. Plentiful supplies of food and drink were
provided, as we can see from paintings found in tombs.
A scribe and grain accountant named Nebamun, who lived about 3,000 years after the pyramids
at Giza were built, seems to have wanted to pursue his favorite sport of hunting birds. He had
himself painted on the wall of his tomb with his family hunting in the marshes. Other scenes
from Nebamun’s tomb depicted feasting, or cattle being herded.
The deceased were even accompanied by mummified animals, such as fish and cats.
Giza’s pyramids give us a glimpse into the lives and beliefs of ancient Egyptians, and the power
of their rulers. A pyramid text reads:
“The king sits with those who row the bark of Re,
The King commands what is good and he does it,
For the King is the great god.”
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