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NOVA Online: Pyramids—The Inside Story (see bottom of page for navigation)
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Step pyramidThe first pyramid was the Step Pyramid at Saqqara, built for King Zoser in 2750 BC. This first application of large scale technology, however, is often attributed to Imhotep, the architect of the Step Pyramid. He was not a pharaoh, but was the Director of Works of Upper and Lower Egypt. The superstructure of the pyramid was made of small limestone blocks and desert clay. Inside, the burial chamber and storage spaces for Zoser's grave goods were carved out of the earth and rock beneath the structure. Imhotep's intent was to mimic the basic structure of King Zoser's palatial home in the burial chamber. The tomb, like those that followed, was meant to be a replica of the royal palace. In early tombs, the central area was always the burial place. The other surrounding rooms contained burial artifacts such as furniture and jewelry and other provisions owned by the king. False doors of heavy stone, inscribed with heiroglyphs, represented passageways between rooms. There were no real doors between the rooms, because it was believed the king would be able to move about his rooms, in the afterlife, without the help of structural passageways.

PyramidsIt was only 150 years later, in the fourth dynasty of Egypt's Old Kingdom, that King Khufu commissioned the building of the largest pyramid of all, the Great Pyramid, which is the last remaining wonder of the Seven Wonders of the World. It is thought that in 816 AD Caliph al-Mamun first ordered workers to blast through the blocked stone entrance in order to explore within Khufu's pyramid. But looters, probably from dynastic Egyptian times, had already absconded with King Khufu's burial treasures and his body. This is true of all of the pyramids at Giza, so very little is known about Khufu or any of his successors who were buried at Giza. Archaeologists, nonetheless, continue to look for pieces of this puzzle to further our understanding of the Pyramid Age and the pharaohs that ruled Egypt.

Follow a live excavation at Giza and join us in a visual exploration of Giza's three pyramids and the Sphinx.

Photos: Aaron Strong


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