Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Pyramids of Giza (2500s BC)

The world’s three most famous pyramids brood silently near the Nile River at Giza. Giza is about 15 miles (25 km) southwest of the center of Cairo, Egypt.

All three pyramids were most likely built during the 2500s BC. That’s over 4,500 years ago.

Construction of the first pyramid was ordered by a ruler named Khufu (Cheops in Greek). His rule started around the year 2590 BC and continued for maybe 30 years. Construction of his pyramid took 20 or 30 years.

Khufu’s pyramid is mostly made of limestone brought from nearby quarries. Some if it is made of granite brought 600 miles (1,000 km) down the Nile from Aswan. Altogether there are about 2,300,000 cut stones in Khufu’s pyramid. They each weigh an average of almost 5,000 pounds (2,300 kg).

People who get paid to study ancient Egypt are called Egyptologists. These experts don’t agree on how all those stones got put into place. Egyptians at that time didn’t use wheels.

Egyptologists also disagree on how many workers were involved. Estimates range from tens to hundreds of thousands.

When workers finished Khufu’s pyramid around 2560 BC, it stood 481 feet (147 m) high. Over time it suffered theft and erosion and is now 25 feet (8 m) shorter. Each side of the pyramid is 756 feet (230 m) long. The side of the pyramid with the main entrance faces due north.

Khufu’s son Khafre became ruler of Egypt when his father died. He also ruled for maybe thirty years. During that time, he also ordered a pyramid for himself to be built. His pyramid is a few hundred meters southwest of his father’s. It is now 448 feet (136 m) high and each side measures 702 feet (216 m).

Khafre outdid his father by also ordering the construction of what we now call the Sphinx. The Sphinx was actually sculpted out of the limestone bedrock located a few hundred meters east of Khafre’s pyramid. It is 241 feet (74 m) long, 63 feet (19 m) wide, and 66 feet (20 m) high. It has the body of a lion but the head of Khafre.

After 500 BC, Giza was abandoned. As centuries passed, windblown sand buried the Sphinx to its neck. Its nose was pulled off in 1378 by a vandal who was promptly hanged for doing it. Only in 1936 was the Sphinx finally freed of all the sand covering it.

Menkaure was the son of Khafre. Like his father and grandfather, he too ordered the construction of a pyramid for himself at Giza. His is small by comparison: now only 204 feet (61 m) high and measuring 174 feet (109 m) along each side.

Construction of these pyramids took a sense of permanence we lack today. Cutting 2,300,000 stones and putting them carefully into place, by hand and using no wheels, means that no real change in society, culture, or nature was expected ever.

Their construction also took an unimaginable amount of wealth.

Finally, and oddly enough, this unusual sense of unlimited time and wealth was expressed in the construction of just three tombs (and one huge statue). A tomb is a place where a dead body is put. So Khufu used 2,300,000 cut stones simply to mark the spot where his dead body would be put.

Copyright © 2012 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.