The famous wedged-shaped masonry and stone structures known as pyramids are synonymous with ancient Egyptian culture. Of the more than 100 pyramids discovered thus far in Egypt, most were constructed to serve as tombs for pharaohs, queens and dignitaries during the Old and Middle Kingdom, with the earliest, the Pyramid of Djoser, dating to around 2620 B.C. Also buried in the pyramids were a wide range of objects intended to help the inhabitants of the tombs make it through the journey of the afterlife.
The mummies of pharaohs and their families were placed inside a sarcophagus and then buried inside the pyramids. Within each pyramid, often toward the center of the structure, was a king's chamber. Queen's chambers were also included in many pyramids. The process of mummification included removing all moisture so the bodies were dry and preserved in a life-like way so that the mummies are still recognizable even to current day.
The Egyptian people believed that their dead loved ones traveled to the afterlife. The pharaohs were buried with food and beverages for sustenance on the long journey. Mummies might also be buried with religious artifacts, such as amulets and scarabs. Sacrificial objects intended for use in this new realm found their way into the pyramid tombs as well. Additionally, pets and servants were buried to help guide and accompany the dead while weapons were buried next to them for any battles in the afterlife.
Pharaohs were buried with priceless treasures to take to the afterlife with them. Gold, other precious metals and rare jewels are examples of treasure often placed in a tomb. Masks, statues and jewelry are additional examples of treasures often placed in a pyramid. In the Pyramid Complex of Senwosret III, located in Dahshur, intricate pieces of jewelry that belonged to Queen Weret were discovered.
In some cases, a mummified pet would be buried in a pyramid with its owner, so the owner could spend the afterlife with beloved animal. Murals are another item that are often found in pyramids. Religious texts were often inscribed on the interior walls of pyramids, and all the kings of the Sixth Dynasty (2345 through 2181 B.C.) had such inscriptions. The Pyramid of King Unas, last ruler of the Fifth Dynasty, had magical spells inscribed on the interior walls, which were believed to help the king as he entered the afterlife.
- National Geographic: Pyramids at Giza
- PBS NOVA: Who Built the Pyramids?
- Digital Eygpt: Evolution of the Pyramids
- Metropolitan Museum of Art: Pyramid Complex of Senwosret III, Dahshur
- Metropolitan Museum of Art: Egyptian Art in the Age of the Pyramids
- Pyramids of Ancient Egypt; Christopher Forest
- Smithsonian Institute: Egyptian Mummies
- Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images