Pyramids: (Form and function).

      Middle east.
      South America.

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      The Origin of the Egyptian pyramid:

      The Egyptians were the first people we know of who built pyramids. The standard theory for the evolution of the Egyptian pyramid is that the shape and design developed from the mud-brick Mastaba’s of the first dynasty (below, left), into the larger stepped pyramid, then finally the traditional, flat-sided, stone pyramids (All in a period of around 100 years).

      This theory also lays the groundwork for the claims that pyramids were built to house the bodies of dead pharaohs.

      (Left to right – Saqqara-1st dynasty Mastaba 3504, Saqqara-Djoser-step, Giza-Khafre)

      This theory is undoubtedly on firm ground,  but it is also true that over their hundred years  of development, the funerary aspects of the structures diminish at the same time at the astronomic and geometric influences increase. For example, in the 0 – 2nd dynasty royal cemetery at Abydoss, mounds, boat-pits and the proto-false door can all be seen, but there is no evidence of the pyramid shape, cardinal orientation, or polar shafts, suggesting the introduction of an unknown influence at around the third dynasty.

      The same design can also be seen in an ‘inverted’ form inside the pyramids.

      Red pyramid, corbelled roof (left) and ‘queen’s’ chamber of Great pyramid (right)

      What’s the point? – There is much talk of the ‘Primeval mound’ in Egyptian text and there have been several suggestions that the Giza plateau may be that very place. However, it is also suggested that the pyramid shape originated from the primeval mound, which was represented in form by the ‘ben-ben’, then the obelisk, and apart from the irritating fact that the ben-ben for the Great pyramid has never been discovered or recorded, it is a curious fact that all the large 3rd-5th dynasty Memphite pyramids were aligned towards Heliopolis, or ‘On’ as it is called in the Bible (More on this subject below).


      The Function of a Pyramid:

      Although it has long been argued that the original purpose of pyramids was exclusively funerary. There are several facts which suggest otherwise, and it could be argued that they (the Egyptian pyramids), were more complex in nature and were never intended for such purposes.

      In addition:

      There have been no original human internments from any Pyramid in Egypt. It is argued that the Early dynastic pyramids were pillaged following the religious upheavals of the 5th dynasty. This theory does not  explain the lack of funerary remains in latter pyramids or many of the design features of the 3rd-5th dynasty pyramids.

      Egyptian tombs always contained figures of Neteru, offerings or inscriptions, which are all noticeably absent from the earliest and largest pyramids at Giza, Dashur and Meidum pyramids. The pyramids of Giza, Dashur and Meidum also have extremely small passages, which is contrary to other Egyptian tombs, where ample room is provided in the passages or shafts for manoeuvring the sarcophagi.

      As well as the traditional funerary association, the Egyptian pyramids are also credited with geometric and astronomical functions.

      There is little doubt today that geometry was involved in the design of the Giza pyramids (amongst others). The inclusion of mathematical constants in the dimensions suggest an advanced knowledge of mathematics, such as:

      • The figure Pi ∏ (3.14), in the overall dimensions.
      • 3:4:5 triangle in the ‘Kings chamber’
      • Sacred mean (1.618), in the ground-plan of the Ghiza pyramids.

      (Click here for more about the geometry of Ghiza)

      There are also several clear evidences that the pyramids of the fourth and fifth dynasties (at least), were built to incorporate astronomical observations, such as:

      • They were all cardinally aligned.
      • They all contained ‘Polar’ passages.
      • They were all aligned to Heliopolis. (see below)

      • The design feature visible in this overhead photo of the ‘Great’ pyramid at Giza, is only seen in one other pyramid, that of Menkaure, also at Ghiza. Strangely, it was not used on Khafre’s pyramid, which sits at the centre of the complex, and attaches to the Sphinx and Valley temple via a causeway.

      (More about the astronomy at Giza)

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      The Giza Complex.

      The Giza complex has long been recognised as one of the most spectacular achievements from ancient times. The origin and purpose of the site has been the subject of debate for thousands of years.

      (Click here to explore the Giza complex in detail).

      The Dashur (Snoferu) dilemma.

      Egyptologists believe that Snoferu, the father of Cheops, had the following three pyramids built for him.

      Left to right – Dashur (Bent), Dashur (Red), Meidum.

      The Dashur pyramids remained a site of worship for well over 1,000 years and Snoferu’s cult was still alive in the new kingdom. The traditional names of the pyramids are:

      The Red pyramid – ‘Snoferu’s northern pyramid’

      The ‘Bent’ pyramid – ‘Snoferu’s southern pyramid

      Meidum – ‘Djed Snoferu’ Snoferu endures”

      A decree from the time of Pepi I (6th Dynasty), which exempts the priests of ‘the two pyramids of Snoferu’ from certain taxes, was written in relation to the ‘Red’ and ‘Bent’ pyramids at Dashur. Cartouches of Snoferu have also been found on both pyramids (On the corner-stones and upper chambers of the ‘Bent’ pyramid), but none yet on the Meidum pyramid.

      Although the Meidum is associated to Snoferu by name, archaeologists have yet to confirm the patron of Meidum pyramid through inscription. Regardless of this, that still leaves two pyramids attributable to Snoferu.

      Why would the father of the 4th dynasty pharaohs want/need more than one pyramid.

      Snoferu is only credited with a reign of just 23 years (2,575 – 2,551 BC) (2), suggesting that he managed to move two/three times the amount of stone as his son, Cheops (Khufu), but in only half the time.

      Each of the Dashur pyramids was built in a completely different architectural style, with the bent pyramid showing two separate styles alone (The bottom courses of masonry curve upwards at the corners, while the top half are built horizontally as at Giza). In addition, the Dashur pyramids demonstrate an interesting  geometric design feature in their external angles, as seen below:

      The external angles of the ‘Bent’ pyramid (left), and ‘Red’ pyramid (right).

      (More about the Geometry of the Egyptian pyramids)

      It is noticeable that the two Dashur pyramids (which are attributable to Snoferu) align to Heliopolis, as do several other pyramids built in the 4th-5th Dynasties (see below).

      These facts cast a long shadow on the ‘pyramids as tombs’ theory.

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      Pyramids – Cross cultural similarities.

      The fact that pyramid’s are found around the ancient world has led many people to suggest that they are evidence of cross-cultural contact between  peoples  around the world. The addition of associated solar worship at many ‘old’ and ‘new’ world pyramid complexes certainly reinforces such an idea.

      The arrangement of the pyramids at Teotihuacan (Left), have been compared with those at Ghiza (Right).

      The layout of the pyramids at both complexes has been compared with Orion’s belt (Above), as have the several examples of Triple Stone-circles and Henges in Britain. The same layout has also been claimed at the newly suggested pyramids in Montevecchia, Italy (see below).

      Teotihuacan, Mexico

      The Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacán has the same base dimensions and is half the height of the ‘Great’ pyramid at Ghiza. This means that the Pyramid of the Sun incorporates ‘Pi’ in the following way:

      (4 x Π) x h = Perimeter / Circumference of base.

      In both ‘Old’ and ‘New’ world cultures, pyramid worship was closely associated with solar worship.

      Left: Zoarastan Sun-god. Right: Mexican Sun-god.

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      The Alignment of Egyptian Pyramids.

      It has been realised that the corners of many of the large Egyptian pyramids from the third to fifth dynasties align towards Heliopolis.

      Pyramid sight lines at Abusir, Saqqara and Giza

      It was Hans Goedicke who made the earliest suggestions. They were not published first in a scientific journal, but in a newspaper in 1983. And what does the theory say? Well, Goedicke noticed that there seems to be a common constructional element at several necropolises: one corner of each structure is often on a straight line with the same corner of other structures in the necropolis. These alignments are found at Giza (south-east corners of Khufu, Kaphere and Menkaure), Abusir (north-west-corner of the pyramids of Sahure, Neferirkare und Neferefre), Saqquara (south-east-corners of Sekhemkhet, Djoser, Userkaf und Teti) – and even between necropolises as Goedicke thinks that the east face of Userkaf’s Pyramid is aligned with the same face of Khufu’s Pyramid several kilometres to the north.

      Goedicke later concluded that these sight lines were aimed at the solar temple at Iunu (Heliopolis).

      Miroslav Verner showed how the south east corners of the three Giza pyramids and the north west corners of Sahure, Neferirkare, and the unfinished pyramid at Abusir are aligned with Heliopolis.  He suggests that these alignments intersected at the temple of the sun god Re, at the tip of the obelisk, which may have represented a fixed point in the world of the ancient Egyptians in that period.  (Verner, The Pyramids, 2001, p.302)

      The plateau at Abu Rawash, where Djedefre built his pyramid, is the northernmost of all the Egyptian pyramids and was named: ‘Djedfre’s Starry Sky’ (Verner) [2].  It is approximately eight kilometres from and 80 meters higher than the Giza plateau.  It would have been an ideal location for viewing the sky.  An observer standing at Djedefre’s pyramid looking 52.2 degrees south of east over the Giza group would have seen Orion’s belt in the sky  -  37 degrees above the Giza Plateau.  At this point, the angle of the ‘belt’ matched the layout of the three Giza Pyramids as they would appear to an observer viewing Giza from a position to the north.  Alnitak is below and to the left of Mintaka corresponding to G1 northeast of G3.

      Continuing on the same sight line from Abu Rawash to Giza, 52.2° degs south of east, is a  4th dynasty pyramid named ‘Neferka-is-a-Star‘, and a third dynasty pyramid, both located at  Zawyet el-Aryan  [3].  The line continues to the pyramid group at Abusir and finally reaches the vast necropolis at Saqqara.

      [2] Abu Rawash is about 8 km north of Giza; Djedefre’s pyramid was built between the reigns of Khufu and Khafre.
      [3] One is a 3rd Dynasty ‘Layer Pyramid’ attributed to Kha’ba.  The other is the ‘Unfinished Pyramid’.   There is general agreement amongst Egyptologists that this pyramid was built during the 4th Dynasty, but it is uncertain if it was built between the reigns of Khufu and Khafre, or between Khafre and Menkaure.

      (More about Heliopolis)

      It appears that there are more alignments to be found at each site …

      Verner notes also that at Abusir, the ‘Unfinished pyramid’ was finally determined to have belonged to Neferefre, a suggestion which finds support in its placement at the southwest of the Abusir complex, suggesting a chronological placement. He says:

      ‘As a precise geodetic measurement has confirmed, its northwest corner is on a line that already connected Sahure’s and Neferirkare’s pyramids and represented the basic axis of the pyramid necropolis at Abusir’ (3).

      As we can see, Giza has two sets of corner-alignments, not one.

      Should we arrive at the conclusion that there was an overall design for the Giza complex, and a specific one too, then we are able to open our eyes to a new set of possibilities. It is also important to determine whether the great pyramid itself (and all of its chambers), was built from an original design. There are various definitive studies that show exactly that.

      The Great Pyramid is credited to Khufu. Following Khufu, the chronological list of rulers who built pyramids through the end of the 25th century B.C., with the estimated dates of their reigns and the locations of their pyramids are as follows:

      2,551 – 2,528

      2,528 – 2,520
      Abu Roash

      2,520 – 2,494

      2,494 – 2,490
      Z. El-Aryan

      2,490 – 2,472

      2,465 – 2,458

      2,458 – 2,446

      2,446 – 2,426

      2,426 – 2,419

      2,419 – 2,416

      2,416 – 2,388

      Userkaf and Niuserre also built large sun temples at Abu Ghurab. Egyptologist Miroslav Verner has noted that the diagonal line formed by the southeast corners of the three main pyramids at Giza points towards ancient Heliopolis and that the diagonal line formed by the northwest corners of Sahure, Neferikare and Raneferef’s pyramids at Abu Sir also points towards Heliopolis. As the course of the Nile moved eastward during the dynastic period of ancient Egypt, the capital city of Memphis also moved eastward. The location shown on these maps is the site of the oldest ruins of Memphis, from the pre-dynastic and early dynastic period.

      A diagonal line from the pyramid at Abu Roash to archaic Memphis has an azimuth of 51.85 south of due east. This is the same angle as the slope of the faces of the Great Pyramid. In between Abu Roash and Memphis, this line crosses over Giza, Nebka’s pyramid at Zawyet El Aryan, the sun temples of Userkaf and Niuserre at Abu Ghurab, Suhare’s pyramid at Abu Sir, and Userkaf’s pyramid at Saqqara.

      (More about the geodetic placement of Egyptian Sites)

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      Middle eastern Pyramids (Ziggurat’s):

      The tradition of building in elevated stages was common in the Middle-east, where ziggurat’s were once found in most important Mesopotamian cities. The word ‘Ziggurat’ is an anglicized form of the Akkadian word Ziqqurratum, the name given to the stepped towers of mud brick. It derives from the verb zaqaru, ‘to be high’.

      There are 32 known ziggurats near Mesopotamia. Four of them are in Iran, and the rest are mostly in Iraq. The most recent to be discovered was Sialk, in central Iran. It is the oldest known ziggurat, dating to the early 3rd millennium BCE.

      One of the best preserved ziggurats is Choqa Zanbil in western Iran, which has survived despite the devastating eight year Iran-Iraq war of the 1980’s in which many archaeological sites were destroyed.

      The Ziggurat of Ur, in modern day Iraq (below) was a ‘Step-pyramid’, which is officially classified as a ‘Solar Temple’. The similarity in style between the with Djoser’s step pyramid at Saqqara is too strong to ignore as both structures were built with mud bricks, built in steps, and both are surrounded by the same relief pattern on the walls (although at Saqqara this pattern is transposed onto the compound wall rather than on the pyramid itself as at Ur).

      Ziggurat of Ur.

      The Ziggurat of Ur, Sumeria.


      (More about the Ziggurat of Ur)

      Khorsabad ziggurat

      The Khorsabad ziggurat was built in seven levels, each 18 feet high, and each was painted a different color.

      The ziggurat was part of the religious architecture found at the centre of Mesopotamian settlements and was probably a feature of most cities after c.2000 B.C. Millions of sun-dried mud bricks were used in their construction. Layers of bricks were often separated by layers of reeds, perhaps helping to spread the load or allow drainage. Baked bricks and bitumen were used to protect the exterior from rain and wind. In Babylonia ziggurats had a shrine on the top-most stage but it has been suggested that in Assyria there were no buildings on the summit.

      Cuneiform texts from 2100 B.C. onwards refer to temples with seven storeys, and are described as being like mountains linking earth and heaven. However, depictions on cylinder seals, boundary stones, stone reliefs and clay tablets show buildings with either four or five storeys. Some of the seals date to the mid-third millennium B.C. which shows that the idea of a ziggurat predates the best known and best preserved example at Ur (c.2100 B.C.).


      The Saqqara Complex.


      Saqqara was the northern Royal funerary complex in pre-early dynastic Egypt. ‘Djoser’s’ step-pyramid is considered by Egyptologist’s to be the oldest pyramid in the world. It is in-fact a 7-stepped ziggurat.

      The Saqqara step-pyramid was built with mud-fired bricks, identically fashioned (With mud and straw packed in wooden frames), to bricks made in Mesopotamia long before the time of Djoser.

      The Photo (right) shows a part of the original enclosure walls. (note the similarity in style to the buttress walls on the Ziggurat of Ur).

      (More about Saqqara)

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      South American Pyramids.

      In 1964, aerial photography identified nearly 1,000 pyramid sites in Peru (1)

      La Venta, Mexico: (Olmec city).

      La Venta has one of the earliest pyramids known in Mesoamerica, the Great Pyramid is 110 ft (33 m) high and contains an estimated 100,000 cubic meters of earth fill. The current conical shape of the pyramid was once thought to represent nearby volcanoes or mountains, but recent work by Rebecca Gonzalez-Lauck has shown that the pyramid was originally a rectangular pyramid with stepped sides and inset corners, and the current shape is most likely due to 2500 years of erosion. The pyramid itself has never been excavated, but a magnetometer survey in 1967 found an anomaly high on the south side of the pyramid. Speculation ranges from a section of burned clay to a cache of buried offerings to a tomb.

      (More about La Venta)

      Chichen Itza – (Abandoned Mayan city).

      The stepped pyramid-temple (Left), records the equinoxes in a unique way. The sun creates a shadow of a huge ‘snake’ to ascend the steps in spring, and descend again in autumn. Whether or not this was a deliberate design feature is speculative, but other astronomical features at the site certainly lend weight to the idea that it was intentional. Each step corresponds to a day, each platform to a Mayan month. The temple is erected above the 365 steps.

      (More about Chichen Itza)

      Teotihuacan: (The City of the Gods)

      It was suggested by Stansbury Hagar that the city had been built as a ‘map of heaven’. During the 1960’s and 1970’s a comprehensive mathematical survey was carried out by Hugh Harleston Jr. He found that the principle structures line up along the street of the dead (and beyond), and suggested that the city was a precise scale model of the solar system, including Uranus, Neptune and Pluto (not rediscovered until 1787, 1846 and 1930 respectively. (21).

      Both the arrangement and the dimensions of the pyramids at Teotihuacan (above), have been compared with those at Ghiza

      While it is true that no original pyramid internments have been discovered in Egypt, several have been found in Mesoamerican pyramids. The The recent discovery of funerary remains in the ‘Pyramid of the Moon’ is in keeping with discoveries at Mayan centres of Palenque and Copan.

      (Other Pre-Columbian Complexes)

      As well as having similar construction features on both continents, there are several other strong arguments in favour of Old-world/New-world cross-culturality, creating the strong possibility that pyramid building and solar worship were imported from the ‘old world’ to the ‘new world’.

      (More about Pre-Columbian contact between Old/New Worlds)

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      Chinese Pyramids.

      Deep within China near the ancient capital city of Xi’an lies a series of pyramid-mounds virtually unknown outside the country until last century. The Chinese pyramid fields are now recognised as one of the greatest pyramid concentrations in the world. They have flattened tops, and thus are more similar in shape to the South American pyramids than the pyramids of Egypt.

      The image above is of the Ya-sen valley, Xi’an, in which the pyramids were all orientated cardinally.

      Most of the pyramids range from 20 to 200 ft in height and 50 to 600 feet in width. They are mostly found in an area of concentration NE of Xi’an and they all face exactly north, south, east and west. The oldest of these pyramids is believed to be the tomb of Qin shi Huangdi, first emperor of the Qin dynasty who unified China which akes them no older than 2,500 years old.

      Qin Shi Huang’s tomb

      With 1,960,000 cubic metres, it is fourth largest pyramid in the world. The pyramid at Cholula, Mexico, and the two largest pyramids at the Gizeh plateau precede it.

      Apparently, one of the first projects the young king accomplished while he was alive was the construction of his own tomb. In 215 BCE Qin Shi Huang ordered at least 300,000 men (The Chinese historian Sima Qian, writing a century after the First emperor’s death, wrote that it took 700,000 men), to construct his tomb to specification. The “Segalen mission”, a tour of China that Segalen made in 1913, measured the pyramid’s height at 48 metres, encompassing five terraces. One side measured 350 metres, 120 metres longer than the side of Great Pyramid at Gizeh, Egypt.

      The main tomb containing the emperor has yet to be opened and there is evidence suggesting that it remains relatively intact. Sima Qian’s description of the tomb includes replicas of palaces and scenic towers, ‘rare utensils and wonderful objects’, 100 rivers made with mercury, representations of ‘the heavenly bodies’, and crossbows rigged to shoot anyone who tried to break in. (54).

      The tomb was built on Li Mountain which is only 30 kms away from Xi’an. Modern archaeologists have located the tomb, and have inserted probes deep into it. curiously, the probes revealed abnormally high quantities of mercury, some 100 times the naturally occurring rate, suggesting at least part of the legend can be trusted. Secrets were maintained, as most of the workmen who built the tomb were killed. (47)

      The first photos of  Chinese pyramids were taken in 1945 at the end of World War II. Xian: Places of Historical Interest (2002), under the section describing Maoling Mausoleum: "An American pilot, taking photos in the air, took Maoling Mausoleum for his discovery of a ‘pyramid’ in China."

      Satellite photo of the Maoling Pyramid today.

      The Maoling Pyramid.

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      European Pyramids

      Europe is the home to several pyramids, with more being re-discovered each year. The following examples illustrate that the tradition of pyramid building was far from restricted to Egypt.

      Silbury hill, EnglandSilbury Hill – Officially, the Silbury Hill monument in England is not classified as a proper pyramid. However, its smooth exterior hides the several man-made steps which constitute the main bulk of the structure. There is no evidence of any original internment.

      The exterior angle of Silbury of Silbury Hill (30°), is the same as the latitude of the Great pyramid, whose exterior angle (51° 51′), is the same as the latitude of Silbury Hill. The flattened top has the same diameter as the Stonehenge sarsens.

      (More about Silbury Hill)

      These (still unconfirmed) pyramids have been discovered in Bosnia -  Near the city of Visoko, 30km north of Sarajevo, there are five stone pyramids of monumental size, claims the Bosnian archeologist Semir Osmanagiæ, who lives and works in the USA.
      (More about the Bosnian pyramids).


      Greece – At least 16 ancient pyramids are known across Greece. Examination by ‘Optical Thermo-luminescence’ has determined that the oldest one dates to a staggering 2,720 BC.

      (More about Prehistoric Greece)

      Lastly – News of another European discovery which has been recently made: three pyramids were discovered thanks to satellite and aerial imagery in northern Italy, in the town of Montevecchia – 40 km from Milan.

      They are the first pyramids ever discovered in Italy and the dimensions are quite impressive; the highest pyramid is 150 meters tall. They are stone buildings, as recent excavations have proved. However, they are now completely covered by ground and vegetation, so that they now look like hills.

      The inclination degree of all the three pyramids is apparently 42° 43′ (As seen on the ‘Bent‘ and ‘Red‘ pyramids atDashur) and it has been suggested that there is a perfect alignment with the Orion constellation (a suggestion which appears valid, if the photo – right is correct).  There appear to be similarities with the Egyptian pyramids. At the moment, little is known about their origin or age.