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The Architectural Elements of a Pyramid Complex

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Glossary

myth

A myth is a traditional, typically ancient story dealing with supernatural beings, ancestors, or heroes that serves as a fundamental type in the worldview of a people. A myth may explain aspects of the natural world or delineate the psychology, customs, or ideals of society

pyramidion

A small pyramid placed on the top of a pyramid, an obelisk, or a tomb

sledge

a strong heavy sled on runners, usually drawn by work animals, and used for transporting loads

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Building the Pyramid
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Before constructing a pyramid, the pyramid site was chosen at a location on the edge of the desert plateau that was above the the high-water mark of the annual flood.

The bedrock was inspected to ensure that it did not contain dangerous cracks that might create an unstable foundation under the weight of the huge construction. The rock foundation was then leveled very accurately using methods developed from experience in smoothing cultivated fields for irrigation. A low ridge of mud was built around the area, then filled with water and divided into small grids, in which the top of each grid should have been on the same level above the water.

The spaces between the grids were then leveled after the water evaporated or was drained. Part of an abandoned trench system for leveling is found near the second pyramid of King Khafra to the north of Giza. The site would be on the west side of the Nile, where the sun sets and where the spirit of the king could accompany the sun god through the underworld. It was not far from the royal residence and was easily reached by boat from the Nile so the king and his courtiers could visit the site. This also allowed for the easy transportation of building stone and other material and for the royal funerary equipment.

The base of the pyramid was as square as possible. Each side directly faced one of the four cardinal points. The east was fixed with the help of astronomical observation at sunrise and sunset on the two days of the equinox every year. The east-west axis was drawn first and the north-south axis was then determined using a setsquare and observing a circumpolar star. The pyramid was built using stone blocks transported to the western side near the plateau. Then with the help of oxen, they were dragged on sledges up ramps made of stone chips and mud.

The building usually began by laying the first course horizontally and then ensuring that it was level. The ramps then were gradually raised around the structure to build the second course and so on. The stone blocks were laid on top of each other and a kind of mortar was used to fill the gaps with stone chips to form a level surface.

The pyramid was encased in a layer of polished white limestone from the Muqattam hills on the eastern side of the Nile. On top of the pyramid, the pyramidion, or capstone, was placed. The pyramidion was made of the same stone or a harder stone.

According to the sun cult of Heliopolis and its myth of the creation of the universe, a pyramid-shaped hillock, called a "Ben ben" in the Egyptian language, was the cult symbol of the sun god Ra. If the king was buried under this symbol, he would live as long as the sun lives. When the construction was finished, the ramps were cleared away.

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The Great Pyramid of Khufu
The Great Pyramid of Khufu

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