The Last Pyramids Of Egypt

pyramids
They just don’t make pyramids like they used to.

The pyramids of Egypt have fascinated people ever since they were built. The Step Pyramid at Saqqara started things off around 2650 B.C. Later came the iconic pyramids of Giza. What’s often forgotten, however, is that pyramid construction continued for more than a thousand years and there are at least 138 built to house the remains of pharaohs and queens. More are still being discovered. Last year, satellite imagery revealed seventeen previously unknown pyramids.

The later pyramids of Egypt tend to be overlooked, and it’s easy to see why considering the sad state of most of them. Just take a look at this photo of the pyramid of Senusret II (ruled 1895-1878 B.C.) and photographed by Jon Bodsworth. Like a lot of later pyramids, it was made of mud bricks instead of stone blocks to save money, and that’s why it’s a giant sad lump today – an interesting lump, though.

The interior tunnels are still intact and archaeologists discovered the nearby village where the workmen lived. Contrary to popular belief, slaves didn’t construct the pyramids. Actually, it was trained craftsmen and farmers who didn’t have any other work to do when their fields were underwater during the annual flooding of the Nile.

Senusret II was part of the 12th Dynasty, a high point in Egyptian power and civilization. It’s strange then that pyramids were in decline. You can see several of these pyramids at Dahsur, not far from Saqqara and an easy day trip from Cairo. One is the Black Pyramid of Amenemhat III (ruled 1842-1797 B.C.). It started to collapse almost immediately so he had to build a second one at the Faiyum Oasis near a giant temple to the crocodile god Sobek. This site reopened last year.

%Gallery-155699%The experimentation with cheaper building methods may have started with Senusret I (ruled 1962-1928 B.C.). Instead of a solid geometric shape, the builders first constructed a network of walls crisscrossing each other and dividing the pyramid into 32 parts. These were then filled with loose stone. A smooth limestone facing was put over the whole thing. It sounded good in theory, but it’s another sad lump today.

Perhaps as a compensation for the cheap building styles, the later pyramids had elaborate tricks to stop tomb robbers: dead end tunnels sealed with thick stones; interior chambers made of quartzite, the hardest substance worked in Ancient Egypt; elaborately sealed rooms that contained nothing; and sarcophagi as big as the rooms that held them in order to deny robbers room to work.

Sadly, none of these tricks worked and the pharaohs eventually resorted to hidden underground tombs in places like the Valley of the Kings. After the 12th and 13th dynasties, pyramids went out of fashion. Many of the 13th dynasty rulers didn’t bother building one at all. Only a few were made by later dynasties. The last pyramid made for a pharaoh was for Ahmose I around 1525 B.C. It’s a pile of rubble now that barely measures 30 feet high. Much later, pyramids briefly became fashionable in the Sudan.

The pyramid was dead, and last year, so was Egypt’s tourism industry. It’s been gradually rebuilding itself, though. Cruise lines are returning, as are independent travelers. The tourist sights remained mostly unaffected by the unrest and there’s not much trouble outside of a few spots in Cairo.

Visitors will have more to see with six tombs at Giza having reopened and Egyptologists hard at work uncovering more ancient wonders. Many of the later pyramids haven’t been excavated and while all the ones that have been explored were plundered by tomb robbers centuries ago, there’s always a chance that the treasure of a pharaoh remains hidden inside one of them.

Pyramids and monasteries among the many ancient monuments under restoration

pyramids, pyramid
Around the world, ancient monuments are crumbling. As our heritage wears away through neglect, “development”, or simply the harsh treatment of time, some countries are doing something about it.

The pyramid of Djoser, the oldest of the pyramids of Egypt, will be the object of a major restoration effort. The government recently announced that funding has been earmarked for restoration after the people previously working on the site put down their tools, saying they weren’t getting paid. The money that’s owed to the company would be paid and workers would be assured their salaries, said Mohammad Abdel-Maksoud, Egypt’s new Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. The famous Zahi Hawass was let go during the recent revolution. Hawass was briefly replaced by Abdel-Fattah al-Banna, but al-Banna quickly resigned amid criticisms of his lack of credentials.

The Djoser pyramid at Saqqara was constructed from 2667 to 2648 BC and is a step pyramid rather than a true pyramid. It now suffers from numerous structural problems and a crumbling facade.

In Tibet, the Chinese government is investing almost $9 million to restore monasteries and homes of the 10th century Guge Kingdom. Among the attractions in the ruins are some colorful Buddhist murals, caves, palaces, and pagodas. BBC News has an interesting video showing of the site here.

It’s not all good news, though. Many treasures of the past are under threat. While Rome’s Colosseum is being restored, several structures in Pompeii collapsed last year. In Red Rock Canyon, Nevada, volunteers and experts had to clean away graffiti sprayed on Native American rock art. In England the Priddy Circles, a collection of Neolithic earthworks from 5,000 years ago, were half destroyed when someone bulldozed them.

It’s nice to see some governments working hard to maintain their monuments, but lack of funding and simple human stupidity are making their job difficult.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]