Reference Work Entry

Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures

pp 1837-1840

Pyramids in Egypt

  • Gregg de Young

The pyramids of ancient Egypt still stand beside the Nile, bearing mute testimony to the civilization that constructed them nearly 5,000 years ago. Considering the magnitude of the effort expended, it seems surprising that no information about their planning or construction has been preserved. Such mysteries have generated an incredible array of hypotheses and suppositions concerning both construction techniques and cultural implications of the pyramid.


The origins of pyramid construction are obscure. The stepped pyramid of Third Dynasty Djoser (ca. 2667–2648 BCE) at Saqqara appears to be an elaboration of earlier funerary architecture, combining First Dynasty mastaba (low, flat mud brick, or stone superstructure above a subterranean burial vault and storage compartments) forms with large, mud‐brick walled funerary enclosures of the Second Dynasty. This pyramid appears to be a first experiment in large‐scale stone construction. Beginning as a mastaba, it was enlarged horiz ...

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