- Plan of Tomb of Khufu The Great
Pyramid at Gizeh, Egypt, Graphic.
As soon as a pharaoh of
the Old Kingdom came to power, he began planning the pyramid
that would be his tomb. The great bureaucracy of builders and
architects was set in motion. Each village sent its quota of
laborers to the quarries or the construction site, and royal
storehouses issued tools and clothing. They faced a colossal
chore. The Great Pyramid, built for Khufu at Gizeh was
constructed of more than two million stone blocks, most
weighing about two and a half tons. Despite the magnitude of
the task, it was completed within the Pharaoh's 23 year reign
in about 2600 BC, by men working with the simplest of
implements, without draught animals or even the wheel.
Khufu's architects, planning their Pharaoh's
enormous pyramid had first to chose an appropriate site in the
desert. As a rough substructure for the tomb, they chose a
rocky knoll rising above the surrounding desert floor.
Surveyors then marked out the site so that the pyramid's base
would form a perfect square.
With that accomplished, the architects directed work gangs to
cut step like terraces into the irregular sides of the hill.
These terraces, which would serve as the foundation on which
all the stone blocks were laid, had to be absolutely level if
the entire structure was not to be askew,. To assure this
level foundation, the pyramid builders erected an extensive
system of water-felled trenches about its base. Then, using
the water level as a standard, they were able to lay out the
13 acre site so evenly that experts using modern instruments
have found that the southeast corner of the pyramid stands
only an inch higher than the northwest corner.
The Great Pyramid's size challenges the imagination. Its peak
towers as high as a present-day skyscraper of 40 stories. Its
base covers an area large enough to hold 8 football fields.
its outward size alone, the Great Pyramid was called one of
the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
But the interior, with its corridors, passageways, air shafts,
Grand Gallery and King's Chamber, is no less an architectural
marvel. The Egyptians demonstrated outstanding engineering
skill in designing these interior structures to withstand the
massive weight of the stone above them. The Grand Gallery for
example, was built with a tiered, braced ceiling; the King's
Chamber was designed with six roofs to displace the weight of
overhead blocks. The Grand Gallery, a sloping room 153 ft long
and 28 ft high, was built with stone sealing plugs already
inside. When workmen on the side ramp removed restraining
crossbeams the plugs slid down to seal the Ascending Corridor.
Once this was sealed, workmen blocked the other passages
(including the tomb's entrance) with stone slabs. These
extraordinary measures foiled even the most ingenious tomb
robbers for at least 400 years. Finally however, the pyramid
was broken into and the mummy and funerary treasures were
- The Great Temple at Abu Simbel, 1838,
David Roberts, Scot (1796-1864) c.330 x 480mm, tinted lithograph
illustration ("Egypt & Nubia Vol. 1, London 1849), Metropolitan
Museum Library, NY Reproduction Print
|Ramses II, called "the Great",
earned that accolade by doing things on a grand scale and with
enormous gusto. In an opulent 67 year reign he waged an
extravagant war against a coalition of Asian states led by the
Hittites; sired more than 100 children; and erected Egypt's
biggest and most flamboyant buildings. Among his monuments
were two huge temples cut into the cliffs at Abu Simbel.
Recently these structures were involved in a
project vast enough to delight the king himself; to save them
from sinking beneath the lake created by the Aswan High Dam,
both were cut apart and re-assembled on higher ground.
The British archaeologist, Howard
Carter was nearly alone in his belief that Tutankhamun's tomb
could be found. Privately financed and armed only with a few
scraps of evidence, among them some seals of the "boy king",
Carter dug endless trenches in the Royal Valley, cleared rubble
and searched in dumps. It was only after six years of digging
that he finally unearthed the door of the tomb. "Twice before,"
he said, "I had come within two yards of that first stone step."
Three weeks after the first step was found, Carter made the
first opening in the wall that blocked the burial rooms. Holding
a candle through it, he peered into the darkness. "Can you see
anything?" he was asked. "Yes," he replied. "Wonderful things."
He later described seeing "strange animals, statues, and gold -
everywhere the glint of gold."
- The First Room of the Tomb, Black &
White Reproduction photograph
It took three weeks to
clear the rubble from the 25' corridor leading to this first
room of the tomb. There were four in all, containing more than
- The Innermost Room, Black & White
This room housed an
immense gilded wooden chest (at the far end) containing the
dead king's viscera. In front, a jackal-god, Anubis, sits on a
gilt chest full of jewels and sacred objects such as scarabs
About 10 years after
Tutankhamun's death, thieves broke into his tomb and ransacked
the antechamber, but the tomb, resealed, and eventually
covered by rubble, was not touched again until modern times -
although by 1000 BC every other sepulcher in the Valley had
been robbed. Few sites in the ancient world held as much
wealth as the Royal Valley, and nearby villagers made a
profession of robbing the tombs almost before the doors were
sealed. The laborers who built the tombs, and even the high
officials shared in the plunder. In a vain attempt to
safeguard the royal burial chambers, architects sank the
crypts deep into secret recesses and sealed tomb entrances.
Despite armies of guards, the tombs were violated. Thieves
stole anything they could move, even statues of the gods they
- Small Container in the shape of a
Double Cartouche, Reproduction photograph
Like many of the vessels in the
tomb, this container held some type of unguent, judging from
the residue that still remained inside.
The double gold containers rest on a silver
platform around a border on which the hieroglyphs for "life"
and "dominion" are incised. The larger inlays consist of
colored glass, while the smaller ones are stone. Within the
cartouches on each side is an image of Tutankhamun seated on a
basket. Above the solar disk from which project hooded cobras
wearing ankhs around their necks. On the side illustrated here
the king wears the side lock of youth, which may be an
indication of his age or status. The hieroglyphs written in a
cartouche should spell the name of a king. Here, however, they
are written indirectly in a cryptogram. In actuality, the
double cartouches each have the throne name of the king, "Ra
is the Lord of Manifestations."
- Painted Wooden Chest,
One of the most intricately
decorated objects in the tomb, this wooden chest, found in the
Antechamber, illustrates the innovation of the frenzied
battle. A fierce confrontation takes place on both sides of
the box; pictures here is the king in his chariot fighting
against the Asiatics. On the other side the king battles
against the Nubians. Scenes such as these were the apparent
influence for the artists who composed the military reliefs
for the Pharaohs of the Nineteenth Dynasty, where the enemy is
also frequently depicted as a confused mass without the
traditional registers. The absence of these ground lines make
possible the chaotic disarray of the enemy. Chaos and disorder
were anathema the the Ancient Egyptian, since they represented
the opposites of maat, the balance and harmony upon
which the entire culture was based. These battle scenes,
therefore, appear to have symbolic significance.
The curved lid is divided into two sections,
each of which has a horizontal panel portraying the king
pursuing wild animals. The smaller sides each have two
representations of Tutankhamun as a Sphinx, treading upon his
On the long horizontal panel here, the king
shoots his arrows into the fray. Behind him are three
registers of subordinate personnel.
- Golden Death mask - Tutankhamun, 1352
BC, Exhibit Poster
- Hieroglyphic Alphabet, 2500 BC,
- The Land of Tutankhamun, Poster
- Rameses Exhibit Poster
for Immortality" Treasures of Ancient Egypt
Interactive tour at National Gallery of Art (includes photos of
exhibits, guides and video)