The great pyramids of Egypt were built by citizens of the Egyptian empire for their monarchs beginning in the 4th dynasty. We saw in class that the pyramid-shaped mortuary complex is a further development of mastabas that served as superstructures to earlier (and some contemporaneous) royal burials (Watrall 2012). Earlier structures included storage complexes for inclusion of foods and other grave goods. Small niches in the outside and later interior offering chambers allowed the living to continue honoring the dead by providing sustenance.
Bard (2008) suggests that the akh was the part of the deceased which could come back and cause trouble for the living – not only would leaving an offering have indicated respect for tradition and for one’s ancestors, but must have provided a preventative measure against ghost-related troubles. The massive importance of the pharaoh meant that this process was institutionalized in the Cults of the Pharaoh, who continued these practices for centuries. As a sacred space, access to the pyramids was restricted, so priests of some kind would be a fitting caretaker – the descendants of the deceased pharaohs were otherwise occupied and would not have been able to sufficiently provide for their predecessors.
Although the ideological linkages with the ka, ba, and akh are evident (Bard 2008:151-152), the importance of sustenance is found throughout ancient Egyptian culture. The need for and ability to provide food to the deceased rather than store or sell it for/to the living, occurs in a region with agricultural surplus. To avoid any determinism, it should be noted that rare luxury items, and generally items of higher quality than used in daily life (such as pottery and cosmetic palettes) were included as grave goods.
Would such a practice be less likely if this culture did not enjoy an agricultural surplus?