The Importance of the Pyramids

In this week’s lecture on the pyramids of Egypt we discussed the true significance of these phenomenal architectural feats.  From an architectural perspective, the pyramids are no doubt breathtaking and awe-inspiring structures that remain standing to this day.  In class we talked briefly about the level of manpower and the duration of time needed to construct one of the pyramids of Giza.  To construct the Pyramid of Khufu for example, it has been estimated that roughly 10,000 individuals were enlisted to help with construction (Ethan Watrall, class lecture 10/18/2012).  The construction of the pyramids was undertaken by free citizens that were compensated for their work by the allocation of state funds (Ethan Watrall, class lecture 10/18/2012).  In the text, it is noted that in addition to the work crews, architects, skilled artisans, bakers and brewers would have also been employed to sustain the efforts of everyone enlisted to partake in this monumental feat (Bard 2008:140).  While the minutiae of construction efforts is fascinating, the emphasis of lecture was how these numbers and statistics are not the truly important factors that need consideration from an anthropological standpoint.  As is true of many of the features of ancient Egyptian society, the construction of the pyramids true importance lies in the symbolic representation they portray.  These architectural feats represent, perhaps better than any other archaeological find, the power of the ancient state (Ethan Watrall, class lecture 10/18/2012).  Because construction involved mass quantities of workmen, artists, builders, brewers, etc. a state had to have the financial means, regulative authority, and material wealth necessary to accomplish the construction of a single pyramid and in some cases multiple pyramids.  As the pyramids were often constructed as tombs, this power was a direct reflection on one individual, the king.  Tracing the progression of mortuary customs therefore has applicability for the study of power relations in ancient Egypt.  Changes in the size, complexity, and manpower necessary to build one of these tombs could reveal fluctuations in the level of power that was held by the king of Egypt through time and across space.