Choose and while arguably the Egyptian pyramids are the

Choose two pyramid-building
cultures and compare the similarities and differences in the methods of
construction and use of their pyramids.


Pyramids are one of most captivating
structures that still exist to this day, and while arguably the Egyptian
pyramids are the most famous there are many cultures that have constructed these
buildings as well. This essay will focus on the Pyramids built by the Egyptians
from 2575 BC and those built by the Mayans from the 7th century AD. It
will look to find similarities and differences in the construction of pyramids –
the design, the method of building and the workers and in the use of the
pyramids – who used them, activities that took place in them and their interior

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similarities and differences in the construction of Pyramids in Egypt and


The method used to construct the
pyramids in Egypt developed over many centuries. Archaeologist Sir Flinders
Petrie has found that the first form of Pyramids that were constructed in Egypt
were ‘mastaba’ tombs built over 5,000 years ago. These rectangular shaped tombs
were then developed under the pharaoh Djoser (reigned from roughly 2630 BC) who
added six-layered steps to his mastaba as well as chamber and underground
tunnels leading to this. This design would have closely resembled the tiered
structure that the Mayans used for their pyramids. Pharaoh Snefru (reigned from
roughly 2575 B.C) had his architects create pyramids that had smooth-faced
sides – closer to that which appear today. The first attempts to construct these
pyramids are known as ‘bent pyramids as the change angles part way through the
building. However, on a second attempt at Dahshur the ‘red pyramid’ was constructed.
The methods used for this pyramid was used by Snefru’s son, Khufu to build the
largest pyramid in the world ‘the Great Pyramid’

Ports at
Giza played a large role in the construction of the pyramids. Archaeologist
with AERA have found that supplies, food and people were all brought in via
these ports as well as the limestone blocks used to create the outer layer. The
port was close to a small town built near the pyramids. This was likely used to
house those in relation to the pyramids, AERA archaeologists found the town had
barracks for troops, large homes for important officials and places for workers.
This outline was very similar to that of the Mayan who used outlying villages
to house their workforce and would move resource between here and their ceremonial
centres. Studies published in 2013 by Richard Redding (chief research officer
at AERA) found that ‘enough cattle, sheep and goats were slaughtered every day
to produce 4,000 pounds of meat, on average, to feed the pyramid builders.’ Redding
said. “They probably got a much better diet than they got in their village,”
Redding told Live Science in 2013 which could have led to it enticing workers. Both
cultures would have been using willing and even excited workers and making it ‘much closer to a temporary army… whose ‘soldiers’ were healthy
young men recruited from the towns or the farmlands.” (Kevin, Jackson, 2000;32)

Lehner a leader or AERA found that Khugu’s pyramid used stones from a nearby
quarry to the south. These blocks would have been placed on
sledges and then pulled or pushed by large groups of workers. The sand underneath
the sleds were damped to reduce frictions. “It turns out that wetting
Egyptian desert sand can reduce the friction by quite a bit, which implies you
need only half of the people to pull a sledge on wet sand, compared to dry
sand,” Daniel Bonn, a physics professor at the University of Amsterdam and
lead author of that study, told Live Science in 2014. The blocks would have then
been placed on ramps to allow them to be more easily moved to the pyramid. Similarly,
in Mexico the bricks for the pyramids would have been ‘moved,
as in Egypt… by teams of workers using ropes and rollers or sledges dragged
along a path of clay” (Ibid,30

However, the Mayan method of construction was very different to
that of the Egyptians. The Egyptians used a more basic form of construction and
tools at the time such as sledges and hammer. Their rubble filling material was
also a lot weaker than the cement that the Mayans used. The Mayans had developed
a method that allowed for better and more precise construction. To do this they
would place two outer pieces of stone next to each other and then pouring
liquid cement between the two and letting it dry, sticking the two stones
together the “stone casing was built gradually… as the wall rose, the cement
was able to harden in a succession of superposed layers” (Ibid,29)

Similarities and Differences in the use of Pyramids in Egypt and Mexico

One of the
main uses of pyramids was to bury the Kings of Egypt. The pharaohs were highly respected
and held an important position in society at this time as they were thought to
join the gods in heaven after their death. They were believed to have been
chosen by the gods to rule the people and act as an in-between for the gods and
humans. They were seen as figures that were neither human nor god but somewhere
in the middle. After the king’s death it was believed that they would ascend to
heaven to become Osris – god of the dead while the king that replaced him would
become Horus – the falcon god, whose job it was to protect Ra – the sun god. The
pyramids had been designed to have four smooth angular sides that both helped
to reflect and symbolizes the rays of the sun, it was though that this would
the king’s soul would ascend to the heavens where he would be able to join the
rest of the gods. These beliefs are very similar to that of the Mayans who also
worshipped a sun god. They too, believed that their king would also ascend to
the heavens to take his place with the gods so although the pyramids were designed
to more closely resemble mountains, which were seen as sacred at the time, the
tiered-sides were believed to help the king on his journey.

Both the
Egyptian and Mayan cultures were unified in their belief that the afterlife was
reserved for the most powerful in society and most importantly the king with
the Egyptians going as far as to believe that ‘the king alone enjoyed an
individual afterlife, and all his subjects experience eternity only through
him” (Ibid,43),’.

Although both
believed in the ascension of their kings to the heavens only the Egyptians used
their pyramids as the burial grounds for said kings. These Pyramids were seen
as “the site of the dead pharaoh’s mystical transfiguration, rebirth, ascent to
heaven, as well as his residence in the beyond, from which he ruled over all
the people of his time” (Ibid,45). They saw the death as allowing their king to
be reborn in heaven. It was also believed that part of the king’s spirit –
known as ‘ka’, would remain in his body after death. To protect and care for
the spirit left behind the bodies of the pharaohs were mummified and buried
with all their possession as it was believed he would need these in his
afterlife. This included his furniture, food and gifts he had received. His
relatives and priests would also be able to use these possessions in their
death as they would be buried with their king.


However, in
the Mayan culture, the pyramids were part of the day to day lives of it’s
people and where seen as a place for rituals and sacrifices for the gods/ancestors.
Although only kings and priests could enter the sacred buildings the temples were
placed on top pyramid so it could be seen by all. This was because the worship
and rituals that took place here would be attended by the whole community who
would look from the ground. Egyptians were much more private in the rituals
that took place in their pyramids as they could only be attended by high ranking
officials and took place deep inside the pyramid.

The Egyptian pyramids
would be used as a temple for worshipping both the gods and the King. By Djoser’s
time, grave sites of the kings had taken on a greatly enhanced significance as
they were used to depict their immense power and wealth. The grave sites
themselves were designed to serve as temples for the worship of gods and kings.
The Pyramids would have many rooms such as temples, a palace court and a chapel.
The walls would usually be decorated with depictions of the king’s life such as
in Djoser’s to serve as a reminder for him in heaven of what his world was
like. He also had a large statue fashioned of himself among numerous other impressive
statues. The decoration in these pyramids was very similar to that of the
Mayans which also housed statues and monuments that were adorned with bright
colours as well as images on the wall that showcased sacrifices and other
religious rituals. However, the Mayans made sure to display these decorations so
that the public would be able to see them. This highlight a key difference in
the use of pyramids. The Mayans saw them as for the whole community to enjoy
and use in their daily spiritual life. While the Egyptians saw them and everything
inside them as belonging to the king and a way of keeping him safe in his
afterlife and undisturbed. To keep people from coming in ‘the entrance was
hidden by a stone slab… indistinguishable from the pyramid wall,” (Verner,

To conclude the
Mayan and Egyptian cultures both developed very similar buildings with similar
uses. This was due to their shared ideas in religion especially that of the
ascension of their king to heaven to join the other gods. This is reflected in
the design of both the pyramids that is them to aid the kings on their journey.
Having such an importance to their religion it allowed for both to be constructed
with a willing workforce who worked day and night. The two cultures have
similar methods for transportation although the Mayans seem more advanced in
their technique for building. The most important difference it would seem would
the inclusivity of the Mayan pyramids. They were built for the kings as well as
the community and were part of everyday life, while the Egyptian pyramids were
specifically for the pharaoh acting as his burial ground.