Formany centuries people have been fascinated by ancient cultures and treasures.During the last two centuries the science of archeology and modern inventionsallowed people to get inside of the Egyptian and Mayan pyramids and discover thetreasures of Egyptian pharaohs and Mayan rulers. Most of what we know aboutEgypt we owe to the pyramids. Thanks to Egyptian belief in the afterlife we cannow find out about the civilization that existed nearly five thousand years ago.
Egyptian culture is not the only culture that left us its heritage in pyramids.In America we find pyramids build by civilizations of Olmec and Maya about 7thcentury CE. These pyramids had different purposes and usage then the ones inEgypt but they stand as memorials to ancient civilizations as well. Egyptianpeople believed in life after death. One of the way pharaohs prepared themselvesfor the afterlife journey was by building a pyramid and putting there all theirbelongings and riches. Egyptian people believed that pharaoh is the closestperson to the God and treated him accordingly. That is the reason for Egyptiantombs being full with the golden jewelry, precious stones and art objects. Mostof the time art objects were not considered a treasury but they played theirparticular role in religious rituals.
Jars were holding food and drinks forpharaohs journey, so he would not get hungry and would have food and drinksto offer to the Gods. The figurative sculptures were suppose to accompany Ka (spiritual entity) in its lonely stay or serve as a twin for the mummy. Ifsomething happens to the mummy the ka could use the sculpture of the pharaoh forthe revelation. As well as for Egyptians religion was an everyday concern formany of the Maya, whether the dynastic ruler, the zealous priest, or the humblebeliever. Maya has an extensive religion structure which we can not know indetails. Chac and Itzamna are the most famous gods of Mayan culture.
Hunahpu andXbalanque are among the most interesting mythical characters. One of the mostcrucial gods was Tlaloc, who was worshiped in various guises by the culture ofTeotihuacan, the Toltec of Tula, and later Aztecs. The Maya received the cult ofTlaloc during the 4th century more or less. The Cauac Monster, also known as theWitz monster, is a dominant supernatural concept in Maya religion, as are caves,cenotes, and other holy places (Maya Civilization pars. 6). The Maya builtshrines, temples, and pyramids in honor of their gods, as well as to theirkings, who ruled by all-encompassing concept of Divine power.
Most of Mayanpyramids are temples to the gods, not the burial tombs as in Egypt. Even thoughMaya sometimes buried there their rulers they always put the temple on the topof the pyramid. Egyptians had temples near the pyramid or right next to it forthe ceremonial services, but it never was placed on top of the structure. Alsobuildings in both cultures have a lot in common in their visual characteristicsthey are different structures. Egyptian pyramids originally had smooth equalsides meeting on the top in the perfect apex. Mayan pyramids look like one hugestairway towards the sky. It reminds of earliest Egyptian structures-mastabas,where one layer of stones was put onto another creating the effect of pyramid.Also The Tikal Temple on Great Plaza was originally plastered white.
Then theroof comb was painted with reds, blues, and other colors to accent the differentareas of sculptural decoration. These roof combs were like giant billboards,with immense portrayals of the enthroned king, larger then life size (Citiespars.3). Egyptians never colored their religious structures. As well as inEgyptian pyramids, the stone used to construct Mayan pyramids is locallimestone, obtained from nearby quarries. The ancient Maya had no stone toolsbut limestone is soft enough that the Maya could utilize chert tools to work thestone in to neat rectangular building blocks.
Egyptian pyramids served as hugetombs and they were constructed in such a way so they would stand for thousandyears. Egyptians did not know when the spirit would return into the dead body.Pyramids were constructed of rough stone blocks laid in horizontal rows, in apolygonal shape, with triangular sides rising to meet in the apex. Some wereoriginally as high as 750 feet. The pyramids were built by taking blocks ofgranite to the workshops, measuring the blocks down the size, shaping the blockand placing it into the body of the pyramid. Then on top of the built structureworkers put the limestone going from the top to bottom.
Egyptians left two emptyrooms to place the pharaohs mummy and his belongings in. They sealed pyramidsso well that it took four hundred years for robbers to get in. It is believedthat the pyramids would be standing intact today if it were not for laterdestruction by robbers and invaders and for use as a building material. As itis, the massive stone buildings are rising right now outside of Cairo.
Theinteriors of these huge stone structures contain a series of a narrow passages,ending in several large chambers. The central chamber was the burial room,always reached by a passage from the north, and containing a false stone door onthe west side, representing an exit for the deceased soul. The roofs of thesechambers were formed of layers of stone beams, lying on top of another, eachlayer weighing more then 30 tons. The passages into burial chamber was oftenhewn out of the rock directly from the outer edge. As well as Egyptian pharaohMayan rulers like Giant Jaguar was buried in his tomb with hundreds ofofferings-vases, jade, jewels and so on. Mayan temple-pyramids usually containedone or more rooms, however, the rooms were so narrow that they could only havebeen used on ceremonial occasions and were not meant for public consumption.Most of the Egyptian pyramids were built by six pharaohs of the Old Kingdom, andwere considered sacred shrines.
On the contrary to general beliefs pyramids werebuilt by free citizens, drafted to public work, not by slaves. Thousand expertsworked on the design of pyramids all year round. An extra work group aboutninety-five thousand men worked on the construction site during the four monthperiod of the inundation ( the time of enforced idleness for farmers, since thefields were covered with the water of Nile) (Payne 24).
The most famous Egyptianpyramids are the three pyramids five miles southwest of Giza, which is threemiles southwest of Cairo. The largest pyramid, 481 feet high and 786 feet alongeast side of base, was built for Khufu, who reigned between 2900 and 2877 B.C.The pyramid of Khafre, who reigned about 2859 B.C.
is slightly smaller, but itis on a higher ground so that the apex is higher. The smallest pyramid (yet notsmall at all) was built by Menkure about 2800 B.C. (Casson 5).
One of the mostfamous sites of Mayan culture is Tikal in Guatemala. Numerous buildings stayedalmost intact at the Great Plaza: the Temple of the Giant Jaguar (700 A.D.
), theTemple of the Masks (699 A.D), and the North Acropolis. At the heart of theTemple of the Giant jaguar is the tomb of high priest. The sanctuary for worshipat the top of the structure sits on a nine-tiered pyramid.
In each cultures eachpyramid was built for the body of only one man. Usually, caskets full of jewels,furniture in laid with ivory and gold, silver and alabaster bowls and vessels,chests filled with clothing and precious ornaments, jars filled with food andwine were put in the room next to the room with the mummy. Among the objectsfound in the Egyptian pyramids were the shabtis. Shabtis are small statues inthe form of nude humans, often wrapped in linen and placed in model coffins.
They were inscribed with a prayer for food offerings, although they probablyalso functioned as alternative abode for the ka. By the Middle Kingdom (2025 B.C)the figures had become mummiform in shape, and their inscriptions clearly jointhe deceased with Osiris, the god of the underworld, who rose to prominenceduring this period. By late Dynasty XII (1850 B.C.) The statuettes originalfunction as residence for the ka has expanded greatly.
Although the originalidentification with the tomb owner was never lost, the figures were seenprimarily as workers who performed a service for the deceased, and they becameknown by the ancient Egyptians as shabits. Rapidly shabit-figures came torepresent the deceaseds servants in the afterlife and were so popular thatthey replaced the model servant statues previously deposited in upper-classgraves of the Old and Middle Kingdoms (Life sect.1).
One of the most importanttraditions in the Egyptian culture was the mummification of the dead body.According to Egyptian religion the body had to be intact in order for Ka toreturn. Mummification of the dead body was a complicated and long process. Thefamous Greek historian Herodotus reported on the Egyptian practice ofmummification: They take first a crooked piece of iron, and with it draw outbrain through the nostrils, thus getting rid of a portion, while the skull iscleared of the rest by rinsing with drugs; next they make a cut along the flankwith a sharp Ethiopian stone, and take out the whole contents of the abdomen,which they then cleanse, washing it throughly with palm wine, and againfrequently with an infusion of pounded aromatics. After this they fill thecavity with the purest bruised myrrh, with cassia, and every other sort ofspicery except frankincense, and sew up the opening. (Herodotus sect.1) Afterthese procedures were done the body was placed in natrum for saventy days.
Theyput the body into the wooden coffin which was shaped into the man figure.Sometimes the wooden coffin was placed into the golden one decorated by preciousstones and paint. In Mayan culture we find no evidences that any techniques ofmummification were used. In the humid climate of Central America it is very hardto preserve a dead body for such a long time that is needed for themummification process. As we can see Mayan and Egyptian cultures have a lot incommon. However, some major differences can be found. Mayan religion was notobsessed with an afterlife beliefs as Egyptians were.
Their pyramids were builteither for Gods or as a memorial to the dead ruler or priest. Egyptians builttheir pyramids for the dead. Their buildings were meant to be used in the otherlife by the great spirits buried in them. Some visual differences also occur.Most of the Mayan pyramids are shorter then the ones at Giza site. They are notsealed forever but has an access for the priests and authorized people. Themajor difference is that Maya put the shrine right on top of the pyramid.
Thestairs led from the ground to the top of the pyramid. This way people thoughtthey would be closer to God. In Egypt only pharaoh was considered to be closerto God therefore an enormous buildings reaching the sky was meant to be thestairway to the heaven only for the pharaoh. Nowadays these both ancientcultures still hold many mysteries for us. Most of the things we know are basedon the speculations of the scientists, not on the certain facts. Archeologistsworking on discovering more and more about the ancient civilizations thatexisted thousand years ago but appeared much more advanced then we used to thinkabout it. However, many of the documents, scripts and art evidences disappearedduring such a long time. Robbers, invaders and weather were the reason for thehuge loss of historical items that were kept in ancient Maya cities and alongthe Nile.
I am sure that in the future many of the mysteries will be unfolded,but as for now, ancient people keep fascinate us with their enigmas. BibliographyCasson, Lionel. Ancient Egypt Canada: Time Inc. 1965. Cities of theancient Maya. Mystery of Maya.
CMCC. May 1999. http://www.civilization.ca/membrs/civiliz/maya/mmc01eng.
htmlHerodotus Reports on Mummification. May 1999. http://pluto.clinch.edu/history/wciv1/civ1ref/mummy.
htmlLife in Ancient Egypt. Shabtis. Ed. Craig Patch.
Exc. from Reflections ofGreatness: Ancient Egypt at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. 1990.http://www.yahoo.
com/egypt/ Maya Civilization. Mystery of Maya. CMCC. May1999.
http://www.civilization.ca/membrs/civiliz/maya/mmc01eng.html Newby, P.
H.The Egypt story, its art, its monuments, its people, its history. Italy:Abbreville Press: 1979. Payne, Elizabeth. The pharaohs of Ancient Egypt. NewYork: Random House, Inc. 1984. Photographs of Maya ruins of Tikal showing howHasselblad cameras and Zeiss lenses result in better pictures.
Maya Art &books. International Photographic Archive of Maya Art. June 1998. http://www.maya-art-books.org/html/New_photos.
htmlThe First Egyptian Mummies. Corkankhamun explains mummification. May 1999.http://members.aol.com/mumifyddog/first.
html Why Egyptians Made Mummies.Corkankhamun explains mummification. May 1999.
http://members.aol.com/mumifyddog/first.htmlArts and Painting