June 16, 2012

Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P7

While Emery’s work left no doubt about the lay-out of the tombs and has provided us with detailed ground plans, it cannot tell us anything about the original height of these buildings. The thicknesses of the walls show that they may have risen to more than three metres and it is generally assumed that they were covered with a shallow curved roof. This reconstruction is based on the shape of early sarcophagi which also seem to have been miniature models of the palace. At the narrow ends the curved roof most probably ended in upright retaining walls. The Saqqara tombs are of considerable size. They are on average 50 to 60 metres long and half as wide. They generally stand on a low Podium which sometimes carried rows of sculptured life-size bulls’ eads to which natural horns had been affixed.

Ancient Egyptian Pyramid
The inside of the structures, like a real palace, is divided by walls into a large number of rooms. However, there are no doors between them, because the spirit of the departed should presumably be able to pass through a wall without hindrance. The central rooms obviously constituted the burial place while the outer chambers contained the tomb furniture and provisions. Emery found in them huge quantities of stone jars and basins as well as ceramic pots and vases. In the later tombs the burial chamber and some special storage rooms were located below the floor level and roofed over with timber. Gradually these subterranean apartments were located in a still deeper pit and concern about tomb robbers is evident in the provision of a huge stone slab which could be lowered into the access passage as a portcullis. The whole funeral palace was surrounded by an enclosure wall and in front of the tomb itself stood two stone stelae, giving the name and titles of the king.

In addition the tombs contained a feature so inconspicuous that it was at first overlooked, but it was of the greatest importance for the coming Pyramid Age. Within the superstructure, and exactly5 Plan and section of a typical tomb of the first two dynasties, showing the central mound (I) and the subterranean tomb chamber (2) (after Edwards) above the underground burial chamber, was a small mound of earth, sometimes protected by stone slabs. This mound is clearly a relic of the little heap of sand which marked the pre-dynastic graves. It is likely that the Egyptians in their extreme conservatism retained this mound as the central and most important feature of the burial. In the later funeral palaces this mound was further protected by a stepped structure and it is possible that these steps symbolised the means by which the dead king was to ascend to heaven. There is reason to believe that this central grave mound was developed under the Third Dynasty into the step pyramid as a gigantic stairway for the deceased pharaoh.

At the northern end of the tomb of Hor-aha, the first king after unification, are some dummy buildings, representing either his estate or a court for celebrating his jubilee festival, and an oblong pit. This pit has the shape of a boat and there can be no doubt that it contained the barge which the pharaoh used for his voyage into the next world. A number of such boat pits have been found near the Giza pyramids, including an enormous one which was discovered only in 1954 and contained a ship 43 metres in length.


Matrilineal succession and inheritance were the reasons for the great number of consanguine marriages in the Egyptian royal house. In order to gain the throne, the son of the pharaoh usually had to marry his own sister because only she could pass on the valid succession. If for no other reason, prudence required that nopotential great queen, who on the matrimonial couch would be able to confer the crown, should be left unmarried, lest she became the prey of a political adventurer. In addition to brother-sister unions, pharaohs sometimes married their daughters : for instance, Amenhotep HI who married his own daughter, Sitamun, by his wife Tiye, because Sitamun was next in line of great queens. It has also been suggested that Ankhesenamun, before marrying Tutankhamun, had become her father’s widow and that there had been a daughter of his incestuous union called Ankhesenpaaten Tashery.

The concept of matrilineal descent, which became so important for the Egyptian monarchy, is an extremely ancient one and long antedates the idea of a, to us obvious, connection between father and son. It clearly stems from an age in which the mechanism of paternity was unknown or imperfectly understood. After all, the relation between frequent intercourse and occasional birth, complicated, as it is, by a long gestation period, can hardly have been an obvious one to primitive man. An Australian aboriginal woman would date conception from the first movement of the foetus, and the totem of the place where she felt it was then thought to have entered the mother. This very plausible idea leaves no room for the father and the nearest male relative will be the child’s maternal uncle since he and the mother can be traced to the same woman - the maternal grandmother.

To the Egyptians the role of the father was, of course, well known but the ancient matrilineal structure of society, whose real origin may have been long forgotten, was conservatively retained. This has happened in other parts of the world, too, and it is interesting that the Akan tribes of Africa, to whom reference has already been made, have retained the rule of matrilineal inheritance to this day. Since in Ashanti brother-sister marriages are not permitted, the king can never be the son of his predecessor. He is usually the son of the previous king’s sister. This, of course, explains the exalted position of the queen mother, to whom, just as in Egypt, custody of the crown reverts at the death of the king.

Our description of the effort, time and expense which the Egyptians lavished on their tombs leaves no doubt that they were much preoccupied with life after death. We have said nothing so far a out how they expected to survive in eternity and the simple reason is that we do not know it with any degree of certainty. The Egyptian language contains a number of words relating to characteristics of a person which are not part of his body, such as his name and his shadow, and spiritual significance was allotted to both. The two most important attributes often referred to, but unfortunately not as easily comprehended as name or shadow, were the ka and the ba, neither of which has as yet been fully understood. The ba is usually believed to be the ‘soul’ which is released from the body at death but does not completely leave, hovering about it as a human-headed bird. Therefore, with not much to go on, reference to similar beliefs among the Akan tribes might, at least, provide some hints.

Like the Egyptians, the Ashanti differentiate between a number of spiritual attributes to the body. Two of these, the kra and the sunsum are transmitted from the father, one at conception and the other at birth, both leaving the body after death. The kra is the quality of animated life while the sunsum is more connected with the personal character of the individual. It sometimes leaves the person’s body during his sleep to travel in his dreams. These attributes may possibly correspond to the Egyptian ba, sometimes represented as a bird beside the inanimate body.

In contrast with these transient attributes, the Ashanti abusua, or blood soul, has permanence and was, in fact, in existence before the individual was born; it also continues to exist after his death. Its existence is eternal but it is incarnated into the living body of the child by its mother; and it is definitely connected with the mother’s clan. The abusua therefore appears to have certain qualities associated with the Egyptian ka and this parallelism is supported by a curious similarity. In order to promote fertility the Ashanti bind on to the back of the woman an Akua-ba doll. This figure, which is quite different from ordinary African sculpture, consists of a severely cylindrical body, stumps of arms and a round twentieth century ‘Akua-ba’ fertility doll of the West African Ashanti tribe, showing great similarity with the Egyptian hieroglyph ‘ankh’, meaning ‘life’disc-shaped head. Its form is thus identical with the ancient ankh, the hieroglyph for ‘life’. If we accept this parallelism, we would expect the ancient Egyptian ka to be closely connected with the concept of matrilineal descent and to be the carrier of its ancestry through the mother. It also might be associated with the idea of reincarnation in the female blood line to which so far little attention has been given. Moreover, the Ashanti explain the desirability of cousin-cousin marriage in the royal house as the need to preserve purity of the blood and to ‘keep the great names’.

It cannot be emphasised too strongly, as has been stated before, that considerations of this kind should be regarded as merely conjectural. No firm conclusions must be based on such ideas which cannot serve any other purpose except to provide an indication of the possible meaning of the ka. If further work should establish the connection of the ka with matrilineal descent, it would certainly show why the great queen was regarded as the true and only custodian of the Egyptian kingship. It is significant that in the registers of the Palermo Stone not only the names of the pharaohs are given but also the names of their mothers. How far the Egyptians went in emphasising maternal descent is shown by Emery’s very last discovery. In 1851 Mariette had discovered the Serapeum at Saqqara, the immense subterranean tomb holding the sarcophagi of the sacred Apis bulls. Emery, 120 years later, found nearby a similar tomb, holding the remains of the equally sacred mothers of these animals.

Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids :
Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P1
Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P2
Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P3
Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P4
Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P5
Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P6
Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P7

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