July 1, 2012

Ancient Egyptian Pyramids Part 5 | Problems and Solution

Imhotep set out to build at the desert edge above Memphis a magnificent monument for the living god, the Horus Neterkhet Zoser. We shall never know whether his foremost aim was the grandeur of the construction or the idea of employing troublesome villagers during the inundations. One thing, however, is certain : the problem of large-scale organisation must have been foremost in his mind. He used it to an unprecedented degree and was evidently, besides, the creator of an efficient and complex civil service. This had to be the basis for all his operations. From then onward the central administration of Egypt increased steadily, and it had to be closely tied to the construction of pyramids since this became the foremost centralised activity in the country.

Ancient Egyptian Pyramids
It is almost uncanny that after 5,000 years the technological evidence should allow us to follow the way of Imhotep’s mind after he had taken the first crucial step. However, this is exactly what we can do. The first monument was a stone mastaba erected above the tomb shaft. It was the first stone structure of any size ever built, 63 m. square and 8 m. high, covered with dressed limestone from Tura. For this almost 10,000 tons of stone had to be quarried, to say nothing about the large surrounding wall, also of stone. Perhaps a labour force of three to five thousand men were working on it all the time. It certainly was a larger number than had been employed on any earlier tomb, but it was only the beginning. As mentioned in an earlier chapter, the mastaba then underwent three small successive alterations, and after that something completely unforeseen took place. Above the mastaba was erected a pyramid of four steps, containing no less than 200,000 tons of limestone.

Evidently, with the building of the stone mastaba Imhotep was feeling his way in building with a new material as well as with procuring and transporting it. Mud brick had given way to limestone. He and his staff must have discovered, during the construction of the mastaba, a number of salient facts. First of all they found that limestone could be quarried and transported in large quantities provided labour was available. Secondly, their organisation was able to master the complex tasks of the various working processes and enlist the labour required. Thirdly, they began to realise the building potentialities of the new material. Correlating all these factors, they suddenly saw that they might be able to build a tower reaching to heaven that would dominate the capital below them. To a young and growing society this must have been an exhilarating prospect of unlimited possibilities, and so they decided on building a pyramid, a man-made mountain.

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