Society - History
By: - at June 11, 2013

15 Interesting Facts About the Ancient Pyramids

The pyramids are an architectural phenomenon. Comparable to the ancient form of a skyscraper, these enormous buildings served a number of functions both ceremonial and religious in nature. They are shrouded in a number of mysteries. People do not entirely understand them. In some cases, we are not even certain how they built them, given the technology and tools available. Learning about the pyramids does not really answer most of these questions, but it does open the door to some very stimulating conversations.

Egypt's Great Pyramids:
Egypt's Pyramids

15)  Egypt Is Not The Only Country With Pyramids
When people say the word "pyramids," they automatically think of the Pyramids of Giza and the Great Pyramid found in the Cairo, Egypt (shown above). According to "The Great Pyramid," these structures have become iconic just by name. However, there are hundreds of other pyramids scattered throughout the world. They can be found in South America as well as in Asia and Africa.

Karima Pyramids in Northern Sudan Constructed in 8th Century BCE:
Karima Pyramids in Northern Sudan:

If you expand this definition to include mound pyramids, then pyramids can be found on every continent in the world except Antarctica. It's unclear how many pyramids there really are in the world because many of the smaller ones would have likely been destroyed through erosion and vandalism.

Ko Ker Temple Pyramid in Cambodia:
Ko Ker Temple Pyramid in Cambodia
By thomaswanhoff via Wikimedia Commons

The speculation is that it may have numbered in the thousands. Ancient pyramids the size of the Great Pyramid, have been weathered by storms and time having been further shaped by erosion.

14)  The United States Has Its Own Pyramid
This is one of those questions that comes up on television programs like Jeopardy and other trivia television programs, and the answer is not the Great Pyramid Replica in Las Vegas, Nevada. That doesn't even show up on the Pyramid Map. Monk Mound is known as the Great Pyramid of the United States. It can be found near Collinsville which is outside of St. Louis, Illinois.

Monk's Mound is a Pre-Columbian Mississippian Culture Earthwork:
Monk's Mound is a Pre-Columbian Mississippian Culture Earthwork:
By Skubasteve834 via Wikimedia Commons

It is the largest mound pyramid in the world, and it is also considered one of the largest surviving earthworks from ancient times.

View From Atop Monk's Mound:
View From Atop Monk's Mound:
By Skubasteve834 via Wikimedia Commons

Monk Mound is one of the most impressive feats of ancient architecture worldwide. The soil used to form the mound differs significantly from the soil readily available in the area. The architects of this mound actually went abroad to bring back the vivid soils that make up the mound itself. The soil colors turn from cool blues and grays to vivid reds and browns as well as some white, black, and orange soils. All of these are layered in intricate designs along with limestone slabs, and also posts made from red cedar and cypress are layered throughout the earth.

Schematic of a Platform Mound:
Schematic of a Platform Mound
By Herb Roe via Wikimedia Commons

Experts estimate that it would have taken over dozens of years to complete this monument. It dates back to the Chalcolithic Copper Age of North America. Numerous mysteries surround this pyramid as well as the period, as experts are not certain which tribe constructed it. All of the surrounding Indian tribes have legends and myths that involve the mound. There are even myths and legends regarding its formation, but none of these have been verified scientifically. The purpose is also unclear.

13)  The Great Pyramid is One of the Most Popular Center Points for Alien Conspiracy Theorists
math of pyramidNo one denies that the Great Pyramid is an architectural wonder that defies explanation. According to the History Channel, the pyramid was constructed with such precision that even modern technology cannot replicate it's precision with the same building materials. Additionally, the Great Pyramid has exceptionally precise geometric relationships that are consistent throughout the entire structure and schematic design. While some scientists and historians have tried to come up with explanations for how the ancients could have constructed the Great Pyramid, some people have chosen a rather surprising response; aliens.

According to "Great Pyramid Interesting Facts," the Great Pyramid is one of the most popular center points of Alien Conspiracy Theory. It even beats out Area 51 and Stonehenge as far as an intergalactic most popular destination list goes. While proponents of this belief vary in what they think the Great Pyramid is for, they all seem to believe that aliens either forced humans to build the Great Pyramid or that aliens themselves built the great pyramid.

By Nina via Wikimedia Commons

Part of this belief comes from the sheer enormity of the pyramid in addition to its extremely precise measurements and engineering execution. It has more than two million stone blocks, and each one weighs a minimum of two tons.

How These Huge Stones Were Moved Into Place Fuel Conspiracy Theories:
How These Huge Stones Were Moved Into Place Fuel Conspiracy Theories
By Mgiganteus1 via Wikimedia Commons

Many were closer to 30 tons, and a few are estimated at being up to 70 tons! Although various theories have been proposed, scientists and engineers still are uncertain how this feat was accomplished. Additionally the mortar of the Great Pyramid has been analyzed more carefully. The chemical origin is known, but it cannot be reproduced even in modern times with modern synthesizing techniques. This still boggles the mind of many engineers and physicists.

12)  China Has the Most Pyramids in the World
The Chinese pyramids are not nearly as well known as the Egyptian pyramids may be, but China actually has more pyramids than all of Egypt. The Chinese pyramids can be found scattered all throughout China. Among the many, the most famous is the Mausoleum of First Quin Emperor. This is within walking distance of the location of the Terra Cotta Warriors. Most of these pyramids can be linked to the particular dynasties during which they were constructed. The Zhou, Quin, Han, Yangling, Xining, and Qingjai contributed the most to the Chinese pyramids.

Mausoleum of Han Yang Ling near Xian:
Mausoleum of Han Yang Ling near Xian:

Traditionally, these pyramids are flat topped and more similar in structure to the Teotihuacan Pyramids north of Mexico City, Mexico:

 Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan Outside of Mexico City, Mexico:
Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan Outside of Mexico City, Mexico:

The structure of the pyramids in China are not as much of a mystery as the Egyptian ones when it comes to the origins of their construction. Primarily, Chinese pyramids are earth based rather than stone based. Erosion and farming techniques have destroyed the exteriors, taking them down primarily to the foundational clay. Whether they were significantly decorated beforehand is unknown, but the general belief regarding the exteriors were that they were not decorated and simple. The interiors have not been well documented by members of the scientific community, as the Chinese government forbids archaeological expeditions even ones headed by Chinese nationals.

11)  Pyramids Were Not Just Big Burial Sites
Pyramids were developed for a number of reasons. Most of the time, the central purpose of the pyramid was religious in nature. In ancient Egypt, the pyramids were built as spiritual conduits between the gods and earthly creatures. Part of their purpose was to allow the pharaohs and their families to make it safely into the afterlife. It was also to allow the gods to reach the Earth and commune with the people and priests. Additional purposes behind the construction and the upkeep of the pyramids was to ensure that the gods remained pleased with the people and the Pharaohs' families.

Opening of the Mouth Ceremony - Designed to Re-animate the Departed:
Opening of the Mouth Ceremony - Designed to Re-animate the Departed

The mystery remains as to which deities were intended to be pleased. Unlike the Greek deities who were associated with specific temples, the Egyptian pyramids were not. Numerous icons and symbols of the gods have been found within the chambers, but they are not clear what the purpose of these icons were. They are the subject of great debate and historical conversation.

Weighing of the Heart Scene from the Book of the Dead:
Weighing of the Heart Scene from the Book of the Dead

The Aztecs used pyramids as sacrificial sites since they were some of the most sacred locations in the Aztec and Toltec cultures. According to "The History of the Aztecs," the Aztecs determined that they had to reconsecrate the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan. To accomplish this, they sacrificed over 80,000 people in the course of four days at the top of the pyramid on a human sacrificial altar.

Aztec Ritual Human Sacrifice from the Codex Magliabechiano:
Aztec Ritual Human Sacrifice from the Codex Magliabechiano

The heads were then mounted on top of the posts that were scattered all around the pyramid. "Aztec Warfare" estimates that this was a common practice, but this particular sacrificial altar was one of the largest. The author, Ross Hassig, estimates that 14 sacrifices had to be made every minute during the consecration over those four days.

10)  Some People Believe the Atlanteans Built the Great Pyramids
Another popular myth about the creation of the Pyramids in Egypt. This is referred to as "The Atlantean Conspiracy." The primary reason that people have turned to the possibility that the Atlanteans developed the Egyptian pyramids and the Sphinx is that they cannot explain the development of the pyramids well using Egyptian people of that time as an archeological model. According to "The Giza Power Plant," the Atlanteans were purported to have great technology as first claimed by Plato and in numerous other myths. The technology, unknown in today's world, could explain how they were able to construct such incredible feats of architectural know-how.

Modern Representation of Atlantis:
Modern Representation of Atlantean Culture and Atlantis
By Rodrigo Boos via Wikimedia Commons

Additionally, this could help to explain the other impossibilities related to the Great Pyramid. The association with the Sphinx connects to the "The Lost Book of Nostradamus." According to this, Nostradamus claims that the Sphinx was created by a culture other than the Egyptians. He does not state that these were the creations of the Atlanteans, but he does state that it would have been a culture that no longer exists rooted in Ancient philosophies and ingenuity.

legend of atlantis

He gave specific details about the proof such as a room beneath the paw of the Sphinx and markings along the interior. However, the Egyptian government has refused to allow investigators to look into the validity of these claims. Although they claim that they have examined it for themselves and are satisfied that the Sphinx was created by the ancient Egyptians. Unfortunately they refuse to let anyone else see it which leaves skeptic speculation to continue to this day.


By Jerzy Strzelecki via Wikimedia Commons

9)  Some Pyramids Are Supposedly Cursed
Even though it sounds as if it's something out of a mummy movie, the majority of the pyramids do have curses on them. These curses have largely been disregarded, but according to "The Curse of the Mummies," the curses would not have necessarily been triggered by the actions used to excavate the tombs and pyramids. Supposedly, the curses are for those who disrespect or dishonor the pyramids. By the time that most archaeologists have discovered the pyramids, vandals and treasure seekers had already managed to break into them. Yet, according to "The Big Book of Curses," the curses themselves have no such limitations and would affect anyone who came in contact with them. After the Tutankhamun find, many began to believe that the archeological dig was cursed due to the ultimate grave-robbing nature of the excavation.

According to "Did the Egyptian Pharaohs Curse Their Tombs and the Pyramids," the curse fulfillment is primarily anecdotal. There are accounts of the curses and deaths that befell those who entered into the Tomb of King Tut. A lesser known series of accounts involve those of the archaeologists excavating the tombs along the Giza Pyramid in the 1990s. The two tombs that were disturbed included those of Pet-et-ty and Ney-sey-seker. An earthquake destroyed one of the excavator's home, a photographer was injured by a disintegrated ladder, the train bringing the tools derailed for no apparent reason, and numerous diseases and calamities befell the rest.

Anubis Figure Guarding the Entrance to Tutankhamun's Treasury Room:
Anubis Figure Guarding the Entrance to Tutankhamun's Treasury Room
By Jon Bodsworth via Wikimedia Commons

Zahi Hawass states publicly and in his book "The Pyramids of Ancient Egypt" that he believes his heart attack came about because he worked too hard, but he admits that his colleagues are still unconvinced.

8)  You Will Be Shot on Sight if You Try to Enter the Chinese Pyramids

Chinese Pyramids

Tremendous rumors and excitement surround the Chinese Pyramids. One of the things that feeds these, according to "Chinese Architectural Secrets," is that the Chinese government zealously protects its pyramids. Visitors are not allowed to enter entire segments of China. These are known as forbidden areas, but the most protected is the Forbidden Zone. These areas are not clearly marked making this a little interesting. It is important to understand that defending the national treasures and locations can justify extreme and deadly force according to Chinese law. Most of these areas can only be reached through long, winding dirt trails through dangerous terrains. It is a very dangerous area, even without the risks from the government and their troops. Special exceptions may sometimes be obtained, but these can be quite difficult to get most often involving bribing a Chinese official.

7)  Human Sacrifice Took Place at the Top of Some Pyramids
Both the Aztecs and the Mayans routinely sacrificed prisoners and other people at the top of their pyramids. The Aztec and Mayan pyramids all had the stair stepped architecture. At the top, the priest or priests would split the victim open in some fashion. Sometimes this involved plunging a knife into the heart and wrenching it down into the belly, according to "Aztec Warfare."

By Madman2001 via Wikimedia Commons

The most famous and largest human sacrifice as far as size and magnitude was the reconsecration of the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan. More than 80,000 people were sacrificed. According to "Aztec Warfare," most of these were prisoners of war, captured during the battles throughout the years preceding 1487. The Aztecs believed that the reconsecration of the pyramid would bring favor on them from Tenochtitlan. The battles had not been going as well as the Aztecs had hoped for. This particular sacrifice may have been one of the largest ritual sacrifices that involve human sacrifice in world history. The heads were then taken and stripped of their flesh.

Aztec Warfare:
Aztec Warfare:

According to "Strange Rites of Ritual Murder," the eyes and brains were sometimes consumed only minutes after the rightful owner's heart stopped beating. There are even rumors that the greatest of the war lords would drink the blood of their victims. It would supposedly grant to them the power to see through their enemies' eyes, as well as the ability to absorb the strength and vigor of all the years that were to come.

Reconsruction of the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan:
Reconsruction of the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan:
By Wolfgang Sauber via Wikimedia Commons

More troubling, the Aztec temples and pyramids were often the site of child sacrifices as well. This was considered the best way to ensure that the sacrifice was truly a virgin. They generally chose a young girl. Child sacrifices occurred on the top of the temple even after the Spanish conquest, although the sacrifices were conducted in secret to avoid getting in trouble with the Catholic Church. Some rumors persist that the last child sacrifice on the Great Pyramid of Cholula at some point in the 19th century.

6)  The Most Controversial Pyramid is the Great White Pyramid
According to Chinese legend and folklore, there is a pyramid in China known as the Great White Pyramid. Supposedly, it exceeds the height, size, and breadth of the Great Pyramid. It was rumored to be more than 1,000 feet high. Several expeditions have gone into China to try and learn more about this man-made archaeological wonder. According to Biblio, none of these expeditions have turned up anything remotely like the Great White Pyramid.

The Great White Pyramid:
The Great White Pyramid

The controversy still rages on today. The controversy continues because the area of China where it is supposedly located is known as the Forbidden Zone. Visitors are no longer allowed in this region. The Chinese lore continues, feeding the rumor mill. There are a number of theories regarding why it has not been seen. According to "Conspiracy Theories of China," the most popular is that the site is covered. However, this falls through because the satellite images and research have indicated no such structure.

5)  The Aztecs Did Not Actually Build the Pyramid of Tenochtitlan
Most people assume that the Aztecs actually constructed the Pyramid of Tenochtitlan. However, archaeological datings and excavations have revealed that the temple was constructed more than 1,000 years before the arrival of the Aztecs, predating even the Toltecs. According to "The Pyramids of the Sun and Moon," the Aztecs believed that this was where creation was born. They revered it as one of their most sacred sites, and they drew on the architectural style for their own structures. According to "The History of the Aztecs," scholars believe that the pyramid itself was covered in red paint and plastered. This was re-plastered after ritual sacrifices, although the color was intended to match the color of the blood.

Pyramid of the Sun:
Pyramid of Sun

The actual Pyramid of Tenochtitlan is actually comprised of two pyramids. This is why it is known as the Pyramid of the Sun and Moon. The first section is dedicated to the sun, built on top of a lava tube cave. Visitors who walk through this lava tube will come out on the other side to a shrine to the god as well. The second part was to the moon. In addition to this, honor and sacrifice were paid to the goddess Chalchihuitlicue of the streams and lakes as well as Tlaloc, god of fertility and rain. All of these gods could receive tribute, but the sun and the moon received the best sacrifices of all.

Pyramid of the Moon:
Pyramid of the Moon
By Ineuw via Wikimedia Commons

This pyramid is actually the location of some of the most violent and bloody ritual sacrifices. Part of the reason that it was chosen for this was because the Aztecs believed that their gods had sacrificed themselves at the top of the pyramid to create the new sun over the world. They also believed that this pyramid was also the center of the world and that at one time, all peoples started here before warfare and rage drove them away.

4)  The Great Pyramid and the Pyramids of Giza Smell Like Urine
Inside the Pyramid of GizaTourists who go through the tours through the Great Pyramid and the Pyramids of Giza have all commented on the unusual scent that fills the pyramids. According to the book, "The Great Pyramid," this scent baffled archaeologists and researchers at first. Because the airflow within the pyramids is severely limited, the scent could not be removed. It was not until later that one archaeologist discovered the dried evidence indicating the source of the scent: urine.

According to "Pyramid Mysteries," there's a great deal of controversy about whose urine scents the pyramids and their winding passageways. At first, archaeologists and scholars postulated that it belonged to the workers, but they quickly determined that was not likely the case because most of the workers were slaves. They would have been severely punished for desecrating the site of the gods and the pharaohs. Another popular theory is that vandals actually used the temples as urinals while raiding the tombs for their treasures. The one thing that they do agree on is that the urine is from humans. This rules out the theory that it might be alien urine, a fact which saddened many of the alien conspiracy theorists.

By kallerna via Wikimedia Commons

The odor is still a problem in the pyramids to this day. They have not been able to remove it through natural means, and they are prohibited by law from taking additional steps to eradicate the smell since it could result in damage to the pyramids and the inscriptions on their walls.

3)  Some People Go to the Pyramids to Get Special Powers
Many people believe that pyramids of all kinds have great powers. According to "Other Aztec Temples and Their Beliefs," the Central and South American pyramids are supposedly imbued with great powers. This belief is bolstered by the fact that many adherents to this belief believe that all gods have certain quantities of different powers. The more people follow a deity, the more the deity is weakened. A deity who has not been worshiped for a significant period will be able to grant the greatest powers.

magical powers from the pyramids

This particular practice is an offshoot of paganism, though, according to "Neopaganism and the Modern World," this is more appropriately referred to as post modern neopaganism. It corresponds closely with crystal spiritualism and spirit walks. The actual rituals to gain these powers are kept secret and revealed only to initiates. The way the pagan movement was received by the general public is mostly due to the secretive nature of these pagan churches and rituals.

Druids Celebrating at Stonehenge - Example of Neopaganism at Another Historic Site:
Druids Celebrating at Stonehenge - Example of Neopaganism at Another Historic Site:
By sandyraidy via Wikimedia Commons

2)  The Great Pyramid is the Only Remaining Member of the Seven Wonders of the World Still Standing
Both Herodotus and Callimachus made lists of the seven wonders of the world. Although much of their notes on the manner in which they were constructed and why these structures were chosen have been destroyed, the basic lists have been retained. The seven wonders according to these men include the Great Pyramid in Giza, Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, Colossus of Rhodes, Lighthouse of Alexandria, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. All of these structures with the exception of the Great Pyramid have been destroyed over the years.

Great Pyramid is the Only Remaining Member of the Seven Wonders of the World Still Standing

The primary reason that the Great Pyramid has survived is the enormity of its structure. It has survived a number of natural disasters like earthquakes, sandstorms, and conquering armies that devastated structures like the Statue of Zeus and the Temple of Artemis. It was not until fairly recently that the Egyptian government had to start taking more stringent enforcement methods for tourists who tried to slip away with a bit of the Great Pyramid.

Great Pyramid and Pyramids of Giza:
Great Pyramid and Pyramids of Giza

Even with so many vandals and attackers, the Great Pyramid still remains in mostly good condition, indicating that it will probably out live the other modern wonders of the world.

1)  There Was a Real Imhotep Associated with the Pyramids

Imhotep is most famous in modern times for his appearance in the Mummy movies starring Brendan Frasier and Arnold Vosloo. However, the actual historic Imhotep is significantly different, even though they were both associated with the pyramids and the ancient Egyptian culture. Imhotep was not actually an Egyptian, but he gained tremendous respect and power during the reigns of two pharaohs. He oversaw tremendous architectural and administrative projects. According to "The Historic Imhotep," he constructed one of the earliest pyramids. This temple was quite small, but it still remains. It was constructed from small stone blocks, and it stood at 200 feet. This pyramid is known as the Step Pyramid.

The Step Pyramid:
The Step Pyramid

"History of Egypt" credits Imhotep as being an even better doctor than he was an architect. One of the ways that he got into the good graces of the pharaohs was by saving the lives of their children.

Imhotep in Bronze with Silver Inlays:
Imhotep in Bronze with Silver Inlays

Imhotep soared to even greater prominence throughout his lifetime. According to "The Historic Imhotep," he attained the closest level of godhood that a man could. Even the Greeks and Romans recognized him. The Greeks thought he was the incarnation of their healing god, Asklepios. Later on, the Romans built an obelisk that remains standing to this day. This obelisk memorializes his medical achievements and all of his great deeds, and it is one of the oldest memorials outside of Egypt to Imhotep.





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