Thursday, December 18, 2014

Art History: The Neolithic Art of the Cyclades (Cycladic Islands)

The Neolithic Art of the Cyclades (Cycladic Islands)

Contextual Analysis
Almost more important than the works of art themselves from the Cycladic Islands around 2500 BCE is the debate around what they mean. In order to attribute some kind of meaning or used for these sculptures I think it’s important to first discuss how and where they were found.

The archaeology of the Cycladic Islands is very sparse in some ways. They lived in similar kinds of buildings which were made of post and lintel technology as many other cultures across the globe. Some of their buildings were made out of cut stone and some occasionally were made from mud brick and were often not very permanent dwellings. There are some later sites from around 1500 BCE that are more intact and so we can extrapolate that these people from the Cyclades lived a very simple life. A lot of their nutrition as well as usable disposable goods came from the sea, farming, and some herding of small livestock.

These small statuettes or figurines, that were found across the islands, sometimes grave sites and sometimes in the archaeological digs of homes. They range in size from 6 inches to some being almost life-size. Where these goods were found does not give us as much information as we would like to help our interpretation of them.

Some of the other stuff involved with these figurines is the fact that some of them were found broken in half deliberately and some had pieces broken off. The pieces of the sculptures were found sometimes in graves and sometimes other places. So we can’t assume that they were just funerary goods and we can’t assume that they were sculptures just for the home. A theory that might make sense about at least where they were used and exhibited and that also accounts for finding these pieces in graves might be a parallel to putting people’s favorite things in their graves with them. Sometimes someone will be buried with the book, or jewelry, or even a statue, or even a car even in our own world. Perhaps the statues were popular decorative items that were exhibited in homes and sometimes they were put in the graves.

One of the sculptures was found in a grave and had been broken but was in a state of repair when it was placed in the grave. Signs of having fixed glue or some sort of adhesive were evidenced. What we can conclude from this is that while someone was alive and repaired and then placed in someone’s grave. Still this is not provide us with enough evidence or information to develop a very well-informed theory about how they were used. Perhaps, a more in depth formal analysis will let us understand it.

Formal Analysis
Most of the statues are on the smaller side and are below 12 inches long. They are made of white marble and many have been painted with the type of paint called encaustic. Encaustic paint is made by melting beeswax and mixing it in with the colorant. Encaustic paint is the medium because the wax is the glue that holds the pigments in place. The colorants or pigments used to polychrome the sculptures were made from ground up earth minerals and sometimes just dirt. Black was achieved with carbon mixed with the wax. Yellows and reds exist in red ocher and yellow ocher in the soil.

The reconstruction and also this work that shows some of the original pigmentation on one of the sculptures is not clear to us and what and where things are painted in general makes sense except for the dots or freckles that run across the bridge of the face. One of the heads almost seems like it has teardrops or vertical lines.

The works all seem to resemble a female figure, this is with the exception of the harpists, that were found as well. They seem to have small breasts and a kind of upside down triangle has been incised in low relief that represents their private parts.

The bodies all appear to be geometrically stylized and there are several theories about how the stylization came about. One scholar propose that the overall form of the body was designed with a compass and simply moving the compass point several times gave us the proportions of the figure. I’ve tried this with several of them and it doesn’t always work. But it’s a nice theory.

The stylization also includes parts of the body being founded on slightly curved or rounded lines while in others there are sharp angular forms such as triangles and squares. The arms are crossed across the torso and are incised in low relief. Sometimes the details of the face are incised as well while the nose almost always is in high relief and based on a triangular form.

Iconographic Analysis
An obvious parallel that could help us understand some of these figures is to go back and look at some of the other sculptures that we’ve studied. From Mesopotamia we have votive figures. From Egypt we have stand-in’s for the spirit of the deceased and sometimes just sculptures that represent living people. If we go back to the Neolithic era there is of course the famous Venus figurine. However, the Venus of Willendorf is the one we know the least about. From prehistoric Asia Minor we also have the seated goddess who had the cats on her throne. We can guess or extend what we know about these items to help us a little bit with the theory of what the sculptures probably mean.

In many many cultures female figurines were found that represent motherhood and also fertility. It’s probably the best guess and the most general for what we have found in the Cycladic Islands. This might account for why it was found in both grave sites as well as homes. However, this doesn’t account for a thin figure like these are. A theory might be that most people who lived in that environment were small and thin and those that were were most comfortable. This will make sense also in the evidence found from Knossos. Many depictions of the human figure share a similar body type where the shoulders are fairly broad and the torso is an upside down triangle and the bodies are fairly thin. They even share at Knossos the exaggeration of the shape of the eyes that we also see in Egypt as well as Mesopotamia. Remember that the Venus of Willendorf has three dots for eyes.  The polychromy of some of the faces could be interpreted as just an attempt to exaggerate or define the facial structure, in a similar way that they exaggerate the eyes with make up in Egypt and also in how the eyes look from Mesopotamia.

Contextual Analysis
Our interpretations of these sculptures and the fascination with them are interesting to me. In the 1950s there was an art movement with some artists who decided to make figures very abstract. Many of the modern artists from the early 1900s such as Picasso, also looked to what they called prehistoric or primitive works of art. Picasso especially was fascinated with the arts of Africa, however, another artist named Henry Moore was very interested in creating semi-abstract interpretations of the female form. Critics naturally conflated the two works together and this is probably why these artifacts are part of the art historical Canon. A Canon is a standard or set of rules. For example there is a Canon of great literature. This can include Shakespeare and Hemingway. Get it?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Art History: Egypt 3 The Kings of the New Kingdom Akhenaton and Tut

If you look at the timeline above you’ll see that there are a lot of dynasties and time periods that we haven’t looked at. The history the of these time periods is really interesting however the art doesn’t change very much during this time. A parallel to this are some of the dynasties in Chinese art history. The main idea is that we’ve established the archaic period and the old kingdom periods are the most significant for art history and they establish the schemas for the designs and the ideas that we are studying in this class.

To review some of the main ideas that we looked at in terms of formal elements are, muscular bodies for aristocracy, composite view of the body, the artwork in general is lifelike however it becomes more idealized when portraying the aristocracy. Other smaller elements are that they share a blocky pose with one step forward, and there is iconography having to do with kingship such as beards, crowns, and the kilt.

The next era we are going to discover was during the reign of the King Akhenaton. Akhenaton’s kingdom represents an important contextual and historical event in the Egyptian timeline. His accomplishments are really not accomplishments in favor of economics for the country nor did they help the economy of Egypt in any significant way. In fact Akhenaton was a terrible politician and really did nothing to help his people. What he did do was rewrite or redesign a large part or large elements of the previously existing religion. He basically rewrote who the most important God was, in this case he made of the sun God Aton, the most important God in the pantheon of gods. He didn’t completely eradicate the previous religion and the gods he sort of promoted some of them over the others.

The big picture concerning Akhenaton’s reign that most historians seem to agree on is that he installed himself in a city called Armana down the Nile and began to worship the sun exclusively. His new religion was literally based in the warmth of the sun and had a sort of hedonistic live life now theme to it. You’ll see that the art kind of expresses this. It seems also that he disbanded many of the temples and unfunded some of the temples that had to do with mummification and prescribed worship of the afterlife. This could make an interesting topic for paper. Was that a bigger time for tomb robbing than any other time?

The changes in the art that come out of Akhenaton’s reign are really significant and last only during his reign and it seems to revert back to the previous style by the time of his grandson King Tut which was less than 75 years later.

Formal Analysis

In this full-scale representation of Akhenaton can see the elements that make his style of Egyptian art so different from any other periods. To start with, the body isn’t idealized in the same way that other Kings have their bodys idealized. For example the anatomy of the earlier King shows that he is thin wasted with broad shoulders muscular arms and asymmetrical well proportioned featured face.

The representation of Akhenaton shows that his stomach is slightly distended, it rolls out over his kilt, his hips are wider than most men’s, and his face is almost a caricature that seems to exaggerate the length of the neck, the chin, and the nose.

These two sculptures then are really very different and emphasize different elements and features. Comparing these in terms of iconography will help you understand that each King has chosen to hire artist that will represent him in the way that he wants to be portrayed.

Iconographic Analysis

Starting with some of the things that these portrait share, they both have headdresses, in one case it is the khat headdress, the others looks a little bit like one of the earlier crowns we looked at the crown of upper Egypt. They both have beards and even the pose has a similar blocky or squared off quality.  However, even though you can tell that they probably use the method of drawing on the front and the sides of a block of stone to start the sculpture of Akhenaton, the sculpture of Akhenaton has some curves to it.

The sculpture of Akhenaton scribes overall anatomy as being curvy, which I assume in our culture and their culture was a feminine attribute, (are they portraying Akhenaton as being feminine?).

Various sources have theories to justify or explain the look of Akhenaton’s style of sculpture. One theory is that it is more naturalistic and/or lifelike and since the religion changed and it was more based on living rather than the afterlife the work is more lifelike. This theory only applies if you think that Akhenaton’s looks more realistic. To me, it looks like a caricature.

Another theory to account for the caricature like nature of most of the art made during Akhenaton’s era, is that they are attempting to show the character and or characteristics that are part of the family resemblance that Akhenaton and his family share. There are people who kind of look somewhat like this in today’s world. And there is even a genetic anomaly called Marfan’s Syndrome, which causes mutations or exaggerations in the length of the torso and elongates the features of the face.
A list of symptoms that explain how it looks:
Bones and joints (skeletal system)
•    Long arms and legs
•    Tall and thin body type
•    Long, thin fingers
•    Curvature of the spine (scoliosis or kyphosis)
•    Chest sinks or sticks out
•    Flexible joints
•    Flat feet
•    High-arched palate
•    Teeth that are too crowded

National Geographic magazine the boy King’s skeleton to create a computer model and then some forensic scientists reconstructed a model of King Tut. According to scientists this is what King Tut looked like.

More research was done with genetics and Akhenaton and King Tut both have physical remains in the form of mummies so they ran genetic tests. National Geographic magazine ran some articles on this and basically pronounced that Akhenaton did NOT have a genetic disorder and furthermore Akhenaton was related to King Tut (Granpappy). 

In addition to proving that King Tut had not been murdered the National Geographic article used computer modeling to describe some of the characteristics of the King’s family. They even created a 3-D model of what Tut looked like.  The conclusion is that sculptures made by the Egyptians of Akhenaton and King Tut do look quite a bit like them.  I suppose it’s up to you to decide whether or not you think it’s a caricature or more realistic depiction.

Perhaps Akhenaton was influenced by an artist at his court who had a particular style that Akhenaton really liked? One possible theory is that the artist named Thutmos who made this sculpture of Nefertiti might have been the source of this new style for training the King’s family.

Contextual Analysis
German archaeologists early in the 19th century discovered a sculpture studio in Egypt and were able to identify it as the artists house known as Thutmose.

This portrait of Queen Nefertiti was found at Thutmose’s home and studio in the site of the ancient city called Armana.  The site founded there is not very well preserved. At times it is below the waterline. Often the Nile River flows over its banks and covers the site. The buildings that were constructed there don’t exist anymore because they were made from less permanent materials then some of the palaces and temples were. Partly this is because King Akhenaton the head of his Empire to this city that he had built just for him. This is also the reason why you will see some relief sculptures and statuettes of King Akhenaton’s co ruler named Smenkhare. 

This statuette along with several others is thought to represent Queen Nefertiti based on these two contextual facts. Archaeologists found a rubbish pit inside the house that contained this sculpture (an others) and in the trash left over there they found a bit of ivory that it been used as a horse blinder and it had been inscribed with the name of Thutmose the sculptor. Since they found the sculpture, which by the way is unfinished, they put these facts together and now most people believe that it’s a model for other works of art by the artist Thutmose.
Formal Analysis

The bust is made of limestone which is covered with modelled gypsum. The eye is inlayed with crystal and the pupil attached with black colored wax. The second eye was never finished.

The anatomy of the face and head is fairly naturalistic. The only feature that seems to be exaggerated or caricatured in this instance is the overall longneck. If you look at the face of Nefertiti some people have interpreted that it is very naturalistic and that cheeks are sunken and her chin is slightly weakened.  (I found this comment on the museum for Egyptian art in Berlin website.) However, to me she looks rather idealized almost in the same way that we airbrushed out some wrinkles and fat folds in our own magazines with beautiful women in them today.

Iconographic Analysis
Nefertiti is wearing some sort of flattopped crown that has on the front of it a snake symbol which represents a rearing cobra. This snake symbol is often referred to as the “uraeus.”  If you research the various helmets and headdresses that the Egyptian rulers wore you’ll see that there are many references to cobras and snakes. In some instances this is a reference back to one of the primeval gods.
According to the text provided by the museum’s website were Nefertiti is housed, scholars have found specific meaning behind her headdress, “the special crown, tall, flat-topped decorated with a ribbon and the remains of a Uraeus at the front identify the statue as Nefertiti.”

Here’s a sunken relief carving of King Akhenaton and his family juxtaposed against King Narmer’s palette.

Formal Analysis

The depiction of Akhenaton and his family is made in a different style of relief sculpture then King Narmer’s palette. The figures in Akhenaton’s sculpture are sunken into the background. This style of sort of carving into the base is called sunken relief.

The anatomy of Akhenaton and his family is significantly different from King Narmer’s anatomy. Akhenaton’s figures don’t adhere to the schema of Narmer’s palette. King Narmer’s figure is squared off and the shoulders and arms depict hard-edged right angles as well as muscular arms. Where is Akhenaton mistaken for a female in terms of the Egyptian conventions of how women were portrayed earlier. Akhenaton and his wife both have swelling hips and curves and thin almost stick like arms. The anatomy of the heads and the children they are holding looks almost like the disease we discussed earlier however according to context these heads are not depicting distorted skulls. So the heads are stylized in a different way in Akhenaton’s sculpture than they are in Narmer’s.

Iconographic Analysis
The subject matter is very different between these two plaques. Akhenaton and his wife are depicted seated on to low chairs holding their children and Akhenaton is actually kissing one of his children, whereas Narmer’s scene clearly shows him as a warrior. We’ve seen a juxtaposition of war and peace in the Standard of UR. In this instance we see war and peace across the centuries.

Akhenaton’s scene is a type of scene referred to as a genre scene. A genre scene according to art historians is a scene of everyday life and often will show people in a more relaxed humanistic manner. That leaves us with the idea of why would Akhenaton change the subject matter of his art? This is one of those iconographic questions that historians have been arguing over to explain the changes in the style of art during Akhenaton’s reign as king.

The starburst which is actually a depiction of the sun and its rays that’s between Akhenaton and his wife is actually depiction of the sun God Aton and according to some contextual analysis about the history of Akhenaton it makes some sort of sense.

Contextual Analysis

The plaque depicting King Akhenaton and his family can be explained by the fact that he switched his religion to worshiping the sun. Court life at the city he created Armarna, has been described as being held mainly outside in the glaring sun. Further documentation occurs from a Mesopotamian source in which some diplomats came down to visit Akhenaton in an effort to broker a diplomatic marriage. The Mesopotamians commented on how uncomfortable the meeting was because it was held in the full glare of the noontime sun in a courtyard.

Contextual Analysis: King Tut
Akhenaton had a grandson in this grandson, King Tut, did nothing significant in particular during his reign. In fact documents that historians of found may indicate that he was just a figurehead and that other than him running the government.

The thing that makes his tomb so significant is basically the fact that it was left largely intact. His burial seems to of been a hasty process in a borrowed tomb that was so insignificant in some ways and located slightly below the sand line that it wasn’t discovered until the 1920s. The characters who discovered it are almost like characters out of an Agatha Christie novel. In fact, when we studied Mesopotamia Agatha Christie was one of the visitors to Lord Wooley’s excavation. It starts with the car accident.

Lord Carnarvan from England was one of the first people to ever own a car and of course he was speeding and he also is the first person on record to have a car accident. His doctors suggested that he moved to a warm dry climate for his injuries and to recover. A young son of an artist Howard Carter who was not wealthy but connected somewhat with society was suggested as his companion. It turns out that Carter had an incredible talent for archaeology but was also very lucky as well. At the end of his career he had already excavated the major find of the century and was the director of the Egyptian Museum.

Carter discovered almost by accident the tomb which is made up of several rooms.  Looked in through an opening he had made and was asked “What do you see?” He replied, “Wonderful things.”

The tomb had been robbed once before but not much had been taken and was abandoned for some reason in the middle of the robbery. The tomb is important because it gives us a record of the most important artifacts associated with the Egyptian cult of the dead. Other items and objects from other tombs were often found out of context or collected but this was a large complete collection which gave us the context we needed to really understand the burial of Kings and possibly a little bit more about some of the Egyptian culture from around 1350 BCE.

Perhaps the most important item in the tomb was the sarcophagus and mummy that was found intact. Egyptians believed that in order to travel to the afterlife the physical remains of the deceased needed to be preserved. The process is basically similar to the process in which someone would make beef jerky. Basically salts and oils are used to dry and impregnate the skin so that it becomes almost like tanned leather. The process is laid out here.

Formal Analysis: Tutankhamen’s Gold mask and gold sarcophagus

The mask as well as the sarcophagus made of gold, there was also a stone sarcophagus surrounding all of it, all have fairly realistic looking features that resemble a handsome Egyptian male. The reconstruction on the right does look a little bit like it you decide whether or not it’s an accurate likeness. The anatomy seems correct however the eyes might be a tad overlarge as we saw in Mesopotamia. All are life-size and inlaid with turquoise and other precious stones on a gold surface.
Iconographic Analysis

Clearly the precious materials used to construct these are part of the iconography because it’s a conspicuous consumption and use of prestige and wealth items and substances.

The iconography goes beyond that in that we see many of the same icons from earlier works of art used in this. Kings carried scepters that were called the crook and flail. Various interpretations of the crook and flail provide the idea that they refer to the Kings role as a good shepherd of the people. You will also see this applied to Jesus in terms of iconography. The curved staff looks like a shepherds crook. The flail is a small whiplike device with the stick and several beaded strands coming off of it. Basically it’s a kind of whip however it could also be an extension of using some sort of fan or device the flies off. Most historians feel that it may be a reference to discipline and strength. So the crook and flail depict the dual role of the King as being a shepherd and also a source of discipline.

Several references to cobras and snakes are part of the system of iconography that is associated with Kings in the sculpture. We see the same rearing snake’s head or “uraeus” coming out of the cobra like headdress called a khat. The King is also wearing a beard and his eyes are adorned with the makeup that was associated with the aristocracy. The exterior of the sarcophagus is also a representation of the linen wraps used for mummification.

Other items found in the tomb and associated with burial rituals are these “canopic” jars. In this instance these jars which were used to preserve the internal organs after they had been removed from the body all look like King Tut.

These bracelets are also iconographic of rebirth and regeneration since the beetle is a symbol of the sun moving across the universe and also seems to give birth to itself again. This might be associated the practice of the beetle rolling balls of mud or feces and planting larva in the ball.  The round ball representing perhaps a planet the sun and the fact that the insects emerge from it seems to have symbolic residence for the Egyptians. You will see many references to scarab beatles throughout Egyptian art.

The Ankh Shaped Mirror Box
This is a small wooden box that is lined with silver and the exterior has gold sheets that have been pressed and inlaid with precious stones.

The tomb Carter found was not completely intact. Some items seem to been removed and moved about. One item that was discovered within a large chest was this box. When Howard Carter discovered this box in the tomb thieves had already removed what they think was probably a mirror inside of it. Carter believed that there was a mirror originally inside made of precious metal. Part of his supposition is that the shape of the box is equated with the word for mirror.

The symbol of the Ankh means life. So it makes sense that it would be placed in a tomb. Also, there is a sort of link between the words in Egyptian mirror with the word for life. It’s a type of pun.  The name of the King and several symbols including snake symbols we’ve discussed before were found decorating the exterior of the box.

This stool found within the tomb is a kind of picture within the picture for us because of the gold relief found on the side of a box nearby. The Tut is seated on a stool just like it in this beaten metal plaque that was on the side of a box. The juxtaposition of these two items allows us to see several things in terms of Egyptian iconography that also seem to transcend or be used in many other cultures.

The leopard stool has paint and carving on it that is supposed to symbolize the spots of the leopard. It also has a little tail hanging off the back and the legs are carved a little bit to look like leopard’s paws. We see the same stool in the relief on the right. In many cultures including those of North Africa which is close by the symbol of a leopard is used to indicate kingship. We also see similar leopard symbols as far back as the culture at Cattle Huyuk.

Polychromed wooden chest from King Tut’s Tomb
Formal Analysis
We will be focusing on the main picture on the side of this chest. The same scene is depicted on several sides of this chest and framed by a series of geometric and floral designs around the borders.

In the center of the scene are a series of hieroglyphs. In the center of the composition is a representation of a large figure of a man wearing a helmet pulling back a bow and writing a chariot. To the right of this are a series of smaller dark skinned people who are in various poses that represent death and they are being run over by the chariot.  In some ways, this is very similar to the iconography found on the standard found at Mesopotamia.

Behind the representation of the charioteer on one side shows a series of servants caring some fans or standards and on the other side shows a series of other charioteers following the large charioteer in the center.

Iconographic and Contextual Analysis

This scene represents King tut in hieratic scale in battle, something which he would’ve never done. In my studies I’ve also come across several ideas concerning race and skin color in terms of the Egyptian culture. Also, there are several instances in which Egyptians of had to fight off darker skinned people from various regions and this is part of their history and their mythology.

In essence, King tut is being represented as a leader of the military he is actually even wearing a military helmet. He is showing that he can shoot a bow and arrow as well as write a chariot into battle. Very early in Egyptian civilization there was a festival in which the King would have to prove that he was still fit to rule. He would wrestle with young men shoot arrows and show his physical prowess in a number of ways. It appears, that before 3000 BCE the time of King Narmer, this practice if the King couldn’t pass would result in the King being killed. Later on the ceremony degenerated into basically just an act in which he was still putting power.

This decoration on this chest may be the end result of a long series of traditional images that are designed to show that the King was a good ruler and physically able to be a ruler and therefore he should be allowed into the court of Osiris which is a type of Egyptian heaven.

Art History: Egypt Part 2 The Pyramids

Contextual Analysis: Pyramids and Architecture
The evolution of the building of pyramids is a significant discussion in terms of Egyptian art. They are the most obvious artifacts and the most visible. In this next section were going to focus on how the pyramid shape evolved and how it was used by the Egyptians to support their political and religious life.

The most important thing as the basis for us to understand Egyptian architecture is that we only really have architecture from cemeteries. Most of the architecture that survives is either temple architecture or tomb architecture. Many of the private houses and dwellings were made out of either mud brick or reeds and other
types of mud brick.

The architectural forms that were can be looking at are actually less symbolic and iconographic of specific symbols than they are just natural forms that evolved out of the materials with which they were made. There’s a lot of discussion about the magic of pyramids and how they were built. I know some of you must’ve watched ancient aliens all of that stuff is nonsense. The shape of her tomb or a pyramid does not have magical power they’ve tested it and found out that there are no energies or anything like that extra inside. In fact, probably even people from ancient Egypt would’ve thought that was ridiculous.

The other misunderstanding all of us have about pyramids is that the insides were decorated with wall paintings. A lot of tombs do have wall paintings in them like King Tut’s tomb but the pyramids do not. Some of them did have booby-traps but they didn’t work at all to keep out the tomb robbers. All of the tombs have curses on them but every single tomb has curses on them you try to rob them. Apparently they don’t work very well.

The main ideas behind studying Egyptian architecture are that the ones that we are studying are based in religious uses and mainly in service of the dead. Egyptian tombs and pyramids began as short bench like structures that are called the mastabas, which is Arabic for bench.

These tombs were used to contain effigies of the dead person and usually had a small temple associated with it in which people can leave offerings for the dead. The main reason for making a small temple or tomb like this with stone shafts is because Egypt is almost all sand. Therefore anybody that was buried in the sand would be easily unearthed and the animals would get at it. In fact Egypt had a lot of jackals and jackals frequented cemeteries and therefore jackals are associated with the God of the dead Anubis. So the first tombs were basically stone boxes that were meant to preserve the body of the dead person.

We don’t have any mummies from when the pyramids were built.  In fact, the pyramids NEVER actually have the real bodies of the royal deceased; they were buried in another secret place. There are very few inscriptions on a lot of the pyramids and so we also have a hard time really identifying especially the smaller tombs since they were already looted with anything with the inhabitants name on it. The notable exception to this is King Tut.

The first pyramid were going to look at is the pyramid of King Zoser, you’ll find this spelled in a variety of ways.

Context and Form
The pyramid is really just a step pyramid and will return to that in a minute. Was probably as important as the pyramid are the series of buildings surrounding it. The Egyptians started putting their tombs on the west side of the Nile and they would actually call dead people people from the West. This is probably because that’s where the sun sets. The tombs and the first step pyramids were constructed in grave sites were graveyards already. Since these tombs were to be the houses of people who would go on living in a supernatural sense, they needed to be complete in some ways with everything that the spirit would need to feel as if it was alive. So the Egyptians decided to create a sort of city of the dead in which all of the buildings are fake or simulations of buildings. The buildings that you see in front of the pyramid are filled in non-usable solid structures that represent the kinds of temples and buildings that one would need in order to continue to rule in the afterlife. There’s even a court where the King is supposed to prove his worthiness and receive competitors to the throne. It’s called a Heb Set Court.

The pyramid that was constructed on top of where the King’s tomb shaft would be began first as a small flat bench like building. After a while, the Kings architect Amenhotep decided to expand the structure and make it more magnificent. This diagram above describes the expansion of the tomb. The main idea here is that it’s basically just a big monument that was created with the wealth of the King as a capstone grave shaft. There’s another King who comes along and decides that once his grave to be above ground inside the pyramid itself and that’s where we get the next evolution of three pyramids that were designed or at least funded by King named Snefru.

 Rather than discuss each pyramid separately, I want you to think of them as a continuum. Some of the evidence that all three of these pyramids are attributed to King Snefru is open to debate however major Egyptologists agree that he probably is responsible for these three pyramids. Perhaps the most significant thing about these pyramids are that they attempt to put the tomb within the body of the structure of the pyramid and there have been attempts to make them 45° pyramids so that they are exact triangles. This is probably been attained by filling in sections of the pyramid we can see that this was achieved but in exactly in the first instance of this pyramid.

Part of the design of the so-called red pyramid which is the first pyramid Snefru start to build is that there is a chamber in the interior. The chamber is basically what we call a corbels archway. It’s a kind of upside down stairway design in which the weight of the bricks is stacked on top of one another so that they come together in a type of the shape at the apex the ceiling.
The red pyramid seems to be the only success of the bunch. The reason why this is important to Egyptian engineering is that they were able to figure out how to create a series of chambers with in the interior of the pyramid that relieve the stress enough on internal central chamber to make a tomb. In essence it is the prototype of all
the other great pyramids that we know about.  

 The so-called bent pyramid by Snefru has many of the same features as the first failure. Inside the structure are a series of timbers that are attempting to brace the interior chambers that are in the center or heart of the pyramid. Apparently, when this pyramid was built it started to cave in and they actually put in beams to hold the walls apart. Later on as the building began to fail, the architects changed the angle of the pyramid to finish it up with less material and more quickly. It’s thought that these are the reasons why this pyramid was abandoned.

The red pyramid is probably the most successful of them, although we don’t know if it was ever used, mainly because it was the only pyramid that was built at a 45° angle and it also had chambers in the interior that were actually effective and what the right way. The red pyramid is probably the prototype for the next set of pyramids that were going to look at.

The three pyramids that are the most famous and sit on the very edge of the city of Cairo are probably the least technologically advanced monuments will be studying this semester. It doesn’t take great technology to build the pyramids, they didn’t probably use great machines, although they did have and cranes, the building itself is not a technological marvel.

The three pyramids sit in the middle of a large cemetery that is filled with hundreds of tombs of other minor officials. All three were built just around the same time. Within about 200 years or so. The thing that made these pyramids possible to build were the innovations of King Snefru. All of them incorporate relieving chambers and try to install the tomb with in the center of the pyramids.

The greatest pyramid as well as all the others had long ago been looted by treasure hunters. By the time Napoleon came upon the pyramids a hole had been busted in the side of the largest pyramid that is now called the great gallery. They found no painting inside the tomb except for graffiti. Archaeologists have found no loot or treasure inside the tomb. There almost completely without ornament. In fact, the limestone sheets that are almost like icing on the top of the pyramids is all that’s left of the original casing that they had on them to make them look smooth.

There is some interesting data about the relieving chambers of the great pyramid. There are several relieving chambers above the main one and apparently there’s some evidence of cracking when they were building the pyramid and concern that the interior chamber would fail. However it did not and they continued on and completed the pyramid. The main burial chamber was constructed around the sarcophagus. Apparently the tomb itself never actually contained anyone’s body.

Although the great pyramid covers almost 2 to 4 football fields worth of real estate the leveling of the base of the great pyramid was no technological marvel. The architects dug down to the bedrock underneath the sand and then through good old hard work created level channels in which they would measure whether or not the water would run out to see if the base was level. The real marvel is how the materials got there and what kinds of machines were used to lift the blocks into space. There are quite a few television shows and books about the building of the great pyramid. The best of the lot is by Bob Brier was a professor at Long Island University.

The best guesses about how the pyramids were built at first were based on the wrong information. The Bible describes that the Jews built the pyramids and that they were slaves. All of the contemporary data that we have, including some recent archaeological finds at the bases of the pyramids, indicate that an elite group of builders were employed and well fed and able to build the pyramid in a much shorter time than had been previously thought. In fact it might have been a patriotic duty to go work on the teams that built the pyramids in that several hundred year span.

The data that supports this supposition is that they found the graves of the workers and all of them were very well fed and have received excellent medical treatment. Archeologists found the remains of large dining halls in which the remains of high protein foods, such as fish bones and other kinds of animal bones, were found scattered on the floors. They also found the remains of bodies in which the workers bones showed good medical care and excellent nourishment.

Some of the most fun ideas about how the pyramids might’ve been built are that they designed a series of concentric spiraling ramps. However, some of the designs of these ramps are two wasteful and would’ve used too much material and art the possibility. One theory, promoted by Bob Brier, suggests that there were set of internal ramps that sort of shaved the corners off the pyramid as they built it up. It’s a fascinating subject and worth watching either the videos or reading up on it. Here are some diagrams that describe some of the theories.