When one thinks of Egypt today, it is hard to do so without seeing The Pyramids Of Egypt in the mind's eye. These enormous structures of limestone or mudbrick are our planet's oldest known artificial systems and have been around for longer in the period known as B.C.E. (before the common era) than in C.E. (the common era). Yet, since the dawn of recorded history, they have been an enigma, and this continues to the present day, with more books and papers being written about them than any of the other ancient monuments in Egypt. Throughout the world, library shelves are full of theories about how they were built, why they were built, and why they are located in certain places. The full range of writing is used in pyramid theories, from the well-researched and referenced volumes to others that deserve to be in the science-fiction or children's sections.
So, why were they built? It is generally accepted that they were tombs for the kings who made them, the fact that some of the Egypt pyramids had granite sarcophagi inside them being a significant clue, as well as the lack of actual burial tombs being found for the majority of these kings (though one or two did have tombs built as well). But some will point to the fact that nobody, or the mummy, of a king, was ever discovered in any of these pyramids, which is a perfect point until other facts are brought in, namely, the known fact that the pyramids were broken into in antiquity and any objects within, if any, were stolen and sold. If one goes into the main burial chamber of the Great Pyramid (the Pyramid of Khufu, or Cheops), which is known as the "King's Chamber," why would a massive granite sarcophagus be in there if it was not holding a body (inside a coffin), and who, but the King, would be in a position to build such a glorious edifice? Sometimes it is easier to look at things using common sense rather than looking at ways to disprove the obvious.
There are thousands of books and papers on this subject and many websites. Learned scholars have written theories about it to glorified science-fiction authors, with various architects; archaeologists; engineers; dedicated pyramidologists (yes, they do exist); laypeople; and an assortment of interested parties, all thrown in for good measure. The simple answer is that there is no answer, or at least no answer that everyone agrees on! Straight ramps; spiral ramps; multi ramps; internal ramps; internal spiral ramps; levers; pulley systems; pulleys based on the Djed symbol; counterweighed shuttles; even aliens! Every known and unknown concoction has been theorized, and we are still far from the answer as Herodotus in the 5th century B.C.E., whose 'Histories: Book II' is the first known work that mentions a theory on how they were built.
The stones involved in building the pyramids were not little bricks or lightweight breezeblocks. The bricks in the pyramid vary in size, but the largest can be found in the King's chamber. These stones differed from the regular limestone blocks and were made of granite, weighing 25 to 80 tonnes. Some believe the granite slabs were transported from Aswan, a town nearly 500 miles away.
Whether limestone bricks or granite slabs, the Egyptians required a way to transport the materials over land. The leading theory of how this would have been achieved lies in rolling the stones using a cradle-like machine; this suspended the rocks and allowed them to be moved by a team of workers.
We now know how rocks have possibly been transported across the land and how these structures were held together, but how were they pieced together to create this complex structure without cranes and modern machines?
Multiple theories exist, but two prevalent ones are centered around ramps. We can find the roots of these theories in the earliest remaining writings on Egyptian construction techniques. Some historians believe the workforce built and then dismantled ramps, explaining how they were able to make the pyramid and why we need more evidence of ramps left over. Some historians posit that external ramps around the pyramid allow blocks to be dragged upwards on the kinds of sleds.
If you believe that the ancient Egyptians were simple people, not Einsteins, and would have done things the simple and easiest way. They did not go out of their way to invent something; most of their inventions happened by chance, although they adapted well to their needs. For example, ancient Egyptians did not create the chariot. Still, when it was introduced by the Hyksos at the end of the Second Intermediate Period, they adapted it and became one of the most feared, if not the most feared, chariot armies in the ancient world. We know very little changed during the Pharaonic period because of our modern-day interpretations of hieroglyphs and our better understanding of tomb reliefs. Because of this, many of the theories can be discounted due to the lack of evidence for them being used for other construction work from the time of Djoser (2667 B.C.E.) until the invasion by the Persians (525 B.C.E.) Even when the rest of the world started using iron, the ancient Egyptians continued using brass, so nothing could be called unique in how they did things. So the pyramids had to be built using the simple tools they had, as well as simple methods of transportation, especially for heavy objects. So, how did the ancient Egyptians build the pyramids? In the most straightforward way possible!
Recently this has become a popular question, and more books and papers are starting to fill library shelves, with just as many websites dedicated to the subject as well. Again, there is a simple answer: the pyramids were built where they are because they are all on solid outcrops of limestone (well, not so stable in South Dashur, as the Bent Pyramid shows). But for the most part, they are. This serves two primary purposes:
But yet again, the simple answer is not good enough for some people, and various theories have sprung up "proving" why the pyramids were built in those locations. The one that has been most prominent over the past 20 years or so is that they were made where they were to ape the stars in the sky, or the Orion Correlation Theory, with the 3 Giza Pyramids representing the three major stars in Orion's belt and the other pyramids representing other stars in the constellation. Many people have tried to push this theory forward, but just as many have managed to discredit it:
Every theory has its critic! Yes, it looks good on paper, but there would have to be one massive coincidence for the outcroppings of rock to be in the right place.
Recently a new theory has been put forward, and most of what it says matches the evidence. It is called the "Cult of Re" theory. It has shown that the positioning of the pyramids in the various pyramid fields creates lines which, when elongated, all reach the same point in modern-day Heliopolis in Cairo. Before the Greeks renamed the site the "City of the Sun," it was known as Iunu, and there was a huge sun temple dedicated to the sun god Re built here. Apart from this quirk, another exciting fact is that each of the pyramids that line up with Iunu was made by a pharaoh whose name ended with Re. The only field that does not measure up is the one at Abu Sir; the hill on which Saladin's Citadel sits obscures the line of sight, yet interestingly enough, just a few hundred meters to the northwest of the Abu Sir field lie the remnants of a couple of sun temples. These are in the direct line of sight from Iunu. Sun Temples are not nearly as heavy as pyramids, so could these have been used as some mirror to the cult? Whether this is just another coincidence or not, the facts and figures measure up, so perhaps there was another reason for the pyramids being built on the exact spot they occupy in each field related to Re's worship.
Why they were built, how they were made, and why they were built where they were built will go on giving many people hours of pleasure working out. However, the central fact is that they were created and still stand majestically on the edge of the Western Desert for us all to look at, except for those at Zawyet el-Mayitin (near Minya), which is on the East Bank of the Nile and the pyramid on Elephantine Island that has been accredited to Huni.
Well, estimates range from 93 to 138, and this discrepancy is mainly due to arguments over what constitutes a pyramid. Most main pyramids had "queens" or supplementary pyramids built close to them, but sometimes it is hard to determine whether a pile of rocks is the remains of a pyramid or just a pile of stones.