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Publisher's Summary

Africa may have given rise to the first human beings, and Egypt probably gave rise to the first great civilizations, which continues to fascinate modern societies across the globe nearly 5,000 years later. From the Library and Lighthouse of Alexandria to the Great Pyramid at Giza, the ancient Egyptians produced several wonders of the world, revolutionized architecture and construction, created some of the world’s first systems of mathematics and medicine, and established language and art that spread across the known world. With world-famous leaders like King Tut and Cleopatra, it’s no wonder that today’s world has so many Egyptologists.

The pyramids of Egypt are such recognizable symbols of antiquity that for millennia, people have made assumptions about what they are and why they exist, without full consideration of the various meanings these ancient symbolic structures have had over the centuries. Generations have viewed them as symbols of a lost past, which in turn is often portrayed as a world full of romance and mystery. This verbal meaning has become associated with the structures through the tourism industry, where intrigue obviously boosts ticket sales. In fact, the Egyptian pyramids are so old that they were also drawing tourists even in ancient times. In antiquity, the Great Pyramid of Giza was listed as one of Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, and it is the only one still surviving today. 

The age and structural integrity of the pyramids also make them symbols of longevity and power, which is only fitting because those are two purposes the ancient pharaohs who commissioned these works intended them to serve. For the pharaohs, the construction of these large monuments presented an opportunity for them to showcase their influence and become something to be remembered by, both in the society they ruled and in the annals of history that would follow. Even as new dynasties came and went, and even as Egypt was subjected to foreign domination and rulers from across the world, the pyramids have continued to stand as a prominent testament to ancient Egypt’s glorious past. 

While the Great Pyramid of Giza is the most recognizable, the tradition of pyramid-building was a long one in ancient Egypt, occurring over hundreds of years, with techniques developing and improving, only to be forgotten and lost again. As a result, even as subsequent generations contributed new large-scale construction programs that changed the face of Egypt, they did so in quite different manners. The first of these was the Step Pyramid, located in the northwest of the city of Memphis in the Saqqara necropolis of Egypt. Today, it is known as the Step Pyramid due to its stepped appearance, but in Egyptian times, it was referred to as kbhw-ntrw. 

Commissioned by and made for the burial of the pharaoh Djoser, its design and construction was overseen by his vizier Imhotep. The name Imhotep has since become infused with popular culture through the popular series of Mummy movies, where the mummified remains of Imhotep are reanimated through the power of an ancient curse, leading to the shambling, linen-wrapped, and decomposing undead monster haunting the hapless treasure seekers who dared disturb his resting place. 

In reality, the ancient Imhotep was a talented architect and builder who succeeded in creating something that had never been seen before. It was a design that would often be repeated, even improved upon, and it gave birth to an ancient industry dedicated to the afterlife - one that would leave an indelible mark on Egyptian life as well as death.

©2021 Charles River Editors (P)2021 Charles River Editors

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