The Egyptian pyramids, erupting out of the sands of Giza, are a testament to human genius and engineering. These huge structures, raised to mark the tombs of early pharaohs, have been standing for a huge number of years.
But the pyramids have changed over the millennia primarily due to the repurposing of materials and looting by construction workers. What would the pyramids seem like?
If the ancient Egyptian pyramids have been originally built, both in Giza and elsewhere, they didn’t appear sandy brown, as they do nowadays. They were rather covered by a layer of dazzling sedimentary rocks.
“All the pyramids were cased with good, white limestone,” Mohamed Megahed, an assistant professor in the Czech Institute of Egyptology at Charles University in Prague, said. The limestone encasing might have provided the pyramids a smooth, brushed layer which gleamed white under the Egyptian sun.
Builders utilized approximately 6.1 million tons (5.5 million metric tons) of limestone throughout the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza alone, according to National Museums Scotland, which exhibits one of the original limestone blocks. The great Pyramid – also known as Khufu’s Pyramid after the pharaoh Khufu, who commissioned it during his reign (circa 2551 B.C. to 2528 B.C.) – will be the largest and oldest of all the standing pyramids in Giza. Its casing stones, nevertheless, were later on used under Egyptian rulers for other building works, as was the case for many pyramidal shells.
There’s evidence that the casing stones began being stripped under Tutankhamun’s reign (circa 1336 B.C. to 1327 B.C.), which continued till the 12th Century A.D., Egyptologist Mark Lehner explained in a PBS NOVA Q&A thread. An earthquake in A.D. 1303 might have loosened a number of the stones, according to BBC News.
Nowadays, the Giza pyramids retain some of their original limestone cladding, although they appear a bit more weathered than in old times. “it is at the top of the Pyramid of Khafre in Giza, you are able to see it,” Megahed said.
The Pyramid of Khafre, named after the pharaoh Khafre (who reigned around 2520 B.C. to 2494 B.C.), features casing stones left around its peak which give the impression that a second peak is wedged on top of the very first. This particular pyramid had additionally white granite casing close to its lower amounts in old Egypt, published the Egyptologist Miroslav Verner in his book “The Pyramids: The History and Archaeology of the Iconic structures of Egypt (The American University in Cairo Press, 2021). The 3rd and smallest of the three major pyramids in Giza, the Pyramid of Menkaure – named after the pharaoh Menkaure, who reigned around 2490 B.C. to 2472 B.C. – also possessed red granite casing around its lower echelons.
There’s nothing these days at the top of the Giza pyramids, but initially, based on Megahed, they had been covered in capstones, also known as pyramidions, in electrum, a mixture of silver and gold. At the tops of the pyramids, the pyramidions might have looked like small jewels.
The majority of the pyramids have been lost over time, but in museums there’re a couple of remaining examples. These artifacts show that pyramidal columns had been carved using religious imagery. For instance, the British Museum has a limestone pyramidion coated in hieroglyphics from Abydos, an archaeological site of Egypt, which depict deceased individuals worshipping the old Egyptian god Osiris and going through mummification from the jackal-head Anubis.
Observing the former splendor of the pyramids, missing features could nowadays look like open wounds. On the Pyramid of Menkaure, the finest example is probably best. “When you experience the Menkaure’s pyramid from the north, you are able to view a great gash, like a huge depression,” Yukinori Kawae, an archaeologist at Nagoya University’s Institute for Advanced Research in Japan, told Live Science.
The gash of the pyramid of Menkaure might be a visible problem might have existed in old times, but the advantage of that harm is the fact that it opens up a window onto the pyramids these days.
“This area is likewise important for archaeologists since we are able to see the inner structures of the pyramids,” said Kawae.