The Difference between the Pyramids of Mesoamerica and the Pyramids of Egypt

There is much speculation as to the similarities between Mesoamerican and Egyptian pyramids. Some speculate that they come from the same cultural source; some of the speculation is truly outlandish.

There are those who speculate that extra-terrestrials visited earth and showed both cultures how to build pyramids. Some people think that the Egyptians visited South America and showed the people there how to build pyramids. Others think that it is all tied up with the myth of Atlantis and that it was the Atlantans who showed both the Egyptians and the ancient South Americans and others how to build pyramids. Some have a racial agenda and seek to “prove” one race superior to others. All these theories insult the ancient peoples of the world and diminish their abilities and accomplishments. They also ignore the fact that there are fundamental differences between Mesoamerican and Egyptian pyramids.

The pyramid is an intuitive shape for humans to build because it is the easiest and most stable shape to build. A kindergarten teacher describes very young children intuitively building a pyramid shape. It is arguable then that ancient peoples also intuitively knew that a pyramid was a good shape to build it is simply a matter of physics and pyramids were simply the best way to build huge buildings at the time.

The greatest difference of all is that of time. Dates in archeology are always notoriously difficult to define clearly but most archeologists and scholars agree that the Egyptian were building pyramids between around 2640 and 1814 BC progressing through Mastabas that is platforms without tops, stepped pyramids, to the pyramids in around 800 years. The last Egyptian pyramids in the fifth dynasty were badly built and mostly ruins today. The Mayans built pyramids from 400 – 1000 AD, the Aztecs built pyramids after the Mayans. Pyramids were also built in other places, around the world such as China in 200BC but these were mainly modified mounds. In North America, people built earth pyramids from 800BC to 1500 BC. The Egyptians had built their last pyramid 1000 years before there were any in North America and nearly 1500 years before the Maya began building them. Egyptian pyramid building skills were lost long before the Mayans began building their pyramids.

 There are also differences between the way the Mesoamericans and Egyptians built and used the pyramids. The Egyptian pyramids were tombs for their kings, the Pharaohs, the Mayan and Aztec pyramids. Egyptians built their pyramids with no discernable entrance Egyptian pyramids have square bases, except for the third dynasty terraced examples. The Egyptians used only quarried and cut stone to build and decorate the pyramids. Egyptian stone quarries could be a hundred miles from the building site. Egyptians built sturdy pyramids because they believed their Pharaohs to be gods, therefore the pharaohs’ earthly remains were sacred and must be protected from the human world forever. Egyptians built their pyramids in three parts the centre, stepped section surrounded by packing blocks encased by very carefully cut casing blocks fitted against the packing stones. The three parts built simultaneously layer by layer. The Egyptian pyramid building method gave their pyramids durability.

Mesoamericans built their pyramids in steps or tiers with a temple at the top, giving them a foreshortened or truncated shape. They filled the centre of these pyramids with by piling large irregularly shaped stones from the local area. A retaining wall of cut stone surrounded the stone pile. Mesoamericans often finished their pyramids by rendering them, sometimes with a red render. These pyramids were intended to last only for the present, the people’s religion meant temples required regular rebuilding and they often built new temples on old ones.

Mesoamerican pyramids were public buildings and although kings were sometimes buried within them, they housed public ceremonies and religious rites. People could climb their staircases easily and were usually in city centres. Egyptian pyramids were private tombs, once Pharaoh’s body was inside they were sealed. The only signs of human habitation were ruined mud brick houses that the pyramid builders used whilst building the pyramids. The Egyptian pyramids were far from cities and their entrances, corridors and burial chambers were deliberately concealed. An Arabian scientist Caliph, Abdullah Al Mamun gathered an army of engineers, architects, builders and stonemasons in 820AD to break into the Cheops pyramid to obtain maps and information that would help him to check calculations on the earth’s circumference as well as the treasures, which he believed the pyramid contained. This team tried all sorts of actions to break into the pyramid eventually they resorted to heating the stone, pouring vinegar on the hot limestone to crack it and then using battering rams on the cracked stone. When they had done so, they found myriad granite plugs blocking their way.

Egyptian pyramids were plain polished stone on the outside. Whereas Mesoamerican pyramids were covered in rich carving. Superficially Mesoamerican and Egyptian pyramids may seem similar but when one really examines the two, their only real similarity is that they are so large. Their construction, building materials, designs, uses, and locations are intrinsically different. The Egyptians had built their last pyramid over a thousand years before the Mayans began to build theirs. The reason that both cultures built pyramids is quite simply that pyramids are the easiest and the most stable way to build large monuments.