Unit 1: Ancient Africa - The Cradle of Civilization
(200,000 B.C. - 476 B.C.)

Unit 1: Class 8: Ancient Kemet (Egypt): The Old Kingdom & First Intermediate Period (3150 B.C. – 2055 B.C.)

Ancient Egypt: Old Kingdom (2700 - 2200 B.C.) and First Intermediate Period (2181 - 2055 B.C.) 

People To Know
Pharaoh Snerefu (2613-2589 B.C.E.) was founder of the 4th Dynasty and the most prolific pyramid builder of the Old Kingdom. He is responsible for the the Pyramid at Meidum, the Bent Pyramid, and the Red Pyramid.
Egyptologists believe that he may have ordered more stone and brick erected than any other pharaoh. A much-loved ruler, Sneferu increased the power of the ruling family line by giving official titles and positions to relatives. He conducted military excursions into Sinai, Nubia, Libya, and began trade arrangements with Lebanon for the acquisition of cedar. Keeping a tight rein on lands and estates enabled Sneferu to maintain control over the always ambitious and restive Egyptian nobility.

The earliest-known records of Egyptian contact with her neighbors are found on a large inscribed stone tablet known as the Royal Annals. Fragments of this precious document, which contains records of Egyptian kings from the First Dynasty through the Fifth Dynasty and is among the earliest of all Egyptian texts, are now at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, at the Petrie Museum in London and the Salinas Regional Archaeological Museum in Palermo, Sicily. 

Sneferu's son and successor Pharaoh Khufu (known to the Greeks as Cheops) came to the throne in his twenties and ruled for approximately 23 years (2589 to 2566 BC) and together with his son Khafra (known to the Greeks as Chephren), and his grandson Menkaure (known to the Greeks as Mycerinus), achieved lasting fame in the construction of the Great Pyramid Complex and Great Sphinx at Giza — the oldest and largest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Great Pyramids consist of the Great Pyramid of Giza (known as the Great Pyramid and the Pyramid of Cheops or Khufu), which at the time of its completion was the tallest man-made structure in the world, the somewhat smaller Pyramid of Khafre (or Chephren) a few hundred meters to the south-west, and the even smaller Pyramid of Menkaure (or Mykerinos) a few hundred meters further south-west. The Great Sphinx lies on the east side of the complex, facing east. Current consensus among Egyptologists is that the head of the Great Sphinx is a portrait of Pharaoh Khafre. Along with these major monuments are a number of smaller satellite edifices, known as "queens" pyramids, causeways, valley pyramids and other royal monuments that appear to be the tombs of high officials and much later burials and monuments (from the New Kingdom onwards). Builders today cannot help but be impressed with the massive size and remarkable precision of these structures. The base of the Great Pyramid forms a nearly perfect square, with only a 19-centimeter (7.5-inch) difference between its longest and shortest sides, out of a total length of about 230 meters (756 feet). And this huge square is also almost exactly level, a seemingly impossible achievement when building on such a huge scale. When completed, the Great Pyramid rose 146.7 meters (481.4 feet)—or nearly 50 stories high. Since each pyramid’s core probably contains a hill of stones and rubble, it is not possible to determine the exact number of blocks used to build the structure. Researchers estimate that 2.3 million blocks were used to build the Great Pyramid alone with an average weight of about 2.5 metric tons per block, and the largest block weighing as much as 15 metric tons.

Assembling and organizing the workforce needed to create these pyramids required a centralized government with extensive powers, a high level of sophistication and long periods of prosperity to accomplish such projects. Recent excavations by the American archaeologist Dr. Mark Lehner have uncovered a large city which seems to have been built to house, feed, and supply the workers who built the pyramids. Although it was long believed that slaves built these monuments — a story that dates back to the Exodus saga in the Bible — recent analysis of the tombs of the workers who oversaw construction on the pyramids, has shown that they were in fact built by members of the peasant class drawn from across Egypt, who worked at Giza and elsewhere in service of the Pharaoh during idle periods, such as during the annual Nile flood, which covered their fields. The immense numbers of specialists needed to build the pyramids (stone cutters, painters, mathematicians, priests, and others) could hardly have been slaves. They were often highly skilled and disciplined workers. Some records from the Fourth Dynasty indicate that each household, regardless of wealth or status, was responsible for providing one worker for such civic projects, and the wealthy could hire skilled artisans to take their places. Such civic duties included not only building projects, but also duties for the temples, libraries, and festivals. Both men and women filled these positions.

Sneferu's Pyramids
Pyramid at Meidum
The Bent Pyramid
The Red Pyramid



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