Comparing Mexico's Pyramids to Egypt's

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The more than 100 pyramids that punctuate the west bank of the Nile have intrigued mankind for millennia. Numerous articles and books have discussed the pyramids of Egypt and the wondrous tombs, sculpture, jewelry, and artwork they secreted. However, pyramids are found in various locations in the world beyond Egypt—most notably in South America, Mesoamerica, Mesopotamia, India, and Cambodia. Is it possible that the ancient civilizations of Central America and South America, as an example, somehow came to be aware of the pyramids of the ancient Egyptians or did the Mesoamerican pyramids arise spontaneously from the culture of the Inca and subsequently from that of the Maya? The latter is believed to be the case. There is no convincing evidence that the methods of designing, and constructing the pyramids built by the ancient Egyptians thousands of years earlier could have in any way been communicated to the Inca and the Maya. At the time the Egyptians were building their pyramids the Inca and the Maya were still nomadic hunter-gatherers who had not yet advanced to the point of establishing social and legal institutions and had not yet acquired and mastered the considerable skills necessary to erect such structures. Although they are not nearly as celebrated as the Egyptian pyramids and have not received comparable scholarly attention, the extraordinary pyramids, temples, and other structures constructed by the Maya in what is now southern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and parts of El Salvador and Honduras are nonetheless significant from archaeological, historical, architectural, and engineering perspectives. Like the ancient Egyptians, the Maya—whose civilization dates from at least 3000 B.C. and who flourished from the fourth to the ninth century A.D.—produced extraordinary structures, had a superb command of mathematics, developed highly accurate calendars as well as an elaborate system of hieroglyphic writing, and established sophisticated and complex social and political orders. The earliest Mesoamerican pyramids were built between 1000 and 400 B.C.—roughly 700 to 1,000 years after the pyramid-building era of the ancient Egyptians had drawn to a close. Even in their original glory, the largest Maya pyramids were dwarfed by the colossal Egyptian pyramids built at Giza and Saqqara, although some of the Maya pyramids were comparable in size to the smaller pyramids built by the Egyptian pharaohs of the Twelfth Dynasty and the Thirteenth Dynasty (1991-1650 B.C.). The pyramids of the ancient Egyptians and those of the Maya were constructed for entirely different purposes—another indicator that those of the Maya were not inspired by those of the Egyptians. The Egyptian pyramids were burial sites of religious significance. They were constructed to protect the mortal remains of the pharaohs, who were regarded as deities, and were designed to ensure the smooth passage of the pharaohs' spirits to the gods in the heavens. Because the Egyptians believed that the soul required nourishment in the afterlife, the design of a pyramid complex gave the pharaoh's soul access not only to food but also to clothing, a boat, and other possessions he might need. Since the pyramid was the pharaoh's tomb, completing it in advance of his death was of paramount importance. The pyramids also stood as important symbols of the power and prestige of the pharaoh and, by extension, of the power of Egypt. The construction of Khufu's pyramid in particular was an enormous undertaking, one that required a national effort and no doubt brought unity and cohesion to the kingdom. As a large public works project, it also served to return some of the pharaoh's wealth to the economy. The Maya pyramids, on the other hand, were constructed for ceremonial purposes, as evidenced by the placement of a temple at the top of the pyramid structure. Additionally, they were located in the center of town, often occupying a location that commanded a view...
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