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A Guided Tour: Old Kingdom
(the Pyramid age; about 2686-2181 BC)

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The early Old Kingdom is the period when the largest stone pyramids were built; for this reason, sometimes it is called the Pyramid Age (though smaller pyramids were built in later periods). The pyramid of Meydum was the first with smooth sloping sides.

Today we have very little direct information on how a pyramid was built.

Next to the pyramid of the king, there was the cemetery for the court. The tombs of these people are called mastabas.
The tomb chapels of the highest officials are often decorated with daily life scenes; providing the tomb owner for eternity with the goods which are shown being produced and used
The burials of other people are simpler and poorer, lacking the monumental chapels.
The kings of the Third and Fourth Dynasty put all their energy into building pyramids. In the Fifth Dynasty many kings built also a temple to link their cult with that of the sun god Re at Iunu (Heliopolis).
Some scenes in the sun temple of king Niuserre show the sed festival, a kind of jubilee, celebrated after 30 years of rule.
From local temples in the provinces little has survived. This limestone slab was found at Koptos. The original building where it was included had been destroyed in remote antiquity.
We know very little about the individual kings of the Old Kingdom; sources of information include rock inscriptions, inscriptions on seals and vessels.
Of great importance for our knowledge of Old Kingdom history are some fragments of royal annals, recording year by year the events of single reigns.
Khufu (Kheops) was the builder of the Great Pyramid at Gizeh. We know very little about the king and his reign. Few contemporary sources mention him.
We are better informed about the reigns of the kings of the Sixth Dynasty. There are several longer autobiographies of officials serving under these kings and many other written sources.
In the Old Kingdom most of the resources of the country went to the capital and their cemeteries (Meydum, Dahshur, Saqqara, Abusir, Gizeh, Abu Rowash). Tombs and temples in the provinces are smaller and simpler.
At the end of the Old Kingdom the provinces became more important. Local governors built impressive tombs and even smaller tombs became richer.
The so called Meydum ware is the typical pottery ware found in Old Kingdom elite tombs. The surface of this kind of pottery is always highly polished. Shallow bowls are particularly frequent.
The pottery of daily use - more often found at settlement sites - is rather rough.
Tomb equipment in the Old Kingdom is rather simple. A typical grave good is a headrest.
Fine coffins or more rarely sarcophagi (stone coffins) are typical for elite burials.



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