Pyramids and ziggurats both provide archeologists with a great deal of information about the ancient cultures that constructed them. When comparing The Great Pyramids of Egypt with The Ziggurats of Mesopotamia and the Mesoamerican Pyramids, the differences between them are more apparent than the similarities that they share. The structures only appear to be similar. Both have the general form of a pyramid. Some other similarities shared by these structures can be interpreted from a religious context of those who had them erected and what role they served for the society.
Among the differences are their usage, how they were decorated, their designs, and the materials used in their construction. The Egyptian pyramids were built as the final resting place for the pharaoh. It was also where the Pharaohs possessions were kept for him to enjoy in the afterlife. What has been found inside of these tremendous pyramids are precise layouts. For example, page 51 in our first book shows a diagram of the pyramid and inside each of them is a narrow shaft that extends from the deepest chamber to the outside. Coincidentally it is aligned with the North Star.
The Great Pyramids are quite interesting. The stones are so tight that you cannot even put a knife in between the stones. It makes you think how could this be possible? It makes you think how did these pyramids get built? Some might say that they were moved on wooden sleds, but it is quite hard to imagine how they constructed something on this scale. While it is true that the forced labor of war prisoners was a common practice at the time, most people agree that the humongous labor force used in building the pyramids consisted of workers from throughout Egypt as it states in our book.
Another interesting fact is that they are also perfectly square and they are aligned almost precisely with a compass. So really the main purposes of these pyramids were to have a resting place for their Pharaohs as they entered the afterlife. The pyramids of Mesoamerica also had their dead buried inside just as the Maya had done as mentioned in Book III on page 105. Unlike the Ancient Egyptian pyramids, these pyramids are better known for serving as altars or bearers of sacrificial offerings. Like the ancient
Egyptians, the early civilizations of Mesoamerica were involved in agriculture and their lives depended on how successful the harvest is. Because of this, both the Mayans and the Aztecs preformed human sacrifice as part of agricultural renewal. The temples had a long stair-stepped design that shows their purpose. The stepped design isn’t the only difference from the pyramids of ancient Egypt, but it was also the function they served in the society. These were temples to gods, and each one had a staircase topped with a temple.
The Mesoamerican pyramids were the heart and center of the city and community. Its main focus was to serve as religious ceremonies and civic ceremonies unlike the Egyptians which had their pyramids away from the villages. The Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan was designed to represent certain astronomical events providing a link between the culture and the universe. If you look at the Pyramid of the Sun compared to the pyramids in Egypt, it is exactly the same size in terms of base as the great pyramid, but its height is roughly half the size of the great pyramids.
It is actually more similar to the Mesopotamian Ziggurats than the Ancient Egyptians Pyramids. Ziggurats are a lot like the Mesoamerican pyramids, with their stair-stepped shape and temple tops. But ziggurats were not places of worship to the Sumerians, Assyrians, and Babylonians that built them, they were the gods’ actual homes. In fact, only the priests could enter. And while South American pyramids have long staircases, ziggurats have ramps and steps. Many ziggurats also had seven tiers, representing the seven known planets or the seven heavens.
For the most part, the ziggurats that still exist can be found mainly in Iran and Iraq. Ziggurats and pyramids do greatly differ with function and purpose. As I had stated, Pyramids were thought to be the final resting places of the pharaohs. Ziggurats, however, were built to house the gods. Because of this, only special priests were allowed to go inside the ziggurats. Ziggurats also function as a retreat spot for the priest in case of a flood at the ground level. It also is a complete temple with dwelling places, storages, and courtyards.
Zigguratss have steps and ramps with its sides receding. They pyramids have a long stretch of staircases as the Mesoamerican pyramids demonstrated and smoother sides, as the Ancient Egyptian Pyramids showed. The Ziggurats do lack internal chambers unlike the Egyptian Pyramids. The Ziggurats have seven layers that represent the seven planets of heaven. Studying these ancient structures gives us a chance to take a look at the past. It is amazing how these feats of engineering survived this long.
Because of this, we are able to look at the civilizations that built them and how they incorporated these structures into their society. For Ancient Egyptians, it was for the deceased pharaohs as they made their journey to the afterlife. For the Mesoamericans, it was for religious purposes and agricultural renewal. And last for the Mesopotamians, it served as a house where the gods lived. These structures were a representation of the whole universe to these people. It is hard to compare with anything that we have now.