Pyramids Building

A research by Dhani Irwanto

A pyramid is a structure whose outer surfaces are triangular and converge to a single point at the top, making the shape roughly a pyramid in the geometric sense. A step pyramid is an architectural structure that uses flat platforms, or steps, receding from the ground up, to achieve a completed shape similar to a geometric pyramid. Step pyramids are structures which characterized several cultures throughout history, in several locations throughout the world. These pyramids are typically large and made of several layers of stone.

As well as menhirs, stone tables, and stone statues, Austronesian megalithic culture in the archipelago also featured earth-and-stone step pyramid structure, referred to as punden berundak, regarded as one of the characteristics of the original culture of the archipelago. These structures have been found and spread throughout the archipelago as far as Polynesia. Most of them are found in the island of Java. Gunungpadang is the biggest and the oldest earth-and-stone step pyramid structure dated ca 25,000 years ago or older (Natawidjaja 2013). The Sukuh and Cetho temples in Central Java (dates are debated) show the Austronesian indigenous elements of step pyramid that somewhat resemble the Mesoamerican pyramids. The huge Borobudur temple is the largest Buddhist temple in the world, which allegedly built on the previous earth-and-stone step pyramid. The construction of stone pyramids was based on the native belief that mountains and other high places are the abode of the spirits of the ancestors, or the most ideal pilgrimage places to worship them. They feel the need for pilgrimages, in addition to worship, in a belief that the ancestral spirits can solve their everyday life problems.

Spread of step pyramids in Southeast Asia

The earth-and-stone step pyramids were normally built on natural or manmade mounds, hills or hillsides. As the civilizations were developing, they built larger pyramids so that more stones were required. The majority of the weight are closer to the ground and material higher up on the pyramid will be pushing down from above. The stones could pose problems on the strength of the earth to hold the weight – a case that has been observed at Borobudur temple. Therefore, pyramids with heavier stone weight pushing on the earth fill are observed to have less earth fill or even without it. This design allowed early civilizations to create stable monumental structures. Dry stones were used in the construction where minimum human work are required.

Pyramids have been built by civilizations in many parts of the world. For thousands of years, the largest structures on Earth were pyramids. They spread from Egypt to America, that emerged separately from one another by oceans who supposedly never discovered each other’s existence. There are no firmly established connections between the different civilizations that built them, but their similarities show that they sprang from a common origin. In South and Southeast Asia, architectural elements were added on the terraced plinths of the pyramids, including multiple tower shrines. They gradually transformed into temples that mostly influenced by the Hindu and Buddhist architecture. Some of the temples retain their pyramidal form, such as Gangaikondachola-puram, Thanjavur, Airavatesvara and Srirangam temples in India; Prasat Thom temple in Cambodia; and Borobudur, Sukuh and Cetho temples in Indonesia. Balinese puras are also in the form of earth-and-stone step pyramids, that are vigorously fantastical, with gilt paint and colored glass.

Development of pyramid building

In Mesopotamia, the Sumerians, Babylonians, Elamites, Akkadians and Assyrians built the earliest pyramidal structures, called ziggurats, began near the end of the Early Dynastic Period. They were constructed of sun-dried mud-brick so that little remains of them. The ziggurat was a pyramidal structure with a flat top, built in receding tiers upon a rectangular, oval or square platform. They probably had shrines at the top with the access would have been by a series of ramps on one side of the ziggurat or by a spiral ramp from base to summit.

The Egyptian pyramids are huge structures built of brick or stone, shaped as a reference to the rays of the sun. They began building pyramids after 2700 BCE until about 1700 BCE. The first pyramid was built during the Third Dynasty by king Djoser and his architect Imhotep, as a step pyramid by stacking six mastabas (rectangular, flat-roofed ancient Egyptian tomb). The largest pyramids are the pyramids at Giza (2575 – 2150 BCE).

In Mesoamerica, such as the Aztecs, Maya, Purépechans, Teotihuacans and Toltec built pyramids from around 1000 BCE up until the time of the Spanish conquest in the early 16th century. The Mesoamerican pyramids were usually stepped, with temples on top, more similar to the Mesopotamian ziggurat. These are usually made out of stone and mortar but some of the earliest may have been made out of clay. The largest pyramid by volume is the pyramid of Cholula in Mexico.

Other civilizations also built pyramid-shaped structures in the past. There are many square flat-topped mound tombs in China, most of which are ancient mausoleums and burial mounds built to house the remains of several early emperors of China and their imperial relatives. Many native American societies of ancient North America built large pyramidal earth structures known as platform mounds. Andean cultures in Peru had used pyramids in various architectural structures. The Nubian in Sudan built steep-angled pyramids at three sites to serve as tombs for the kings and queens of Napata and Meroë. The Igbo culture in Nigeria built three clay or mud pyramids structures. Two pyramid-like structures are found in Greece, one at Hellenikon and the other at Ligourio. A Greek traveler and geographer Pausanias (2nd century CE) mentions two buildings resembling pyramids in Greece, but neither of these still survive. In the district of Chacona, Spain, six rectangular pyramid-shaped, terraced structures, referred to as the Pyramids of Güímar, are found.

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Copyright © Dhani Irwanto, 2019. All rights reserved.

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