Pyramids vs. Tombs: What's the difference?

Pyramid and Sphinx
Khafre Pyramid and Sphinx

Did you know? Not all pharaohs were buried inside pyramids.

During the Old Kingdom in ancient Egypt, Egyptians buried their pharaohs in pyramids. Later, however, they moved their burial sites to well-hidden tombs.
Why? Read on to find out more!

Pyramids were built by pharaohs as their burials sites starting around 2600 BC. The earliest known pyramids are found at Saqqara, northwest of Memphis. Pyramids were impressive to look at. They were monumental, and a pharaoh would feel certain that he'd be remembered for all time by building and residing after death in such a huge structure.

Egypt's pyramids had a great deal of spiritual significance. They often lined up with the heavens, and builders and architects designed the tunnels inside to point to certain stars. It's theorized that working with star alignment allowed pharaohs to be resurrected in the afterlife.

Unfortunately, however, there was a downside to being buried inside a pyramid. In addition to being impressive, pyramids were easy to spot by tomb raiders. Anyone could see a pyramid from miles away, and everyone knew they were filled with treasure.

Here's a fun fact:
No mummy has ever been found by modern explorers inside a pyramid.

The pyramid mummies disappeared a long time ago, along with the golden treasures, jewels and other artifacts that were once hidden inside.

Pharaohs eventually decided the giant monuments invited trouble in the form of tomb raiders.

They told tomb raiders exactly where to go. A new idea had to be found. Pharaohs wanted their preserved mummies to rest in peace, and to travel safely on to the afterlife. They believed that the items in the tomb would make sure they enjoyed a happy, eternal life. It must have been frightening to know that all that would probably be taken away by thieves. The answer?

 pencil drawing map of ancient Egypt
Map of ancient Egypt
Secret hidden tombs in a protected valley, far away from the site of the pyramids.

During the New Kingdom, burials were moved south into a hidden valley which is now called the Valley of the Kings.

There's an adjoining sacred burial place for women too, and it's called the Valley of the Queens.

The valley is set inland on the dry, desert side of the Nile. On the opposite side of the river lay the city of Thebes.

Close to the burial valleys, a special tomb-builders village was set up. The people who lived there were responsible for designing the hidden burial sites, and for creating the treasures to put inside. There were masons, potters, furniture makers, jewelers, mummifiers, priests, painters, stone carvers, metal workers and more. The craftsmen's town was called the Place of Truth. Today, its remains are called Dier El Medina.

Artisans in the Place of Truth were provided with all the things they needed to live: food, water, fabrics, beer, and more.

The two sacred valleys, The Valley of the Kings, and the Valley of the Queens, were guarded well. Patrols were set up along its perimeter to keep any curious onlookers out.

Only the artisans knew where the pharaohs' tombs had been dug into the cliff-sides. They were sworn to secrecy, and once a tomb was completed and the pharaoh had been buried inside, the door was permanently sealed. Rocks and sand were used to cover the doorway. The winds of time eventually made each tomb disappear.

Pharaoh Tutankhamen (King Tut) was found in one such tomb. The artifacts and his mummy remained as they'd been left thousands of years before. It seems the secret location idea worked pretty well.

And there you have it. Pyramids vs. Tombs demystified.

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