Essay, Research Paper: Egypt And Mexican Culture


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many centuries people have been fascinated by ancient cultures and treasures.
During the last two centuries the science of archeology and modern inventions
allowed people to get inside of the Egyptian and Mayan pyramids and discover the
treasures of Egyptian pharaohs and Mayan rulers. Most of what we know about
Egypt we owe to the pyramids. Thanks to Egyptian belief in the afterlife we can
now find out about the civilization that existed nearly five thousand years ago.
Egyptian culture is not the only culture that left us its heritage in pyramids.
In America we find pyramids build by civilizations of Olmec and Maya about 7th
century CE. These pyramids had different purposes and usage then the ones in
Egypt but they stand as memorials to ancient civilizations as well. Egyptian
people believed in life after death. One of the way pharaohs prepared themselves
for the afterlife journey was by building a pyramid and putting there all their
belongings and riches. Egyptian people believed that pharaoh is the closest
person to the God and treated him accordingly. That is the reason for Egyptian
tombs being full with the golden jewelry, precious stones and art objects. Most
of the time art objects were not considered a treasury but they played their
particular role in religious rituals. Jars were holding food and drinks for
pharaoh’s journey, so he would not get hungry and would have food and drinks
to offer to the Gods. The figurative sculptures were suppose to accompany Ka (
spiritual entity) in its lonely stay or serve as a twin for the mummy. If
something happens to the mummy the ka could use the sculpture of the pharaoh for
the revelation. As well as for Egyptians religion was an everyday concern for
many of the Maya, whether the dynastic ruler, the zealous priest, or the humble
believer. Maya has an extensive religion structure which we can not know in
details. Chac and Itzamna are the most famous gods of Mayan culture. Hunahpu and
Xbalanque are among the most interesting mythical characters. One of the most
crucial gods was Tlaloc, who was worshiped in various guises by the culture of
Teotihuacan, the Toltec of Tula, and later Aztecs. The Maya received the cult of
Tlaloc during the 4th century more or less. The Cauac Monster, also known as the
Witz monster, is a dominant supernatural concept in Maya religion, as are caves,
cenotes, and other holy places (Maya Civilization pars. 6). The Maya built
shrines, temples, and pyramids in honor of their gods, as well as to their
kings, who ruled by all-encompassing concept of Divine power. Most of Mayan
pyramids are temples to the gods, not the burial tombs as in Egypt. Even though
Maya sometimes buried there their rulers they always put the temple on the top
of the pyramid. Egyptians had temples near the pyramid or right next to it for
the ceremonial services, but it never was placed on top of the structure. Also
buildings in both cultures have a lot in common in their visual characteristics
they are different structures. Egyptian pyramids originally had smooth equal
sides meeting on the top in the perfect apex. Mayan pyramids look like one huge
stairway towards the sky. It reminds of earliest Egyptian structures-mastabas,
where one layer of stones was put onto another creating the effect of pyramid.
Also The Tikal Temple on Great Plaza was originally plastered white. Then the
roof comb was painted with reds, blues, and other colors to accent the different
areas of sculptural decoration. These roof combs were like giant billboards,
with immense portrayals of the enthroned king, larger then life size (Cities
pars.3). Egyptians never colored their religious structures. As well as in
Egyptian pyramids, the stone used to construct Mayan pyramids is local
limestone, obtained from nearby quarries. The ancient Maya had no stone tools
but limestone is soft enough that the Maya could utilize chert tools to work the
stone in to neat rectangular building blocks. Egyptian pyramids served as huge
tombs and they were constructed in such a way so they would stand for thousand
years. Egyptians did not know when the spirit would return into the dead body.
Pyramids were constructed of rough stone blocks laid in horizontal rows, in a
polygonal shape, with triangular sides rising to meet in the apex. Some were
originally as high as 750 feet. The pyramids were built by taking blocks of
granite to the workshops, measuring the blocks down the size, shaping the block
and placing it into the body of the pyramid. Then on top of the built structure
workers put the limestone going from the top to bottom. Egyptians left two empty
rooms to place the pharaoh’s mummy and his belongings in. They sealed pyramids
so well that it took four hundred years for robbers to get in. It is believed
that the pyramids would be standing intact today if it were not for later
destruction by robbers and invaders and for use as a building material. As it
is, the massive stone buildings are rising right now outside of Cairo. The
interiors of these huge stone structures contain a series of a narrow passages,
ending in several large chambers. The central chamber was the burial room,
always reached by a passage from the north, and containing a false stone door on
the west side, representing an exit for the deceased soul. The roofs of these
chambers were formed of layers of stone beams, lying on top of another, each
layer weighing more then 30 tons. The passages into burial chamber was often
hewn out of the rock directly from the outer edge. As well as Egyptian pharaoh
Mayan rulers like Giant Jaguar was buried in his tomb with hundreds of
offerings-vases, jade, jewels and so on. Mayan temple-pyramids usually contained
one or more rooms, however, the rooms were so narrow that they could only have
been used on ceremonial occasions and were not meant for public consumption.
Most of the Egyptian pyramids were built by six pharaohs of the Old Kingdom, and
were considered sacred shrines. On the contrary to general beliefs pyramids were
built by free citizens, drafted to public work, not by slaves. Thousand experts
worked on the design of pyramids all year round. An extra work group about
ninety-five thousand men worked on the construction site during the four month
period of the inundation ( the time of enforced idleness for farmers, since the
fields were covered with the water of Nile) (Payne 24). The most famous Egyptian
pyramids are the three pyramids five miles southwest of Giza, which is three
miles southwest of Cairo. The largest pyramid, 481 feet high and 786 feet along
east side of base, was built for Khufu, who reigned between 2900 and 2877 B.C.
The pyramid of Khafre, who reigned about 2859 B.C. is slightly smaller, but it
is on a higher ground so that the apex is higher. The smallest pyramid (yet not
small at all) was built by Menkure about 2800 B.C. (Casson 5). One of the most
famous sites of Mayan culture is Tikal in Guatemala. Numerous buildings stayed
almost intact at the Great Plaza: the Temple of the Giant Jaguar (700 A.D.), the
Temple of the Masks (699 A.D), and the North Acropolis. At the heart of the
Temple of the Giant jaguar is the tomb of high priest. The sanctuary for worship
at the top of the structure sits on a nine-tiered pyramid. In each cultures each
pyramid was built for the body of only one man. Usually, caskets full of jewels,
furniture in laid with ivory and gold, silver and alabaster bowls and vessels,
chests filled with clothing and precious ornaments, jars filled with food and
wine were put in the room next to the room with the mummy. Among the objects
found in the Egyptian pyramids were the shabtis. Shabtis are small statues in
the form of nude humans, often wrapped in linen and placed in model coffins.
They were inscribed with a prayer for food offerings, although they probably
also functioned as alternative abode for the ka. By the Middle Kingdom (2025 B.C)
the figures had become mummiform in shape, and their inscriptions clearly join
the deceased with Osiris, the god of the underworld, who rose to prominence
during this period. By late Dynasty XII (1850 B.C.) The statuettes’ original
function as residence for the ka has expanded greatly. Although the original
identification with the tomb owner was never lost, the figures were seen
primarily as workers who performed a service for the deceased, and they became
known by the ancient Egyptians as shabits. Rapidly shabit-figures came to
represent the deceased’s servants in the afterlife and were so popular that
they replaced the model servant statues previously deposited in upper-class
graves of the Old and Middle Kingdoms (Life sect.1). One of the most important
traditions in the Egyptian culture was the mummification of the dead body.
According to Egyptian religion the body had to be intact in order for Ka to
return. Mummification of the dead body was a complicated and long process. The
famous Greek historian Herodotus reported on the Egyptian practice of
mummification: They take first a crooked piece of iron, and with it draw out
brain through the nostrils, thus getting rid of a portion, while the skull is
cleared of the rest by rinsing with drugs; next they make a cut along the flank
with a sharp Ethiopian stone, and take out the whole contents of the abdomen,
which they then cleanse, washing it throughly with palm wine, and again
frequently with an infusion of pounded aromatics. After this they fill the
cavity with the purest bruised myrrh, with cassia, and every other sort of
spicery except frankincense, and sew up the opening. (Herodotus sect.1) After
these procedures were done the body was placed in natrum for saventy days. They
put the body into the wooden coffin which was shaped into the man figure.
Sometimes the wooden coffin was placed into the golden one decorated by precious
stones and paint. In Mayan culture we find no evidences that any techniques of
mummification were used. In the humid climate of Central America it is very hard
to preserve a dead body for such a long time that is needed for the
mummification process. As we can see Mayan and Egyptian cultures have a lot in
common. However, some major differences can be found. Mayan religion was not
obsessed with an afterlife beliefs as Egyptians were. Their pyramids were built
either for Gods or as a memorial to the dead ruler or priest. Egyptians built
their pyramids for the dead. Their buildings were meant to be used in the other
life by the great spirits buried in them. Some visual differences also occur.
Most of the Mayan pyramids are shorter then the ones at Giza site. They are not
sealed forever but has an access for the priests and authorized people. The
major difference is that Maya put the shrine right on top of the pyramid. The
stairs led from the ground to the top of the pyramid. This way people thought
they would be closer to God. In Egypt only pharaoh was considered to be closer
to God therefore an enormous buildings reaching the sky was meant to be the
stairway to the heaven only for the pharaoh. Nowadays these both ancient
cultures still hold many mysteries for us. Most of the things we know are based
on the speculations of the scientists, not on the certain facts. Archeologists
working on discovering more and more about the ancient civilizations that
existed thousand years ago but appeared much more advanced then we used to think
about it. However, many of the documents, scripts and art evidences disappeared
during such a long time. Robbers, invaders and weather were the reason for the
huge loss of historical items that were kept in ancient Maya cities and along
the Nile. I am sure that in the future many of the mysteries will be unfolded,
but as for now, ancient people keep fascinate us with their enigmas.
Casson, Lionel. Ancient Egypt Canada: Time Inc. 1965. “Cities of the
ancient Maya”. Mystery of Maya. CMCC. May 1999.
“Herodotus Reports on Mummification.” May 1999.
“Life in Ancient Egypt. Shabtis.” Ed. Craig Patch. Exc. from Reflections of
Greatness: Ancient Egypt at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. 1990. “Maya Civilization.” Mystery of Maya. CMCC. May
1999. Newby, P.H.
The Egypt story, its art, its monuments, its people, its history. Italy:
Abbreville Press: 1979. Payne, Elizabeth. The pharaohs of Ancient Egypt. New
York: Random House, Inc. 1984. “Photographs of Maya ruins of Tikal showing how
Hasselblad cameras and Zeiss lenses result in better pictures”. Maya Art &
books. International Photographic Archive of Maya Art. June 1998.
“The First Egyptian Mummies”. Corkankhamun explains mummification. May 1999. “Why Egyptians Made Mummies”.
Corkankhamun explains mummification. May 1999.

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