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Tombs at Giza

[NOTE: THIS LESSON TOPIC INCLUDES IMAGES OF HUMAN REMAINS.] Giza is a necropolis site with several cemeteries densely packed with tombs and burials. The main cemeteries (Eastern Cemetery, Western Cemetery, and the Central Field) originally were for members of Egypt’s administration (and their families) and royal family members during the Old Kingdom period of history. Giza tombs often consist of an aboveground chapel, one or more shafts cut down into the bedrock of the Giza Plateau, and one or more underground burial chambers where people were laid to rest. Earlier tombs designed with several rooms may have been thought of as houses for the afterlife, with layouts that resembled real house plans, but ideas about the tomb changed over time. Above all, they were designed to promote and prepare Egyptians for the afterlife existence that they envisioned was coming after death. The two most common types of tombs at Giza are rectangular “mastaba” tombs (Arabic word for “bench”) built of stone and/or mud bricks, and rock-cut tombs carved directly out of natural limestone of the Giza Plateau. Many tomb chapels were adorned with carved and/or painted hieroglyphic text and scenes related to the lives – and the desired afterlives – of the individuals buried there. Longer inscriptions often refer to the main tomb owner’s career, which in many cases was the reason they could have a tomb at Giza in the first place. Tomb chapels also provided space for preserving a social connection between the living and the dead. A “false door” was meant to allow the deceased’s spirit to cross back into the world of the living to receive offerings left by visitors. Some chapels included a hidden chamber called a “serdab” near the false door. Statues of the tomb owner and/or family members were secluded in serdabs, often with only a small window slit for viewing in from the main chapel. Family members visited tombs of their ancestors for certain holidays or festivals, leaving offerings to sustain them in their afterlives. Special tables, stone slabs, or basins were sometimes included in tomb architectural for placement offerings. Texts on tomb walls expect visitors to speak the name of the tomb owner along with a formal request for offerings in the next life – the kind of offerings that often also appear in tomb decorations in the hope that they will become "real" in the next life. Burial shafts customarily were filled in completely to prevent the living from entering underground burial chambers. Sometimes the entrance to the burial chamber was protected further by blocking up its entrance with a huge stone slab or smaller blocks. Even so, a great many tombs were damaged or looted in ancient times or over the many centuries since. As the available space in Giza cemeteries filled up with large tombs, family members could make additions to earlier tombs of ancestors, while other smaller tombs were simply fit into any small footprints where they could be found. Simpler tombs could consist of just a shaft into the ground and a small chamber or pit for a single burial. The main period of burial activity at Giza was during the Old Kingdom period, after which Giza saw long breaks in major activity. But, periods of renewed interest in use of its cemeteries occurred in later periods as long as 2,000 years later.

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