Ancient Egypt: The Old Kingdom

The Old Kingdom, sometimes called the Pyramid Age, was the first consolidated flowering of Egyptian civilisation. During the Old Kingdom kings and high officials were buried in cemeteries around the capital, Memphis, and the pyramid emerged as the new royal tomb. The earliest pyramid (called the Step Pyramid) was built by king Djoser in the Third Dynasty (about 2686-2613 BC), while the famous pyramids at Giza were built by kings Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure in the Fourth Dynasty (about 2613-2494 BC). The tombs surrounding the royal pyramids are decorated with inscriptions and scenes relating to the life of the wealthy officials and royal family.

Statues of private individuals were placed in the person's tomb whereas statues of the king were placed in mortuary temples. These statues frequently showed the individual in contemporary costume, often heavily built, with characteristically large feet. Texts provide a great deal of information about the funerary beliefs, administrative system and economy of the time. The first funerary texts, the Pyramid Texts, were inscribed in royal pyramids from the Fifth Dynasty (about 2494-2345 BC). Autobiographical texts in tombs of this period allow non-royal individuals to be identified for the first time.

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