Will's Comparative Civilizations Project:

Mayan & Egyptian Pyramids


Compare & Contrast

   Both the Maya and the Egyptians constructed these enormous pyramids that in a way stand as memorials to their ancient civilizations. The Mayan built shrines, temples, and pyramids in honor of their gods, and their kings. Most of the Mayan pyramids were temples to the gods, the Maya did sometimes bury their rulers, but the temple always remained on the top of the pyramid no matter what. Mayan pyramids were not only burial tombs like Egyptian pyramids, whose primary purpose was funerary, containing mortuary chambers. Egyptians had temples also, but theirs would be somewhere near the pyramid or right next to it, for the ceremonial services, but it was never placed on top of the structure because Egypt's pyramids come to a point at the top (The apex). Where as a Mayan pyramid was purposely constructed with a platform to have a temple and shrines built at the top of it. Also Mayan pyramids were not pyramidal (It had a polygonal base, but its four faces/sides did not meet at a common point).

   The Mayans used most of their pyramids as a place for worship and sacrificial ritual to their gods, the reason I think the Egyptians didn't use their pyramids in the same way, was because they needed their pharaoh to have a peaceful and successful afterlife, and performing rituals and ceremonies on or around his tomb would jeopardize that goal. The Mayan's Tikal Temple on The Great Plaza was originally plastered white, the roof comb was painted with reds, blues, and other colours to emphasize the different areas with sculptural decoration. Egyptians never coloured their pyramids but they did to their other religious structures, like temple. 

   Like Egyptian pyramids, the stone used to construct Mayan pyramids was local limestone, obtained from nearby quarries. The ancient Maya built the pyramids and the temples on top of them without any metal tools. Limestone is soft enough that the Maya could make use of chert (closely resembling flint, but more brittle) tools to work the stone in to neat rectangular building blocks. It seem that the Egyptians had it easier when it came to making the limestone blocks because they had the use of copper drills and saws. But then again they were constructing the taller of the two types of pyramids and working in the hot desert, where shade was probably harder to come by then in the jungle which was the environment of the Mayan pyramids. So both civilizations had different obstacles in their way and advantages that the other civilization didn't have, e.g. working environments and tools.

   I suppose that when it was time to start building a pyramid both the Egyptians and the Maya didn't pick just any random position. Both civilizations positioned their pyramids in a specific way, for a specific reason. The Egyptians lined up the pyramids almost exactly to a compass, and The Mayans pyramid were set up so that if you faced the front you  would be looking south to see the path of the Jaguar, and the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.

   The pyramidal (pointy) pyramids of the Egyptian don't look like the Mayan pyramids with staircases and a temple, but the early Egyptian step pyramid resembles them more, because of the whole pyramid looking like a staircase.