Archaeology of Pyramids

Pyramids have been recognized as one of the most defining traits of an influential and arguably, powerful, ancient civilization. Egyptians are one of the most prominent pyramid-builders, with the Pyramid of Gizas built in the early 2500s BCE. (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica 2022). Mesoamerican civilizations including the Olmecs, Mayans, Incas, and Aztecs also built pyramids. 

Early Egyptian pyramids were constructed as step pyramids, with each layer of a mustaba, or the tomb of an Egyptian king, being smaller than the one beneath it (National Museum of Natural History 2005). These pyramids contained rooms and passageways, along with a burial chamber. The more well-known Egyptian pyramids began construction under the rule of King Snefru in 2680 BCE. These pyramids were built as a step pyramid and then covered with stone and limestone to form the smoother pyramid structure. The Pyramids of Giza were built to recognize the leadership of each ruler – Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure.

In Egyptian mythology, pharaohs become gods in the afterlife (Handwerk, n.d.). The pyramids were built to prepare pharaohs for the afterlife and their burial chambers were filled with goods that they deemed necessary. They were also buried alongside the Queen and the intricate passages within the pyramids indicate the importance of the pharaoh’s role in connecting their world with the afterlife (Mark, Stanley, and Bard 2016). 

Figure 1. Diagram of the interior of the Pyramid of Giza, specifically the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Hawass, n.d.).

A major Mesoamerican civilization that constructed pyramids were the Mayans. They constructed hundreds of pyramids from 1000 BC to 1500 AD, spread throughout the Yucatán Peninsula which is modern-day Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras (Jarus 2022). These pyramids were similar to the Egyptian pyramids in structure and purpose. These pyramids were used as both a ritual site and a tomb for rulers, who buried valuable goods such as jadeite with them. Jade was associated with rulership and connected individuals with their ancestors and the gods. They differed from Egyptian pyramids in how they were constructed on top of previous buildings, and sometimes even inside other pyramids. One example of this is the pyramid El Castillo at Chichén Itzá, Mexico, which is a pyramid within a pyramid within a pyramid. 

Figure 2. Diagram of El Castillo, a Mayan pyramid,  and the Temple of the Rising Sun (Hey Dave, n.d.). 

The combination of temples, burial chambers, and sacrificial sites across all pyramids reflect how ancient civilizations were similar in their ideologies and purposes, even though there was little to no direct overlap between them. 

Links of Interest



The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2022. “Pyramids of Giza | History, Location, Age, Interior, & Facts.” Encyclopedia Britannica.

Handwerk, Brian. n.d. “Pyramids of Giza.” National Geographic. Accessed November 13, 2022.

Hawass, Zahi. n.d. “News on the Robot and the Secret Doors inside the Great Pyramid of Khufu.” News on the Robot and the Secret Doors inside the Great Pyramid of Khufu Zahi Hawass I received this week a proposal for collection. Accessed November 11, 2022.

Hey Dave. n.d. “Wooden Chichen Itza Miniature.” Instructables. Accessed November 13, 2022.

Jarus, Owen. 2022. “What’s hidden inside the ancient Maya pyramids?” Live Science.

Mark, Joshua J., David Stanley, and Kathryn A. Bard. 2016. “Great Pyramid of Giza.” World History Encyclopedia.

National Museum of Natural History. 2005. “Ancient Egypt The Egyptian Pyramid.” Smithsonian Institution.


Archaeology of Amazonian Settlements

Archaeological sites are typically discovered in either extremely cold or dry climates. In cold environments, natural refrigeration allows for the preservation of organic material (Renfrew and Bahn 2018). In dry climates, the lack of water preserves artifacts and ecofacts since micro-organisms aren’t able to survive. Wet environments also preserve organic materials as long as the organic materials are preserved in an airless environment. In tropical climates, however, organic materials are more susceptible to decomposition due to the high precipitation levels, high temperatures, erosion, and biological life. For an archaeological site to survive such a climate, it must withstand forces of both nature and humans. 

The Amazon rainforest is known for being an extremely hot, humid, rainy, and dense environment. Because of this, it has been difficult for archaeologists to uncover civilizations or any sign of life. Recent technological advancements such as LIDAR, a type of aerial survey where landscapes are captured through a series of laser beams from a drone, is especially useful because the dense tree cover can be removed (Renfrew and Bahn 2018). Two months ago, in Bolivia, archaeologists discovered a settlement called Llanos de Moxos (Handwerk 2022). LIDAR revealed that this settlement was heavily populated, with a central urban area and causeways, or raised, that connected to suburban settlements.

Figure 1. Newly discovered settlement near Llanos de Moxos. Shows the complexity of ancient civilization (Krier 2022).

Archaeologists previously believed that the Amazon was sparsely populated, due to the poor quality of the soil and the climate. However, the discovery of this settlement leads them to believe that the Amazon was actually home to many civilizations, including cities and smaller towns. One of the main questions that archaeologists were looking to answer was how cities were able to sustain themselves, since the soil quality was extremely poor. In some areas, Amazonians were able to cultivate the soil themselves into a soil that contained over two to three times as many nutrients as the original soil, known as terra preta (Wade 2014). The discovery of terra preta is vital for understanding how ancient civilizations were able to adapt to their environment, but it is only one of the ways to identify civilizations in the Amazon.

Figure 2. Terra preta (left) and soil in Amazon (right) (Zimmer 2018).

The archaeology of Amazonian settlements is constantly changing as new technologies and discoveries about their way of life are uncovered. The story of the Amazon has yet to be finished.


Links of Interest




Handwerk, Brian. “Lost Cities of the Amazon Discovered from the Air.” Smithsonian Magazine, May 25, 2022.

Kreier, Freda. “‘Mind blowing’ ancient settlements uncovered in the Amazon.”, May 26, 2022. 

Renfrew, Colin, and Paul G Bahn. Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, Practice. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd. 2018.

Wade, Lizzie. “Searching for the Amazon’s Hidden Civilizations.”, January 7, 2014.‌

Zimmer, Katarina. “Soil and Satellites Are Telling a New Story About Ancient Civilizations in the Amazon.” Atlas Obscura, March 20, 2018.