Earth and Ancient Architecture

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Horizontal Bedding in Cedar Mesa Sandstone

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Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), Earth Science Week (ESW), American Geosciences Institute (AGI)


Architects and engineers often design and build structures inspired by the earth’s natural formations and shapes. This was also true for the ancient builders that built pyramidal structures and platforms with broad bases and tapered sides, inspired in most cases by the hills and mountains they saw around them. While many societies built them, pyramids and platforms across different cultures were not all alike, differing in shape, function, and construction materials, and techniques. The construction of these monumental structures took many years and involved thousands of people. Ancient builders used the materials available to them. For example, the scarcity of stone in ancient Mesopotamia led the builders to use bricks made of mud to build their platforms called “ziggurats.” The Egyptians used locally available limestone and granite for their pyramids, the Maya used both stone and earth, and Mississippian cultures in North America often built their mounds entirely from dirt. It is clear from the archaeological evidence and monumental size of these structures that they were built by and for powerful rulers and leaders. The buildings were meant to honor the gods and the kings who commissioned the construction. Whether they were used as tombs or as platforms for temples, pyramids and platforms are testaments to the ingenuity of the ancient architects, engineers, and builders and also to the power and wealth of the rulers who could afford build them.

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