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How Many Pyramids Were Built in Ancient Egypt?

How many Egyptian pyramids are there.
How many pyramids were built in ancient Egypt? Credit: sheilapic76. CC BY 2.0/flickr

Egypt is famous for its pyramids, particularly the Great Pyramid of Giza, the last surviving wonder of the ancient world. However, the exact number of pyramids that dot the lands of the north African country is still a hotly debated topic.

Google brings up the number 118 when asked how many pyramids there are in Egypt, an answer drawn from Wikipedia. A number of scholars claim the answer to this question is actually much more complex than might be supposed.

“I don’t think it’s an answerable question,” Anny Macy Roth, a clinical professor of art history and Hebrew and Judaic studies at New York University, told Live Science. The professor added that experts don’t necessarily agree on what counts as an Egyptian pyramid.

During the 25th dynasty (around 712 to 664 BC), ancient Egypt was ruled by pharaohs from Nubia (Now Sudan and parts of southern Egypt). The Nubian rulers built pyramids in Sudan while they were the leaders of Egypt, so it is a topic of debate as to whether the pyramids they had constructed in Sudan should be counted.

The Different Types of Pyramids in Ancient Egypt

Another issue is whether smaller pyramids, known as “Queen’s pyramids” and often built next to larger pyramids, should be categorized in the same way. For example, there are at least eight of these smaller pyramids placed around the pyramids of Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure at Giza. Researchers have also referred to these smaller structures as “secondary pyramids.”

Mark Lehner, president of Ancient Egypt Research Associates, highlighted another challenge with counting the pyramids. “It depends in part on what you call a pyramid,” he told Live Science, adding, “One problem is that not all pyramids were completed. And in some instances, construction of a pyramid stopped shortly after it began, so there’s the question of whether you count pyramids that hardly got started.”

Lehner went on to highlight that, during the New Kingdom (circa 1550 to 1070 BC), some individuals built private pyramids on their tombs, and so this adds further questions to the debate. “If you tried to include the non-royal pyramids of the New Kingdom, which were normally quite small and are often completely ruined, there are many, many examples, and probably many more that have been completely lost, or with foundations not yet excavated,” Roth said.

The number of pyramids in Egypt is clearly a question that is very difficult to answer, but one expert believes 118 is close. “I believe that figure is probably in the right ballpark, although I haven’t personally counted them all,” David Lightbody, an Egyptologist and adjunct professor at the University of Vermont, told Live Science.

Egypt is famous for its pyramids, but there are more of them in Sudan. Great numbers of pyramids continue to be discovered in the ancient cemeteries of Sudan, although they are a lot smaller than those in Giza.

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