Definitions

mastaba

mastaba

[mas-tuh-buh]
mastaba, in Egyptian architecture, a sepulchral structure built aboveground. The mastabas of the early dynastic period (3200-2680 B.C.), such as those of the I dynasty at Sakkara, were elaborate, having many storage or offering compartments, and were quite evidently close copies of contemporary houses. Better known are the mastabas of the Old Kingdom (2680-2181 B.C.), which were an elaboration of the predynastic burial-pit and mound form. The typical mastaba was generally rectangular in plan with a flat roof and inward-sloping walls, built of brick and faced with limestone slabs.
A mastaba was a flat-roofed, rectangular building with outward sloping sides that marked the burial site of many eminent Egyptians of Egypt's ancient period. Mastabas were constructed out of mud-bricks or stone.

Structure

The word Mastaba comes from the Arabic word for bench, because when seen from a distance it looks like a bench. Inside the mastaba, a deep chamber was dug into the ground and lined with stone or bricks. The body would be placed in this deep, sealed chamber. Because the remains were not in contact with the dry desert sand, natural mummification of the remains could not take place. In order to preserve the remains, the ancient Egyptian priests had to devise a system of artificial mummification.

The mastaba structure was constructed directly over the underground shaft holding the remains of the deceased. The above ground structure was rectangular in shape, had sloping sides, and was about four times as long as it was wide. This above ground structure had space for a small offering chapel equipped with a false door to which priests and family members brought food and other offerings for the soul of the deceased.

History

The mastaba was the standard type of tomb in early Egypt (the predynastic and early dynastic periods) for both the pharaoh and the social elite. The ancient Egyptian city of Abydos was the location chosen for many of these early mastabas.

When a mastaba was built for the burial of the Third Dynasty king Djoser, the architect Imhotep enlarged the basic structure to be a square, then built a similar, but smaller, mastaba-like square on top of this, and added a fourth, fifth, and sixth square structure above that. The resulting building is the Step Pyramid, the first of the many pyramid tombs which succeeded it. Thus the mastaba is the first step towards the more famous Pyramids.

Even after pharaohs began to construct pyramids for their tombs, members of the nobility continued to be buried in mastaba tombs. This is especially evident on the Giza Plateau, where hundreds of mastaba tombs have been constructed alongside the pyramids.

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