Throughout history, ancient cultures have formed large pyramid-like structures for many purposes. In ancient Mesopotamia the pyramids served as elevators to the gods, allowing the locals to access them more directly from their raised heights. In Mexico, the Chichen Itza archaeological site is dwarfed by a large step pyramid rumored to serve as a place of worship for the Mesoamerican god Kulkulcan. Another central Mexican structure, the Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl served a similar purpose, while the pyramids of ancient Egypt are believed to have housed the tombs of pharaohs, a monument to the gods’ physical incarnations rather than to the gods themselves. Despite differences and similarities in their purposes, the striking visual similarity in each of the structures has been a cause of much speculation and archaeological debate, leaving many to wonder whether or not there was in fact a connection between Mesopotamian ziggurats and other central American architecture, and the pyramids of ancient Egypt.
The Mesopotamian ziggurats are believed to have been constructed throughout the nearly ten-thousand-year history of the civilization. Mesopotamians lived in the region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the so-called cradle of civilization, near present-day Turkey and Syria, and spanned northwards for thousands of miles. The first ziggurats date back to 3000 B.C. The ziggurats were constructed with bricks fired in large ovens and clay sourced from the nearby riverbeds. They began on a large square base and gradually continued upwards, coming to something of a plateau several levels above the Earth. The ziggurats were believed to be the dwelling place of the Mesopotamian gods, and also served as the de facto headquarters for the holy men. Generally only priests were allowed inside the structure of the ziggurat itself, owing to Mesopotamian religious beliefs. Ziggurats could also be constructed by rulers to show their faith.
The central American structures of the pyramid of Quetzalcoatl and Chichen Itza structure are also rumored to have been religious in their origins. The pyramid of Quetzalcoatl, also known as the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, was constructed in the 3rd century B.C. It was dedicated to the Mayan and Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, the creator of the ancient Mayan world. It was also formed in the shape of a pyramid similar to the Mesopotamian ziggurat, with hundreds of images of the feathered god carved into its faces. The temple is infamous around the world for the hundreds of human sacrifices found inside of it, however it was more than a religious killing ground. It also served as a center of sorts for cosmology, and hundreds of underground tunnels feature detailed maps of the stars. The temple was constructed in the relatively dry environment of central Mexico. The Chichen Itza Structure, informally known as “El Castillo” (the castle) in Spanish, was constructed by the Maya people beginning in 600 A.D. and featured a four-sided pyramid not unlike the previous structures detailed. The edifice glorifies the Mayan god Kulkulkan, and also helped the Mayans further understand the stars through cosmology, with detailed maps and carvings of the cosmos similar to those found within the Temple of the Feathered Serpent.
The Egyptian pyramids are by far the most widely recognized pyramid-like edifices around the world. Once considered a wonder of the ancient world alongside the Hanging Towers of Babylon, the pyramids have stood for millennia. Although there are more than one hundred individual pyramids, the first was said to have been constructed from limestone in the dismal Egyptian deserts around 2680 B.C. The pyramids were tombs for the ancient Egyptian rulers, who were much revered as incarnations of the Egyptian gods themselves. In addition to burial tombs, the pyramid served as treasure chambers for the rulers, who were said to require their wealth even as they passed on to the next world.
Throughout history, ancient civilizations have opted to erect pyramid-shaped structures for myriad reasons, though most frequently for religious ones. The pyramids, temples and ziggurats were constructed from local building materials, often towering above the surrounding architecture. And they served as religious landmarks and provided a source of pride for their respective civilizations. However, despite the commonalities in their infrastructure, the exact reasons that each of these cultures chose to construct them may never be determined for sure, leaving the question of whether or not these structures are implicitly connected unanswered.