By Mehmet Kurtkaya
Published online on April 9, 2016 (Updated August 9, 2018)
The pyramids are the most famous wonders of the ancient world; they inspire awe and mysticism. Even though they have been known for a long time, there is a major yet largely unanswered question:
Why did the Egyptians build the pyramids?
The obvious answer is for spiritual or religious reasons, but why the pyramid shape? Don't they look like man-made mountains in a sea of sand? Yet, there are no mountains in the region, just the Sahara Desert and the Nile. Where would they have gotten the idea from?
For an answer, one has to dig deep into both geography and history.
The first ever pyramid built in Egypt was the one in Djoser, almost 100 years earlier than the famous ones in Giza. It is a step pyramid, unlike the well-known pointed-top, flat-side pyramids that we know of Giza.
Step pyramids were platforms built one on top of the other with a decreasing surface area as the pyramid rises. They have steps, and people could climb to the top of the pyramid. The most famous step pyramids are the ones in Central America built by the Mayans and Aztecs, but they are certainly not limited to that part of the world.
Egyptian pyramids were surely an engineering advancement over the step pyramids, but this change in design was probably for spiritual reasons. They approximate mountains much better than the step pyramids, and one must also consider that no man can climb Egyptian pyramids, unlike step pyramids.
Egyptian pyramids mark a modified ritual and belief system compared to the spirituality symbolized in step pyramids, which were also part of a temple complex. The burial grounds and the tombs for both the pharaohs and other members of aristocracy were part of that major change.
Egyptian pyramids did not come out of nowhere; they evolved out of step pyramids!
Step pyramids, much lesser known than Egyptian pyramids, can be found all around the world, from Sardinia, Italy to Caral, Peru, and they are themselves an evolution from raised platforms used as ritual grounds in Neolithic sites such as Stonehenge and earlier-dated sites in Central Asia.
Still, the question lingers—why build a step pyramid, and why the mountain-like shape?
Ziggurat, Sumerian step pyramidThere was only one civilization near Egypt which had step pyramids central to their social and religious life. That would be the most ancient major civilization of the world—Sumer, in what is now Iraq, not far from Egypt. Unfortunately, ziggurats are neither famous nor known outside a small group of professionals and fans. Yet, ziggurats were the first step pyramids in the world!
Sumerian civilization's most remarkable monument was the ziggurat, where rituals were held and sacrificial offerings were made.
Where did these civilization makers, Sumerians, come from? Today, there is convincing archaeological evidence which indicates the direction of migration of Sumerian people, and ziggurats are among the most important evidence!
Although Sumerian people invented pretty much everything that underlies our current civilization, the first known ziggurat step pyramid was built 400 years before the step pyramid in Egypt, and is older than any known ziggurats in Sumer. It is located in middle Iran, not far from the Caspian Sea and Turkmenistan! Tepe Sialk dates back to 5000 BP. There are other ziggurats in Iran, but this one is the oldest in the world.
There is no way an invention that not only requires revolutionary engineering skills of the time but is also representative of a unique belief system would be built by different people in neighboring lands! That's mathematically and statistically impossible! Step pyramids and pyramids were definitely built by the same people.
So, mapping the trail of ziggurats chronologically, from the oldest to the newest, would show the direction these people have arrived from!
The fact that the oldest ziggurat is located in mid-Iran, south of the Caspian Sea, and modern Turkmenistan is a major indicator of the direction of migration of the civilization who built these structures. The finds in Jiroft, Iran of a temple structure which is hypothesized to be a primitive ziggurat—an elevation platform the likes of which have been found up north in Neolithic sites of Turkmenistan—prove that ziggurats are a south Central and southwest Asian invention, finding its way with bigger and more elaborate forms in their new location in Sumer and Egypt as a precursor of the famed Egyptian pyramids. Let us also not forget that the trail does not stop at Egypt, but goes south to Sudan hundreds of years later.
Step pyramids and the pyramids are the biggest evidence of the migrations of the people who built them!
Turkmen sites in Northern Iran, very close to Turkmenistan and not far from Anau, Gonur Tepe Neolithic sites, date back to 6000 BP. In fact, Altintepe—a Neolithic site in southern Turkmenistan inhabited since 8000 years ago—has a primitive step pyramid/raised elevation as a shrine.
This finding weakens one hypothesis that the people of Maykop culture in the Caucasus to the West of the Caspian Sea descended to Mesopotamia to form the Sumerian civilization. At best, it could be partially true, as there were waves of migration throughout the 2000 years of Sumerian civilization.
At least the last 500 years of migrations/attacks towards Sumer lands (from 2400BC to 1900BC) is well documented. (The ergativity of the Sumerian language provides plausibility to the migration from Caucasus hypothesis, but archaeological evidence of ziggurats during the proto-Elamite period suggest that they have come from the East of the Caspian Sea, where people speaking the same language lived.)
Lapis Lazuli, Carnelian trade routesSky-colored lapis lazuli was a major part of the Sumerian mythology and the most important gemstone for them. However, there are no lapis lazuli mines in the area. In fact, the closest lapis lazuli mine is in Afghanistan, more than a thousand kilometers away!
The trail of ziggurats coincides with the trade route of lapis lazuli from the Badokskan mountains of eastern Afghanistan. By analyzing the lapis lazuli trade, a Turkish retired emergency physician, Dr. Metin Gunduz, suggested in a 2012 article published in an international anthropology journal that Sumerians' original location was Turkmenistan.
A very important archaeological survey published in 2018 on ancient trade networks provides even a better picture. In fact using this information together with genetic research articles published in 2018 we can establish the original homeland and the ancestral homeland of the Sumerians:
Sumerian Migrations on Eurasian Map click on the map for the article and full size image
I should add that lapis lazuli is found in Predynastic Egypt about 6000 years BP and the transportation route inevitably includes Sumer lands! Lapis lazuli trade coincides fully with the trail of pyramids! The people who brought the lapis lazuli gemstone from Afghanistan were the same people who built the pyramids. Like pyramids, lapis lazuli is central to their culture!
Considering Indus Valley-Sumer trade and the carnelian transported from India, as well as the Neolithic sites in Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Iran, we can easily conclude that there was no one isolated civilization, but centers of advanced civilization founded by Sumer/Subar Turks. Similarly, ancient Greece was not isolated but was part of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Anatolian civilizations, even though it was the most advanced during the antiquity (600 BC-0), as shown by the Korean Australian historian Hyun-Jin Kim. Sumer must have been the most advanced of a region, of a network of civilizations.
The westward Turkic migrations from Central Asia to Iran, Anatolia, and Mesopotamia was persistent throughout history for thousands of years, and the last two thousand years are well known. Earlier migration waves are recorded in Sumerian tablets as Turuk(ku), Gut(ian) people about 4400 years ago.
The leading hypothesis as to what caused Sumer Turks' migrations is that the last glacial maximum climate change brought dryness to Central Asia, forcing the Turks to migrate in all directions. Migration is a leitmotiv in Turkish history.
A Short Side Note on KurgansZiggurats are also reminiscent of kurgans, burial mounds spread all over Eurasia and the Americas. Kurgan is a Turkish word and it has the same “kur” stem as in zi(gur)rat with the same meaning in Turkish—“gan” is probably synonymous with "tag" or mountain in Turkish. "Netherworld spirits mountain" is what ziggurat probably means in Sumerian Turkish.
Interestingly, kurgans are burial grounds, but ziggurats are known to be for spiritual ceremonies and not for burial. On the other hand, Egyptian pyramids do contain burial grounds for the royalty. Egyptian pyramids seem to have similarities to both kurgans and ziggurats, as if they are a combination of both.
Egyptian Pyramids: Sacred Mountains of Siberia!
Altai mountain range, Siberia, ancestral home of the Turks.
Sumerians worshipped many gods but An, the sky god, was their ultimate god. They also believed in sky heaven, above the visible sky, where gods resided. They called this god heaven Anunaki.
Both step pyramids (ziggurats) and Egyptian pyramids rise towards the sky. They were the tallest man-made structures of their time.
They rise as high as possible towards An, sky god and sky heaven!
Interestingly, throughout history, major religious buildings were built to be as high as possible. Even today, the height of skyscrapers is a show of power and an object of national pride. Sumerians were way more advanced than the indigenous people of the lands they migrated to, so pyramids were not a show of power towards others but a way to worship their sky god.
Pyramids were probably the only way for them to go as high as possible, but there is another major indication for the significance of the pyramid shape to Sumerians!
We know that the trail of ziggurats by themselves prove the main direction and the general area from which Sumerian people came from and establishes their ancestral home as Central Asia—a vast geographic area with steppes, lakes, and mountain ranges. The fact that Sumerians came from Central Asia was one of the evidences for Ataturk's sun language theory. We also know people by the name Subar and Kenger (Kenger is what Sumerians called their land) historically have lived in Central Asia and Iran for thousands of years.
Since the origins of the pyramids in Egypt and Sumer have been found, their shape can be explained by comparing the cultural and religious role of mountains among Siberian Turks and the role of ziggurats in Sumerian society. Let us also note that Russian and Soviet researchers as well as Hungarian scholars have started and/or contributed greatly to research in Turkic people's history, mythology, and Turkology in addition to European scholars since the 18th century.
Written proofGoddess of war and love Inanna's descent into the netherworld is the earliest of the Sumerian myths that we know from cuneiform tablets.
The verses regarding mountains define them as reaching high heaven, as written by the late American Sumerologist Samuel Noah Kramer, who not only provided a major contribution to research but also introduced Sumer civilization to a greater audience.
Via Japanese scholar Toshikazu Kuwabara's paper (A Study of Terminology of the Netherworld in Sumero-Akkadian Literature), we may see some aspects of Sumerian mythology:
“My house which stands from the very heavens upon the earth.”
In Sumerian language, Ki denotes earth and An denotes sky and sky god. Ki is the basis of the word geo as in geography and “an” (which also means sky in Sumerian) is the probable basis of the word sun in English.
Other very important verses from Sumerian myths:
“Man the tallest, cannot stretch to heaven
Man the widest, cannot cover the wider world”
The above lines from Gilgamesh and the Land of the Living Sumerian myth clearly show what height means for the Sumerians: a way to reach heaven above! Pyramids are tall and wide, just like the mountains.
The word Kurgal: the great mountain is an epithet of Enlil, the god of air. In the below sentence, the great land is actually the great mountain (in Sumerian the word is Kurgal)!
“Sumer, the great land, the country of heaven and earth.”
Let us also see some lines from the Sumerian Cattle and the Grain Myth:
Upon the mountain of heaven and earth
When An had spawned the Anunnaki...
In Sumer, the cosmic mountain signified a united heaven and earth, the base being the earth and the netherworld and the top reaching the heaven.
All this centers around the belief in the sky god An and the sky heavens, central to a Sumerian belief system and mythology..
What do ziggurats, Sumerian step pyramids, and Egyptian pyramids look like? Man-made mountains! Moreover, pyramids, like mountains, rise towards the sky, as high as their technology allowed!
Pyramids are the representation of the aforementioned beliefs found in Sumerian myths written in cuneiform. The reason for Sumerians building the pyramids—and step pyramids prior to them—is right there in their myths, and in writing, no less!
Mountains were, in fact, central to Sumerian mythology, and there are no mountains in Sumer or Egypt where the pyramids were built!
Mountains in Turkish Mythology of Siberia and Central AsiaAccording to Siberian Turks, mountains were sacred. Turks thought that the higher they were, the closer they were to gods, just like the Sumerians did! In fact, Tengriism is the Turkish religious belief in a sky god/Kok Tengri.
The cosmic mountain is central to Turkish mythology too!
In Central Asia, many mountains and mountain ranges were named after gods, such as the current Tanri mountain—which is the same word as Dingir in Sumerian—the highest Sumerian god whose Sumerian sign looks like a star and was the major clue for the British researcher Edward Hincks to classify Sumerian as Turkic back in the 1850s. So, we find the name of the highest god of Sumer civilization in Central Asia today with the same word and meaning!
There are uch-Sumer peaks in the Altai mountains. As an interesting side note, Sumeru/Sumerula is the highest Buddhist mountain. Once more, we see a mountain is named after the highest god and with Sumer/Subar names.
For many Turkic people, mountains were also grounds for sacrificial rituals. Shamans would—and in some Altay tribes they still do—pray to the mountains. They would lay food, and sometimes sacrifice animals during rituals.
Some mountains were seen as layers reaching the heaven of Ulgen, one of the primordial Turkic gods in Turkish mythology in Siberia.
One should also note that Siberian Turkic mythology is extremely vast, probably dwarfing any other ancient mythologies.
Muazzez Ilmiye Cig wrote in her 2013 book "Sumer are Turkish" that Turks could not spell out the name of the mountains out of fear of retribution/reprisal, so they gave the same mountains many names. Some Turkic tribes in Altai region would whisper around the mountains to avoid angering the spirits.
They were scared of the power of mountains and offered sacrifices to them, such as white horses in some Hunnic tribes some two thousand years ago. These sacrifices were made to heal their sick and to revere their ancestors, and they did other ritualistic acts to show their respect to the mountains.
In a Sumerian tale, the war goddess Ninurta gives a mountain as a gift to her mother. The word “orta” (war) is still used in Turkish as Ordu/army and is the source of the English word “horde” as well as the Pakistani language Urdu.
For Sumerians, ziggurat must have been the mountain of underworld spirits. Zi means spirit, and gur/kur have two meanings—the underworld and the earth.
Ziggurats/Egyptian pyramids are the image of the cosmic mountain depicted in shamanistic rituals and Turkic people's beliefs, whose ancestral home is Siberia.
Sumerian- Ancient Egypt relations
(Click on the image for the answer)
As seen in this article, the people who built the pyramids in Ancient Egypt and the step pyramids before them were Sumerian Turks.
Lapis Lazuli gemstone was found in Pre-Dynastic Egyptian tombs from 6000 years ago. This shows that Lapis Lazuli and the people who have brought it from what is today the East Afghanistan mountains must have passed through Sumer Lands in Mesopotamia!
Supporting evidence of Egyptian-Sumerian relations can be found in Egyptian hieroglyphs and also in Lapis Lazuli use in statues found in Pre-Dynastic Egypt !
Egyptian hieroglyphs were similar to early Sumerian writing system based on logograms and pictograms. In time, Sumerians developed a much more advanced writing system, called cuneiform.
IMPORTANT DISCOVERY: (May 30, 2017) First ever genome study of mummies reveals they were more Turkish and European than African This very important study focuses on a much later period in Egypt history when Egypt was ruled by the Hyksos people (1400 BC), more than 1000 years after the beginning of the Egyptian civilization. This discovery provides further proof to my theory that Hyksos was mispronounced Oguz Turk (Hyksos=Uguz/Oguz, as shown in my book)
IMPORTANT NOTE: New Discovery in Kazakhstan published on August 17, 2016: It's not the world's 1st pyramid but this finding clearly shows the existence of Central Asian pyramid(s) about 1000 years later than that of Djoser step pyramid in Egypt. The first pyramidal structure Ziggurat is in North/Mid Iran from 5000 years ago and closer to that pyramid in Kazakhstan than that of Egyptian ones.
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Discover groundbreaking revelations on the roots of modern civilization in one short book. How did we arrive to where we are? How ancient civilizations a world apart, Sumer and Maya were connected. An overview that covers a wide range of topics from human migrations 50000 years ago to Gobeklitepe, the first temple in history, the first matriarchal society with written records, Elam, and to the Sun Cult of the Hattis. Their origins and influence on other ancient civilizations including their neighbors, distant relatives: Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Hurrian, Scythian, Oguz, Kassite, Gutian, Hyksos and more. (Many of my articles on this website included.)