L’égyptologue anglais Sir Ernest Alfred Thompson Wallis Budge (1857-1934) a travaillé, à partir de 1883, pour le British Museum, où il fut en charge des antiquités égyptiennes et assyriennes.
Il est surtout connu pour ses travaux sur le Livre des morts du Papyrus d'Ani.
Ses fonctions au sein du musée londonien l’amenèrent à effectuer de nombreux voyages en Mésopotamie, en Égypte et au Soudan.
Dans son ouvrage The Nile : notes for travellers in Egypt, édité en 1902 (extraits ci-dessous), il analyse l’évolution des sépultures dans la vallée du Nil, depuis le simple trou creusé dans le sol jusqu’à la superstructure en pierres qui verra son développement majeur avec les mastabas, puis les pyramides.
Cette rétrospective de l’auteur ne présente aucune surprise majeure, tant sont communément admis la continuité et le perfectionnement, au fil des dynasties, de l’architecture funéraire de l’ancienne Égypte. Sans marquer pour autant une quelconque singularité, Wallis Budge personnalise toutefois son mini-inventaire en épousant la théorie de Lepsius sur le mode constructif des pyramides, une théorie qui présente, à ses yeux, l’avantage de répondre aux objections, de manière plus satisfaisante que ne le font d’autres théories en la matière.
“The oldest buildings in Egypt are tombs, and whether large or small they reflect in every age the religious ideas of those who built them. The excavations made in recent years show that the Egyptian tomb in the first instance was an oval hollow, either dug in the sand, or roughly cut in the limestone, and when the body had been laid therein, it was covered over with sand. It was, however, soon found that the wild animals scratched away the sand, and dragged out the bodies and devoured them ; to prevent this the friends of the dead laid slabs of stone loosely over the hollow in the ground. As time went on these slabs of stone were better fitted and plaster was used to keep them together, and finally the sides and bottom of the grave were lined with mud bricks or stone slabs. Thus the stone (or brick) lined grave is the oldest building in Egypt and the
Egyptians made it as a result of their belief in the resurrection of the body. But even at this early period there must have been numbers of the dead who were laid to their rest in the sand.
Caractéristiques des mastabas
After a further lapse of time and as a result of the development of religious ideas, men began to raise stone structures over the graves, whereon they might lay their offerings to the dead, and hold some kind of intercourse with them. What the earliest structures were like we do not know, but in the earlier part of the historic period the kings, and nobles, and high officials, were buried in chambers cut in the solid rock several yards below the surface of the ground, and rectangular chambers made of stones were built over them.The tops of such structures were perfectly flat, and the sides sloped outwards very slightly; a building of this kind is commonly called mastaba, because it resembles a bench. They did not resemble portions of pyramids, but, as Mariette said, a mastaba somewhat resembles a section cut horizontally out of an obelisk, supposing the obelisk to have a rectangular base.
The walls are of varying thickness, and few are built in exactly the same way; it is a common characteristic of them all that the cores are made of very poor materials. It is hard to understand why the builders, who gave so much time and attention and labour to such buildings, did not go a step further and build their walls solidly throughout.
Mastaba tombs were oriented towards the north. They vary in length and breadth, but all consist of a hall for prayer and sacrifice, of a shaft or pit leading to the chamber where the mummy lies, and of the mummy chamber. The entrance to the mastaba is through an opening on the eastern side, and this opening is often quite plain. Above the opening is a lintel, a portion of which is rounded, and here is found the name of the deceased ; occasionally the opening is sunk in the wall to a considerable depth, and a kind of small portico, with square pillars, appears in front.
The interior of the mastaba may be divided into chambers, the number of these varying according to the size of the monument and the fancy of the builder ; usually, however, a mastaba contains only one. On the ground inside a stele, or tombstone, which always faces the east, is found ; at its foot stands an altar or table intended for offerings, and near it is a chamber in which a statue of the deceased was placed.
The pit leading to the mummy chamber was square or rectangular, and, when the dead body had been laid away in its coffin or sarcophagus, was filled up once and for all.
The mastabas were built in rows and stood close together, having narrow passages between them. Contemporary with the mastabas are the tombs which were built in the form of pyramids, but which preserved all the main features of the mastaba as far as religious ideas were concerned.
Caractéristiques des pyramides
For various reasons it was found impossible to build a hall inside a great pyramid sufficiently large to accommodate all those who would bring offerings and pray for the deceased buried below ; therefore a hall was built outside in the form of a chapel. Instead of descending perpendicularly, the shaft which led to the mummy chamber beneath the pyramid is sometimes diagonal, in which case heavy sarcophagi were more easily lowered down it. It is probable that step-pyramids, which are after all only modifications of mastabas, are older than the true pyramid, and it is also probable that they fell into disuse because they could be more easily wrecked.
Well built stone pyramids with the steps filled up by stones that fitted closely have proved to be almost indestructible, especially if built on a grand scale. Examples of the step-pyramid are found at Ṣaḳḳâra and Mêdûm, in Egypt, and at Gebel Barkal, Nûri, and to the east of the site of the ancient city of Meroë, where Candace ruled ; the so-called Blunted Pyramid at Dahshûr is the unique example of a most unusual type of pyramid, for about half way up the side of each face the inclination changes, and while the lower portion of the face forms an angle of 54° 11′ with the horizon, the angle which the upper portion makes with the horizon is only 42° 59′. (...)
On the western bank of the Nile, from Abu Roâsh on the north to Mêdûm on the south, is a slightly elevated tract of land, about twenty-five miles long, on the edge of the Libyan desert, on which stand the pyramids of Abu Roâsh, Gîzeh, Zâwyet el-‘Aryân, Abuṣîr, Ṣaḳḳâra, Lisht, and Dahshûr. Other places in Egypt where pyramids are found are El-lâhûn in the Fayyûm, Hawâra, and Kullah near Esneh.
The pyramids built by the Nubians or Ethiopians at Ḳurrû, Zûma, Tanḳassi, Gebel-Barkal, Nûri, and Baḳrawîyeh (Meroë), are of various dates and are mere copies, in respect of form only, of the pyramids in Egypt.
Les pyramides : des tombes, et rien d’autre
It is well to state at once that the pyramids were tombs and nothing else. There is no evidence
whatever to show that they were built for purposes of astronomical observations, and the theory that the Great Pyramid was built to serve as a standard of measurement is ingenious but worthless. The significant fact, so ably pointed out by Mariette, that pyramids are only found in cemeteries, is an answer to all such theories. Tomb-pyramids were built by kings and others until the XIIth dynasty.
The ancient writers who have described and treated of the pyramids are given by Pliny (Nat. Hist., xxxvi. 12, 17). If we may believe some of the writers on them during the Middle Ages, their outsides must have been covered with inscriptions; which were, probably, of a religious nature. (...)
Mode de construction des pyramides : l’explication de Lepsius est la plus satisfaisante
It appears that before the actual building of a pyramid was begun a suitable rocky site was chosen and cleared, a mass of rock if possible being left in the middle of the area to form the core of the building. The chambers and the galleries leading to them were next planned and excavated. Around the core a truncated pyramid building was made, the angles of which were filled up with blocks of stone. Layer after layer of stone was then built around the work, which grew larger and larger until it was finished.
Dr. Lepsius thought that when a king ascended the throne, he built for himself a small but complete tomb-pyramid, and that a fresh coating of stone was built around it every year that he reigned ; and that when he died the sides of the pyramids were like long flights of steps, which his successor filled up with right-angled triangular blocks of stone. The door of the pyramid was walled up after the body of its builder had been laid in it, and thus remained a finished tomb. The explanation of Dr. Lepsius may not be correct, but at least it answers satisfactorily more objections than do the views of other theorists on this matter. It has been pointed out that near the core of the pyramid the work is more carefully executed than near the exterior, that is to say, as the time for the king's death approached the work was more hurriedly performed.
Les dégradations subies par les pyramides
The pyramids of Gîzeh were opened by the Persians during the fifth and fourth centuries before Christ ; it is probable that they were also entered by the Romans. Khalif Mâmûn (A.D. 813-833) entered the Great Pyramid, and found that others had been there before him. The treasure which is said to have been discovered there by him is probably fictitious. Once opened, it must have been evident to every one what splendid quarries the pyramids formed, and for some hundreds of years after the conquest of Egypt by the Arabs they were laid under contribution for stone to build mosques, etc., in Cairo. Late in the twelfth century Melik el-Kâmil made a mad attempt to destroy the third pyramid at Gîzeh built by Mycerinus ; but after months of toil he only succeeded in stripping off the covering from one of the sides. It is said that Muḥammad ‘Ali was advised to undertake the senseless task of destroying them all.”