Starting in 1912, an Austrian ceremonial grave excavation team began working at the stone plateau of Giza in Egypt by opening the first graves from the period of the Old Kingdom (approx. 2650-2190 B.C.), west of the pyramid of Cheops. The excavated graves brought to light a large number of art works and art history artifacts, some of which found their way to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. The statues, reliefs, coffins, and other grave items may now be seen as part of the exhibition "In the Shadow of the Pyramids. The Austrian excavations at Giza (1912-1929)".
The main piece in the exhibit and also the most significant find of the Austrian dig is the life-size statue of Hemiunu (on loan from the Pelizaeus Museum in Hildesheim). He was the nephew of Cheops, and as one of the architects of the Cheops pyramid also had construction oversight over that large project. These worthwhile exhibits are supplemented by digital presentations, which enable you to take a virtual trip to the Giza plateau in the Old Kingdom.
From the beginning of the Dynastic Era (2950 B.C.), royal
tombs were carved into rock and covered with flat-roofed rectangular structures
known as "mastabas," which were precursors to the pyramids. The
oldest known pyramid in Egypt was built around 2630 B.C. at Saqqara, for the
third dynasty's King Djoser. Known as the Step Pyramid, it began as a
traditional mastaba but grew into something much more ambitious. As the story
goes, the pyramid's architect was Imhotep, a priest and healer who some 1,400
years later would be deified as the patron saint of scribes and physicians.
Over the course of Djoser's nearly 20-year reign, pyramid builders assembled
six stepped layers of stone (as opposed to mud-brick, like most earlier tombs)
that eventually reached a height of 204 feet (62 meters); it was the tallest
building of its time. The Step Pyramid was surrounded by a complex of
courtyards, temples and shrines, where Djoser would enjoy his afterlife.
After Djoser, the stepped pyramid became the norm for royal
burials, although none of those planned by his dynastic successors were
completed (probably due to their relatively short reigns). The earliest tomb
constructed as a "true" (smooth-sided, not stepped) pyramid was the
Red Pyramid at Dahshur, one of three burial structures built for the first king
of the fourth dynasty, Sneferu (2613-2589 B.C.) It was named for the color of
the limestone blocks used to construct the pyramid's core.