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.
Pyramids continued to be built throughout the fifth and
sixth dynasties, but the general quality and scale of their construction
declined over this period, along with the power and wealth of the kings
themselves. In the later Old Kingdom pyramids, beginning with that of King Unas
(2375-2345 B.C), pyramid builders began to inscribe written accounts of events
in the king's reign on the walls of the burial chamber and the rest of the
pyramid's interior. Known as pyramid texts, these are the earliest significant
religious compositions known from ancient Egypt.
The last of the great pyramid builders was Pepy II
(2278-2184 B.C.), the second king of the sixth dynasty, who came to power as a
young boy and ruled for 94 years. By the time of his rule, Old Kingdom prosperity
was dwindling, and the pharaoh had lost some of his quasi-divine status as the
power of non-royal administrative officials grew. Pepy II's pyramid, built at
Saqqara and completed some 30 years into his reign, was much shorter (172 feet)
than others of the Old Kingdom. With Pepy's death, the kingdom and strong
central government virtually collapsed, and Egypt entered a turbulent phase
known as the First Intermediate Period. Later kings, of the 12th dynasty, would
return to pyramid building during the so-called Middle Kingdom phase, but it
was never on the same scale as the Great Pyramids.