Ashmolean Project: Stairs Research Part 2

I had heard that the Egyptians used a lot of symbols, some of which included stairs and ladders, so I have used this as a starting point for my research, to link to different time periods included in the Ashmolean.

Looking into the building of stairs and architectural elements in Ancient Eygpt, this website has given me some important details. My findings are listed below:

  • Modern stairs are often lightly built of either wood or steel. Ancient Egyptian stairs were usually much larger and made of bricks or, in temples, of rock.
  • Most towns were built in the plain, so there was rarely need for wide public stairs of the kind found at Kahun.
  •  Town houses sometimes had second or third floors, which could be reached by flights of stairs built of mud bricks or wood. Flat roofs of most houses were accessible and often used for sleeping and cooking.
  • Some temples contained stairs, often which were impressive. Stairs lent themselves to impressive appearances.
  • Tombs frequently contained staircases. Kheti II described his tomb

I had a lofty tomb with a wide stair before the chamber

Tomb of Kheti II
J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part One, §412

An example of a symbolic form of stairs may be Djoser’s step pyramid, which was built perhaps to facilitate the deceased king’s ascent to heaven.



  • ascension to Heaven / coming closer to God.
    • Islam, Mohammed climbed a ladder to reach God.
    • Egyptians tombs, many amulets have been found in the shape of a ladder.
    • Book of the Dead,My steps are now in position so that I may see the Gods.
  • Travel from this world to the next.
    •  the ladder can be seen to symbolise the different stages and different worlds.


Joseph, Imhotep of Egypt, built the first pyramid in Egypt at Saqqara
and stored grain in underground silos there. Grain silos used to save Egypt from famine.


National Geographic, January 1995:

  • man called Imhotep who saved his country from a famine.
  • Architect, probably conceived of building Djoser’s [pharaoh] tomb completely from stone.
  • Sculptor, priest, healer. Considered the preeminent genius of the Old Kingdom. Assembled one workforce to quarry limestone to ship the crude blocks by boat to Saqqara, another to haul the stone to the site, where master carvers shaped each block and put it in place.
  • On a granite boulder, a sculptor later chiseled out in hieroglyphs the story of how Imhotep had saved his country from famine.

In 1890 Charles Wilbour discovered this boulder
on the island of Sahal at the Nile, telling a story of Imhotep

  • Imhotep, credited to have designed the first Pyramid, often called the Step Pyramid
  • Began building with hewn stone instead of all mud brick.
  • Evidence that during time of Djoser, Egypt became a great nation – gathered wealth of all the surrounding nations by selling them grain during the famine.
  • Seven years, the people, under Joseph’s guidance, organised an administrative centre, selling grain to all the surrounding nations.





Grain Storage Bins:

Surrounding the Step Pyramid, the first ever built, is a very beautiful and elaborate wall containing 13 false entrances and one real. At the main entrance on the east wall at the southern end, one enters a long hall of 40 columns — 20 on each side. Each column is connected to the main wall by a perpendicular wall, forming small cubicles between each column. As you exit this colonnade and walk straight ahead, you come to a series of very large pits which extend deep into the earth:

























These grain storage bins are extremely large in size — much larger than any burial chambers; they are all centrally accessible by a connecting tunnel, extend to well above ground level, and one has a staircase extending down to the bottom. For this reason, we know that they were not built as tombs — if they were, they would have been constructed underground and they certainly would not have been so incredibly large.

– Steps leading down to one central exit point for the underground grain silos


A staircase leads to a central exit point for all the grain storage bins. They extend to well above ground level. Because the ancient Egyptians buried their dead with so much valuable material and provisions for their “afterlife,” plundering of tombs was always their biggest fear. Therefore, we know that these massive pits had another purpose.

In the pharaoh’s burial complex under the pyramid, there are matching bins for the king and his family’s afterlife- and in these bins were found grain and other food stuffs.

When the famine began and the Egyptians began to cry for food, they were told to go to Joseph and do whatever he said, which indicates that he gave the orders for the distribution of the grain:

“And when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread: and Pharaoh said unto all the Egyptians, Go unto Joseph; what he saith to you, do. And the famine was over all the face of the earth: and Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold unto the Egyptians; and the famine waxed sore in the land of Egypt.” Genesis 41:55-56


There are eleven pits, with only one containing a very elaborate stairway all the way to the bottom. All the pits are connected to each other by a subterranean tunnel — the pits were filled and the tops were sealed with wooden timbers and stone. And, all of the grain could be accessed from one entrance — and there is one entrance into the pits from outside the wall enclosure of the complex. Last of all, grain was found in the floor of these pits, which has been explained by Egyptologists as having been from foods buried with deceased who were buried there — however, no evidence of burials was ever found in these pits.


Some ancient historians have written of the fact that the pyramids were once believed to be “Joseph’s storage bins” for the grain, and perhaps this story has its roots in the fact Joseph designed the first pyramid in the same complex in which the grain was stored.


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