Predynastic Egyptian mastabas

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This house has more than one room

This model of an Egyptian house has more than one room (Louvre Museum, Paris)

In the earliest days of the kingdom of Egypt, about 4000-3500 BC, Egypt was still divided into the two countries of Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt. Even so long ago, most people already lived in houses built out of mud-brick, as they would throughout Egyptian history, and as many people in Egypt still do today.

What is an Egyptian mastaba?

This was so long ago that Egyptian architects couldn’t really build anything much more complicated than a house yet. The only other thing they built (that we know about) was tombs called mastabas. A mastaba was a small, low stone building to put a dead person in. So it was like a house for the dead.

Early mastaba tomb at Giza, Egypt

Early Egyptian mastaba tomb at Giza, Egypt

Mastabas and mummies

Egypt’s dry climate naturally preserved dead people’s bodies as mummies, and naturally Egyptians thought that if people’s bodies were going to stick around after death, they’d need houses to live in. That’s what a mastaba is. Though actually, once you put a body in a mastaba instead of burying them in the sand, they didn’t mummify themselves so well. That’s what drove the Egyptians to develop their own ways to mummify bodies.

Learn by doing: The Afterlife
Find out about the Pyramids
More about Predynastic Egypt

Bibliography and further reading about Egyptian architecture:

Pyramid, by David Macaulay (1982). His architectural drawings are great, and his explanations are simple and clear. Easy reading.

Eyewitness: Pyramid, by James Putnam (2000). Easy reading. Good photographs.

The Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt (Yale University Press Pelican History of Art), by William Stevenson Smith and William Kelly Simpson (revised edition 1999). Standard college textbook.

More on the Old Kingdom in Egypt
And more Egyptian Architecture
More about Ancient Egypt home

By |2018-04-19T08:31:07+00:00June 13th, 2017|Africa, Architecture, Egypt|2 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Predynastic Egyptian mastabas. Study Guides, June 13, 2017. Web. December 13, 2018.

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.


  1. Ana Begonha April 19, 2018 at 3:13 am - Reply

    There were no mastabas during the Predynastic Period. There were grave mounds. The first mastabas were built during the Archaic Period.

    • Karen Carr April 19, 2018 at 8:25 am

      I’m sorry, but I think there were. Wikipedia’s on my side, for a start: “The mastaba was the standard type of tomb in pre-dynastic and early dynastic Egypt for both the pharaoh and the social elite. ” Where are you getting your information? I’d be happy to check your source.

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