The Egyptian mastaba is one of the earliest archaeologized architectural forms. From the Arabic word for bench, it is a squat, brick-shaped building with sloping sides, often associated with the early forms of elaborate funerary rites which would find their consummation in the monumental pyramid works of later dynasties. The mastaba’s influence is duly noted in one of the first colossal works, a step pyramid for the tomb of Pharaoh Zoser, designed by the architect Imhotep circa 2750 B.C.
The mastaba incorporated many of the functions necessary for the passage of the soul into the afterlife. The tomb itself sat below ground, as it still would in the pyramids, the interior was often highly decorative, the upper rooms were for storage of goods, artifacts and the burial of the servants. Much of the interest value here is derived from the glimpse the mastaba gives into the Egyptian’s seminal religiosity, but the foundational quality of this simple form can be traced to even the most complex modern buildings.