The Pyramids in Giza are the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one to remain largely intact. The massive structures draw almost 15 million visitors from around the world each year. In fact, just in the past few days, a plan has been released to renovate the area surrounding the Great Pyramids of Giza, which would include building the first café and restaurant to serve tourists at the location. As we work in the tourism industry, it made us curious:
Are the Pyramids at Giza the Oldest Graves You Can Visit While on Vacation?
Let’s assume that (A) this has to be a place that someone was purposefully buried/entombed with (B) some kind of marker to let others know who was buried there, (C) that has not been moved from its original location or significantly altered and (D) it’s a place that a regular person can casually visit.
People have been intentionally interring the dead for an incredibly long time—Neandertals and Paleolithic human burials have been discovered which point to burial practices that go back much longer than we had previously believed.
The Taforalt (Grotte des Pigeons) is technically the world’s oldest cemetery, but you can’t exactly wander through it freely and check out the graves. For one, the graves aren’t like the ones you see in your local graveyard—this cemetery is at least 14000 years old after all. This burial ground is inside of a cave in Morocco and there are no headstones marking the individual graves.
The Taforalt, like other old burial sites (like the Circle Grave A and B in Greece) is also an active archaeological site so you can’t just walk around the graves. Not only are they still excavating the land, but many of the bodies that were discovered there have been removed and are being studied in universities and museums around the world.
In these older, prehistoric graves, caves and tumuli there are often many people buried in them and we don’t know who each of them were when they were alive. We can’t know their names for sure and have to make a lot of guesses to be able to piece together an approximate idea about their lives.
The Great Pyramids of Giza are pretty old, the oldest of which was built between 2580-2560BCE for Khufu, an Egyptian Pharoah. But the Great Pyramid of Giza isn’t even the oldest pyramid in Egypt—that would be the Pyramid of Djoser, built between 2630-2610BCE. Djoser was another Egyptian Pharoah who lived about 100 years before Khufu.
It is not only the oldest pyramid in the world….it is the oldest grave that fits our criteria.
It is a great site to tour with much smaller crowds. But check before booking your plane tickets though, as the Pyramid of Djoser is undergoing renovations in 2020.
There are even older tombs in Egypt for even older people than Djoser, but their tombs are either unvisitable, active archeological sites, or lost to history.
If a trip to Egypt is out of the question, you could check out the Garrison Cemetery in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, to find the oldest surviving English headstone in Canada. This belongs to Bethiah Douglass who died on October 1, 1720. Europeans were buried here before Bethiah, but many of them used wooden grave markers which have since rotted away, and other older cemeteries and graves have been lost over time. There are, of course, older First Nations burial sites, but fear of desecration and looting have kept many of their locations private.
If you enjoy stories about graves and cemeteries, be sure to check out one of our walking tours in Kingston, Ottawa or Toronto.