Mastaba tombs surround the pyramids of the Old Kingdom. Courtiers and families of the monarch were buried in these low rectangular brick or stone structures. Like the pyramids, they were built on the west side of the Nile (symbol of death, where the sun falls into the underworld).
During the Old Kingdom, Egyptians believed that only the souls of kings went on to enjoy life with the gods. The souls of the nobles, on the other hand, continued to inhabit the tomb and needed to be nourished by daily offerings of food and drink. When people died, their ka (the life force or soul of the deceased) was released. To encourage the soul to return to the body, the body was preserved and a statuette in the likeness of the deceased was placed in the tomb. Statuettes called shabti or shawabti, (slaves for the soul) were also placed in the tombs to perform work on behalf of the deceased in the afterlife.
The actual burial chamber was at the base of a deep vertical shaft below a flat-roofed stone structure. A false door was carved on the interior tomb wall near the entrance to the shaft. Often an image of the deceased was carved in the false door in order to entice the soul to enter the body. For the comfort and well-being of the deceased, the burial chamber was filled with material goods and food offerings, and the walls were decorated with scenes of daily activities. The mastabas were designed to ensure the well-being of the deceased for all eternity.