An Arabic word meaning 'bench', used to refer to a certain type of tomb whose superstructure resembles the benches outside Egyptian homes. Tombs of this type usually consist of an underground burial chamber, sometimes with subsidiary rooms, hidden beneath and protected by a rectangular superstructure of stone or mudbrick. The superstructure often contained an offering chamber, originally only a niche that later developed into a whole series of rooms. Inside the offering chamber there was a false door, an offering table and sometimes a statue of the deceased located within a closed-off room called the 'Serdab' (meaning 'cellar'). A small opening in the wall of the serdab enabled the statue to partake of the offerings.
In the Early Dynastic Period, mastaba tombs were built by kings and private individuals alike, primarily at Abydos and Saqqara. The underground apartments of these early tombs did not feature any doorways, so that the superstructure could thus only be completed after the burial had been interred. Later tombs had a stairway (subsequently blocked by rubble or portcullis stones) leading to the burial chamber. Mastabas from the Old Kingdom can be found in all the large cemeteries, especially at Giza, Saqqara, Abusir and Meidum. By this time, however, mastabas were only built by private persons. Kings were then buried in pyramids, the first of which was the Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara (3rd Dynasty). From this time on the number of subterranean chambers decreased, and by the 4th Dynasty only the burial chamber remained, linked with the superstructure by a shaft filled with rubble. Private individuals also built mastabas during the Middle Kingdom, but by then rock-cut tombs were becoming more common.