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T h e C o m p l e t e

P y r a m id s
S o l v i n g \ti e A n c i e n t M y s t e r i e s

Thames &Hudson
m r " p y ra m id

A n y gods who shall cause this pyram id and

this construction o f the K ing to be good and
sturdy, it is they who will be vital, it is they who
will be respected, it is they who will be
impressive, it is they who will be in control.. .it
is they who will take possession o f the crown.
Pyramid Texts 1650
The Complete


556 illustrations, 83 in color

To Bruce Ludwig, fo r his steadfast support
Half-title: Old Kingdom hieroglyph fo r p yram idfro m the Tomb o f Ptahholep I at Pyramids, Land and People 6
Saqqara. Title-pages: The pyramids o f Menkaure, Khafre and K hufu at Giza.
Contents page: The pyramids o f Khafre and K hufu at Giza.
Chronology 8
Any copy of this book issued by the publisher as a paperback is sold subject to the
condition that it shall not by way of trade or otherwise be lent, resold, hired out or Map 10
otherwise circulated without the publishers prior consent in any form of binding or
cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition
including these words being imposed on a subsequent purchaser. Pyramids in the Landscape 12
> 1997 Tham es & Hudson Ltd, London The Giant Pyramids:
First published in the United States of America in 1997 by Their Rise and F all 14
Thames & Hudson Inc., 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10110
The Standard Pyramid Complex 18
Reprinted 2001

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 97-60232

ISBN 0-500-0508-4-8
All Rights Reserved. No p art of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted
in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy,
recording or any other information storage and retrieval system, without prior
permission in w riting from the publisher.

Printed and bound in Slovenia by Mladinska Knjiga The Ka, the Ba and the Body Embalmed 20

Burial Rituals and the Pyramid Complex 25

This World and the Netherworld 28

The Pyramid Texts 31

The Pyramid as Icon 34

Early Legends 38

Mythic History o f the Copts and Arabs 40

The First European Discovery 42

Napoleons Wise Men 46

B ekoni and Caviglia 48

Digging by Dynamite 50

Lepsius and M ariette 54

Petrie at the Pyramids 56

The Great Expeditions 59 Neiv Kingdom Pyramids 188

Recent Discoveries 66 Ahm ose at Abydos 190

P rivate Pyramids 192

Pyramids o f Late Antiquity 194
Origins o f the Pyramid - THE LIVING PYRAMID
Hierakonpolis 72
Supply and Transport 202
Royal Tombs at Abydos 75
Quarries 206
Archaic Mastabas at Saqqara 78
The NOVA Pyramid-Building Experiment 208
Saqqara: A n Overview 82
Tools, Techniques and Operations 210
Djosers Step Pyramid Complex 84
Survey and Alignm ent 212
The Short Life o f Step Pyramids 94
Ramps 215
The First True Pyramids:
M eidum and Dahshur 97 Rise and Run 218

Giza: A n Overview 106 Trouble at the Top 222

The Great Pyramid o f K hufu 108 The Workforce 224

Djedefre at Abu Roash 120 Building a Middle Kingdom Pyramid 226

Return to Giza: Pyramid as Landlord 228

K hafres Pyramid and the Great Sphinx 122
Pyramid Towns 230
M enkaures Pyramid 134
Those Who Serve:
The Passing o f a Dynasty 138 Priests and Watchers 233

The Pyramid o f Userkaf 140 Loaves and Fishes 236

The Pyramids o f Abusir 142 The Royal Workshops 238

The E nd o f the 5th Dynasty 153

Pyramids o f the 6th Dynasty 156
The Legacy o f the Pyramids 240
Pyramids o f the
First Intermediate Period 164
Visiting the Py ramids 244
Mentuhotep at Deir el-Bahri 166
Further Reading 246
The Pyramids at Lisht 168
Illustration Credits 252
The Second Phase o f
Middle Kingdom Pyramids 174 Sources o f Quotations 252

Mudbrick Pyramids 175 Index 253

Late Middle Kingdom Pyramids 184 Acknowledgments 256

T h is powerful special effect w as extinguished
when the outer casing of m ost pyram ids was
robbed long ago. W here it remains, for exam ple at
the top of Khafres pyram id at Giza, the w eathering
Pyramids, Land and People of the ages has coated it with a tan patina. A nd so
w hat we mostly see today are the stripped core bod
ies of the pyram ids, composed of substantially
rougher m asonry than the outer casing. Even the
G reat Pyram id of Khufu, the finest of all, has a
core formed of cruder blocks, set w ith gypsum
T he E gyptian pyram ids are very hum an m onu mortar, and som etim es a fill of broken stone. O ther
ments, although their builders may have tried not pyram ids have cores of sm aller stones set in desert
to em phasize th a t fact. A t dawn, as the sun rose clay, or a debris fill th a t slum ped into low m ounds
over the eastern cliffs, its rays caught the pyramids, when the casing w as removed, or dark bricks of
energizing their sacred precincts with heal and mud and straw. In places on their exposed cores we
light well before the m orning m ists had lifted from can find evidence left by w orkers who practically
First to be lit in the morning the cool, sleeping valley floor. Al high noon forty- lived on the gradually rising pyram ids during the
and catching the last o f the five centuries ago, when the pyram ids were com years, even decades, that it took to build them.
sunlight 111 the afternoon, the
plete with their freshly sm oothed white limestone In 19841 directed a project w ith Robert Wenke, of
brilliance of the Giza
pyramids has been dimmed by casings, their brilliance m ust have been blinding. the University of W ashington, to collect sam ples of
the removal o f their casing Only in this light can we appreciate the intensity organic material em bedded in the fabric of pyra
and a patina o f age with which the pyram ids symbolized the sun god. mids for radiocarbon dating. It w as an am azing
: climbing over the Great Pyram id looking to the apex of the Delta. From here to the entrance
v flecks of charcoal left in the gypsum to the Fayum w as a long, narrow section of the Nile
Such close encounters w ith pyram ids Valley which throughout E gyptian history would
. 't the footprints of the gods, but rather the be the capital zone and also the pyram id zone.
rinrs of the people: straw and reed, wood, West w as the traditional direction of the dead and
'of rope and stone tools, flecks of copper the high w estern desert along the northern capital
m - rds of pottery. zone became the burial ground for royalty,
courtiers, officials and sacred animals. In the Old
. : . geography of the pyramids Kingdom the seat of adm inistration may have been
cir lives were governed by rhythm ic move- the chief royal residence in the valley below the
. - T ong two cosmic axes, the ancient Egyp- clusters of pyramids.
-.vere immediately aw are of the cardinal Karl Butzer has estim ated th at the two areas of
n< The sun rose and set over the beige greatest population density in dynastic times were
ind bronze cliffs fram ing them on east and between Luxor (ancient Thebes) and Aswan (Ele
The north-south axis was defined by the lin- phantine) at the 1st cataract, and from Meidum at
>f the Nile, which channelled the flow of the Fayum entrance northw ards to the apex of the Produce from the lands and
~. services and the adm inistration of the land, Delta. In between w as Middle Egypt, a geographic people o f Egypt was delivered
in the Delta, travel w as easiest up and down buffer zone w ith a lower population density. It is to the pyramids from estates
in Middle Egypt and the
r ' - as opposed to straig h t across. w orth bearing in mind that the total population of
Delta. This is a drawing of
. ;iximately 4,000 years before the founding E gypt at the time the Giza pyram ids were built is an offering bearer from a
t- modern capital of Cairo, E gypts first capi- estim ated to have been 1.6 million, compared with relief in the pyramid temple
' K-mphis, began as a fortified settlem ent close 58 million in AD 1995. o f Senwosret I at Lisht.
Late P redyn astic c. 3 0 0 0 BC 6th dynasty
Chronology Teti
2 3 2 3 -2 1 5 0
of the Early D ynastic Period Pepi I
1st dynasty 2 9 2 0 -2 7 7 0
Pyramid Menes (Hor-Aha); Djer, Wadi; Den. Adjib,
Pepi II 2246-2152
Semerkhet; Qaa 7th/8th dynasties 2 1 5 0 -2 1 3 4
Builders including Ibi dates uncertain
2n d dynasty 2 7 7 0 -2 6 4 9
Hetepsekhemwy; Raneb; Ninetjer; Peribsen;
Egyptian chronology and F irst Interm ediate Period
i nn v nf dynasties and
pharaohs arc still the 9th/10th dynasties 2 1 3 4 -2 0 4 0
3 rd dynasty 2 6 4 9 -2 5 7 5
subject o f scholarly debate, Nebka 2649-2630 11 th dynasty (Theban) 2 1 3 4 -2 0 4 0
with dinereal systems Djoser (Netjerykhet) 2630-2611 Intef I 2134-2118
proposed. The dates used
Sekhemkhet 2611-2603 Intel II 2118-2069
here an: based on the.
Khaba 2603-2599 Intef III 2069-2061
chronology developed by
Professor John Raines and Huni 2599-2575 Mentuhotep 2061-2010
Dr Jaromir Malek and set
out in their Atlas of Old Kingdom M iddle Kingdom
Ancient Egypt. Details o f 4th dynasty 2 5 7 5 -2 4 6 5 11th dynasty 2 0 4 0 -1 9 9 1
those pharaohs who built
Sneferu 2575-2551 Mentuhotep I 2061-2010
pyramids or are featured in
Khufu (Cheops) 2551-2528 Mentuhotep II 2010-1998
the text are given in full,
where blown. Djedefre 2528-2520 Mentuhotep 111 1998-1991
Khafre (Chephren) 2520-2494
12th dynasty 1 9 9 1 -1 7 8 3
Menkaure (Mycerinus) 2490-2472
Amenemhet I 1991-1962
Shepseskaf 2472-2467
Senwosret I (Sesostris I) 1971-1926
5th dynasty 2 4 6 5 -2 3 2 3 Amenemhet II 1929-1892
Userkaf 2465-2458 Senwosret II (Sesostris 11) 1897-1878
Sahure 2458-2446 Senwosret III (Sesostris III) 1878-1841?
Neferirkare 2446-2426 Amenemhet III 1844-1797
Shepseskare 2426-2419 Amenemhet IV 1799-1787
Raneferef 2419-2416 Sobek neferu 1787 1783
Niuserre 2416-2388
13th dynasty 1 7 8 3 -1 6 4 0
Djedkare-Isesi 2388-2356
Unas 2356-2323
Ameny-Qemau c. 1750
Khendjer c. 1745
14th dynasty contemporary
with 13th or 15th
The pyramid as temple
nd Interm ediate Period It is true that the pyram ids are pharaonic tombs, Pyramids, Land and People
- / 7th d y n a sties 1 6 4 0 -1 5 3 2 but the tom b of a pharaoh of ancient E gypt w as
far more than ju st the grave of a king. One of the
Kingdom hallm arks of the E gyptian state from its very
beginning in the 1s t dynasty w as the tradition cen
-2 0 th d yn a sties 1 5 5 0 -1 0 7 0
tred on the king as an incarnation of the god Horns,
'* -ding
Ahmose (Amosis) 1550-1525 whose totem w as the falcon. In the world of the
ancient E gyptians the falcon soared above all other
1 Interm ediate Period living creatures. W hen an incarnation of Horus
died, the god passed to the next reigning king.
- 25th d yn a sties 1 0 7 0 -7 1 2
Physically entom bed w ithin the pyram id, the dead
king became identified w ith Osiris, the divine
.~t : dynasty 7 7 0 -7 1 2
Nubian and Theban Area) father of Horus. T he pyram id complex was, in one
Kashta 770-750 sense, a tem ple complex to the Horus-Osiris divini
Rye 750-712 ty, merged with the sun god in the central icon of
the pyram id.
[-. e Period A s a temple complex, the pyram id w as also the
largest of w hat have been called pious founda
- dyn asty 7 1 2 -6 5 7
Shabako 712-698 tions, th at is, enorm ous endow m ents of people,
Shaba tko 698-690 lands and produce, fcr the sustenance, upkeep and
Taharqa 690-664 service of a tomb, temple or pyram id. W hen the Two of the lesser pyramid
Tantutamun 664 657 E gyptians built the pyram ids, they also founded builders: the 4th-dynasty
new farm s, ranches and whole new tow ns in the pharaoh Djedefre (top), who
h d yn a sty 664-525 began a pyramid at Abu
provinces. T he livestock and produce from these
r, uding Roash, north o f Giza; and the
672-664 estates flowed into the area of the pyram id com
XechoI bth-dynasty ruler (Jserkaf
Psamtik I 664-610 plex where they would be redistributed to the w ork (above), who built a pyramid
(Psammetichus I) force and to the priests and special classes of adjacent to Djosers Step
people who served the temple complex. So the p y ra Pyramid at Saqqara and was
. 7:h d y n a sty 5 2 5 -4 0 4 mid w as also an economic engine, and, especially also the first pharaoh to
- ' I: dynasty 4 0 4 -3 9 9 during the Old Kingdom, a m ajor catalyst for inter construct a sun temple in
h d yn a sty 3 9 9 -3 8 0 addition to his pyramid, at
nal colonization and the development of E gypt as
.h d yn a sty 3 8 0 -3 4 3 one of the worlds first true states.
T he complete pyram id played many roles: m as
.i Persian Period 3 4 3 -3 3 2 sive labour project; baker and brewer for hundreds
of consumers; colonizer of the E gyptian provinces;
aeco- R o m a n P erio d 332 bc- a d 395
employer of farmers, herdsmen and craftsm en of
ro itic kin g d o m 300 bc- a d 350 all kinds; temple and ritual centre at the core of the
E gyptian state; reliquary of a king; em bodiment of
light and shadow; and the union of heaven and
earth, encapsulating the m ystery of death and
Products of the land and people of E g y p ts old
est kingdom s, in their pristine form the pyram ids
(Left) The great pyramid
were the closest mankind has ever come in architec
builders o f the Old Kingdom:
ture to creating an illusion of transcending the Djoser (far left), here depicted
human condition. Their au ra of otherw orldliness in a life-size painted statue,
still inspires the popular im agination to seek their built the worlds first stone
origin anyw here other than the people who inhab pyramid, the Step Pyramid at
ited the lower Nile Valley between five and Saqqara. Khiifu (second left)
oversaw the construction of
three thousand years ago.
the most magnificent
pyramid, the Great Pyramid
at Giza, but is preserved only
in this tiny ivory figurine,
about 5 an (2 in) high.
Khafre (third left) is depicted
in this life-size statue, merged
in identity with the Horus
falcon. Menkaure (near left) is
shown standing next to his
queen, Kluimerernebty.

300 km
200 miles 1
1 n




- Barkal
J - iNuri
N el-Kurru

A Meroe i


Gisr el-M udir

Sneferus North (Red) Pyramid
Sneferus Bent Pyramid
gj Lepsius L

3 Pepi II Sekh.emkhet Unas

Shepseskaf El Merenre _
South Mazghuna H South Dahshur B Llbi Djoser j
8 b Ameny-Qemau
L North Mazghuna B South Dahshur A
0 Amenemhet III B Amenemhet 0 Unfinished Pyramid
0 Pepi 1
! Djedkare-lsesi
Userkaf E

FAYUM Moeris

Main Memphis
ruin field

- , :
E3 Amenemhet III

1EI Senwosret II

0 Sneferu LISHT
Amenemhet 1..
River N'|e _
Senwosret 1E l El
---- ----------- ____ ^

0J . 20 km
0 10 miles ---------N r ^
To Abu Roash
8km (5 miles)


53 Menkaure
[X ] Khafre

1 3 Khufu

ZAWIYET EL-ARYAN ^ Unfinished Pyramid

a Layer Pyramid



a Niuserres Sun Temple
Userkafs Sun Temple
- . :.-eferef H g
s s :<xv B Sahure 0 1 2 km
1----------------1----------,------- i
c s y xiv ! Niuserre 0 1 mile > - N
- tkawes

: mastabas

Archaic Memphis

Contours in metres

16 m

19 m

20 m

21 m

25 m

35-65 m

c 75-115 m
Nomes and basins
T hrough processes of erosion and deposition, the
Nile created a convex floodplain. T h a t is, the high
est land is nearest the river and, perhaps contrary
Pyramids in the Landscape to w hat we m ight expect, the lowest land is closer
to the desert. In between were natural basins, ter
raced dow nstream from south to north. The basins
were one of the largest and m ost basic landscape
features of the yearly cycle, form ing an immense
natural irrigation system that w as wiped out by the
E g y p t w as a cradle of civilization that allowed the m odern dam s at Aswan. Surrounded by dykes and
sam e basic language and culture to flourish for carefully managed, the great cell-like basins held
nearly 3,000 years. For m ost of this long history, w ater for six to eight w eeks each year during the
pharaoh w as Lord of the Two Lands', a reflection annual flood. In the last century, from Elephantine
of the natural division of the country into two to ju st north of the Fayum there were 136 principal
inhabitable parts: the Nile Valley and the broad basins.
Delta. Each pharaoh wore the double crown, com How did the ancient E gyptians organize this
bining the Red Crown of Lower (northern) E gypt landscape and its peasant farm ers to provide the
and the W hite Crown of U pper (southern) Egypt. food and labour th a t supported pyram id building?
In shape, the Nile and its Y-shaped Delta can be D uring the last century such control involved inde
com pared to three of the p lants th a t flourish in the pendent system s of basins, consisting of (rarely)
valley and which the pyram id builders petrified in one or (usually) several basins w atered by a single
stone in carvings and columns: the palm tree, the feeder canal. T he head of this canal w as a breach in
lotus and the papyrus. Upper E gypt is the trunk or the Nile bank. Beginning in the 18th dynasty, the
stem; and the Delta is the palm frond, the lotus canals th at seasonally channelled flood w aters to
flower or the head of the papyrus. If the Delta is the basins were named with the hieroglyph of the
the lotus blossom, the Fayum is its bud. T he Fayum hum an arm - they were arm atures of w ater. Each
is a large fertile basin, at various times filled by a basin system also had a tail-end escape to allow the
lake whose rem ains today are the brackish w aters w aters to flow back into the Nile after they had
of Lake Qarun. T he lake w as fed by the only m ajor deposited their fertile silty slime. T his w as
tributary of the Nile in Egypt, the Bahr Youssef breached first, followed by successive openings in
(River Joseph), which enters the Fayum by way of each transverse dyke back to the head basin.
.the ancient H aw ara Channel. Field beds appeared a t the bottom of the basins
from south to north. The E gyptians planted by
broadcast sowing - sim ply scattering the seed by
Stone for Pyramids hand - and this w as best done soon after the basin
The ancient Egyptians favoured various stones for w as drained when the beds were still wet. Draining
their pyramids and carvings. Over millions of years and sowing therefore needed to be closely co-ordi
(primarily the Eocene, 65-35 million years ago) the nated and the basin adm inistrators m ust have
sea covered much of Egypt, depositing sediments rapidly surveyed and identified field boundaries.
that became the limestone of Egypts tableland. T he southernm ost Upper E gyptian basins were
Limestone was quarried for the cores of pyramids usually dry by 5 October, and the northernm ost by
in block sizes often corresponding to the thickness 30 November. Sowing and grow ing took place in
of successive natural layers or beds. Finer limestone the season of peret, coming forth, followed by
for outer pyramid casings came from eastern
shemu, harvest, and, beginning in late summer,
quarries across the Nile. Farther south, and formed
akhet, inundation. The three seasons each consist
in older geological periods, sandstone was used for
ed of four months, for a 1 2 -month year.
the last pyramids in the Nile Valley - at Napata and
Meroe. It w as usual for a temple or large household to
Granite was important as the second stone for own, rent or m anage an assem blage of fields that
pyramid casings, and often the primary material for may not have been contiguous and were not neces
sarcophagi and burial chambers. Diorite and grey- sarily near the house. In ancient E gypt a s other
wacke were highly prized for statues. Basalt was societies based on flood recession agriculture, an
long preferred for the pavements of temples. To archipelago of land holdings of different quality
obtain these materials the Egyptians mounted spread throughout the country may have been an
quarry expeditions to the places where these harder insurance ag ain st floods that were too high or too
and geologically older igneous rocks lay exposed - low. T he Old Kingdom pyram ids were am ong the
the Fayum, the Red Sea Mountains and Aswan and earliest developers and owners of such land p o rt
its desert quarries. They also contained the copper folios. One of the m ost frequent scenes in the pyra
needed for tools, as well as gold, silver and iron, the
mid temples is a long train of offering bearers, each
last mostly used only in later periods.
personifying a village, estate or nome (p. 228).

- r adm inistrative purposes, the ancient Egyp- and possibly Giza. Where perennial lakes did not Lake Dahshur, the last
> divided U pper E g y p t into districts called occur, the pyram id builders could have created surviving of the pyramid
with Nome 1 at Elephantine on the 1st them by w idening and deepening the natural flood lakes on the desert edge,
gives a haunting impression
m et and Nome 22 ju st north of the Fayum basins th a t would then have served as the harbours
of pyramid ecology. Sneferu's
..r.ce. These nomes, each with a main settle- that every standard pyram id complex required. It is Bent Pyramid rises to the
that developed into a capital, were estab- possible that older canals that still survive near the west.
-c by she 5th dynasty. T h e complete set of 20 escarpm ent at Saqqara and Abusir, particularly the
-_-rn r.omes, beginning with Lower Egyptian B ahr el-Libeini, are vestiges of ancient channels.
'.c 1 of Memphis, and taking in the Delta, w as There is a high place on the M okkatam Hills
- .Y.ished only in late antiquity. southeast of Cairo where one can look across the
is tem pting to think th at the nomes, and the valley and see, silhouetted in the desert haze, the
i proto-kingdoms that am algam ated in the late pyram ids of Giza, Abusir, S aqqara and Dahshur. In
; nastic to become the E gyptian state, origi- the valley below, the Nile no longer floods the
: in these basins. Certainly the com munication basins. The nome centres and royal com munities -
A simplified cross-section of
I red for the sequential filling and discharge w ith their bakeries, granaries, brew eries and m ulti the Nile Valley between Sohag
;i i have been easier across the sm aller basin tudinous w orkshops - have been replaced by the and Asyut. where the river
ms such as those of the Qena Bend, from spraw l of Africas largest city. T he pyram ids no runs next to the east
v rulers of E gypt emerged more than once. longer connect with living E gypt and so we have escarpment today, based on
lost sight of their original role in ancient E gyptian Karl Butzers work. A convex
ilasins and pyramids flood, plain leaves high land
lives. But from the M okkatam Hills, there is still the
along Nile levees, and low
: h on the flood basins and the geography of sense of the pyramid held as one v ast M emphite basin land towards the desert.
v Memphite region is now clearing up som e old necropolis, the pyram ids standing as giant tom b The Nile has migrated
>nceptions. The average depth of the Nile stones of distant god-kings. eastwards through time.
. w aters w as not sufficient to float huge lime-
basing blocks or g ranite beam s to the fool of
. ramid plateau. Yet there is no evidence th a t
Oid Kingdom E gyptians cut perennially flood
s transversely across the flood plain.
.he norrhern pyram id zone, from D ahshur to
:.nd particularly in the area of Memphis, the
wed closer to the west bank during the early
of E gypts history. A t intervals along the
: tbf desert were lakes that held w ater after
d receded. These probably existed in front
r;:mid sites such as Abusir, Saqqara, D ahshur

The Giant Pyramids:
Their Rise and Fall
The march to near pyramid
perfection began with the
Beni Pyramid o f Sneferu
at Dahshur (below).

(Above) Khufu's Great

Pyramid at Giza was the
largest ever built, covering
5.3 ha (13.1 acres) and rising
146 m (479 ft) at a slope of
around 520

Sneferu (2575-2551 bc) also desert near the high cliffs at Abydos, each would
built the North (or Red) have been marked by a pair of large stelae and cov
Pyramid at Dahshur (above), ered by a mound. These rovai pit and m ound
a true pyramid with a slope of
graves, together with im itation palaces in the form
43, and the pyramid at
Meidum, which he gave the of open rectangular courts defined by m udbrick
form o f a true pyramid with w alls down in the valley, are the architectural
a slope o f 52 antecedents of the pyram ids. While some are cer
tainly m onum ental in size, they do not approach
the scale th at emerges suddenly in the 3rd-ciynasty
reign o f Dioser (2630-2611 b c ).
(Below) The giant pyramid Egyptologists trace the ultim ate origins of even the T he Step Pyram id of Djoser heralded the classic
appeared suddenly in the 3rd- g ran d est pyram ids back to the modest pit graves of pyram id age. the 4th to 6 th dynasties, also known
dynasty reign of Djoser, who the predynastic period, which were covered by sim as the Old Kingdom. D uring these centuries the
built the first pyramid and
mortuary complex in stone, ple m ounds of sand and gravel. A little later, on the E gyptians built pyram ids for their god-kings in a
which he surrounded by an threshold of the 1st' dynasty (c. 2900 b c ), the graves 72-km (45-mile) span of desert, between Abu
enclosure wall more than of the rulers and elite consisted of neat mudbrick Roash, northw est of Giza, to Meidum in the south,
1,600 m (5,250ft) long. boxes, sunk in the desert and divided, like a house, near the entrance to the Fayum. Excluding the
into several cham bers. T he tom bs o f the pharaohs pyram ids o f Djedefre a t Abu Roash and Sneferu ar
of the first two dynasties followed this pattern, but Meidum as outliers, the 21 other major Old K ing
w ith greater complexity. Situated far out in the dom pyram ids stand like sentinels in a 2 0 -km (12 -
v .ch w est of the capital the W hite Wall,
n wn as Memphis, clustering at Giza,
; Aryan, Abusir, Saqqara and Dahshur,
ruly gigantic stone pyram ids were built
)urse of only three generations: Sneferu,
1 Khafre. If Sneferu did indeed build the
v. pyram id as well a s his two stone pyram ids
'.:ur. his pyram ids alone contain more than
n eu. m (124 million cu. ft) of stone. All the
rarnids of E gyptian kings combined
queens and other satellite pyram ids)
( nly 41 per cent of the total m ass of the
' of Sneferu, his son Khufu and grandson
M enkaure still used multi-tonned stone
r the third pyram id of Giza, but the total
> less than that of Djoser.
' h and 6 th dynasties each king still built a
!. but on a much sm aller scale and with
- m esand a core of stone rubble fill. In one
' is inferior construction; however, the
' accomplished the sam e pyram idal form
casing and less expense. At the sam e time
."'.id temples increased in size, complexity
sm anship in com parison with those of the
. dynasty pyram ids. T rue standardization
r.bhed in the pyram ids of the late 5th
. :md particularly those of the 6 th. In spite m ids was still in the north near the apex of the The Middle Kingdom
inference in length of reigns, the pyram ids Delta, but the m argins had shifted southw ards, mudbrick pyramid o f
be 9 years) and Pepi II (over 90 years) were from D ahshur in the north, to Illahun and H awara Amenemhet. Ill and the Old
: x-ntical in their outer dimensions. Kingdom stone North
at the Fayum entrance to the south.
Pyramid o f Sneferu, seen
:d building alm ost ceased during the First New Kingdom pharaohs built their tom bs in a across the Dahshur lake, the
* hate Period when unified rule gave w ay to communal royal burial ground, the Valley of the last remaining pyramid.
b.bpaHties. It w as resum ed in the Middle Kings, at Thebes (modern Luxor). Above the valley harbour lake.
.. when the first pyram ids were built with towers a m ountain peak that takes the form of a
: small and broken stone in casem ate or natural pyram id for the multiple corridors and
.j walls, and later pyram ids were built with royal burial cham bers cut into the crevasses of its
-v k core. Sizes were not as standardized as lower slopes. M anmade pyram ids were reduced to
:r Old Kingdom. E ntrances no longer opened small superstructures above the rock-cut tom bs of
ly from the north side of the pyramid, the scribes, artisans, craftsm en and officials who
--ages followed a circuitous off-axis route to served the king and were employed on the construc
chamber. T he geographic range of pyra- tion of the royal tombs.
T hroughout ancient times, Nubia (in modern
Three generations in the 4th northern Sudan) mirrored m any facets of E gyptian
dynasty accomplished the bulk culture, including building pyram ids as royal
of pyramid building Later; tombs. More than 800 years after the last royal
c7> more standardized smaller pyram id w as completed in Egypt, pyram ids on a
pyramids reflect a less sm aller scale began to be built for rulers of the
centralized societv.
Kingdom of N apata, beginning about 720 b c , and
the Kingdom of Meroe, ending about AD 350. In the
course of 1,000 years, about 180 royal pyram ids
were built in Nubia, twice the num ber in Egypt.

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<L> Intermediate (/) co cn
Period _S" I<
Old Kingdom Middle Kingdom
-600 2500 2400 2300 2200 2100 2000 1900 1800 BC
1ST DYNASTY 2 nd dynasty
The Shape
of Pyramid Stepped mastaba, Funerary enclosure of
Saqqara Khasekhemwy, Abydos
3r d d y n a s t y
Profiles of the major
pyramids, drawn to the
same scale, from the
earliest stepped mound o f
the 1st dynasty, through ... '-a,
the stepped pyramids o f
the 3rd dynasty and the o^===y
massive 4th-dynasty
pyramids, to the much Layer Pyramid, Zawiyet el-Aryan
smaller monuments o f
Inter Egyptian history 4t h d y n a s t y
According to one
chronology only 60 years
passed between the
completion of the Step
Pyramid o f Djoser and
the beginning of the Great
Pyramid o f Khufu. I f so,
someone could have been Sneferu, North Pyramid, Dahshur
a small child when
Djosers pyramid was
new, and lived to see, in
old age, the building o f
the Great Pyramid, when
Egyptian masonry rose to
a peak o f excellence'. The
giant pyramids represent
an accelerated cultural
development, comparable
to our modern space
programme or computer
After the end o f the Khufu, Great Pyramid, Giza Djedefre, Abu Roash Khafre, Giza
5th dynasty, pyramid
entrances arc no longer
consistently on the north,
and the passages ami
chambers follow circuitous
routes, so that the profiles
do not show the interiors.
c r
PNebka, Unfinished Pyramid,
Zawiyet ei-Aryan Menkaure, Giza Shepseskaf, Saqqara Khentkawes, Giza
5t h d yn asty

jM M IA I M 1M
Userkaf, Saqqara Sahure, Abusir Neferirkare, Abusir Niuserre, Abusir Djedkare-Isesi, Saqqara Unas, Saqqara

12 t h dynasty

A A ?A A
Amenemhet I, Lisht Senwosret I, Lisht Amenemhet II, Dahshur Senwosret II, Illahun Senwosret III, Dahshur

Major Pyramid Statistics
'haraoh Location Dyn. Base (m) Height (m) Volume (cu. in) Slope Satellite Queens Ancient Name

I )joser Saqqara 3 121x109 60 330,400

N'khemkhet Saqqara 3 120 7 (unfinished) 33,600
Khaba (?) Zawiyet 3 84 20 (unfinished) 47,040
Sneferu (?) Meidum 4 144 92 638,733 515035" V Sneferu Endures
sneferu Dahshur 4 188 105 1,237,040 5427447
4322 V The Southern Shining Pyramid
sneferu Dahshur 4 220 105 1,694,000 4322 The Shining Pyramid
Khufu Giza 4 230.33 146.59 2,583,283 5150'40" V 3 Akhet Khufu
>;edefre Abu Roash 4 106 67 131,043 52 V Djedefre is a Sehed-Star
Khafre Giza 4 215 143.5 2,211,096 5310' V Great is Khafre
\e b k a Z. el-Aryan 4 200 (unfinished)
u-nkaure Giza 4 102.2x104.6 65 235,183 5120'25" 3 Menkaure is Divine
" epseskaf S. Saqqara 4 99.6x74.4 18 148,271 70 The Purified Pyramid
itkawes Giza 4 45.5x45.8 17.5 6,372 (upper) c. 74
L'serkaf Saqqara 5 73.3 49 87,906 537'48" V Pure are the Places of Userkaf
" .hure Abusir 5 78.75 47 96,542 50ir40" < The Rishing of the Ba Spirit
vferirkare Abusir 5 105 c. 72 257,250 537'48" Pyramid of the Ba of
- :-.neferef Abusir 5 65 (unfinished) The Pyramid which is Divine
of the Ba Spirits
:serre Abusir 5 78.9 51.68 112,632 515035" V 2? The Places of Niuserre Endure
Ikare-Isesi S.Saqqara 5 78.75 c. 52.5 c. 107,835 52 V 1 Beautiful is Isesi
I nas Saqqara 5 57.75 43 47,390 5618'35" V Perfect are the Places of Unas
rc-n Saqqara 6 78.75 52.5 107,835 53748" V 2 The Places of Teti Endure
o il S.Saqqara 6 c.78.75 c. 52.5 c. 107,835 537'48" V 5 The Perfection of Pepi is
Y -renre S.Saqqara 6 .78.75 c. 52.5 c. 107,835 53748" The Perfection of Merenre
oi II S.Saqqara 6 78.75 52.5 c. 107,835 52748" V 3 Pepi is Established and Living
Ibi S.Saqqara 8 31.5 21? 6,994?
Khui Dara FIP 130
. nemhet I Lisht 12 84 55 129,360 542744" The Places of the Apearances
of Amenemhet
> r.wosret I Lisht 12 105 61.25 225,093 492355" V 9 Senwosret Beholds the
Two Lands
..nemhet II Dahshur 12 c. 50 Amenemhet is Provided
vosret II Illahun 12 106 48.6 185,665 4235 V? or 1? Senwosret Appears
nvosret III Dahshur 12 105 78 288,488 561835" 7
nenemhetHI Dahshur 12 105 75 274,625 5715'50" Amenemhet is Beautiful
-nemhet III Hawara 12 105 c. 58 200,158 4845' Amenemhet Lives
..nemhet IV
S ibekneferu S.Mazghunal3 52.5 (unfinished) 30.316
. L-ndjer S.Saqqara 13 52.5 c. 37.35 44,096 55

8th dynasty

Teti, Saqqara Pepi I, S. Saqqara Merenre, S. Saqqara Pepi 11, S. Saqqara Ibi, S. Saqqara

13t h d y n a s ty

Amenemhet IV or Unfinished,
,:nenemhet III, Dahshur Amenemhet III. Hawara Sobekneferu, S. Mazghuna Khendjer, S. Saqqara S. Saqqara

pie w as separated from an inner temple by a tran s
verse nail. Beyond were magazines, and, lastly, an
inner sanctuary - the whole route ending in a false
The Standard Pyramid door, the symbolic portal of the pyram id complex.
It w as long thought that the pharaohs funeral

Complex took place in the m ortuary temple, but there are

problem s with this (p. 25). We are certain a t least
that it functioned symbolically as a kind of eternal
.SSyvatj JS: palace for the deceased king, for whom daily rituals
were carried out, including processions out and
The pyram ids covered the tom bs of divine kings around the pyramid, perpetuating his w orship a s a
and, late in their history, they marked graves of the god-king. From the m ortuary temple a causeway,
aristocracy and high officials. T hey satisfy a princi with walls and usually a roof, ran down to the val
ple that the great Giza excavator George Reisner ley temple, the entrance to the whole complex. T he
stated: Every substructure [grave] implies a su p er classic complex required that the pyram id be near
stru ctu re which m arks the site of the grave and the valley floor, where it could be reached by a
provides a place where the offerings to the dead canal, or a channel that held w ater after the annual
may be presented. A s the tom b superstructure, the Nile flood receded. A t the sam e time the pyram id
pyram id w as the central elem ent in an assembly had to be far enough out in the desert on the plateau
that m akes up the standard pyram id complex. to have a dram atic approach. Its base w as enclosed
We see the m ost basic elem ents in two extreme by one or two courtyards, defined by w alls of stone
cases. Tom bs in Lower Nubia (A-group), contem po or mudbrick. W ithin the inner or outer enclosure
rary with the late predynastic in Upper Egypt, con w as a small satellite pyram id, a m iniature double
sisted of pits sunk into the ground, covered by a that may have been associated w ith the kings ka or
ceiling of sandstone slabs, on which w as construct sp irit (p. 22). Many com plexes include sm aller
ed a mound of debris encased in drvstone masonry. pyram ids for queens and several are flanked by
Pottery w as left at the base of the mounds, some of pits for the burial of boats, either real o r imitation.
which had specially constructed offering places on These standard elements - pyramid, satellite
the west and south sides. We then turn to the py ra pyram id, queens pyram ids, m ortuary temple,
mids at Giza, as m ore complex versions of the same causew ay and valley temple - are clear from a s u r
basic scheme - on a gigantic scale. T he grave pit is vey of the rem ains of com plexes along a stretch of
hi the standard pyramid now carved out of bedrock at the end of a long cor the Nile Valley from Abu Roash to Meidum. For the
complex access via a harbour ridor which points the kings soul to the northern E g y p tian s of the pyram id age, other elem ents'on
or canal was necessary.
circum polar stars, or, uniquely for Khufu, is moved the valley floor m ight have been equally standard.
The valley temple, in essence,
nothing more than an up into the very body of the masonry. T he pyram id These structures, concerned with the Society an d '
elaborate portico, formed is simply the mound transform ed to sublim e geom economy of the living pyram id, >vere mostly built
Ihe entrance to the entire etry and expanded into a man-m ade mountain. in mudbrick, and have thereforeTeen lost-due to the
complex. From inre Hie T he offering place is now a m ortuary (or py ra w etter conditions of the "floodplajrv and m odern
causeway ran up to the mid) temple on the eastern side, with a colonnaded urban expansion. B ut we read of them in ancient
mortuary temple and
court with black basalt pavem ent, granite pillars papyri and tonib-t&xts that relate to the functioning
and walls with painted relief carving. By the 5th of pyram ids. Recently, researchers have recovered
T he standard arrangem ent, with its east-w est ret III adapted it, as did his son, Am enem het III for The standard pyramid-
ixial alignment, of .the classic Old Kingdom p y ra his second pyram id at Hawara. A lthough one or the complex, based on the
mid complex first- appeared in simple form with the other layout is favoured, these later arrangem ents pyramid o f Unas, but with
the addition of three queens
Meldum pyrafhid (p. 97). It w as alm ost immediately alw ays include influences from both early types. pyramids as found at Pepi Ts
:md astonishingly amplified and expanded by At the end of 1,000 years of pyram id history in pyramid.
Khufus Giza complex (p. 108), and it remained Egypt, the non-royal private pyram id complexes
essentially unchanged throughout the Old King- returned to the basic features of the sim ple m ound
: im, But the first pyram id of Djoser a t Saqqara ed tombs: the pyram id as the symbol of both grave
had a different arrangem ent (p. 84). A long mound and resurrection, the chapel as a place to
r. irth-south rectangular enclosure w as defined by commune with the dead and leave offerings, and
:i niche-decorated wall w ith a single entrance a t the the grave cham ber below the hallowed space.
far south end of the east side. T he sudden explo
sion of stone building represented by Djosers com
plex had a profound influence on later pyram id
The Two Main Pyramid Complex Types
'uilders. In the Middle Kingdom, when the earliest Djoser Type Post-Meidum Type
Yidum-type pyram id complexes were already Orientation North-South East-W est
fading into ruin, pyram id builders returned, in a Entrance South end of east side Centre east side
rime of experim ent and renewal, to some of the Parts N-S sequence E-W axial symmetry
sic elements of Djoser s complex. Enclosure wall Niched, no inner wall Smooth outer wall, occasionally
So it is proper to speak of two basic types of niched inner wali
yramid complex that were sep arate in conception, l\ a Tomb South tomb, no satellite Satellite pyramid
At mixed in later monum ents. Dieter A rnold has pyramid
cumented the curious sw itching between the Temple North or south temple, E ast temple, only
ieal Djoser type' and the M eidum ty p e. Already simple or no east chapel n orth entrance chapel
rhe 5th dynasty U serkaf returned to elements of
. Djoser type. T hen in the 12th dynasty Senwos-

South tomb
I'Ka tom b)

J first pyramid: Djosers

aI Saqqara. This type
' superseded by the post- North temple
idum type, but elements
\ returned to later.



ach major pyramid was a tomb for a king of Egypt.

E Since the king was a god, each pyramid was also the
focus of a temple complex maintained by a priest
hood long after the pharaoh had been laid to rest.
The pyramid complex was an economic engine, too, deploy
ing people and redistributing goods. This was possible only
because the pyramid was designed to be a cosmic engine as
well; in fact, each pyramid ensured the rule of universal
order, the turning of the days and seasons, and the flooding
of the Nile. The mechanics of the pyramid as cosmic engine
depended on the Egyptian concept of a person and the dis
tinct phases of life and death, called kheperu. These trans
formations continued when the ka, the ba and the body,
which had become separated at death, interacted in the final
transformation - becoming an akh, a glorified being of
light, effective in the Afterlife. The pyramid was an instru
ment that enabled this alchemy to take place for the
pharaoh, who had ruled as the god incarnate, and allowed
that incarnation to pass from father to son, from Osiris to
Horus. Encapsulating the dangerous interface between cos
mic order and the terrible formlessness of time before the
beginning, the pyramid is better understood as the meeting
point of life and light with death and darkness. Our earliest
insight intcfsuch ideas comes from the Pyramid Texts, writ
ten on the walls of pyramid chambers beginning with Unas
in the 5th dynasty. These texts speak to us of what the pyra
mid meant as an icon and offer glimpses of the burial cere
monies for the god-king and the rituals that were carried out
once his mortal remains had been mummified and
entombed, setting the cosmic engine in motion.

The opening o f the m o n th ceremony fro m a New K ingdom

Book o f the Dead.
jg jT T ry T rrm tS

The Ka, the Ba
and the Body Embalmed
This Unas has come.. .His two wings having grown as
those of a falcon, feathered as those of a hawk, his ba
having brought him, his magic having equipped him.
You shall open your place among the stars in the sky.'
Pyramid Texts, 245,250-5]
W hen we visit the pyram ids we walk on ancient
graveyards. T he pyram ids and their temples, and
the burials of kings, nobles and commoners,
express the unique ancient Egyptian idea of death.
(Above) A simple predynastic Death is a ritual process for the living and the
grave, the body buried in a pit E gyptians marked their passage into the hereafter
beneath a mound. The body perhaps more than other ancient societies. For them
was naturally desiccated by
the hot, dry desert sands. death w as nor the end, but just, one of the transfor
m ations in lifes natural cycle. T he final change in
(Above right) Early evidence statu s depended on the first duty in the housekeep sands. A s time went on graves became more elabo
o f mummification: a human ing of death - the treatm ent of the corpse. rate, sep aratin g the body from the sand. Ironically,
arm from the tomb o f King D uring life the body w as called khet or ini - these m easures promoted decay instead of preser
Djer at Abydos, -with linen vation. T he first steps tow ards m um m ification -
form , appearance; the corpse was khat. T rans
wrappings and four bracelets.
formed into a mummy, it w as sah, a word whose w rapping the body in linen - coincide w ith the
root is also used for to be noble. Mummification development of tomb superstructures, ju s t after
w as not so much the preservation of the body as it the rise of the E gyptian state. An arm w ith b an
had been during life, but the transfiguration of the dages and w earing four bracelets, dating to the 1st
corpse into a new body filled with m agic, a sim ul dynasty, w as found in the tom b of Djer a t Abydos.
acrum or statue in w rappings and resin. In fact, mummification may have stem m ed from
a practice diametrically opposite to preventing the
The origins of mummification bodys decay. Petrie found evidence which suggest
It is often stated that mum mification w as inspired ed to him that a s early as predynastic tim es certain
by sim ple predynastic pit b urials in which the body people were prepared for deaths passage by allow
w as naturally desiccated by contact with the desert ing the body to decompose, with the skeletal p arts

small square recesses for the canopic packages in

Canopic Vessels the south wall of the burial chamber. Ranefers
canopic recess still retained his linen-wrapped
(Left) Alabaster canopic chest organs. The Giza tomb of Hetepheres contained the
o f Queen Hetepheres I, from oldest known canopic chest, carved of alabaster
her secret tomb at Giza. and divided into four compartments. When it was
opened it still contained packages, presumed to be
(Right) In Pepi I s pyramid,
the queens viscera, in a natron solution.
fragments o f canopic jars
By the time of Meresankh III, Khufus
were found, and one tightly
wrapped package o f viscera, granddaughter and wife of Khafre, the viscera
still retaining the shape of were placed in four separate jars. Later canopic jars
its jar. were fitted into the chests. One of Pepi Is canopic
bundles was found in his pyramid, mixed with the
In the process of mummification the Egyptians fragments of alabaster jars that had once
removed the viscera - particularly the liver, lungs, contained it and the others.
intestines and stomach - from the body in order, as is Canopic is a word derived from a Greek myth
usually thought, to prevent decay. They were then about Canopus, a sailor who died and was
wrapped up and stored in the tomb separately. At subsequently worshipped in Egypt in the form of
Meidum, the tomb of Rahotep and Ranefer contained a jar, and associated with Osiris.

then reassembled. Before preparing the mummy, and therefore with the food offerings in the tomb. This wonderfully complete,
the objective was to remove all body p a rts that For your ka' w as an Egyptian toast with food and life-sized wooden ka -statue of
would putrefy. By early dynastic times the skeleton drink offerings sim ilar to our salute to your health. the 13th-dynasly king Auibre-
Hor was found in his tomb at
was re-incorporated in a linen-wrapped effigy. Dis W hile residing discretely in each person the ka Dahshur, within the precinct
coveries in elite tom bs a t Meidum, on the threshold was characterized by its transferability and com of Amenemhet Ills pyramid.
>f the pyram id age, show how dism em berm ent and monality. In E gyptian artistic convention the
recomposition of corpses w as practised on the bod upraised arm s of the ka hieroglyph represent an
ies of the m ost im portan t people in the land. Well em brace. For the E gyptians an em brace tra n s
into the Middle Kingdom, hum an rem ains inside ferred vital force between two people, o r between
mum mies are often little more than skeletons. gods and king. T he ka w as transferred through the
T his observation is all the more intriguing when family lineage - it was generic and, in our terms,
we realize that dism em berm ent and decay in death genetic. For everyone, this life force extended back
.ere am ong the prim ary fears of the Egyptians. through countless generations to the creator god
Certain funerary texts from all periods contain, who transferred his ha to the gods, who, in turn,
along with such fears, positive allusions to the transferred theirs to the king. T h e king is the life
recomposition of the body. In the Pyram id Texts (p. force, the ka, of his people - 'the ka of the living.
31) spells call for the recom position of the royal At death ones ka went to rest, subsum ed back
body, im plying a prior state of dism em berm ent. All into its generic folds. T his return to commonality
.his relates to E g y p ts central myth about Osiris took place while the body w as prepared and tran s
who w as killed and dism em bered by his brother formed into the mummy. The ka then needed to be
Seth, reconstituted by his sister-wife Isis as. the reactivated so that the spiritual transform ation of
archetypal mum my and avenged by his son Horus, rebirth could take place and so that the link to the
he god incarnate in every king. land of the living, through the tomb, could be
Dism em berm ent renders som ething dysfunction- established and maintained. For this to happen
. Ln the tomb precinct, a liminai zone between this the deceased had to travel to join their ka, but
vorld and the Netherworld, the E gyptians seem to not as the body, bound up in its w rappings. It is been anxious to dism em ber things th a t m ight the ba that m akes the journey.
highly charged by contact w ith the dead. Struc- associated with death and burial were some- The ba
::nes ritually disassem bled and carefully buried If the ka is the generic life force, the ba is a per
-cparate from the body. T he southern ships of sons individual renown or distinctive m anifes
.. ufu are particularly large and wonderfully com- tation - the impression made on others. The ba
Y fte exam ples (p. 118). A nother is the canopy has often been translated a s soul and consid
end under Khafres satellite pyram id. Probably ered a part of the total human being along with
a-ed for transporting a funerary statue, it had been the ka and akh. But detailed studies indicate that
. jpped up and the pieces packed in a box, buried the ba and akh are entities in their own right.
n a blind passage under the pyram id (p. 126). T he ba seem s to have been a fully corporeal
it one goal of mummification w as to put aw ay mode of existence with the ability, for instance,
I to incapacitate the dead, the point w as also to to eat, drink, travel and copulate. It is represent
K em ble the body to gain release in another ed by the hieroglyph of the ibis; from the 18th
ane of existence. T he paradox of the bound dynasty it had a hum an head.
rr .jm m y w as th a t it also allowed liberation and con- T he bas of gods were their m anifestation in
' ::ued life - not so the dead could haunt the living, nature - stars, inanimate objects, even other gods.
:t so they could be reborn in the Afterlife. T he two A ba of Shu, god of the air, is wind. Likewise the
alm s did, however, interact. In fact they were bas of the king are the m anifestations of his power
:mally dependent. For this reason the E gyptians - an arm ed expedition, for example. Cities had bas.
i :.:ited the spirits of their departed to be bound to Even inanim ate objects like temple pylons, thresh
mortal rem ains - but confined to the other side ing floors, doors and sacred books had bas. D uring
the tomb. T he reassem bled body served as an life this power w as revealed prim arily through the
- hor for a spiritual reassem bly on the other side body. With death the body becomes inanim ate and
the false door, a m ysterious alchemy of a per- so the form er personality and statu s of a person
- nV separate parts, the ka and the ba. were distilled into a being that could travel to the
realm s of the Afterlife and then return to the tomb.
The ka In the Afterlife the ba could not function if the
; ka is one of the most im portant dim ensions of corpse w as decaying and putrefying - it w as for
- hum an being in E gyptian thought, yet there is this reason that all potential for decay had to be
>easy translation. It is w ritten with the sign of stripped from the body. The Coffin Texts tell the
. raised arm s, bent perpendicular at the elbows, deceased thy ba aw akest upon thy corpse, but for
'h a p s the most succinct translation is life force'. this to happen the corpse had to be m ade f ir m ,
ka is associated with food sustenance, kau, established, stable, enduring, whole, sound.

The Ka, the Ba
and the Body Embalmed

The ba hovering over a

mummy. from a New
Kingdom Book o f the Dead.

A s in rituals around the world, Egyptian rites of plete entity, co-existing with the ka and the ba. Ar
death and passage to a higher sta tu s involved a effective, equipped akii comes close to our concep-
stage where the distinguishing features of life were of a ghost, for it could reach across the liminal zoik
stripped and dissolved. As a collection of excarnat- of the tomb to have positive or negative effects or.
ed bones, desiccated flesh and hair, the naked body the realm of earthly life. Being an akh had its prac
of a king looked like th at of anyone else. The burial tical responsibilities in the world of the living.
ritual re-established social statu s and personality,
now realized a s the ba. T h e Pyram id Texts speak of Pyramid as place of transformation
the royal insignia, the uraeus and the Eye of Horus, T he success of an ancient E gyptian in the Afterlife
being given to the king. For passing through the depended on the burial rites and later offering ritu
doors of heaven, the king puts on a ^ -g a rm e n t, the als in the tomb. For the king, the pyram id w as the
leopard pelt of princely and priestly power. place of ascension and transform ation. His inde
As m iraculous as this new mode of existence pendent m odes of being - particularly his ka
may have been, it w as still only part of the final stood a t the head of all his living and. dead subjects
transform ation. A journey followed to the sky, to T his w as particularly true in the Old Kingdom
sunlight, to the stars. In the celestial realms the w hen only the kings pyram id w as inscribed with
deceased hoped to attain higher status, second only funerary texts. No wonder, then, that it w as so
to becoming a god - resurrection as an akh. im portant to take care of his ka, for in a sense r j
contained the life force of all his living subjects.
The akh T he nam es of pyram ids show that they were per
T he Pyram id T exts speak of the king ascending to ceived as places of ascension and transform ation
Nut, the sky goddess, leaving a H orus. a new liv K hufus w as Akhet, the Horizon, of Khufu. Built
The akh was represented as ing king, behind him. Joining the s ta r s the king on the word akh, the nam e signified not just th-
the crested ibis. This was the becomes an akh. Akh is often translated as sp irit horizon but the rad ian t place of glorification. A
final transformation o f the or spirit state. It derives from the term for 'radiant series of 5th-dynasty pyram id nam es contain a ref
deceased. light, w ritten with the crested ibis, as though the erence to the ba. Six of the 26 known pyramid
crest transform s the ordinary ibis bird of the ba. nam es refer to the rising of the king, while five refer
The akh is the fully resurrected, glorified form of to his perfection. Five others affirm that the king is
the deceased in the Afterlife. Akh is also a word for established and endures, while eight pyram ids
effective, profitable, 'useful'. T he reunion of the are nam ed for the kings places or thrones which
ba with the ka is effected by the burial ritual, creat rise, flourish and are established, pure, divine
ing the final transform ation of the deceased as an and perfect. As the kings ascended and re-estab
akh. As a m em ber of the starry sky, called akh-akh lished their courts in the Afterlife, generations of
in the Pyram id T exts and the New Kingdom Book E gyptians moved as cohorts across deaths thresh
of the Dead, the king is free to move on and over the old to live again as a com m unity of kas\ focused
earth. Like the ba, the akh was thought of as a com on the pyram id and its surrounding necropolis.

'Horus takes him to his fingers, that he may cleanse
this Unas in the Jackal [Anubis] Basin;
He will release the ka of this Unas in the Morning
He will wipe off the flesh of the Im of his body; Burial Rituals
He conducts the ka of this Unas and of his body to the
Great House.'
Pyramid Texts 268
and the Pyramid Complex
:rial rituals enacted a t the pyram id ensured the
' -.nsfer of kingship from the dead pharaoh to the
m g one. These rituals m ight therefore help us in whose name, Wet, means the W rapper, who w as in
ierstanding the function of p arts of the pyra- charge of those who changed the cadaver into the
i complex. Much of our inform ation for Egypt- mummy. T he Lector Priest, one who carries the
. funerals comes from scenes in tom bs of high ritual, possessed knowledge which w as key to the
flcials, since the kings funeral is never show n in transform ation of the deceased into an akh.
ir.y of the pictorial fragm ents recovered from pyra- Planked by the two Kites and accompanied by
r r . : temples. On the basis of such scenes the funer- the others, the coffin w as loaded on to a boat. Those
vremonv has been divided into 4, 5 or as many who had lived some distance from the necropolis
' 16 episodes. In typical E gyptian fashion there probably reached it by old river channels, canals or
\ re rituals embedded w ithin rituals, for embalm- a harbour-lake for the pyram id complex. For those
j. purification, burial and offering. T his sacred who had lived in towns at the base of the pyram id
-atre w as probably seldom complete in all its acts plateau, there could have been a voyage on a token
xcept. perhaps, for the king. canal, perhaps indicated by scenes of the boat
towed by rows of men on the banks. T he disassem
I'he voyage of the dead bled boats ritually buried in pits outside K hufus
:r first glimpse of the opening scenes of the pyram id enclosure (p. 118) may have been used to
:eral pageant is in reliefs in 6 th-dynasty tombs. carry the kings body on this voyage. Docking at
.men shriek and wail, people fall to the ground, the pyram id harbour, the deceased w as unloaded
i :d their clothing and throw dirt on their heads as before the Doors of Heaven, described in the P y ra
- coffin is carried on a bier. Already we see a cast mid Texts as p a rt of the w atery celestial world. In
characters who will rem ain the principals tomb scenes of the funeral, the doors were associat
roughout the funeral. T he Old Kingdom proces- ed w ith the Ibu, the Tent of Purification.
y >n includes a woman labelled the Kite, either a
rofessional m ourner or the widow. Later there The Ibu and the Wabet Mourners, dressed in white,
precede the coffin hauled
* re two Kites, identified w ith Isis and Nephthys, So far, the corpse had probably not received any
along on a long-poled bier in
urners of Osiris. They are mentioned in the elaborate treatm ent. But before it could enter the tins scene from the New
1 ramid Texts, where the dead king is identified sacred necropolis it had to be purified. As we have Kingdom Book o f the Dead
i :*h Osiris. Also present w as the Em balm er, seen, the cleansing at some point involved the of Am.

removal of m ost of the soft tissue. W here did this were performed in the Ibu, while the long period of
take place? Tomb scenes give the impression that desiccation followed in the Wabet. Relief scenes iri
alm ost immediately after arriving at the necropolis, the Giza tomb of Qar show his Wabet which is
the body w as taken to the Ibu, or the Ibu en Waab, labelled ' Wabet of a period of tim e and which has
the T e n t of Purification. sim ilarities with the valley temple of Pepi II. Both
In tomb scenes the Ibu is a light construction of have three main central rooms, a long narrow blind
wood poles and reed m ats shielding a rectangular corridor and one side taken over by magazines.
space, on or near the edge of a waterway, with Such individual correspondences between the
pathw ays and doors at either end. Comparisons valley temples of Khafre and Pepi II and features of
can be m ade to known pyram id valley temples, p a r 6 th-dynasty scenes of funeral rituals - the edge of
ticularly those of Khafre at Giza and Pepi II a t a canal o r basin, two pathw ays, two entrances, a
The plan o f Pepi IPs valley South Saqqara. Along the front of Pepi IIs temple, portico, the form of the Divine Booth - have
temple reflects the main ram ps ascended from the harbour to a platform, prompted suggestions that the valley temples func
features of Qars wabet,
with doorw ays through small kiosks at each end. tioned as the Ibu, or the Ibu and Wabet combined. B.
highlighted above: two
vestibules or antechambers, Khafres valley temple is also approached by two Grdseloff thought that the purification w as carried
a blind corridor or stairway stone ram ps up to a low terrace along the temple out on the roof of the valley temple and em balm ing
(below), main h/ill and side front. In 1996 Zahi H aw ass found tunnels in the in the vestibule. H erbert Ricke believed the whole
magazines (lop o f plan). bedrock beneath the ram ps, with mudbrick walls process would have taken place in m udbrick build
form ing a corridor, perhaps a token canal. After ings elsewhere, then ritually re-enacted in the val
(Tossing this sym bolic waterway, ram p s lead to the ley temple. None of the eight excavated valley
north and south doors of the valley temple. T h e lb u temples - of 28 that probably existed - contain an
could therefore have been a tem porary wood-frame obvious place for the processes of mummification.
and reed-mat stru ctu re on platform s in front of the
valley temple, if not p art of the valley temple itself. Journey to the tomb
Prom the Ibu the body w as taken to the Wabet - T he mum mified body in its coffin w as now pulled
from a word m eaning 'pure. In the tomb of Pepi- by oxen on a sledge to the necropolis. A t this stage
ankh this is called the Pure Place of W rapping. the coffin procession still involved the Kites and
Wabet is usually translated 'm ortuary w orkshop priests. T he procession to the tomb also included
and said to be the place of embalming. It has been furnishing for setting up house in the Afterlife:
suggested th at the royal Wabel could have been in linen, tools, weapons, pottery and metal vessels,
the m ortuary temple. However, texts and pictorial ointments, oils and sym bols of social status. Unfor
representations hint that the Wabet w as in the val tunately, no pyram id has been found archaeologi-
ley - perhaps the valley temple - and near thtlb u . cally with its burial assem blage intact, so we can
If the process of desiccation and partial dism em only guess a t the riches it w ould have comprised.
berm ent lasted 70 days, or a major p art of 272 days An im portant ritual at the tom b was an invoca
as noted in the tomb of Queen M eresankh, the Ibu tion called 'com ing forth at the voice. The deceased
may not have been secure enough. Perhaps ritual w as summoned to come and partake of the offer
lustration and removal of the viscera and brain ings. A s time w ent on, offerings became lengthier

M c ^ r w i r 7 ^) eran =>'

=3 \ / ' lL &- i. '^^pV\ / ^ 8LS xX

Burial Rituals
and. the Pyramid Complex

The funeral procession to the

Ibu and the Wabet, shown in
great detail in the 6th-dynasty
tomb o f Qar at Giza.
A Ibu
B Wabet
1 'Kite
2 Embalmer
3 Lector Priest

: more complex. H erm ann Junker counted 17 dif-

Dieter Arnold, among others, doubts whether the
ercnt ritual presentations in Old Kingdom tom bs A Stage for pyramid temples and causeway were in fact used
.ich he could relate to those for the king men-
: ned in the Pyram id Texts, including censings,
the Funeral? in the royal funeral ceremony. One argument is
architectural: rooms and doorways seem too small
' .'ions, gifts of cloth, cattle and fowl. With the for the passage of the funeral. From the mortuary
: iition of a second set of utterances and rites for 1/ \l temple the body and grave goods had to be taken
1 rifying the dead, or m aking them effective {akh), 1311 into the pyramid court and round to the north side
. ritual grew so complex th at a specialist, the
..--tor Priest, appears in 5th-dynasty scenes. The
l3=i of the pyramid to be carried into the burial
chamber. In the standard pyramid temples of the
citing of the m outh w as perform ed to allow the 5th and 6 th dynasties the exit to the pyramid court
-/eased to breathe, eat and speak in the Afterlife. was at one end of the transverse hall separating
the front from the inner temple. Its doorways seem
>:ts of the 6 th dynasty speak of 80 men who
too narrow to allow the funeral to pass through. In
.oed set the lid on to the stone sarcophagus. This
Djosers Step Pyramid complex, the route from the
.y have been the full complement of w orkers but
entrance hall through the mortuary temple and
y could not all have fitted into the burial cham- down to the burial vault is just as narrow. Arnold
r. The final rite w as bringing the foot - erasing therefore thinks that the funeral rituals would have
- footprints of the officiants by dragging a brush, Pepi IIs mortuary temple been conducted outside the pyramid complex in
n g w ith more censing and libations. light structures, and the royal body conveyed into
The focus of any tomb, including the kings, w as x H the pyramid court by means of a side entrance.
c offering place and false door - the entrance to
Netherworld. In both large tom bs an d pyram id If If the mortuary temple was not the stage for the
royal funeral, what did it represent? At least one of
its aspects was as the deceased kings eternal
nplexes, pictorial program m es included scenes
: hunting, fowling, fishing and the delivery of .T IC residence, its parts corresponding broadly to the
brings. Both pharaoh and nobleman had statu es palace of his lifetime. Indeed, it has the same basic
elements as large houses known from the
presenting the continued existence of the head of
archaeological record: enclosure wall; vestibule; a
- household. In elite tom bs the arrival at the
central meeting place in the form of a pillared hall
- pulchre is labelled landing a t the Tjephet (Cav-
f r jj or open court; a platform for the head of the house
:.) of the Great Palace and in the A busir Papyri to receive visitors; private rooms. The innermost
rive statue cham bers in the m ortuary temple are room, the offering hall, corresponded generally to
led Tjephet. It seem s evident that the pyram id Merenptahs palace
the royal dining room. Behind the false door where
nplex embodied, at a higher order of m agnitude offerings were placed, lay the magazines,
While there are debates as
:.d elaboration, a ritual sim ilar to that depicted in antechamber and burial chamber under the
to the role o f pyramid
funeral scenes of late Old Kingdom nobility. pyramid, corresponding to the inner foyer and
mortuary temples in burial
. he king moved through the pyram id complex in ritual, they do reflect the bedroom. The Pyramid Texts identify the burial
- cycle of rebirth and transform ation that the principal features o f royal chamber as the Per Dual, an allusion to the
jn eral ritual effected, even if the housekeeping of palaces, like Merenptah's at Netherworld but also to the Per Duat, House of
ath and burial required real but tem porary struc- Memphis>from the New Morning or Toilet House of the palace, where the
Kingdom. pharaoh was bathed, anointed and dressed.
:res, and side routes or ram ps over the enclosure.

This World and the
I come forth by day to any place where I may wish to be.
I have gained power over my heart, I have gained power
over my breast, I have gained power over my hands, I
have gained power over my feet, I have gained power
over my mouth. 1 have gained power over all limbs of
mine ... I sit down, I stand up.'

T he E gyptians did not imagine the Afterlife as an

ethereal existence. Each persons hope and expecta
tion w as to be reborn fully corporeal, as expressed
in Chapter 6 8 of the New Kingdom Book of the
Dead (quotation above). Released from the bondage
of the bandages, the deceased had control over all
physical and psychic abilities. But the mummy did
not retu rn bodily to this world, or walk through the
tom bs false door, carved in solid rock. It w as plain
that offerings left at the base of the door were not
eaten. The resurrection of the dead happened in
another, parallel world. Food offerings were a token
meal shared w ith the dead, providing sustenance
just as stone sim ulacra of shrines, bodies (statues) pyram id zone. Since these stars revolve around the
and boats gave the dead protection, corporeality celestial north pole and neither rise nor set, the
and mobility in th at world. In the sam e chapter of long, narrow passages sloping up from the burial
Nut, 'she o f a thousand bas
- tiw stars and sun as her the Book- of the Dead the deceased control more cham ber in the northern sides of many pyram ids
manifestations - from the than their own limbs, they now also control air, were aimed like a telescope in their direction.
19th-dynasty royal tomb of water, rivers., floods, shores. T he spell begins: Doorways that opened on each side of the sky
Harnesses VJ in the Valley allowed gods and kings to pass through but barred
o f the Kings. 'Opened for me are the double doors of the sky, open
com moners and foreigners. Such exclusivity may
for me are the double doors of the earth. Open for me are
the bolts of Geb; exposed for me are the roof... And the reflect that of the doors of pyram id temples which
twin peep-holes.. may have kept out all but the priests. T he expanse
of the sky w as conceived as the surface of a large
On the north side of his Saqqara Step Pyramid, body of fresh w ater that the king and gods
Djoser em erges from his tom b, in statu e form, into a crossed on reed floats. N um erous canals and lakes
statue-box, or serdab, which has ju st such a pair of or basins in this image imply the presence of land -
peep-holes to allow him to see out (p. 90). indeed, the sky had banks or levees on the w est and
on the east. The Milky Way w as the beaten path of
Celestial world and underworld stars', although it w as also a w atery way. Two
The oldest literature about the Afterlife, the P yra fields were prom inent in the sky, the Field of Reeds,
mid Texts (p. 31), em phasizes the celestial world of a rath er m arshy area on the eastern edge, and the
the sky more than the earthly underworld. T he Field of Offerings further north, near the Im perish
principal elem ents of the topography of the A fter able Ones. In fact, the vision is that of the Nile Val
life were the sky, the abyss, the D uat (Netherworld) ley a t inundation.
and the A kh et (horizon). It w as the kings destiny N ut w as the personification of the sky. She was
to go forth to the sky am ong the Imperishable imagined a s bending over the earth with her head
Ones and to go around the sky like the sun. in the west, where she swallow s the setting sun and
T he sky (pet) w as inhabited by the kas, bas, akhs stars, and her loins in the east, w here she gives
and birds as well as gods. The Pyram id Texts m en birth to the rising sun and stars. T h is image works
tion the sun, the sky-goddess Nut, Osiris, H orus for sunset if Nut bends under the earth, suggesting
and even Geb, the earth god, as being there. The th a t she w as conceived as a sky for the U nder
Imperishable O nes are the circutnpolar stars, world. In the New Kingdom an image of Nut was
about 26 to 30 above the northern horizon in the carved on the bottom of royal sarcophagi, with her

The most dramatic
representation o f resurrection
from the Duat through the
primeval mound was
conceived at the end o f the
19th dynasty as an
embellishment the Book of
Caverns, a scene painted in
the tombs o f the pharaoh
Merenptah and the queen
Tawosret. Although it is not
labelled pyramid', the mound
has the form, of a regular
triangle split in half, with the
two sides slid apart like a
gigantic doorway. The
pyramid has a black apex and
a bhie watery middle band to
symbolize the path o f the sun
through the black darkness
and blue waters o f the
Netherworld. Inside each half
a god bends over a black
mound enclosing a face,
representing the god buried
within the Duat. The texts
label this, 'the Great God, the
Secret of the Duat. Other
texts refer to this motif as
the Secret Mound, in which
there is the interior o f the
great mystery. Below the
opened pyramid, with wings
outstretched for the
ms in tiie fez-like em brace on the sides. T he kin g s pre-dawn glow in the eastern horizon, and by the impending glory o f dawns
mb w as also a cosmic womb, an idea articulated sunset flam ing in the west, to see the area just flight, is the night-form o f the
:he Pyram id Texts (616 df): below the horizon as the place of glorification. sun god with a ram's head.
Khufus pyram id was A khet K hufu. Here, and in The rising o f tlie sun god
j are given to your mother, Nut, in her identity of the takes place in the opening o f
the Pyram id Texts, A kh et is w ritten w ith the crest the pyramid-gate. Other
. ffin,
ed ibis and elliptical land-sign, not w ith the hiero participants total 24, probably
has gathered you up, in her identity of the
rcophagus, glyph of the sun disk between two m ountains that representing the 24 hours of
u are ascended to her. in her identity of the tomb. was used later to write horizon. A s the place where tlie day and night. The birth
the deceased becomes an akh, a suggested tran sla itself is assisted by gigantic
;i< suggests th a t the sloping pyram id passages tion is Spirit or Light Land. arms that reach down from
above to lift out the upside-
scending to the burial cham bers were seen in fact down figure o f a child, a
' ascending to Nut in the Netherworld. T he word The living and the dead scarab atul a sun disk.
Netherworld w as Dual, often w ritten with a All the cosmic skies and seas, and all the arcane Although this scene was
'ta r in a circle, a reference to Orion, the stellar imagery, stem from the uncertainty about the voy composed well over a
vpression of Osiris, in the Underworld. O siris w as age between this world and the Netherworld. At the thousand years after the
Lord of the Duat, which, like the celestial world end of the journey, the Netherworld w as a vague Pyramid Texts, the same
theme o f renewal o f creation
.nd the real Nile Valley) w as both a w ater world reflection of this world - Netherworld celestial
- rebirth - in the depths of
.-.nd an earthly realm. In the Pyram id Texts the geography w as sim ilar to the Nile Valley a t inunda tlie earth is expressed in
r'at is connected to the earth or to a darker region tion; Netherworld society lived on in T h a t City, pictures as it was in stone in
ying prim arily beneath. Aker, the earth god in the where the deceased could be influential if she/he the massive pyramids o f the
rrn of a double Sphinx, w as the entrance - became effective - an akh. Old Kingdom.
'ready the Sphinx is a guardian of gateways. To continue an effective life beyond the grave, the
A kh e t is usually translated as horizon, where dead required living household m em bers to attend
ind and the skies touch, but it m eant much more in to the services of the tomb. In retu rn for this, the
'he Egyptian world concept. W ritten with the sam e living requested th at their dead relatives use their
' *>t as the word akh, the A kh et w as where the dead influence to m aintain the household, of which the
vere transform ed into effective inhabitants of the tomb w as a part. They m ade their petitions in let
orld beyond death. As p art of the sky, it w as also ters to the dead written on bowls, linen, stelae or
.he place into which the sun, and therefore the king, even jar stan d s and deposited in the tomb. Once
was reborn from w ithin the Duat. It is not hard to established in the Netherworld, the deceased was
imagine the early E gyptians being inspired by the ju st beyond the veil of the false door. M aintenance

of the household and transfer of the estate were the head of the entire E gyptian household supremely
This World and the
real motives behind the burial rituals, the tom b and effective [akh) in the Netherworld. W ith the su r
all the weird imagery of the Netherworld. The one rounding tom bs of m em bers of the court and royal
who buried the deceased head of the household family, the pyram id necropolis w as a stone sim u
inherited the estate; the prince who buried the dead lacrum of T h a t City. Its role w as to carry the king
king in his pyram id inherited the kingship. The as head of the living kas, and therefore the entire
most immense tom bs - the pyram ids - made the com m unity w ith him, to the new life after death.

In the New Kingdom, just as the pyramid as the royal and below, registers show the architecture and
The burial place was replaced by a natural pyramidal denizens of the Dual which is divided into 12
Netherworld mountain above the subterranean tombs of the Valley
of the Kings, new funerary texts emphasized a
hours. In the 5th hour a pyramid-like mound rises
to interrupt the three registers. Above the pyramid
in the Netherworld in and under the earth. As opposed to is a small mound of sand - a stylized grave. Both
grave and pyramidal mound are subterranean, as
AT 77 " 7 ^eac*Ay^ up to the celestial light, the sun god
N e w K .lilg d O fy i comes to the dead with his entourage, journeying indicated by a stippled band to represent sand.
down the Nile of the night in his barque. Within this From the apex of the pyramid a head emerges,
imagined realm are underworld pyramids that in some versions identified as the flesh of Isis, who
elaborate themes hinted at in the Pyramid Texts. is over the Land of Sokar. Sokar, the most
This new genre of funerary composition, at first mysterious form of the god Osiris, Lord of the
exclusive to the king's tomb like the older Pyramid Netherworld, is the core of the scene, awakening
Texts, decorated the walls of the royal tombs in the inside his ellipse or egg within the pyramidal
Valley of the Kings. For convenience the texts are mound. The texts state that not even the sun god
called Books': the Book of Caverns, Book of Gates, can penetrate Sokars chamber, but his passage and
Book of Aker. As with the Pyramid Texts of a his words to Sokar in the sealed chamber set off a
thousand years earlier, they contain variations on the reaction within the egg.
creation theme, now played out as a journey The exchange between light - the sun god - and
systematized into 7 gates, 21 doors, 7 heavenly cows, darkness - the cavern of Sokar - allows
14 mounds and 12 caverns. These are illustrated map- resurrection to take place at the end of the night
guides to the Netherworld. The oldest is Amduat, the journey, when the scarab beetle Khepri pushes the
Book of W hat is in the Underworld, which first ball of the sun through the gates of the horizon, as
appears in the reign of Thutmose 1 (1504-1492 BC). the mummiform Osiris slips back into the Dual.
The journey of the sun god in his night form of a The renewal of creation in the depths of the earth
ram-headed man is depicted in the central register of allows the kings soul to ascend from the tomb just
the walls of descending corridors of tombs. Above as it allows the sun to rise again.
As for anyone who shall lay a finger on this pyramid and
this temple which belong to me and to my double.... he
be judged by the Ennead and he will be nowhere and
hishouse will be nowhere; he will be one proscribed, one
who eats himself.
Pyramid Texts, 1278-79 The Pyramid Texts
The route through a pyram id complex leads finally
i the great stone false door at the back of the offer
ing chapel. On the other side, behind solid mason-
. deep under the pyram id, lay the m ost intimate
r Kims of this house of eternity: the burial cham ber most recent royal edition, in the small pyram id of
.nd antecham ber. Beginning with the pyram id of Ibi, includes spells unknown in older ones. This
' nS a t the end of the 5th dynasty, the walls of suggests a fair degree of fluidity and individual
these cham bers were inscribed w ith vertical choice of repertoire for each king. On the basis of
lu n n s of texts from E g y p ts - indeed the w orlds both archaeological and historical evidence, schol
ildest religious literature. T he Pyram id T exts are ars recognize references to the Old Kingdom state,
tantalizing, yet confusing, literary w indow on to and therefore date their earliest composition to the
he m eaning of a pyram id complex. period after the unification.
The Brugsch brothers, Emile and Heinrich, made D uring the F irst Interm ediate Period and Middle
he initial discovery of Pyram id Texts in 1881 in Kingdom, Pyram id Texts were also inscribed in the
he pyram ids of Unas, Teti, Pepi I, Merenre and tom bs of high officials. They were then subsum ed
. - pi II. K urt Sethe prepared the first definitive edi- into the Coffin Texts, found inside the coffins of
n of the texts, num bering 714 individual sayings im portant people. Pyram id Texts were still includ
r spells. New texts found in 1925 in the pyram ids ed in the tom bs of officials in the New Kingdom, in
Pepi II and his queens, Neith, Tput and Wed- the Book of the Dead and in Late Period funerary
: hten extended the num ber to 759. French excava- papyri. T he can also be recognized, after radical
r.s in South Saqqara, under Jean Leclant, have reworking, in New Kingdom temple ritual. Copies
c ".nnued to find new texts in the last two decades. of Pyram id Texts have been found in Late Period
In spite of great repetition of the spells and their tom bs and sarcophagi. T he fact that such copies,
. juences, the 'editions of Pyram id T exts differ carefully executed in Old Kingdom style, include
' m one pyram id to another. T he oldest edition, spells both known and unknow n in Old Kingdom
. at of Unas, contains only 283 of the known texts editions, hints th at the known Old Kingdom texts
: includes ones not found in later editions. T he are a selection from a larger body of texts.

Categories of Pyramid Texts

" Molars have recognized five -major categories o f spells:

1 Dramatic T exts include spells of lament, beings. For example. Spell 220 hails the crown as
- His of the offering ritual, and spells relating to the king takes possession of it: He comes to you, 0
provision of the kings crowns, to the Crown! He comes to you, 0 Flame; He comes to you,
reduction of equipment to the grave, and vo the 0 Great One; He comes to you. O Rich in Magic.
ening of the mouth and other statue rituals. The The Hymns and Litanies may have been composed
I ;malic Texts take the form of recited speech and during the 4th dynasty,
scribed action: raise up before him (the
.vased), lay on the ground in front of him. Some 4 T h e G lorifications - the Sakha, literally, that
the texts suggest that the speaker and the which makes one into an A kh', form the largest part
ipient take on the roles of gods in the prescribed of the Pyramid Texts. The oldest glorification
*ual action. The formulation of the Dramatic spells, probably carried out at the tomb during the
xts may date to the 2nd and 3rd dynasties. funeral, mention the sand tomb (PT 1877-78) and
the mudbrick mastaba (PT 572c-e). Many of the
J H ym ns w ith N am e Form ulae set the cult Glorification Texts are, however, the. youngest
mbols, actions and ritual objects of the Dramatic Pyramid Texts, composed during the 5th and even
xts in the context of mythical stories or as late as the 6 th dynasty.
usions, sometimes by adding, in this thy name
nr simply as. 5 T he M agical T exts consist of short protection
spells for charming snakes and other dangerous Pyramid texts inscribed before
> 1-itan ies are structured as verse and consist of beings. From their form of speech, they are judged the portcullises in Pepi ! s
umerations and sequences of names and name to be the oldest texts, dating to the early Archaic pyramid, translated in the
: : mulae pertaining to particular divine things and Period. opening quote.

The pyramid o f Unas at Like the program m es of statu es and reliefs in the Fragmented myth and ritual
Saqqara is the earliest to pyram id temples, the overall theme of the Pyram id T he Pyram id Texts make allusions to m yths, par
contain Pyramid Texts. Texts w as the eternal existence of the king in the ticularly the central pageant of O siris and the con
A detail i$ shown opposite.
Afterlife. However, it has not been easy to recognize flict between Horus and Seth over the inheritance of
a completely coherent treatm ent. The texts do, how the kingdom, but never provide a coherent n arra
ever, have a decided em phasis on the sky realm of tion of the stories. Instead there are, scattered
the sun god, an em phasis which m akes scholars throughout, fragm ents of myths, as though the
suspect Heliopolis as the place w here much of the story as a whole is too potent for outright telling.
corpus w as conceived and form ulated. The king Opinions differ as to the purpose of this poetic
joins the extended family of the gods; in fact, his discourse, draped like a curtain of ritual and magic
death and resurrection is a homecoming. He boards around the innerm ost cham bers of the pyramid.
the ship of the sun god and voyages through the For the Egyptians, word and its effect were per
sky and the various fields of the Netherworld. ceived a s one and the same. K urt Sethe considered
Alternatively, the king flies to the sky as a falcon, the texts a free-form am algam ation of spells that,
kite or goose, or leaps upw ard as a grasshopper. Or inscribed perm anently on the walls around the
he is assisted in his ascent by the natural forces like k ings body, allowed him to be transform ed and res
wind and hail storm s. His destiny is both the day urrected, a view which m any agree with. Others,
and the night sky, for he joins the northern Im per while not disagreeing, also see them as the script o;
ishable Stars. A s they identify the dead king with the funeral rituals. T h e idea that p arts of the Pyra
Osiris, the Pyram id Texts also present a chthonic mid Texts were recited in particular contexts is
Underworld dimension of the. Afterlife. m ade compelling by directions like w ords to be

king. T he rest of the offering ritual sp eak s of the
king being dressed, anointed and fed, as he w as in The Pyramid Texts
the private rooms of the royal residence during life.

On the east gable of the antecham ber is also the

famous Cannibal Hymn' in which the king flies to
heaven through a storm y sky: pressive as a
god who lives on his fathers and feeds on his m oth
e rs ...' We should understand this cannibalism in
the light of the ka as the communicative life force
th at is passed down from Creator to the gods to the
king and from parent to child. We should also not
forget that the eastern wall of the antecham ber
faces the virtu al exit from the underground ap a rt
m ents of the pyram id - the false door em bedded in
the east flank of the pyramid a t the culmination of
the m ortuary temple. Beyond the antecham ber are
the stan d ard three niches, som etim es referred to as
serdabs as if for statues. However, they could also
have been m agazines for storing provisions, sym
bolically transferred into the pyram id cham bers
from the offerings presented before the false door.
Altogether, the arrangem ent of U nass Pyram id
- iken, by the dram atic form of spells com prising Texts reflects the order in which U nas would read
:e opening of the mouth, by instructions for ritual them after rising from the sarcophagus, moving
lions and by the texts which have as their object through the burial chamber, antecham ber and
.irifieations, censings, presentation of clothes and along the corridor. A lthough Unas's body remains
ointments, and the consecration of the pyram id. It in the burial chamber, ju st as O siris rem ains in the
v tulcl be perverse to think th at the offering ritual Duat, his ba awakens, releases itself from the body
TJuj flow o f Pyramid Texts m
>uld not have been perform ed in the offering hall and proceeds through the D uat tow ards sunrise.
the chambers under Unass
the m ortuary temple. T he antecham ber, east of the burial chamber, the pyramid. In the entrance
'Duat, serves as the Akhet, that region between the corridor the emphasis is on a
Text, architecture and cosmos Duat and the day sky, ju st below the horizon, in the rising from the Akhet. The
in Jam es Allens recent reading he looked a t the pyram ids of Teti, Pepi I and Pepi II, the corridor three east recessed magazines
yram id of Unas - the oldest and m ost complete between the burial cham ber and antecham ber is are opposite the false door in
Urn offering hall o f the
rendition. He exam ined the placement of the spells inscribed with tex ts about p assin g through the
pyramid mortuary temple.
on the walls, the direction of their narration and the m arshes at the edge of the Akhet, the place of The goddess Nut was carved
groups of spells. Two ordering principles emerged. transform ation where the king becomes an effec into sarcophagi from the New
First, the narrative flows aw ay from the direction tive sp irit (akh) who is able to rise at dawn and to Kingdom onwards.
hat birds and anim al and hum an hieroglyphs face function in the Afterlife.
he texts progress from right to left except on the
False door of
. >rth walls of the burial cham ber and antecham - mortuary temple
jt where they are read left to right. T his is in order Direction of Protective spells
' follow the second rule: the texts move from sunrise
Pre-dawn sky
side the tomb outw ards. Thematically, the texts
fall into two broad sets: one for the burial cham ber
and another for the antecham ber.
On the w estern gable of the burial cham ber are response
-peils to protect the dead king ag ain st snakes, scor- Resurrection
ions and other threats. Similar protective spells
.re found on the east gable of the antecham ber. Protective
The kings private apartm ents are th u s fram ed by
.potropaic texts, ju st as outside the pyram id, the King as bird

nuseway and small vestibule contained scenes

hat protected the passage through the pyram id
' implex. Parallels between interior text and exteri-
>r sign and symbol are evident in the opening spell
f the offering ritual on the north wall of the burial ANTECHAMBER
chamber, which talks of seizing enemies. T he To sky Offering ritual

scenes at the lower end of the causew ay showed BURIAL CHAMBER

he gods holding ropes binding the enemies of the Sarcophagus

its faces is a winged sun disk in relief. Below are
two wedjat, sacred eyes, and below them are three
nefer (b eauty or perfection) signs; below these
again we find the hieroglyph for the sun disk,
The Pyramid as Icon flanked by th e nam e and titles of A m enem het III.
T he whole com position can be read as: A m en
em het beholds the perfection of Re. T he sacred
eyes are those of the king himself. Like the nam es
TTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTfTTf of the pyram ids - Sneferu Gleams', G reat is
Khafre - the eyes tell us that the pyram ids were
Arum Scarab! personifications of the dead kings who were buried
When you became high, as the high ground, and revivified w ithin them.
when you rose as the ben-ben, in the Phoenix Enclosure,
in Heliopolis, Pyramid and ben-ben
you sneezed Shu,
you spat Tefnut, and you put your arms around them, as T he phrase beholds the perfection of Re is one of
the arms of ka, that your ka might be in them. many indications th a t the true pyram ids were seen
Pyramid Texts as sym bols of the sun. T he identification of the
pyram id with the sacred ben-ben stone in the .tem
The pyram id w as above all an icon, a towering ple of Heliopolis is another sign th at the pyram ids
symbol. It has been said that the E gyptians did not were sun symbols. To understand the ben-ben we
distinguish sharply between hieroglyphic writing, m ust begin w ith A tum , probably the earliest god
The full hieroglyphic
determinative for pyramid. two-dimensional art and relief carving, sculpture w orshipped at Heliopolis. An aspect of the sun god,
Could the red band, at the and monum ental architecture. In a sense, the py ra he is the old sun of the evening as opposed to Ra
base signify that pyramids mids are gigantic hieroglyphs. But why a pyramid? at noon and Khepri - the scarab beetle - the m orn
were thus painted, as some And how should we read the pyram id glyph? ing sun. Atum w as also the oldest creator god; in
have thought? Or is it a his most prim eval form he w as the singularit}
vestige o f the red granite Pyramid and pyramidion w ithin the primeval w aters of the Abyss. T he root.
casing at the. base o f some,
pyramids, such as Khafres, The word for pyram id in ancient Egyptian is mer. tm, in A tum s nam e m eans complete, finish,
Menkaures and There seem s to be no cosmic significance in the yet also not-be. In later texts Atum is Lord of
Neferirkares? term itself. I.E.S. Edw ards, the g reat pyramid Totality and the Completed One, and in the Pyra
authority, attem pted to find a derivation from m, mid Texts he is self-developing or self-evolving.
instrum ent or place, plus ar, ascension, as place A tum is a chthonic god - virtually everything that
of ascension. Although he himself doubted this exists is p art of his 'flesh, having evolved as his
derivation, the pyram id w as indeed a place or millions of kas. How did this evolution begin?
instrum ent of ascension for the king after death. A ccording to Pyram id Text 527,
O ur word pyram id comes from the Greek, pyra- Atom is the one who developed, getting an erection in
m is (pi. pyramides), wheaten cake. T he Egyptians Heliopolis.
The pyramidion of had a conical bread loaf called ben-ben, which was He put his penis in his grasp that he might make orgasm
Amenemhet Ills pyramid at also the word for the capstone of a pyram id or the with it,
Dahshur (p. 179). The eyes tip of an obelisk - ben-benet, named after the ben- and the two siblings were born, Shu and Tefnut.
are the pharaohs, gazing up ben stone, the sacred icon in the temple of Helio Shu, the god of air and atm osphere, and his sis
from within his pyramid to polis, the oldest centre of the sun cult. ter Tefnut are the next generation of prim eval gods.
the beauty of the sun.
T he capstone o r pyram idion is the complete
pyram id in m iniature, bringing the structure to a
point at the sam e angle and with the sam e propor
tions as the main body. Stadelm ann found the
earliest pyram idion at Sneferus North P y ra
mid at D ahshur (p. 104), made of the sam e
limestone as the casing and uninscribed.
A num ber of pyram idions also survive Atum (creator god)
from Middle Kingdom royal py ra
mids and from the small pyram ids ~ l
of non-royal tom bs of New Shu (god of air) = Tefnut
Kingdom and later times (p.
186). A m enem het Ills p y ra Geb (earth) Nut (sky)
midion, of hard black
stone, from his p y ra I 1 -------- 1 1
Osiris (underworld) = Isis Nephthys Seth
mid at Dahshur, is the
m ost complete royal
Horus (god of kingship)
capstone. On one of

The genealogy leads to Geb (earth) and Nut (sky)
who beget Osiris, his sister and wife, Isis, his broth-
r and adversary, Seth, and Seths counterpart
Nephthys. Osiris and Isis beget Horus, the god of
-:ingship. T hus kingship goes back to the Creator.
)ther texts relate A turns erection and ejaculation
' the ben-ben pyram id ion through a cosmic pun on
'he root, bn, which is associated with procreation
nd could mean become erect' or ejaculate.
Bn could connote the idea of swelling in general,
/h e concept of A tum s m asturbation w as that he
xpanded as a mound [bnnf) in the abysm al w aters
Nun. T he E gyptians m ust have envisaged this
- the Nile Valley land em erging from the receding
a ::iers of the annual inundation. W ithin a few lines
: this text that speaks of A tum s primeval mound,
theologians are m ixing m etaphors with impun-
. associating Creation with the image of the
- arab beetle and the ben-ben at Heliopolis. In the
- me breath, Shu and Tefnut are said to come forth,
onomatopoeia, from A tum s sneezing (ishesh)
ar.d spitting {iff).
As an image of the primeval mound, the pyra-
.d is, therefore, a place of creation and rebirth in doing on his pyramidion. If we could look through The pyramids magically
Abyss. The Phoenix, Benu in Egyptian, the picture-window of the pyram id, its temples combined the darkest and
: pears in the tapestry of the Heliopolitan creation and its underground apartm ents, we would better most dense primeval earth
and the rays of celestial light.
: ; :h both by virtue of its sound-sim ilarity with appreciate the pyram id com plex as a royal house,
ben, and because it retu rn s after long periods to w ith its gate house (valley temple), entrance corri
- Ju ral habitat, which the E gyptians pictured as dor (causeway), vestibule, courtyard, portico and
< /ram id al perch of sticks. reception room (court and statu e chamber),
antecham ber to the private quarter, dining (offer
sunlight and the pyramid ing) hall, and, furthest back, the most intimate
iii:h ben-ben and pyram id m ay have symbolized ap artm en t where the king sleeps in death only to be Pyramidal icons (from left to
rays of the sun, particularly as they appear reawakened, bathed, and clothed before reappear right): 2nd-dynasty depiction
of the benu (phoenix) bird on
- through a break in clouds - the pyram id is ing in the celestial court.
the solar disc at the apex of
:s the im material m ade material. T he Pyram id W hat m akes the arrangem ent unlike any house the ben-ben; a New Kingdom
>.:s speak of the sun s rays as a ram p by which is the pyram id itself, towering above the m ost inti benu bird from the tomb o f
king m ounts up to the sun, ju st as the older step mate rooms. It is the pyramid th at merges this eter Harnesses VI; an obelisk
: ram ids may have been seen as giant stairs. But nal house w ith th at of the gods - the cosmos. T he named as the embodiment
pyram id w as much more than a magical device pyram id is a sim ulacrum of both the m ound of o f Osiris - this, like the late
funerary image o f Osiris
- the king to m ount to heaven. It was a place of primeval earth and the w eightless rays of sunlight,
inside a dark step pyramid,
sical and spiritual transform ation that tied the a union of heaven and earth th at glorifies and reflects the chthomc aspect
-r's ascent to the creation of the world and to the transform s the divine king and ensures the divine o f the pyramid as primeval
i .:'.y rebirth of the sun. ru le of the E gyptian household. mound.
There is evidence th at the ben-ben stone w as
"ally cone-shaped and the pyram id is the easiest
to mimic this in m onum ental architecture.
we have to keep in mind the original appear-
e of the pyram id when most of its surface w as
- ly covered with sm oothed white limestone. The
r!h*cted light m ust have been so brilliant a s to be
'St blinding.
There is a kind of picture-window principle to
;::h of E gyptian a rt and architecture that m ight
'.y to the pyram id as a stone model of immateri-
sunlight. In one sense the pyram id may have
.. a gigantic reflector, a stone sim ulacrum of
. Tight and a window to the sky, as though we
\ inside die m ass of stone looking out at the
. Tight, exactly as the eyes of Amenem het III are


ong after they were abandoned, pyramids, or the

L stum ps of pyramids, protruded above the debris of

their own collapse and the drifting sands of the
ages. At first they defied enterprising explorers
who dared to try to penetrate their secrets - these early
attem pts were frontal assaults to find a way inside. As the
pyramids were entered one after another, their chambers,
shafts and passages were cleared and later mapped. Atten
tion also turned to the ground around the towering ruins. By
the turn of the 20th century, it became clear that the pyra
mids had temples attached, and that the upper temples were
connected by long causeways to the lower, valley temples.
And so scholars came to see the unity of the pyramid com
plex. The excavation, mapping and theoretical reconstruc
tion of temples and other features of pyramid ensembles
continues to this day at most of the pyramid sites: Abu
Roash, Giza, Abusir, Saqqara and Dahshur.
Recently, pyramid exploration has moved in a fresh direc
tion. In addition to recovering the art and architecture of the
pyramids, archaeologists now excavate to retrieve evidence
of the elementary structures of everyday life of the society
that built these great monuments. As their ancient builders
intended they should, the pyramids appear mysterious and
otherworldly deprived of their social and economic context.
Questions that now guide the excavator are: how were the
builders housed and fed? W hat was the economic role and
significance of the pyramids as labour projects and func
tioning ritual centres? W hat did pyramids contribute to the
evolution of Egyptian civilization and, ultimately, to human
development? Addressing such questions requires a team of
scientists - specialists in bone and plant remains and in
radiocarbon dating, in addition to those who still probe the
pyramids themselves with remote-controlled robots and cos
mic rays, always with the suspicion that the pyramids
might hold more secrets.

The pyram ids o f Giza as depicted by one o f Napoleons artists, fro m the
Description de lEgyple.
the Sphinx, A m enhotep II (c. 1.-427 b c ) acknow
ledges both K hufu and Khafre. K haem w aset (c.
1250 b c ), son of Rarnesses II and High Priest of
Memphis, appears to have done some restoration
Early Legends work on 5th- and 6 th-dynasty pyram ids a t Saqqara
and Abusir, and other Old Kingdom tombs, includ
ing Shepseskafs M astabat el-Faraun.
The New Kingdom rulers did not, however,
restore the nam es of the builders of m onum ents at
Giza. In fact, there is evidence that they removed
1Khaemwaset] has inscribed the name of the King of the fine limestone, alabaster and granite of
Upper and Lower Egypt, Unas, since it was not found on Khafres pyram id temples a t the sam e time that
the face of the pyramid, because the Setem Priest.. .much they restored the Sphinx in the form of the god
loved to restore the monuments of the kings of Upper
Horemakhet. In the Ram essid Turin Canon of king
and Lower Egypt.
ship, there are hints that the 4th dynasty was
Inscription of Khaemwaset (19tl: dynasty) undergoing som e folkloristic rewriting. For
instance, the suspiciously uniform lengths of reign
Abandoned in antiquity - Huni 24 years, Sneferu 24, Khufu 23 and so on -
By Middle Kingdom tim es (11 th to 13th dynasties), m ight wall be simple estim ates of a generation on
the early Old Kingdom pyram id builders, such as the throne.
Khufu (Cheops) an d Khafre (Chephren), were T he 26th dynasty saw an attem pt to resurrect the
already characters of legend rather than history. glory of the Old Kingdom. At Giza there w as an
Some 550 years after Khufu, his pyramid temple active priesthood of the Sphinx as Horem akhet and
and those of his successors seem to have been there were also people calling themselves priests of
stripped of their reliefs, since blocks and pieces Khufu, Khafre and M enkaure. Ironically, the w or
By the time of Rarnesses II
were reused in the core of the 1 2 th-dynasty p y ra ship of the powerful kings who built the largest
(1290-1224 BC), the Sphinx
at Giza had become an object mid of A m enem het I at Lisht (p. 168). Am enem hets stru ctu res in E gypt w as now carried out in the tiny
o f pilgrimage. Officials, pyram id w as itself abandoned well before the New Temple of Isis, built against the southernm ost of
scribes, military leaders, Kingdom era of M oses and the Exodus. the pyram ids of K hufus queens (GI-c) in the 21st
builders and sculptors all T he pyram ids were thus relics of a bygone era, dynasty. A small stela there related another story
made their way there and left their stone quarried for other buildings and their about Khufu, namely that having found the Isi?
behind small commemorative
temples in ruins. But the nam es and sequence of Temple in ru in s he restored the images ol the gods,
stelae. The scribe Montuher
left the oldest depiction their builders were known from king lists and there an d repaired the headdress of the Sphinx. T he style
of the Giza pyramids were occasional attem pts to restore the revered of the text and the deities mentioned all point to its
on lus unique stela. m onum ents of the ancestors. In his stela set up at having been w ritten in the 26th dynasty; the story
w as no doubt told to give greater antiquity and
authenticity to the fledgling cult. But its erroneous
implication that the Sphinx and Isis Temple
predate Khufu show s just how far the perceived
history of the site w as slipping from fact.

Greek and Roman travellers

In the w ritings of the Greek historian Herodotus
we do indeed find a m ixture of fact and folktale
about the pyram ids. W hen he came to Egypt
between 449 and 430 BC the hieroglyphic script was
still read and pharaonic religion still practised, but
his report m akes us w onder whether the cult of
Khufu and his sons in the Isis Temple had been
abandoned. The priests who informed the curious
Greek gave a decidedly negative account of Khufu:

[hej brought the country into all sorts of misery. He

closed all the temples, then, not content with excluding
his subjects from the practice of their religion, compelled
them without exception to labour as slaves for his own

Khufu had already appeared in a slightly bad light

in the legends of the W estcar P apyrus (probably
dating from the Second Interm ediate period, but
copying an older document), but it w as Herodotus 1st century a d , Pliny the Elder m entioned the vil
who established the erroneous and now virtually lage of B usiris (Abusir) at the foot of the pyram id Early Legends
Ineradicable association between pyram id building plateau, whose inhabitants would climb the p y ra
and slave labour. K hufus pyram id undoubtedly m ids for tourists - just like their m odern counter
required m assive toil, but H erodotuss credibility is p arts in the village of Nazlet es-Samm an (though it
strained when he goes on to rep o rt that: would have been altogether more difficult when the
pyram id casing w as still largely intact).
no crime was too great for Cheops: when he was short of
A nother myth became attached to the pyram ids
money, he sent his daughter to a bawdy-house with
instructions to charge a certain sum - they did not tell when, tow ards the end of the 1st century AD, the
me how much. This she actually did, adding to ic a Jewish historian Josephus included pyram id build
further transaction of her own; for with the intention of ing am ong the hardships that the Hebrews had had
aving something to be remembered after her death, she to endure during their years of labour in Egypt:
:sked each of her customers to give her a block of stone,
: nd of these stones [the story goes] was built the middle for [the Egyptians] enjoined them to cut a great number
pyramid of the three which stand in front of the Great of channels for the river, and to build walls for their
Pyramid. cities and ramparts, that they might restrain the river,
and hinder its waters from stagnating, upon its running
When Herodotus visited the pyram ids K hufus over its own banks: they set them also to build pyramids,
causeway w as intact, with polished stone blocks and by this wore them out..
decorated w ith carvings of anim als ... a work ... of
hardly less m agnitude than the pyram id itself. It T his idea persists in the popular imagination,
had taken, he w as told, 10 years of oppressive although we now know th at the largest pyram ids
slave labour to build; the pyram id took 2 0 years, were constructed over a millennium before the era
of the Hebrews.
including the underground sepulchral chambers on the By the Roman period the E gyptian language was
.ill where the pyramids stand; a cut was made from the
written using the Greek script. From the 3rd
Nile, so that the water turned the site of these into an
'land. century a d onwards, the E gyptian language w as
Coptic. Once Constantine converted to C hristianity
Two centuries after Herodotus, the Egyptian priest in a d 312,3,000 years of pharaonic culture came to
Manetho compiled his Aegyptiaca - possibly to cor an end. T he Copts began to destroy the pagan
rect the chronology of Herodotus - which we know m onum ents of their ancestors and the last person
nly through the edited and abridged versions of to read the hieroglyphic script died sometime in
sephus (c. a d 70), A fricanus (3rd century a d ) and the 4th century a d . When the ancient inscriptions
Eusebius (4th century a d ). O ur fram ew ork for became cryptic, real knowledge of the pyramid
ancient E gyptian history is still based on builders drowned in a sea of m yths and legends,
M anethos king list, grouped into 30 dynasties, and and the pyram ids fell silent.
:e is the first source to organize the kings from
Menes to U nas into five dynasties. (The New King- About 25 BC, the Roman DOOR OF THE SOUTH PYRAMID OF DAHSHUR.
1 >m Turin Canon gives the 39 nam es of this period geographer Strabo reported a AS SHEWN SY t h e e x i s t i n g d o o r w a y .

s a single lineage.) M anetho m ust have based his movable stone, high up and in
grouping on popular tradition and the sequence of the middle o f one of the faces
'he pyram ids. He credits Khufu, w ritten Suphis, o f Khufus pyramid, that
allowed access to the
.vith building the G reat Pyram id, and, far from
Descending Passage. Since
x-ing wicked, w ith w riting the Sacred Book. any trap door' in the original
Alexander the G reat conquered E gypt in 332 b c . building would have
>r the next 300 years, down to Cleopatra VII, the compromised the pyramids
ind w as ruled by the Ptolemies, descendants of security, this could only have
itolemy (I) Soter, the great general who hijacked been provided later - perhaps
for tourists to reach the
A lexanders body and took it to Egypt, w here he
subterranean chamber. DOOR OF THE GREAT PYRAMID OF GIZEH
.Mid gained control. In 30 b c E gypt became a Roman Chi the right is a hypothetical RESTORED FROM T H E DOOR WA Y A T DAHSHUR.
~ wince - and a major tourist attraction. On every reconstruction by the British
ravejlers itinerary, ju st as today, were the Giza Egyptologist W.M. Flinders
iV ram ids and the Sphinx, M emphis and the A pis Petrie, based on pivot holes he
. )use, and - up the Nile Valley at T hebes - the found at the entrance to the
Bent Pyramid at Dahshur.
Colossi of Memnon, the Temple of K arnak and the
Valley of the Kings. Off the modern tourist trail
-. as the Labyrinth - the temple of Amenemhet Ills
Hawara pyram id, now levelled.
The Greek author, D iodorus Siculus, in Egypt
.round 60 b c . reported the G reat Pyram id casing as
ntact, though possibly m issing its capstone. In the

rvwwTwvwwirrrwvwrvwwwwwvwvwwivv'fi 'Then SuricI ordered the building of the pyramids, had
the sciences recorded in them, and had the treasures and
pieces of sculpture put into them. Finally, he set an idol
Mythic History o f the to guard each of the three pyramids ... After his death,
Surid was buried in the Eastern [Khufus] Pyramid, his
brother Hujib in the "Western [Khafres] one,, and Hujibs

Copts and Arabs son, Karuras in the Pied [Menkaures] Pyramid.

Coptic legend

TTTTTTTTTTTTTTfTTTTfTTTTT' In AD 395, the Roman em pire split in two - east and

w est - with E gypt under Byzantine control. Two-
Books such as The Thousand and-a-half centuries later, in a d 642, E gypt was
and One Nights carry tales of ar)*, ^ conquered by the Arabs. T he pyram ids, being
hidden treasure in the Great
of such obvious antiquity, became linked with
Pyramid, One such legend COMMON 1.V C A U .E 0 , I X E K O S.A N D ,

tells o f the Caliph al-Mamun legendary and fabulous events.

breaking through the north THE ARABIAN NIGHTS
face Some stones say he The pyramids and the Flood
found a vase with limitless ENTERTAINMENTS.
A Coptic legend tells of King Surid who lived three
water, a golden casket with centuries before the flood. His dream s foretold
the ruby-studded body o f a A NEW T RA N SLA TIO N FROM THF. ARABIC W ITH COPIOUS NOTES.
future chaos and only those who joined the Lord of
man and an animated
cockerel o f precious By ED W A RD WILLIAM LANE,
the Boat would escape. The tale is a blend of both
stone. the Judaeo-Christian story of the flood and ancient
E gyptian themes. Surid may be a corruption of
IL L U S T R A T E D BY >3A N Y H U N D R E D E N G R A V IN G S O N W OOD, Suphis, a late form of Khufu; his city, Amsus, is
Memphis; and the Lord of the Boat is an am algam
of N oahs ark and the barque of the sun god.
One popular A rab legend m aintained that the
G reat Pyram id was the tom b of Hermes - the
Greek counterpart of the E gyptian T hoth - who.
like Surid, built pyram ids to hide literature and sci
ence from the uninitiated and preserve them
through the .flood. T h e Yemeni A rabs believed the
two large pyram ids to be the tom bs of their ancient
kings, one of whom defeated the E gyptians - per
h aps a distant m em ory of the Hvksos invasion in
the 2 nd millennium b c.
Em bellishm ents of the Arab legends abounded,
including of the Surid story. T he 15th-century his
torian al-Maqrizi reported that the king decoratec
the w alls and ceilings of his pyram id cham bers
w ith representations of the stars and planets anc
all the sciences, and placed treasures within such as

A l-Mamuns breachis 7 m
(23 ft) above the pyramids
Original base; the original entrance is
Ascending entrance 17 m (56 ft) above the base
passage and to the east. It is possible,
however, that al-Mamuns
breach in fact already existed
and had been made by the
ancient Egyptians, who were
familiar with the interior.

Al-M am uns

There is evidence that the

ancient robbers knew just how
far to go to get around the
granite plug blocks.
. capons th a t did not ru st and glass th at bent Although it is not. known
, - nout breaking. M aqrizi also says that, according when or by whom the
Spfums nose was broken
>the Copts, Surid w as buried in the pyram id sur-
away, careful examination of
ainded by all his possessions. If Surid is a memo- the face shows clear evidence
y of Khufu, this m ay not be so far from the truth. o f how it was done. Someone
hammered long rods or
The breach of al-Mamun chisels into the nose, one
Legends of treasures hidden within K hufus p y ra down from the bridge and the
mid persisted. T hey found Iheir way into the tale of other under the nostril. Once
in place, the implements were
The Thousand and One Nights, along w ith a story used to pry the nose off to the
that Caliph al-Mamun, son of H aroun al-Rashid, right (south).
vas the first to break into it, around a d 820. W ith
_rreat effort, he forced a passage w ith iron picks and
crowbars, and by pouring cold vinegar on to fire-
: .eated stones. There is indeed a breach - now the
lurist entrance - below and to one side of the orig-
nal entrance. But just when the pyram id w as vio-
ated rem ains a puzzle, though it is possible th a t it
vas in ancient times. It seem s th at whoever carried
ut the operation aim ed straig h t for a point oppo
site the juncture of the descending and ascending
oassages before turnin g east to break through
evond the granite plugs. Saite Period (26th
' . nasty) priests perhaps made repairs, since a t this
me there w as an attem pt to restore Old Kingdom mids, were used for walls in the grow ing city of
monuments. If the passage w as forced in pharaonic Cairo. T he plunder of casing stone from the G reat
times, however, it m ust have been gap in g open in P yram id continued during succeeding generations
820 - and presum ably any repairs would have until the outer m antle was finally stripped bare.
een detectable. M am uns men may have enlarged A bd al-Latif also enthused about the Sphinx,
he passage m ade by ancient robbers. already know n by its m odern A rabic nam e, Abu (Below) In a d 1196, Malek
These confusions do not inspire confidence in the Hoi, Father of T error. He described its handsom e Abd al-Aziz Othman ben
Yusuf, son of Saladin,
> roricity of the sto ry of al-M amun. Accounts of face, covered w ith a reddish tint, and a red varnish
mounted a concerted attack
:k] events and fabulous discoveries inside the as b rig h t as if freshly painted. He specifically men on the pyramid o f Menkaure
yramid increase our doubts. A m ore sober, and tions the nose, w hich leads us to think that it was to dismantle it and remove its
L-rbaps more trustw orthy, version is th at of Abu still intact, contrary to indications that it m ay have stone. Eight months work
Szait of Spain. He tells of M am uns men uncover- been m issing as early as the 10th century. It is cer merely damaged the
,:ig an ascending passage. A t its end w as a quad- tain th at someone removed it before the early 15th pyramids northern face. Such
enormous - and unsuccessful
mgular cham ber containing a sarcophagus. The century when another A rab historian, a]-Maqrizi,
- efforts increase our
:d w as forced open, b u t nothing w as discovered wrote about it. T he nose w as long gone, a t any rate, admiration for the skill of the
xcepting some bones completely decayed by tim e/ by the tim e Napoleon visited Giza in 1798, although ancient builders in creating
i >ut doubt is cast again by Denys of Telmahre, the he is often blamed for its removal. such durable monuments.
Jacobite Patriarch of Antioch. He accompanied
Mamuns p arty and states th at the G reat Pyram id
.as already opened at the time of their visit.

Quarrying the pyramids

The 12th-century scholar, A bd al-Latif, describes
he pyram ids as covered w ith indecipherable writ-
ng - probably the graffiti of visitors, som e per-
:aps from pharaonic times. His observation implies
has m uch of the casing a t Giza w as still intact
hen he visited. B y that time, nevertheless, the
rram ids were being system atically quarried for
hiding stone. Abd al-Latif rep o rts the destruc-
: tjs of a num ber of small pyram ids by the Em ir
Xarakoush during Saladins reign ( a d 1138-93). It
ust have been K arakoush who removed the satel
lite pyram id south of Khafres pyram id, and who
^gan dism antling K hufus subsidiary pyram ids,
i*her stones, probably from the tw o larger p y ra

The First European

ness of Rome w as that of Greece. W ith the trave

reports came the realization that behind the grea'
ness of Greece lay th a t of the Near E astern civiliza
tions, including Egypt. Travel became safer whe-
E g y p t came under Turkish rule in 1517 and Suite:
Selim I confirmed protection for French traders an
pilgrims. The invention of the printing press m th-
mid-15th century allowed the details and images of
such travellers voyages to the pyram ids to be mor
widely disseminated.
Travellers eventually became antiquaries w b
in the 16th century, began to retrieve artifacts and
ancient m anuscripts for the grow ing num ber o!
E uropean collectors and for libraries and mus-
urns. A thriving trade in antiquities grew, which
included mummies, the em balmed bodies of
ancient Egyptians. T hese had already been a mar
(Above) For those who had And some men say that they be sepultures of great lords, keted com modity for 400 years; the mum my pit'
never been to Egypt, that were sometime, but that is not true, for all the com of Saqqara were a m ajor attraction.
imagination was the only mon rumour and speech is of all the people there, both
means by which they could far and near, that they be the garners of Joseph.' Seeing and imagining
picture the Sphinx and Those who could not visit Egypt themselves had t<
Voiage and Travaile o f Sir John Maundemle
pyramids. The renowned
depend on their imaginations. A case in point
1 7th-century Jesuit scholar
and polymath Athanasius Around the time that Abe! al-Latif recorded his A thanasius Kircher (1602-80), considered by son:-
Kircher, for instance, drew experiences, the Crusaders were returning to the Father of E gyptology. T he draw ings of the
the pyramids in 1674 with Europe with intriguing tales of w hat they had seen pyram ids and Sphinx in his T u rn s Babel, pu
huge double-door entrances, in the Near East. A trickle of pilgrim s soon became lished in 1674, reflect his ability to conceptualize
no doubt since he saw the a stream of travellers who wished to amaze and rath er th an to depict accurately.
pyramid as a mausoleum.
astound when w riting their travel memoirs. We also have to w onder about the illustrations <
Kirchr had read that the
Sphinx was a large bust some of the 15th- and 16th-century voyagers wh
projecting from the sands, so Telling tales did m ake their w ay to Egypt. It is clear that mar.
he illustrated it as a classical One of the domes of St M arks in Venice has a 12th- of these illustrations could not have been based on
bust, with the rounded breasts century mosaic of the pyram ids as Josephs g ra sketches made at the site. H aving covered a gr&-
o f the female Sphinx o f the naries, an idea first suggested by the 5th-century deal of ground and seen many things, these writer-
Oedipus legend,
a d Latin w riters Julius Honorius and Rufinus. T his m ust have had to rely on m emory when the;,
(Above right) Tlte pyramids image w as repeated by many early visitors, even recorded their travels, and their vision of the monu
depicted as granaries in a though direct observation should have convinced m ents would have been conditioned as much b;
mosaic in St Marks them otherwise. Likewise, M andevilles Voiage w hat was fam iliar to them as by the exotic stru
cathedral, Venice. (quoted above), supposedly an informed guide, was tures they had all too briefly beheld. So w'hen the
concocted in the 14th century by a certain Jean drew the pyram ids, they based their im ages o:
d Outremeuse, who had never made the journey. more fam iliar steeply angled classical monument.'
T he Renaissance saw renewed interest in the Kircher promoted the idea, still potent today, tfc
pagan past. It was known that behind the g re a t the pyram ids contain some mystic significanc

nns tended to
t nt the pyramids in
that reflected their own
idrs and cultural values,
r than as they actually
.red. The angles o f the
ta rc often inaccurate
impossibly steep.

He such fanciful notions about the pyram ids je a n Chesneau mentioned that the other two p y ra This woodcut (above) is from
still current, some of the early visitors, such mids at Giza were not m ade in degrees. Did this Relation of a Journey Begun
George Sandys who visited the pyram ids in m ean th a t their inner, stepped cores were not in 1610 and shows the poet
and traveller George Sandys
. accepted the idea that the pyram ids were the exposed? Prosper Alpinus, one of the first Euro
and his party visiting the Giza
:bs of kings. peans to attem pt an accurate m easurem ent of the pyramids. Sandys agreed with
Marly travelogues also contain am biguous hints pyram ids, wrote in 1591 th at the viceroy of Egypt, the classical authors that the
i at when the pyram ids were stripped of their Ibrahim Pasha, enlarged the entrance to the G reat pyramids were not built by
-r casing. In 1546, Pierre Belon observed that Pyram id so th a t a man could stand upright in it. Hebrew slaves, nor were they
;hird Giza pyram id w as in perfect condition, as T his m ust indicate a widening of the passage of al- the granaries of Joseph, but
were in fact the tombs of
had just been built. But w hat about the attack M amun. Those who entered next brought a new
Egyptian kings.
<)thman in 1196, as reported by al-Latif (p. 41)? approach to the study of the pyramids.

1579 de Monconys
1556 Boullaye-le-Gouz 1743
Thevet Pococke
77l e Image of the Sphinx through the Centuries Norden

k Europeans some time to focus accurately on once again a European with rounded hairdo and
- m age of the Sphinx. In Andre Thevets bulky collar (perhaps the way travellers remembered
-ographie de Levant, published in 1556, seven the protruding and weathered layers of the neck).
rs after visiting Giza, the author related that the All these authors render the Sphinx with its nose
::iix was the head of a colossus, caused to be complete, though it had been missing for centuries.
by Isis, daughter of Inachus, then so beloved Richard Pocockes illustration in his Travels is
: .niter. He pictures it as a very European curly- closer to the Sphinxs actual appearance than
:: d monster with a grassy dog collar. Johannes anything previously published, except the
rich, another much-quoted visitor to Giza, tells illustration, Bau der Pyramide, by Cornelius de
. s travelogue of a secret passage by which the Bruyn. Indeed, it seems as if Pococke extracted his
cxn t priests could enter the Sphinx and pretend Sphinx bust from de Bruyns drawing, down to the
- its voice. Helferich's Sphinx is a pinched-face, gentleman gesturing with his left arm under the
r.d'breasted woman with straight hair. The only Sphinxs headdress. Again, both drawings render the
. his rendering has over Thevets is that the hair nose more or less complete. Frederick Nordens
- . tjests the flaring lappets of the headdress, depiction is more accurate and includes the broken
orge Sandys stated flatly that the Egyptians nose. The Sphinx of Casas, though painted slightly
.sented the Sphinx as a harlot. Balthasar de later, shows the nose once more complete. It was with
'! neonys interprets the headdress of the Sphinx as artists of Napoleons Expedition, such as Dutertre, 1822
: d of hairnet, while Boullaye-le-Gouzs Sphinx is that the Sphinx began to be faithfully rendered. Dutertre

In the midst of the quirky illustrations and odd 480,249 sq. ft (44,615 sq. m). Greaves counted th
The First. European
ideas of the 17th century came the first scientific step s (207 or 208) as he climbed the pyramid. H
reports about the Great Pyram id of Giza. described climbing a m ound of rubbish to the orig
inal entrance, in the 16th course of masonry, open
The scholars enter since the pyram id had been stripped of its ouu
John Greaves (1602-52), Professor of Astronomy at casing. Following the D escending Passage, hr
the University of Oxford, first reviewed the ex ist worked out its slope as 26 degrees. He marvelled :
Pyramidographia ing literature and then went to E gypt to study the the A ntecham ber with its portcullis slab and th-
pyram ids for himself. He dism issed all the accounts sm ooth granite walls of the K ings Chamber, givir,
of the Giza pyram ids having been built by biblical the dim ensions and position of the sarcophagi>
figures or legendary kings. From the classical T his early scholar even noted the basalt paveme:
sources, he concluded that these m onum ents were east of the pyram id that hinted at the existence
erected by Cheops (Khufu), Chephren (Khafre) and the m ortuary temple.
B y l o H N G r e a v e s , P rofeffor M ycerinus (Menkaure), as tom bs for the security of A nother clue in the m urky history of pyranr
o f A ftr o n o m y in th e U n iv c r f ir y
o f O x f o r d .
the body because of an ancient Egyptian convic destruction was added when Greaves w rote that,
tion that this would ensure the endurance of the while the stones of Khafres pyram id were n o t ;
Ro-mmvruin fabric* & A tttq u j tfrr* [cum vertiA
id dittum f i t ) nihil 4CcednTtt PjramidMm ftlendft- soul. Greaves set out to produce detailed m easure large or as regularly laid as in the G reat Pyrami
rcm ,&fttpcri/xm . B c l l o a lib . a . O b fc r v . ca p . 4 2..
m ents of K hufus pyram id with the best available the su rface w as sm ooth and even and free
instrum ents and a rigorously scientific approach. inequalities or breaches, except on the south. Tod;
London, He calculated that the G reat Pyram id had a p erpen casing rem ains only on the upper third of the s t
P r in te d fo r G eo r g e B z d g e r , an d a r c t o b c fo k J 3t
h i s f h o p in S c D u n jl s n s C h u r c h y a r d
in F Ie c r - r c e c
dicular height of 499 ft (152 m, it is in fact 146.5 m oncl pyramid.
tall), a slope height of 693 ft (211 m) and a base of Benoit de Maillet was the French Consul-Genen
in E g y p t from 1692 until 1708, during w hich peri'
Greavess Pyramidographia he visited K hufus pyram id over forty times. H
of 1646 included the first
plan and section of the superstructure are n o t ;
measured cross-section o f the
pyramid and its internal good as those of Greaves, but his draw ing of t:
passages (left). The passages and cham bers is more accurate. T r
Ascending Passage is not in lengths and proportions of the A scending Passat: *
correct proportion and the and G rand Gallery are nearly correct, as are the d:
Descending Passage ends ferent p arts of the well shaft. The Descending Pa-
abruptly at the pyramid base,
sage w as still unknow n beyond its juncture wi'
for it had yet to be cleared to
the Subterranean Chamber. the Ascending Passage.
He also gave the dimensions Between 1639, when Greaves was a t Giza, ar. \
of all known passages and .1692, the second pyram id m ust have been stripp
chambers. De Maillets 1735 to its present condition, because de Maillet me:
publication includes a cross- tions th at the casing stones remained only at t:
section with details more
top. He also called for a survey to produce an acc
accurate than Greavess
(centre), although the rate m ap and docum entation of all the ancit'
proportions o f his pyramid Egyptian sites - a plan to be executed a centur
are too tall and steep. later by the Napoleonic Expedition (p. 46).

Davisons Chamber is tin

lowest o f five stress-
relieving chambers abon
the Kings Chamber and
was reached through a
breach in the top o f tin
wall at the upper end of
the Grand Gallery.
The full plan and precise
dimensions of the interior
o f Khufus pyramid were only
revealed over time (seen here
in Borchardts profile of
1922). In 1765, Davison Grand
entered the lowest o f the five Gallery
stress-relieving chambers built Davison's
directly over the Kings Chamber
Chamber. The four chambers
above were then still to be
the Bent Pyramid of
k and the mudbrick
that remains o f the
f Amenemhet III.

{rom travellers to antiquaries N ordens Travels, published in 1.755, m arks a Nordens drawing o f The
hr mghout the 18th century travellers took up the great advance in documentation, no doubt owing to Sphinx and pyramids o f Giza
. and came to E gypt not only to describe w hat his profession as an artist and naval m arine archi from his Travels published m
1755. Norden produced the
saw but also to make accurate records. Travel- tect. Sent by King Christian VI of Denmark to first good map of the Giza
, :es evolved into geographical catalogues, and explore Egypt, Norden travelled all the way to Derr pyramids, showing the ruins
: . iuded the ancient sites and monuments. One in Nubia. of the mortuary temples of
: :iquary w as the Jesuit Claude Sicard, who trav- The English diplomat and traveller Nathaniel Khafre and Menkaure, as well
r :d m Egypt betw een 1707 and 1726. He docu- Davison (d. 1808) is credited with being the first to as the causeways of Khufu
: nted 20 of the major pyram ids, 24 complete and Menkaure. Unlike most
enter the lowest of five stress-relieving cham bers
other illustrators o f the time,
( mples and over 50 decorated tombs. above the Kings Chamber in K hufus pyram id. The Norden s profile and full-face
Foremost am ong the 18th-century antiquaries G erm an orientalist K arsten N iebuhr had searched drawings o f the Sphinx show
are the Englishm an Richard Pococke and the Dane for it in vain, apparently after hearing about it from the break o f the nose and
riderik Norden, both in Egypt in 1737. Pocockes a French m erchant named M eynard. Since N iebuhr weathered outlines that are
nap of Giza is extremely schem atic and his profile describes the cham ber as being directly above the essentially correct.
the G reat Pyram id is borrow ed from de Maillet. K ings Chamber, albeit of a lower height, it seem s
. li* report is curious in other w ays and includes a th at someone m ust have entered before Davison.
ascription supposedly of K hufus causeway. He Davison w as accompanied by M eynard when he
inscribes it as being 20 ft (7 m) wide, 1,000 yds (914 entered the pyram id on 8 July 1765, although D avi
:.i) long, built of stone, and reinforced by 61 circu son alone crawled through dirt and bat dung to
lar buttresses, 14 ft (4.3 m) in diam eter and spaced enter the cham ber that would henceforth carry his
.it 30 ft (9 m). This in no way fits the causeway name. Its floor consisted of the sam e nine granite
roundation that ru n s to the east from the pyramid. blocks that roofed the Kings Chamber below,
The enigm a clears, however, when we realize that although in Davisons Chamber the surfaces were
Pococke w as describing the arches in the floodplain unfinished. T he cham ber w as roofed by eight large
north of K hufus pyram id. Built under Saladin granite beam s smoothed on the undersides.
rom blocks taken from the Giza pyram id, the arch W hen Davison entered the pyram id, recent rains
es ran w estw ard and then south tow ards the p y ra had washed aw ay some of the sand and debris
mid plateau. choking the Descending Passage. He saw that the
Pocockes idea that the pyram ids were m ade by passage sloped aw ay into the bedrock beneath the
encasing natural m ounds of rock calls to mind the pyram id, and followed it into the darkness for 130
assertion of another 18th-century traveller, the Scot ft (39.6 m), where he encountered debris that sealed
Jam es Bruce: anyone who will take the pains to it off. Davison also investigated the well shaft. He
remove the sand will find the solid rock there hewn descended from the bottom of the G rand Gallery to
into step s. Bruce m ust have noticed that a t the a depth of 155 ft (47.2 m) where the well, too, w as
northeast corner of K hufus and the northw est cor closed off with rubble. It w as to take more than 50
ner of K hafres pyram ids the bedrock is left in the years to discover a link between the two choked
cores of the pyram ids, and fashioned into steps. passages (p. 48).

French enlightenm ent, of an ancient sea
edge. T h e m ilitary cam paign would ulti:
but the reconnaissance of an ancient
stan d s as the real achievem ent of the exp*
Napoleons Wise Men Bringing Egypt to Europe
Napoleon ordered leading French >
assem ble a team of savants and survey
CG^$^3jnDGCDnCEEEShiCE23kZi$3uSZXZDn survey of all E gypt that de Maillet had -
and which Norden began. Over 150 n :
personnel were assem bled as the Comm:-
A rts and Sciences. One could not have hi >r
better team to docum ent the sites and i t *
of ancient Egypt - just before the major (
of plunder and destruction that would begi:
heels of the Expedition. There were su rv ey o rs.:
and m ining engineers; m athem aticians, chenr.
botanists and astronom ers; archaeologists, arc
tects, artists and printers. There were also students
from the m ilitary engineering school and recer
g rad u ates of the civil engineering school. M<
only learned of their final intended destinati *
after the fleet had passed Malta.
O pposing Bonaparte, after he marched aero-
the desert to seize Cairo, were the rulir.*
Mamelukes, descended from Georgian and A rnx
ian slaves w ho were trained as a m ilitary elite. Fi
hundred years earlier they had taken Egypt t r
themselves, heavily taxing the native Egyptiar
with whom they had little affinity. W hen Napole '
m et the Mameluke arm y at Imbaba, west of Cair
Depicted, by the draughtsmen On approaching these colossal monuments, their he is reputed to have pointed to the distant pyr
o f the Napoleonic expedition, angular and inclined form diminishes the appearance of m ids of Giza, proclaiming, Soldiers, forty centurn
the pyramid of Meidum their height and deceives the eye.. .but as soon as he
look down upon you from these pyram ids.
seemingly rises from the begins to measure by a known scale these gigantic
productions of art, they recover all their immensity.. The M amelukes were easily defeated in this B;;
mound o f rubble that
surrounds it. This rubble. tie of the P yram ids, and scattered into U ppc
Vivant Denon, Travels in Upper and Lower Egypt
includes the remains o f the Egypt, where Napoleons General Desaix pursuv
casing, possibly destroyed as A m ajor threshold in the study of ancient E gypt them for ten months. T he French took over Cair
long ago as the New w as crossed with the g reat expedition led by but shortly thereafter, in early August, the Englis.
Kingdom. Napoleon B onaparte to E gypt in 1798. Frances rev destroyed their fleet in A bukir Bay. T he strandec
olutionary governm ent w anted to strike a blow at expedition gave birth to the Institut d Egypte, con:
their forem ost enemy, England. Rather than posed of the savants of the Commission on Al
attem pt a full-scale invasion across the channel, and Sciences and m ilitary and adm inistrative off:
however, Napoleon decided to take control of rials. Over the three years that the French remaitu
Egypt, dredge the canal linking the Red Sea and the rn Egypt, commission m em bers spread throughoi
M editerranean, and thereby short-circuit Englands Egypt, collecting artifacts and specimens, m appir *
trade w ith India. Napoleon had in mind the prece the entire country, docum enting archaeologies
A panoramic and picturesque
view o f the pyramid field o f dents of A lexanders and C aesars Egyptian enter sites, and recording individual m onum ents, irrig
Saqqara, from the prises. T his w as not to be ju st a military and tion system s, and the flora, fauna and culture
Description de 1Egypte. political conquest, however, but a revival, through contem porary Egypt.


French scholars had to forfeit much of their w as required to hold the entire s e t Instead, a Louis Francois Lejeunes
rial, including the famed Rosetta Stone, during reduced popular account of the Expedition and the 1806painting o f The Battle
implications of the com m issions departure m onum ents of Egypt was out by 1802. Entitled of the Pyramids. In this
decisive encounter o f 21 fuly
: Egypt along with the French retreat in 1801. Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute Egypte, it was the 1798, French troops under
managed to keep hold of a good deal of their work of Vivant Denon. the command o f Napoleon,
rial and carry it to France, however, by threat- defeated the Mameluke rulers
_ to throw it in the sea or b u rn it rather than Napoleons men at the pyramids of Egypt and drove them
" over to the British. The artists of the commission created precise from their Cairo power base.
views of many of the pyram ids. Colonel Coutelle The three Giza Pyramids can
le fruits of labour be seen in the background;
and the architect J.M. Lepere undertook a detailed Napoleon himself is on
: in Paris, the material w as gathered together study of the interior of Khufus pyram id while the horseback at the far right of
he series of volum es nam ed the Description de surveyor E.F Jom ard and engineer and artist Cecile the picture.
. v/j/t, itself a veritable monum ent. T he principal re-m easured the superstructure, including the
covered antiquities, modern Egypt, natural height of each course of stones. T he views of the Soldiers, forty centuries look
t<>ryand a topographical map. Those on antiqui- Sphinx and pyram ids they produced are im pres down upon you from these
- appeared between 1809 and 1818 (the final vol- sionistic but accurate. The next step in scientific pyramids The message on
r of antiquities plates in 1822). T he complete graphic im aging - large true-to-scale contoured this bronze medal.
ription required 837 copper engravings for m aps of the Giza Plateau and Sphinx - w as only
illustrations. An engraving m achine w as achieved in the late 1970s. In 1801, Coutelle and
loped by Nicolas Jacques Conte which resulted Lepere began to dism antle Pyram id GIII-c, the
productions of an exceptionally high standard. w esternm ost queen's pyram id of M enkaure, in
< estim ated th at the m achine could complete the hope of finding an undisturbed burial. They
:ree days work that would have taken an artist abandoned their efforts after rem oving the
months by hand - no small consideration with a upper north quarter of the pyramid.
rk of this magnitude. It is ironic that w ith the m assive French effort
rhe Description w as a w indow for Europe into at accurate docum entation began the era of
i years of ancient E gyptian civilization. Never- plunder and destructive, non-system atic excava
rss, it w as hardly som ething that every family tion that was a hallm ark of Egyptian archaeology
:.d afford - a complete custom -designed cabinet and pyram id exploration in the 19th century.

financed excavations and am assed collects
w hich they then sold, obtaining funds for furt.
work in Egypt. Drovettis treasures include the >
lection that form s the foundation of the Egypt
Belzoni and Caviglia M useum m Turin. One of S alts best-know n fin d '
the colossal head of Rarnesses II, now in the Brit:
Museum. The rivalry between Drovetti and S
found fertile ground at Giza, the setting also
some of E gyptologys m ost rem arkable character

I reached the door at the centre of a large chamber. I The sailor and the strongman
walked slowly two or three paces, and then stood still to In the late 18th century Italy produced two unlikeh
contemplate the place where I was. Whatever it might be, heroes of Egyptology. They shared first n a m e s:
I certainly considered myself in the centre of that pyra
a passion for the antiquities of the Nile; and 1> "
Belzoni s main contribution mid, which from time immemorial had been the subject of
the obscure conjectures of many hundred travellers, both were also possessed of adventurous, fearless s;
to pyramid studies was his
opening o f the unknown ancient and modern. its. Giovanni B attista Caviglia (1770-1845), born 2
upper entrance of Khafres Giovanni Belzoni, Narrative Genoa, spent his early life sailing a m erchant s :
pyramid (below) at Giza in around the M editerranean. But this uneduca:
1818. When he reached the Even after the departure of Napoleons fleet, Egypt tem peram ental seam ans real vocation turned
burial chamber, he found an remained a battleground for Anglo-French rivalry. to be Egyptology. Caviglia w as employed by sever
Arabic inscription, the
But the cam paign now took the form of a bitter al European collectors to find objects. His ovsi
master Mohammed Ahmed,
quarryman, has opened them, competition to see who could obtain the best an tiq obsessive interest in religion led to a conviction tha
and the Master Othman uities. French efforts were led by Bernardino cham bers w ithm the G reat Pyram id held my.'
attended this opening, and the Drovetti (1776-1852), an Italian-born diplomat who secrets. From 1816 to 1819 he therefore explored
King Alii Mohammed This had fought with Napoleons forces. He was French pyram ids and tom bs of Giza and he w as the firs-
suggests that the pyramid Consul-General in Egypt from 1802 to 1814, regain carry out major excavation on the Giza Plateau.
may have been entered six to
ing the post in 1820. In 1816 Henry Salt was Caviglia explored D avisons Chamber in
eight centuries earlier. Bones
found in the sarcophagus appointed Consul-General representing British G reat Pyram id (p. 45) hoping to find a secret ro m.
later proved to be those of interests. He had been trained as an artist and tra v b u t found instead solid rock. In 1817, he descend--
a bull. elled extensively in the East and Egypt. Both men into the vertical shaft known as the well. Breatb
m g difficulties halted him, in spite of attempt."
(Below right) A lithograph of clear the air by b u rn in g sulphur. Caviglia th
a drawing by M. Gauci shows decided to work' down through the Descending P
Belzoni in Turkish dress, and sage. After clearance allowed him to p ass about 61
appeared as the frontispiece
m (200 it), he smelled sulphur and realized he had
to his Narrative. This
important book appeared in found an opening to the well. T hus Caviglia w
December 1820 and was the able to dem onstrate that the well w as probably j
record of Belzonis work at shaft linked to the Descending P assage for
the pyramids, temples, tombs,
other excavations in Egypt
and Nubia, and elsewhere.
The book appeared in two
volumes, one a quarto and
the other a folio with 44
colour plates.
ncient workmen to escape after the Ascending Belzoni and Giza
. assage had been sealed. Caviglia also found the After his arrival in Egypt, Belzoni w ent to Giza and Belzoni and Caviglia
r. finished S ubterranean Chamber. explored the G reat Pyramid - a t one point having
Henry Salt later paid Caviglia to excavate the to be extricated from a passage in which he became
Sphinx. In the course of this work, the Italian found wedged. He also visited the pyram ids of Saqqara
small open-air chapel between the m onum ents and Dahshur, but his greatest contribution to the
repaws, with the fam ous Stela of T hutm ose IV. study of the Giza pyram ids w as opening the previ
Caviglia also found fragm ents of the beard of the ously unknown upper entrance of K hafres py ra
Sphinx; one piece is now in the British Museum. mid. Meticulous observation led him, after one false
The prom ising career of this dedicated, hard- start, to the true entrance. Belzoni w as anxious to
n'king am ateur ended after a brief collaboration enter before Drovetti, who w as rum oured to be
ith Colonel Howard Vyse who came to Egypt in about to blast the pyramid open using dynam ite.
835 (p. 50). Vyse had employed Caviglia to assist He hired local villagers to clear the rubble blocking
.im in his explorations of the pyram ids and was the opening. He then made his w ay through the
cxed when the Italian spent all his time looking The first major excavation
upper passage to the horizontal passage, where
>r 'm um m y pits instead. In 1837, Caviglia settled on the Giza Plateau was by
with g reat effort he raised a portcullis slab, and Caviglia, whose commission
i Paris where he became a protege of Lord Elgin. finally, after alm ost a month, he reached the b u n al allowed him to roam the
The second Italian was Giovanni B attista Bel- cham ber itself. Any hopes of finding an intact b u r monuments at will with his
ni (1778-1823), born in Padua. Half-facts abound ial cham ber were soon dashed by the sight of the excavation workers. In his
>ut the life and exploits of this am bitious and half-open sarcophagus. Its fine g ranite lid lay in major exterior project, he
.centric man. Some say he planned to become a cleared the front o f the Great
two pieces. An Arabic inscription on the wall
mk, and it seem s that he studied hydraulics. In Sphinx, and found an open-
revealed that th e chamber had already been air chapel between the
.ny event he spent several years travelling, eventu- entered, probably in the 13th century. forepaws, where rulers from
dly becoming a circus strongm an in London - a W hile exploring Khafres monument, Belzoni New Kingdom to Roman
ailing em inently suited to the great strength of had a team w orking at the third Giza pyram id. But times worshipped the colossal
his giant of a man, 2 m (6 ft 6 in) tall. Belzonis rest- a disagreem ent with Salt put an end to this work. bedrock statue. The. altar at
-ss nature soon saw him on his travels again, this the outer gateway o f the
A lthough Belzonis instincts were leading him in
'im e accompanied by his Irish wife, Sarah. In 1814, chapel still had the ashes o f
the direction of the entrance, it w as Howard Vyse the last sacrificial fire burned
. contact in M alta directed him to the E gyptian who would use gunpow der to blast his way into to the Sphinx, probably m late
>urt of M ohammed Ali, in an ill-starred attem pt to M enkaures pyram id 19 years later. Roman
capitalize on his knowledge of hydraulics. Fate
wrought him into the circle of E uropeans interested
n antiquities. In 1816 Belzoni began collecting
bjects for Salt. The consul suggested th at he work
vith Caviglia, but collaboration w ith a rival did not
ppeal - in fact, he even took offence when Cav-
glias clearance of the Sphinx w as m istakenly
credited to him in an 1818 British publication.
'Towards the end of this work gunpowder was used w
iAAAAA great effect..
R. Howard Vyse and J. Pernng, Operating

Digging by Dynamite Richard William Howard Vyse (1784-1853) was i

English arm y officer who first visited E gyp-
1835. Like many of his time, his interest in d
pyram ids stem m ed from strongly held religial
y beliefs. He met Caviglia in Alexandria in 1836
began excavating with him at Giza the sam e y
Vyse soon found the Genoese m ariner unproc t
tive, however, and in 1837, the year Vyse w as ;
moted to Colonel, he began a collaboration with " r
engineer John Shae Perring (1.813-69) w ith the a
of exploring and docum enting the pyram Sku
Together they established a cam p m the tomb-
the eastern cliff at Giza. Work went on night
day, with shifts of w orkers on several sites at oi k,
Confident in P errings ability and tru s tw o rth y -
Vyse returned to England later in 1837, leaving
new assistant to carry on the w ork with his fir
When the cavity created in the cial backing. Perring drew maps, plans and pr<
back o f the Sphinx by Vyse's of many of the pyram ids - from Abu Roasl I
gunpowder was cleared in Giza, Abusir, Saqqara and D ahshur - that he i
1978 under the direction of
Zahi Hawass, it was found to
lished in three folio volumes, The Pyramid. :
contain not only Vises drill Gizeh. Vyse reproduced Perrings draw ings
hole but also a large chunk of sm aller scale in his own three-part Operations L u r
the Sphinxs headdress with ried on a t the Pyramids o f Gizeh in 1837.
its relief-carved pleating. A nother contributor to Vyses publication
the Sinologist and E gyptologist Samuel B ird
the British Museum. Vyse investigated the p; 1
rmds a mere 15 years after the brilliant decip r
m ent of E gyptian hieroglyphs by Jean Fran
All in a Days Reis, 7 Men, 99. Children, 66. Champollion, but Birch was able to supply nott-
the text and give a rough translation of the ins.
Work... Great Pyramid. tions th at the team w as finding in and on
Excavation on southern front. m astaba tom bs th a t surround the Giza pyram
24 February 1837 Kings Chamber Birchs crude transcriptions of the glyphic w
Davisons Chamber
include their Coptic equivalents. W ritten lar.
Northern Air-channe).
w ith the Greek alphabet, Coptic had been read;
Second Pyramid. long before E gyptian hieroglyphs; indeed an un
Lower Entrance.
standing of Coptic w as invaluable in Cham polb -
Excavation for base at north-western angle.
Quarries. decipherm ent of hieroglyphs.
Third Pyramid. Excavation by force
Excavation for base at north-eastern angle. At Giza, Vyse cleared the lowrer entrance of
pyram id of Khafre by blasting apart the gra
Bridge in the southern dyke.
plugs th at blocked it. Belzoni had entered the p;
Sphinx. Boring. mid from the upper entrance and suspected
existence of the lower entrance when he saw :
descending passage, closed w ith debris, fr
One days work from Howard Vyses Operations inside the pyram id.
Carried on at the Pyramids o f Gizeh in 1837. Vyse
A lthough Perring and Vyse carried out valu;
(left) records that on this day the clearing of the
docum entation of the pyram ids, Vyse, despite h
Northern Air-channel proved impossible and that
the boring of the Sphinx had reached a depth so evident adm iration for the monum ents, had i
far of 9 ft 8 in (2.95 m). He notes that the Maltese, qualm s about dism antling p a rts of the pyran:
Turks and Arabs were afraid to go out at night - using boring rods in the search for hidden ch
unlike his English assistant who spent every night bers or blasting his way through obstacles v
for five months in Menkaures pyramid. dynam ite. Opposite his view of Menkau-
queens pyram ids, Vyse wrote of the middle p;

mid (GHI-b) that it w as prepared for boring by he said, rather contradictorily, being unwilling to
removing the stones from the top of it, as J expected disfigure this venerable monument, the excavation Digging by Dynamite
find the sepulchral cham ber by penetrating w as given up and several feet of boring rods were
hrough it. Vyse ploughed straight through the left in it.
c'litre of the superstructure without finding an
.ddition to the passage to the subterranean burial The pyramid of Menkaure
hamber, which contained a granite sarcophagus Vyse also burrow ed straig h t into the core of the
ding a young female skeleton. W ritten in red on pyram id of M enkaure, beginning from the chasm
-he roof of the burial cham ber is the nam e of that Saladins son had made in .a d 1196. Ju st off the
Menkaure, confirm ing the ancient sources th at the central axis of the pyramid Vyse tu rn ed his tunnel
bird Giza pyram id w as the tom b of that king. dow nw ards and forced it to the base of the p y ra
W ondering if a cham ber existed in the body of mid, requiring his workers to come up out of the
be Sphinx, Vyse ordered his men to drill straig h t pyram id every time a new blast took place. But he
;vn from the top of the back. When his boring found no new passages or cham bers in the su per
>ds became stuck at a depth of 8.2 m (27 ft), Vyse structure. Eventually Vyse located the entrance,
rdered the use of gunpow der to free the rod, but, instructed his men to clear it and, having paid

Campbell's Chamber (left),

topmost o f the five stress-
relieving chambers of
Khufu s pyramid, was
reached after Vyse dynamited
upward from Davisons
Chamber. It contained graffiti
which included the name of
the pharaoh Khufu (right).
The other chambers were
named after prominent people
(sections below: left, looking
ivest; right, looking north).

Campbells Passage
Chamber blasted
by Vyse





Menkaure s pyramid, with its them, m ade his way into the interior and the burial Vyse were able to reconstruct it. W ith g reat diff I
three queenspyramids in the cham ber with the artist Edw ard A ndrew s who pre ty Vyses men removed the sarcophagus for tr a
foreground. The middle pared m any of the plans and sections illustrating p o rt to England, but it sank to the bottom of I
pyramid (Glll-b) was built
the w orks of Vyse and Perring. As with Belzoni in M editerranean during a storm , along w ith the - 1
o f limestone, but like the
westernmost of the three Khafres pyram id, the Arabic graffiti on the w alls transporting it, the Beatrice.
pyramids it appears not to immediately declared that they had been preceded. W ith the fragm ents of the sarcophagus lid d
have been cased. In the granite-lined burial cham ber they found the excavators also found hum an bones, linen w aj
original stone sarcophagus but the lid was m issing pings, and p arts of a wooden coffin. An inscripti
and the sarcophagus lay empty. Pieces of the lid on the front of the coffin identifies its o c c u p a r J
were found in the bedrock-hewn U pper A partm ent the Osiris [deceased] M enkaure, given life for
above the burial chamber, from which Perring and born of the sky, the sky goddess Nut above yen
Curiously, the style of the coffin show s that it
Perrings detailed plan and Saite (26th-dynasty) date, and radiocarbon ana
profile o f the middle queens of the bones points to the Christian period. 1
pyramid. Vyse removed stones coffin and bones are now m the British Museum
from the top o f the middle
T his apparent burial of M enkaure some 2. n
pyramid and forced his way
down through the centre o f it years after he lived and died m ust, in fact,
without reaching the burial reburial and may relate to an inscription on tkfl
chamber as he expected. The granite casing just below the entrance to the
BAS E ON ROCK 02-. fact that Perring so accurately mid. Diodorus Siculus had noted this inscripti
mapped his intrusion through but it w as only found in 1968 when debris
the 4,600- year-old
monument indicates that cleared from the pyram ids base. It gives the ;
Vyse saw no harm in what he (unfortunately damaged), m onth and day
called excavations in the M enkaure was buried in the pyram id, and st; I
pyramids We should at least th at the king w as given a rich burial. One theor
acknowledge that this may be that the inscription may date to the time
the beginning o f documenting Khaemwaset, son of Harnesses II, who carried
archaeological excavation in
lot of restoration work a t Giza. These myster: _"l
facts, like the bones of a bull found in the s a ra r
g us of Khafre, hint th at the history of the py-<
m ids is not alw ays as straightforw ard
Egyptologists may think.

The pyramid of Khufu

Vyse initially directed his dynam ite operation'
the pyram id of K hufu to its south side, where
thought he m ight blast open a second entrance
about the sam e level as the northern entrance.

Perrings cross-section of
Menkaures pyramid (left) is
a meticulous record o f his
excavation of the site. He
found the true entrance and
reached the vaulted burial
chamber. Within its red
granite walls was the royal
sarcophagus, made of basalt
and in typical Old Kingdom
palace faqade style. When
clearing the chamber before
the burial chamber (below),
he discovered human remains
and a fragment o f coffin lid,
with Menkaures name, but in
a style not in use until many
centuries after his death.

gave up only after creating a large hole in the core

masonry. Excavating down to the bedrock, Vyse
did, however, uncover some of the original polished
casing blocks of the pyram id, together with a pave
ment that extended out from the base.
Vyses gunpow der-blasting archaeology did
make one highly notable discovery in the G reat
Pyramid. Caviglia had begun to dynam ite his way
along the south side of the stress-relieving cham ber
that Davison found in 1765, hoping to find a com
munication with the southern air channel that
would lead him to a secret room. After falling out
with Caviglia, Vyse came to suspect that there was
another cham ber directly above Davisons since he
could th ru st a yard-long reed through a crack and
up into a cavity a t its northeastern corner. He there
fore directed his dynam iting straig h t upw ard,
whereupon he found, over three and a half months,
the four additional stress-relieving cham bers, all
roofed, floored and walled with granite except for
the topmost, which w as gabled w ith limestone him ). One of the gangs m ight have been called
blocks so that the weight of the pyram id did not som ething like, how powerful is the g reat W hite
press down on the cham bers below. Vyse named Crown of Khnum-Khuf! In spite of the extrem e dif
these cham bers after im portant friends and col ficulty of getting up into the Relieving Chambers, a
leagues: the Duke of Wellington, under whom he fail' num ber of visitors have followed Vyse since
had served; Admiral Nelson, hero of Trafalgar; the 1837 opening. They have, unfortunately, freely
Lady Ann A rbuthnot, wife of Lieutenant-General added their graffiti to that left by the w orkgangs
Sir Robert A rbuthnot, who visited the pyram id just 4,600 years ago.
after the discovery of the cham ber on 9 May 1837; The single instance of the kings name as simply
and Colonel Campbell, the British Consul in Cairo. K hufu, again as part of a w orkgang name, is
ju s t as significant as the am azing architecture of found on the south ceiling tow ards the west end of
the Relieving Cham bers w as Vyses discovery of the topm ost cham ber (Campbells Chamber). Since
num erous graffiti in red paint dating from the time nobody had entered this from the time Khufus
the pyram id w as being constructed. Along with workm en sealed it until Vyse blasted his w ay in,
levelling lines, axis m arkers and directional nota the g an g nam es clinch the attribution of this p y ra
tions were the nam es of the w orkgangs com pound mid to the 4th-dynasty pharaoh, Khufu. W orkers
ed with one form of K hufus name, such as graffiti in red paint have since been found in other
K hnum -K huf (the creator god Khnum protects Old Kingdom pyram ids, temples and m astabas.

analysis, meticulous recording of detail and out
standing finds. As well as the Denkmaler, Lepsii>
also published a personal account, Discoveries
Egypt. The 15,000 casts and antiquities Lepsiu-
Lepsius and Mariette brought back form the core of the Berlin Museum
Among the many pyram ids Lepsius investigated
w'as the Step Pyram id at Saqqara. He removed from
the southeast p art of the substructure a door link-.
and fram e inscribed with the nam e of the king,
together with some of the blue faience tiles fro:
the wall, in 1843, the team excavated a t H aw ara
the Fayum, at the so-called Labyrinth. T he site had
been described by Herodotus and Strabo; the for
m er regarded it as a w onder of the world even
g reater than the Giza pyram ids. T his vast complex
was, in fact, the m ortuary temple of the 12ti
dynasty ruler A m enem het III - the largest of a
m ortuary temples - which lay adjacent to his pyn.
mid. Much of the structure of the Labyrinth ha
been destroyed over the centuries as it w as qua:
From the Labyrinth these lines come to you.. We have ned for its lime. Lepsius also began excavations
also made excavations on the north side of the pyramid, the n orth face of the pyram id but failed to find an
because we may expect to discover the entrance there;
that is, however, not yet done.
While studying the pyram ids, Lepsius formula:
Karl Richard Lepsius, Discoveries in Egypt ed his accretion theory, which held that the size
Fortunately, disciplined scholarship and the recog a pyram id w as dictated by the length of reign of t: -
nition of the im portance of preserving and record builder. O thers have since questioned this and the
ing the legacy of ancient E gypt gradually took theory is now discredited. Subsequent research h;
precedence over the m ore b ru tal excavation m eth show n th a t some pyram ids, such as those of Djo;
ods of the early 19th century. and Sneferu at Meidum, were indeed enlarged ov
Karl Richard Lepsius (1810-84) w as a formidable the course of successive building stages. It seerr.-
scholar and is widely held to be the greatest E gyp the sizes of most were predetermined, and a largt
tologist after Champollion. Having first studied pyram id like K hufus may signify that it was begir
classical archaeology in Germany, he went on to by a king in the prim e of youth, as opposed to one
study Egyptology in Paris. In the 1830s he p u b
Karl Richard Lepsius (above) lished several papers on hieroglyphs, including a
recorded and documented fam ous letter to Professor Ippolito Rosellini a t the
many o f Egypts pyramids in
University of Pisa th at transform ed the study of
his massive work, the
Denkmaler. Most o f the the subject. Lepsiuss contributions to Egyptology
plates were based on the are numerous, b u t undoubtedly his greatest is the
drawings o f Ernst 12-volume Denkmaler, the massive work on the
Weidenbach, such as the one m onum ents of Egypt, containing 894 folio plates
of Meidum shown above. and published after his death. Five volumes of text
Lepsiuss map of the pyramid
were prepared from his notes and appeared
field o f Saqqara (detail right.)
was a model o f detail. between 1897 and 1913.

The expedition of Lepsius o' 0 f 6 u mm

Lepsiuss m assive work was the result of a survey
of E gypt and Nubia ordered by King Frederick :-k o
William IV of Prussia. As leader he appointed Lep
sius, then lecturer in philology and com parative
languages at Berlin. In preparation, Lepsius spent
four years touring the collections of Europe,
recording details of artifacts and copying inscrip
tions; he not only studied the E gyptian language,
but also the practical skills of lithography and cop
perplate engraving. In 1842, Lepsius and his team
set out for Egypt. Their three highly productive
years were characterized by careful, methodical

who came to the throne in his later years, and who The Step Pyramid at Saqqara
possessed the confidence, and longevity, to take from Lepsiuss Denkmaler.
The artist o f this particular
such a colossal enterprise to its summit.
plate was]. Frey.
The birth of the Antiquities Service
Auguste M ariette (1821-81) w as a bright young
man with varied interests and an inquiring mind. In
1842, he read the papers of one of his relations,
Nestor IHote, who had been a draughtsm an on the
Egyptian expedition of Champollion and Ippolito
Rosellini. M ariettes fate w as sealed. He studied
ancient E gyptian language, a rt and history, and
Coptic; he wrote articles an d papers an d finally
secured a post with the Louvre. In 1850, that insti
tution sent him to E gypt to buy Coptic m anu
scripts, but he began excavating instead. At
Saqqara he found and excavated the Serapeum
where the sacred Apis bulls had been buried in a
g reat catacomb.
Then, in 1858, Ferdinand de Lesseps, in charge of
the Suez Canal project, pressured the ruler Said
Pasha to place M ariette in charge of all E gyptian found, which were rapidly copied by Emile
antiquities. T his he did, nam ing M ariette m a m u r of B rugsch and, unofficially, by Flinders Petrie. T he
a new national A ntiquities Service, a position that pyram id of Merenre w as entered just before
would be held by a Frenchman until 1952. W ith the M ariettes death, and more were penetrated by his
founding of the Egyptian M useum a t Boulaq (later successor, Gaston Maspero. As M aspero explained:
moved to Giza, and finally to Q asr el Nil), to gather
and display ancient works of art, the reign of The discovery of the Pyramids of Pepi 1and of Merenre
M ariette began. For the next two decades he car at the place where the theory affirmed that they would be This rare photograph (below)
found, decided me to direct the attack on the entire front was taken before Mariette
ried out field archaeology a t 35 sites throughout the
of the Memphite Necropolis, from Abu Roash to Lisht. finished clearing the valley
country. His work practices and m ethods were criti Rapid success followed. Unas was opened on the 28th temple. It shows a granite
cized by some of the next generation of E gyptolo February, Pepi II, Nefenrkera [Neferirkare] on April 13th, beam fallen betiveen the
gists, but they were advanced for his time and his and that of Teti on the 29th May. In less than a year, five pillars. This and other pieces
output has never been equalled. of the so-called dumb' pyramids of Saqqara had in the temple were blown
Also at Saqqara M ariette dug huge trenches, spoken.. apart to remove them.
revealing tom bs of all periods in w hat had been a
national cemetery of pharaonic E gypt (pp. 62-3),
including many dating to the pyram id age. U nfor
tunately, however, he never produced a proper map
of the tombs, and m any were covered by the shift
ing sands and lost again.
M ariettes second m ajor discovery, after the Ser
apeum, w as Khafres valley temple which w as visi
ble above the debris of the ages only as a series of
pits and stones. He partially excavated the interior
of the valley tem ple in 1853 and completed its
clearance in 1858 by rem oving a shallow layer of
sand that still covered the floor. In the course of
this work Mariette blew ap art some collapsed
structural elements and other major pieces to
remove them from the temple. Frustratingly, he
published almost nothing about w hat he found
inside the temple. However, one of the finest m as
terpieces of ancient E gyptian art w as found by
M ariette in the valley temple - the dionte statue of
Khafre himself.
D uring 1880, the last year of M ariettes life, the
foreman of the A ntiquities Service, M ohammed
Chahin, opened the pyram id of Pepi I a t Saqqara.
T his w as the first in which Pyram id Texts were

Sm yths so-called pyram id inch (see box). The the
ries of pyrarrndologists like Piazzi Sm yth rested <
m easurem ents that claimed to be accurate to a ok
ter of fractions of inches. But all this w as argue
Petrie at the Pyramids at a time when m assive m ounds of debris still c<
ered the base of the pyram id.
W ith the debris banked against the sides of :
G reat Pyram id, Petrie m easured its exter:
through an elaborate set of triangulations th
encom passed all three Giza pyram ids. He resoh
William M atthew Flinders Petrie (1853-1942), the the positions of the corners and the lengths of t:
Father of E gyptian archaeology, w as a bright sides trigonometrically. By this method he al-
child. W hen not yet six, he learned the hieroglyphic established the positions of m any other poirr
alphabet and, encouraged by his father, he later including on the pyram ids of Khafre and Menka
This photograph taken in combined interests in m athem atics and m easure re. Unfortunately, Petries triangulated map w
1880 shows Petrie outside the ment with archaeology. Between 1875 and 1880 he never published on a scale larger than the page of \
rock tomb in which he lived surveyed a num ber of British sites, including paperback.
during the two winter seasons Stonehenge. Then, in 1866, Petrie read Charles Some continued to believe in Piazzi S m y
of his pyramid survey. These Piazzi Sm yths Our Inheritance in the Great Pyra regardless of Petries m easurem ents. Earlier th
quarters were three small
m id and became excited by the possibility of recon century, the structural engineer David David?
tombs broken into one room,
Petrie managed a comfortable ciling science with religion. Although he did not actually used Petries figures in creative w ays
co-existence with the dogs believe in S m yths extreme religious notions and prove the theories of Piazzi Smyth, and even
who inhabited the area, the concept of Britain as a lost tribe of Israel, he more am bitious claims.
controlled the rats and mice fully adhered to the idea of the pyram id as a g ig an
with traps, and coped with the tic scale model of the E arth s circumference. Petrie after Giza
heat and the tourists by
In 1880, having become convinced of the need for D uring 1888 and 1889, Petrie followed up Lepsiu-
working in his underwear if
pink, they kept the tourist at another survey of the G reat Pyram id, young Petrie w ork of 1843 by investigating the site of Hawar
bay, as the creature seemed to arrived in Egypt. Petries meticulous survey of the He excavated w hat remained of Labyrinth and t
him too queer for inspection. pyram id in fact proved the death knell for Piazzi adjacent pyram id of A m enem het III, where


o u tfxtvc o f -/toe/e* in t/n r

S o lid , jtfu s o n ry . is

The Grand Gallery as

recorded by Piazzi Smy;
His aim was to measun
* V accurately every surfacc
*r+P9'r' aspect of the Great Pyn
He brought equipment:
measure the dimension.-
the stones, the precise a .
o f sections such as the
Descending Passage, an
specially designed camo
photograph both interioi aa

r r
i - 5*3 i exterior. Other instrunn;
enabled him to make
astronomical calculatioi i

entered the flooded burial cham ber and found two
sarcophagi and b u rn t hum an remains.
Petrie excavated the pyram id of Senwosret II at
Illahun in 1887-8, b u t failed to find the entrance
and passage to the burial chamber, with its red
granite sarcophagus, until the following year. In TRENCHES
B a s a l t p a .v m e n t

one of the shaft tom bs just outside the pyram id, he,
together with Guy Brunton, found the exquisite
jewellery of Princess Sit-Hathor-Iunet, now in the
Cairo Museum and New Yorks M etropolitan M use
um of Art. He also searched unsuccessfully for a
passage or cham ber underneath the subsidiary
Queens Pyram id of Senwosret II, even though he
carved out two criss-crossing tunnel system s, and a
deep vertical shaft, directly under the pyram id. It is
strange that there are apparently no passages or
cham bers under this small pyram id considering
that Petrie did find the rem ains of a chapel at its
north side, where someone m ust have been w or
Petrie continued his pyram id investigations at
Meidum, where he uncovered the small limestone
temple next to the pyram id of Sneferu, with its two
uninscribed stelae. He also exam ined the twO
anonym ous pyram ids of M azghuna, south of
Petries plan o f the
Dahshur. They date to the 13th dynasty and closely
triangulation o f the survey
resemble a num ber of other pyram ids of that peri o f 1881, from. The Pyramids
od discovered at South Saqqara and D ahshur by and Temples of Gizeh,
Gustave Jequier and Sami F arag respectively. published in 1883.

Piazzi Smyth and the Pyramid Inch

Charles Piazzi Smyth (1819-1900) was Astronomer Moses was also based on this inch. Piazzi Smyth
Royal of Scotland and Professor of Astronomy at further believed that the British were descended from
Edinburgh University. He surveyed Khufus pyramid the lost tribe of Israel, and that the chambers and
in 1865, armed with the theories of John Taylor, passages of the pyramid were a God-inspired record,
author of The Great Pyramid: Why Was It Built? <6 a prophecy in stone of the great events in world
Who Built It?, published in 1859. Taylor, who based history, made by scientifically advanced ancestors of
his ideas on the records of travellers, took a number the British. His theories are contained in Our
of mathematical coincidences and declared that the Inheritance in the Great Pyramid (1864), and the
Great Pyramid was built to make a record of the three-volume Life and Work at the Great Pyramid
measure of the Earth - similar assertions are still (1867). In 1874 the Royal Society rejected his paper on
being made today by alternative pyramid theorists the design of Khufus pyramid, as they had Taylors,
such as Robert Bauval and Graham Hancock. One and Piazzi Smyth resigned in protest.
of Taylors claims was that the Egyptians knew the
value of n and that they used an inch close to the
British inch to form their cubit of 25 inches. Taylor
determine the pyramids presented a paper on the subject to the Royal
latitude. He produced Academy, but it was rejected.
Irawings o f the pyramid, Heavily influenced by Taylor, with whom he
such as that shown above, corresponded, and by his own religious views, Piazzi
:tsing his 'pyramid inch. In Smyth set out for Egypt - having been refused a
recognition o f his work the grant to defray his expenses. He too had come to
Royal Society o f Edinburgh
believe that the Great Pyramid of Khufu was built
awarded Piazzi Smyth a gold
medal He was not the only with just enough pyramid inches to make it a scale
'pyramidiot, however, as model of the circumference of the Earth, and that its
many others were also perimeter measurement corresponded exactly to the
producing theories and number of days in the solar year. These ideas were
drawings linking the tied to his belief that the British inch was derived
pyramids with the stars or from an ancient pyramid inch, and that the cubit
the Bible, among other things. used to build both Noahs Ark and the tabernacle of

Postcards, Mark
Pyramids Twain,
and Early

4 A laborious walk in the flaming sun brought

the us to the foot of the great Pyramid of Cheops,
it was a fairy vision no longer. It was a

Rise o f corrugated, unsightly mountain of stone. Each

of its monstrous sides was a wide stairway
which rose upward, step above step, narrowing
Tourism as it went, till it tapered to a point far aloft in
the air. Insect men and women.. .were creeping
about its dizzy perches.. .we were besieged by a
The sight o f tourists The first pyramid postcards began to appear around rabble of muscular Egyptians and Arabs who
travelling by carnet to the the end of the 19th century. Perhaps surprisingly wanted the contract of dragging us to the
pyramids (above) was a they are a valuable source of information from a top.. .Each step being full as high as a dinner-
common one in the 19th- period when there was a lack of documentation of
century. The road to the table; there being very, very many of the steps;
important excavations by Mariette and Maspero at an Arab having hold of each of our arms and
plateau was flanked by a
the Sphinx, and just before the massive clearing springing upward from step to step and
canal and, eventually, by
operations of the Great Expeditions. snatching us with them .. .till we were ready to
a trolley line that could
transport the ever-increasing Some of the postcards show the pyramids during faint, who shall say it is not a lively,
numbers o f tourists. full flood of the Nile, a sight lost since modern control exhilarating, lacerating, muscle-straining, bone-
For about six to eight of the river level, but a potent, annually recurring wrenching and perfectly excruciating and
weeks, when the flood waters image in ancient times. Postcards showing partial exhausting pastime, climbing the Pyramids?
were calm (top and below), inundation reveal the catchment patterns of the .. .Twice, for one minute, they let me rest.. .and
the ancient Egyptians could valley floor at the base of the pyramid plateau, then continued their manic flight up the
see the inverse o f the pyramid possible clues for ancient canals, harbours and Pyramid. }
reflected in the inundation settlements.
waters. It is interesting to A year before the opening of the Suez canal in 1869
speculate whether they saw in an elevated road was built from Giza to the pyramid
this image the union of the
plateau to facilitate visits by attending royalty, most
sky and Duat (Netherworld).
notably the Empress Eugenie. At the same time, the
Mena House Hotel was built at the base of the
plateau, below Khufus pyramid. A roadway led from
the hotel to the foot of the pyramid, just below its
entrance. Modern tourism was now in full swing
The excavator is a destroyer; and the object which he
destroys is a part of the record of mans history which
can never be replaced or made good. He must approach
field work with a full consciousness of that fact. The
only possible justification for his proceeding is that he
endeavour to obtain from the ancient site which he
destroys all the historical evidence which it contains.
The Great Expeditions
George Reisner

Most of w hat we know about the sites of E gyptian

and Nubian pyram ids - some 300 m onum ents
spanning three millennia - w as excavated in little After 23 years of M ariette uncovering tombs, tem
more than three decades near the tu rn of this cen ples and pyram ids, Egyptologists from Egypt, Ger
tury by g reat expeditions. O ur experiences of the many, France, Britain and the United States were
pyram ids are far different from those of the late eager to dig for themselves. W hen G aston M aspero
19th- and early 20th-century excavators, who were took over as Director of A ntiquities he began
the first to peel back the protective soil and expose g ran tin g concessions to scholars who directed large
the evidence. But when we visit the sites today we clearing operations funded by foreign institutions
often still see them under the influence of the m aps and benefactors, while others worked in the employ
and reconstructions of these pioneers. T heir of the A ntiquities Service.
records, often a m ixture of docum entation and p er M aspero took an interest in the young Flinders
sonal interpretation, have become standard tem Petrie, an insistent exponent of controlled method
plates of Egyptology. and of the im portance of digging for information.
T his explosion of large excavations (not just at Petrie respected all the details of ancient material George Reisner (above),
pyram id sites but throughout E gypt and Nubia) culture - not just fabulous architecture and art Director of the Harvard-
was partly the outcome of M ariettes tight control objects. None the less, the g reat expeditions used Boston Expedition at the
pyramids, in his early fifties.
of archaeology from 1858 until his death in 1881. huge num bers of diggers and basket carriers, as
Below is his 1917 camp at the
Sometimes called M ariettes M onopoly, his posi well as m iniature railways, to move the enorm ous Nun pyramids in the Sudan.
tion allowed him, like the pharaohs of old, to con accum ulations of sand and debris from the p y ra Here 1,070 shabtis of King
script m asses of corvee labour from local villages. mid complexes and their cemeteries. The quality of Taharqa are being numbered.

The Great Expedition

From 1902 to 1908 a

German expedition, directed
by Ludwig Borchardt,
excavated the 5th-dynasty
pyramids at Abusir. The
pyramid o f Niuserre in the
background, is to the left of
the pyramid of Neferirkare.
The inner stepped structure
of the latter, the largest of
the group, is clearly visible.
Here the excavators are
working on the remains of
the elaborate mortuary temple
o f Sahure, whose pyramid is
the northernmost o f the
group. The temples pavement
was black basalt, its central
court had 16 red granite
columns, and the limestone
walls above a granite dado
were filled with coloured

this large-scale archaeology varied. A s evidence dynasty pyram id complexes and the sun temple of
poured forth, much was destroyed for ever, but Niuserre, while the Am ericans were uncovering the
much w as retrieved. Under Ludwig Borchardt, the 12th-dynasty pyram id temples and cemeteries at
G erm ans pioneered architectural docum entation Lisht. Between 1916 and 19.18 Reisner also excavat
and interpretation. T he American George Reisner ed at Meroe, N apata and Nuri, capitals of the
showed an interest in stratig rap h y and site form a Nubian rulers of the 25th dynasty and subsequent
tion as he made advances in archaeological photo local rulers down to the 4th century a d .
graphy and com prehensive system s of site and Then, in the late 1930s, the great expeditions
artifact docum entation. Reisner and Petrie trained began to wane. A t Giza, Reisner w as losing his
many young archaeologists, most of whom went sight as early as 1932, but he continued on at H ar
on to direct their ow n excavations, becoming fam il v ard Camp, dictating his books and directing minor
iar nam es to future generations. clearing operations necessary for his reports on the
These were exciting times for pyram id archaeo m astaba field. In 1924-8 Borchardt carried out
logy. A t Giza, Reisner w as clearing the complete small-scale investigations a t Saqqara, Abu Ghurob
profile of M enkaures pyram id - from the royal (Abusir) and Meidum, and at Giza he participated
statu ary and temples to the town. Together with in j.R. Coles survey of K hufus pyram id. In addi
H erm ann Junker he w as also d e a lin g the great tion to the old age and infirm ities of their leaders,
m astaba fields on the east, west and south of the decline of the g reat expeditions has beer,
K hufus pyram id. The G erm ans uncovered the tem ascribed to the new attitude of the A ntiquities Ser
ples of Khafres pyram id in 1909-10. In 1926 Emile vice tow ards foreign institutions. Growing nation
Baraize began to clear the Sphinx and most of its alism w as combined w ith a feeling on the p a rt of
temple for the A ntiquities Service (still under the E gyptians th a t the ancient m onum ents were
French direction). Meanwhile, Selim Hassan, on their cultural property, in addition to the w orlds
behalf of Cairo University, mounted an E gyptian heritage, particularly after tensions w ith Howard
expedition, equal in scale to those of his foreign col C arter over T utankham uns treasures. Turmoil in
leagues, that cleared the m astabas and rock-cut Europe may have also have contributed to the
tom bs of the Central Field between the Sphinx and dem ise of the great expeditions. T he Second World
K hafres pyram id. A t Saqqara, C.M. F irth and J.-P. War brought a halt to such work. Some, such a?
Lauer were revealing the m ultifarious elements of W alter Em ery and Jean-Philippe Lauer, picked up
Djosers Step Pyram id complex. A t Abusir, the Ger where they left off when the w ar w as over, but the
m ans under B orchardt were clearing the great 5th- new excavations were often on a different scale.

Years Monument Site Excavator
1887-88 Senwosret Is pyramid Illahun W.M.F. Petrie
Explorations, 1888-89 Amenemhet Ills pyramid Hawara W.M.F. Petrie
1891 Sneferus pyramid Meidum W.M.F. Petrie
1887-1950 1894 Senwosret Is pyramid Lisht J.E. Gautier and G. Jequier
1894-95 Amenemhet IIs pyramid
Senwosret Ills pyramid
Amenemhet Ills pyramid Dahshur J. de Morgan
1896-7 Archaic royal tombs Abydos E. Amelineau
1898-1901 Niuserres sun temple Abu Ghuroh L. Borehardt and H. Schaeffer
(Baron von Bissing Expedition, DOG)
1899-1900 Archaic royal tombs Abydos W.M.F. Petrie (EES)
Ahmoses pyramid Abydos A. Mace
1900 Layer Pyramid Zawivet el Aryan A. Barsanti (SAE)
Unas's mortuary temple Saqqara A. Barsanti (SAE)
1901 Ahmoses pyramid Abydos T. Currelly (EES)
Djedefres pyramid Abu Roash M. Chassinat
1902-08 Sahures pyramid
Neferirkares pyramid
Niuserres pyramid Abusir L. Borehardt (DOG)
1902-32 Western Field Giza G.A. Reisner (Phoebe Hearst Expedition HMFA)
1903-7 Mentuhotep Is tomb Deir el-Bahri E. Naville and H.R.Hall (EEF)
1904-5 Unfinished Pyramid Zawivet el Aryan A. Barsanti (SAE)
1905-08 Tetis pyramid Saqqara J.E. Quibell (SAE)
1906-10 Menkaures pyramid Giza G.A. Reisner (HMFA)
1906-34 Senwosret Is pyramid Lisht A.M. Lythgoe, A.C. Mace and A. Lansing (MMA)
1909-10 Khafres pyramid Giza U. Holscher (von Sieglin Expedition)
Sneferus pyramid Meidum W.M.F. Petrie and G.A. Wainwright (EES)
1910 Amenemhet Ills pyramid Hawara W.M.F. Petrie
1910-11 Layer Pyramid Zawivet el-Aryan G.A. Reisner and C. Fisher (HMFA)
Mazghuna pyramids Mazghuna E. Mackay (under Petrie)
1911-31 Mentuhotep Is tomb Deir el-Bahri H. Winlock (MMA)
1912-14 Western Field Giza H. Junker (DAI)
1913 Senwosret Is pyramid Illahun W.M.F. Petrie and G. Brunton (EEF)
1913-16 Nubian pyramids Kerma G.A. Reisner (HMFA)
1915-23 Nubian pyramids Gebel Barkal G.A. Reisner (HMFA)
1916-18 Nubian pyramids Nuri G.A. Reisner (HMFA)
1918-19 Nubian pyramids El-Kurru G.A. Reisner (HMFA)
1920 Amenemhet Is pyramid Lisht A.C. Mace (MMA)
1920-22 Tetis pyramid Saqqara C.M. Firth and V. Loret (SAE)
Pyramids of Khuit and
Iput Saqqara C.M. Firth and V. Loret (SAE)
1920-23 Nubian pyramids Meroe G.A. Reisner (HMFA)
CU Cairo University 1920/2-38 Khufus pyramid Giza Various SAE and Selim Hassan (SAE)
DAI Deutsches 1924 Shepseskafs mastaba S. Saqqara G. Jequier (SAE)
Archaologisches 1924-32 Eastern Field Giza G.A. Reisner (HMFA)
Instituts, Abteilung 1925-35 Western Field Giza H. Junker (Vienna Academy)
Kairo Sphinx
1926-35 Giza E. Baraize (SAE)
DOG Deutschen Orient-
1926-36 Pepi II Saqqara G. Jequier (IFAO)
Egypt Exploration 1926-39 Djosers Step Pyramid Saqqara C.M. Firth and J.P Lauer (SAE)
Fund 1928-29 Userkaf s pyramid Saqqara C.M. Firth (SAE)
EES Egypt Exploration 1929 Unass mortuary temple Saqqara C.M. Firth (SAE)
Society 1929-30 Sneferus pyramid Meidum A. Rowe (UMP)
HMFA Harvard Museum o f 1929-31 Khendjers pyramid S. Saqqara G. Jequier
Fine Arts Anonymous pyramid S. Saqqara G. Jequier
IFAO Institul Fran;ais 1929-35 Central Field Giza S. Hassan (CU)
d Archeologie 1936-38 Sphinx Giza S. Hassan (SAE)
Orientak 1936-39 Unass mortuary temple Saqqara J.-P. Lauer (SAE)
MMA Metropolitan 1936-56 1st dynasty mastabas Saqqara W. Emery (EES)
Museum o f Art
1937-38 Unas s causeway Saqqara S. Hassan (SAE)
SAE Service des
1937-49 Unass pyramid Saqqara A.H. Hussein and S. Hassan (SAE)
Antiquites de
IEgypte 1945 Djedkare-Isesis pyramid S. Saqqara A.H. Hussein (SAE)
UMP University Museum, 1945-49 Sneferus Bent Pyramid Dahshur A.S. Hussein (SAE)
Pennsylvania 1950 Sekhemkhets pyramid Saqqara Z. Goneim (SAE)

Mohammed Zakaria Goneim Jean-Philippe Lauer (right)
(left), then Chief Inspector came as a young architect to
of Antiquities at Saqqara, work for Firth and Quibell on
points out a detail in the Djosers Step Pyramid in
unfinished 3rd-dynasty 1926 - fo r eight months. He
pyramid o f Sekhemkhet that devoted his m xl 70 years tv
he discovered and excavated restoring and reconstructing
from 1952 to 1956. Although the complex surrounding the
he discovered some jewellery pyramid from the dislodged
in the passages, the alabaster and broken pieces that he
sarcophagus proved to be found lying about in the
empty. debris.

Sekhemkhets pyramid complex

M astat
Ptah-hc %

Step Pyramid Complex

Pyramid of Unas

r-y < \ Tomb of Maya

Tomb of Horemheb V-i

mastaba tombs
Old Kingdom tombs
Causeway of Unas

Pyramid o'

Two great excavators at Saqqara span the period tjj?

the great expeditions and recent discoveries aftej*rae
Second World War. Walter Emery excavated 1st-
dynasty mastabas between 1935 and 1956, ^
establishing much of the background to '<
the development of pyramid building. A t ~~
Djosers Step Pyramid, CM. Firth ind J.E. Quibell
were the first to undertake scientif ic exavation of
the pyramids superstructure, though t he To the south of the causeica;
underground complex had been explored in the of the pyramid of Unas arc
previous century. In 1926 they were joined by two- boat pits alongside one
J.-P. Lauer, who has worked at the site ever since - another. They are lined with
with interruptions for the Second World War. fine Turah limestone.
C.M. Firth, assisted by James
Quibell, began investigation
o f Djosers Step Pyramid
complex at Saqqara in 1924.
Season after season brought
finds such as a statue of
Djoser in the serdab chamber
(p. 90). A vast complex o f
courtyards and stone
buildings, many carved in
imitation of natural forms,
was gradually revealed. Firth
saw the need for the analytical
skills o f an architect and
Jean-Philippe Lauer was
assigned to the excavation.
The photograph shows an
aerial view of the Step
Pyramid complex at the onset
o f the campaign o f 1933.


mastabas 2185

200 m

6th-dynasty mastafca 600 ft


Pyramid of Iput

of Khuft

Pyramid of
(Left to right) The Step
Pyramid o f Djoser, the
pyramid o f Userkaf and
the pyramid of Teti with the
ruins o f its funerary temple.

Menkaures Menkaures
queens pyramid

Workmens barracks




Tomb of
Cam pbell:
Menkaures valley


During the Reason of 1901-02, Gaston iviaspero,
Direotor-Gei'Kiral of the Antiquities Service, asked
the Italian, German and American missions to divide
up the Giza necropolis between them for excavation.
When lots were drawn for the Western Cemetery,
George Reisner of the Harvard-Boston Expedition
was awarded the northernmost of three strips. He
later inherited the southern strip when Ernesto
Schiaparelli gave up the Italian concession. Herman
junker of the German Archaeological Institute in
Cairo drew the middle strip. Reisners concession at
the Eastern Cemetery ended at the ridge that forms
the northern boundary of the Sphinx amphitheatre.
Finally, Reisners concession included the pyramid of
Menkaure, with its mortuary and valley temples and
the small pyramids of his three queens. Khafres
pyramid complex was conceded to the Germans who
excavated the pyramid and valley temple under Uvo
Holscher in 1909. The Sphinx itself, and the area in
front, was excavated by the Antiquities Service under
Emile Baraize from 1925 to 1934, and then by Sehm
Hassan from 1936 to 1938.
Western Field

Khufus pyramid,
the Great Pyramii

The Western Cemetery

(above). Set out on a plan laid
down at the time o f Khufu,
its mastaba tombs were built
on streets and avenues and
Khufus mortuai assigned to high 4th-dyna$ty
officials. Notables from the
Tomb of 5th and 6th dynasties,
expanded the field to the foot
of Khufus pyramid. A t the
(Gl-a, G
end of the pyramid age,
smaller tombs and shaft
graves were dug into the
streets and avenues of
mastabas o f their forebears.

(Left) Pierre Lacan, Director-

General of the Egyptian
Antiquities Service, and the
engineer Emile Baraize began
the clearance o f the. Great
Sphinx in 1925. As Baraize
cleared the debris from the
statue, he immediately began
repairs, replacing anciently
restored masonry with Reisners excavation o f
modern cement, and shoring Queens Street', along
up the head with cement and Khufus three queens
limestone blocks. They pyramids, would lead his
excavated for a total o f crew to the unmarked tomb
11 years, yet published not o f Hetepheres, the mother
a single excavation report. o f Khufu.
tectural survey of pyram ids from the Old through
the Middle Kingdom. They used earlier publica
tions and their own visual inspections and m ea
surem ents and published eight volumes, in which
Recent Discoveries they meticulously described each pyram id.
T he German Archaeological Institute em barked
on a study of Middle Kingdom architecture in 1976.
Its director, Dieter Arnold, moved to the Metropoli
TTTTTTTTTTfTTTTTTTffTTTTTTTTfTT tan M useum of Art, New York, in 1984, but contin
ued his work and resurrected the m useum s Lisht
A lthough the foundations of pyram id studies were expedition. At Abusir, the Czech Institute of E gyp
laid by the g reat expeditions, we have learned a tology, U niversity of Prague, under Zbynek Zaba
g reat deal from excavations and surveys carried and later Miroslav Verner, exam ined the pyram ids
out since the end of the Second World War. Major in detail. Rainer Stadelm ann began an investiga
expeditions have been initiated, but m uch work has tion of Old Kingdom Dahshur, while the French
also been done simply docum enting and conserv Archaeological Mission to Saqqara initiated a full
ing m assive quantities of material uncovered by exam ination of the 5th- and 6th-dynasty pyramid
earlier expeditions. Today we reclear sites and re complexes. At Giza Zahi Hawass excavated anc
exam ine results, or excavate to fill specific g ap s cleared several areas: the far W estern Cemetery.
(such as the North Pyram id at D ahshur or Ranefer M enkaures pyramid, the so-called W orkers Ceme
efs pyram id at Abusir). We also excavate to learn tery, the eastern side of K hufus pyram id and eas-
more about the social and economic conditions that of Khafres valley temple.
inspired pyram id building and made it possible.
Work w as resumed immediately after the w ar by Modern technology and the pyramids
Walter Em ery a t N orth Saqqara, excavating the A wide range of m odern techniques is increasingly
Archaic m astabas. In 1945 J.-P Lauer returned to being brought to bear on probing the pyramids,
the Djoser complex. Abdelsalam Hussein, for the often to answ er very targeted questions. For
The chambers o f Raneferefs A ntiquities Service, began the Pyram ids Study instance, in the 1980s R. and D. Klemm surveyed
unfinished pyramid at Abusir Project, with the aim of system atically surveying, quarries throughout E gypt with the aim of deter
in the course o f excavation by clearing, docum enting and conserving all the major m ining the sources of stone for the pyram ids from
the Czech Mission at this
pyramids. A fter H usseins death, Ahmed Fakhry Abu Roash to Meidum by m eans of trace analysis.
pyramid field. Behind is
Nefenrkare's pyramid, with took on the project, which w as never completed. And in 1984 we radiocarbon dated 64 sam ples of
stages of its construction Between 1963 and 1975 Vito M aragioglio and organic material extracted from the pyram ids and
clearly visible. Celeste Rinaldi undertook a comprehensive archi associated structures. The dates, after calibration.
were on average 374 years earlier than one of the version, U puaut II, into the southern air shaft of
m ajor accepted chronologies. D uring the 1995 sea the Queens Chamber. The robot crawled 65 m (213
son more than 300 sam ples were collected from ft) up a 45 slope when it w as stopped by a smooth
m onum ents ranging from the lst-dynasty tom bs at limestone plug from which twro copper pins projec
Saqqara to Djosers pyram id, the Giza pyram ids, a ted. A sm all fragm ent of copper lay on the floor
selection of 5th- and 6th-dynasty pyram ids and ju st in front. T he find was labelled a door though
Middle Kingdom pyram ids. These dates will shed in fact nothing larger than a small ra t could get
new light on E gyptian chronology. through it, so perhaps slab is a better description.
Khufus pyram id in particular has been investi T he Sphinx has also been intensively investigat
gated by a battery of m odern scientific survey ed. In 1978, SRI International of California, with
techniques. In 1986, a t the request of Ahmed the EAOs Science Section, conducted a remote
Qadry, President of the E gyptian A ntiquities O rga sensing, subsurface survey of the Sphinx sanctu
nization (EAO), two French com panies undertook a ary and temple. A preliminary survey in collabora
rnicrogravimetric study of the pyramid. The tech tion w ith Ain Sham s University in 1977 found
nique, norm ally used for assessing the foundations various anomalies: one - in front of the forepaw s -
of dam s and nuclear power plants, m easures the suggested a cavity or sh aft. T he SRI team con
density of structures. Results indicated th at the ducted a more detailed resistivity survey and
pyram ids m acrostructure consists of 34 major results were checked with acoustical sounding. The
blocks with a low-density block near the top, and team investigated confirmed anom alies by core
blocks of heterogeneous density below. T h is m ight drilling and direct observation w ith a borescope
correlate with the mastaba-like chunks of m asonry camera. Five holes were drilled, but the researchers
in the cores of K hufus queens pyram ids and found no significant cavities other than those that
M enkaures pyram id. A nalysis of the m icrostruc occur naturally in limestone.
ture found an anom aly west of and below the hori A team connected with the SRI International Sci
zontal passage to the Queens Chamber. ence and Archaeology Project at Giza, under my
Gilles Dormion and Jean-Patrice Goidin, two direction, cleared the floor of the Sphinx sanctuary
French architects associated w ith this study, drilled and w ith Zahi Hawrass I carried out excavations in
(Above) A team from Waseda
three small holes in the passage to investigate the the northeast corner of the Sphinx sanctuary. In
University in Khufus Queens
anomaly. The holes penetrated through com pact 1979-831 w as Field Director and then Director of a Chamber. (Beloiv) Ulrich
limestone, limestone debris and mortar, and sand, five-year project to provide scale architectural Kapp o f the German
then more limestone debris. T he fact th at in one draw ings of the Sphinx and its site. Each individ Archaeological Institute who
drill hole the end of the sand was not found, ual stone of the m asonry layers on the Sphinx w as contributed to the Sphinx
prom pted speculation of a hidden chamber. It is docum ented (p. 1.28). The draw ings became essen survey by the American
'Research Center in Egypt.
more likely that the layers are sim ply the packing tial for the EAOs work on the Sphinx from 1988.
between the limestone walls of the passage and the
core m asonry of the pyram id. In 1987 a Japanese
team from W aseda University (Tokyo), led by Saku-
ji Yoshimura, carried out a remote sensing survey
of K hufus pyram id. T he Japanese team confirmed
the sam e anom aly and they also recorded d ata that
suggested to them the possibility of a tunnel enter
ing the pyram id under the south side.
In 1990 a French team of Jean Kerisel, Jean-
Bruno-Kerisel and Alain Guillon studied air pollu
tion inside the K ings Cham ber and subtle evidence
that it is sinking tow ards the south. On this side the
g reat granite roof beam s show pronounced cracks.
Jean Kerisel returned in 1992 to investigate the S ub
terranean Cham ber with ground penetrating radar
and microgravimetry. In 1995 he obtained perm is
sion to drill into its bedrock floor in search of a cav
ity b u t none was found.
Perhaps the m ost widely reported investigation
took place in 1992. In an official project of the Ger
m an Archaeological Institute in Cairo, under its
director Rainer Stadelm ann, and the Suprem e
Council for Antiquities, robotics expert Rudolf
G antenbrink mounted a m iniature video cam era on
a wheeled robot and sent it up the air sh afts of the
K ings Chamber. The next year he sent a new

Years Monument Site Investigator
1951-52 Sneferus Bent Pyramid Dahshur Ahmed Fakhry (SAE)
Pyramid 1951-70 Tetis pyramid Saqqara MAFS
1954 Khufus boat pit (east) Giza K. el-Malakh (EAO)
Explorations 1955-57 Userkafs sun temple Abusir H. Ricke (Swiss and German Institutes)
1960 Khafres satellite pyramid Giza A. Hafez Abd el-Al
1961-69 Khufu s complex Giza H. Messiha
ARCE American Research 1963-67 Sekhemkhet South Tomb Saqqara J.P. Lauer
Center in Egypt 1963-present Nubian pyramids Sedeinga M.S. Girogini/A. Labrousse
CEOUG Centre d'Etudes 1965-67 Sphinx Temple Giza H. Ricke and G. Haeny, Swiss Institute
Orientales de 1966-71 Pepi Is pyramid Saqqara MAFS
IUniversity de 1966-73 Mentuhotep Is tomb Deir el-Bahri D. Arnold (DAI)
Geneve 1967 Khafres pyramid Giza L. Alvarez (UC, Berkeley, Ain Shams and EAO)
DAI Deutsches 1968-88 Pepi Is mortuary temple South Saqqara MAFS
Archaologisches 1971-72 Merenres pyramid South Saqqara MAFS
Instituts, Abteilung 1971-73 Settlement dump Giza K. Kromer (Austrian Institute)
Kairo Pyramid tombs Ch. Maystre (CEOUG)
1972-73 Tabo, Napata
DOG Deutschen Orient-
1974-76 Unass mortuary temple vSaqqara MAFS
EAO Egyptian 1974-78 Giza pyramids Giza SRI International, remote sensing
Antiquities 1976 Tombs of the Intefs Luxor D. Arnold (DAI)
Organization 1976-78 Userkafs mortuary temple Saqqara J.-P. Lauer and A. Labrousse (MAFS)
EEF Egypt Exploration 1976-83 Amenemhet Ills pyramid Dahshur D. Arnold (DAI)
Fund 1977 Khentkawess pyramid Abusir M. Verner (Czech Mission)
EES Egypt Exploration 1977-78 Sphinx Giza M. Lehner and Z. Hawass (EAO)
Society 1977-present lst-dynasty royal tombs Abydos G. Dreyer and W. Kaiser (DAI)
HMFA Harvard Museum 1977-present Sneferus North Pyramid Dahshur R. Stadelmann (DAI)
of Fine Arts 1978 Sphinx Giza SRI International/EAO
IFAO Institut Frangais 1978-79 Provincial pyramid Elephantine German and Swiss Institutes of Archaeology
d ArcMologie 1979-83 Sphinx Giza J. Allen and M. Lehner (ARCE)
Orientate 1979-present Pyramids of Meroe Meroe F. Ilinkel
MAFS Mission 1980 Unfinished Pyramid Abusir M. Verner (Czech Mission)
1980-81 Sinki pyramid South Abydos R Swelim and G. Dreyer
Frangaise a
1981 Seila pyramid Seila Univs. of California, Berkeley/ Brigham Young
MMA Metropolitan
Museum o f Art 1981-87 Raneferefs pyramid Abusir M. Verner (Czech Mission)
ROM Royal Ontario 1982 Pyramid of Tia and Tia Saqqara G. Martin (University College, London)
Museum 1982-85 Userkafs pyramid Saqqara AH el-Khouli (EAO)
SAE Service des 1984 Sneferus pyramid Meidum Ali el-Khouli (EAO)
Antiquites de 1984-86 Nefermaats mastaba Meidum Ali el-Khouli (EAO)
IEgypte 1984-88 Private pyramids Saqqara S. Tewfik. (Cairo University/EAO)
SCA Supreme Council 1984-89 Senwosret Is pyramid Lisht D. and D. Arnold (MMA)
o f Antiquities 1985 Lepsius Pyramid I Abu Roash N. Swelim
UCLA University o f 1985-present Archaic enclosures Abydos D. OConnor and W.K. Simpson
California, Los (Univ. of Pennsylvania/Yale Univ.)
Angeles 1986 Sneferus Bent Pyramid Dahshur J. Dorner
UMP University
Museum, ' ^-A s.
Pennsylvania v |FW ' 1 ~
- a
- i i j

: - V - -
C' : V r r , ' ' 'ir - * '* - S V. 'y/'-. JSP' *4* .


Excavation under way on the

eastern side of Sneferus
i J r f'it
North Pyramid at Dahshur in f V-.-: '7,'v v" \ : -'- .. '*
1983. Rainer Stadelmann of .3 - - ' '
the German A rchaeological /v
Institute has studied the
pyramid in detail. To the
right can be seen intact
casing blocks, some restored.

Years Monument Site Investigator
1986 Lepsius Pyramid L (50) Dahshur R. Stadelmann (DAI)
1986 Khufus pyramid Giza A. Qadry, microgravimetric survey
1986 Khufus pyramid Giza G. Dormion and J.P. Goidin
1986 Djedkare-Isesis pyramid South Saqqara S. el-Nagar
1986 Pepi Is satellite pyramid South Saqqara A. Labrousse
1986-91 Workers installations Dahshur R. Stadelmann (DAI)
1986-present Mastaba field Dahshur R. Stadelmann (DAI)
1987 Khufus pyramid Giza S. Yoshimura (Waseda Univ., Tokyo)
1987 Sphinx Giza S. Yoshimura (Waseda Univ., Tokyo)
1987 Seila pyramid Seila N. Swelim and Brigham Young Univ.
1987 Khufus boat pit (west) Giza National Geographic
1988-95 Pepi Is queens pyramids South Saqqara MAFS
1988-89 Workmens barracks Giza M. Lehner (Yale Univ.)
1988-present Settlement remains Giza M. Lehner (Oriental Inst./ Harvard Semitic Mus.)
1988-present Sphinx Giza SCA
1988-present Senwosret IIs town Illahun N. Millet (ROM)
1989 Settlement Giza Z. Hawass and M. Jones (AMBRIC/ SCA)
1990 Khufus valley temple Giza Z. Hawass (SCA)
1990 Khufus pyramid Giza j. Kerisel, J.-B. Kerisel and Alain Guillon
1990 Sphinx Giza UNESCO
1990-91 Lepsius Pyramid XXV (25) Abusir M. Verner (Czech Mission)
1990-presentWorkers cemetery Giza Z. Hawass (SCA)
1990-present Gisr el-Mudir Saqqara I. Mathieson and H. Smith (Nat. Mus. of Scotland)
1990-present Senwosret Ills pyramid Dahshur D. Arnold (MMA)
1991 Sphinx Giza R. Schoch, T. Dobecki and J.A. West
1991 Unass valley temple Saqqara A. Moussa and A. Labrousse (MAFS) Zahi Hawass surveys the
1991 Amenemhet Is pyramid Lisht D. Arnold (MMA) burial chamber o f Khufus
1991-97 Pyramids of Iput and KhuitSaqqara A. Labrousse and Zawi Hawass (SCA) satellite pyramid, which he
1991-present Dra Abu el-Naga Luxor D. Polz (DAI/UCLA) disco vered in 1993. Hawass
1992 Sphinx Giza I. Marzouk and A. Gharib also found the capstone of
1992 Eastern Field Giza Z. Hawass (EAO) the smaU pyramid.
1992 Khufus Queens pyramids Giza Z. Hawass (EAO)
1992 Ninetjers galleries Saqqara P. Munro (Berlin and Hanover Univ. Mission)
1992 Sahures pyramid Abusir Z. Hawass
1992-93 Unass causeway Saqqara A. Moussa (EAO) and A. Labrousse (MAFS)
1992-95 Khufus pyramid Giza J. Kerisel
1993 Khufus satellite pyramid Giza Z. Hawass
1993 Khufus pyramid Giza R. Stadelmann and R. Gantenbrink (DAI)
1993 Neferhetepess complex Saqqara J.P. Lauer and A. Labrousse (MAFS)
1993-present Djedefres pyramid Abu Roash Giza Pyramids Inspectorate/IFAO/
Univ. of Geneva
1993-present Ahmose Is pyramid Abydos S. Harvey Pennsylvania/Yale Univ. Expedition
1994 Senwosret Ills temple Abydos J. Wegner Pennsylvania/Yale Univ. Expedition
1995-96 Khafres valley temple Giza Z. Hawass (SCA)
1995-96 Lepsius Pyramid XXIV (24) Abusir M. Verner (Czech Mission)
1996 Menkaures pyramid Giza Z. Hawass (SCA)
1997 Queen Khuits pyramid Saqqara Z. Hawass (SCA)

in 1987 the Japanese applied the electromagnetic of A stronom y and Geophysics carried out a study
sounding technique to the Sphinx. They believe of the ground below the Sphinx using shallow seis
they found evidence of a n o rth -so u th tunnel under mic refraction and found no evidence of cavities.
the Sphinx, a w ater pocket below the surface near Unlike the other two Giza pyram ids, the base of
the south hind paw and another cavity near the M enkaures pyram id w as never freed from debris.
north hind paw. Both rear anom alies are probably In 1996 Zahi H awass began to clear its west and
p a rt of the main fissure th a t cuts through the south sides and found an unfinished statue, which
Sphinx site. Robert Schoch (Boston University), w as roughly shaped from granite in the Ramessid
Thom as Dobecki and John A nthony West carried period. T he discovery fits other evidence th at New
out a survey in 1991 of the Sphinx using seismic Kingdom pharaohs quarried the Giza pyram ids for
m ethods to support a theory that it predates the 4th stone. In Septem ber 1996 the team uncovered a row
dynasty. But in 1992 Imam M arzouk and Ali of large limestone foundation blocks laid on end
Gh arib of the E gyptian National Research Institute along the south side of the pyram id.

lthough each pyramid featured the same square

A base and diagonals rising to a centre point, the

ruined pyramids show considerable variation.
This is because of the way the ancient Egyptians
built the inner core. The pyramid builders had to finish off
each pyramid with smooth faces and straight lines; in most
cases they did so with a casing of fine white limestone
blocks tightly joined to make a continuous smooth plane on
each of the four faces. But the core could be accretion
layers of stone and clay that leaned inward on the pyramid;
or stone blocks and boulders that were roughly piled
without regular courses; or stone rubble inside rough stone
and clay retaining walls; or mudbrick. Over the ages, as
later peoples tore off the fine limestone of the outer casings
for buildings elsewhere, the cores were exposed to the
The variability between pyramid cores and all other
features - temples, causeways, subsidiary pyramids and
tombs of retainers - makes it obvious that we cannot ,S w -
understand the methods of pyramid building, or assess the
historical significance of pyramids, by assuming a generic
model for all pyramids. The building methods, the social
organization and the economy of pyramids m ust have
varied with the variation in the architecture. A catalogue of
pyramids then is of greater interest than just the
satisfaction of a stamp-collecting kind of iteration. The
catalogue illustrates the shape of pyramid history in
ancient Egypt, showing us patterns that are clues to the
development of one of the worlds earliest great

The pyramids o f Giza, seen fr o m across the desert to the south.

from the annual Nile flood, he would rise again. At
Hierakonpolis we find the earliest association of
king, mound and H orus, god of kingship. The
Origins o f the Pyramid Greek nam e of the site m eans City of the Falcon,
the symbol of Horus; its ancient nam e w as Nekhen.

Hierakonpolis Archaeological evidence suggests it w as an im por

tan t predynastic centre, perhaps a kind of capital of
southern Egypt. Close to the beginning of the 1st
dynasty (c. 2900 bc ), settlem ents scattered across
the low desert and up into the Wadi A bu Suffian -
Reconstruction of a reed and Temple and mound the valley that cuts the high desert cliffs - coalesced
wood shrine in the form of To the ancient E gyptians the m ounds that covered to form the walled town of Nekhen.
the Per Wer or Great House their protodynastic graves m ay have been an image In one corner of the town is an enclosure s u r
This type o f structure may
of the prim eval mound, the fertile land from which rounded by m udbrick walls, w ithin which is
have stood on the Nekhen
mound, all creation grew'. T h u s priests planted the kings E g y p ts oldest known temple mound. It is here that
body in the earth mound of his grave, and, 'like new basic concepts of E g y p ts divine kingship appear
seedlings on the first m ounds of earth to emerge to have originated. Excavations by J.E. Quibell in

The pavilion shoum in front

of the shrine structure (below,
left) is based on the festival
pavilion o f Narmer depicted
on the lst-dynasty ceremonial
macehead found in the Mam
Deposit (left). Access to the
top of the mound o f Nekhen
may have been by a similar
staircase, although the
ceremony depicted ivas
probably conducted at Buto.

(Right) The sacred enclosure

was surrounded by a wall of
(Below) Map showing the mudbrick, which may have
location o f Giza, Saqqara, replaced one o f wood and
Abydos and Hierakonpolis. reed matting

(Below) Two life-sized statues

o f kneeling attendants. One,
made o f limestone had
deteriorated considerably
because of the wet soil
conditions. Tliey may have
stood either stele o f the
entrance passage.
(Above) Door socket in the
form of a prisoner with his
hands tied behind his back.

18 97-8-and in the following year by F.W. Greer,

revealed features ranging in date from late predy-
nastic (c. 3200 bc ) to New Kingdom (c. 1425 BC'
Green attem pted to so rt out the principal layers and
their relative levels. Layer 1, just above the deser
surface, contained predynastic material deposited
HierakonpolisV before the temple w as built. Layer 2 is of yellow
clay containing flints and predynastic pottery.

A sanctuary ivas built on the
mound, possibly in Middle

' Kingdom times, with five

chambers. A falcon consisting
o f a copper body with a head
and plumes o f gold was
ritually buried in the central
chamber, probably in the New
Kingdom. This reactivation
o f the mound shows how
significant it was to later

(Below) Bodies of King

Narmers enemies brought
to the temple threshold by the
falcon o f Horus at the prow
o f a boat.

T he circular mound, contained by a revetment, or The Narmer palette, of necked beasts may represent
retaining wall, of coarse sandstone blocks laid in greyivacke (dark green slate) the two halves o f the country
horizontal courses, w as built on top of Layer 2. It commemorates the victories now forcibly united. The other
m easures 49.26 m (162 ft) across, with the courses o f King Narmer. whose name side shows a kneeling
is inscribed within the serekh prisoner, probably a Lower
stepped at an angle of 45. We do not know its orig
One side shows the king, Egyptian, being smitten by
inal height because the top of the mound w as prob ivearing the red crown of the king who here wears the
ably cut down when later buildings were erected. A Lower Egypt in a tnumpl'ial the white crown o f Upper
temple w as built around the mound, probably near procession. The strange long Egypt.

the beginning of the 1st dynasty on the evidence of south end of the east side - of the later temple
Origins of the Pyramid -
Layer 3, which surrounded the m ound and con entrance, and, significantly, it corresponds to the
tained abundant charcoal and fire reddened earth, location of the entrance to Djosers complex. To the
as well as pottery sherds of the protodynastic peri northeast Quibell found life-sized statues of kneel
od and 1st dynasty. These traces of a conflagration ing attendants.
Main Deposit suggest that the stru ctu res consisted of reed m at A nother object in the deposit was the g reat lime
Maceheads, including ting and wood, the traditional type of architecture stone macehead show ing N arm er seated a t the top
Narmer that w as im itated in stone by Djoser in his pyram id of a stairw ay a t some kind of ceremony. The scene
Narmer Wedding complex. is thought by some to represent an occasion that
Palettes, including The mound m ust have been a high place for a took place at Buto, a predynastic Delta capital and
Narmer palette chapel in the form of the Per Wer, the G reat northern counterpart of Nekhen. However, it is
'Two Dogpalette House, which was the nam e of the national shrine tem pting to see the stairw ay to the raised platform
Flint knives
of southern E gypt at Hierakonpolis. A s the mound as a stylized rendering of a mound like that at
Archaic statuette of
w as the highest place in both town and temple, a Nekhen, which m ust have had a stairw ay or other
tem porary shrine for the ruler m ight have been set form of access, though no evidence for one was
Ivory wands
Small carved ivory and up on ritual occasions. One such shrine is depicted found.
faience votive figures on the N arm er macehead from the Main Deposit, a
Animal figurines, collection of objects found immediately outside the The mound in mythology
including scorpions or mound, to the northeast. These constitute some of Later E gyptians certainly believed that the mound
scorpion tails and the oldest and m ost archetypal icons of kingship at Hierakonpolis w as extremely special to the cult
monkeys, birds, frogs, ever discovered in Egypt. of Horus. They built a sanctuary centered on th e
dogs, hippopotamuses, mound, possibly in Middle Kingdom times, consist
a boar, gazelle The Main Deposit ing of five cham bers - recalling the five niches tha:
Stone and faience vessels T h is m ysterious cache consists of many objects, became standard for the sanctuaries of pyramid
Model vessels including flint knives, sm all and large decorated temples from the time of Khafre onwards. In th e
Pottery vessels
stone maceheads, faience figurines, slate palettes central cham ber a beautiful falcon fashioned of
Stelae fragments
and a concentrated heap of ivory figurines and copper plate w ith a head and plum es of gold was
wands. Almost all are in the style of the protody ritually buried in an upright position on a standard.
nastic and Archaic (early dynastic) periods. Green T his carefully designed burial made the mound :
thought th a t the cache lay upon or w ithin Layer 3. virtual tom b of the sacred cult of H orus of
W ithout doubt, the N arm er Palette is the most Nekhen, and reactivated the late predynastic
striking object in the cache - both a m onum ent of shrine. It w as a sym bolic replanting of the divine
early E gyptian kingship and a b latant pictorial seed of the deity, who would emerge from th e
statem ent of the forcible union of southern with mound which, to the E gyptians of the dynastic
northern Egypt. It is named after the king who is period, m ust have seemed to date back to the begin
w ritten with the hieroglyph of the catfish (nor) and ning of time.
chisel (m er) in the serekh panel (the stylized palace E gyptian literature about the Afterlife is replete
fagade used for royal names). N arm er w as a king of with references to divine mounds. The oldest of all.
the protodynastic period w ho preceded Hor-Aha, th e Pyram id T exts (p. 31), refer to the Creator.
The Rites of the Mound o f probably the first king of the 1st dynasty. Atum, rising as a mound in the enclosure of
femme are depicted at the A few clues suggest th at the palette was found Heliopolis. In a sense, every E gyptian temple of
Edifice o f Tarhaqa and the alm ost in its original position, close to the entrance later tim es w as the prim eval mound situated in the
Temple o f Osiris Heka Djet of the Archaic temple. It lay near a slotted lime middle of its own defined sacred place. In the Nev.
at Karnak. The falcon perches
stone slab and pavem ent and 9 m (30 ft) west of a Kingdom Rite of the M ound of Jemrne a gigantk
on the lotus sprouting from
the mound, the risen form limestone door jamb with a b asalt pivot socket in pair of arm s, one belonging to Geb, the primordial
o f the falcon plantedin the the form of a prisoner w ith hands bound behind his earth-god, and the other to Horus, god of kingship,
Hierakonpolis mound, back. T his is generally the place - tow ards the lifts up a large mound. A lotus, symbol of rebirth,
sp rin g s from the m ound and provides a perch for
the H orus falcon and the feather of truth, Maat.
The scene represents the transfiguration of Amun.
in this case into the falcon as a sun sym bol ar.c
keeper of Maat, the concept of order in the uni
verse. In the Old Kingdom, the pyram id wfas the
m ound of transform ation and the pharaoh w as tin
keeper of Maat.
The mound a t Hierakonpolis can therefore be
seen as closely prefiguring the Rite of jem m e, and
as such it sym bolizes a basic concept behind the
greatest sacred m ounds that the E gyptians eve:
constructed - the Old Kingdom pyram ids.

T he ancient E gyptians believed that the first
pharaohs hailed from This, of which Abydos w as
the religious centre. At Abydos the high desert
cliffs form a great bay bisected by a V-shaped
ravine. E g y p ts earliest kings m ay have seen this
cleft as a passage into the Afterlife, for they built
Royal Tombs at Abydos
their tom bs below it on a spur extending from the
rocky cliffs and overlooking the wadi that ru n s to
the edge of the cultivation. M odern E g yptians call
this burial ground Umm el-Qaab, M other of P ots,
because of the enorm ous m ounds of fragm ents of and Narmer. Then suddenly, near N arm ers small
pottery left by ancient E gyptian pilgrims. tomb, is the startlingly larger and more complex
For several generations before the 1st dynasty it tom b of Hor-Aha, equated by some with Menes,
had been a tradition for local rulers to place their first king of the 1st dynasty.
tom bs far out in the desert near passages through Hor-Ahas tom b w as built in stages, as were so
the high cliffs. For example, protodynastic rulers of m any later m astabas and pyram ids. It began as a
H ierakonpolis built their tom bs in the Wadi Abu double cham ber-tom b but ultimately consisted of
Suffian, where Michael Hoffman discovered them. three large m udbrick-lined pits. T he king may have
T hese tom bs m ust have been built about the sam e been buried in the central one, the brick lining of
time as the Nekhen temple m ound (p. 72). which served as a protective shell around an inner
A t Umm el-Qaab, G unter Dreyer has revealed wooden chamber. Forming an entourage for the
how a constellation of royal tom bs developed from king are 34 small pits - the graves of courtiers who
a galaxy of graves reaching back into the pre were possibly sacrificed. A nalysis of hum an bones
dynastic period, Cemetery U, form ing a remarkable show s them to be almost all of males, no older than
record of state formation. In the m idst of the 25. Curiously, the bones around the last cham ber
crowded small pit-tombs, larger m udbrick cham ber were those of young lions.
tom bs stand out. Tomb Uj is the largest, with a b u r T he tom b of the next king, Djer, w as the largest
ial cham ber that once housed a wooden shrine. lst-d y n asty burial at Abydos. Its roofed space of
Inside, Dreyer found an ivory heqa sceptre, the very 12 x 13 m (39 x 43 ft) w as probably the limit that
hieroglyph for ruler. The tomb is a model of a could be covered by timber, m atting and mud. Djer
house, with 12 cham bers, a central court and sym
bolic slit-doors to m agazines containing hundreds (Right) Tomb Uj, o f a local
of Egyptian and im ported Palestinian pots. Some late predynastic ruler, in
of E g y p ts earliest hieroglyphs show that great rev which Gunter Dreyer found
some o f Egypts oldest
enues already flowed to the ruler buried here from
hieroglyphs and hundreds of
provincial estates and beyond. T he tomb as replica imported Palestinian vessels.
of the great house provisioned by the entire land Even at this early stage, the
carries on into the Old Kingdom pyramids. tomb is a simulacrum o f a
Between Uj and the tom b of Hor-Aha, about 150 great house, provisioned
years later, is open space except for 11 rectangular from afar.
tombs. Three, each consisting of two brick-lined
pits, belong to the kings of dynasty O, who ruled
E gypt during its gradual unification - Iri-Hor, Ka

(2nd dynasty)


The royal cemetery o f Umm

el-Qaab, at Abydos. A
constellation of large royal
tombs emerged from a galaxy
o f smaller predynastic graves Tomb Uj
(far right).
has 318 atten d an t graves, many m arked with stela. Dreyer suggests that the hidden tum ulus above
Royal Tombs at Abydos Of 97 inscribed stelae, 76 belonged to females, 11 to the burial cham ber but below the desert surface ful
males and 2 to dwarfs. These were probably service filled a magical role as the primeval mound en su r
staff, priests and entertainers of the kings house ing resurrection. He postulated a second mound
and not high officials, wrho were draw n from the above the buried tum ulus - about 1.5 m (5 ft) high
kings immediate family, and may have been buried above Djers tomb and only 20 to 40 cm (8 to 16 in)
in the large niched m astabas a t S aqqara (p. 78). high above Dens - based on the supposition that a
Retainers graves around the royal tomb m ust have been marked by more than a
tomb o f King Den, where How were the graves marked? pair of stelae, and also because this would have uti
priests, dwarfs and women At least from the time of Djer, stone stelae, with the lized the excess sand from digging the grave.
o f the royal household were name of the ruler in a serekh, were set up near royal A clue to the superstructures may lie in Hoff
buried. Their large numbers
graves, probably on the east side. But scarcely any m ans stu d y of Tomb 1 of a protodynastic ruler at
and the fact that many were
marked with stelae is one other evidence of a tomb superstructure has been Hierakonpolis. Careful excavation around the rec
argument that the cemetery found. Discussion has focused on the tomb of Djet, tangular mudbrick-lined pit revealed the existence
at Abydos (shown in the map where the thick walls of the tomb supported a thin of a wood-pole and reed-m at shrine, surrounded by
below, based on Petrie) is the ner wall retaining a mound of sand. Reconstruc a sim ilarly built enclosure wall. Could such a super
true royal lst-dynasty burial tions range from a low mound to a g reat stepped stru ctu re have existed above the royal tom bs at
ground. The. tombs included
m astaba. All, however, ru n into the difficulty that, Umm el-Qaab? T he wood and reed m at shrine
elements oriented to the
southwest - the direction o f as Petrie recognized and as Dreyer confirmed, the would have replicated the wooden shrine in the b u r
a great cleft in the high cliffs top of the m ound would have been below the desert ial chamber, ju st as the surface mound replicated
surrounding the Abydos bay. surface, possibly concealed by a second roof. the subterranean one.

Gunter Dreyer reconstructed

the tomb o f Djet as a double
mound. It was marked by a
stela showing Djets name
inside a wood-frame and reed-
mat palace facade. Was it also
covered by a wood and reed
shrine, as reconstructed for
Tomb 1 at Hierakonpolis?
Umm el Qaab
royal cemetery:
late predynastic,
1st-2nd dynasty
(see p. 75)

royal enclosures
New Kingdom
CDO 0 800 m
a ^ h
=>a 0 2500 ft

Osiris temple
Developments in tomb architecture rectangular court. The earliest exam ples are now
Seven kings and one queen (Merneith) of the 1st defined by the surrounding subsidiary burials, but
dynasty built tom bs at Abydos, expanding roughly later ones have niched m udbrick enclosure walls.
tow ards the southw est, the direction of the g reat K hasekhem w ys is the largest, covering over 5,000
ravine. T he wall of the mound over Djets tom b has sq. m (53,820 sq. ft). Such structures, with their
an overlap at the southw est corner, m aking a false niched facades, may be models of the palace enclo
flap-door corresponding to a niche in the tomb sure of the living king (the style is often called
below - a precursor to the classic false door. Dreyer palace facade). Most are practically empty, but
ascertained that a second stairw ay and cham ber those of Khasekhemwy and Peribsen have a small
added to the southw est of Dens tomb w as for a building that sits askew inside the entrance at the
statue of the king, m aking this a prototype of the southeast corner. This may have housed the kings
serdab cham bers in Old Kingdom tombs. statue or offerings made to him.
As rulers continued to build their tom bs at A by One interpretation sees these enclosures as full-
dos the main pit became deeper and the wood scale replicas of the open courts for royal display in
shrine around the burial cham ber w as fitted closer the palace. Another view is that, located at the edge
to its walls, leaving no space for magazines. Petrie of the cultivation, they perhaps played a role sim i
sum m arized other principal changes: lar to the valley temples of the pyram ids, in which
By Merneitfh] these [offering] chambers were built case the wadi forms a kind of natural causew ay to
separately [round the burial chamber]. By Den an the mounded tombs. Perhaps, like the valley tem After he had found a row o f
entrance passage was added, and by Qa the entrance was ples, the enclosures were associated with the bricks that may have belonged
turned to the north. At this stage we are within reach of to a mound inside
purification ten t and m ortuary w orkshop (p. 25).
the early passage-mastabas and pyramids. Khasekhemwys valley
In both form and location of the entrances, the enclosure (bottom left), David
A break in the sequence a t Abydos for the 2nd enclosures can also be seen as the precursor to the OConnor recomtructed the
d ynasty m akes tracing royal tomb development niched wall that surrounds D josers complex, while proto-pyramid slightly north
into the pyram id age difficult. No tomb has been the mounded grave moves inside the enclosure as and west of centre, a position
found here for Hetepsekhemwy, the successor of the stone m astaba and, finally, the Step Pyramid. occupied by the temple mound
Q aa in the traditional king list and the first king of at Hierakonpolis (top) and
Can these structures be precursors of both valley
Djoser's Step Pyramid
the 2nd dynasty. However, one of two enorm ous temple and pyram id enclosure? Both were m asonry (bottom right) in their
sets of underground galleries a t Saqqara is replicas of structures in less durable m aterials that respective enclosures.
ascribed to him. T he last king of the 2nd dynasty, veiled, and at the same time revealed, som ething They also have in common
Khasekhem, changed his nam e to Khasekhemwy, royal and divine. When painted, the enclosure of entrances at the far south end
T h e A ppearance of the Two Powers apparently Khasekhemwy, like the Saqqara m astabas, repre o f the east side and the east
after the conclusion of civil strife. His tomb at A by end o f the north side (the
sented screen walls made of wood fram es and
first phase o f Djosers
dos is a m arked departure from the square pit- colourful reed mats. In plastered and painted m ud enclosure). The enclosures
tombs, consisting of a long, irregular pit, divided brick, it w as a more solid version of other Abydos are not. shown to scale.
into 40 magazines. enclosures that had perished (as, perhaps, did the
tom b superstructures at Umm el-Qaab), leaving
Valley funerary enclosures only the rectangles of subsidiary graves.
A t the juncture of the wadi with the cultivation, the David O Connor recovered traces of the floor of
1st- and 2nd-dynasty kings built the second ele K hasekhem w ys enclosure. Near the centre he
ment of their tomb complexes at A bydos - a huge found a short line of bricks laid at an angle, su g
gesting the upw ard spring of a vault or tumulus.
The large royal enclosures of
OConnor suspects that these are the rem ains of a
2nd-dynasty kings simulated
wood-frame and reed-mat m udbrick mound - a proto-pyram id. He com pares
structures in plastered and the mound within the rectangle to the temple at
painted mudbrick. Hierakonpolis and the Djoser enclosure. Even more
dram atic w as the discovery of a row of 12 buried
Khasekhemwy Mound boats, east of Khasekhernwys complex. Each
wooden boat is contained in a m udbrick casing,
plastered with mud and w hitewashed. Lengths
vary from 19 to 29 m (69 to 95 ft). T his ghostly fleet
strengthens the com parison of these valley enclo
sures to pyram id temples, which were docking
places to the Netherworld.
With Khasekhemwy we are only years away
from the 3rd dynasty, Djoser and the first great
stone pyram id complex. But before Djoser, we m ust
come to term s with the curious possibility of
another royal cemetery of the first two dynasties at

On the west side, a wide wadi rises like a natural
ram p up into the Saqqara plateau from an old lake
basin northw est of where the Archaic settlement
may lie buried. Like the w adi at Abydos, this w as a
Archaic Mastabas at Saqqara path from the land of the living to the realm of the
dead. Flanking this route, along the very edge of
the high cliff towering above the town, Egyptian:-
of the 1st dynasty built a string of large mastaba>
with niched fagades.

Both literary tradition and archaeological discover Monarchs or nomarchs?

ies inform u s of a moment 4,900 years ago when W alter Em ery excavated most of these m astabas
the conquering overlords from the Qena Bend between 1936 and 1956. As his excavations pro
moved their adm inistration of the Two Lands gressed, the sophistication and size of the deeph
northw ards to just below the apex of the Nile Delta. recessed, niched m astabas presented a real contrast
They called their new capital T he Wall - more to the contem porary royal tom bs at Abydos, which
fam iliar to us as Memphis. Tow ards the end of the were mostly variations of pit-graves. T he niching
2nd dynasty it w as known as lneb Hedj, The W hite of the m astabas is sim ilar to that on the earliest
Wall. Both the nam e and its hieroglyph suggest serekh panels, the stylized representations of tht
The lst-dynasty cemetery of th at it w as a fortified enclosure with a series of b as palace-fagade enclosure bearing the kings Horus
high officials on the plateau tions. T he British M emphis Project is finding evi name. So do the Saqqara tom bs belong to kings and
edge at North Saqqara. dence that the oldest settlem ent w as close to the queens? Not on the basis of the niching alone, for i:
Emery concluded they North Saqqara escarpm ent. Directly across the occurs on a wide range of Archaic tom bs anc
belonged to kings and queens,
Nile, thousands of Archaic tom bs a t Helwan indi seem s to have generally designated high status.
but names of certain officials
were found on sealings or cate a m issing settlem ent on the east. The twin A t first Em ery saw the Saqqara m astabas as tht
other texts associated with the tow ns m ust have form ed the jam bs of the gateway tom bs of nobles and assigned m astaba 3035 to an
tombs. to the D elta, as M emphis would later be known. official called Hemaka, the nam e found on sealing:-
along with that of King Den. As he continued t<
excavate, however, he ascribed the tom bs to royalty,
not only because of their size and facades, bu:
because of their contents. On jar sealings in m asta
ba 3357 he found only the nam e of the first king or
the 1st dynasty, Hor-Aha - concluding therefore
th a t this w as his tomb. O ther large m astabas con
tained seal im pressions of alm ost all the other lst-
dynasty kings, and stone vessels with the nam es of
the queens M erneith and Herneith.
T his left scholars with two sets of apparently
royal tombs: one at Saqqara, near the new capita'
the other a t Abydos, legendary homeland of the Is -
dynasty. Some therefore thought that the tom bs at

3357 3035
2185 3036
3338 E M
3507 3 1 1 1 g E D

300 m

100 ft

Abydos were symbolic, false tombs, or cenotaphs, As for the argum ent that the Saqqara m astabas
to ensure the presence of the kings spirit in the old are bigger and therefore m ust be royal tom bs, when
home ground during the Afterlife. In later times it the A bydos pit-graves are combined w ith the valley
w as the practice for elite E gyptians to build ceno enclosures they present a total arrangem ent that is
tap h s at Abydos, the cult centre of Osiris. larger than the Saqqara m astabas. T he presence
On the other hand, others view A bydos as the also a t A bydos of extraordinarily large groups of (Above) Saqqara mastaba
3505; (below) the Abydos
true royal cemetery and see the Saqqara m astabas retainers burials with their m any small stelae, as
tomb and valley enclosure
not as royal cenotaphs but as tom bs of high offi well as the large stelae of rulers, all point to A by o f Qa a
cials. Seal im pressions of such people, who held dos as the true burial ground.
titles like Nomarch, Governor, Councillor, T reasu r
er, and Ruling in the K ings H eart, are found Symbolic architecture
alm ost as commonly as those of kings. Moreover, T he Saqqara m astabas are m assive structures com
Emery recovered the stone stela of a man named parable to fortified city walls, which some see as
M erka near a large niche or false door of m astaba the inspiration for their facades. But when we con
3505. Merka was a nomarch (.Adj-m er), Captain of sider the decoration painted on the plastered s u r
the Royal Ship and Controller of the Palace. He face of the niched walls, it is apparent that the
w as also an Iry Paat, one of the p a a f, a class of builders also had som ething else in mind. Recessed
patricians. panels are painted yellow to im itate wood, while the
forw ard, broadest faces are painted in varied p a t
(Left) The inscribed, panel terns of squares, crosses and lozenges. These are
from the stela o f Merka, a the p attern s of woven m ats that the lst-dynasty'
high official, found near the builders knew from iheir daily lives. They were
main niche at the south end
o f mastaba 3505. Some see sim ulating the wood-frame and woven reed-mat
it as conclusive evidence that stru ctu res such as formed the Per Wer and the Per
the large mastabas at North Nu, the predynastic shrines th a t became em blem at
Saqqara belong to holders ic for U pper and Lower Egypt.
o f high office under the kings, Like later false doors, which were abbreviated
and not to the kings versions of these niched facades, the broader
niches of the m astabas were contact points
between this world and the Netherworld. Tucked One argument in favour of
into several niches of m astaba 3503 - which some the Saqqara mastabas being
still ascribe to Merneith, but which contained seal the royal tombs is their size.
However, wizen the total
ings of an official, perhaps Seshem ka - Em ery
arrangement of tomb and
found offering dishes still in place after nearly five valley enclosure at Abydos is
millennia. Even more dram atic, and peculiar to the combined, they comprise a
(Below, left and centre) lst-d y n asty m astabas of N orth Saqqara, are h un much greater area.
Modelled cattle skulls with real dreds of clay ox heads with real horns attached -
horns surround mastaba
for instance arranged along the bench and in the
3504, possibly a symbolic
herd. Such skulls were found recesses of m astaba 3504, ascribed to Djet but asso
also at other mastabas, but in ciated w ith sealings of an official nam ed Sekhem-
fewer numbers. ka. These may represent offerings or a living herd.

E gyptologists have long been frustrated by a els whose false doors were too narrow and low to
Archaic Mastabas at Saqqara lack of precedent for this earliest monum ental have been exact copies of real doors. T he elabora'
architecture with its sophisticated exterior decora niching of th is Active architecture accentuated th
tion. We may be m issing a long evolution of fortifi painted rendering of reed m ats and wood frame. I
cations, tow ns and tom bs of early Delta w as a way to show the construction of the skeleta:
communities, such as Buto, largely unexcavated. system while freezing it for eternity in mudbric
But it is im portant to realize th a t the m astabas, like Some burial cham bers had real posts and reed ma --
the A bydos valley enclosures, are simulacra - m od on the walls - the inside of the reed shrine.


Mastaba 3507 with an

interior vaulted tumulus over
the burial chamber. Above the
substructure o f the standard
mastaba, the interior was
divided into a chequerboard
pattern o f smaller magazines
that sometimes contained
additional burial goods.

Changes in the design of the lst-dynasty mastabas at In mastaba 3507, Emery found a low rounded
Saqqara do suggest incipient forms of elements of tumulus above the burial chamber. Set within the
the later pyramids, an aspect that still convinces some rectangular niched wall enclosure, the mound
Egyptologists that they are royal tombs. North of completed the basic pattern of the early
mastaba 3357, ascribed to Hor-Aha, are a set of model Hierakonpolis temple and the later Djoser complex. In
buildings and two large terraces extending up to mastaba 3357, reed mats stuck on the walls perhaps
walls lining a boat pit. The whole looks like a imitated the interior of a reed enclosure -- a
simulated quay or dock with goods off-loaded and forerunner of Djosers apartments below his pyramid,
stored in the model buildings. Could this arrangement where the reed mats are rendered in blue faience tiles.
be a precursor to the mortuary temple, such as on the But it is in mastaba 3038, from the reign of Adjib,
north side of Djosers Step Pyramid? Mastaba 3505 that we find the closest precedent to Djosers Step
(ascribed to Qaa, but probably belonging to Merka) Pyramid. The entire substructure, in a 4-m (13-ft)
has a more developed north chapel that is closer to deep rectangular pit, had mudbrick walls rising to a
Djosers pyramid temple, although it also fits in the height of 6 m (19 ft). Three sides of this structure
development of chapels of tombs of high officials. were then built out to form eight shallow steps rising
It is in the very core of the mastabas that features at an angle of 49. This would have been an oblong
develop which appear to be compelling precedents for step pyramid except the remaining side was left
the later pyramids. In mastaba 2185 we see for the uncovered. In the final building phase a niched
first time great stone beams over the burial chamber. enclosure wall was erected all round and the area
Mastabas 3036 and 3035, belonging to the officials within entirely filled with sand, thus completely
Ankhka and Hemaka, have a stepped entrance burying the stepped mound.
corridor built into a sloping trench that approaches When Emery stripped away the niched mastaba to
the burial chamber from the east. The corridors reveal the stepped mound, Egyptologists were struck
feature the first portcullis grooves and slabs, the by its similarity to the image of a stepped mound
sliding stone door that would be used in pyramid associated with the name of King Adjib etched on
passages throughout the Old Kingdom. As well as pottery, stone vases and ivory tablets from both
improving security, these arrangements have the Saqqara and Abydos. On top of Ad jibs mound is a
functional advantage of allowing the burial chamber stela with hieroglyphs that read Protection around
and magazines to be entered for the funeral even after Horus (i.e. the king). Could this innovative stepped
they had been sealed by the superstructure. Earlier mound buried inside mastaba 3038 have been so
mastabas must have been built after the occupant had renowned that it became closely associated with
been interred and could not be re-entered. King Adjib?


The image o f a stela, which

reads Protection around
Horus on a stepped mound,
along with the name o f the
lst-dynasty pharaoh Adjib.

The stepped tumulus inside

the niched mastaba 3038
(above and right), associated
with sealings o f Adjib. A
chamber with granaries was
located to one side o f the
central burial chamber.

(Below) Mastaba 3505.

showing the descending
entrance staircase that
was blocked by large stone
portcullis slabs. As well as the
burial chamber, side chambers
were probably magazines.

(Left) A view into the interior

o f mastaba 3500, with the
great stone portcullis slabs
still blocking the entrance
ft) long and entered by passages from the north. ('
the basis of seal im pressions found w ithin then
they are considered to be the tom bs of the first an
third kings of the 2nd dynasty - Hetepsekheraw
Saqqara: An Overview and Ninetjer, both of whom, unlike Peribsen an
Khasekhemwy later in the dynasty, did not ha\
tom bs a t Abydos. T h e tom bstone of the secon
king of the 2nd dynasty, Raneb, was found in th
area, suggesting that another royal tomb remain *
to be found.
Stadelm ann believes that the galleries were one
topped by long m astabas, sim ilar to Djosers Sout
Tomb. He also links these tom bs with the hug-
em pty rectangles form ed by low walls further w tv
out in the desert. According to Stadelm ann, thes<
em pty precincts are the counterparts to the valle;
enclosures of Peribsen and Khasekhem wy at Ab\
dos, although here the sacred precincts are fartht
west into the desert w hereas at A bydos they ar
east of the royal tomb and down near the cultiv;
tion. O thers date the rectangles to the 3rd dynasty.
W hy are Djosers and Sekhem khet's pyram id-
and these m ysterious em pty rectangles so far 01:
into the desert? If we look a t the m ap of Saqqar
with south at the top as the ancient Egyptian-
viewed their world, we see that the Abusir Wadi
a natural causeway connecting the floodplai:
below the northern point of the Saqqara Plateau
the front of the Djoser and Sekhem khet enclosure -
and the tw o anonym ous royal rectangles. At th
A mew of the Saqqara T he Saqqara plateau hosted 11 royal pyramids, m outh of the wadi there may have been a lake, pe:
pyramid field from Giza. more than any other site in Egypt. This is not haps form ing a harbour just beside the early sett':
counting the satellite pyram ids, queens pyram ids ment a t the foot of the escarpm ent.
and S hepseskafs m astaba. in the midst of the Pyram id builders abandoned Saqqara for alm<
pyram ids were the m any hundreds of tom bs of the entirety of the 4th dynasty as the clamour
officials great and small, ranging in date from the building jum ped south to Meidum then to Dahshu:
1st dynasty to the Coptic period. T he entire necro during Sneferus reign, and w as thereafter focu~<
polis extends across the central plateau for 2.5 km on Giza for three generations. Only with the pass
(IV2 miles) from the northern tip of the row of lst- ing of that dynasty, around 2472 BC, did Shepsesk;
dynasty tom bs to south of the pyram id complex of come back to build his giant stone m astaba ;
Sekhemkhet, and for the sam e distance from the South Saqqara.
eastern escarpm ent to the enigm atic great em pty
enclosure, the Gisr el-Mudir, west of Djosers p y ra Return to Saqqara
mid. If we include the pyram id fields of A busir to (Jserkaf, the first king of the 5th dynasty, returne
the north, and South Saqqara, its natural exten to the heart of central Saqqara and built, his pyra
sions, the necropolis is over 7.5 km (4 miles) long. mid squarely beside the east wall of the Step Pvr;
This city of the dead in stone and sand is the mid enclosure, at its far north end. T his positiov
otherworldly counterpart of the living city of m ust have been very im portant to the king. Loca:
Memphis. M emphis m igrated southw ards to stay mg his pyram id here, he had to straddle a depre>
ahead of the sands drifting in from the desert as the sion, perhaps p a rt of the so-called m oat tfc
climate became increasingly drier throughout the surrounds the Step Pyram id enclosure.
Old Kingdom, and to follow the Nile as it retreated T he 5th-dynasty pyram id complexes at Saqqar
eastw ards. A s the city moved so did the necropolis each required access to the valley floor via a cause
up on the high desert. way. Ideally this would run through a natural war
The centrepiece of the Saqqara tableau is the that sloped gradually enough to avoid the need f<
Step Pyram id of Djoser (the H orus Netjerykhet). a huge foundation ramp. T his determined when
W hen the kings builders began this unprecedented the builders could situate a pyram id complex. Ne-
creation in stone, the site may have already been a evidence recovered by the British team at Memphis
royal reserve. Immediately south, there are two and Saqqara indicates another determ ining facto:
large sets of underground galleries, over 130 m (427 Each complex may have been situated to tak

1 km
0.5 mile
advantage of natural lakes along the desert edge.
Such lakes were left after the annual floods receded
or were stranded as the course of the Nile moved.
U serkafs causeway, never excavated, probably ran [x] Shepseskaf
through the wadi that now contains the tourist road [ 3 Pepi II
up to the plateau. CV B Ibi
T he four kings who followed U serkaf built their
pyram ids in a cluster at Abusir. Again, the lake in <Z>
O )
the A busir bay could have furnished a common ;o
harbour. As the kings added to the A busir pyram id s
cluster they followed a practice that we have seen
in the lst-dynasty royal cemetery a t Abydos, and
also a t central Saqqara and Giza, that is to extend
in a general southw est orientation.
South Saqqara lakes?- X Merenre
Near the end of the 5th dynasty Djedkare-Isesi
built his pyram id at South Saqqara on a point over Djedkare-Isesi
looking the m outh of the prom inent Wadi el-Tafla,
which probably furnished a low, ponded area su it Pepi
able for a pyram id harbour.
Unas built his pyram id close against the Step
Pyram id enclosure, at the far w est end of the south
side. Like two guard posts, the pyram ids of the
Main Memphis ruin fie d
first (Userkaf) and last (Unas) kings of this dynasty 500 m east (see inset)
flanked the precinct of their ancestor, Djoser. As
with Userkaf, the selection of the site for his p y ra SAQQARA
mid m ust have been of considerable im portance to Unas lake ?_
Unas, since it required that he build an extremely
long causeway to reach the floodplain. It ran
through a minor wadi to yet another of the natural
lakes along the desert edge.
W hen Teti, first pharaoh of the 6th dynasty, built
his pyram id northeast of U serkafs, a necklace of
pyram ids from the 3rd, 5th and 6th dynasties Djoser
extended diagonally from northeast to southw est
across the central Saqqara plateau. T he orientation
is approxim ate, although a line can be draw n con Userkaf ^

necting the northw est corner of the pyram id of

^ Teti
Sekhemkhet, the pyram id of Unas (but off centre),
0 Lepsius 29
the southeast corner of Djoser, the southeast cor
ner of U serkaf and the centre of Teti. A small p y ra
mid, alm ost destroyed (of M erikare or M enkauhor),
' v^ Archaic
east of Tetis extended the line of pyram ids a little I *1
I ' \ mastabas
farther northeast to the edge of the escarpm ent.
Pepi I and two of his sons, Merenre and Pepi II,
returned to South Saqqara and built their pyram ids
on the shoulders of the Wadi el-Tafla. T his p art of
\ 1
Saqqara lines up with the principal ruins of M em \ Archaic Memphis? \
phis dating to the M iddle and New Kingdoms. The O'
Greek name M emphis probably derives from the
% ''
nam e of Pepi ls pyram id, M en-nefer Pepi, T h e Per % '
fection of Pepi E ndures. His pyram id town may be
located under the modern village of Saqqara. Pepi
II chose to build his pyram id close to the m astaba Abusir lake ABUSIR

of Shepseskaf. After Pepi II, the pharaohs would Raneferef

Khentkawes , ^
build no m ajor pyram id complexes for more than cv
1 km a>
150 years. T he pyram id of an 8th-dynasty ruler, Neferirkare
1 mile 2
Ibi, and th a t east of Tetis, if it belongs to M erikare 0) Niuserre K ]
and so dates to the 9th dynasty, were the last p y ra -o Djedkare-Isesi 0
mids built a t Saqqara. These small pyram ids were * \ icO Pepi 10 Sahure
the final gasps of the Old Kingdom pyram id age. / 4 ^
/ Main ^
/ Memphis /
ruin field /
AAAAA (Rainer Stadelm ann has modified this scheme), v.
get a m ajor expansion every three years, if v.
divide the six stages into the 19 years of Djoser -
Djoser s Step Pyramid reign. Even doubling his reign to 38 years - cor
ceivable if the 19 years were biennial taxation year

Complex - gives us a m ajor alteration every six years.

W hen the builders began to transform t:
m astaba into the first pyram id they built a crude
core of roughly shaped stones with a fine limes to:
casing and a layer of packing in between. Th>
It would be hard to overem phasize the dram atic technique had been used also for the m astabas. B
leap in architectural size and sophistication repre now there w as a profound difference: they aba:
sented by E g y p ts first royal stone complex, the doned horizontal beds and began to build in accr-
Step Pyram id of Djoser at Saqqara. Djoser is the tions that leaned inwards. They also used b igg-:
name given to this king by New Kingdom visitors and better blocks that they no longer needed
to the site over a thousand years later. B ut the only pack w ith large am ounts of m ortar of tafia - t:
royal name found on the walls of the complex is the local tan-coloured desert clay. Instead, the clay w
H orus name, Netjerykhet. In 1996 Dreyer found used only as an aid to setting each block on a tx I
Stages in the evolution N etjerykhets mud sealings at K hasekhem w ys th at inclined with the accretion layer.
o f the pyramid: from Abydos tomb, suggesting a direct link between T he E gyptians also built the surrounding stru
Khasekhemwys mound them. As for the monum ental record, prior to tures and enclosure in stages. W erner Kaiser poiiv
within an enclosure at Abydos
(top), to Djosers simple Djoser the most common material for large build ed out that the first, smaller, stage, is sim ilar to t:
mastaba within a rectangular ings w as m udbrick. Abydos valley enclosure of Khasekhemwy. Dj<
stone enclosure (centre) at Then, within Djosers 19-year reign (2630-2611 ers original m astaba is off-centre in the first end
Saqqara, which was then- BC), his architect Imhotep, Chancellor and Great sure, like the m ound OConnor hypothesizes f -
covered by his great Step Seer (i.e. high priest) of the sun god Ra, built the K hasekhem w ys enclosure, and that w ithin t:
Pyramid. Step Pyram id and its huge enclosure. A limestone enclosure a t Hierakonpolis (p. 77).
wall, 10.5 m (34 ft) high and 1,645 m (5,397 ft) long,
contained an area of 15 ha (37 acres), the size of a
large town in the 3rd millennium BC. W ithin was a Western massifs Bounda-
vast complex of functional and dumm y buildings, Chapel of the South Tomb
(Opposite page) A unique including the Pavilions of the N orth and South,
pyramid complex: the success
large tum uli and terraces, finely carved facades,
of Djoser is echoed through
later antiquity in the tradition ribbed and fluted columns, stairw ays, platforms,
that this king, and his shrines, chapels and life-sized statues. There was
architect, Imhotep, were even a replica of the substructure, the South Tomb.
the inventors o f stone The centrepiece w as the Step Pyram id, rising in six
architecture. We see many steps to a height of c. 60 m (197 ft), containing
familiar forms for the first
330,400 cu. m (11,668,000 cu. ft) of clay and stone. The South Tomb
time here: the first colonnade,
the first hypostyle, portico, life- T he Step P yram id complex is such a basic tem
The South Court
sized statues, torus-moulding plate of E gyptian art and architecture that it is
and cavetto cornice, and, o f easy to take it for granted. But the implications of
course, the- first pyramid. the architecture for changes in the governm ent of
Many structures in the E gypt and political control of peoples lives are Colonnade entrance
complex survived as members
astounding. Consider one of m any facts about the
o f the hieroglyphic sign-list
o f sacred buildings, a complex that has major im plications for hum an Evidence suggests that the builders partial':
vocabulary o f form s. The labour: the builders did not form the recesses of the buried the dum m y structures of Djosers enclosur
3rd-dynasty builders inherited huge stone enclosure wall before they laid the - the Pavilions of the N orth and South, the Sou:
many o f these forms from blocks, as m odern m asons would. Instead they Tomb and Sed Chapels - alm ost immediately aft
predynastic m o d and reed hand-carved each recess into the face of the already they built them in the first stage. Likewise the;
structures and petrified- and
laid masonry, an enorm ous task since there were encased the kings m astaba in fine limestone in the
perpetuated them in the Step
Pyramid complex. They left 1,680 recessed panels on the bastions and dummy first stage and then only a few years later entire',
the doors of the complex open doorw ays, each panel more than 9 m (30 ft) tall. covered it with the Step Pyram id - an act which.
forever, inviting later Stadelm ann is right, they may have planned fron
generations of kings and Building in stages the beginning. The half-subm erging of the dum nr
their designers to come in and T he pyram id w as built in stages, progressing from buildings m ust have signified the chthonic, under
to see, and to build their own
an initial square m astaba to the final six-step p y ra world aspect of existence after death. And the ful
variations. The actual
entrance colonnade, now mid. A ccording to Jean-Philippe Lauer, the main envelopment of the m astaba conform s to the pa-
restored, is shown opposite, excavator of the site, there were six stages (M, - M, tern of early E gyptian m onum ents that successiv-
bottom left. - M , - P. - P.' - P.,). A ssum ing that this is correct stages conceal earlier ones. Tomb building appear-

to have been p a rt of a larger ceremonial cycle, an
act of consolidation and renewal that necessitated
burying finely crafted structures. T he E gyptian
penchant for sim ulation receives one of its greatest
expressions here. T he stone enclosure wall im itates
one of mudbrick; the ceiling stones of the entrance
passage, the Sed chapels and the Pavilions of the
X'orth and South im itate wooden log beams; traces
of paint indicate th at m any facades and pillars in
tine limestone were painted red to im itate wood.
With certain elements, it was enough that their
form - their image - w as present in the faqade; the
interior could be abbreviated. Yet not all the build
ings in the Djoser complex are d u m m y facades.
Lauer has distinguished between functional versus
fictional structures. T he fictive architecture served
the k in g s ka in the Afterlife. The functional may
have been necessary for the actual conduct of the
funeral ceremonies. Djosers funeral cortege could
have negotiated an elaborate course through the
buildings, a statu e of the king at every m ajor turn
symbolically allowing the procession to pass. But,
given the fact th a t many entrances and passages
are scarcely wider than 1 m (3'A ft), it would have
been far more convenient to bring the royal body
and its accoutrem ents into the complex by w ay of a
ram p over the enclosure in its northeast corner.

Pyramid cut away to show Northern temple Djoser's Step Pyramid in its
stages of construction final stage rose in six step? :
a height of 60 in (196: '
with a base measuring la :
109 m (3 9 7 x3 5 8 ft).

Evidence of ramp
over northeast c c - '- r
of enclosure wall

Area north of the

Enclosure wall with pyramid not yet fc .
Pavilion of the North bastions and dummy cleared
Court of the serdab
Pavilion of the South

'r-n p le T Heb-Sed court

-> '


300 ft
The Step Pyramid
Djosers complex covers a
vast area; the underground
elements are an a grand
scale also, as shown inside.
t - -
had been reused with their d e c o ra tr:
Inside the Step Pyramid neglected, m ust have form ed the roof
burial vault - the earliest known examp
ceiling. T his motif, one that the Egypti;
over royal tomb cham bers for centuries,
one of the paradoxes of the pyram ids. 1);
lie after death underground, under!>
of masonry, but the roof of the cham ber is
the night sky, to which his soul is free to fly.
The fact that this burial vault w as scrap;
another built parallels the multiple b u ild in g
rebuildings above ground. W hen it was d e c :" c
expand the m astaba into a pyram id, the new s ;
stru ctu re covered the descending corridor
made it impossible to keep the central shaft <\
They were filled and covered with m asonr.
another way had to be contrived to bring in
royal body. A new access w as built, beginning ns
open stairw ay trench north of the pyram id ten::
while the centre of the descending corridor w as '
open. In the narrow est p a rts of the new aav >
there w as no room for anything wider than a m e:r

The granite vault

Djosers final resting place w as a vault consist!: ,c
four courses of well-dressed granite blocks, iis
Shaft galleries l-XI
opening a cylindrical aperture tow ards the r. :
end. Once the royal rem ains were laid to rest, tl
lole w as blocked with a granite plug weighing
Profile view o f the Step T he above-ground elements of Djosers pyramid
Pyramid, looking north, tons, with four grooves to guide the ropes us
complex are only one p a rt of the story. Below, the
showing the stages in the lower it. Above the burial vault the builder.-
E gyptians created an underground stru ctu re on a
building o f the created a small room to give them space to i w
scale previously unknown, qu arry in g out more
superstructure, and tangle the plug. N othing of this rem ained for m<
o f shafts, galleries and than 5.7 km (3V2 miles) of shafts, tunnels, cham
archaeologists - it m ust have been destroye :
chambers o f the substructure. bers, galleries and magazines. The only precedent
ancient explorers who em ptied the shaft, pn '
is the 2nd-dynasty royal underground galleries a
in the 26th dynasty - but the form of this mar.
sh o rt distance south of the Djoser complex, one of
vre cham ber could be worked out on the bat-is
which is assigned Hetepsekhemwy. In fact, Djosers
the one found intact in the South Tomb.
Western Galleries are alm ost aligned w ith Het-
Space inside the vault wras restricted, and L
epsekhem w ys, but are several orders of m agnitude
believes the body w as placed in a gilded w<
larger; they are also the least explored p art of the
box. Once body and granite plug were in place.
pyram ids substructure. A central corridor and two
parallel ones extend over 365m (1,198 ft), connect
ing 400 rooms. These and other subterranean fea
tures - im pressive enough - surround one of the
m ost complicated tangles of tunnels and shafts the
E gyptians ever created, below the pyram id itself.
A great Central Shaft, 7 m (23 ft) square and 28 m
(92 ft) deep, was dug for the burial chamber. To
remove w aste as the shaft got deeper, a descending
corridor w as built, joining the shaft from the north.
Above and around it m asons were building m asta
ba Mr O thers began w ork on the kings burial vault
at the bottom, bringing in m aterials by the descend
ing corridor. T he final vault w as of granite, but
Lauer found evidence that there had been an earlier
one with walls of alabaster and a pavem ent of dior-
ite or schist. Numerous fragm ents of these costly
m aterials were found packed around the vault. But
m ost interesting were limestone blocks with large
five-pointed stars in low' relief. These blocks, which
descending corridor w as filled. Djosers body was Djoser $ undergrou>
now packed like the core of a battery and no doubt complex o f passage s.
stairways and cham
those who succeeded him believed his remains,
is one o f the most n>
buried in the heart of the pyramid, rendered the under any pyramid. '
structure fully charged. M ummy p arts were all the robbers tuniii
retrieved from the vault: underneath outer coarse shown here. The diag
linen, a finer linen had been used to model tenons (left) shows how tin >
and bones - a technique characteristic of the m ost substructure perspext:
ancient mum mies of the Old Kingdom. However, relates to the pyravm
recent radiocarbon dating show s them to be many
centuries younger than Djoser.

The kings subterranean palace

Well before the expansion of the m astaba into the
pyramid, m asons were at work on passages su r
rounding the central shaft. To the north, west and
south, they tunnelled long arm atu res ending in
transverse galleries, from which they began to cut
crude perpendicular magazines. A stairw ay from
the descending corridor took a series of tu rn s and
corridors, ending in an eastern chamber. Here,
craftsm en were far advanced on an exquisite deco Retaining walls
ration of faience and limestone. Rows of blue round rim of shaft to
keep it open through
faience tiles w ith raised bands of limestone sim u mastaba (M-1)
late a reed-m at structure - perhaps the kings
palace. Blue also evokes the w atery associations of
the E gyptian Netherworld. T he decoration w as
organized into six panels. Three on the north side
Central shaft: 7m
were topped by an arch supported by sim ulated
square, 28 m deep
djed pillars. One contained the real doorway; the
limestone fram e bore the nam e and protocol of Net-
jerykhet (Djoser). Three southern panels framed
false door stelae, show ing Djoser perform ing a rit
ual ru n and visits to shrines. T his cham ber w as
never completed - the builders left the east wall
roughly hacked from the rock and the decorators
seem to have finished in a hurry. All four walls of Magazine Gallery i

two further cham bers were covered with the blue-

tile inlay and the doorw ays were framed with Djos
ers name. These m ust represent the inner private
rooms of the palace.

The roof of Djosers granite

burial vault, with the 3.5 ton
granite plug. Nothing wider
than 1 m (3A ft) could be
inserted into the
\ chamber.

Magazine Gallery III Granite burial vault.

Interior: 2.96 x 1.65 m,
h. 1.65 m. Granite pJug;
1 m diameter, 2 m high,
weight 3.5 tons
Second access to
substructure begins as trench
north of pyramid temple

Passage a-4: h. 1.8 m Open pit and

w. 1.2 m stairway in floor
of court of
pyramid temple

p : sage

The serdab is aligned with

Kings apartment. the kings private apartment,
West walls inlaid with with its blue-tiled chambers,
blue faience tiles under the pyramid, as can be
seen in the plan. It is also just
in front o f the door o f the
more public front part o f his
Three false door stelae eternal house. The eastern 150 ft
showing Djoser galleries are highlighted.

Djosers Step Pyramid
Djosers statue in its serdab
(below), representing the king
emerging from his private
Netherworld apartment below
the pyramid.

With eyes once inlaui with

rock crystal. Djosers statue
(above) gazed out through
peep-holes in the serdab box,
tilted upwards 13 to the
northern sky where the king
joined the circumpolar stars,
his brethren. A replica statue
now occupies the serdab.

The eastern shafts and galleries

Yet another, deeper substructure below the p y ra
mid w as begun when it w as still a m astaba. Eleven
vertical shafts were dug, from the bottom of which
long galleries extend to the west. Galleries IIV
were used as tombs: two intact alabaster sarco
phagi and fragm ents of others were found. The end
of Gallery III widened into a room, cased with fine
limestone, where the hip-bone of an 18-year-old
woman w as found. A seal impression gave the
H orus nam e of Djoser and, tantalizingly, the titles
T reasurer, Chief Lector Priest and Builder of
Nekhen - the first two were held by Imhotep.
Recent radiocarbon dating deepens the m ystery of
Djosers tomb once more: one set of female rem ains
dates to generations before Djosers time.
Galleries VI-IX contained a rem arkable collec
tion of stone vessels. Stacks of plates and cups -
m ostly of alabaster but also of other fine stones -
added up to a staggering total of around 40,000
vessels. Many bore inscriptions revealing that the Once painted to bring it to
m ajority were not made for Djoser, but probably life. Djosers original statue
belonged to his royal ancestors. Perhaps, like the is now in the Cairo Museum.
female rem ains that date so early, the vessels were It is inscribed with his name,
salvaged from the already plundered lst-dynasty as King of Upper and Lower
Egypt, heir o f two crown
m astabas at Saqqara. T he Step Pyram id w as not
goddesses. Nekhbet (south,
only a vocabulary of form s passed on to the future, vulture) and Wadjet (north,
but also a repository of the past. cobra), Netjerykhet of gold.

entered by a round aperture. Remarkably, the
The South Tomb wooden beam used to lower the granite plug was
still in place with traces left by the ropes still visi
By all Egyptological reckoning the Step Pyram id ble. Incorporated into the m asonry of the m anoeu
itself is a functional royal tomb. But in Djosers vre cham ber were blocks of fine limestone with
complex, in addition to the Step Pyram id, we find relief-carved stars - rem ains of a previous vault.
the enigm atic South Tomb. Below it the builders T he granite vault is sim ilar to the one under the
replicated three essential features of the su b stru c pyram id, but it is much smaller, and its interior was
ture of the pyram id: the descending corridor; cen covered in green traces of copper. W hat w as placed
tral shaft with the granite vault; and the kings in this vault, too small for a hum an burial? Various
palace with its blue-tiled cham bers. As under the suggestions have been made: that it w as a Active
pyram id, the builders blocked the descending corri tomb for a ritual death during the Heb-Sed cere
dor except for a narrow stairw ay to allow them to monies w hen the king renewed his vital forces; that
bring in w hatever it w as they placed in the vault. it w as the home of the kings ka\ that it w as the bur
About halfw ay down the corridor a side cham ber ial place of the royal placenta, preserved from birth
w as found filled w ith large jars. On top of these the until death; that it w as for the burial of the crowns:
workmen had left a wooden stretcher, box and or that it w as a symbolic reference to the old tomb.-
King Djoser performing posts from a baldachin that resemble those of Het- a t Abydos, be they actual or Active burial places.
the ceremonial heb-sed run, epheress cache at Giza (p. 117). Lauer thought it m ight have been for the king's
holding the household deed - Robbers had done far less dam age to the South internal organs, removed during mummification,
to the whole o f Egypt. This is Tomb than the pyram id itself, so excavators found though in later times the canopic chest containing
one o f the false door stelae in the m anoeuvre cham ber intact. The w alls were of these w as placed in the sam e cham ber as the body.
the blue-tiled chambers o f the
large limestone slabs and the underside of the stone T h e entire South Tom b complex may have beer,
South Tomb. Three stelae
were located under the main ceiling beam s had been rounded to im itate palm intended for the kings ka, and the E gyptians often
pyramid, and three under the logs. A s in the pyram id (though here at the south gave the ka special funerary treatm ent by the sepa
South Tomb. rather than the north end), the burial cham ber w as rate interm ent of a statue. There is compelling evi
dence th at Khafres satellite pyram id w as used for;
statue burial. The South Tomb may thus be seen as
the precursor of later satellite pyram ids. T he wood
en stretcher, box and poles found in the m agazine in
the South Tomb may be the ritually disassembled
p arts of the ap p aratu s used to carry such a statue.
All indications point to the fact that the South
Tomb was finished first: the kings inner palace is
far more complete than th at of the pyram id. Cham
ber I has six panels identical to those under the
pyram id, with blue faience tiles laid on a limestone
backing im itating reed-m at facades with a vaulted
top supported by djed columns. One contained the
real door from the vestibule. In another cham ber (II
three more panels contain false door stelae, while
the fourth contains the real door exiting to a short
corridor. Two more cham bers are covered, like their
counterparts under the pyram id, with blue faienu
inlay. T he blue-tiled cham bers are one of the most
im pressive features of the Djoser substructure. Ye-
the product of this extraordinary care and crafts
m anship w as never intended to be seen by living
eyes; it was m eant instead to ensure som ething in
the kings existence after death. The clue to wha:
th at was lies in the false door stelae, which form the
pictorial and textual determ inative to the entire
underground complex. In the darkest, m ost inacces
sible place the Egyptian builders could devise, they
used the best of their nascent abilities in relief a r
and text to depict the king in perpetual com m unica
tion, not so much with his living subjects, as with
the netjeru, the gods and denizens of the N ether
world, w here the kings m at palace was now p a rt of
the watery, sacred region of primeval reed shrines.

(Building Askew) Step Pyramid South North

Inside the South Tomb

Mastaba superstructure
Descending stairway
from west

Magazine L: 18 x 1.6 m,
for food offerings

Central shaft:
7 x 7 m, 28 m deep (Below) First burial chamber
with limestone ceiling studded
Stairway bypasses with stars above and below
manoeuvre chamber (not (interior).
shown) and granite vault

Three false door stelae

showing Djoser in Chamber II

oers I and II,

.valls inlaid
" r.!ue faience Second burial vault of
granite. Interior: 1.6 x 1.6 m,
h. 1.3 m

Chambers III and IV. Walls

inlaid with blue faience tiles

Blind corridor, 8.8 x 0.9 m

Water closet Chambers represent inner rooms of

wood-fram e and reed-mat building
Chamber I
The Short Life o f Step Burial chamber, 8.9 >
Galleries 5. 22 m, h. 4.55 m
Pyramids 132 magazine:

It m ight perhaps be expected that a long line of / ' ' ' -

com parable step pyram id complexes would \
follow Djosers. B ut while many specific elements "x
were borrowed by later generations, the rectangu
lar step pyram id complex did not endure.

Sekhemkhets Buried Pyramid

T he pyram id of Sekhem khet a t Saqqara, south
west of Djosers, w as an attem pt to build another
such complex, but it w as abandoned soon after it
w as begun. In the Turin P ap y ru s Djosers succes
sor, Djoserty, is given a reign of only six years. This
accords well w ith his identification as the king with
the Horus name Sekhemkhet, whose pyram id never
rose above the surface of its rectangular enclosure.
| South
It has been called simply the buried pyram id but
Despite its unfinished state, i extension
its base dim ensions and the angle of incline s u g i
Sekhemkhets pyramid
contains a curious mystery - gest that it w as probably intended to rise about 70
a blocked burial chamber m (230 ft), in seven step s - higher than Djosers.
containing a unique sealed In building the pyram id the m asons used the
sarcophagus (below) that was sam e technique as Djosers: accretions leaning
absolutely empty. inwards by 15, with sloping courses of stone laid
at right angles to the incline. A s the pyram id was 0______________100 m ^

unfinished it never received its limestone casing, 0 300 ft N

b u t considerable progress w as m ade on the s u b
structure. An unfinished set of galleries form s a U- In the centre of the cham ber lay an alabaster sar
shape around the pyram id underground. cophagus. On top were two bands of plant materi;
A t the end of the entrance corridor, past three possibly a funerary wreath. Analysis, however
sets of blocking th a t appeared intact, and under the proved it to be bark and decomposed wood. Tht
dead centre of the pyramid, the excavator, Zakaria sarcophagus is unique in being made of a sing
Goneim, found the burial chamber. Roughly rectan piece of stone with a sliding door at one end. It w;
gular, it w as left unfinished. C orridors led to gal only with g reat difficulty th a t the excavator raise
leries, again unfinished, that may have been part of the panel - which he described as sealed with mor
a planned ap artm en t, like that built for Djoser. tar - to find the sarcophagus empty. Some dispui
w hether the tomb w as unviolated, but Goneim w; -
sure it remained as the builders had left it.
Sekhem khets South Tom b w as also discovered
or rather its foundations and p a rt of a destroys
m astaba, as this too w as never completed. A wood
en sarcophagus with the rem ains of a two-year-ol
child, as well as stone vases and jewellery of 3rd-
dynasty date, were found a t the end of a simp!
w idening of the entrance corridor. Som ething ha:
pened at court that ended work on the m ost impor
ta n t m onum ent in the land. But the child in th-
South Tomb is not Sekhemkhet. He reigned si>
years and is shown in adulthood in a relief at Wad:
M aghara in Sinai. The m ystery rem ains unsolved.
The Layer Pyramid o f Zawiyet el-
A nother 3rd-dynasty king attem pted - and failed -
to complete a step pyram id complex. Less is known
about the Layer Pyram id of Zawiyet el-Aryan than
even Sekhem khets. It occupies a site about 7 km (4
miles) north of Saqqara, on a ridge above, b u t not
far from, the floodplain. In this, the pyram id d ep art
ed from the trend set by Djoser and Sekhem khet
who built far out in the desert.
T he pyram ids su p erstru ctu re is typical 3rd-
dynasty masonry, consisting of 14 accretions, lean
ing inward against a central core. Each accretion
layer w as built with a dressed outer face, with
coarser m asonry backing and thick seam s of clay
as mortar. Completed, the pyram id would probably
have risen in five steps to a height of 4245 m
(138-148 ft). No traces of casing were found, per
haps because this pyram id too w as never finished.

(Left) Sekhemkhets pyramid (Above) The Layer Pyramid (Right) The Horus name o f
- te Wall was intended as a step o f Zawiyet el-Aryan, perlwps Khaba was found inscribed
pyramid probably o f seven belonging to Khaba, was also on vases in a mastaba near
steps, but was never finished. begun as a step pyramid. The the pyramid.
Its base length was 120 m inward-leaning accretions are
North extension (394 ft). A northward visible in what remains today.
extension of the enclosure
covered a wall o f bastions
and niches, cased in fine
limestone, like Djoser's
enclosure wall.

Burial chamber,
3.63 x 2.65 m,
h. 3 m

Its substructure is so sim ilar to Sekhem khets

that there can be little doubt that scarcely any time
elapsed between the two. No trace of a burial w as
found and a side passage leads to galleries again
clean and empty - as if the workmen had only just
left. Perhaps, indeed, this w as the case, with the
prem ature death of the king. A clue to the identity
of the king whose pyram id this w as is the H orus
name Khaba, found inscribed on stone vases in a
m astaba north of the pyram id.

The base length o f the Vertical shaft

uncompleted Layer Pyramid
was 84 m (275 ft) and it was
probably intended to rise to a
height o f up to 45 m (148 ft).
It is entered by a flight of 32 magazines
steps in an open trench. A
sloping passage runs to the
bottom o f a vertical shaft
from which cm unfinished
passage leads south. A lower
passage also leads south to a
stairway and horizontal 50 m
passage to the burial chamber. 150 ft

The Enigma
of the
Provincial Step

(Right) The step pyramid o f two, but their similarity to one another suggests thr
Sinki, at Abydos. Excavated they were part of a single building programme by
by Nabil Swelim and Gunter one king - perhaps Huni, father of Sneferu, to judge
Dreyer, it had ramps and by a large granite cone inscribed with his name fou:
accretion marker bricks still in at Elephantine. A further pyramid is tentatively
place. (Far right) The pyramid ascribed to Huni. In 1985 Nabil Swelim surveyed a
at Zawiyet el-Meitin. (Below)
large rock knoll at Abu Roash that Lepsius had seen
The pyramid at Seila.
covered with mudbricks and numbered I. A passagr
in the north side slopes down to a chamber of the
Seven step pyramids are known in the provinces. The kind found in pyramids of the early 4th dynasty.
southernmost is on the island of Elephantine. Three Though it is unique for this period in being built of
more are near Ombos, Edfu and Hierakonpolis (at ek mudbrick, Swelim dates it to the end of the 3rd
Kula). The next is at Sinki near Abydos. A solitary dynasty or the start of the 4th, and assigns it to Hu: i
small pyramid is found in Middle Egypt at Zawiyet The small step pyramids may mark the locations
el-Meitin. Another, at Seila, overlooks the Fayum from royal residences near, but outside, major religious am
atop the desert spur between it and the Nile. political centres. They would have been temporary
The purpose of these small step pyramids is a residences occupied during visits of the king or his
mystery. It has been suggested that they mark the representatives during a journey through the land t
homelands of royal consorts, that they are the sacred collect taxes and give judgments. The pyramids
places of Horus and Seth, or that they are symbols of spaced out along the provinces of Upper Egypt migh
the primeval hill. So far, none has been shown to have also be connected with the early organization of the
a burial chamber or ancillary buildings such as country into nomes (provinces).
chapels. In 1987, the Brigham Young University These pyramids may therefore have been symbols
Expedition did, however, find a fragmentary offering of living sovereignty, hinting that the step pyramid
slab, two stelae - one of which was inscribed with the stood for more than the royal tomb, the marker of a
name of Sneferu, first king of the 4th dynasty - and dead king. It is interesting that Huni took the pyranr.
scant traces of a mudbrick causeway on the east side to the provinces just before people and pjrjduce wou'.
of the Seila pyramid. This adds Seila to Sneferus be brought from the provinces to the core of the
pyramid at Meidum and two at Dahshur. The five Egyptian nation for building the largest pyram ids;
southern pyramids are different from the northern all time.

The Provincial Pyramids

Elephantine Edfu El-Kula Ombos Sinki Zawiyet Seila
South el-Meitin
Orientation 17 NW ~N E-W ~ 12 NW ~ E-W ~ 20 NW 12 NW
Max. preserved
height 5.1 m 5.5 m 8.25 m c. 4.5 m c. 4 m 4.75 m 6.8 m
Base length Average 35-36 cubits 18.6 m 18.39 m c. 35 cubits On 2nd On 3rd
18.46 m 35.5 cubits 35.09 cubits accretion: accretion:
35.23 cubits ~ 18.3 m, 25 m,
35 cubits 48 cubits
On 3rd
22.5 m,
43 cubits
Slope angle 13 -1 3 <11 10 ?> 10 ~ 10 ~ 14
Steps 3 (3) 3 3? (3) 3-4 4
King Huni ? Huni ? Huni ? Huni ? Huni Sneferu

Transition at M eidum

In many w ays Meidum is the most m ysterious of

all the great pyram ids. Em bedded within the puz
The First True Pyramids:
zles of this pyram id and its surrounding necropolis
are distant events that transform ed Archaic Egypt Meidum and Dahshur
into the classic Old Kingdom pyram id age.
W hen Sneferu, the first king of M anethos 4th
dynasty, came to the throne in around 2575 BC,
Djosers w as the only large royal pyram id that In his 15th year on the throne Sneferu and his
stood complete. Sneferu would become the greatest court moved to the area around D ahshur (p. 101).
pyramid-buiJder in E gyptian history by construct But then, during the last 15 years of his reign,
ing three colossal pyram ids (at Meidum and the according to Rainer Stadelmann, he sent his w ork
Bent and the North pyram ids at D ahshur) and the ers back to Meidum to fill out the original step
sm aller one at Seila - a total m ass of stone th at pyram id as a true pyram id (E3). T he pyram id at
exceeds even that of his son Khufu, in the Great M eidum thus represents the very beginning and
Pyramid at Giza. the end of Sneferus pyram id-building programm e.
Like Djosers Step Pyram id, Meidum w as built in Today Meidum consists of a three-stepped tower
stages, beginning with a step pyram id of seven rising above a sloping mound of debris. T he usual
steps (El). Before the builders finished the fourth or assum ption is that the tower w as left after the outer
fifth step, the king enlarged the project to a p y ra casing and packing th at filled in the steps was
mid of eight steps (E2) which w as completed in quarried away. Indeed, Petrie recorded th at the
(Below left) The first time
Sneferus first 14 years. Previously it w as su g g est pyram id w as still exploited as a q u arry in his day.
the method of corbelling was
ed th a t Huni w as responsible for this pyramid, An alternative, and controversial, suggestion w as used to roof a burial chamber
based solely on the need to identify a large royal that the tower and debris resulted from the collapse was at Meidum. Like the
tomb for this king. However, the ancient nam e of of the pyram id while it w as under construction. eastern chapel, the chamber
Meidum, Djed Sneferu (Sneferu E ndures), and the Excavations, however, have now cleared away a was left unfinished, lacking
fact th a t Sneferus name, unlike Hunis, appears in large p art of the debris and recovered various later the fine dressing of the
texts a t the site, all point to the form er as the rem ains but no 4th-dynasty ropes, tim bers or w ork
builder of Meidum from sta rt to finish. ers bodies - discounting the theory of a sudden (Below right) A cross-section
collapse. o f the pyramid at Meidum
Construction techniques for the superstructure reveals the stages in its
were initially in the old step pyram id style, with building and also the different
accretions of stone courses laid at an inward slope. styles o f construction. Initially
the masons used the
Better quality stone, laid in more regular courses,
traditional inward-leaning
w as used for the outer faces of the accretions, and accretions, but more regular
fine white Turah-quality limestone for the exterior courses were employed for the
surfaces of the steps. final stage.



(Above and opposite) The Inside the pyramid sage may have been for a door as fragm ents <
pyramid o f Meidum towers T he interior arrangem ent of the Meidum pyram id wood were found here.
above the Nile Valley where w as an innovation and one that would become sta n Two rooms or niches open off the corridor, prob
it narrows to the thin capital
zone and pyramid district dard. A long passage from near the centre of the ably for storing plugging blocks before they were
running north from here for north face led to the burial chamber. Sneferus used to seal the corridor. A t its end is another vert:
70 km (43V2 miles) to the workmen built the lower p art of the passage in an cal shaft leading up into the burial chamber. Ceda-
apex o f the Delta. Today the open trench cut into the ground and filled with logs embedded in the m asonry half way up th-
pyramid stands as a three- packing. T his is not unusual, but they built the shaft may have been used to raise a sarcophagi: -
step tower, rising from a
cham ber at the approxim ate original desert surface into the cham ber - or to facilitate its removal.
mound of debris.
and extended the narrow passage, which descend Sneferus builders were evidently experimenting
ed from the entrance, up into the body of the p y ra w'ith w ays to create a central room within the pyra
mid, opening about 16.6 m (54 ft) from the pyram id mid mass. In place of the thick granite beam s th;
base, ju st above the first step. roof Djosers vaults, they used a technique of cor
The small chapel on the east Tow ards the bottom of the descending passage a belling for the first time, with each course of block-
side o f the pyramid was
sh o rt vertical shaft opens in the floor. A little above a certain height projecting inwards until the
added when Sneferus
builders returned to create a beyond this, just before a horizontal section, a slot two walls alm ost meet. It is rem arkably small, 5.9 r
true pyramid. However, when carved into the walls, floor and ceiling of the p as (19 ft) long and 2.65 m (9 ft) wide, perhaps intende
the pyramid was abandoned a as a kind of coffer in its own right, though it wa?
second time the stelae in its never finished. Spanning the wralls near the top
court were left blank, perhaps the cham ber at the north end the workmen fitte :
because o f the rise to power
more logs, one of which survives. These may a Is
of the powerful and \ Tower visible today
ambitious Khufu. have assisted in raising the sarcophagus. B ut n
trace of a sarcophagus w as found in the chamber
Burial chamber, 5.9 x
Petrie recovered pieces of a wood coffin of th
2.65 m, h. 5.05 m, early plain style at the bottom of the shaft, whic
corbelled are now in University College, London.

Entrance Transformations o f a
pyramid: from E l, a step
pyramid o f seven steps, to
E2, a step pyramid o f eight
steps, to E3, a true pyramid
with a slope of 51 50' 35".
Its base length was around
144 m (473 ft) and it was
m (302ft) high. Meidum
the beginning at.
m end o f Sneferus reign, and
Eastern chapel long; 0.85 m
9.18 x 9 m,
the transition from the
wide; h. 1.65 m
h. 2.7 m Archaic to the classic pyravi
Horizontal age. On the north side the
Vertical long sloping passage to the
passage with
h. 6.5 m
two recesses for burial chamber must have
plug blocks been planned from the outst

The pyramid complex
A large rectangular enclosure wall, only traces of
which survive, surrounded various elements of the
pyram id complex th a t were also to become sta n
dard. On the south side of the pyram id a small
satellite pyram id may have been completed, though
it w as badly destroyed when Petrie found it. Inside,
a short sloping passage led to a burial cham ber
from the north. In the debris on the east side of the
small pyram id a fragm ent of relief with the legs of
a falcon w as found, perhaps all that is left of a pair
of stelae topped by the H orus falcon, like those in
front of the satellite pyram id of the Bent Pyramid.
Another feature that would become standard is
the causeway. Petries team excavated a long chan
nel, running from the east-southeast in a straig h t
line tow ards the pyram id centre, that they called
the Approach. It is south of the final causeway and better organized and set ap art to the west of the
is perhaps an earlier version. Both are cut as chan pyram id. T his w as the seed of the concept that
nels into the bedrock and were paved w ith mud and would find its fullest expression in K hufus Western
had m udbrick sides. T he causeway differed, how Cemetery at Giza. Most of the tom bs, however,
ever, in having completed side walls of limestone. were left incomplete and unused with the move to
D ahshur and the second abandonm ent of Meidum.
The royal necropolis
Meidum w as the first newly established elite Return to Meidum: the true pyramid
necropolis since Hor-Aha inaugurated the lst- It w as probably in the 28th or 29th year of his reign
dynasty cemetery of officials a t Saqqara. Just as that Sneferu ordered his w orkers to return to Mei
the pyram id of Meidum is transitional from the dum to transform the step pyram id into a true
step pyram id to the true pyram id, so the necropolis pyram id (E3) with a slope of 51 50' 35", practically
for which it is the centrepiece represents an unfin the sam e as K hufus. They increased the length of
ished transition from the old to the new. the sides and extended the interior passage up
T he builders tried at first to replicate the pattern through the added masonry, which w as now laid in
at Saqqara, with the kings funerary m onum ent to horizontal courses, first seen in the upper p art of
the south and a series of large m astabas for high the Bent Pyram id at D ahshur (p. 102).
officials along the eastern escarpm ent to the north. |S--a
N/ j
M astaba 16 belonged to Nefermaat, one of Sne 1
f c .- * ?
ferus sons, and, close to the pyram id, w as m astaba
.17 - anonym ous but probably the tomb o f another
prince. In addition there w as an idea for a cemetery \ i

X 1 1
LDjasers complex

-* - (Above) In the chapels of

S C O : Mastabas of _ *"
XX Nefermaats mastaba (16)
GIZA Mastabas the artists experimented with
... - ...... j 1st-3rd *
dynasties j tomb decoration. The figures
SAQQARA were deeply cid and filled with
coloured paste. This restored
panel reads: He made his
hieroglyphs in writing that
Western cannot be erased.
The development of the royal cemetery
necropolis can be traced from-
Archaic Saqqara (1), where
the elite tombs were lined
along the escarpment, to an Mastaba 16
organized but unfinished-
western cemetery at Meidum Mastabas for
Mastaba 17 officials
(2), to neat rows of tombs
west and east of Khufus
pyramid at Giza (3). Hans are
not at the same scale.

(Left) Plan o f Meidum. the
Satellite pyramid dark band, 14.5 m (46 ft)
Enclosure wall: wide, around the enclosure
236 m (N -S )x wall is Petries chip and sto>.
218 m (E-W) dust bed pavement A fernal
skeleton w>as found in the
Penbolus Tomb. Mastaba 17
Peribolus tom b
(below) was filled with
limestone chips from the
Mastaba 17 construction o f the pyramid
(E3?). In the granite
sarcophagus which still stain,
in the niche, at the west end
Approach was the rifled mummy of a
Causeway, I. 210 m prince, bul we do not know
his name.

0 100 m
1 H
0 300 ft

(Above) Two round-topped O ther elements appeared that, in more complex having completed the filling out of the old s t r
stelae, the chapel and form, became custom ary in later pyram ids. A small pyram id as a true pyram id. If so, the constructs
causeway of the Meidum stone temple w as built against the centre of the debris and em bankm ents would have covered th-
pyramid. Had the stelae been
eastern base - so minuscule that it may have been a lower, finer m asonry that the robbers usually strv
inscribed, like similar ones at
Dahshur, people approaching com memorative chapel to the king and not a true first. T he appearance of Meidum today, in th>
from the causeway would m ortuary temple, because Sneferu finished the case, would be that of a pyram id under constru
have seen the Honts falcons pyram id as a cenotaph rather than a tomb. The tion, as well as one that had been partly stripped.
as if perched on the roof of chapels interior plan has the sam e w inding p as One significant, but overlooked, clue can b-
the chapel. But the stelae were sages found in front of the chapels of Djosers Step found in the two distinct types of debris. T he lower
left completely blank.
P yram id complex. In a small unroofed court were type covered well-preserved casing, while the upp<
two round-topped stelae, 4.2 m (nearly 14 ft) tall. type corresponds to areas of casing that are bad!
(Below) The casing and
A long causeway, cut into the bedrock and weathered. From this it can be deduced that th
packing stones o f the E3
phase o f the Meidum unroofed, reached from the pyram id enclosure to lower layer w as deposited soon after the casing wa~
pyramid were laid the valley floor. We m ight expect a valley temple at laid, while the upper p art w as deposited durim
horizontally. the lower end of the causeway, as with later p y ra and after pieces of casing were dislodged from
mids, b u t the excavators found only long m udbrick higher up the pyram id and cam e crashing down
walls. Given the unsophisticated form s of other ele Could this lower debris include the rem ains of th
m ents at Meidum, the causeway may have led to a original construction em bankm ents?
sim ple enclosure and landing platform . In truth, because there has been so much stor.
robbing we simply do not know to what extent th-
The second abandonment? builders finished the Meidum pyramid. Two step-
Sneferus tw o stelae in the eastern chapei were seem to have disappeared between the visit
never inscribed with his serekh but were left com Shaykh A bu M ohammed Abdallah in 1117-19 an
pletely blank - a fact that seem s inexplicable given th at of Norden in 1737, when the pyram id ha
our understanding of the E gyptian belief that, three steps as today. In 1899 M.A. Robert, Inspect
devoid of a name, a m onum ent (like a person) of the Register of Land Survey, ascended the Mei
would have no identity. Perhaps it was the king's dum pyram id to plant a pole for his survey. At th
unexpected death and the ascent to the throne of an sum m it he had the im pression that the highest stt:
aggressive young prince, Khufu, th a t caused work w as never finished. Some inscribed Greek and thrc-
to be frozen so suddenly. We can conjecture that the small hieroglyphs indicate that there w as access to
builders had finished the pyram ids third stage (E3) th e top of the pyram id in ancient times. And R ober
and only the fine dressing of the chapel walls and did not need to m ake a hole to plant his survey flag
the stelae inscriptions remained to be completed. In the centre of the top step there w as already
If the pyram id w as later stripped by looters, why hole, w hich has been interpreted as the socket for
did they spare the lower part of the casing and the rod that the builders planted for sighting diagon:
stelae? Perhaps they had access to the upper p art lines as they raised the true pyram id m antle up and
via ram ps th at the builders had left in place, never around the old step pyram id.

For w hatever reason, in about the 15th year of his lake
reign Sneferu abandoned Meidum and moved 40
km (25 miles) north to Dahshur. Here he founded
another new necropolis - all the more unusual since
Meidum itself represented the first time a royal
necropolis had been laid out at a virgin site since
the founding of Saqqara. One suggested motive for
the move was Sneferus desire to be closer to the
apex of the Delta and to the increasingly im portant
irade w ith Syria and the Levant.
At D ahshur Sneferu built two large pyram ids -
the Bent Pyram id and the North, or Red, Pyramid.
The two are roughly aligned - the east side of the
Bent Pyramid
North Pyram id approxim ately lining up with the (Sneferu)
west side of the Bent Pyram id. A long causeway
Amenemhet III
from the Bent Pyram id ru n s to w hat is often
described as the first valley temple, but which in
fact is some distance into the desert. N ortheast of
the Bent Pyram id a cemetery of m astabas was
begun. Decorated with relief-carved chapels, the DAHSHUR
tombs were for the elite of Sneferus court.
In 1986 Rainer Stadelm ann excavated Lepsius
pyram id num ber 50 (L). It is 250 m (820 ft) east of
the North Pyramid, and consists of the base of a
pyram id that w as barely begun. On the east side
were large limestone blocks and a brick ram p that
Old Kingdom
may have been intended for building the su b ter mastabas
ranean apartm ent. The pottery in the vicinity
appeared to be 4th dynasty.
Middle Kingdom pharaohs also chose D ahshur I Amenemhet: II
as the site for their pyram ids, beginning with North or Red Pyramid
Old Kingdom tom bs (Sneferu)
Amenemhet II. Those of Amenemhet III and Sen
wosret III are of mudbrick, and in some w ays
Amenem het Ills looks like a m udbrick version of
the Meidum pyram id. Interestingly, ju st as Sneferu
had serious structural problem s when building his Lepsius L (50)
Bent Pyram id a t D ahshur because of the unstable
desert sand, gravel and clays it w as founded on, so
Amenem het III, building on a sim ilar surface,
encountered subsidence and cracking. T his proba
bly explains w hy he built another pyram id at
Hawara, just as Sneferu built a substitute pyram id
to the north of the first at Dahshur.
Two of Sneferus sons, N eferm aat and the anony
mous prince of m astaba 17, were buried at Mei IXI Senwosret III
dum. A nother son, Kanefer, w as buried in one of
the cluster of tom bs near the pyram id of A m en
em het II. These three sons should have inherited
the throne which passed instead to Khufu - who
may have been very young when he began to build
his pyram id. T his perhaps explains the confidence
with which he started out on his gigantic pro The Dahshur pyramid zona.
The Middle Kingdom
gram m e at Giza.
pyramids favour the plateau
Despite having built two giant pyram ids at edge, close to the cultivation,
Dahshur, one of w hich w as to be for his burial, Sne while Sneferus Old Kingdom
feru w as apparently still not content and returned pyramids are far out into the
to Meidum to finish off his pyram id there. desert.

1 km
0.5 mile
The Bent Pyram id w as then continued at a mucr
The Bent Pyramid decreased slope of around 43 to 44, giving it
pronounced bend. It may have been a t this point,
W hen Sneferu abandoned his step pyram id at Mei before the upper p art wras finished, th a t the d a :
dum and moved north to Dahshur, there was as yet sion was taken to begin a new pyram id at N on'
no blueprint for a true pyram id. To us, w ith a clear Dahshur. A round the sam e time, perhaps the 30V:
image of the shape of the classic pyramid, with a year of Sneferus reign according to Stadelmanr.
slope of 52 or 53, this may seem strange. It was, work also began on the satellite pyramid.
however, a time of g reat experim entation, com pa O ther changes in construction m ethods are dis
rable to the period when Djosers architect Imhotep cernible. Both core stones and casing stones art
w as building the Step Pyramid. larger - the casing ones very much so - than in th-.
3rd-dynasty pyram ids. However, no g reat care war-
How the pyramid got its bend taken to lay the internal m asonry neatly. Substar,
T he old step pyram ids had faces th at sloped about tial spaces between the stones are sim ply fillet
72 to 78, certainly too steep for a true pyramid. with limestone debris and even tafia in places. Gyp
There is evidence within the core of the Bent P y ra sum m ortar was just beginning to be used more fre
m m mid th at it began as a far sm aller pyram id w ith a quently, which, unlike the desert clay m ortar, had to
slope of about 60. But stru ctu ral problem s with be specially prepared using fuel. It w as this comb:
subsidence soon set in. Em ergency m easures took nation of a lack of good mortar, carelessly la:
the form of an added girdle around the stum p of blocks and, most im portantly, the unstable deser
With more preserved casing
the pyram id, form ing a slope of ju st under 55. surface, that caused the structural problems.
than most pyramids, the Bent
Pyramid reveals that These early stages were constructed using the
plunderers began stripping traditional m ethod of laying the courses w'ith the (Below) The sliding portcullis
the fine limestone from the stones sloping inward. Even at the reduced angle it blocking system in the western
corners and from bottom to appears that there were still m ajor problems until, passage, until the block in the
top, as is evident here. open position. This is perhaps
about half w?ay up, the builders began to set the
an indication that the higher
courses horizontally. It had become clear that the chamber was originally built
inward-leaning courses, far from aiding stability, for Sneferus burial
actually increased the stresses on the pyramid.

Sneferu's Bent Pyramid -

The Southern Shining
Pyramid' - had a base length
of 188 m (617 ft) and a
height o f 105 m (345 ft). Its
angle o f slope was 54 27'
44" up to the bend, and 430 Upper burial
22' thereafter. chamber:
7.97 x 5.26 m,
h. 16.5 m

blocking systems Northern entrance and
passage, I. 74 m

Western entrance
and passage, I. 65 m

Satellite pyramid:
base length 53 m
h. 32.5 m Causeway

h. 12.6 m
Chapel and
tw o stelae

Offering place
The arrangement o f passap
and gallery leading to the
chamber in the satellite
Lower burial cham ber
6.3 x 4.96 m, h. 17 m
pyramid is a forerunner of
the Grand Gallery in Khufu
pyramid, but here the
chamber is too small for a
human burial

Inside the pyramid The pyramid complex Sneferus Bent Pyramid, with
T he Bent Pyram id is unique in having two internal A t the centre of the eastern side of the Bent P yra its satellite, looking northwest
to southeast.
structures, w ith entrances on the north and west mid is a small chapel. As at M eidum the contrast
sides. From the north side a long, sloping passage between this tiny structure and the giant pyram id A stela from Sneferus Bent
leads to a narrow antecham ber with an impressive is very striking. Stadelm ann points out that the Pyramid showing the seated
corbelled roof. T he burial chamber, also corbelled, small chapels of both M eidum and the Bent P y ra figure o f the king.
is above this antecham ber and w as perhaps mid were not p art of the development of the large
reached by a stairw ay or ladder. All this building, m ortuary temples, rather they were intended to be
plus a vertical shaft on the precise central axis of simple shrines for pyram ids that Sneferu com plet
the pyram id, would have taken place in a trench ed as cenotaphs.
sunk into the original desert surface. Initially the Bent P yram ids chapel w as a very
The second passage runs from the w est side of simple affair composed of two walls of T urah lime
the pyram id, through portcullis blocking system s, stone roofed with slabs, which was expanded by
to another burial chamber, again w ith a corbelled m udbrick walls. W ithin it w as an offering place
roof. T his is at a higher level than the first. Here consisting of a slab that took the form of the hiero
once again, structural instability is evident as the glyph for offering, 'hetep', a stylized loaf of bread
cham ber w as completely shored up w ith balks and on a reed mat. Behind this, two round-topped ste
scaffolding of great cedar beams. lae, the stum ps of which remain, were formerly
Some time after both cham bers were construct inscribed w ith the nam es of Sneferu.
ed, a connecting passage w as made between them. A causeway, also with w alls of T urah limestone,
It w as definitely built later as it w as hacked ran from the pyram id complex to w hat is often
through the m asonry by someone who knew exact called the first valley temple - a beautiful small,
ly w here the two cham bers were. We can only spec rectangular structure. On the back wall were six
ulate why Sneferu decided to have this duplicate statues of Sneferu striding forth. In front of and,
arrangem ent in his pyram id. One suggestion is th at curiously, blocking these statues were two rows of
the w estern system may be a vestige of the South five rectangular pillars. A courtyard beyond had
Tomb of Djoser, the long passage em phasizing walls carved the earliest representations of the
once again a general southw est orientation, as in estates of the king bearing produce tow ards the
the Ist-dynasty royal burial ground at Abydos. statu es of Sneferu (p. 228).

T h is stru ctu re is in fact a com bination of both
The First True Pyramids: The North Pyramid
m ortuary and vaiiey temple, with features that are
Meidum and Dahshur
developed later in both. It has the court, pillars and
architectural statues found in later m ortuary tem In around his 30th year on the throne, Sneferu
ples, and it is situated about halfw ay down to the abandoned the Bent Pyram id as his burial place,
valley. A second causeway probably ran from this although, as at Meidum, he later completed it.
to a dock or landing-stage. Instead, he began work on the North, or Red, P yra
In term s of both its m asonry and internal stru c mid which w as built at the gentler slope of 43 22
ture, the satellite pyram id is an im portant link in from the beginning. In many ways this w as more
the transition to the G reat Pyram id of Khufu. It elegant than the Bent Pyram id, where the builders
w as built using the new m ethod of laying courses obviously struggled and experim ented with vari
horizontally. This, however, presented the m asons ous solutions to the structural problem s they were
with a new problem: the slope of the pyram id now faced with. T he N orth Pyram id show s none of this
had to be cut into the outer face of the casing stone. - it is a neatly planned and executed construction,
There is evidence that in the process of cutting and built with an efficient use of materials.
setting, the m asons often accidentally broke off the Rainer Stadelm ann has been w orking at N orth
sharp lower foot so that patches had to fitted. Its D ahshur for over a decade. In the course of his
outer casing is built on a platform , which, on a su b excavations of the debris at the base of the p y ra
lime scale, is also found at the Giza pyramids. In mid he found hundreds of pieces of the fine lime
recent years, thanks to Stadelm anns excavations, stone casing. Many of these have graffiti inscribed
we have learned that Sneferus N orth Pyram id w as on their rear faces by the work gangs. One from a
also built on a limestone platform . corner bears the hieratic (shorthand hieroglyphic)
T he internal stru ctu re is in some w ays an abbre inscription m entioning bringing to earth year 15.
viated version of the G reat P yram ids, with a T his refers to counting year 15, which, if biennial,
descending and an ascending passage. A small is equivalent to the 30th year of Sneferus reign.
notch in the ascending passage, w here it increases Some 30 courses higher Stadelm ann w as able to
in height to a m iniature G rand G allery adds weight place a casing stone dated only four years later -
to the supposition that that stru ctu re in the Great this gives us a very clear picture of the length of
Pyram id w as indeed intended for the storage of time it took to build such pyram ids.
plugging blocks. A wood piece fitted into the notch
could be pulled by rope to release the plugs. The North, or Red, Pyramid
Ju st a s in the South Tomb of Djoser, the burial at Dahshur. The Shining
cham ber of the satellite pyram id is far too Pyramid had a base length
small to have contained a hum an burial. o f 220 m (722 ft) and a
height o f 105 m (345 ft). Its Antechambers:
It m ay instead have been for the ritual angle o f slope was 43 22'. 3.65 x 8 36 m,
interm ent of a statu e of the king. n. 12.31 m

On the east side of the pyram id w as an offer

ing place with two more round-topped stelae Burial chamber:
inscribed with Sneferus name. On the north side, 4 .1 8 x 8 .5 5 m, h. 14.67 m
The causeway reaches 210 m
ju st below the entrance, there is a very curious
(689 ft) to the valley temple
of Sneferus Bent Pyramid. In em placement or pit for some so rt of cult activity -
fact the temple is not down in perhaps the burial of offerings.
the valley but far up a narrow
wadi that might have been The cult of Sneferu
partially flooded during the By contrast with the pyram id-building kings of
season o f inundation. Two o f
Giza, who seem to have been entirely
the kings name stelae stood
at the southern corners. ignored by E gyptians of the Middle
Kingdom, the cult of Sneferu took
root and prospered in succeeding
periods. It w as at the valley temple of
the Bent Pyram id that this cult w as focused
W hy this w as so is an interesting question. Per
haps it w as because here at the Bent Pyram id we
have a fully completed complex. Although Sneferu
was probably not buried here, his nam e was com
pleted on various stelae and so this w as where his
life continued. Ironically, this w as also the pyram id
complex th at ran into severe stru ctu ral problems
and tested the builders nerves to the greatest

Remarkably, Stadelm ann also found pieces of the
pyram ids capstone. T his w as a simple culmination
of the structure - a block with no carving or
inscription and made of good quality limestone
rather than any costlier material. Its pieces wrere
found near the base, rejected by those who were
stripping the outer m antle of its fine limestone.

Inside the pyramid

The N orth Pyram ids su b stru ctu re is a continua
tion of the developments seen a t Meidum and the
Bent Pyram id. From high up in the pyram id a long
corridor descends to ground level. A t this point are
two alm ost identical tall antecham bers with cor
belled roofs of great finesse, technically far in
advance of those at Meidum. A sh o rt horizontal
passage leads from the second antecham ber, high
up to deter robbers, to a corbelled chamber, 15 m
(50 ft) tall, built within the m asonry of the pyramid. Stadelm ann w as able to reconstruct the plan of
F ragm ents of hum an rem ains were found in the the temple from the scant remains. There was a
burial chamber, but it has not been ascertained stone chapel on either side of an inner sanctuary
w hether or not they are from the royal mummy. which m ay have contained a false door stela. North
From Sneferu to Khufu we w itness the struggle and south of the temple, courtyards retained round
to raise the cham ber from ground level into the sockets in the soil for potted plants or offerings
body of the pyram id. P erhaps this is a reflection of made in connection with the funeral, features that
the increasing identification of the king not just seem far more ephemeral than the great stone Giza Mi j

with the god Horus, w'ho soars above all living crea tem ples designed for long-term cults. temple
tures, but w ith the sun and its rays, of which the Although a few possible traces were found east
pyram id is a symbol. of the m ortuary temple, a substantial causeway 0
ap p ears never to have been built down to the valley 0 500 ft
The pyramid complex temple. Rudim entary rem ains of the latter were
Sneferus North Pyramid,
Egyptologists eagerly anticipated the excavation of seen at the end of the last century but have never with his Bent Pyramid in the
the m ortuary tem ple at the N orth Pyram id. P y ra been system atically excavated. It w as here, howev background.
mid chapels prior to this - at M eidum and the Bent er, th a t the decree of Pepi I was found, exem pting
Pyram id - were very small, simple structures, the khentm-she of the pyram id town from taxation,
while that belonging to K hufus G reat Pyram id rep along w ith their fields, trees and wells - in this case
resented a huge leap in both scale and complexity. it w as the double pyramid complex of Sneferu. The
The mortuary temple o f the
None the less, the m ortuary temple of the North lack of a causew ay linking the two temples is per North Pyramid was destroyed
Pyram id - Sneferus probable burial place - did not haps further evidence of a hurried conclusion to all but for traces at ground
approach K hufus in grandeur. Indeed, it seem s to the completion of the North Pyram id, which level Its pyramidion or
have been finished hurriedly, perhaps by Khufu at Stadelm ann believes w as Sneferus final resting capstone was reconstructed
the time of his fathers death. place. in the temples enclosure.

(Above) A fragment o f casing

from the base of the North
Pyramid with the graffito
bringing to earth the western
corner [stone] [counting] year
15...two cubits, that is
Sneferus 29th to 30th regno'

200 400 600 800 1000 1200 m

The Giza Plateau consists o f The pyram ids al Giza were built over the span of It is certainly clear that at Giza, more than ever
a plate o f limestone called the three generations - by Khufu, his second-reigning before, cardinality w as a principal concern. Khufu's
Mokkatam Formation. Its son, Khafre, and M enkaure. Any overview of these pyram id is laid out w ith its sides oriented alm ost
regular surface is ideal for
colossal hum an achievem ents in stone m ust take exactly to true north - the greatest deviation is
building and it was here that
the 4th-dynasty Egyptians into consideration the natural geology of the land under 5', and the 4th-dynasty builders took pains to
created the most carefully they were built on. T he southeast corners of the ensure th at major p arts of the pyram id complexes
designed of the royal pyramid pyram ids of Khufu, Khafre and M enkaure are would align. T he Giza diagonal line passes close to
clusters. To the northwest is nearly aligned on the g reat Giza diagonal th at runs the diagonal of M enkaures first subsidiary p y ra
an embankment o f fossils, about 43 east of true north, alm ost perpendicular mid (GHI-a), the front of K hafres m ortuary temple
called nummulites. Down the
to the dip of the plateau. T his follows what geo and K hufus first subsidiary pyram id (Gl-a). The
slope to the southeast a
sequence of layers alternates logists call the strike of the M okkatam Formation, west sides of Khufus and Khafres pyram ids are
hard and soft stone. The that is, a line perpendicular to the slope. W hen you close to alignm ent with the fronts of the pyram id
Egyptians cut away the softer walk along the side of a hill w ithout going up or tem ples of Khafre and M enkaure respectively; and
layers to remove the harder down, you are following its strike. By aligning the south side of Khafres pyram id aligns w ith the
layers in blocks for the themselves to this, the builders ensured that the south wall of the Sphinx Temple. These alignm ents
pyramids, tombs and temples.
bases of the three main pyram ids were at approxi are out by ju st about the am ount that we would
Known as Member II and III,
this stone is visible in the body mately the sam e level, although the base of expect from m ethods of sighting and m easuring
and head of the Sphinx. Khafres is about 10 m (33 ft) higher than K hufus. using long cords across a kilometre of sloping
Further south rises the Maadi Some religious or cosmic im pulse beyond the plateau. T he great n o rtheast-southw est Giza diag
Formation, containing many purely practical m ay also have influenced the onal ends to the southw est a t a small hillock of the
fissures, wadis and gullies. ancient surveyors, though we can only speculate Maadi Formation th a t may have been useful as a
This area was quarried for
w hat it was. Perhaps the diagonal pointed n o rth back sig h t for the ancient surveyors, which they
stone and tafia (the natural
desert clay) for pyramid east to Heliopolis, the hom e o f the ben-ben, and could use to align points across the plateau.
support structures. southw est, in the direction of the Netherworld T he formal sym m etry of the pyram id complexes
entrance of the first royal cemetery at Abydos. a t Giza inspires many pyram id enthusiasts to look

The three pyramids at Giza.

Their breathtaking accuracy
and alignment has inspired
much theorizing.

for more alignm ents, alw ays with the suspicion of In such a rigid organization of space, w ith three A. computer reconstruction
hidden m eanings or lost treasures. A theory of giant pyram id complexes fitted into one necropolis, of the Giza pyramids, with
Robert Bauval suggests that the Giza diagonal is some delineation of borders w;as needed. While the possible harbour lapping
at Khafres valley temple and
inspired by the stars in the belt of the constellation each pyram id stood within its own narrow enclo
the Sphinx Temple.
Orion, which the E gyptians saw as a symbol of sure, the E gyptians also divided the plateau into
Osiris. B ut when the m ap of Orion is positioned three huge rectangular precincts by m eans of stone
over that of Giza and nearby pyram ids, it is clear and clay walls. These are still wrell preserved
that there are stars in Orion for which there are no around the pyram ids of Khafre and M enkaure, but
m atching pyram ids, and pyram ids for which there much less so around K hufus.
are no s ta rs in Orion, or any other constellation. Over the course of three generations builders
continued to position m ajor architectural elements
The classic pyramid complex at Giza. Yet during this time work w as interrupted
A t Giza the pyram id reached its apogee and the in the reign of Djedefre, who went north to Abu
standard features of the Old Kingdom pyram id Roash (p. 120), and perhaps during the few years of
complex - the m ortuary and valley temple - were a king between Khafre and M enkaure who may
expanded and formalized. Sneferus small chapel have begun the unfinished pyram id at Zawiyet el-
and inchoate valley temple a t the Bent Pyramid, A ryan (p. 139). T he last m ajor royal sepulchre at
and his hastily finished pyram id temple at North Giza w as the tom b of K hentkawes (p. 138). Her
Dahshur, are replaced by large, well-built temples mastaba-like tom b had a large doorw ay opening to
with a vastly increased use of hard stone, pillars the m outh of the wadi that had been the main con
and statues. With M enkaure the size ratio between duit for construction supplies. T he channel that
A plan o f the Giza plateau
pyram id and temple changed in favour of a gave birth to the Giza necropolis thus became the
showing the major
reduced pyram id and an enlarged temple. T he approach to the tomb of the queen m other who per alignments and the many
causew ays of the Giza pyram ids reached nearly a haps gave birth to a new dynasty that moved its different elements that make
kilometre east to valley temples close to the flood- necropolis to Saqqara and Abusir. up this classic pyramid cluster.
plain. K hufus w as the longest and it m ay also have
been he who built the huge southern boundary wall
Mokattam Formation
at the m outh of the Main Wadi. Wall and causeway
defined an area of harbours, settlem ent and possi
bly a palace at the foot of the plateau (p. 230).
The cemeteries of m astaba tom bs east and w est Op
of Khufus pyram id, representing another advance
Maadi Formation
in form al orthogonal design, are organized in the
streets and avenues of a preconceived plan. Reisner
excavated these cemeteries and saw the necropolis
as a 'com m unity of kas for the court of K hufu to Covingtons Tomb

reign over in the Afterlife. Here is the realization of C3

Khentkawes Khufu
the unified cemetery begun west of the Meidum
pyram id and the more loosely organized row s of
m astabas east of Sneferus D ahshur pyram ids. Main Wadi
The only known figure o f the
pharaoh who built the largest
pyramid in Egypt is tins tiny
The Great Pyramid figurine, around 7.6 cm (3 in)
high, found at Abydos.
Khufus Horns name, Her-
o f Khufu Mejedu, is inscribed on the

Kings Chamber with

relieving chambers above

Air shafts1

Air shafts

Queens Chamber Grand Gallery

Horizontal passage

Ascending passage

Enclosure wall

Two southern
boat pits

Eastern boat pit


Eastern boat pit

Mortuary temple
Satellite pyramid
and boat pit - Boat pit

Queens pyramids

The Great Pyramid, built by Sneferu may have ruled E gypt for nearly half a cu. m (95,350,000 cu. ft) for his pyram id, causeway,
Khufu who came to the century, in which time he completed his three giant two temples, satellite pyram id, three queens pyra
throne around 2551 BC, was pyram ids at Meidum and Dahshur. His son m ids and officials m astabas, m eans that Khufus
called Akhet Khufu, The
Khnum -khuf (the god K hnum is his protection), builders had to set in place a staggering 230 cu. m
Horizon of Khufu. Its base
length is calculated as 230.33 Khufu for sh o rt (Cheops in Greek), chose the Giza (8,122 cu. ft) of stone per day, a rate of one average-
m (756ft) and it rose to a Plateau, 40 km (25 miles) north of Dahshur, to size block every two or three m inutes in a ten-hour
height o f 146.59 m (481 ft), begin building his own pyram id complex. In term s day. If Khufu did not equal the total m ass of his
with an angle o f slope of of its size, the technical accom plishm ent of its con fathers monuments, he came close in his single
51 50' 40". Its orientation is struction, the g reat concern for cardinality and the pyram id and far surpassed his fathers pyram ids in
3' 6" off true north. In
organization it represents, K hufus pyram id was size and accuracy.
addition to this astonishing
achievement, Khufu also built another astonishing leap forward. T he G reat Pyram id contains about 2,300,000
three queens pyramids, boat Rainer Stadelmann, in his study of the reigns of blocks of stone, often said to weigh on average
pits and a satellite pyramid, the early pyram id builders, concludes that, like his c. 2.5 tons. T his m ight be som ew hat exaggerated;
only recently found. father Sneferu, Khufu reigned longer than the 23 the stones certainly get sm aller tow ards the top of
years given him in the Turin Papyrus, compiled the pyram id, and we do not know if the m asonry of
some 1,400 years later. Even with a reign of 30 to 32 the inner core is as well-cut and uniform as the
years, the estim ated combined m ass of 2,700,000 stone courses th a t are now exposed (the outer fine

During our survey of
Khufus pyramid, we noted
that o f a total of 921.44 m
(3,023ft) o f original pyramid
baseline, only 54.44 m (179
ft) remains, much o f it badly
worn, while only 212.48 m
(697ft) o f the foundation
platform survive. It is on the
basis o f these remnants that
the amazing accuracy o f the
original building is
reconstructed by surveyors.

white T urah limestone casing w as stripped off T he m ortuary temple w as dem olished down to
long ago). On the other hand some of the casing bedrock over the centuries. It is square and much
stones at the base may weigh as much as 15 tons, larger than the small chapels associated with the
and the large granite beam s roofing the Kings M eidum and Bent pyram ids. W hat rem ains is some
Chamber and the stress-relieving cham bers above it black basalt pavem ent of an open court, sockets for
I. 739.8 m
have been estim ated to weigh from 50 to 80 tons. the granite pillars of the surrounding colonnade
Such statistics, while repeated frequently, never and w estern recessed bay, and the bedrock cuttings
cease to astound. for the outer wall. The walls were of fine limestone
A s for accuracy: the base is level to within ju st carved in relief. This is the first time we find granite
2.1 cm (under 1 in); the average deviation of the and basalt combined to construct a truly large tem
sides from the cardinal directions is 3' 6" of arc; and ple. There w as an inner sanctuary and storage
the greatest difference in the length of the sides is rooms, but it is not known w hether the five statue
4.4 cm (1 %/\ in). W hy such phenom enal precision? niches and false door that became standard later 200 m
For the royal designers such exactitude may have were already p art of the plan. 500 ft
been imbued with symbolic and cultic significance K hufus causeway walls m ust have been covered
that now eludes us. A more practical explanation is with fine relief carving - as we know from the testi
that it may have been a response to the architectur mony of Herodotus and the discovery of a few
al disaster at the D ahshur Bent Pyramid. To avoid a carved pieces. Its foundations rose to an astonish
repetition the builders founded the outer casing on ing height of more than 40 m (131 ft) to carry the Computer-gemrated
a specially levelled platform constructed on the corridor from the edge of the plateau down to the diagrams o f Khufus Great
bedrock (p. 212) - leaving a low m assif of natural valley temple. East of the escarpm ent these foun Pyramid, showing the
rock inside the pyramid. dations were still extant at the tu rn of complex internal structure.
The G reat Pyram id, like those built by Sneferu, this century. A basalt pavem ent is proba
consisted of casing and core stones, laid in horizon bly the rem ains of the valley temple (p.
tal courses, with packing blocks in between. Large 232). It is otherw ise completely unknown
quantities of gypsum m ortar wrere poured into the and its form remains totally hypothetical.
often wide interstices between the core stones. As well as his own pyram id and tem
G reatest precision w as achieved in the fine outer ples. plus boat pits (p. 118), Khufu also
casing; the core, which is w hat we see now, w as less built three pyram ids for queens (p. 116),
carefully laid, though it is still a marked improve and cemeteries of m astabas - to the w est
ment on the internal fabric of previous pyram ids. for his highest officials and to the east for
A t the corners and tow ards the top higher quality his nearest royal relatives - all laid out in
limestone w as used because of the need for greater a system atic, unified fashion. K hufus
precision and control. satellite pyram id, perhaps for his ka,
rem ained undetected until recently, when
The pyramid complex it w as discovered by Zahi H aw ass during
All the standard elements of the pyram id complex cleaning operations. It is tiny, only 20 m
were present, though they have mostly since disap (66 ft) per side, and has a T-shaped
peared. T he finished pyram id was surrounded by a descending passage plus chamber. The
T urah limestone wall, over 8 m (26 ft) high, enclos side w alls of the cham ber lean inward,
ing a court, 10.2 m (33 ft) wide, paved in limestone. like a tent or canopied structure, a form
Access to this court could only be gained via the th a t m atches the galleries under the east
valley temple, causeway and m ortuary temple. side of Djosers Step Pyramid.

The Great Pyramid
A computer reconstruction
o f the Giza pyramids. The
interior o f Khufus pyramid
is explored overleaf
introduce a sarcophagus the size of that found in
Inside Khufu s Pyramid the Kings Chamber.
T he so-called Queens Cham ber (misnamed by
A rab explorers) is higher up in the pyram id,
reached via the Ascending P assage and a horizon
tal passage. It lies exactly on the east-w est centre
axis of the pyram id and w as alm ost completely fin
ished, with only the walls and floor still to be
dressed down. T he junction of the A scending P a s
sage w ith the horizontal passage leading into the
Queens Cham ber w as originally roofed. Evidence
for this takes the form of holes for large beam s for
holding blocks th at roofed the horizontal passage
and provided a continuous floor from the G rand
Gallery to the A scending Passage.
T he Queens Cham ber w as therefore totally
closed off - a characteristic of a serdab, a room for
the ka statu e - the kings spiritual double - such as
the statue of Djoser sealed in a stone box at the
n orth side of his Step Pyram id. W ith a total height
of 4.7 m (15 ft 5 in), a corbelled niche in the east
wall could certainly have contained a larger-than-
life statue of the king.
A fter the cram ped and difficult crawl up the
A scending Passage, about 1.05 m (3/2 ft) wide and
a little taller, the route to the Kings Chamber sud
denly opens out into the breathtaking Grand
Gallery. A t the top is w hat is known as the Great
The passages and chambers Inside K hufus pyram id we find developments that Step, followed by the antecham ber and finally the
inside the Great Pyramid: are unique in pyram id evolution and rem arkable in K ings Chamber. Entirely constructed out of red
some argue that the the entire history of architecture. Many Egyptolo granite, this room is impressive for its sim plicity
Subterranean Chamber and
so-called Queens Chamber gists have long accepted B orchardts suggestion and resonance.
were each in turn intended for th at the pyram ids three cham bers represent two Above the K ings Cham ber are five stress-reliev
the kings burial but were changes in plan, w ith the abandonm ent of the S ub ing cham bers, each with the sam e floor area as the
successively abandoned as terranean Chamber, believed to be the original respective cham ber below. A t the very top, the
plans changed. However, it is intended burial cham ber of the king, and then the stones are cantilevered in the form of a pent roof to
possible that the entire inner Queens Chamber, in favour of the K ings Chamber. distribute the weight and stresses of the m ountain
complex was conceived and
built according to a unified Several clues, however, combine to m ake it probable of m asonry above. T his is an innovative and inge
plan. Old Kingdom pyramids th at all three cham bers and the entire passage sy s nious arrangem ent, for which there are few p aral
frequently have three tem were planned together from the outset. Three lels and no precedent. Graffiti left by the work
chambers. Here the two lower cham bers seem to have been the rule for Old King crews on the walls add a hum an element. Names of
rooms were probably planned dom pyramids.
from the outset to cater for From the original entrance - offset by 7.29 m (24
different aspects o f the kings
spiritual welfare. ft) east from the centre axis - the descending p as
sage plunges down through the pyram id, ending in
the Subterranean Chamber. This was the classic
pyram id substructure: a corridor descending to a
cham ber at or below ground level, as seen at
Meidum. But here, for the first time, the cham ber
w as carved out of the solid bedrock, though it w as
never completed.
One of the real puzzles of this cham ber is a
small, rough passage leading south from one cor
ner. Only one m an could have fitted at the end of it,
inching forward into the blind rock with ham m er
and chisel. W here w as it intended to lead? If it was
to another room, the Subterranean Cham ber cannot
have been for the kings burial, as this w as always
the last cham ber of a series. Moreover, the
Descending Passage is simply too small to
The a ir sh a fts extend like
antennae through the body o f
the pyramid from both the
Kings and the Queens
x ^Chambers. Those from the
Ri^igs Chamber penetrate all
the\(iy to the outside, though
very possibly the py ramid
casing clds(id o ff these purely
'King s
cidtic shaflsyvhich may cdso C ha rr: -
have been originally plugged 10.5 x 5
in the chamber h. 5.8

Air shafts'
oriented to

(Right) Rudolf Gantenbrinks

robot, Upuaut II, carried a
video camera up the southern
shaft of the Queens
Chamber, just 20 cm (8 in)
square. It was stopped after
about 65 m (213 ft) by a fine
limestone plug with two
embedded copper pins. 5.8 x 5.3 m,
h. 6 m

(Below) The S u b terran ean

C ham ber lies 30 m (98 ft)
below the plateau surface. It is
reached by the Descending
Passage, which slopes at an The so-called Q ueens
angle o f 26" 34 2 3 "for 28.8 C ham ber was certainly not
m (92 f t 6 in) through the fo r the burial o f a queen.
pyramid masonry, and then Very p robably it was a sealed
another 30.3 m (99 f t 5 in) room for a special statue o f
through the natural rock the king, representing his ka
without deviating more than or 'spiritual force. This is
a centimetre in angle or suggested by the existence o f
orientation. a corbelled niche, 4.7 m (15 f t
5 in) high, on the east wall o f
the chamber, which may once
have held such a statue.
A square pit at its base was
deepened by early treasure-
seekers. The Queens
Chamberlies exactly on the
east-west centre axis o f the
pyramid. Its walls and pented
ceiling are o f fine limestone.
A few objects were reportedly
found in the northern airshaft
in the kite 19th century, now
on display in the British
Museum (inset, right).

'Air shafts
oriented to
the northern
polar stars

(Above) Between the Grand

Gallery and the Kings
Chamber, three sliding
granite portcullis slabs were
the final defence against
anyone would had reached
this far in an a ttempt to
violate the royal tomb.
Grand Gallery,
46.7 x 2.1 m,
h. 8.7 m

The Grand Gallery is a

stupendous achievement: the
Ascending Passage roof soars to 8.74 m (26 ft)
and is the glorious
culmination a series of
corbelled roofs seen at
Meidum and Dahshur. The
does not reach to


the very top, however - the

final gap is spanned by slabs.
Along the sides are regularly
spaced matching holes in
lateral benches and in the
walls. These are generally
believed to be sockets for large
Descending Passage, wooden beams for holding
I. 5 8 .5 m
back the blocks which sealed
the Ascending Passage -
which would make this
beautiful construction
basically a parking space
and slipway.

I ^amber,
5.3 m
s ons)
The Great Pyramid
o f Khufu

The Kings Chamber, wiii:

the royal sarcophagus. Nun
great granite beams stretch
across the roof, each mon
than 5.5 m (18 f t or 10
cubits) long and weighing
25 to 40 tons. Never before
had the Egyptians spanned
such a wide space in stone.
There are signs that the great
beams had begun to crack
even while the pyramid was
under construction, although
the Egyptians had created one
o f the most remarkable
structures in architectural
history to prevent it. When
the priests made their final
exit in 2528 bc, they sealed
the tomb by sliding three
portcullis slabs down slots
in the side walls o f the
The red granite
the w orkers are combined w ith that of the king - m ann of the German Archaeological Institute in sarcophagus near the western
wall o f the Kings Chamber
here Khnum-Khuf. Cairo. He sent a small robot cam era up the southern was the final resting place o f
Khufus sarcophagus w as made of the sam e red passage. It cam e to a halt, after about 65 m (214 ft), Khufu s body. The room itself
granite as his cham ber and is on the exact central in front of a plugging block with two copper pins is like a sarcophagus, lined
axis of the pyram id. Petrie noted th at the sarcopha sticking out of it. Investigations halted at this point with red granite and
gus is fractionally wider than the doorway into the and the m eaning of the block, and w hat, if an y resonating with every
cham ber and it would therefore have to have been thing, lies beyond, remain mysteries. murmur and footstep. The
sacred room was probably
put in place in the cham ber as the pyram id was
already robbed o f its contents
being built around it. Sealing the tomb some time between the end o f
If the Kings Cham ber w as the burial room and W hen K hufus priests and workm en left the Kings the K hufus reign and the
the Queens Cham ber w as a statue serdab, w'hat Chamber for the last time, they sealed the tomb collapse o f the Old Kingdom
w as the purpose of the Subterranean Chamber? cham ber by sliding portcullis slabs down three (c. 2134 BC). Those who first
Rainer Stadelm ann suggests that its rough and slots in the side wall of the antecham ber. Then, as a violated the stone box and
robbed the royal mummy
unfinished state may represent the Underworld second line of defence they released the huge g ra n
probably made the prominent
cavern. Rather than the first cham ber to be built, it ite plugging blocks stored in the G rand Gallery by break in the corner o f the
is possible that it w as the last, and still under con knocking aw ay the beam s holding them. These slid sarcophagus in order to lift
struction when the king died and work w as frozen. down the ascending passage, thus blocking it. the heavy lid.
A symbolic function should also be attributed to T he men probably m ade their escape by slipping
the so-called air-shafts, which had nothing to do down the so-called well or service sh aft cut into
w ith conducting air. No other pyram id contains the west wall a t the bottom of the G rand Gallery.
cham bers and passages so high in the body of the T his w as no robbers tunnel as some have believed,
m asonry as K hufus and so the builders provided but w as probably cut to conduct air down to the
the Kings Cham ber w ith small model passages to bottom of the descending passage, so th at work
allow the kings spirit to ascend to the stars. could continue on the S ubterranean Chamber. Once
There are sim ilar air-shafts in the Queens they arrived a t the descending passage via the ser
Cham ber though here, mysteriously, they did not vice shaft, the pyram id sealers could climb up past
penetrate through the walls of the cham ber itself. the plugged m outh of the ascending passage and
In 1872 an engineer called W aynm an Dixon, w ork out through the original entrance of the pyramid.
ing for Piazzi Smyth, know ing of the existence of They probably plugged the section of the descend
such passages in the Kings Chamber, searched for ing passage from the m outh to its junction wit h the
them in this cham ber too. He tapped the wall till he ascending passage the third line of defence for
found places that sounded hollow and broke the kings burial. The entrance in the face of the
through. pyram id would have been sealed with a limestone
Recently these passages have been investigated block th at the builders hoped in vain m ade it
by Rudolf Gantenbrink, w orking for Rainer Stadel indistinguishable from the pyram id casing.
The Great Pyramid
o f Khufu

(Right) K hufus eastern

cemetery and queens
pyramids before the discovery
o f the satellite pyramid.
This was found when Zahi
Hawass removed the modern
road visible in the photograph
and cleaned the area.

(Below right) The remains o f

K hufus satellite pyramid in
front o f the right-hand
queens' pyramid. The boat pit
between two o f the queens
pyramids may in fact belong
to the satellite pyramid,
parked at its eastern side.

The Queens Pyramids

Khufu built three pyram ids for queens, labelled,
north to south, Gl-a, Gl-b and GI-c. In contrast to
the levelled foundation of his own pyramid, these
accommodated the slope of the ground, so that
their bases are neither level nor perfect squares.
They may have been planned to an ideal length of
88-89 cubits, one-fifth of K hufus, and, with a slope
near 52, each rose about a-fifth of its height. As
with K hafres, the bedrock for the bottom course of
casing is cut to different heights and angles, so that All three have a passage on or near the centre
the top of the first course could be levelled with a axis, sloping to a cham ber th a t m akes a w estw ard
Plans and profiles o f K hufu s minimum of cutting. turn, probably for m anoeuvring the sarcophagus.
three queens pyramids (left
Each queens pyram id had a stepped internal T he burial cham bers, w est of the centre axis, were
to right GI-c, Gib, Gl-a).
These lay in a row on the nucleus. Gl-a has thin stone retaining walls visible cut out of bedrock and lined with masonry.
east side o f K hufus pyramid, in its denuded top. Scrutiny of GI-c, the most com
each with a sloping passage plete, reveals three inner tiers or step s of m astaba- Which queens?
leading to a chamber, with a like chunks. Backing stones, equal in size and hue The first pyram id to the north, Gl-a, m ay have been
right-angled turn leading to to the nucleus, obscure the tiers. Near the bottom is for Hetepheres, thought to be the m other of Khufu
the burial chamber. We can
a packing layer, between core and casing, of small (p. 117). Gl-b m ight belong to a queen Meritetes,
guess at the identities o f the
original intended occupants blocks of soft yellow limestone - seen on all three who lived through the reigns of Sneferu, Khufu and
o f these pyramids, but they pyram ids - and, finally, rem ains of fine limestone Khafre, based on an inscription found in the chapel
are not certain. casing with exquisite joins. of the first m astaba to the east, th a t of Kawab, an
eldest son of Khufu. One theory is that the male
occupants of m astabas closest to the small p y ra
m ids were sons of the respective queens.
T he southernm ost pyram id, GI-c, could belong to
a queen Henutsen, a nam e known only from much
later, in dynasties 21-26, when the chapel at the
centre of the eastern base of this pyram id w as con
verted to a temple of the goddess Isis under the epi
thet M istress of the P yram ids (p. 38). All three
pyram ids once had sim ilar chapels, sm aller equiva
lents of the great m ortuary temple of Khufu. But
only th at of GI-c survives with its walls intact,
thanks to its conversion. T he m ortuary chapel of
Gl-a is now entirely missing, robbed down to
bedrock, and only the foundations of Gl-b remain.

The Burial o f Hetepheres
Queens pyramid Gl-a was begun 28 m (92 ft) east of
its final position, as indicated by the beginning of its
passage cut into the bedrock. Aligned with the
abandoned pyramid on the north is the deep shaft
belonging to Queen Hetepheres. In 1925, while George
Reisner was absent in the United States, his
photographer was setting up his tripod when one leg
sank into the ground. Investigation led to the
discovery of a sealed shaft and stairway. The shaft
was extraordinarily deep (over 27 m or 89 ft) and was
blocked with masonry from top to bottom - which
took weeks to clear.
At the very bottom of the shaft was a chamber,
where the excavators found a beautiful alabaster
sarcophagus and, in a niche in the western wall, a
small alabaster box with the string around it still in
place and its sealing intact. This was the canopic
chest for the queens internal organs.
From the moment of discovery, however, it was
apparent that this assemblage was a reburial, since
the pottery was smashed and linen lay disintegrated
among the remains of the boxes that had once
contained it. Pieces of furniture that had been

Reconstruction o f the burial jammed into the chamber could be reconstructed Hetepheress reassembled
assembly o f Queen from surviving gold foil although most of the wood canopy and items o f
Hetepheres, based on had deteriorated. On top of the sarcophagus were furniture. On the front panel
Reisner's meticulous beautiful long poles belonging to a canopy in the o f the canopy was found the
excavation o f each individual form of early papyrus bud columns. This canopy, if Horus name (below) Neb-
fragment o f the disintegrated reassembled, would fit exactly into the chambers of Moot, Lord o f T r u th th a t
remains. The great bed is Sneferu.
the queens pyram ids There were also the parts of
canopy was found disman tled.
two sitting chairs, a carrying chair, a tube for walking
sticks, a headrest and two sets of silver bracelets.
What we have here is the private boudoir of a queen.
The first name found in the tomb was that of
Sneferu But then other texts came to light that
contained the name Hetepheres. She was called
Mother of the King and Daughter of the God and it
became evident that she was the wife of Sneferu and
mother of a reigning king. Seal impressions included
the name Her-Mejedu - the Horus name of Khufu.
The sarcophagus was empty and Reisner noted
that the contents of the chamber were in the reverse
order usually found in tombs. Why? Reisner thought
that Hetepheres had originally been buried at
Dahshur but her tomb had been violated and her
body stolen. Khufus men did not tell him of the
missing body and he arranged for a reburial at Giza,
Carrying in a deep, unmarked shaft for safety. Other
explanations are possible, if not entirely satisfactory.
I suggested that her body is missing because it was
removed to the burial chamber in Gl-a, after the first
Chairs pyramid was begun and then abandoned, perhaps
with a new set of equipment. The original shaft was
then filled in and forgotten until stumbled on by
Disassembled Reisners photographer some four-and-a-half
thousand years later. Yet another line of speculation
sees this unmarked burial (or reburial) of a queen
mothers grave goods as an indication of disputes
over the royal succession. It is not certain that
Hetepheres was the mother of Khufu, who survived
three older brothers.

prow and stern are in the form of pap y ru s stalks,
The Great Pyramid Khufu s Boats the stern one bent over. It is thus a wooden replica
o f Khufu
of a type of p apyrus reed boat perhaps dating
T he large num ber - and size - of boat-shaped pits back to the predynastic period - another exam ple
east of Khufus pyram id give it the appearance of a of the E gyptian fondness for sim ulating their earli
royal p o rt authority or docking place on the jour est reed stru ctu res in more durable materials. A
ney from this world to the Netherworld. One pit is cabin, or inner shrine, is enclosed within a reed-m at
parallel to the causeway and therefore at the very stru ctu re with poles of the sam e papyrus-bud form
threshold of the m ortuary temple. On either side of that we see in the canopy of Hetepheres (p. 117).
the temple, to the n orth and south, are two even T he second boat pit, just to the w est of the m use
larger boat-shaped pits, possibly for boats to tra n s um, w as investigated in 1985 by a team from
p ort the king to stellar destinations. Next to the National G eographic w ith the Egyptian A ntiquities
queens pyram id (Gl-a) is a fourth boat-shaped pit authority. A hole w as drilled through the limestone
and, recently, a fifth has been found east of the beam s and a tiny cam era inserted. It w as hoped
newly discovered satellite pyram id, perhaps for the that the pit had been so well sealed that the air
symbolic tran sp o rt of the kings ka statue. inside would have last been breathed by the ancient
On the south side of the G reat Pyram id are two Egyptians, but there were obvious signs that this
further boat pits that are often discussed together w as not the case. However, it w as ascertained that
w ith those mentioned above, b u t which in fact the pit did contain the disarticulated p arts of a
differ in one im portant respect. They are long, boat, lying in approxim ately their correct relative
narrow and rectangular rather than boat-shaped, positions, though the pit w as shorter than the fully-
and they contain the disassem bled p arts of real assem bled boat would have been.
boats. These southern boat pits do not seem
to have been p art of the symbolic
The royal barques layout of the whole Khufu
T he two southern boat pits were discovered in complex b u t rather are
1954, each covered by a roof of huge limestone a deliberate, ritual
slabs. W hen one of the slabs w as raised from the disposal. Signifi
first pit, the planking of a g reat boat was seen, cantly, the pits
completely dism antled b u t arranged in the sem would have
blance of its finished form.
The boat w as removed from its pit, piece by
piece, under the supervision of Ahmed Youssef, the
m aster restorer who worked on H etepheress funer
Pyramid, as port authority o f ary furniture (p. 117). M ade of cedarwood, the
the Netherworld: the eastern 1,224 separate p arts had num erous U-shaped
side o f K hufus Great holes so that the boat could be stitched togeth
Pyramid is occupied by the er using ropes made of vegetable fibres. After
remains o f his mortuary m any years of painstaking work, the boat
temple (of which just the
w as finally reassem bled like a giant jigsaw,
basalt pavement survives),
the foundation o f his and is now housed in its own boat-shaped
causeway, boat pits, queens m useum next to the pyramid. W hen reassem
pyramids and mastaba tombs. bled the boat m easures 43.3 m (142 ft) long. Its

(Above) The existence o f a

second boat in the unopened
boat pit was confirmed when
a tiny camera was inserted.

When the first boat was

restored (far right), signs
for prow, stern, port and
starboard, similar to phyle
names in work gangs and
temple priesthoods, were
discovered on the planks.
been beyond the pyram ids enclosure wall, which Master craftsman Ahmed
is now' missing. Both the pits are rectangular, Youssef with the boat o f
rather th an boat-shaped and are also too small Khufu that he reassembled
after it had lain buried in a
to have contained the fully assem bled boats - pit for 4,500years.
though the builders could easily have achieved this
if they had w anted to. It ap p ears therefore that
the boats were intended to be dism antled and
buried, but why?
The boats could have been symbolic transport1
m echanism s for the king to ascend to the heavens -
w estw ards with the setting sun and eastw ards with
the rising sun - b ut the indications are that they fall
into a different class of objects. Items connected
with the royal funeral were considered in some
sense highly charged. To neutralize them they were
dism antled and buried separately, close to but o u t
side the funerary precinct. A nother exam ple is the The displacement o f this boat
wood canopy for tran sp o rtin g a statue, found, ritu is 45 tons. The maximum
ally disassem bled in an extra shaft outside K hafres draft is 1.48 m (5 ft). It is
satellite pyram id (p. 126). 5.9 m wide with a total length
It seem s probable, therefore, that these complete, o f 43.3 m (142 ft). It was
found in 1,224 pieces,
but wholly disassem bled, boats were con
comprising 656 major parts
nected with K hufus final earthly o f the boat, all originally
voyage - to his pyram id. stitched together with rope,
with several lines o f mortice
and tenon joints across the
hull, as seen in the diagram
(below left).

Djedefre, Khufus son and successor, 8 km (5 miles)
to the north on a hillock overlooking the Giza
plateau. By m oving to this spot, Djedefres pyram id
w as nearer due west of Heliopolis, centre of the sun
Djedefre at Abu Roash cult, than Giza. Perhaps he w as motivated by reli
gious reasons since Djedefre is the first pharaoh we
know to take the title Son of Re.
It has been suggested th a t Djedefres removal of
his funerary m onum ent from Giza, its destruction
and K hafres return to Giza indicate a split between
The first Sphinx? The face the sons of Khufu and conflict over the succession.
o f Djedefre in a magnificent However, Djedefres cartouche was found, with
dark purplish quartzite head
w orkers graffiti, on the lim estone beam s covering
found at Abu Roash, The
king is shown wearing the
K hufus boat pit, show ing that he oversaw his
nemes crown. The scant fathers funeral. The French Institute/U niversity of
remains o f the original Geneva A bu Roash Expedition, begun in 1995
surface behind the headdress under Michael Valloggia, is finding little evidence
turn outwards, suggesting the of destruction dating from the Old Kingdom,
beginning o f a lion body. Now rath er it is from the Roman period.
in the Louvre, it is one o f
Today nothing rem ains other than the stum p of
several magnificent pieces o f
sculpture found in the boat pit the core around a natural hillock. Core m asonry
east o f the pyramid o f and m ortar adhere to the bedrock m assif which
Djedefre. would have been preserved in the middle of the
pyram id, as in K hufus and K hafres. G reat quanti
ties of granite from the casing lie all around. A
num ber of blocks have a 60 slope, indicating to
T he very pronounced alignm ents between the some that Djedefre intended a step pyram id. O thers
pyram id complexes at Giza show considerable con have suggested that he w as planning to build a
cern for unity of design over three generations. An m astaba, like the later tom bs of K hentkaw es and
anom aly in this, however, is the pyram id built by Shepseskaf. However, step pyram id accretions gen
erally had a much steeper slope of 72-78 and the
The work o f the Franco- m astaba of Shepseskaf has an angle of 65. So it
Swiss team at Abu Roash is w as previously concluded th at Djedefre w as build
revealing new details about ing a very steep pyram id, like the first stage of Sne
Djedefres pyramid. It was ferus Bent Pyram id a t Dahshur.
probably intended to be 106.2
T he Franco-Swiss excavations at the north cor
m (348ft) to a side. There is
uncertainty about the exact ners and centre of the base of the pyram id have
angle o f slope, with evidence revealed a foundation bed with a 12 slope. If the
for 48, though it has been casing blocks were laid a t this angle, the pyram id
suggested it would have been slope is reduced to 48, though the team suggests a
nearer 52. Its theoretical range near 52, which would conform to Sneferus
height is between 5 7 m (187
M eidum pyram id (E3) and K hufus. T h is would
ft) and 67 m (220ft).
m ean th a t Djedefres m asons returned to inclining

The enclosure o f Djedefres

pyramid ako departs from its
counterparts at Giza. /4s a
rectangle oriented
north-south, it may be the
first revival o f the Djoser-
type. The mortuary temple is
shifted north o f the pyramid s
east-west centre axis. The
pyramid is located on a high
plateau, approached by an
extremely long causeway.
Djedefres mortuary temple
viewed from the py ramid,
looking southeast, towards
Giza (upper right). Being so
fa r north, Djedefres pyramid
was located due west o f
Heliopolis, which lay across
the valley (upper left). The
form o f the mortuary temple
resembles workshops around
a courtyard. Were temporary
structures simply converted
into a temple for the
unfinished pyramid?

the casing, as in the bottom of Sneferus Bent P y ra

mid, and as opposed to the finely levelled horizon
tal coursing of Khufus casing. With the north
baseline now accurately determ ined as 106.2 m
(348 ft), the resulting theoretical height is between work on the pyram id stopped. W orkshops and
57 m (187 ft), at 48, and 67 m (220 ft), at 52. We still habitations also occupied the northeast corner of
do not know how far building progressed above the inner enclosure. Just beside the northeast cor
some 20 granite courses at the base. Petrie found a ner of the pyram id, layers of chips rem ained of a
fragm ent of a throne of a diorite statue, with the vast stoneyard for working pyram id blocks. Per
hieroglyphs for Men..Ra, most probably M enkaure. haps some of the walls were ancillary to the con
Stadelm ann suggests th at he undertook restoration struction of the pyram id and were finished quickly
work on the uncom pleted pyram id. as some kind of cult emplacement. A deep recess in
the core m asonry a t the back of the tem ple was
Inside the pyramid perhaps for a false door.
From Sneferu to Khufu we have seen a continual A boat pit against the south side of the temple
striving to build cham bers higher in the pyram id recalls the one just outside the entrance to Khufus
body. Djedefre returned to the earlier concept and temple. A covered corridor led from the northeast
began his substructure as a colossal p it in the entrance of the inner enclosure to the m outh of the
ground, 23 x 10 m (75 x 33 ft) and c. 20 m (66ft) or causeway. Just outside this corridor, recent excava
m ore deep. A n access corridor w as 49 m (161 ft) tions discovered a cache of votive pottery. Similar
long and sloped a t an angle of 22 35'. The caches have been found near the entrances to the
entrance passage and burial cham ber were built temples or enclosures of the pyram ids of Sneferu
into the corridor and pit. Scant rem ains of roofing at M eidum and Dahshur, M enkaure, Shepseskafs
m asonry suggest that it w as rem iniscent of the m astaba and Raneferefs pyram id. It indicates a
earlier style of Djoser. sustained cult service for Djedefre.
T he height of the knoll on w hich the pyram id
The pyramid complex w as built, some 20 m (66 ft) higher than the Giza
T he Franco-Swiss team has now ascertained that plateau, m eant th at an extraordinarily long cause
there w as an inner enclosure, 6 m (20 ft) from the w ay w as needed to reach the valley - perhaps
north pyram id base, and w idening on the east to 1,700 m (5, 577 ft) long. T he tentative, cursory and
contain the m ortuary temple. Djedefres m ortuary dim inutive character of the pyram id is a striking
tem ple appears hastily built. It is form ed of rather counterpoint to the size of its causeway. Djedefres
thick fieldstone walls, finished with m udbrick to pyram id w as less than a q uarter of the base area of
form com partm ents and cham bers (chapels accord his fathers, Khufu, at Giza. Perhaps, already an
ing to Stadelmann) around an open court east of elderly m an when he came to the throne, Djedefre
the pyram id. T his configuration is sim ilar to w ork knew th at he m ight not have m any years left to
shops at Giza and elsewhere, and perhaps the complete his pyram id, and chose a sm aller design -
stru ctu res were sim ply left w hen Djedefre died and he is said to have reigned for only eight years.


Return to Giza: Khafres

Pyramid and the Great Sphinx
Khafres pyramid was called
'Great is Khafre'. The
simplicity o f the chamber and
passage system may reflect
the builders experience o f
problems in building
chambers high in the body o f
the pyramids o f Sneferu and
Khufu. Its base length was
215 m (705 ft), rising to a
height o f 143.5 m (471 ft)
at an angle o f 53 10'.


Lower descending
Causeway Subsidiary chamber

Djedefre w as succeeded by Khafre, another son of granite, the pyram id w as cloaked in T urah lime
Khufu. Two older brothers had been in line for the stone. Only the upper quarter of the casing rem ains
throne before K hafre and we m ight p erh ap s im ag - apparently a reflection of the robbers practice of
ine him as a rath er young m an youth, at least, stripping first the corners and base and then w ork
could account for the extraordinary confidence he ing upwards. Just beneath the lowest surviving
showed in laying out a square 215 m (705 ft) to a course of casing stones, a band of regular stepped
side, to form the base of a pyram id th at stood core stone is visible. T he rest of the surface down
shoulder to shoulder with his fathers. Khafres to the base - the greater p a rt of the pyram id -
pyram id is in fact the sm aller of the two, but he dis consists of very rough, irregular, loose stones.
guised this by founding it on bedrock some 10 m W hat is this loose lower band? Is it packing
(33 ft) higher. It also has a slightly sh arp er angle of between core and casing, exposed when the casing
slope, 53 10' to K hufus 51 50' 40". A very slight w as torn away? T h at seem s likely until, climbing
tw ist can be discerned at the top, introduced the corners of the pyram id, one sees that this irreg
because the four corner angles were not quite ular m asonry seem s to continue for some depth
aligned correctly to meet at the apex. into the pyram id body. T he discontinuity m ight
indicate different building styles, perhaps even a
The blocks o f surviving The pyramid hiatus and then resum ption of building. A lterna
casing at the top o f Khafres
pyramid are not flush,
The pyram id w as founded on a terrace which the tively, the core m asonry may sim ply have been laid
suggesting they were cut to ancient builders cut down by c. 10 m (33 ft) below in a more regular fashion tow ards the top in order
the pyramid s slope before the original bedrock surface to the northw est, but to allow the builders greater control (p. 222).
setting. However, the built up with large blocks of m asonry at the oppo The casing stones at the top of the pyram id are
unevenness may be due to site, southeast, corner. T his com pensated for the m uch sm aller - about 1 cubit thick (c. 50 cm/20 in) -
settling when lower courses natural c. 3-6 slope of the M okattam Formation. than the casing stones which survive at the bottom
were robbed.
A part from the bottom course of outer casing in of K hufus pyram id and those of his queens. T heir

Khafres burial chamber
(left). The black granite
sarcophagus was originally
sunk into the paving o f the
chamber. A square hole in
the floor at the west end o f
the south wall probably held
the canopic chest.

The lower bedrock chamber

(right), with a pented roof
can perhaps be seen as the
equivalent o f the
Subterranean Chamber or
Queens Chamber o f K hufus

The double entrance passages

suggest to some a change in
plan from a larger to a
smaller pyramid base.
Portcullis closure systems
were built into the beginning
o f the lower and upper
horizontal corridors.

outside faces are often staggered by a few millime about 11.54 m (38 ft) above the level of the base; the
tres rath er than flush. T his m ight suggest th at at other ru n s from in front of the base line at ground
this level the outer slope w as cut into the blocks level, near the centre of the northern side. Like
before they were laid, due to reduced w orking alm ost all pyram id passage system s, its does not
space. W hat we can say with confidence about align w ith the centre axis of the pyram id, in this
these m asonry variations is that even now - and case lying a little more than 12 m (39 ft) to the east.
K hafres w as the fifth of the giant pyram ids - pyra- It has been suggested th at the pyram id w as origi
mid-building techniques were still largely ad hoc. nally intended to be larger, or th a t its north base
A m ong its m any m eanings, the pyram id w as line w as first planned to be 30 m (98 ft) further
conceived as a p o rt from which the voyage to the north, so that the lower passage, like the upper one,
Netherworld began. The broad terrace to the east of would have been entirely within the body of the
Khafres pyram id is m ade of m assive limestone masonry. But it is hard to im agine th at there was an
blocks weighing up to hundreds of tons. Huge lime earlier plan for a larger pyram id, such is the sculpt
stone piers project beyond the northeast and south ed unity of the pyram id terrace, enclosure wall and
w est corners of the terrace, looking like slipw ays pyram id base. W hat we are seeing is m ore likely
or giant docks. Five narrow boat-shaped trenches evidence of a vacillation between two different p a s
carved into the natural rock extend into the recess sage system s in the course of building.
es between the two piers and the m ortuary temple. T he lower passage descends at an angle to a hor
izontal corridor, 1.7 m high (c. 5 ft 8 in). A su b
sidiary cham ber opens off the horizontal section,
Inside Khafres Pyramid cut out of the bedrock and w ith a pented roof. T he
purpose of this cham ber is not entirely clear. It m ay
Khafres pyram id contains two descending p a s have been a serdab chamber, equivalent to the m is
sages. One begins in the body of the masonry, nam ed Queens Chamber in the G reat Pyramid.

Alternatively it may have been simply used for
storing offerings. At the end of the horizontal sec
tion an ascending passage rises, reaching an inter
section with the other passage, itself descending to
the bedrock from high up in the m asonry of the
pyram id.
Since the bedrock was left nearly 10 m (33 ft)
high in the northw est corner of the pyram id while
the tops of the burial cham bers walls are at the
level of the pyram id terrace, the cham ber m ust
have been built in a pit sim ilar to that in Djedefres
pyram id at Abu Roash, though not as deep. The
roof of the burial cham ber is composed of pented,
limestone beam s like the Queens Cham ber and the
upperm ost of the five relieving cham bers above the
burial cham ber in the G reat Pyramid.

The sarcophagus
T he burial cham ber is at a right-angle to the axis of
the passage system , putting the sarcophagus in
this case very close to - but not directly on - both
the n o rth -so u th and the vertical axes of the p y ra
mid. Khafres sarcophagus is of black, hard g ra n
ite, half embedded in the very thick paving which
once covered more of the cham ber floor. Its lid lay
in two pieces. A pit cut into the floor of the cham ber
probably held the canopic chest - the first exam ple
of this found in a pyram id. Its lid would have been
formed by one of the paving slabs of the floor.
Khafres mortuary temple,
Belzoni, having rediscovered the entrance to the
causeway foundation and
valley temple are the best upper passage, made his w ay into this cham ber in
preserved o f the three Giza 1818 but found to his disappointm ent that he w as
complexes. Khafre added the not the first to enter it in post-pharaonic times.
Great Sphinx and its temple. Curiously, bones found in the sarcophagus turned
The burial chamber o f out to be those of a bull. In a much later period
Khafre's pyramid must have bulls were buried as sym bols of the pharaoh him
been built in a pit cut into the self or of Osiris. Rainer Stadelm ann has suggested
bedrock massif. that these bones were probably an offering thrown
into the sarcophagus at some unknow n later date
by intruders, long after the kings body had been
robbed and lost.

The Pyramid Complex

The m ortuary temple

Khafres m ortuary tem ple m arks a real architectur
al advance - being both larger than previous exam
ples and for the first time including all five
elements th a t were to become standard. It consists
of a fore part, form ing an entrance to the main
court, and a back part. T he fore p a rt w as construct
ed of megalithic blocks of limestone, quarried
nearby. T he use of huge blocks to form the cores of
the walls, which were then encased with finer quali
ty stone, w as introduced by Khafre. T he inside of
his m ortuary temple w as alm ost entirely lined with
T he causew ay enters the m ortuary tem ple near
the south end of the front. Immediately to the left

were two granite cham bers and at the other end of crown of the south, with a back pillar painted to
a corridor running along the front of the temple im itate granite. The pillar projects in an upside-
Five Features o f
were four more cham bers, lined w ith alabaster. In dow n U over the crown, a s did the colonnade roof Mortuary Temples
the fore p art of the temple the entrance hall consist over the pillars of the court of Khafres m ortuary Five standard features o f
ed of two sections, one transverse with recessed temple. Intriguingly, we have a series of striding later mortuary temples were
bays and the other rectangular. The roofs of both royal statues wearing the crown of the south, first found in Khafres:
1 an entrance hall;
were supported by colum ns made of single blocks usurped by Ram esses II b u t made m uch earlier.
2 a broad columned court;
of granite. A long, narrow, slit-like cham ber T heir bases fit closely the sockets around the court 3 five niches for statues o f
branches off from each end of the first hall. It has of the Khafre m ortuary temple. F u rth er study the king;
been suggested that huge statues of the king once should confirm whether or not these derive from 4 five storage chambers;
stood at the back of these dim passages. here. 5 an inner sanctuary - a
The reigns of Khafre and to a lesser extent T he inner walls of the court may have been deco pair o f stelae, a false door
or a combination o f both.
M enkaure saw an explosion of statue m aking - the rated with reliefs above a certain height. Beyond
The five niches may
size and num ber of Khafres statu es were u n p aral the court were five niches, now badly destroyed, for relate to the completed five
leled until the New Kingdom, alm ost 1,200 years more statues of the king. Behind them are five fold titulary o f the king, or
later. But while hundreds of pieces of sm aller s ta t storerooms, perhaps for the offerings made to these the five phyles. The Abusir
ues have been found, no fragm ents of any larger five statues. At the very back of the temple, against papyri indicate that in the
ones remain from the m ortuary temple, though the pyram id itself, w as the inner sanctuary, proba 5th dynasty, three o f the
niches held statues o f the
there were over 52 in Khafres complex of life size bly with a false door niche. A stairw ay-ram p in the
king as ruler o f south and
or larger. T his is because they were removed intact n ortheast corner of the temple climbed up to the north Egypt, and as Osiris.
by royal order, possibly in the 18th dynasty or by roof, while from the northw est corner of the pil
Ram esses II, and recycled for other royal projects. lared court a corridor led to the paved pyram id
Next in sequence came the open court, the pillars enclosure. Outside the temple were five boat-pits,
of which, encased in granite, were so broad that two on the north and three on the south, and possi
they formed piers around the courtyard. In front of bly a sixth w as planned. They are carved into the
them were 12 granite statues standing in pits or rock in a boat shape; two still retain roofing slabs.
sockets in the white alabaster floor. Holscher su g
gested that these were standing statues of the king The valley temple
in the form of Osiris. But Herbert Ricke argued for Down the causeway Khafres valley temple, m arvel
seated statues of the king w earing the nem es scarf. lously well preserved, unlike the m ortuary temple.
O ur excavations of the w orkm ens b arrack s west Its m ajor cham bers are in fact very sim ilar to the A view into the interior of
of Khafres pyram id produced a clue suggesting fore p art of Khafres m ortuary temple. T h is is not Khafres valley temple, with
granite lining, pillars and
that we should reconsider the form of these statues. surprising, since, as a gatew ay or portal to the
lintels intact. The corridor on
These galleries turned out to be not living quarters whole complex, it more or less encapsulates, within the right is the continuation
but a royal w orkshop (p. 238). Among the finds was a single temple, the architectural p attern of an o f the causeway into the
a fragm ent of a model of the king w earing the entrance. temple.

(Below) Twenty-three statues

of Khafre were placed around
the T-shaped hall o f his valley
temple, lit only by narrow slits
in the walls at ceiling height.
A quay or revetm ent in front of the Sphinx Tem directly over six storage cham bers, arranged in two
ple w as revealed by drillings, as much as 16 m (52 storeys of three, em bedded in the core m asonry of
ft) deep. It probably continues south in front of the the T-shaped hall. T he court represented an above,
valley temple, from which point ram ps lead to the open to the sun, while the cham bers were the
two doors of the temple - perhaps sym bolizing the below, a dark and chthonic aspect of the temple.
duality of U pper and Lower Egypt. In 1995 Zahi Symbolic conduits lined w ith alabaster, a m ater
H aw ass recleared the area, revealing th at the ram ps ial especially identified with purification, run from
cross over tunnels fram ed w ithin m udbrick walls the tem ples roof-top courtyard down into the deep,
that form ed a narrow corridor or canal running dark cham bers. T he statue sequence sta rts ju st out
north south. In front of the Sphinx Temple the side the door to these cham bers from the T-shaped
canal ru n s into a drain leading northeast, proba hall. The symbolic circuit ru n s through the entire
bly to the quay buried below the m odern tourist temple, taking in both the chthonic and the solar
plaza. Both entrances were flanked by a pair of aspects of afterlife beliefs and of the em balm ing
lions or, more likely, sphinxes, 8 m long (26 ft long). ritual, for which the valley tem ple w as the stage
All th at rem ains are shapes described by lever according to some Egyptologists (p. 25).
sockets and the cuttings for the statue bases.
The valley temple w as built of megalith- The satellite pyramid
ic core blocks sheathed in red granite. The Pyram id GH-a, the satellite pyram id of Khafre, has
temple entrances were closed w ith huge been alm ost completely eradicated by stone rob
single-leaf doors, probably of cedarwood. bers only the outlines of the foundations and a
Between the two entrances runs the few core blocks now remain, positioned on the cen
vestibule. Here the walls were of simple tre axis of Khafres pyram id. Satellite pyram ids are
The diorite statue o f Khafre, red granite, originally polished to a lustre, thought to derive from the south tomb of Djoser
found by Mariette in the and the floor w as paved with white alabaster. A and may have been for the burial of statues dedi
valley temple vestibule. The door then led to a T-shaped hall, which constituted cated to the ka, the kings spiritual double and vital
wings o f the Horus falcon the greater p a rt of the valley temple. T his again force. Khafres satellite pyram id furnished evidence
are folded around the kings w as sheathed w ith polished red granite and white to su p p o rt this. It has tw o descending passages, the
headdress in a gesture o f
alabaster, and its roof w as supported by 16 single second on the centre axis of the pyram id b u t out
protection. Il was one of
23 that originally would have block granite pillars, m any still in position today. beyond its base. T his passage extends beneath the
lined the T-shaped hall o f the A kind of internal cosmic circuit w as incorporat pyram id, ending in a dead-end and a sm all niche. In
valley temple. ed into K hafres valley temple, com parable to the this niche w as a wooden box containing pieces of
larger sym bolic circuit of the pyram id complex as a wood th at had once form ed an item of furniture.
whole. T his circuit began in the cross-bar of the T- Reassembled by Ahmed Youssef, this turned out to
shaped hall. Dim and m ysterious, the only light be a fram e of cedarwood in the form of a sah net-
came through narrow slits at the top of the walls. jer, or divine booth, w hich had been deliberately -
Statues of Khafre sa t in pits along the walls. There ritually, it seem s - chopped into regular-sized
(Below) A reconstruction o f are 23 statue bases, though the one at the centre of pieces. In tomb scenes, for exam ple one from the
the statue-carrying shrine the leg of the T-shaped hall is w ider and perhaps tom b of K hufus granddaughter M eresankh, the
found in pieces under
Khafres satellite pyramid,
w as counted twice, m aking 24 in total. Were fumi sah netjer is depicted holding the queens statue as
shown here on a transport gations and libations perform ed to a statue of it is ritually draw n along tow ards the tomb.
sled. A depiction o f such a Khafre for every hour of the day and night? Or did
sled and statue shrine is the statues represent the deified p a rts of the royal
shown in a relief from the body, as H. Ricke and S. Schott thought?
tomb o f Queen Meresankh III The statu e sequence continued along the cross
(below right).
b ar of the T and ended at a doorw ay leading to a
corridor from which a stairw ay ram p wound clock
wise up and over the roof of the corridor and exited
on to the roof of the valley temple. On the south
side of the roof w as a small courtyard, positioned

by the intelligence of the pharaoh, g u arantor of
The Great Sphinx cosmic order, or maat. T he sphinx, in the design
Return to Giza: Khafres
Pyramid and the Great Sphinx
achieved by the time of the G reat Sphinx, survived
T he largest of the hundreds of statues built in for two-and-a-half millennia in the iconography of
Khafres reign, the Sphinx w as the first truly colos Egyptian civilization. The nem es headdress was
sal piece of sculpture in ancient Egypt. T he lion the particular way of folding the scarf that w as
body is carved to a scale of 22:1 and the head 30:1. exclusive to Egyptian kings. The flaring sides of
E gyptians would not carve statues of such propor the royal nemes scarf replaced the lions mane to The Great Sphinx stands
tions again until the reigns of New Kingdom bring the hum an head into proportion with the guard before the pyramid o f
pharaohs like A m enhotep III and Ram esses II, lions chest. Khafre, for whom this fusion
some 1,200 years later. T he G reat Sphinx, however, has a sm aller head o f man and lion was sculpted
in about 2500 BC. Towering
and headdress in relation to the lion body than in
20 m (66 ft) above the
Location and geology the classic sphinx form, and a considerably elon spectator, it was the first truly
T he Sphinx w as carved from the natural bedrock at gated body. It is not a question of the head being colossal royal sculpture in the
the very base of Khafres causeway. T he rectangu recarved, and cut down out of proportion; the lion history o f ancient Egypt, seen
lar secondary enclosure wall which surrounds body by itself is too long. T he explanation seem s to here looking across the
Khafres pyram id complex would, if extended east lie in the specific geology of the location. Huge fis limestone core blocks o f the
temple dedicated to it.
w ards, take in the Sphinx. The south side of the sures cut through M embers I and II - the bottom
The different geological layers
Sphinx ditch form s the northern edge of K hafres two of the three geological layers from which the the Sphinx was carved from
causew ay as it ru n s p ast the Sphinx and enters Sphinx is carved (p. 106). T he greatest of these fis (p. 106) account for the
K hafres valley temple - the close association of the sures ru n s right across the thinnest p a rt of the variation in preservation
Sphinx with Khafres valley temple m akes it most Sphinxs body. A s they isolated the block of stone o f its parts. The head was
probable that the Sphinx w as carved for Khafre. that w as to become the statue, the E gyptians carved from a much better
building stone (Member III)
Close study by geologist T hom as A igner of the encountered this serious defect and realized that it
titan the soft layers o f the
geological layers in the Sphinx and the individual would prevent them from finishing off the curve of body (Member II), while the
stones of Khafres temples enabled us to unravel the rum p and the haunches, the hind paw s and the base is carved from a petrified
the sequence of quarry in g and building th at creat tail. It is quite likely that they elongated the body to hard shoal and coral reef
ed this complex. T he valley temple w as probably com pensate for it. (Member I).
composed of huge blocks quarried from the layers
that ru n through the upper p a rt of the Sphinx body.
T he standard large core blocks in the Sphinx tem
ple, w ith a soft yellow band between two harder
bands, came from ju st below chest height in the
Sphinx body.

Design and iconography

T he lion w as a solar sym bol in more than one
ancient N ear E astern culture. It is also a common
archetype of royalty. T he royal hum an head on a
lions body symbolized power and m ight controlled
The builders o f the Sphinx
began by quarrying a
U-shaped ditch, then sculpting
the lion body from the
reserved bedrock block. Stone
was removed in the form o f
colossal blocks which were
used to build the core walls
o f the valley temple (the upper
layers) and the Sphinx
Temple on a lower terrace
to the east.

The Sphinx Temple service may never have begun. Twenty-four red
T he floor of the Sphinx Temple is c. 2.5 m (c. 9 ft) g ranite pillars formed a colonnade and am bulatory
lower than the Sphinx terrace, cut down into the around a central courtyard. T he court is an almost
hard stone of M ember 1. The temple seem s to be exact copy of that in Khafres m ortuary temple,
specifically dedicated to the Sphinx, but we know with colossal royal statues before huge pillars made
very little about it because there are no known Old of core blocks of locally quarried limestone. But
Kingdom texts that refer to either the Sphinx or its here there are 10 rather than 12 statues, perhaps
temple. By the time that a cult of the Sphinx was because of lim itations of space. T he court statues
activated in the 18th dynasty, the Old Kingdom sat in sockets cut in the floor in front of each pillar,
temples at Giza had long been abandoned. bringing the base of the statue flush with the
Khafres builders did not complete the Sphinx alabaster paving covering the bcdrock floor. Each
Temple, leaving the exterior without its intended court pillar w as encased in red granite to m atch the
granite casing, which perhaps explains the absence statues. We can only make educated guesses about
of priests and priestesses dedicated to its service architectural symbolism in a text-less temple.
am ong the Old Kingdom tom bs at Giza - temple Ricke, who studied this temple (1967-70) w as keen

Sphinx Temple axis The Sphinx Temple and
Central ----------------- ,,-------- Return to Giza: Khafres
=r' Khafres valley temple sit side
J-------------- L Pyramid and the Great Sphinx
with 24 by side, in a neat line. They
pillars also share the same
megalithic style o f masonry.

( 1

The north shoulder o f
Khafres causeway is the line
o f the south wall o f the
Temple -
Sphinx ditch. These are some
o f the reasons why Khafre is
thought to be the builder
o f the Great Sphinx.


to do so. On the basis of New Kingdom parallels he

suggested the colonnade pillars represented the 24
hours of the day and night. T he end statues may
have been double, m aking 12. For Ricke these, too,
may have symbolized 12 hours of the day and/or
night, or the 12 m onths of the year.
The Sphinx temple is unique in having two sanc
tuaries, one on the east and the other on the west,
each a t the back of a recessed bay such as w as first
to Khafres seen in K hufus m ortuary temple. The dual sanctu
mortuary aries were perhaps associated w ith the rising and
temple setting sun. W hen the granite casing w as intact on
30 m
its inner walls, the eastern sanctuary would have
been a well-defined sacred space about the size of a
90 ft small closet. In front of each sanctuary there are
two pillars which Ricke interpreted as the arm s and
legs of the goddess Nut. On the ceilings of New
Kingdom tem ples Nut is depicted bending over giv
ing birth to the sun in the m orning and swallownng
it in the evening. W orking a t Giza over the seasons,
A photogrammetric elevation
I w as intrigued to discover that, viewed from the
of the Sphinx from the south,
Sphinx Temple a t the equinoxes (21-22 March and showing a patchwork o f
21-22 September), the sun sets at the southern foot ancient and modern
of Khafres pyram id along the line of the Sphinx restoration masonry.

Phase 1 Phase III II Egyptian Antiquities

18th dynasty (?) Graeco-Roman Service 1960s-70s
c. 1400 bc 332 b c - a d 642
j Phase II Emile Baraize Missing stone
26th dynasty (?) 1925-26
c. 664-525 bc
Phase I recut for Egyptian Antiquities / /
Phase II, fallen Service 1940s

W hat did the Sphinx originally look like? To find
Computer the answer I first spent five years (1979-83) mapping
Modelling the the Sphinx, assisted by Ulrich Kapp of the German
Archaeological Institute who produced front and side
Sphinx view drawings with photogrammetry. An overhead
view was painstakingly mapped by hand with
measuring tape. More recently computers have been
brought in to digitize the maps and create a 3-D
wireframe model. Some 2.5 million surface points
were then plotted to put skin on the skeletal view.

temple axis. In ancient tim es it would have passed Restoring the Sphinx
over the w estern colonnadc, across the court and Repair w ork on the Sphinx began some three-and-
into the eastern sanctuary, possibly illuminating a-half millennia ago and has continued throughout
any cult image within. At the very sam e moment the statues history. The w orst deterioration -
the shadow of the Sphinx and the shadow of the patches where the m asonry flakes and crum bles -
pyram id, both sym bols of the king, become merged affected Graeco-Roman and m odern repairs from
silhouettes. The Sphinx itself, it seems, symbolized 1926 to 1988. M ajor excavations were begun in
the pharaoh presenting offerings to th e su n god in 1926 un d er the supervision of the French engineer
the court of the temple. It w as during the brief Emile Baraize. Unfortunately, his 11 years of work
reign of K hafres predecessor, Djedefre, that the w ere never published and many different phases of
fifth, son of Re, element of the kings nam e architecture around the Sphinx were dism antled
emerged. T he first true sun temples were built later, w ithout ever being properly documented. Prior to
in the 5th dynasty, but the Sphinx Temple m ust be the m assive reconstructions of the veneer m asonry
counted as the first solar-oriented temple associat from 1981 onwards, the Roman restoration consist
ed with an Old Kingdom pyram id complex. ed of sm all brick-sized stones, seen for instance on
At the sum m er solstice the sun sets in the sam e the paws. Baraize reset m uch of it th a t he found
place on the horizon for three days before its setting tumbled. This relatively soft white limestone deteri
position begins to move back tow ards the south orated badly. T he soundest restoration w ork dates
again. D uring those three days, viewed from the to the pre-Roman pharaonic period, when the
Sphinx Temple, it sets mid-way betw een the two ancient E gyptians chose large limestone slabs (old
largest Giza pyram ids. W hether by chance or by est phase of restoration) and in general selected
design, the p attern th is forms is the hieroglyph for durable m asonry which developed a brown protec
horizon, akhet, the sun between two mountains, tive patina.
w rit very large indeed across the Giza skyline. A kh WThat is the date of the oldest repairs? T he
m eant to glorify; akhet w as the place of glorifica answ er lies tucked between the forepaws of the
tion where the su n sets and also a circumlocution Sphinx in the shape of the scant rem ains of a
for tom b. A kh e t, or horizon, w as the nam e given to small, open-air chapel built in the 18th dynasty by
the G reat Pyram id of Khufu and, in certain textual T hutm ose IV. The chapel w as excavated by Cav-
contexts, also to the entire Giza necropolis. iglia in 1816 (p. 48), when it w as in a much more

There was no need, to add a
face to our reconstruction of
the Sphinx since it already has
one, minus the nose. This
single element was added by
overlaying an alabaster face
o f Khafre in the Boston
Museum o f Fine Arts, whose
features closely matched those
o f the Sphinx. The profile of
the nose was taken from the
famous diorite statue o f
Khafre (far left). The
computer model was then
used to reconstruct the Sphinx
as 18th-dynasty Egyptians
might have done: they
restored Hie lion body with
masonry cladding and very
possibly added a statue o f a
pharaoh, perhaps A menhotep
II. It was Ins son, Thutmose
IV, who carried out the
restoration. When he became
king he added a granite stela
IP1! which became the centrepiece
o f a chapel between the
forepaws. We drew the Sphinx
over the photogrammetric
elevations, then contoured it
mm so the computer could produce
a three-dimensional image.



ilpli v fe w

P ;M
te w


T hutm oses granite stela has m ade other, less
Return to Giza: Khafre s
constructive, contributions to Sphinx studies. It
Pyramid and the Great Sphinx
depicts the Sphinx couchant upon a high pedestal
with a door in the bottom. T his is most likely sim
ply an artistic motif to bring the recum bent Sphinx
In the upper part o f his to a height equal w ith the shoulder and head of the
Dream Stela, set up in the king. However, that has not stopped it nurturing
embrace o f the Sphinx
the persistent legend that beneath the Sphinx there
(opposite), Thutmose IV
makes an offering to the is a hidden passage or temple.
Sphinx in the form, of the In origin, the stela is a reused lintel of a doorway
god Horemakhet. from Khafres m ortuary temple. Given the enorm ity
of the lintel, it probably derives from the temple
complete condition than today. The centrepiece of entrance at the upper end of the causeway. In fact
its back wall is a granite stela, w eighing 15 tons the pivot sockets on the back of the stela match
and 3.6 m (12 ft) tall, erectcd by T hutm ose IV and those in the threshold of the temple. Given also the
dated to the first year of his reign, 1401 BC. Called match of the earliest restoration stones to w hat is
the Dream Stela, this com m em orates his accession left of those of the walls of the causeway, it
to the throne and tells the story of how, as a young ap p ears that the m asonry of Khafres complex w as
prince (though not crown prince) on a hunting stripped in the 18th dynasty. This continued into
expedition in the vicinity of the Sphinx, he fell the 19th dynasty. It may seem strange or unlikely
asleep in the shadow of the statu es head - indicat that pharaohs would strip the temples of Horas-
ing that sand then lay up to its neck. While he slept, User-ib, Khafre, to resurrect the cult of the Sphinx
the Sphinx, as the em bodiment of the sun (and as Horus-in-the-Horizon, Horemakhet. But since
prim eval king) in all its aspects - Khepri-Re-Atum every pharaoh w as a new incarnation of the god
- appeared in a dream and offered him the throne of Horus, perhaps their individual m onum ents were
In the New Kingdom the
Upper and Lower Egypt in retu rn for repairing its regarded as sim ply the communal property of
Sphinx was seen as an image
of the sun god, and it is body and clearing the sand. T he text breaks off, but Horus.
possible that this was what at the top of the stela Thutm ose etched a scene of W hen its cult w as reactivated in the 18th
was intended also when it was him self giving offerings and libations to the dynasty, the Sphinx became the focus of a great
created in the 4th dynasty. Sphinx. T he Dream Stela is com pelling evidence for m udbrick complex, a kind of royal national park
Another interpretation is that dating the oldest restoration work to the reign of around the ruins of Khafres 4th-dynasty temples.
the Sphinx originally
T hutm ose IV, about 1,100 years after Khafre, not A m enhotep II built a temple on the higher terrace
represented the king as a
presenter o f offerings to the only because of its story, but because the limestone northeast of the Sphinx in the first year of his
sun god in the open court of blocks fram ing the stele are uniform with the reign, dedicated to the Sphinx as Horemakhet.
the Sphinx Temple. restoration on the Sphinxs paw s and chest. Behind Khafres valley temple was the resthouse of
the pharaoh T utankham un and in front there w as a
typical Am arna-style villa, probably also a royal
w* \ resthouse. A broad viewing platform and stairw ay
fronted the Sphinx. Scores of stelae com memorate
the visits of royalty, princes, kings and commoners
d uring the 18th dynasty and later New Kingdom.
Several show a royal statue standing between the
paw s of the Sphinx, ju st at the base of its chest and
in the protective em brace from the rear. T h is w as a
very typical 18th-dynasty configuration. Behind
T hutm oses stele, not only is there room for such a
statue, but there is a huge block of m asonry which
could have served as a plinth for a statue 6-7 m
(20-23 ft) in height - colossal in its own right.
New7 Kingdom inscriptions refer to the Sphinx
sanctuary a s Setepet, T he Chosen. In their first
year of rule, pharaohs came to the chapel between
the forepaw s to make dedications to the Sphinx and
to be ordained and confirmed in their position. In so
doing, they participated in a hypostasis of royal
power from living pharaoh to the ancestral king of
the 18th dynasty (probably Amenhotep II), through
ancient kings like Khufu and Khafre and ultim ately
to Horemakhet, the prim eval god-king whose image
towered above them in the form of the Sphinx.

Menkaures pyramid was
named Menkaure is Divine.
Smaller than his predecessors'
pyramids at Giza, its has a

Menkaures Pyramid base area of 102.2 x 104. 6

m (335 x 343ft). It rose to
around 65 m (213 'A ft) at
an angle of 51020' 25 ", The
two descending corridors may
indicate that it was planned to
Adi.. LftJId be much smaller, or that a
passage had been intended to
open as high on the exterior
o f the pyramid as K hufus.
Stadelmann accounts for the
upper passage as a conduit
for air for the builders.

Upper passage
Queens pyramids





Room with 6
niches Mortuary temple

Menkaures queens pyramids W hen archaeologists drew lots for excavating Giza (Right) The easi-west
present some fascinating on the balcony of the Mena House Hotel in 1399, the rectangular chamber, hewn
evidence. The eastern one ivas concession for M enkaure w as won by George Reis from the bedrock, has been Antechamber,
finished in granite and seen as an earlier burial 14.2 x 3.84 m,
ner. He knew beforehand that, while the smallest of
limestone casing. It has the chamber, with the niche at its h. 4.87 m
T-shaped substructure o f a the three Giza pyram ids, its tem ples could provide west end for the sarcophagus.
satellite or ka-pyramid and it the richest finds (his assistant, A rth u r Mace, had Indeed, the niche resembles
lies close to the centre axis of reconnoitered the site). Indeed, M enkaures p y ra bed-niches in ancient
the main pyramid, It did,
however, contain a granite
sarcophagus and it had an
mid offered a uniquely complete pyram id profile.
Reisner, ahead of his time in recording and excava
tion technique, w as able to reconstruct much of the
Egyptian houses. A passage
at the back leads to the space
above the granite ceiling
eastern chapel suggesting it beams o f the lower chamber.
was re-used for a queens story of this pyram id: he could study the pyram id
burial (although it has been and its burial chamber, the queens pyram ids, the ap art from token patches around the entrance to
suggested as the place for the m ortuary temple, the causew ay and the valley tem the pyram id and behind the inner m ortuary temple.
kings mummification). The ple. Because M enkaure died after at least 26 years Along with the actual burial, freeing the pyram id
other two small pyramids of rule, leaving his complex unfinished, its remains face seem s to have been an integral p art of activat
were either built intentionally
represent a very revealing frozen moment. The ing the tomb. H andling bosses are still visible on
as step pyramids or left
unfinished, which suggests work w as completed in m udbrick, apparently in m any of the undressed granite blocks.
that, at least here, core and haste, by his successor Shepseskaf. M enkaures pyram id lies at the far end of the
casing did not rise together. T he upper p a rt of the pyram id w as finished in Giza diagonal and on the very edge of the Mokat-
traditional T urah limestone. A t the bottom, 16 tam Formation, where it dips down to the south and
courses of red granite casing were left undressed, disappears into the younger Maadi Formation. Its

base area is less than a q uarter of that of the p y ra spite of its reduced size, however, M enkaures com
m ids of Khafre and Khufu, and with an original plex used a g reat deal of granite, which w as Menkaures Pyramid
height of 65-66 m (213-16 ft), it represents about alw ays more costly to q uarry and tran sp o rt than
Vio of the building m ass of K hufus pyram id. The the softer limestone.
ancient builders were perhaps running out of room
at Giza for another huge pyram id. However, there Inside the pyramid
were doubtless other forces a t work. One specula The entrance lies about 4 m (13 ft) above the base of (Below left) The east-west
rectangular chamber, which
tion is th a t as the son of the sun god, pharaoh had the north side of the pyram id. A descending p a s
some see as an earlier burial
now to place more em phasis on temples and their sage slopes down at an angle of 26 2 for 31 m (102 chamber, was probably
endowments, and less on the pyram id as the m ark ft) to a horizontal chamber, w here there is a series of constructed to help
er of his personal tomb. In a process already evi panels carved w ith a repeated very tall and stylized manoeuvre the granite lining
dent in the reign of Khafre - and which continued false door motif. This is the first purely decorative o f the actual burial chamber
throughout the Old Kingdom - while the pyram id element inside a pyram id since Djosers. T he lintel (below centre) and to insert
the huge granite beams o f its
shrank, the m ortuary temple expanded in size and spanning the entrance to the horizontal passage is
ceiling. These were carved in
in the complexity and expense of its decorations. In carved as a drum roll representing the rolled up an imitation o f a curved
reed-mat curtain. A horizontal passage w ith three vault.
portcullises leads from here to a rectangular
antecham ber, oriented east-w est, with the east end (Below) In Menkaures
granite-lined burial chamber
Howard Vyse found his
beautiful dark stone
sarcophagus, carved with
niches and panelling. It ivas
removed to be taken to
England, and was lost when
the ship carrying it sank.

(Bottom) The rough-hewn

cellar with, six niches may
derive from K hufus
subterranean chamber. It may
also may be a precursor o f
the standard three-niche
eastern room in 5th- and 6th-
dynasty pyramids, which was
probably used to store the
food offerings for the royal ka


Position of

Burial chamber,
6.59 x 2.62 m,
Chamber with h. 3.43 m
6 niches
Niches: 2.57
x 0.70-0.90
m, h. 1.4 m Descending passage,
: anelled 31.7 x 1.05 m, h. 1.2 m
63 x 3.16 m Entrance

directly under the vertical axis of the pyramid. satellite pyram id and w as later taken over as a b u r
Menkaures Pyramid A nother passage opens in the wall of the cham ber ial place for one of M enkaures queens, perhaps
Wmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm directly above the point where the horizontal p a s K ham erernebty II. All three queens pyram ids had
sage enters. A fter a short horizontal section, this m udbrick chapels and presum ably all received
passage slopes up into, and stops, in the pyram id burials of queens; the body of a young w om an was
core. T he upper passage w as probably abandoned found in the burial cham ber of the middle pyramid.
w hen the floor of th e antecham ber w as lowered.
A sh o rt passage slopes w estw ards from the m id The m ortuary temple and causeway
dle of the floor of this antecham ber, leading down M enkaure began his m ortuary temple, as had
to the burial chamber. On the right of the passage Khafre, with core blocks of limestone that were
is another cham ber with four deep niches in the quarried locally. T he largest of these, found a t the
east wall and two in the north. Similar cham bers northw est corner of the temple, is the heaviest
appear in the later m astaba of Shepseskaf and known at Giza, w eighing over 200 tons. A rchaeo
(Below and opposite)
Menkaure's mortuary temple m ay be forerunners of the three cham bers to the logical evidence suggests that building in stone
included the five elements that left (or east) in the standardized substructure of ceased abruptly and the entire temple w as finished
appeared in Khafres: an 5th- and 6th-dynasty pyramids. in m udbrick by Shepseskaf, M enkaures successor.
entrance hall; broad court; A t the end of the passage, the burial cham ber T he original intention w as to encase the temple in
statue niche; storage w as constructed within a rectangular space carved granite. In the north corridor we see very clearly
chambers; and inner
out of the bedrock and entirely encased in granite. how work was progressing. M enkaures m asons
sanctuary, though the five
statue niches were possibly Its ceiling h a s the appearance of a round barrel h a d just started bringing in a series of granite
replaced by a single colossus vault, b u t it w as carved into the undersides of huge blocks on both sides of the corridor. T hey were cut
of Menkaure. In his valley slabs of g ranite laid in the form of a pented roof. ting back the large limestone core blocks to ensure
temple Reisner found several Inside Vyse found a beautiful dark sarcophagus th at the front faces of the g ranite blocks were flush.
very fine statues of Menkaure with recessed or palace facade panelling. It w as T he unfinished granite casing w as concealed by a
accompanied by the goddess
em pty and its lid w as missing, although fragm ents casing of m udbrick which w as plastered and
Hathor and nome deities, and
also one (shoivn with its of the latter were found, along with the bones and w hitewashed. Though it has all disappeared today,
findspot) with one of his w rappings of a male body in the upper chamber. when Reisner stripped aw ay the m udbrick casing
queens. Unfortunately, the sarcophagus wras lost at sea on he found bright red paint on these core blocks
the ship Beatrice. m arking levelling lines, m easurem ents and the
T he sarcophagus contained a nam es of the work gangs.
m ystery - a wooden coffin A m ong the finds in the m ortuary temple were
inscribed for M enkaure as fragm ents of royal statues. These included the
though it w as the cotfin in head, chest, lap, knees and shins of a larger-than-
which he w as laid to rest. But life alabaster statue of M enkaure th a t m ust have
its style dates it to the Saite been the centrepiece of his entire complex. O rigi
period at the very earliest. nally it stood at the back of a tall and narrow
Radiocarbon dating has east-w est hall at the end of the centre axis of the
proved th at the hum an bones temple. From here, the king looked across the open
found in the upper cham ber court, through the entrance hall, and down the line
date to the Christian period. of the causeway to the land of the living. Behind
Recent radiocarbon dating the g reat statue, on the other side of the back wall
of m um m y p arts from of the m ortuary temple, a t the base of the pyram id,
Djosers burial vault show there w as probably a false door.
them to be much later than T he statue represented the king emerging
the 3rd dynasty, while through the false door, sym bolic portal to and from
female bones from under the underw orld of the pyram id. T here he received
the Step Pyram id date cen the offerings brought to him as head of his house
turies earlier than Djoser. hold for eternity and projected his divine force
Such findings suggest that through the pyram id complex and out into the Nile
burial practices in p y ra Valley for the good of all Egypt.
m ids were more complex Had M enkaures pyram id complex been com plet
than we can appreciate. ed, the causew ay would have been walled and
roofed and extended all the way down to the valley
The queens pyramids temple. It is conventionally stated that Shepseskaf
Three queens pyram ids were completed the causeway, but in m udbrick rather
built to the south of M enkau than limestone. However, it does not stretch beyond
res pyram id. Below the east the point w here it m eets the west side of the old
ern one w as a T-shaped Khufu quarry. From this point down to the valley
substructure, suggesting it temple the causew ay w as probably never more
was initially begun as a than a construction ram p for delivering stone.
Menkaure s pyramid, with the
great gash in its north face
made by Othman in AD 1196.
Below it, some intact granite
casing is visible.
Queens pyramids

I. 608 m

The valley temple and pyramid town houses of the pyram id town first crowded up
To find the valley temple, Reisner projected the axis against the front wall of the tem ple and then began
of the causew ay from the entrance hall of the m or to be built over the wall, invading the courtyard of
tuary temple. His first pit brought to light one of the temple (p. 232). T he pyram id tow n became a
the m ost m arvellous pieces in the entire history of kind of sacred slum, expanding as the num bers of
ancient E gyptian art: the dyad of M enkaure strid its tax-exem pt inhabitants increased. So we begin
ing forth in the em brace of his principal queen, to detect the discrepancy between royal intention
K ham erernebty II. for the pyram id complex and popular reality. A t the Valley
T he valley temple lies at the m outh of the main back of the valley temple Reisner found an offering temple 300 ft
wadi, closing w hat had been the principal conduit place still in position with ash from the last offer
for construction m aterials brought to Giza for three ings m ade to the few statu es kept intact in dark
generations. Evidently it w as clear to M enkaures inner chambers.
builders that this w as to be the last of the large
complexes at Giza. The temple w as built in two Inner sanctuary
phases. First, the foundations were laid out by Magazines

M enkaure in huge, locally quarried limestone

blocks, and later the temple w as completed in m ud
brick by Shepseskaf. Then, in the 6th dynasty,
probably during the reign of Pepi II, it w as com
pletely rebuilt after it had suffered grievously from
In the tem ples small offering space Reisner
found the bases of four alabaster statues of
M enkaure. F urther back in the very inner san ctu
ary, he found the rem ains of other statues. And in
the m agazines flanking the rear central sanctuary
were the triads of M enkaure, which also rank
am ong the greatest pieces of ancient E gyptian art.
Each of these show s the king w earing the tall coni
cal crown of the south, striding forth in the
em brace of two gods, one the goddess Hathor, the
other a deity7 representing one of the E gyptian
In some of the earliest stratig rap h ic excavation 25 m
i---------------- 1
in Egypt, Reisner retraced the process by which the 50 ft

Khentkawes's tomb measured
45.5 x 45.8m (149 x 150ft),
17.5m (57ft) high, with a
slope o f c. 74. On the granite

The Passing o f a Dynasty gate o f her tomb an incised

portrait o f the queen mother
(below left) showed her
wearing the uraeus and false
beard - symbols o f kingship.

0 50 m
----------------- Causeway
0 150 ft with 5th-
and 6th-

Burial chamber,
3.95 x 4.65 m


Like her name, In-Front-of- m em ory w as preserved by people who lived in a

Her-Kas (i.e. her ancestors), The Tomb o f Khentkawes series of houses in one of the oldest planned urban
the bedrock tomb o f stru ctu res in Egypt. These houses were arranged
Khentkawes stands before the
In the course of excavations of the Giza Central in a linear settlem ent along K hentkaw ess cause
pyramids o f her pharaonic
lineage, Khufu, Khafre and cemetery in 1932 3, Selim H assan investigated a w ay and to the south in an L-shape. There are hints
Menkaure. With a mastaba- strange tomb. Once assum ed to be that of Shep- th a t the southern extension com prises an im por
like superstructure and chapel seskaf, it in fact belonged to Khentkawes, a female tan t house, perhaps even a token palace. Imm edi
doors open wide to the ruler of the end of the 4th dynasty. Her remarkable ately southw est of this block is an enclosure of
eastern approach that was tomb has a base consisting of a large cube of w alls and room s that Selim H assan called the val
flanked by her p yramid
bedrock reserved as the stone around it was qu ar ley temple of Khentkawes. M erging into the front
town, this queen mother
closed the Giza line and may ried for the g reat pyram ids. On top of the cube is a of M enkaures valley temple, it is, in fact, an exten
have helped give birth to the m asonry stru ctu re resem bling a m astaba. Khen- sion of M enkaures pyram id town enclosed by a
5th dynasty. tkaw ess nam e w as found on a great granite gate, thick wall. T he pivot socket of its northern gate
Her pyramid town itself extraordinary as an entrance to such a royal way w as form ed by the base of a statue of Khafre,
consisted o f 10 modular tomb. T he lower bedrock section w as encased in w ith the pivot hole in one of the royal feet.
houses along her causeway.
fine T urah limestone at the steep slope of about T he tomb is at the edge of the wadi that w as the
A t the west end a larger
house with thicker walls may 74, the sam e as the accretion layers of the earlier conduit for the building projects at Giza over three
have been part o f her wabet step pyram ids. T he top m asonry is slightly vault generations. By positioning her tomb at its mouth,
(p. 26). The southern ed, like Shepseskafs m astaba. Khentkawes, the queen who m ay have been transi
extension, consisting o f The interior, though badly dam aged in ancient tional to the kings of the 5th dynasty, symbolically
separate buildings, a court times, has som e sim ilarities w ith M enkaures. From closed the passage to the great Giza necropolis.
with granaries, terraces and
a granite-lined hall hewn into the bedrock cube a On the tom bs granite gate Selim H assan found a
a tunnel under the causeway,
was for administration, short, sloping passage leads down to an antecham title th at translates either as T he M other of Two
possibly a token royal ber, a set of m agazines and a burial cham ber con Kings of Upper and Lower E g y p t or T h e King of
residence. structed in granite. As with other royal pyramids, U pper and Lower E gypt and Mother of the King of
the tom b has a boat pit, near the southw est corner - U pper and Lower E g y p t. T he m ystery deepened
once again the direction th at w as so im portant from when Miroslav Verner found a pyram id of a Khen
the lst-d y n asty tom bs at Abydos. tkaw es with the sam e titles at A busir (p. 145). Both
One of the m ost interesting aspects of this ruled as kings in their own right but seem to be a
pyram id is its associated settlem ent. The queens generation apart.

Pit for burial

Enclosure, 665 x 420 m

(Above and below) The Descending

Unfinished Pyramid at Mortuary temple passage
Zawiyet el-Aryan was
in tended to measure 200 x
200 m (656 x 656ft). The
sloping passage down to the
burial chamber is 106 m
(348ft) long. It is thought
that this massive structure
was worked on for less than
a year.

6 niches Burial chamber

(magazines?) 7.79 x 3.85 m,
h. 4.9 m
Pit for burial chamber
0 150 ft

Shepseskafs giant mastaba

The Unfinished Pyramid at The Mastabat el-Fara un measured 99.6 m (327ft) by
Zaiviyet el-Aryan 74.4 m (244 ft) and had a
slope o f about 70, reaching
M enkaures successor, Shepseskaf, chose to be
a height o f about 18 m
Yet another puzzle associated w ith the p assin g of buried in South Saqqara, under a huge m astaba, (59ft).
the 4th dynasty is the large unfinished pyram id at 99.6 m (327 ft) long by 74.4 m (244 ft) broad, origi
Zawiyet el-Aryan. It has been suggested th at it nally encased with fine limestone, except for a bot
belongs to a pharaoh who ruled between Khafre tom course of red granite. With an outer slope of
The arched roof o f
and M enkaure for such a sh o rt time he may have 70, it may have risen in two steps and certainly
Shepseskafs granite burial
been overlooked in the king lists. Hieratic (short took the form of a Buto shrine - a vaulted top chamber is carved into the
hand hieroglyphic) inscriptions have been tran slat between vertical ends. A corridor descends at 23 undersides o f the ceiling
ed as Nebka, or Wehemka. O thers see Baka, which 30' for 20.95 m (69 ft) to a corridor-cham ber fol slabs.
w as perhaps later remembered as N ebkare or lowed by three portcullis slots and a passage to an
Baufre, the Bicheris of M anethos king list. antecham ber. A short passage slopes down to the
T he m easurem ents, in any case, compel us to west to the burial chamber. Its ceiling, like M enkau
date this unfinished schem e to the 4th dynasty. If res, w as sculpted into a false vault. Remains were
finished, the pyram id would have been close in size found of a hard dark stone sarcophagus, decorated
to Khafres. It has a large secondary precinct with like M enkaures (p. 135). From the southeast of the
w alls of fieldstone and clay, like those around the antecham ber a narrow corridor leads to six niches,
Giza pyram ids and of sim ilar dimensions. Inside the equivalent of those in the tom bs of M enkaure
the pyram id a long, sloping passage leads down to and Khcntkawes, and the precursor of the three
a deep, square pit, like th at of Djedefre (p. 120) and small m agazines that would become standard. The
sim ilar in size: 11.7 x 24 m (38 x 78 ft) and 21 m m astaba w as surrounded by a double enclosure
(69 ft) deep. At the bottom it w as paved w ith gigan defined by m udbrick walls. A small m ortuary tem
tic blocks of limestone and granite. Clearly, this ple on the east had an offering hall and false door,
w as a m assive project, begun in the full confidence flanked by five magazines. There were no statue
of a long reign. T he granite sarcophagus took the niches though p art of a statu e of Shepseskaf was
form of a great oval tub, sunk into the pavement. found in the temple. To the east lay a small inner
T he cover survived b u t the sarcophagus w as court and a larger outer one. A long causew ay led to
empty. a valley temple which has never been excavated.

The Pyramid o f Userkaf

With Userkaf, probably a son of Khentkawes,

M anetho begins a new dynasty, the 5th. It is inter
esting th a t U serkaf returned not just to Saqqara
but also chose a site as close as possible to the com
plex of Djoser, building his pyram id at its exact
northeast corner. Unas, the last king of the 5th
dynasty, placed his at the opposite southw est cor
ner. U serkaf also returned to the pyram id form.
U serkaf s reign w as short - under 10 years, p er
haps even as few as seven (c. 2465-2458 BC) - and
his pyramid, Pure are the Places of U serkaf, was
much sm aller even than M enkaures. It w as origi the pyram id. From here a horizontal corridor ran
nally encased in fine limestone, but this disguised a for 18.5 m (61 ft), partially clad with granite and
core m asonry that w as so haphazardly laid th at plugged with blocks of the sam e stone, fragm ents
when the outer casing was stripped the pyramid of which survive. In the middle of the horizontal
slum ped into a large heap of rubble. T he choice of corridor w as a huge portcullis slab and beyond this
core m asonry in this case may have been as much opened a T-shaped magazine. The corridor ran to
related to the geology of the Saqqara formation - an anteroom exactly on the pyram ids vertical axis.
A granite head o f Userkaf
which consists of thin layers of limestone - as to From here another sh o rt corridor led west to the
from a colossal statue that
must have stood in the temple any change in building practices. burial chamber. T h is w as the basic pattern for a
court. pyram id su b stru cture that would persist through
Inside the pyramid the Old Kingdom.
All the elements of the pyram ids substructure T he burial cham ber w as originally lined and
were constructed in a deep open shaft sunk below paved with fine limestone. Its roof was pented, con
ground level before the pyram id itself w as begun. sisting of huge limestone beam s leaning against
A passage descended to the construction trench, each other. The sarcophagus, em pty when archae
the base of which w as 8 m (26 ft) below the base of ologists found it, w as m ade of basalt.

The pyramid o f Userkaf Satellite pyramid

called Pure are the Places o f
U serkaf measured 73.3 m Open court
(240ft) to a side. The slope
5 statue niches
was 5 3 0 and it rose to a
height o f 49 m (161 ft).
pyramid I;


\ Vestibule Offering chapel

Causeway 50 m

7 5 0 ft
Offering chapel

Userkafs temple is in a very

N unusual position, on the south
of, and turned away from, the
pyramid. There may be
ideological causes or practical
Burial chamber, ones, due to a possible moat
7.87 x 3.13 m around Djosers complex.
Antechamber, Magazine
4 .1 4 x 3 .1 2 m
Some o f the finest relief
carving in Egyptian art
decorated the 5th-dynasty
pyramid temples. This
fragment is from Userkafs
mortuary temple.

The pyramid complex Middle Kingdom pyramids, U serkaf returns to the

The position of U serkafs m ortuary temple is a sig Djoser-type elements: a n o rth -so u th rectangular
nificant departure from the plan of the standard enclosure and, by placing his temple on the south,
pyram id complex. He separated his offering chapel, an entrance at the far south end of the eastern side.
at the centre of the eastern base of his pyram id, T he m ortuary temple seem s to have had ele
from his m ortuary temple, which he moved to the m ents standard to every pyram id temple from the In the 5th and 6th dynasties,
south side. Some have interpreted this change in time of Khafre on, if in a different arrangem ent. pyramid chambers roofed by
term s of ideology. We know that the kings of the The causew ay entered the pyram id enclosure near huge pented limestone beams
5th dynasty became increasingly involved with the the southern end of the east wall. A doorway led to were the rule, as seen here in
sun cult at Heliopolis, as hinted at by the legendary a vestibule and then to a kind of entrance hall. T hat the chamber of Userkafs
satellite pyramid.
origins of the dynasty in the W estcar Papyrus. In in tu rn led to an open court with a colonnade
addition to their pyram id complexes kings now of monolithic granite pillars. A colossal head of
began to build special solar temples of which Userkaf w as found in the debris. South of the court
U serkafs a t A busir w as the first (p. 150). By plac w as a small columned hall. Beyond, were the five
ing his m ortuary temple on the south, Userkaf statue niches - the statues of the king would have
would ensure that the su n s rays would shine direct faced the pyram id in this position - a sanctuary
ly into it all year round. O thers see this dram atic and storage chambers. Not only w as the temple
deviation from an established tradition as simple moved to the south side, but, exceptionally, its ele
expediency, due to the fact th at the ground w as m ents are oriented tow ards the south rather than
poor to the east. the pyram id, as in all other m ortu ary temples.
Nabil Swelim has pointed to evidence of a large T he offering chapel, of w hich only traces remain,
moat completely surrounding Djosers enclosure on consisted of a central room, containing a quartzite
all sides, a s deep as 25 m (82 ft), which could have false door, w ith a narrow cham ber on either side.
been the quarry for the core stone of Djosers com Like the m ortuary temple, the chapel had a floor of
plex. U serkafs pyram id fitted between the enclo black basalt. T he walls had a base of granite but
sure wall and the eastern side of this depression - were completed in Turah limestone, carved with
but the pyram id combined w ith the temple on its very fine relief offering scenes. U serkafs causeway
eastern side w ould not. If the m oat did exist, has never been traced to the east and his valley
U serkafs reason for m oving his m ortuary temple temple rem ains to be discovered.
to the south may have been practical. W hatever the U serkaf also built a satellite pyram id, 21 m
precise reason, it seem s th a t it w as im portant for (69 ft) square, with a T-shaped su b stru ctu re and a
U serkaf to place his pyram id in close proxim ity to cham ber w ith a per.ted roof as in the main p y ra
the already ancient Djoser complex. And herein lies mid. Yet a third pyramid, ju st south of and outside
yet another possible reason for his peculiar layout. the enclosure wall, w as apparently for a queen
Dieter A rnold has pointed out the vacillation whose nam e is lost. It m easures 26.25 m (86 ft) to a
between the Djoser-type pyram id complexes and side and probably rose to a height of c. 17 m (56 ft).
M eidum -type with eastern m ortuary tem ples and Its su b stru ctu re w as a sm aller version of U serkafs,
causew ays (p. 18). While sw itching back and forth w ithout the magazines, and the pyram id had its
between the two is m ore characteristic of the own m ortuary temple, decorated with reliefs.

where the quintessential icon of the pyram id, the
sacred ben-ben, lay in an inner sanctuary of the sun
temple. T he A busir diagonal was broken by
Niuserre, who inserted his pyram id between
The Pyramids o f Abusir Sahures and N eferirkares , his father. In addition to
the four pyram ids of kings, there are the sm aller
pyram ids of Khentkawes, two, perhaps for queens
(Lepsius XXIV and XXV), and an unfinished p y ra
mid, possibly of Shepseskare.

Several places in E g y p t are nam ed Abusir. The

Arabic word derives from the Greek name, Busiris, The Pyramid o f Sahure
which in tu rn stem s from the ancient Egyptian, Per
Wsir, Place of O siris - the multiple A busirs W hen Ludwig B orchardt excavated Sahures com
reflecting the m yth of the m urder of Osiris, whose plex in 1902-8 he found a great wealth of relief
body w as cut into pieces and buried a t different carving. Walls of 4th-dynasty pyram id temples
places. T he pyram id field of A busir is a northerly had also been decorated w ith reliefs, but here, with
extension of the Saqqara necropolis. It lies on the a vast reduction in the size of the pyram id, there is
desert slopes northw est of the A busir lake that a proportionally greater em phasis on decoration.
served as a n atural harbour for the pyram id com T he core of Sahures pyram id w as form ed of
plexes. Just south of the lake are the great lst- roughly shaped blocks of limestone from quarries
dynasty m astabas located on the high ridge (p. 78). to the west of Abusir. It consisted of five or six
The 5th-dynasty pyramid field
at Abusir shows once again U serkaf initiated the royal cemetery a t Abusir steps, w ith the blocks loosely held together w ith
the concern for alignment as by building his sun temple slightly north of the m ud m ortar. In the north side a wide construction
noted at Giza. Here the plateau where his successors would create a pyra g ap allowed the builders to work on the inner
diagonal ivas interrupted by mid cluster. A s at Giza, three of the A busir pyra stru ctu res while they raised the pyram id core all
Niuserre. Just to the north, mids - of Sahure, Neferirkare and Raneferef - around; this gap w as later filled with debris.
at Abu Ghurob, are the two
align on a north east to southw est diagonal along
remaining sun temples o f six Inside the pyramid
known from inscriptions to their northw est corners. M iroslav Verner, director
have been built by 5th-dynasty of the Czech mission at Abusir, suggests that the Sahures pyram id w as entered by a passage open
pharaohs. two diagonals converge at the site of Heliopolis, ing on the north side, just east of centre, near the
floor level of the court. A short, sloping section
lined with red g ranite w as blocked at the bottom by
Sun temple of Niuserre
a granite portcullis. The passage next ascended
slightly, now lined w ith limestone. A short, granite-
500 m
, i lined, horizontal section led to the burial chamber,
1500 ft w ith a gabled roof of three tiers of enorm ous lime
Sun temple stone beams. T he substructure had been badly
of Userkaf dam aged and when P erring entered the burial
cham ber in the early 19th century he found only a
vi * pyramid (of single fragm ent of a basalt sarcophagus.
Pyramid of ^ fe n r 'k a r l ShePseskare?)
Raneferef The pyramid complex
<Y | A t the front of S ahures valley temple, the w aters of
Pyramid of j
Niuserre L-'-'.J the A busir lake lapped up to the main entrance,
where there w as a landing ram p. A canal or inlet
Lepsius XXV led to a secondary entrance to the south, perhaps
indicating that the palace lay in this direction. A
Pyramid of %=&> wall here could belong to the pyram id tow n - The
Soul of Sahure Comes Forth in G lory.
T he front ram p led to an elegant portico, the roof
of which w as decorated with carved and painted
golden stars on a blue background and supported
by eight granite colum ns with capitals in the shape
of palm fronds. Here, as throughout Sahures com
plex, w as an interesting contrast of stones: the
floor w as black basalt; the dado w as red granite;
and the upper p arts were fine limestone, decorated
with painted reliefs featuring the king as a sphinx
tram pling on his defeated enemies.

Pyramid court
.-Offering hall

5 statue niches
Transverse corridor




Inside the valley temple a T-shaped hall gave A t the south side o f Sahures
direct access to the causeway, 235 m (450 cubits or mortuary temple was o sacred
771 ft) long, leading straight to the entrance hall of service entrance for deliveries
to the temple magazines.
the m ortuary temple up on the plateau. For their Inside, the -walls were
50 m entire length, the walls of the causew ay were deco decorated with scenes o f Nile
100 ft
rated w ith reliefs, including scenes of gods leading gods and offering bearers.
prisoners taken from E g y p ts traditional enemies. This small portico also gave
Causeway, Such scenes were m eant to ward off any evil or dis access to the satellite pyramid.
I. 235 m
T-shaped order th at m ight threaten the security of the inner
Sahures pyramid The Rising
hall temple. S ahures are am ong the oldest know n reliefs o f the Ba Spirit'stood 78.75
of this genre, which would be placed a t temple m (258ft) square and 4 7 m
entrances for the next 2,500 years. (154 ft) high, with a slope
T he plan of the m ortuary temple h as been called o f 50 I V 40". His satellite
the conceptual beginning of all subsequent Old pyramid was 15.7m
(30 cubits, or 51 f t 6 in) to
Kingdom examples. A granite-fram ed doorway led
a side, 11.55 m (38 ft) high,
to a closed corridor around a pillared court. Reliefs with a 5 6 slope. This artists
on the north wall show the king fishing and fowl reconstruction is based on
Landing ramps
ing, while on the south he is hunting with his Borchardts.

(Above) A n estimated 10,000

sq. m (107,643 sq. ft) o f fine Burial chamber,
relief carving covered the 12.6 x 3.15 m
Satellite pyramid
walls o f Sahures complex, a
few fragments o f which are
Open court Entrance passage,
redrawn here. In the
w. 1.27 m, h. 1.87 m
mortuary temple the goddess
Seshat records booty gained
Entrance hall
in war (top); in his valley
temple goddesses suckle
Sahure (centre) and troops
greet his barque (bottom).



courtiers. It is certainly not by coincidence that Inside the pyramid
The Pyramids o f Abusir themes of capturing wild gam e are played out on As with Sahures pyram id, the substructure was
the walls of the dark corridor surrounding the open very badly dam aged. A descending corridor led
court - a bright clearing tamed by the king, the from near the middle of the north side, roofed with
g u arantor of order. T he colonnade of the court is great gabled limestone beam s that discharged the
supported by g ranite pillars with palm capitals, weight to either side. T he burial cham ber was
each with the insignia of Sahure. A w hite alabaster covered with three layers of such beams. No trace
altar stood in the court. Reliefs on the walls show of the sarcophagus w as found inside.
the kings victories over A siatics and Libyans,
including one scene show ing the king about to exe The pyramid complex
cute a Libyan chief while his family beg for his life. Neferirkares m ortuary tem ple appears to have
Beyond the court is a transverse corridor, sep a been finished in haste. T he inner temple with its
rating the front from the inner temple. On the east five statue niches and offering hall were built in
wall are reliefs of sea voyages - one of the earliest stone, but the court and entrance hall were com plet
exam ples of this subject on walls flanking a temple ed in mudbrick, with wood columns in the form of
threshold. Small cham bers to the west were deco bundles of lotus stalks and buds. Only the founda
rated with processions of offering bearers, each tions of the causew ay and valley temple had been
personifying an estate. Side doors gave access to built when work stopped. When Niuserre later took
more magazines, where all the goods hunted, cap over the site of N eferirkares temple for his own val
tured or cultivated were stored - if perhaps only ley temple, the entrance to Neferirkares complex
symbolically. A small alabaster stairw ay directly w as moved up to the m ortuary temple. So, ap p a r
on the temples main axis led up to a cham ber with ently, was the adm inistration of the pyram id which
five niches with an alabaster floor and a double-leaf norm ally would have focused in the town near the
door. Each would have held a statu e of the king.
At the heart of the m ortuary tem ple is the offer Neferirkares pyramid was
ing chapel with the false door, only fragm ents of catted the Pyramid o f the
which survived. T he floor of this cham ber w as Ba o f Neferirkare The
paved w ith white alabaster. Originally it contained length o f the base was about
105 m (200 cubits, or 344 ft)
a black granite statu e and an offering basin with a
A statue o f Sahure, builder and the faces o f the steps
drain of copper tubing. In the north wall a granite incline by about 73. Had the
o f the first pyramid at Abusir
doorway led to five rooms, two of which also had conversion to a true pyramid
limestone basins and copper drains, p art of a com been completed, it woidd have
plex drainage system that ran through the temple. risen to about 72 m (236ft)
Sahures satellite pyram id is in a sim ilar position at a slope o f 54"
to Khufus, a t the pyram ids southeast corner. 'Phis (Opposite) Since Niuserre
would be its standard place until the end of the Old usurped Neferirkares
Kingdom. It w as surrounded by its own small court unfinished valley temple, the
entered by a portico with two round granite pillars entrance, rudimentary
inscribed with Sahures titulary. pyramid town and
administration moved
up to the front of the
The Pyramid o f Neferirkare mortuary temple.

Neferirkare ascended the throne after his brother

Sahure. A lthough he may have been advanced in
age when, for unknow n reasons, he rather than
Sahures son became pharaoh, Neferirkare attem pt
ed to build a pyram id th at exceeded his brothers in
size. Evidence suggests that it w as planned as a
step pyram id, rising in six tiers of well-laid, /
limestone retaining walls. However, on the ,'
south and west sides some of the loose ,'
m asonry rem ains from w hat m ust have ' v
filled in the steps, suggesting th at the step
pyram id m ight have been transform ed to a true
pyramid. It is certain that a t a later stage the
builders began to enlarge the pyram id by adding a
girdle of m asonry and a casing of red granite. It
seem s the lowest course w as laid, but not Antechamber
smoothed, and the pyram id w as never finished.

valley floor. T hanks to this, one p a rt of the adm in Contrasting pyramid clusters:
N istrative archives, the A busir Papyri, was pre the slumped cores o f the
served. Nine or ten houses were built, probably for Abusir pyramids form a line
0 25 m
in front o f the giant pyramids
0 50 ft those in temple service (p. 234). Over time the wood
o f Giza in the background.
en columns and roofs m ust have deteriorated and
the inhabitants hid the columns in m udbrick walls
that were p art of new rooms.

The Pyramid o f the Queen Mother

On a limestone block from Neferirkares pyram id

found by Perring was a graffito m entioning the
Kings Wife Khentkawes. She also appeared as
\ Magazines Neferirkares wife in a relief of the royal family on
\ Inner another limestone block from the site, along with
sanctuary The pyramid o f Neferirkare,
his son, Raneferef. It was only in the 1970s, howev looking northwest across the
5 statue er, that the Czech expedition identified her as the
mortuary lemple o f Queen
owner of a small pyramid at Abusir. Khentkawes's pyramid.

Entrance hall

Burial chamber

Descending passage
As with the superstructure, the substructure of
The Pyramids o f Abusir the pyram id was badly ruined. The Czech team
ascertained that the m ortuary temple w as built in
tw o stages, and the entrance of the first included
square limestone pillars painted red and inscribed
w ith K hentkaw ess nam e and titles. Sim ilar pillars,
gracing an open court, show the queen holding the
p ap y ru s wad) sceptre and w earing the royal uraeus
on her brow, thought to be exclusive to kingship.
A granite false door w as embedded in the west
wall of the offering hall that backed on to the p y ra
mid. Next to the hall, three deep recesses probably
held statues of the queen. Carved and painted relief
Queen Khentkawes, shown in scenes covered the walls of the inner tem ple depict
a relief from the court o f her ing processions of estates, agriculture and sacri
mortuary temple. Like the fices. On one fragm ent she is given the sam e title as
Khentkawes at Giza (p. 138),
K hentkaw es at Giza (p. 138). B ut the two are proba
she wears the uraeus o f
kingship and holds a papyrus bly not the sam e person - this one w as the mother
sceptre, symbol o f northern of Raneferef and Niuserre. Verner has suggested
Egypt. th at the title should be read as M other of the King
of U pper and Lower Egypt, [exercising office as]
K hentkaw ess pyram id is south of Neferirkares The King of U pper and Lower E gypt.
pyram id and near its centre axis the position T he idea th at K hentkaw es II ruled as pharaoh in
occupied by the satellite pyram ids of Sneferus her own right is supported by the second stage of
Bent Pyram id at D ahshur and K hafres at Giza. her m ortuary temple. It w as extended to the east
T his location hints at a link between the function of and had the east-w est axial alignm ent characteris
satellite pyram ids, related to the kin g s ka, and the tic of kings temples. Five storage cham bers were
role of the queen mother, who transfers the royal ka added south of the entrance. K hentkawes also had
from one generation to the next. A date inscribed on her own satellite pyram id, for which stone was
a block of the pyram id indicates th a t construction diverted from an enclosure wall of the pyram id.
paused in Year 10 of an unnam ed king. On another K hentkaw es w as w orshipped at her small pyram id
block, the word M other w as added above 'Kings for 300 years, until the end of the 6th dynasty. Her
Wife, perhaps when work resumed. Had a son of temple yielded another collection of papyri, which,
Khentkawes become king, enhancing her status? like those from N eferirkares, provide a literary w in
dow on to the life of a pyram id complex
When complete, Khentkawess
pyramid would have stood
about 17 m (56 ft) high and The Pyramid o f Raneferef
25 m (82 ft) square at the
base, with a slope o f 52. The Burial chamber
Czech team, under Miroslav The last pyram id on the A busir diagonal w as long
Verner, retrieved the major known as the Unfinished Pyram id. In 1974 the
elements o f her mortuary Czech Expedition began to excavate it, suspecting
temple, though the inner part it belonged to Raneferef, an ephem eral ruler whose
was badly destroyed. Site had
m o rtu ary temple w as m entioned in the A busir
five storage magazines and
her own satellite pyramid. A Papyri. T heir research showed that the pyram id
potters workshop occupied w as indeed left unfinished, b u t w as made function
one corner. al for the cult of Raneferef. T he site w as less dis
turbed than others because there w as no towering
pyram id to attract robbers, and m ost of the temple
had been finished in m udbrick rather than the lime
Satellite pyramid
stone used by m anufacturers of mortar. T hus the
unfinished pyram id ironically provides m uch infor
Potters workshop m ation about how pyram ids of this period were
built, and how they functioned as ritual centres.
Raneferefs builders levelled the site and laid out
the square for the pyram id base w ith sides of 65 m
(213 ft 3 in) - a respectable size, slightly sm aller
than Sahures. In the middle of the square they dug
Magazines Domestic rooms
a pit, in which the burial cham ber would have been
H---------- n
Entrance built while the core of the pyram id rose around it.

Pit for burial


----------- N
of the Knife 0 25 m
1 1
0 50 ft
(3rd stage)

An open trench, left to allow the builders to bring in accretions should have resembled the layers of an The unfinished pyramid of
the stone for the burial chamber, later contained the onion. Instead, the excavators discovered that the Raneferef was begun with a
entrance passage. Although now missing, the su b core consisted of an outer retaining wad of four or base length o f 65 m (213 fi
3 in ). Its mortuary temple
structure may have been finished when Raneferef five well-laid courses of limestone blocks and an stretches out along it - the
died. Only one step of the core, however, had been inner line of smaller blocks fram ing the trench of L-shape is due to an added
completed, which w as quickly faced with limestone the burial chamber. Between these tw o w alls w as a third stage consisting o f a
at a slope of 78, leaving the tomb in the form of a fill of poor-quality limestone, m ortar and sand. columned courtyard and the
low m astaba. T he top w as finished off with a layer Sanctuary o f the Knife - a
of clay into which desert stones were stuck. No The pyramid complex slaughter house for sacrificial
animals. Since the pyramid
wonder the pyram id is referred to as the M ound in Verner believes the first stage of Raneferef s m ortu
was never finished and the
the fragm ents of p ap y ru s found in its temple. ary temple w as finished quickly, between the kings substructure is notv
Here the Czech team had the opportunity to test death and his burial - a period of perhaps 70 days. completely missing, a
the idea of Lepsius and Borchardt th a t the 5th- It w as a small rectangular building, unusually ori reconstruction is not possible.
dynasty pyram ids were built in steps in accretions ented n o rth-south, at the centre of the east side of
around a tall, narrow central core, like those of the pyram id platform. An entrance on the south led to
3rd dynasty, albeit not with inw ard-leaning cours a vestibule and three cham bers, including the offer
es. If this was the case, under the capping layer, the ing chapel with a red g ranite false door and an

temple - knives, vessels, jewellery, boxes, etc.

The Abusir Papyri A ccounts of products and materials supplied to Raneferef
the temple, their use or storage, as well as financial
Three sets of pyramid archives have been found at transactions. These are key to our understanding of
Abusir, written in hieratic, a cursive form of the economic function of pyramids. They record the
hieroglyphics. Papyri associated with the pyramid goods flowing in from royal estates, and also from
of Neferirkare, found by local villagers earlier this royal residences and other institutions. Neferirkares
century, have been studied and published by Paule sun temple, which has not been found, seems to have
Posener-Krieger. The fragments, only a fraction of played a special role in this.
the original archive, date mostly from the reign of A rchitectural records form a small but interesting
Djedkare-Isesi, who built his pyramid at South category. These relate to inspections of the masonry
Saqqara but required a good administrative system to of the temple, checking for damage.
oversee the mortuary cults of family members buried One fragment of this last category gave a clue to the
at Abusir. Neferirkare's papyri can be divided into existence of Raneferefs mortuary temple which was
several main categories: subsequently located by the Czech team. Another
S ch ed u les of priestly duties in the temple relating to archive was discovered inside it, which is still being
daily and monthly ceremonies, as well as important studied. It seems to contain similar categories as
festivals. They stipulate offerings, sacrifices and Neferirkares archive, as well as a number of royal
guard duties, as well as outlining the organization decrees. It also includes a mention of the Sanctuary
of the workforce (p. 233). of the Knife. Another archive, also still being studied,
Inventories of the furnishing and equipment of the was found in the mortuary temple of Khentkawes.

bulls could be slaughtered during a 10-day festival.
The Pyramids o f Abusir T he Sanctuary of the Knife w as in operation for a
sh o rt time before the third stage of the temple shut
it down and it w as used for storage.
A columned courtyard w as added to the front of
the temple in the third stage, giving the whole
arrangem ent a T-shape. A new entrance w as su p
ported by two six-stem m ed p ap y ru s columns,
while 24 wooden colum ns lined the court. Only the
bases remain, b u t the im print of the shaft on one
A limestone statue o f indicates th at they were palm columns.
Raneferef shown in the
embrace o f and merging
his identity with, the Horus The Pyramid o f Niuserre
falcon, god of kingship.
The statue was found in
his mortuary temple. It w as perhaps Shepseskare who made a sta rt on
another pyram id between Sahures and the sun
temple of Userkaf. It consists only of the base of
the pyram id core and the beginning of the pit and
altar. Verner believes Shepseskare, who perhaps trench for the substructure. It w as never finished,
reigned for a sh o rt time after Raneferef, m ight have and when N iuserre came to the throne he had to
built this small chapel, because two m ud sealings complete the pyram ids of Neferirkare, his father,
w ith his H orus nam e were found in the vicinity. Khentkawes, his mother, and Raneferef, his brother.
It is certain, in any case, th a t it w as N iuserre who He did not finish the possible pyram id of Shep
added the spraw ling complex of m udbrick walls seskare, perhaps because that pharaoh w as buried
and cham bers. T his second stage enveloped the in a large m astaba that had been prepared before he
earlier stone chapel and spread to the east, extend assum ed the throne for so short a time.
ing the entire length of the pyram id. The entrance Niuserre reigned for more than 30 years b u t his
in the centre of the east side w as m arked by two pyram id is sm aller than N eferirkares and closer in
limestone lotus-stalk columns. Imm ediately inside, size to Sahures. He seem s to have w anted to remain
a transverse corridor led to five large magazines. w ithin this family of kings and inserted his p y ra
Two wooden cult boats were ritually buried in one, mid in the space in the angle between Neferirkares
along w ith thousands of carnelian beads th at may pyram id and Sahures. Spatial limitations may
have adorned them. In the the northern p art of the therefore have determ ined the size of this pyramid.
temple were 10 more magazines, arranged in two T he pyram id core w as built in steps and w as origi
pairs of five. Here another cache of adm inistrative nally sheathed in fine limestone as shown by some
papyri w as found, as well as num erous objects casing blocks found still in position.
including stone vessels and flint knives.
The southern p a rt of the temple w as taken up by Inside the pyramid
one of E g y p ts earliest known hypostyle halls. Four From the entrance a t ground level in the middle of
row s of five wooden columns supported the roof. the north side a passage ran horizontally for the
Only the im print of the columns remained on the thickness of the casing and then sloped down to a
limestone bases, b u t this showed th a t they took the cham ber blocked by three granite portcullises.
form of sheaves of lotus buds. A m ong m any frag Beyond, the passage continued at a more gentle
m ents of statues found in the ru in s of the court, the slope to the antecham ber, deviating slightly to
m ost beautiful show s Raneferef with the Horus fal ensure th at the threshold between the antecham ber
con. Papyri inform us th at the largest statue, in and the burial cham ber w as on the pyram id s verti
wood, w as a special focus of cult activities. There cal axis. The antecham ber and burial cham ber
were also small wooden statues of E g y p ts tradi were clad in fine limestone and roofed with the
tional enemies - Asiatics, Libyans and Nubians - standard three tiers of enorm ous limestone beam s,
that were probably attached to the lower p arts of each 10 m (33 ft) long and w eighing 90 tons.
the throne or dais on which the m ain statue stood.
One of the m ost rem arkable features of Ranefer- The pyramid complex
efs complex w as added at this sta g e - the Sanctu N iuserre took over the terrace and foundations that
ary of the Knife. Its nam e w as found in texts from had been prepared for N eferirkares causew ay and
the temple, as well as in inscriptions on vessels for valley temple. T he valley temple was entered by a
anim al fat. A w ide entrance allowed w orkers to portico with two row s of four columns in the form
bring in anim als to be ritually slaughtered in the of p ap y ru s bundles. Inside, the pavem ent was
court in the northw est corner of the building. Evi black basalt, w ith w alls of fine limestone with
dence from the papyri indicate that as m any as 130 painted relief decoration above a dado of red

Satellite 5 statue
pyramid niches

Pylon Magazines Pylon

Open Inner sanctuary
court Square
Magazines antechamber


25 m Niuserre's pyramid was called
Valley red granite. Fragm ents of reliefs from the outer
temple temple depict members of the court; in the inner The Places o f Niuserre
Endure It measured 78.9 m
temple, Niuserre enters the com pany of the gods.
(150 cubits, or 259ft) square
For the first time there is a small square antecham and 51.68 m (164 ft) high
Pylon ber, its roof supported by a single pillar, th at leads with a slope o f 51 50' 35".
in tu rn to the offering hall. Relief fragm ents depict This view is looking north,
Satellite scenes of homage. A nother new element in this across the corner o f
pyramid complex is a pair of m assive blocks of m asonry Neferirkares mortuary
3 portcullis
at the corners of the pyram id court. These temple. Niuserre built his
chamber mortuary temple in an L-
appear to be the precursors of the great shape in order to avoid older
Antechamber pylons a t the front of later Egyptian mastabas to the east, and to
temples. N iuserres satellite pyra usurp his fathers causeway.
mid within its own enclosure had He also usurped the
the standard T-shaped substructure of foundations of his fathers
passage and chamber. At the southern edge valley temple to build his own.
of the pyram id cluster are two badly destroyed
possible pyram ids, le p siu s XXIV and XXV, which
Pylon may have belonged to queens of Niuserre.

granite. Limestone figures of fettered enemies may Sun Temples o f Abusir The Abusir pyramids, looking
have stood near the exit to the causeway. across the ruins o f Userkafs
sun temple. The Swiss and
N iuserres builders made great use of basalt, lin Ancient documents, including the A busir Papyri,
German expedition were able
ing the bases of the walls of the entire length of the inform us of six sun temples, one for each king of to reconstruct the four major
causeway with it. Above, the walls were decorated the 5th dynasty except Djedkare-Isesi and Unas. phases o f the temple's
with reliefs, again show ing the king as a sphinx or T he nam e of Sahures, Field of Re, w as found on a construction.
lion tram pling his traditional enemies. The ceiling
was a field of blue, studded with golden stars.
Because it w as intended for Neferirkares pyram id,
the caasew ay had to bend quite sharply to bring it
to the entrance of N iuserres m ortuary temple. To
avoid the older m astabas the tem ple had an u n u su
al shape but kept the principal elements of previ
ous ones, particularly Sahures. The inner offering
chapel is in its traditional place a t the centre of the
east side of the pyram id, lined up with the burial
chamber. Five statue niches, complemented by five
oblong magazines, flank the offering chapel with its
red granite false door and offering slab.
Immediately north of the entrance to the five
statue niches, a deep niche contained a huge lion of
Four phases of a sun temple: block of m asonry in the m ortuary temple of p a rts of a granite obelisk - a new form that
1 a mound in a rectangular Niuserre. We know th at N eferirkares w as called Neferirkare erected in Phase 2 to m atch the obelisk
enclosure; 2 Neferirkare sets Place of Res P leasure; Raneferefs w as Res Offer he had built for his own sun temple, as seen in its
a granite obelisk on a pedestal
ing Table; while M enkauhors w as nam ed The hieroglyphic name. A pedestal building clad in
building, with two shrines in
front; 3 Niuserre rebuilds the Horizon of Re. But archaeologists have found only quartzite and g ranite replaced the tem ples central
inner enclosure in limestone two sun temples, those of U serkaf and Niuserre. In mound, w ith a w inding corridor up to the roof and
and extends older enclosure, layout both resemble a pyram id complex - with a a sacristy. In Phase 3 the enclosure and the area
(re)bidlds valley temple; valley temple, causew ay and upper temple. around the obelisk were again completely rebuilt. It
4 inner enclosure cased in w as probably N iuserre who added an inner enclo
mudbrick, new altar, stalls U serkafs Stronghold of Re
and benches added. sure wall and cham bers of limestone that were not
U serkafs is both the first sun temple to be built by completely dressed before the next phase, 4, saw
a pharaoh in addition to a pyram id and the first the exterior surfaces cased in plastered mudbrick.
royal edifice at Abusir. The only precedent is the A m udbrick altar at the east side of the pedestal
4th-dynasty Sphinx Temple at Giza (p. 128), which building belonged to the last phase, although previ
appears to have been dedicated to the sun and may ous stages m ust also have had one. No signs of
have housed ritual activity sim ilar to th at carried b u rn in g were found around the altar, which was
out in the later sun temples. surrounded by a curiously dim inutive enclosure
U serkafs sun temple w as nam ed Nekhen-Re, wall com pared to the tow ering granite obelisk. Sim
Stronghold of Re, after the ancient nam e of Hier ilar small partition walls describe two stall-like
akonpolis (p. 72). Herbert Ricke, who directed exca fields immediately east of the altar. T he Palerm o
vations of the site in 1955-7, ascertained tha:, in its Stone m entions that in the reign of U serkaf two
earliest form, the upper temple may well have con oxen and two geese were sacrificed daily in his sun
tained the principal elements of its namesake: a rec temple, but the partitions hardly seem adequate for
tangular enclosure and a central mound. One of the holding live animals.
early form s of the sun temples hieroglyphic name More curious yet are five low benches m ade of
show s a m ast projecting from a mound, perhaps a m ud and broken stone. Ricke thought they were
symbolic perch for the sun god in falcon form. places for setting out offerings - like the open-air
As with so m any pyram ids, the temple under altars in the sun temples of A khenaten more than a
w ent several m ajor transform ations - four in this millennium later - or low benches for priests. Here
case - following one upon another before the previ the correspondence between the five benches and
ous one had even been completed. T his continuous the five phyles into which priests and labourers
construction process w as not the work of Userkaf were organized (p. 224) is m ade more compelling by
Obelisk alone, however. Neferirkare and Niuserre were a sm all stela labelled Wer (G reat) phyle found com
responsible for later stages on behalf of Userkaf, pletely hidden inside one bench. No additional ste
the progenitor of the dynasty w ho staked the fam i lae were discovered in the next two benches, and
ly claim to A busir as their eternal home. the last two were left unopened.
The upper temple w as so badly ruined that Ricke Several features of this sun temple would have
could retrieve only the m ajor elements and consid m ade the movement and slaughter of sacrificial
erable deductive skill w as required to piece together anim als less of a problem than in the pyram id tem
small architectural fragm ents. A m ong these were ples, with their narrow doorw ays and sharp turns.
5 benches



(Centre) An early form

o f the hieroglyphic name
of Userkafs sun temple
includes a mouncl
surmounted by a mast.
Valley temple
(Right) A schist head o f a
statue o f Userkaf found in
Open court
his sun temple.

The causeway w as divided into three lanes along Heinrich Schaeffer and Ludw ig Borehardt found
its length by low, thin m udbrick walls. Two narrow evidence that, like U serkafs sun temple, N iuserres The Pyramids o f Abusir
pathw ays ran on either side of a central roadw ay w as also first constructed in m udbrick and then
which would have been wide enough for driving rebuilt in stone. W hy was this so? T he renewal of
reluctant oxen up to their fate on the hill. Ricke both temples m ight have com m em orated N iuserres
believed that the side p ath s may have aim ed a t two celebration of the Sed festival. On the other hand,
statue shrines, if these had already been set up in the transform ations could reflect changing ideas
front of the obelisk in Phase 2. about sun temples, analogous to developments seen
A t its lower end, the causew ay entered a walled in the earliest pyramids.
enclosure around the sides and back of the valley Like the valley temples of the 5th-dynasty p y ra
temple. Now, we m ight consider th at the m essy mids, N iuserres w as little more than a m onum ental
business of slaughtering and butchering anim als gatew ay form ing the entrance to the causeway. It
m ight be more easily carried out in installations lay w ithin an enclosure defined by a thick wall.
attached to the valley temples, after which priests B orehardt thought this w as the enclosure wall of a Pedestal
would have ritually offered the m eat in the upper surrounding town but he did not investigate the Obelisk building
temples. T he slaughter hall nam ed the Sanctuary of assum ed settlem ent, so it rem ains conjectural.
the Knife w as built right in front of Raneferefs The valley temple's layout w as only partly
m ortuary temple, but only because no valley tem retrieved because its remains were few and stood in
ple w as ever built for his pyram id. However, the knee-high ground water. A pillared portico of four
broad court around the valley temple and the wide palm colum ns form ed an entrance through a pylon
causew ay of U serkafs sun temple suggest th a t an i like fagade clad in white limestone. In addition to
m als m ay have been led up it: the early, and possi the m ain doorw ay on to the causeway, porticoes on
bly later, enclosure w alls of the upper temple had either side gave access to narrow corridors.
rounded outer corners - a feature also found in T he causew ay ascended to an impressive terrace
Sanctuary of the Knife. form ed by extending a natural hillock to provide a
The valley temple of U serkafs sun temple had platform on which the upper temple w as built. In
Open court
been extensively quarried for stone, but Ricke the first phase, m udbrick walls formed a grid of
reconstructed its plan from fragm ents. It w as con com partm ents filled with debris. T hick m udbrick Magazines
siderably more than the glorified gatew ay repre retaining walls also formed the sides of the terrace.
sented by pyram id valley temples, or by the valley In the second p hase a casing of yellow limestone
temple of N iuserres su n temple, even though blocks w as added over the retaining walls.
Niuserre m ay well have built this one also. The T he upper temple was set within a rectangular
building is rectangular but not oriented to the car enclosure oriented to the cardinal directions. A T- 50 m
dinal directions, pointing generally - b u t not exact shaped entrance hall had five granite-lined door 150 ft
ly - in the direction of Heliopolis. Ronald Wells has ways. Those on the centre axis gave on to a broad Valley temple
suggested that causew ay and valley temple were rectangular court, dominated on the w est by the
oriented to stars that would have ascended in the obelisk, 36 m (118 ft) tall, built of limestone blocks.
sky just before sunrise around 2400 BC, so that the It stood on a pedestal in the form of a truncated
temple w as a kind of astronom ical clock for sacri pyram id, itself 20 m (65 ft 6 in) high, and built of
fices that took place a t dawn. limestone with red granite around the base. T he
The front section of the valley temple w as lost
b u t m ay have contained an entrance hall and m aga Niuserres sun temple has
zines. A n open court w ith a colonnade of 16 rectan elements in common with
gular granite pillars is certain. T he few surviving pyramid complexes, including
elements behind the court left Ricke unsure restricted access through a
valley temple. A simulacrum
w hether there had been seven niches in the rear, or
o f a barque was docked off
only five. If five, it bears a strong resem blance to the southeast corner.
the five niches in m ortuary temples of most Old
Kingdom pyram ids since Khafre. The five niches
could also relate to the five benches in the upper
tem ple and to the five phyles of priestly service.
Five niches also echo the five cham bers built over
the central mound a t the original Nekhen temple
after which this complex w as named and w ith
which our survey of pyram ids began.

Niuserres Delight of Re
In addition to his extensive rebuilding of U serkafs
sun temple, N iuserre built his own, nam ed Delight
of Re. In their excavations of 1898 to 1901,
Niuserre - builder o f a bones were found, in contrast to such evidence in
pyramid at Abusir and a the abattoir next to the pyram id of Raneferef. Per
sun temple at north Abusir. haps offerings were ritually purified by laying them
on the alabaster altar. T he channels and basins cer
tainly suggest th a t liquids were involved. A similar
b u t sm aller installation w as found north of the
obelisk, with seven more basins, this time of lime
stone and containing three drainage holes each.
From the entrance hall a right tu rn led along a
corridor to a set of m agazines built against the
north enclosure wall, probably for short-term sto r
age of offerings. A t the east end a stairw ay led to
the roof. A left tu rn in the entrance hall led to corri
dors w ith a w ealth of fine relief carvings. These
include one of the earliest scenes of the Sed festival
of the kings renewal. In a section that attached to
combined height equalled or surpassed that of the pedestal building the three seasons were depict
N iuserres pyram id. In front of the obelisk and ed. Fragm ents of the harvest (shemu) and inunda
aligned with its centre axis stan d s an altar consist tion {akhet) seasons were preserved, but the season
ing of five slabs of white alabaster. T he central ele of com ing forth (peret) w as lost.
m ent takes the form of a circle, 1.8 m (6 ft) in Just outside the enclosure of the upper temple a
diameter, flanked by four slabs with the top carved huge m udbrick model of a boat, 30 m (98 ft) long,
in relief as the Hetep hieroglyph - a stylized conical w as found. T his colossal sim ulacrum of a ship per
bread loaf on a reed mat. T his is the sign for offer haps signifies the m ythic boat in which the sun god
ing, satisfied or peace, commonly found at the sailed across the ocean of the sky. It also h ints that
base of false doors in Old Kingdom tombs. T he the sun temple, like the pyram id complexes, w as
whole arrangem ent can be read as May Re be sa tis seen as a symbolic p o rt to the world of the gods.
fied. There were no obvious signs of burning -
perhaps b u rn t offerings were placed on another Meaning and function
offering table fitted to a granite socket nearby. T he two sun temples found comprise at least six
Certain features were interpreted by Borchardt building or rebuilding projects. T his has led to the
as belonging to a large slaughter court, including intriguing idea that the various phases of the two
fragm ents of a limestone pavem ent th at had been known m onum ents are in fact the six tem ples men
raised 15 cm (6 in) above the level of the surround tioned in texts - for instance th a t Nekhen-Re w as
ing court. Channels carved in the upper surface p er rebuilt and renam ed Sekhet-Re. But one argum ent
haps ran to a row of nine large alabaster basins ag ain st this is th at in the tom bs of officials of the
th at still survive. Each basin, about 1.18 m (3 ft 8 in) sun tem ples more than one is mentioned, as though
in diameter, had a series of small, circular shallow they were functioning a t the sam e time. An
dips, between 24 and 26, carved around the rim. inscribed block from Sahures sun tem ple was
Borchardt thought that originally there were ten found in the m asonry of N iuscrres pyram id tem
An alabaster altar still stands basins, and th a t the channels drained fluids - either ple, so perhaps the m issing sun tem ples were
in the court o f Niuserres sun
the blood of sacrificed anim als or the w ater used in destroyed for their stone.
temple. It can be read as a
giant hieroglyph for 'May Re cleaning up after the sacrifice - into them. However, Suggestions as to the significance of the sun tem
be satisfied' in the four Miroslav Verner doubts whether this w as a place of ples are numerous, for instance that they were m or
cardinal directions. slaughter at all. No tethering stones, flint knives or tuary complexes for the sun, or for the king in his
identity as the sun before birth and after death.
A nother idea is that they were places where the
communion between the sun and the king could be
consum m ated, ensuring the welfare of the land.
T he A busir Papyri give us a glim pse of the func
tioning of N eferirkares sun temple. On papyrus
scraps and fragm ents we read of provisions deliv
ered by canal twice daily from the sun temple to the
pyram id. One ox a day w as slaughtered and the
m eat sent over to the pyram id. Bread and beer were
also delivered from the sun temple, suggesting that
they may have been produced nearby - perhaps in
the valley enclosure. T he 5th-dynasty pharaohs
seem to have built their sun temples to be a sacred
filter for the goods that sustained their pyram ids.
Not only are we m issing four of the six sun temples
found in texts, we are also m issing a pyram id for
Menkauhor, the king who ruled for eight years
after Niuserre. D ahshur w as a suspected location
because M enkauhors pyram id is m entioned in a
6th-dynasty decree relating to Sneferus pyramid.
The End o f the 5th Dynasty
But Stadelm anns excavations established that a
small unfinished pyram id northeast of the North
Pyram id cannot be M enkauhors. However, Lepsius
pyram id XXIX, the so-called Headless Pyram id (p.
165) at Saqqara is a possibility. In Djedkare-Isesi's temple
there is a clear separation
between the front and inner
The Pyramid o f Djedkare-Isesi temples. For the first time a
queens pyramid includes
0 50 m reduced versions of most of
1 H
Djedkare-Isesi ruled for 32 years or more. He 0 150 ft the standard elements o f the
moved 6 km (3% miles) from A busir and built the kings complex.
first pyram id in South Saqqara, relatively new
ground except for the m astaba of Shepseskaf. Satellite pyramid
Djedkares pyram id is now aptly nam ed el-Shawaf, 5 statue niches Queen>s
T he Sentinel, for it stan d s on a high sp u r overlook pyramid
ing the village of Saqqara; its ancient nam e was
Beautiful is Isesi. It w as badly dam aged in antiqui 3 portcullises
ty and its excavator, Abdel Salam Hussein, died
before publishing his work. As with N iuserres, the Corridor-chamber
core of the pyram id w as built in steps. The Descending
entrance w as at ground level, ju st east of the centre Pylon
of the north side. Here for the first time, except for
court Entrance
the offering place at the Bent Pyram id (p. 103), were
traces of a small limestone entrance chapel. Causeway

Burial chamber,
Inside the pyramid 7.84 x 3.1 m
A granite-lined passage sloped down to an alm ost
horizontal corridor-cham ber lined with limestone, 4.02 x 3.1 m
followed by three portcullis slots. Beyond w as
another passage, ending in an antecham ber. O pen Djedkare-Isesis pyramid,
ing off the antecham ber to the w est w as the oblong 'Beautiful is Isesi, had a
burial chamber. To the east were three m agazines, a base length o f 78.75 m
(150 cubits, or 258ft) and
feature we have seen developing in the tom bs of pyramid
a slope o f 52. It rose to a
M enkaure, Shepseskaf and Userkaf. The burial height o f around 52.5 m
chamber, constructed in an open shaft 9 m (29 ft 6 (172ft).
in) deep, w as roofed with three layers of large
gabled limestone rafters.
Fragm ents of alabaster and a faience bead on a
gold filament were found in the burial chamber.
Scattered am ong the debris were enough fragm ents
of the basalt sarcophagus to be able to reconstruct
it. It was sunk into the floor, as was a niche for the
canopic chest, originally concealed by a slab.

The pyramid complex

Although unexcavated, the course of the causeway
can be discerned sloping in a straig h t line under the
village of Saqqara. It joined the front of the m ortu
ary temple between two m assive m asonry pylons.
The sym m etrical temple has yet to be completely
cleared, but fragm ents of reliefs indicate it w as as
richly adorned as those at Abusir. A long vestibule
led to a court surrounded by a colonnade of granite
palm columns. Vestibule and court were paved in
alabaster. M agazines on either side of the vestibule
The End o f the 5th Dynasty were reached by passages at each end of the tran s
verse corridor sep aratin g the front from the inner
temple, which here w as more of a separate build
(Right) A gallery o f brightly ing. A door and small stairw ay led to the standard
painted relief scenes would cham ber w ith five statu e niches, followed by a
originally have lined Unass square antecham ber with a single column, whence
causeway, 750 m (2,460ft) another turn opened into the offering hall. On either
long, lit by a slit in the great
side, the inner temple w as filled with long narrow
ceiling slabs.
magazines. Between the m ortuary temple and the
enclosure wall of the pyram id complex were four
large open courts. In one w as the satellite pyramid,
w ith a T-shaped substructure. A nother court m ight
have been for anim al slaughter or purifications.
A queens pyram id situated off the northeast
corner of the m ortuary temple has, for the first
time, smaller-scale versions of m any of the sta n
dard elements of a kings pyram id. These include:
its own enclosure wall; an offering hall; magazines;
a square antecham ber w ith a single column; a room
positioned where the five statue niches are norm al
ly found; an d a colonnaded court. It even had its
own small satellite pyram id.
In the valley below the pyram id, granite archi
traves and walls of limestone and m udbrick were
retrieved, perhaps p a rt of the pyram id town or
even the palace. Excavations also recovered lime
stone statues of prisoners with their hands tied
behind their backs, calves, p art of a sphinx and a
lion su p p o rt - the realization in the round of
them es in the reliefs on pyram id temple walls.
Unas lay in the good earth,
symbolized by his coffin,
enclosed in a wood and reed- The Pyramid o f Unas
mat screen etched in the walls,
the equivalent of the niched
Archaic mastabas. He was the Unas, the last king of the 5th dynasty, may have
first pharaoh to have his reigned over 30 years (c. 2356-2323 BC), but his
burial chamber inscribed with pyram id is the sm allest of all known Old Kingdom
Pyramid Texts. pyram ids. It is located between the enclosures of
Djosers pyram id and Sekhem khets. U nas thus
completed a historical and architectural sym m etry of the foot of the sarcophagus w as the canopic
- the pyram id of Userkaf, the first king of the 5th chest. A few fragm ents of a skeleton found in the
dynasty stan d s at the opposite, northeast corner. In pyram id in 1881 are now in Cairo M useum.
selecting th is place U nas also put his pyram id tem U nas's cham bers are the first since D joser to be
ple directly over the su b stru ctu re of the 2nd- decorated. A round the sarcophagus the w alls are
dynasty tom b assigned to Hetepsekhemwy. lined with white alabaster incised and painted to
T he entrance, in the middle of the north side, represent a reed-m at and wood-frame enclosure.
opened not in the pyram ids face b u t at ground level Unas thus lay inside his black coffin, representing
in the pavem ent of the pyram id court. Traces the earth, w ithin the divine reed-booth open to the
remain of a small entrance chapel. sky, covered by the gabled ceiling with golden stars
on a field of blue night sky. More significantly, the
Inside the pyramid rem aining walls of the burial chamber, antecham
From the entrance a passage slopes down to a corri- ber and a section of the horizontal passage are cov
dor-chamber. T his is followed by the usual horizon ered with vertical columns of intricately carved
tal passage, with three granite portcullis slabs. T he hieroglyphs - the earliest exam ple of the Pyram id
p assage then opened into the antecham ber, directly Texts (p. 31). Each hieroglyph is painted blue, per
under the pyram ids centre axis. To the east, a door haps an allusion, like D josers blue-tiled chambers,
way opened to a room w ith three recesses. To the to the w atery aspects of the Underworld.
w est lay the burial chamber, with its basalt sa r Unass cham bers contain only 283 of more than
cophagus still in place. Sunk in the floor to the left 700 know n spells, som e of w hich were already very

Unass pyramid, Perfect are sure, suggesting it was falling into ruin. In the roof More than 1,000years after
the Places o f Unas , was Antechamber, of the causew ay a slit w as left open, allowing a Unas, Khaemwaset, a son o f
5 7.75 m (110 cubits, or 189 3.75 x 3.08 m shaft of light to illuminate a gallery of brightly Ramesses II and high priest
ft) square, 43 m (141 ft) o f Memphis, had an
painted reliefs. Only fragm ents were found, but
high, with a slope o f 56". inscription carved to record
these hint at the astonishing array of scenes his restoration o f Unass
th a t once covered the walls: ships tran s pyramid. Djosers Step
porting granite palm columns for Pyramid, visible behind, was
Satellite the temple (p. 202); crafts already falling into ruin when
pyramid men working gold Unas built his tomb.
and copper; estate
labourers gathering
figs and honey, and
harvesting grain; and
lines of offering bearers. Other
scenes included bearded A siatics and
battles w ith enemies, and wild anim als,
such as lions, leopards and hyenas.
Granite columns with palm-
Two boat graves, each 45 m (148 ft) long, lay side
frond capitals graced Unass
by side immediately south of the causew ay at its temples. This pair flank the
Entrance upperm ost bend. From here the causew ay led
southern entrance to his
straig h t to the granite temple doorw ay th at Teti, valley temple.
U nass successor, completed and inscribed w ith his
ancient by his time. The wise men of the court nam e to com memorate the act. In plan, the m ortu
m ust have seen w hat w as happening to the m onu ary tem ple follows Djedkares, m arking the tran si
m ents and cult of form er kings. By etching in stone tion to the standard arrangem ent of 6th-dynasty
the sacred utterances and spells deep w ithin the pyram id temples. This consists of an entrance hall;
pyramid, Unas would enjoy their effect continually colonnaded court; transverse corridor separating
w ithout having to depend for ever on the services of the front from the inner temple; statu e cham ber
an unreliable priesthood. w ith five niches; square antecham ber w ith its sin
gle pillar; offering hall with a granite false door;
The pyramid complex and the satellite pyramid. There are variations: for
In choosing the site for his pyram id U nas took instance, U nass pylons were not as m assive as
advantage of tw o natural features. A long wadi those of Djedkare; the palm columns of the court
vast of the pyram id provided a good route for his were thinner and taller and the single column in the
causeway and opened on to a lake which form ed a antecham ber is quartzite - from the Gebel A hm ar
harbour for his valley temple, w ith a sophisticated (Red M ountain) near Heliopolis - a hard stone p a r
.rrangem ent of ram ps, quays and a slipway. ticularly associated with the sun.
T he causew ay m ust have been one of the most U nass pyram id had already fallen into ruin by
impressive of any pyram id: at 750 m (2,460 ft) long the New Kingdom. Khaemwaset, son of Ram esses
it w as equal to K hufus. Though the wadi provided II and High Priest at Memphis, left an inscription
a natural route, g ap s had to plugged with embank- on its south side referring to his restoration work,
ments. These contained blocks from Djosers enclo th u s causing the nam e of U nas to live again.

Pyramids o f the 6th Dynasty

(Right) Tetis pyramid with Teti is listed as the first king of the 6th dynasty,
the ruins of his mortuary though there is no evidence of a break in succes
temple in the foreground and sion from Unas. Tetis queen, Iput, w as the mother
Djosers Step Pyramid behind. of Pepi I and probably a daughter of Unas. Certain
of Tetis high officials, whose m astaba tom bs are
immediately north of his pyram id, had also served
under Unas. One, named Kagemni, m ust have seen
the building of three pyram id complexes.

The Pyramid o f Teti

Teti chose a spot in North Saqqara, at the southern

end of the lst-dynasty m astabas and northeast of
U serk afs pyram id. He may have been anxious to
include his pyram id in the diagonal formed by
Userkaf, Djoser, Unas and Sekhemkhet, b u t it pre the lid and only a few fragm ents of the mummy
sents a puzzle as to the location of his valley temple survived. As with U nass cham bers, the walls of
and pyram id town, both of which are missing. the burial chamber, antecham ber and the last part
Tetis pyram id stan d s above relatively high ground of the horizontal passage were inscribed with P yra
and an enorm ous em bankm ent would have been mid Texts, but here they are far more damaged.
needed to carry a causeway, also missing.
Tetis pyram id follows the prototype established The pyramid complex
in the late 5th dynasty and its dim ensions are prac Stone robbers also left little of the m ortuary temple
Tetis private apartment tically the sam e as those of Djedkare-Isesi, and of but its plan conform s to a standard scheme, follow
under his pyramid: looking his successors Pepi I, Merenre and Pepi II. The core ing the essentials of Djedkare and Unas. One varia
from the three-niche chamber w as built in steps and accretions made of small, tion is the entrance, as the causeway may have been
through the antechamber to
locally quarried blocks and debris fill. Some blocks shifted south of the central axis in order to miss
tire burial chamber and
sarcophagus. The wooden of the fine outer casing are preserved on the east Lepsius pyram id XXIX (p. 165). If this belonged to
beam is a modern support side, b u t m ost of it w as removed, causing the core M enkauhor, it would already have stood in Tetis
for the ceiling to slum p into the rounded m ound seen today. time. A long, narrow corridor led to a doorw ay on
The entrance is at ground level on the centre axis the m ortuary tem ples central axis. T his led in turn
of the pyram id and w as sim ply covered with heavy to a vestibule w ith a roof decorated with stars.
flagstones, w ith a chapel built directly over it. Pivot In his colonnaded court Teti returned to the
sockets indicate th a t the chapel w as closed by dou square granite pillars of the 4th-dynasty and
ble-leaf doors. T he side walls had painted reliefs Userkaf. A rectangular alabaster altar in the centre
depicting offering bearers and the roof w as a m as retained traces of reliefs. Similar altars are known
sive limestone slab decorated with stars. In the from em placem ents or fragm ents in the m ortuary
back wall w as a large false door of black basalt. temples of Sahure, Neferirkare, N iuserre and Unas.
M agazines arrayed on both sides of the court and
Inside the pyramid vestibule were entered via the transverse corridor.
Tetis su b stru ctu re is sim ilar to U nass, on a slightly T he small alabaster stairw ay to the statue cham ber
larger scale. A granite-lined passage slopes down w ith its five niches is well preserved but not the
to a corridor-cham ber followed by a horizontal p a s w alls of the niches. Each niche had a double-leaf
sage, with three portcullises. T he antecham ber lies doorw ay w ith a granite fram e inscribed with the
under the centre of the pyram id. To the east is a titles of the king. T he offering hall, entered by a
room w ith three niches; the burial cham ber opens vestibule and square antecham ber with a single pil
to the west. The basalt sarcophagus is well pre lar, had a vaulted ceiling. A t the w est end, against
served an d is inscribed, for the first time, w ith a sin the pyram id, w as a false door resting on a quartzite
gle band of Pyram id Texts. Robbers broke through foundation block and fram ed w ith limestone reliefs.

Pyramids o f the 6th Dynasty
50 m

150 ft

Entrance chapel

Sanctuary Antechamber
Burial chamber,
3.75 x 3.12 m
5 statue niches 7.9 x 3.45 m

Satellite pyramid

Open court

Entrance hall


Descending passage

T he satellite pyram id w as found in its standard vessels of alabaster, pottery and copper, alabaster Tetis pyramid, The Places of
place south of the inner temple and m easured 15.7 slabs inscribed with the nam es of sacred oils, and Teti Endure', measured 78.5
m (30 cubits, 51 ft 6 in) square. In the court s u r model gold-leaf covered copper tools. Although m (258ft) to a side and rose
to 52.5 m (172 ft) high at an
rounding it were two basins of red quartzite on the robbed, this burial assembly seem s to have been far angle o f 53 748". The
eastern side and a third on the west; a small lime more m eagre than that of Hetepheres at Giza. enclosure measured 200
stone basin was placed somewhere on the north. cubits (105 m) N -S by 243
cubits (127.57m) E-W.
Pyramids of Iput and Khuit The Pyramid o f Pepi I
Two royal women of Tetis court were favoured
with their own pyram ids, in separate enclosures Teti may have exhausted the topographical oppor
north of Tetis pyram id and behind the m astabas of tunities for pyram id complexes in Central and Audran Labrousses computer
model of Pepi I s pyramid
court officials. Iputs pyram id w as originally a North Saqqara. Pepi I returned to a sp u r of high
complex. Except for the
m astaba, which her son, Pepi I, transform ed into a desert in South Saqqara, defined by the broad Wadi central court, all chambers
pyram id. A. Labrousse ascertained the position of Tafia on the south. His pyram id is now reduced to a and magazines were dark
Khuits pyramid, lost since the excavations of Loret low mound, about 12 m (39 ft) high, with a large covered spaces.
in 1897-9 and Firth in 1922, but it w as only exca
vated by Z. Hawass in 1997. It still stan d s for 7 m
(23 ft) of its original 20-m (66-ft) height.
Loret could not find the entrance of Iputs, for the
simple reason that it had none. T he small pyramid,
with sides 15.75 m (52 ft) long and a steep slope of
65, w as built over a vertical m astaba shaft and
burial chamber. A small red granite false door on
the north side w as p art of an entrance chapel and
a chapel on the east side had its own court, statue
cham ber with three niches, and offering hall with a
limestone false door and a g ranite offering slab.
Iputs rem ains were found in a cedar coffin in a
roughly dressed limestone sarcophagus. A lthough
thieves had broken in, Iputs skeleton w as intact,
along with fragm ents of her necklace and a gold
bracelet. Five crude canopic jars were also found.
The room w as filled with limestone chips to the
level of the sarcophagus lid. On this were model

N archaeology. The pink granite canopic chest, with
Pyramids of the 6th Dynasty 0 50 m
1---------- r* its lid, w as still set into the floor niche in front of
messHsatmmstf 0 150 ft the sarcophagus. A complete packet of viscera, p re
sum ably Pepi Is, lay close by - the tightly w rapped
bundle retaining the shape of the alabaster jar
5 statue niches
which once held it (p. 22). On both the interior and
Burial exterior of the sarcophagus of hard, dark stone
Satellite w as a line of Pyram id Texts; around it the walls of
pyramid the cham ber were decorated w ith the m otif of the
reed-m at booth. As in the pyram ids of U nas and
hall court Teti, the room to the east of the antecham ber w as
left uninscribed.

The pyramid complex

Like all the Saqqara m ortuary temples, Pepi Is had
suffered grievously from lime makers, but three
Corridor-chamber decades of study by the French have show n that it
3 portcullises had all the essential com ponents of previous tem
ples. A num ber of limestone statues of prisoners,
Satellite pyramid 3 magazines
broken at the neck and waist, were found in the
southw estern p art of the temple where they had
Pepi I s pyramid, The crater in the centre dug by stone robbers. It was in been brought to be throw n into lime furnaces. Each
Perfection o f Pepi is this pyram id and M erenres th a t the B rugsch broth represented a kneeling m an, his hands tied behind
Establishedfollowed the ers discovered Pyram id Texts in 1881. The pyramid his back, belonging to E g y p ts traditional enemies.
highly standardized pattern of and its m ortuary tem ple have been system atically Remains of sim ilar statues were found at the p y ra
the 6th dynasty. Though now
badly destroyed it is estimated cleared and studied by the French Archaeological m ids of Djedkare-Isesi, Teti and Pepi II. Lauer su g
to have been 78.75 m (258ft) Saqqara Mission (MFAS), beginning in 1951 and gested that they lined the two sides of the
to a side and 52.5 m (172 ft) directed by Jean Leclant since 1966. causew ay to signify the conquered peoples of the
high, with an angle of slope n orth and south. A lternatively they may stood
o f 53 7' 48". Inside the pyramid under scenes of the kings victories in the m ortuary
Pepi Is su b stru ctu re is sim ilar to Tetis, with the temple.
difference th at the P yram id T exts have expanded to Pepi Is valley tem ple and pyram id town have
cover more of the walls. Vertical columns of hiero never been excavated, nor has his causeway, except
glyphs were painted green, the colour of freshness, for a few m etres in front of the m ortuary temple.
grow th and renewal. In the course of restoration However, the line of the causew ay revealed by con
work, the French made a rare find in pyram id tours may point to the valley temple under the allu
vium in the bay. T he nam e of the pyram id and its
The burial chamber o f Pepi I town, M en-nefer Fepi, T he Perfection of Pepi is
after the impressive work by E stablished, extended in the Middle Kingdom to
the French Mission, who the settlem ent around the nearby Ptah temple, and
found the black stone
w as handed down in Greek a s Memphis.
sarcophagus (below) and
canopic chest, with one packet Pepi Is satellite pyram id w as in a better state of
o f the kings viscera (p. 22). preservation than the m ortuary temple. Statue
Thousands o f fragments o f fragm ents, p a rts of stelae and offering tables found
Pyramid Texts were restored in the debris indicate that the cult of Pepi I contin
like a gigan tic jigsa w puzzle. ued into the Middle Kingdom, though the pyram id
w as falling into ruin by the New Kingdom. In 1993,
on the south side of the main pyramid, the French
found another inscription of Khaemwaset, in

Pyramids o f the 6th Dynasty

The ruins o f the pyramid and

mortuary temple o f Pepi /, in
the course of clearing by the
French Archaeological
Mission at Saqqara.

(Left) A copper statue of

Pepi I and one of his sons,
possibly Merenre, found in
one o f the five chambers
on the temple mound at

which he describes how he read ied for posterity the (Above) Two o f the bound
proprietor of a pyram id he had found abandoned. prisoner statues that may
But the most dram atic finds of the last few years have lined the court o f
Pepi I s mortuary temple.
have been the queens' pyram ids.
As the king plants trees in
orderly rows in the court
Queens pyramids (the columns) and clears a
An enorm ous accumulation of debris and sand space o f wild foliage (the
covered an area south of Pepi ls pyram id. In 1988 court), so he ties the hands
the French team used electrom agnetic sounding to o f wild nomadic peoples on
Egypts margins. They had
look for boat-pits and queens pyram ids th at they
been deliberately broken at
suspected m ight be buried here. Possible em place the neck and waist.
m ents for three small pyram ids were located and
soon an apex stone and casing stones of a small
pyram id emerged. Eventually three pyram ids
were cleared, all about 20 m (65 ft 6in) square,
roughly aligned in an east-w est row. Each had
its own enclosure and small offering temple.
They were ascribed to the Queen of the W est,
Queen of the E ast and Queen of the Centre.
On the fallen east jam b of the m ortuary tem
ple of the eastern queen w as an image of the
queen, with her name, Nebwenet, and her titles.
T he w estern queens identity is preserved only

a s eldest daughter of the king on a small obelisk a gigantic slab between this room and the ante
in front of her pyram id. The nam e of the central cham ber h