About Egyptian Pyramids
by Jimmy Dunn writing as Alan Winston
For some reason, Amenemhet II, the third King of Egypt's 12th Dynasty and Senusret I's successor, choose to build his pyramid at Dahshur, a lonely pyramid field that dates from the 4th Dynasty, rather than at Lisht where his two predecessors built theirs. Dahshur is an interesting field to explore, because it has only recently been open to the public and so far is not so very crowded with tourists. It has some interesting and otherwise fine (and large) examples of pyramids. This pyramid was most likely called "Amenemhet is well cared for", and is located east of the better known Red Pyramid, but is not nearly as well preserved as some others in the area. We call Amenemhet II's structure the White Pyramid, though it is certainly no longer white.
It derived this name many years before when stone thieves stole the casing, leaving behind many limestone chips that made the pyramid at that time to appear white. We know that from 1894 through 1895, Jacques de Morgan made a cursory investigation of the ruins. Unfortunately he was too focused on the jewelry finds in some surrounding princess' tombs that he never examined the mortuary temple, the causeway or the valley temple. In fact, no casing stones have ever been found nor even the base of the pyramid cleared for a proper measuring. Therefore, we are not sure of its size, the angle of its slop, or its height.
The mortuary temple was almost completely destroyed, though we know it was probably called "Lighted is the place of Amenemhet's pleasures". The ruins, which stand to the east of the pyramid have yet to be closely examined, though they must be very inviting to archaeologists. There are many building fragments, some of which include relief decorations. Most interesting, however, might be the massive, tower-like structures resembling pylons in the temple's east facade.
Ground Plan of the Pyramid of Amenemhet II at Dahshure in Egypt
Regrettable, the causeway, which was broad with a steep slope and enters the enclosure wall on the middle of the east side, has not been investigated at all, and we are told that the valley temple has not even been found. The core of the pyramid was built much like that of Senusret I's pyramid, with a core that had corners radiating out. A framework was made with horizontal lines of blocks to form a grid, or framework between the corners. Here, however, the filling was sand.
This is the last time that the entrance to a pyramid would be uniformly in the middle of the north side of a pyramid. As customary, it was covered by a north chapel. the entrance leads to a descending corridor built of limestone blocks, not unlike the construction at Neferirkare's pyramid in Abusir. This corridor has a false, flat ceiling, atop which is a gabled ceiling made of limestone slabs leaned one against the other. Gabled ceilings of one nature or another were used in many pyramids in order to support the load of so much weight from the structure above. Also classically, the corridor levels out, before arriving first at a barrier made of two granite slabs, one of which slid vertically in to place, and the other sideways. Just a short way further the burial chamber is located on the pyramid's vertical axis.
However, Arnold does not see this complex as conforming to classical designs, even though it was closer in design to many older pyramids then those to be built in the future. He sees Amenemhet II's pyramid as the founding of a new pyramid age, when architects, rather than looking back to the Old Kingdom, found their own paths through experimentation. They the best design elements from the older pyramids with new techniques.
Like the corridor, the burial chamber also has a false flat ceiling toped by a more structurally sound gabled ceiling. The burial chamber itself is rather unique. Its main section is oriented east-west, but one section drops through a square hole sunk in the floor below the entrance corridor out past the granite blocks above. At the end of this room was a receptacle we believe held a canopic chest. Within the walls are four niches, including one on either short wall and two on the wall opposite the entrance. We do not know if these niches were used for statues, or offerings. There was a quartzite sarcophagus found at the west wall of the burial chamber.
The entire complex was surrounded by an enclosure wall that was much more rectangular then that found in older pyramids. It was oriented east-west.
Behind the pyramid between it and the west part of the enclosure wall are found tombs of the royal family. The belong to prince Amenemhetankh and princesses Ita, Khnemet, Itiueret and Sithathormeret. Within these tombs, Morgan found the remains of funerary equipment, including wooden coffins, canopic chests and alabaster vessels for perfumes. But of course he also found wonderful jewelry in the tombs of Ita and Khnemet, that stole his attention. These pieces may now be found in the Treasure Chamber of the Egyptian Antiquities Museum in Cairo.