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The Pyramid of Khufu at Giza in Egypt, The Three Queen's Pyramids


Egypt Feature Story

The Pyramid of Khufu at Giza in Egypt

The Pyramid Proper, Part V: The Three Queen's Pyramids

by Jimmy Dunn writing as Alan Winston

Pyramid Index / Giza


The secondary pyramid of King Khufu's Complex known as G 1c

Within the overall complex of the Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza near Cairo in Egypt, a total of five pyramids exist. One, of course, is the primary pyramid of Khufu, and the second is its cult pyramid. The other three, frequently called the Queen's Pyramids, are situated on the main pyramid's eastern side, to the south of his mortuary temple and outside of the main enclosure wall. They have been designated G 1a-c by archaeologists. Interestingly, according to Dr. Zahi Hawass, these pyramids are not so much a part of the inner complex of Khufu's pyramid, but are rather part of the eastern necropolis, which contains the mastabas of Khufu's closest relatives.

As is usual at Giza, there is no archaeological or textual evidence of cultic activity at any of these three pyramids during the Middle Kingdom. It is not until the 18th Dynasty that any interest was taken in them.

The Three Queen's Pyramids, from Left to right, G 1a, G 1b and G 1c

In dimensions, design and construction methods, these pyramids are very similar to one another, except that the lowest of them, G 1c, had to have a special foundation surface due to the sloping ground. They seem to have a slope of about 52 degrees, and rise to a height of about one-fifth that of Khufu's pyramid. In contrast to the leveled foundation of the main pyramid, these smaller pyramids accommodate the slope of the ground, so that their bases are neither level nor perfect squares. They appear to be more conventional than the main pyramid, having only substructures, but they also contain other elements, including mortuary temples and boat pits.

Plan of the Queen's Pyramids, left to right, G 1a, G 1b and G 1c

G 1a is the northernmost of the small pyramids, lying about 61 meters from the base of Khufu's pyramid. It was, for many years, attributed to Queen Meretites, who was probably one of Khufu's older wives. She may have made the transition from Snefru's harem to Khufu's and is thought to be the mother of Prince Kauab. She was given the title of King's Mother, so she must have been the mother of one of Khufu's successors though we are not completely sure of which one. Some scholars think it may have been Djedefre. The small pyramid was thought to be hers because of the proximity of G 1a to that of her son's.

Pyramid G 1a in the Great Pyramid Complex of Khufu at Giza in Egypt

However, because of recent work attributed to Mark Lehner, G 1a is considered by some to instead be the tomb of Queen Hetepheres I, Snefru's wife and probably the mother of Khufu. According to this view, Meretites was buried in Pyramid G 1b. He interprets one particular group of cuttings in the bedrock as evidence that G 1a was begun farther to the east, and notes that the shaft in which her burial equipment, but not her body was found, is aligned with the original position of mastaba on the north. He thinks that later, after G 1a, in its modified position, was completed, her body was moved to its burial chamber with a new set of burial equipment.

The base of G 1a measures 49.5 meters, and it would originally have stood 30.25 meters high. Today, it is stripped of much of its original casing, and has lost almost two thirds of its height. The core of G 1a, which was built using yellowish gray limestone, was originally made of three or perhaps even four steps. Like all of the three pyramids, only fragments of its casing remain. The entrance to this secondary pyramid is in the north wall, located slightly above the base and somewhat east of its north-south axis. Just about under the midpoint of the pyramid, the descending corridor turns to the right and comes out in a small burial chamber that was cut into the rock and surfaced with limestone blocks. However, no sarcophagus was found here, although a recess was carved into the west wall of this chamber to apparently receive one. Fragments of basalt that VyseKhufu.

Very few remains of the small mortuary temple that originally stood before the east wall of his pyramid exist, and its archaeological reconstruction is very difficult. Its center consists of a north-south oriented chapel. In its west wall were two false doors and two niches. This aspect of the chapel is the subject of some debate. Reisner suggested that the main cult site was in the south niche, which was usually larger, and behind which the sarcophagus lay in the underground chamber. The north niche would then have to be related to the 'second' entrance, which is considered the end of the shaft that led into the underground chamber. Others believe that the north niche was for the cult of the ruler. South of G 1a, as well as to the south of G 1b, pits were built for boat burials, though no traces of boats have been found. At some time, both of these pits were divided by walls into compartments. It has been suggested that they were used in later periods for burials, or possibly as storage magazines during the 26th Dynasty.

Pyramid G 1b in the Great Pyramid Complex of Khufu at Giza in Egypt

In its plan, including the small mortuary temple and the boat pit, G 1b resembles G 1a. It is located about ten meters south of G 1a, and lies on the same north-south axis. Its base is about 49 meters square, and its original height would have been about 30 meters. It is also in poor condition, having lost most of its casing and almost half its height. As in the case for G 1a, all of the subterranean passages were cut from bedrock, and the burial chamber is lined with limestone. While the mortuary temple of G 1a is completely one, save for a few markings on the bedrock, the foundation of G 1b's temple remains. A boat pit similar to the one alongside G 1a was found on the south side of this pyramid by Kamal El Mallakh in 1953, but it was filled with stone and rubble by the excavator due to a proposed road.

Though Meretites may have been buried in this middle, small pyramid, there is no positive proof, and originally Reisner proposed that it was occupied by an unknown queen of Libyan origin. According to him, she would have been the mother of a secondary group of Khufu's children, who would have included Djedefre. However, Reisner's idea of a Libyan origin for this queen has, for the most part, today been disproved. Nevertheless, G 1b could have still been designed for the burial of the unknown queen who bore Djedefre. It should be noted, however, that Stadelmann agrees with Mark Lehner for this being the tomb of Meritites.

The southernmost of the three pyramids is G 1c, which is thought to have been the tomb of Queen Henutsen. According to Reisner, its casing remained unfinished. It is similar to the other two small pyramids, but there are differences. For example, there is no boat pit, perhaps because the rock subsoil on its southern side slopes considerably to the south. It should be noted that Dr. HawassKhufu's complex. Its southern side does not follow the model of the Great Pyramid, as one would expect in a unified concept, but that of the south side of the neighboring double mastaba (G 7130-7140).

Stadelmann believes that this double mastaba belonged to Prince Khafkhufu I, who we know better by his name after becoming King Khafre. He may have also been the builder of G 1c. If so, he must have had it built before he ascended the throne, since his mother, Henutsen, on of Khufu's wives, had risen to the level of Queen Mother.

According to Mark Lehner, G 1c, lying about 3.8 meters south of G 1b and slightly offset to the east, is the most complete. It has three inner tiers or steps of mastaba like chunks. Backing stones, equal in size and hue to the nucleus, that obscure the tiers. Near the bottom is a packing layer, between the core and casing, of small blocks of soft yellow limestone, seen on all three pyramids. Finally, there are the remains of fine limestone casing with exquisite joints. G 1c is also the largest of the three Queen's Pyramids of Khufu, with a base length of 46.25 meters.

It would have originally stood 29.62 meters high. The entrance to this pyramid, similar to the the others, is located on the north face, approximately in the center and just above ground level. Several casing blocks remain around the entrance. Just west of the entrance are blocks of limestone at a right angle to the face of the pyramid, which Margioglio and Rinaldi think represent a later addition.

Pyramid G 1c in the Great Pyramid Complex of Khufu at Giza in Egypt

The burial chamber of G 1c is, like the other Queen's Pyramids, lined with limestone. There is a four centimeter deep niche in the south wall of the burial chamber which Maragioglio and Rinaldi think served an unknown ritual purpose. The mortuary temple of G 1c also differs considerably from those attached to pyramids G 1a and G1b. This small temple has actually received considerable attention.

It was partially examined in 1858 by Mariette, when he explored the grounds of the surrounding mastabas in the so-called east field. Petrie also worked here in the early 1880s, and Reisner investigated the ruins during the 1920s. Reisner thinks it was hastily built from mudbricks during the reign of Shepseskaf. However, this structure seems to have evolved. The original structure probably lay in ruins at the end of the Middle Kingdom, but was reconstructed and enlarged during the 18th Dynasty. Additional reconstruction probably occurred during the 21st and 26th Dynasties, when the temple served as a religious site for the cult of Isis as goddess of the Pyramids. At that time, the cult area extended from the east face of G 1c to the west face of mastaba 7130-71400. It received pilgrims who came here to worship the goddess and partake of her magical powers of fertility. Because of its reconstruction, the mortuary temple of G 1c is the only one of the temples connected to these small pyramids which still retains some elements of its walls.

The original entrance to the temple was in the east wall, the outer face of which was decorated with a design of matting carved in shallow relief. On the west wall of the chapel, only one block of limestone from the south end remains. This block has a niched design carved on it. Later additions and modifications have destroyed the original interior plan of the chapel.

Like many other aspects of the Great Pyramid Complex of Khufu, much remains a matter of speculation, including who exactly was buried in each of the tombs. These are issues that more investigation may, or unfortunately may never reveal.

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found in the burial chamber, and which he thought were fragments of a sarcophagus, are now believed to be the remains of pavement from the upper temple of reports that he did find an area that seems to have been prepared for a pit that was never cut. Interestingly, it appears that pyramid G 1c was not a part of the original plan of

See Also (Related to the Queen's Pyramids Specifically)


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