About Egyptian Pyramids
by Jimmy Dunn writing as Alan Winston
On the south side of the pyramid of Neferirkare at Abusir is a small structure that may have first been investigated by Ludwig Borchardt. Even though its location and east-west orientation would suggest that this was a small pyramid, Borchardt dismissed it as a double mastaba of little significance and so did not explore it fully. Only after a much later investigation in the 1970s by a Czech team of archaeologists was its true nature revealed and its owner clearly established as none other than the consort of Neferirkare, Khentkaues II (Khentkaus II).
Inscriptions within the pyramid help us decode the history of this period. They tell us that there were probably two stages of this pyramids construction. The pyramid was probably begun during the reign of Neferirkare, but around the tenth year of his rule, construction was halted. We presume this was due to the king's death. On this part of the construction, Khentkaues II was referred to as "King's Wife". After some time, construction was continued, but this time she is referred to as "King's Mother", indicating that her son, probably Niuserre, who was now pharaoh finished her pyramid. It may have even been that Khentkaues herself ordered resumption of the work. Niuserre was perhaps underage when he ascended the throne, and if so, Khentkaues probably acted as his regent, effectively, as ruler of Egypt.
Plan of the Pyramid of Khentkaues II at Abusir in Egypt
The pyramid itself, mostly in ruins as others at Abusir and measuring four meters high, was of a simple design built using the discarded limestone from the Neferirkare pyramid. The core is of three layers, bound with mortar made of clay. The casing was high quality white limestone, and it once had a dark gray granite pyramidion, of which fragments have been found.
The entrance to the pyramid is near ground level in the middle of the north wall. The initial corridor, made from small blocks of fine white limestone, first descends, and than becomes level leading slightly to the east and was terminated by a simple stone barrier just prior to the burial chamber. The burial chamber is also line with white limestone, but with larger blocks serving as it flat ceiling.
There were small remains of the queens funerary equipment found within the pyramid, including fragments from her pink granite sarcophagus, bits of her mummy wrappings and some shards from stone vessels. Markings on these clearly demonstrated that they belonged to Khentkaues II.
In front of the east wall of the pyramid is her mortuary temple which, like Neferirkare's, was also finished in several stages. The earliest part of the temple, which was very modest in size, is made from limestone and was entered through a pillared portico from the south-east. Regrettably, this section of the temple was so completely destroyed by stone thieves that it is very difficult to reconstruct its original design in all details. The entrance to the temple was originally from the east, near the southeastern corner and decorated with twin monolithic limestone pillars colored red and bearing on the exterior side vertical hieroglyphic inscriptions in sunk relief with the queen's titulary, name and depiction.
There was an open courtyard decorated with similar pillars that took up the eastern half of the temple complex. This pillared courtyard led to the western part of the temple complex which was the center of the queens mortuary cult. Here, there was a room with niches for the wooden cult statues of the queen, an offering hall with a false pink granite door, an alter and storage annexes. There was also a stairway that led to a roof terrace, were astronomical rituals were most likely carried out.
The rooms in the western part of the temple were decorated with scenes and inscriptions in colored low relief. The Temple's decorative theme covered an astoundingly wide array of subject, including sacrifice, agricultural work, processions of personified funerary states bearing offerings to the queen, and others. Some of the scenes are exceptional, such as one, unfortunately preserved only in very small fragments, probably depicting the ruler, Niuserre, and members of his family standing in front of the royal mother. On the fragment with the scene, just as on some other limestone fragments of reliefs and clay sealings, the queen's name is preceded by a title naming her as "Mother of the Two Kings of Upper and Lower Egypt" or sometimes "King of Upper and Lower Egypt and Mother of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt".
The remains of a scene on one pillar still standing in the temple court brought another unexpected surprise. The vertical hieroglyphic inscription with the remains of titles and the name, Khentkaues, terminate in a picture of the queen sitting on a throne and holding a wadj-scepter in her hand. The queen's brow is adorned with a cobra rearing to attack, known as a uraeus. At this time in Egyptian history, the right to wear the uraeus on the forehead was the exclusive privilege of the ruling king or of the gods. However, it is possible that the uraeus here could have served some sort of symbolic purpose.
The original plan of the pyramid complex called for it to be enclosed within a high wall built of limestone blocks. This was was begun, but never finished. In fact, the parts of the wall that had been erected were partially dismantled when, later, the complex was reconstructed and extended. Hence, materials obtained from the original was were used in the building of a diminutive cult pyramid near the southeast corner of the older stone part of the temple. Reconstruction also included the basic extension of the temple towards the east. A new entrance, monumental in size and once again adorned with twin limestone pillars, was erected precisely on the east-west axis of the pyramid complex, while a small stone basin next to the entrance reminded visitors of their duty to purify themselves before entering the temple.
Most of this construction was of mudbrick which was plastered, whitewashed and sometimes adorned with painting. For at least a period of time, this softened the contrast between the effect of the two different building phases.
A spacious entrance hall was constructed which supplied an important crossroads because it allowed access to a group of five magazines in the southeast corner of the extended part of the temple and to a group of domestic rooms in the northeastern corner, while also communicating with the intimate part of the temple containing the cult rooms in the west.
This new construction phase really implied a fundamental change in the conception behind the queen's pyramid complex. Originally an appendage of the great pyramid complex of Neferirkare, it became the architecturally and functionally "independent" tomb of a person whose rank was similar to that of a ruler.
Last Updated: June 21st, 2011