About Egyptian Pyramids
by Jimmy Dunn writing as Alan Winston
Abu Rawash is only a few kilometers north of Giza, one of ancient Egypt's most well known archaeology sites, but it is rarely visited because there is really very little to see. Most of the monuments built there are in complete ruin. The best known of these is a pyramid built by the 4th Dynasty king, Djedefre (Radjedef). Then, perhaps, the second most noticeable ruins are those of the structure that the Lepsius expedition believed was a pyramid. As the northernmost of any pyramid ruins discovered at that time, they assigned it the number one. This is a mudbrick structure built in the easternmost hills promontory. This structure was originally discovered by J. Perring in the 1830s, and was also investigated by Vyse, who luckily didn't blow it up. Later, Bisson de la Roque also briefly examined the structure, but the most recent and comprehensive work appears to have been completed by Nabil Swelim, an Egyptian archaeologist, in the mid 1980s.
There seems to remain some debate about whether this is indeed a pyramid, and if so, who built it. Verner doesn't seem altogether sure that it even is a pyramid, and while Lehner refers to the structure as a pyramid, he seems to believe it was possibly a provincial step pyramid, such as others scattered as for south as Elephantine. Provincial pyramids are most often small, step pyramid that in general are believed to have not been built as tombs.
However, many of the provincial pyramids seem to have little or no substructure, were as Lepsius number 1 does. And while some questions seem to remain about its status as a pyramid, the majority opinion among current Egyptologists suggests that it most likely was, in fact, at least meant to be.
In Swelim's view, who should by all rights be most familiar with the structure, it was indeed an enormous mudbrick step pyramid, with about one quarter of its core made up of a rock outcropping. Of course, this made the structure strong, plus quick and cheap to build. Swelim dates it to the end of the 3rd Dynasty and believes that it most likely was built on the instructions of Huni.
However, Verner brings up a number of arguments against Swelim's conclusions. To begin with, he points out that the structure is located on the farthest edge of the Nile flood zone and not in an elevated position like many other pyramids. In addition, Verner tells us that there are at least thirty rock cut tombs of the 5th and 6th Dynasties that are honeycombed in the rock outcropping that Swelim believes was incorporated into the structures core. If the structure was built at the end of the 3rd Dynasty, Verner remains skeptical that it would have been so destroyed at the end of the 4th Dynasty that tombs would be built in the outcropping used as part of its core. It should also be pointed out that mudbrick would have been an unusual material to have been used in a royal pyramid of the 3rd or 4th Dynasty. However, Middle Kingdom dates can be excluded by the rock cut core (this kind of substructures is out of fashion already at the end of fourth dynasty), even though mudbrick pyramids were built in that era. Of course, the tombs built in the outcropping would suggest, if anything, that it might be older than thought, rather than newer.
Yet many if not most Egyptologists do seem to think that it is a pyramid that either belonged to Huni, or possibly another king named Neferka.
In building the pyramid, mudbricks was laid over the rock outcropping and the remainder of the core, inclined inward at 75-76 degrees in accretion layers. Actually, the use of an outcropping was not unique. For example, we also find a similar structure in the pyramid of Senusret II, along with other kings. When it was discovered, much of the mudbrick had been stripped away from its position, but it is estimated that the base length of the pyramid was about 215 meters. Theoretically, it should have had a height of between 107 and 150 meters, though when discovered, the rubble pile was only about 20 meters in tall. Within the structure the rock outcropping (core) was penetrated from the north by a 25 degree sloping corridor leading south before communicating with a square funerary chamber.
Within the pyramid, the burial chamber would have laid under the vertical axes of the pyramid, as was customary.
Last Updated: June 13th, 2011