About Egyptian Pyramids
by Jimmy Dunn writing as Alan Winston
Southwest of Khendjer's pyramid at South Saqqara is found the substructure for an unfinished pyramid that was discovered by Jequier, though not much else remains. It had an impressive side length of 78.75 meters (258 ft). It is generally surmised, because of the pyramid's intended size, the masonry of fine Turah limestone casing the corridors, the fine construction of the burial chamber and the elaborate closure system, that the pyramid was begun for a significant ruler, or at least a very ambitious one. However, he was almost certainly not buried here, and there is no indication of a ruler's cult worship within the complex. Apparently, we have virtually no idea who this ruler may have been, which is very unusual. Most pyramids in Egypt are so stylized within any given period that we can at least guess who the owner was, but this structure represents one of the very few that leave us with almost no hints of its builder.
This pyramid does provide us with evidence of at least the general time frame of its construction, and seems to have been built about the same time as Khendjer's pyramid. The core of the pyramid superstructure was only just begun to be made out of mudbrick.
The Pyramid has a surprisingly elaborate and complete substructure, not unlike the north Mazghuna pyramid However, this is actually one of the finest substructures, at least, of the whole Middle Kingdom and beyond. Regular rows of black painted stripes decorate the white limestone walls of almost every chamber within the substructure. The corridors leading to the burial chamber switches back on itself to form a "U" shape. The entrance to the pyramid lies on its axis at the foot of the east side and leads to a long stairway and ramp that descends to the first of three large side portcullises barriers. After this first barrier, a small chamber opens to the south where a second corridor leads to another small chamber. From this second small chamber, the corridor turns back west again with a narrow passage that leads to a third, longer chamber. Here, a wide, dead end corridor first leads to the north. Just past that, another stairway and short corridor also leads to the north and to another long chamber or corridor. In the center of this chamber's east wall a final, narrow corridor first passes the two remaining portcullises barriers before arriving at an antechamber, and then west of it, the main burial chamber.
This chamber was formed from a monolithic quartzite block weighing some 150 tons, with niches carved out for the sarcophagus and canopic chest, an arrangement we find in late Middle Kingdom and a few 13th (Second Intermediate Period) pyramid burial chambers. The chamber was meant to be closed by a system of sand filled shafts. In such a system, generally three huge limestone slaps sit atop the burial chamber. Two slabs were usually in place, while the third slab rested upon blocks that in turn set atop sand filled shafts, so that the coffin and canopic chest could be introduced to the chamber. After internment, the sand in the side shafts would be drained through side chambers, allowing the limestone slab to lower into place. In this case, however, the "lid" was never lowered. This system seems to have been first introduced in the Pyramid of Amenemhet III at Hawara, and later used, for example, in the Southern Mazghuna Pyramid.
An unusual feature of this substructure is the existence of a second burial chamber to the north of the antechamber that was accessed by a small stairway. Like the main burial chamber, this one is also made from a monolithic quartzite block, though the canopic chest was provided with a separate compartment in a niche off one corner of the chamber. Here the closure system was similar to those found in the pyramids of Ameny-Qemau and north Mazghuna. It consisted of a much simpler sliding lid moved over the chamber horizontally. The main assumption seems to be that this was a queen's burial chamber. While it has been suggested that it could have been a decoy meant to lead robbers astray, they could have hardly missed the main chamber. It has also been suggested that this chamber could be a "ka" tomb, but such chambers usually lay to the south of the main burial chamber.
Around the pyramid ran a wavy, undulating perimeter wall built of mudbricks.Considering that the superstructure of this pyramid was hardly begun, outside near the entrance a very surprising find consisted of two pyramidions. They were both made from black granite, though one was polished smooth while the other was only roughly finished, and had a truncated top. One of the pyramidions may have been for a subsidiary pyramid or might have been meant to remain on the ground as a votive pyramidion. No inscriptions were found on either pyramidion (nor anywhere else within the substructure) to indicate who the builder may have been.
Significantly, this discovery suggests that the pyramidions could have been bought to a construction site well in advance of the project's completion. For example, some scholars believe that the pyramid of Amenemhet III at Dahshur may have been completed because of the discovery of a pyramidion at that location, but obviously the assumption cannot be made.
As a final note, there may be at least two more pyramids of the 13th Dynasty near Ameny-Qemau's in South Dahshur. These structures were first noted by Dieter Arnold and Rainer Stadelmann, but have yet to be explored.
Last Updated: June 12th, 2011