Egypt: Shepseskare and his Possible Pyramid (Unfinished Pyramid) at Abusir

Shepseskare and his Possible Pyramid (Unfinished Pyramid) at Abusir

by Jimmy Dunn

The names of Shepseskare

Traditionally, Shepseskare (nomen Netjer-weserw?, Horus name Sekhemkhau, Greek Sisiris) is thought to have ruled Egypt immediately prior to the rule of Neferefre, probably because that is how he is positioned in the kings list at Saqqara. However, in the oldest part of Neferefre's mortuary temple, which was not built until after the king's death, the Czech team investigating the site found several sealings bearing the Horus name of this almost unknown 5th Dynasty ruler. Hence, the archaeological context in which these sealings were found indicates that he must have been Neferefre's immediate successor instead.

The Czech archaeological team that worked at Abusir for many years believes that, if Shepseskare reigned at all, then he must have done so very briefly, apparently for even a shorter time than Neferefre, who himself reigned no longer than about two years. This conclusion is indirectly corroborated by the total absence of any monuments, artifacts or inscriptions that can be directly ascribed to him. Even though the Turin King list provides that he ruled for seven years, and traditionally we place his reign between 2426 BC and 2419 BC, most of the evidence we have about this king indicates that he may have only ruled for a few months, and perhaps even a few weeks. Note that the Turin King list was a New Kingdom document from the reign of Ramesses II. On the other hand, a stela of the 5th Dynasty official, Khau-Ptah, lists an uninterrupted sequence of kings whom he served under, consisting of Sahure, Neferirkare, Neferefre and Niuserre. He does not mention Shepseskare at all, which seems inconceivable had Shepseskare ruled Egypt for seven years.

Vivieene Callendar suggests that Shepseskare's consort might have been Queen Nimaathap II, who was buried in a tomb in the West Cemetery in Giza, but this is only a guess, for all that we have that evidences his existence are the few seals found in Abusir by the Czech team, along with other sealings earlier unearthed by Borchardt, also at Abusir, and two cylinders found at Mit Rahina.

Irregardless of the brief rule of Shepseskare, the origin of the king can hardly lie outside the narrow circle of the royal family buried in Abusir. If this assumption is correct, the available historical sources indirectly point to the Sahure branch, rather than the Neferirkare branch of the royal family. Some believe that he may have been a son of Sahure, who ruled for a very short period of time, but who's reign was thwarted by Niuserre, Neferefre's younger brother and the younger son of King Neferirkare and Queen Khentkaus II. If so, than it might better explain a rather mysterious unfinished pyramid at Abusir.

A view of what little remains of this unfinished pyramid

This pyramid was discovered by the Czech archaeological team that investigated numerous sites at Abusir in the 1980s. The pyramid, which lies on the northern edge of Abusir, was not just unfinished; it was barely begun. Had it been completed, it would have been the second largest pyramid at Abusir (next to Neferirkare's pyramid), with a base length of about 100 by 100 meters.

This structure lies on the northern edge of the necropolis, about half way between the pyramid of Sahure and the sun temple of Userkaf. Really calling it an unfinished pyramid is a bit of a stretch, as it consists merely of traces of earthwork that was halted shortly after it was begun. The desert land was leveled and the excavation of the pit for the construction of the underground funerary apartment had only just been started. It would seem that the builder of this structure wished to demonstrate, by its location, his relationship to Sahure, Userkaf or both.

Reasonably given our current knowledge, this structure can only be attributed to one of two 5th Dynasty kings, Shepseskare and Menkauhor, who's tombs have not been positively identified. However, according to a number of contemporaneous documents, it seems probable that Menkauhor build a pyramid either in North Saqqara or Dahshur. Therefore, by elimination, it would seem that Shepseskare is the more likely of the two to have started the unfinished pyramid in North Abusir.