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Egyptian pyramids

The Egyptian pyramids are ancient pyramid-shaped masonry structures located in Egypt.

There are 138 pyramids discovered in Egypt as of 2008. Most were built as tombs for the country's Pharaohs and their consorts during the Old and Middle Kingdom periods.

The earliest known Egyptian pyramids are found at Saqqara, northwest of Memphis. The earliest among these is the Pyramid of Djoser (constructed 2630 BCE–2611 BCE) which was built during the third dynasty. This pyramid and its surrounding complex were designed by the architect Imhotep, and are generally considered to be the world's oldest monumental structures constructed of dressed masonry

The most famous Egyptian pyramids are those found at Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo. Several of the Giza pyramids are counted among the largest structures ever built.

The Pyramid of Khufu at Giza is the largest Egyptian pyramid. It is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still in existence.

Historical development

By the time of the early dynastic period of Egyptian history, those with sufficient means were buried in bench-like structures known as mastabas.

The second historically documented Egyptian pyramid is attributed to the architect Imhotep, who planned what Egyptologists believe to be a tomb for the pharaoh Djoser. Imhotep is credited with being the first to conceive the notion of stacking mastabas on top of each other – creating an edifice composed of a number of "steps" that decreased in size towards its apex. The result was the Step Pyramid of Djoser – which was designed to serve as a gigantic stairway by which the soul of the deceased pharaoh could ascend to the heavens. Such was the importance of Imhotep's achievement that he was deified by later Egyptians.

The most prolific pyramid-building phase coincided with the greatest degree of absolutist pharaonic rule. It was during this time that the most famous pyramids, those near Giza, were built. Over time, as authority became less centralized, the ability and willingness to harness the resources required for construction on a massive scale decreased, and later pyramids were smaller, less well-built and often hastily constructed.

Long after the end of Egypt's own pyramid-building period, a burst of pyramid-building occurred in what is present-day Sudan, after much of Egypt came under the rule of the Kings of Napata. While Napatan rule was brief and ceased in 661 BC, the Egyptian influence made an indelible impression, and during the later Sudanese Kingdom of Meroe (approximately in the period between 300 BC–300 AD) this flowered into a full-blown pyramid-building revival, which saw more than two hundred indigenous, but Egyptian-inspired royal pyramid-tombs constructed in the vicinity of the kingdom's capital cities.

Al-Aziz Uthman, son of the great Saladin who crushed the Crusaders, tried to demolish the Great pyramids of Giza, but had to give up because the task was too big. However, he did succeed in damaging Menkaure's pyramid.

Pyramid symbolism

The shape of Egyptian pyramids is thought to represent the primordial mound from which the Egyptians believed the earth was created. The shape of a pyramid is thought to be representative of the descending rays of the sun, and most pyramids were faced with polished, highly reflective white limestone, in order to give them a brilliant appearance when viewed from a distance. Pyramids were often also named in ways that referred to solar luminescence. For example, the formal name of the Bent Pyramid at Dahshur The Southern Shining Pyramid, and that of Senwosret at el-Lahun was Senwosret is Shining.

While it is generally agreed that pyramids were burial monuments, there is continued disagreement on the particular theological principles that might have given rise to them. One theory is that they were designed as a type of "resurrection machine."

The Egyptians believed the dark area of the night sky around which the stars appear to revolve was the physical gateway into the heavens. One of the narrow shafts that extends from the main burial chamber through the entire body of the Great Pyramid points directly towards the center of this part of the sky. This suggests the pyramid may have been designed to serve as a means to magically launch the deceased pharaoh's soul directly into the abode of the gods.

All Egyptian pyramids were built on the west bank of the Nile, which as the site of the setting sun was associated with the realm of the dead in Egyptian mythology.

Number and location of pyramids

In 1842 Karl Richard Lepsius produced the first modern list of pyramids, in which he counted 67. A great many more have since been discovered. As of November 2008, 118 Egyptian pyramids have been identified.

The location of Pyramid 29, which Lepsius called the "Headless Pyramid", was lost for a second time when the structure was buried by desert sands subsequent to Lepsius' survey. It was only found again during an archaeological dig conducted in 2008.

Many pyramids are in a poor state of preservation or buried by desert sands. If visible at all they may appear as little more than mounds of rubble. As a consequence archaeologists are continuing to identify and study previously unknown pyramid structures.

The most recent pyramid to be discovered is that of Queen Sesheshet, mother of 6th Dynasty Pharaoh Teti, located at Saqqara. The discovery was announced by Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, on 11 November 2008.

All of Egypt's pyramids, except the small Third Dynasty pyramid of Zawyet el-Amwat (or Zawyet el-Mayitin), are sited on the west bank of the Nile, and most are grouped together in a number of pyramid fields. The most important of these are listed geographically, from north to south, below.

Abu Rawash

Abu Rawash is the site of Egypt's most northerly pyramid (other than the ruins of Lepsius pyramid number one) the mostly ruined Pyramid of Djedefre, son and successor of Khufu. Originally it was thought that this pyramid had never been completed, but the current archaeological consensus is that not only was it completed, but that it was originally about the same size as the Pyramid of Menkaure, which would have placed it among the half-dozen or so largest pyramids in Egypt.

Its location adjacent to a major crossroads made it an easy source of stone. Quarrying – which began in Roman times – has left little apart from about 15 courses of stone superimposed upon the natural hillock that formed part of the pyramid's core. A small adjacent satellite pyramid is in a better state of preservation.

Abu Rawash (also known as Abu Roach, Abu Roash), 8 km to the North of Giza (coordinates 30°01′55″N 31°04′30″E), is the site of Egypt's most northerly pyramid, Also known as the lost pyramid — the mostly ruined Pyramid of Djedefre, the son and successor of Khufu. Originally, it was thought that this pyramid had never been completed, but the current archaelogicical consensus is that not only was it completed, but that it was built about the same size as the Pyramid of Menkaure – the third largest of the Giza pyramids.

Its location adjacent to a major crossroads made it an easy source of stone. Quarrying — which began in Roman times — has left little apart from a few courses of stone superimposed upon the natural hillock that formed part of the pyramid's core. A small adjacent satellite pyramid is in a better state of preservation.

Geology of Abu Rawash: The sedimentary succession in Abu Rawash area ranges in age from Late Cretaceous to Quaternary but is punctuated by several unconformity surfaces. Turonian to Coniacian representing the sedimentary succession of Abu Rawash Formation that differentiated into six informal units (members) from younger to older as follows:

  •     Basal clastic member
  •     Rudist-bearing limestone-marl member
  •     Limestone member
  •     Actaeonella-bearing limestone-marl member
  •     Flint-bearing chalky limestone member
  •     Plicatula-bearing marl-limestone member.

Sedimentary depositional environment of Abu Rawash Formation are characterized by variable conditions and settings ranging from lower mixed to upper intertidal flat and subtidal channel for the clastic facies and calm to agitated open marine inner to middle platform for the carbonate facies. Vertical sequence or facies hierarchy display that the facies sequence of the basal clastic member indicates a progradational preitidal sequence. While those of the rudist-bearing member and limestone member represent a cyclic progradtion of high energetic/storm facies above an open marine low energetic fore shoal subtidal facies. The facies sequence of the Acteonella-bearing member reflects two facies associations comprising open marine subtidal assemblage and shoal or bank facies. The latter facies represents the bank that the robust thick shelled Durania arnaudi with the coralline sponge heads accreted local mounds in restricted areas (El-Hassana dome). The vertical facies hierarchy of the flint-bearing chalky limestone member suggests a renewed shoaling of the depositional accommodation, shifting to inner-platform setting and a progradation of mobile bioclastic shoals or banks. The stacking of the sedimentary facies in the Plicatula-bearing member indicates an accumulation in an open shallow sea (inner platform) with intermittent supply of fine terrigenous clastics and clays. (Hanan.S.M. Badawy, Geology Dept., Faculty of Science, Beni Suef, Egypt)

Giza Necropolis

Giza is the location of the Pyramid of Khufu (also known as the "Great Pyramid" and the "Pyramid of Cheops"); the somewhat smaller Pyramid of Khafre (or Kephren); the relatively modest-sized Pyramid of Menkaure (or Mykerinus), along with a number of smaller satellite edifices known as "Queen's pyramids"; and the Great Sphinx.

Of the three, only Khafre's pyramid retains part of its original polished limestone casing, near its apex. This pyramid appears larger than the adjacent Khufu pyramid by virtue of its more elevated location, and the steeper angle of inclination of its construction – it is, in fact, smaller in both height and volume.

The Giza Necropolis has been a popular tourist destination since antiquity, and was popularized in Hellenistic times when the Great Pyramid was listed by Antipater of Sidon as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Today it is the only one of those wonders still in existence.

The Giza Necropolis is an archaeological site on the Giza Plateau, on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt. This complex of ancient monuments includes the three pyramid complexes known as the Great Pyramids, the massive sculpture known as the Great Sphinx, several cemeteries, a workers' village and an industrial complex. It is located some 9 km (5 mi) inland into the desert from the old town of Giza on the Nile, some 25 km (15 mi) southwest of Cairo city centre. The pyramids, which have always loomed large as emblems of ancient Egypt in the Western imagination, were popularised in Hellenistic times, when the Great Pyramid was listed by Antipater of Sidon as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Today it is the only one of the ancient Wonders still in existence.

The pyramids and the Sphinx

The Pyramids of Giza consist of the Great Pyramid of Giza (known as the Great Pyramid and the Pyramid of Cheops or Khufu), the somewhat smaller Pyramid of Khafre (or Chephren) a few hundred meters to the south-west, and the relatively modest-sized Pyramid of Menkaure (or Mykerinos) a few hundred meters further south-west. The Great Sphinx lies on the east side of the complex. Current consensus among Egyptologists is that the head of the Great Sphinx is that of Khafre. Along with these major monuments are a number of smaller satellite edifices, known as "queens" pyramids, causeways and valley pyramids.

The Giza pyramids have been recorded in the Giza Plateau Mapping Project run by the Ancient Egypt Research Associates, directed by Dr. Mark Lehner. In addition, Lehner's team undertook radiocarbon dating on material recovered from the exterior of the Great Pyramid. Aera's 2009 field season was recorded in a blog.

Khufu’s pyramid complex

Khufu’s pyramid complex consists of a Valley Temple, now buried beneath the village of Nazlet el-Samman; basalt paving and limestone walls have been found but the site has not been excavated. The Valley Temple was connected to a causeway which was largely destroyed when the village was constructed. The Causeway lead to the Mortuary Temple of Khufu. From this temple only the basalt pavement remains. The mortuary temple was connected to the king’s pyramid. The king’s pyramid has three smaller queen’s pyramids associated with it and five boat pits. The boat pits contain a ship, and the two pits on the south side of the pyramid still contained intact ships. One of these ships has been restored and is on display. Khufu's Pyramid maintains a limited collection of casing stones at its base. These casing stones were made of fine white limestone quarried from the nearby Muqattam range.

Khafre’s pyramid complex

Khafre’s pyramid complex consists of a Valley temple (sometimes referred to as the Sphinx temple), a causeway, a mortuary temple and the king’s pyramid. The Valley Temple yielded several statues of Khafre. Several were found in a well in the floor of the temple by Mariette in 1860. Others were found during successive excavations by Sieglin (1909–10), Junker, Reisner, and Hassan. Khafre’s complex contained five boat-pits and a subsidiary pyramid with a serdab. Khafre's Pyramid appears larger than the adjacent Khufu Pyramid by virtue of its more elevated location, and the steeper angle of inclination of its construction – it is, in fact, smaller in both height and volume. Khafre's Pyramid retains a prominent display of casing stones at its apex.

Menkaure’s pyramid complex

Menkaure’s pyramid complex consistes of a Valley Temple, a causeway, a mortuary temple, and the king’s pyramid. The Valley Temple contained several statues of Menkaure. During the 5th dynasty a smaller ante-temple was added on to the Valley temple. The Mortuary temple also yielded several statues of Menkaure. The king’s pyramid has three subsidiary or Queen’s pyramids. Of the four major monuments, only Menkaure's Pyramid is seen today without any of its original polished limestone casing.

The Sphinx

The Sphinx dates to the reign of king Khafre. A chapel was located between its forepaws. During the New Kingdom Amenhotep II dedicated a new temple to Hauron-Haremakhet and this structure was added onto by later rulers.

Tomb of Queen Khentkaues I

Khentkaus I was buried in Giza. Her tomb is known as LG 100 and G 8400 and is located in the Central Field, near the pyramid of Menkaure. The pyramid complex of Queen Khentkaus includes: her pyramid, a boat pit, a Valley Temple and a pyramid town.


It is not known how they were made but there have been varying theories regarding the construction techniques. Most construction theories are based on the idea that the pyramids were built by moving huge stones from a quarry and dragging and lifting them into place. The disagreements center on the method by which the stones were conveyed and placed and how possible the method was. A recent though unpopular theory proposes that the building blocks were manufactured in-place from a kind of "limestone concrete".

In building the pyramids, the architects might have developed their techniques over time. They would select a site on a relatively flat area of bedrock—not sand—which provided a stable foundation. After carefully surveying the site and laying down the first level of stones, they constructed the pyramids in horizontal levels, one on top of the other.

For the Great Pyramid of Giza, most of the stone for the interior seems to have been quarried immediately to the south of the construction site. The smooth exterior of the pyramid was made of a fine grade of white limestone that was quarried across the Nile. These exterior blocks had to be carefully cut, transported by river barge to Giza, and dragged up ramps to the construction site. Only a few exterior blocks remain in place at the bottom of the Great Pyramid. During the Middle Ages (5th century to 15th century) people may have taken the rest away for building projects in the city of Cairo.

To ensure that the pyramid remained symmetrical, the exterior casing stones all had to be equal in height and width. Workers might have marked all the blocks to indicate the angle of the pyramid wall and trimmed the surfaces carefully so that the blocks fit together. During construction the outer surface of the stone was smooth limestone; excess stone has eroded as time has passed.


The Pyramids of Giza and others are thought to have been constructed to house the remains of the deceased Pharaohs who ruled over Ancient Egypt. A portion of the Pharaoh's spirit called his ka was believed to remain with his corpse. Proper care of the remains was necessary in order for the "former Pharaoh to perform his new duties as king of the dead." It's theorized the pyramid not only served as a tomb for the Pharaoh but also as storage for the various items he would need in the afterlife. "The people of Ancient Egypt believed that death on Earth was the start of a journey to the next world. The embalmed body of the King was entombed underneath or within the pyramid to protect it and allow his transformation and ascension to the afterlife."

Workers’ Village

The work of quarrying, moving, setting, and sculpting the huge amount of stone used to build the pyramids might have been accomplished by several thousand skilled workers, unskilled laborers and supporting workers. Bakers, carpenters, water carriers, and others were also needed for the project. Along with the methods utilized to construct the pyramids, there is also wide speculation regarding the exact number of workers needed for a building project of this magnitude. When Greek historian Herodotus visited Giza in 450 BC, he was told by Egyptian priests that "the Great Pyramid had taken 400,000 men 20 years to build, working in three-month shifts 100,000 men at a time." Evidence from the tombs indicates that a workforce of 10,000 laborers working in three month shifts took around 30 years to build a pyramid.

The Giza pyramid complex is surrounded by a large stone wall, outside which Mark Lehner and his team have discovered a town where the workers on the pyramids were housed. This town is located to the southeast of the Khafre and Menkaure complexes. Among the discoveries at the worker's village are communal sleeping quarters, bakeries, breweries and kitchens (with evidence showing that bread, beef and fish were staples of the diet), a hospital and a cemetery (where some of the skeletons were found with signs of trauma associated with accidents on a building site).The worker's town discovered appears to date to the middle 4th dynasty (2520-2472 BC), after the accepted time of Khufu and completion of the Great Pyramid. According to Mark Lehner and the AERA team;

  • "The development of this urban complex must have been quite rapid. All of the construction probably happened in the 35 to 50 years that spanned the reigns of Khafre and Menkaure, builders of the Second and Third Giza Pyramids".
Without carbon dating, using only pottery shards, seal impressions, and stratigraphy to date the site, the team further concludes;

  • "The picture that emerges is that of a planned settlement, some of the world’s earliest urban planning, securely dated to the reigns of two Giza pyramid builders: Khafre (2520-2494 BC) and Menkaure (2490-2472 BC)".

As the pyramids were constructed the mastabas for lesser royals were constructed around them. Near the pyramid of Khufu the main cemetery is G 7000 which lies in the East Field located to the east of the main pyramid and next to the Queen’s pyramids. These cemeteries around the pyramids were arranged along streets and avenues.Cemetery G 7000 was one of the earliest and contained tombs of wives, sons and daughters of these 4th dynasty rulers. On the other side of the pyramid in the West Field the royals sons Wepemnofret and Hemiunu were buried in Cemetery G 1200 and Cemetery G 4000 respectively. These cemeteries were further expanded during the 5th and 6th dynasty.

West Field

The West Field is located to the west of Khufu’s pyramid. It is divided up into smaller areas such as the cemeteries referred to as the Abu Bakr Excavations (1949-50, 1950-1,1952 and 1953), and several cemeteries named based on the mastaba numbers such as Cemetery G 1000, Cemetery G 1100, etc. The West Field contains Cemetery G1000 – Cemetery G1600, and Cemetery G 1900. Further cemeteries in this field are: Cemeteries G 2000, G 2200, G 2500, G 3000, G 4000, and G 6000. Three other cemeteries are named after their excavators: Junker Cemetery West, Junker Cemetery East and Steindorff Cemetery.

East Field

The East Field is located to the east of Khufu’s pyramid and contains cemetery G 7000 . This cemetery was a burial place for some of the family members of Khufu. The cemetery also includes mastabas from tenants and priests of the pyramids dated to the 5th dynasty and 6th dynasty.

Cemetery GIS

This cemetery was dated to the time of Menkaure (Junker) or earlier (Reisner) but contains several stone built mastabas dating to as late as the 6th dynasty. Tombs from the time of Menkaure include the mastabas of the royal chamberlain Khaemnefert, the King’s son Khufudjedef who was master of the royal largesse, and an official named Niankhre.

Central Field

The Central Field contains several burials of royal family members. The tombs range in date from the end of the 4th dynasty to the 5th dynasty or even later.

Tombs dating to the Saite and later period were found near the causeway of Khafre and the Great Sphinx. These tombs include the tomb of a commander of the army named Ahmose and his mother Queen Nakhtubasterau, who was the wife of Pharaoh Amasis II.

South Field

The South Field includes some mastabas dating to the 2nd dynasty and 3rd dynasty. One of these early dynastic tombs is referred to as the Covington tomb. Other tombs date to the late Old Kingdom (5th and 6th dynasty). The south section of the field contains several tombs dating to the Saite period and later.

Tombs of the pyramid builders

In 1990, tombs belonging to the pyramid workers were discovered alongside the pyramids with an additional burial site found nearby in 2009. Although not mummified they had been buried in mud-brick tombs with beer and bread to support them in the afterlife. The tombs' proximity to the pyramids and manner of burial supports that they were paid laborers who took great pride in their work and were not slaves, as was previously thought. The myth of slaves building the pyramids was popularized by Hollywood films based on the belief that they could not have been built without forced labor. Evidence from the tombs indicates that a workforce of 10,000 laborers working in three month shifts took around 30 years to build a pyramid. Most of the workers appear to have been from poor families. Farms supplied the laborers with 21 cattle and 23 sheep daily. Specialists such as architects, masons, metalworkers and carpenters, were permanently employed by the king to fill positions that required the most skill.

New Kingdom

During the New Kingdom Giza was still an active site. A brick built chapel was erected near the Sphinx during the early 18th dynasty, probably by king Tuthmosis I. Amenhotep II built a temple dedicated to Hauron-Haremakhet near the Sphinx. Pharaoh Tuthmosis IV visited the pyramids and the Sphinx as a prince and in a dream was told that clearing the sand form the Sphinx would be awarded with kingship. This event is recorded in the Dream stela. During the early years of his reign Tuthmosis IV together with his wife Queen Nefertari had stelae erected at Giza. Pharaoh Tutankhamen had a structure built which is now referred to as the king’s resthouse. During the 19th dynasty, Sethi I added to the temple of Hauron-Haremakhet, and his son Ramesses II erected a stela in the chapel before the Sphinx and usurped the resthouse of Tutankhamen.

Late Period

During the 21st dynasty the Temple of Isis Mistress-of-the-Pyramids was reconstructed. During the 26th dynasty a stela mentions Khufu and his Queen Henutsen.


The sides of all three of the Giza pyramids were astronomically oriented to be north-south and east-west within a small fraction of a degree. Among recent attempts  to explain such a clearly deliberate pattern are those of S. Haack, O. Neugebauer, K. Spence, D. Rawlins, K. Pickering, and J. Belmonte. The arrangement of the pyramids is a disputed representation of the Orion constellation in the Orion Correlation Theory.

Zawyet el-Aryan

This site, halfway between Giza and Abu Sir, is the location for two unfinished Old Kingdom pyramids. The northern structure's owner is believed to be the Pharaoh Nebka, while the southern structure is attributed to the Third Dynasty Pharaoh Khaba, also known as Hudjefa, successor to Sekhemkhet. Khaba's four-year tenure as pharaoh more than likely explains the similar premature truncation of his step pyramid. Today it is approximately twenty meters high; had it been completed it is likely to have exceeded 40.

Zawyet el-Aryan (or Zawiyet el-Aryan) is a town in Egypt, located between Giza and Abusir.[1] To the west of the town, just in the desert area, is a necropolis, referred to by the same name. Almost directly east across the Nile is Memphis. In Zawyet el-Aryan, there are 2 pyramid complexes.

The Layer Pyramid was built in the third dynasty probably during the reign of Khaba. The pyramid was meant to be a step pyramid of possibly five to seven steps. No casing stones have been found, suggesting that the pyramid was never finished. The underground plan of the pyramid resembles that of the pyramid of Sekhemkhet. A corridor leading into the interior has thirty-two side chambers meant for storage of the burial equipment.

Unfinished Pyramid, possibly belonging to Baka. All that stands now is a square base on which the core of the pyramid would have been constructed. A pink granite sarcophagus was found in a trench which cuts through the structure. It may date to a later time period however. It has been suspected to contain underground chambers, but excavations have not been possible as the structure is part of a military reservation. Also called the Northern Pyramid, this structure dates to the fourth dynasty.

Abu Sir

There are a total of fourteen pyramids at this site, which served as the main royal necropolis during the Fifth Dynasty. The quality of construction of the Abu Sir pyramids is inferior to those of the Fourth Dynasty – perhaps signaling a decrease in royal power or a less vibrant economy. They are smaller than their predecessors, and are built of low-quality local limestone.

The three major pyramids are those of Niuserre (which is also the most intact), Neferirkare Kakai and Sahure. The site is also home to the incomplete Pyramid of Neferefre. All of the major pyramids at Abu Sir were built as step pyramids, although the largest of them – the Pyramid of Neferirkare Kakai – is believed to have originally been built as a step pyramid some 70 metres high and then later transformed into a "true" pyramid by having its steps filled in with loose masonry.

Abusir (Egyptian pr wsjr; Coptic: busiri, the House or Temple of Osiris; Greek: Βούσιρις; Arabic: ابوصير‎) is the name given to an Egyptian archaeological locality – specifically, an extensive necropolis of the Old Kingdom period, together with later additions – in the vicinity of the modern capital Cairo. The name is also that of a neighbouring village in the Nile Valley, from whence the site takes its name. Abusir is located several kilometres north of Saqqara and, like it, served as one of the main elite cemeteries for the ancient Egyptian capital city of Memphis. Several other villages in northern and southern Egypt are named Abusir or Busiri.

Abusir is one relatively small segment of the extensive "pyramid field" that extends from north of Giza to below Saqqara, the locality of Abusir took its turn as the focus of the prestigious western burial rites operating out of the then-capital of Memphis during the Old Kingdom 5th Dynasty. As an elite cemetery, neighbouring Giza had by then "filled up" with the massive pyramids and other monuments of the 4th Dynasty, leading the 5th Dynasty pharaohs to seek sites elsewhere for their own funerary monuments.

Abusir was the origin of the largest find of Old Kingdom papyri to date - the Abusir Papyri. In the late nineteenth century, a number of Western museums acquired collections of fragmentary papyri from the administrative (temple) records of one Abusir funerary cult, that of king Neferirkare Kakai. This discovery was supplemented in the late twentieth century when excavations by a Czech expedition to the site revealed papyri from two other cult complexes, that of the pharaoh Neferefre (also read Raneferef) and for the king's mother Khentkaus II.

The Czech Institute of Egyptology has been conducting excavations at Abusir since 1976. They are presently directed by Miroslav Bárta.

There are considerable catacombs near the ancient town of Busiris (Pliny xxxvi. 12. s. 16). To the south of Busiris one great cemetery appears to have stretched over the plain. The Heptanomite Busiris was in fact a hamlet standing at one extremity of the necropolis of Memphis.


There are a total of 14 pyramids at this site, which served as the main royal necropolis during the Fifth dynasty. The quality of construction of the Abusir pyramids is inferior to those of the Fourth Dynasty; perhaps signalling a decrease in royal power or a less vibrant economy. They are smaller than their predecessors, and are built of low quality local stone. All of the major pyramids at Abusir were built as step pyramids, although the largest of them - the Pyramid of Neferirkare - is believed to have originally been built as a step pyramid some seventy metres in height and then later transformed into a "true" pyramid by having its steps filled in with loose masonry.

Major pyramids

The three major pyramids are
  •     the pyramid of Neferirkare, the tallest pyramid at the site
  •     the pyramid of Nyuserre, the most intact pyramid at the site
  •     the pyramid of Sahure
Smaller pyramids

  • the incomplete pyramid of Neferefre
  • the pyramid of Queen Khentkaus II, wife of Neferirkare and mother of Neferefre and Nyuserre
  • the unfinished pyramid of Shepseskaf?
  • Lepsius Pyramid no. 24 — The pyramid belonged to a woman, likely a queen. The name of the vizier 
  • Ptahshepses appears among builders' marks, which dates the pyramid to the time of Pharaoh Nyuserre
  • Lepsius Pyramid no. 25 — Likely the pyramid of a queen from the Fifth dynasty
Mastabas of courtiers

The tombs of several high officials and family members are located in the direct vicinity of their king's pyramid:

  •     the mastaba of Ptahshepses (vizier under Nyuserre)
  •     the mastaba of Prince Nakhtkare (son of Raneferef or Nyuserre)

Directly north of Saqqara is a cemetery of lower-ranking officials of the Old Kingdom, including the following tombs:
  •     the tomb of Ity (Dynasty 3)
  •     the tomb of Hetepi (priest, beginning of Dynasty 4)
  •     the tomb of Kaaper (architect and priest, Dynasty 4)
  •     the tomb of Rahotep (priest, end of Dynasty 5)
  •     the tomb of Fetekti (priest, end of Dynasty 5)
  •     the tomb of Qar and his sons (vizier, Dynasty 6)
Saite-Persian cemetery

On a small hill directly south of the pyramid of Neferefre is a cemetery of tombs from the Saite period:

  •     the tomb of Udjahorresnet
  •     the tomb of Iufaa
  •     the tomb of Menekhibneko
  •     the tomb of Padihor
  •     tomb R3
Site looting during 2011 protests

Abusir, Saqqara and Dahshur suffered damage by looters during the 2011 Egyptian protests. (Part of) the false door from the tomb of the priest Rahotep was stolen, and store rooms were broken into.


Saqqara (or Sakkara, Saqqarah; Arabic: سقارة‎) is a vast, ancient burial ground in Egypt, serving as the necropolis for the Ancient Egyptian capital, Memphis. Saqqara features numerous pyramids, including the world famous Step pyramid of Djoser, sometimes referred to as the Step Tomb due to its rectangular base, as well as a number of mastabas. Located some 30 km (19 mi) south of modern-day Cairo, Saqqara covers an area of around 7 by 1.5 km (4.3 by 0.93 mi).

At Saqqara, the oldest complete hewn-stone building complex known in history was built: Djoser's step pyramid, built during the third dynasty. Another 16 Egyptian kings built pyramids at Saqqara, which are now in various states of preservation or dilapidation. High officials added private funeral monuments to this necropolis during the entire pharaonic period. It remained an important complex for non-royal burials and cult ceremonies for more than 3,000 years, well into Ptolemaic and Roman times.

North of the area known as Saqqara lies Abusir; south lies Dahshur. The area running from Giza to Dahshur has been used as necropolis by the inhabitants of Memphis at different times, and it has been designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979.

Contrary to popular belief, the name Saqqara is not derived from the ancient Egyptian funerary god Sokar, but from the Beni Saqqar who are a local Berber tribe. Their name means "Sons of Saqqar." Since they are not indigenous to the area it would not follow that they would fashion themselves as being born of an ancient Egyptian god whose identity was unknown until the age of archaeology.


Early Dynastic

The earliest burials of nobles can be traced back to the First Dynasty, at the north side of the Saqqara plateau. During this time, the royal burial ground was at Abydos. The first royal burials at Saqqara, comprising underground galleries, date to the Second Dynasty. The last Second Dynasty king Khasekhemwy was buried in his tomb at Abydos, but also built a funerary monument at Saqqara consisting of a large rectangular enclosure, known as Gisr el-Mudir. It probably inspired the monumental enclosure wall around the Step Pyramid complex. Djoser's funerary complex, built by the royal architect Imhotep, further comprises a large number of dummy buildings and a secondary mastaba (the so-called 'Southern Tomb'). French architect and Egyptologist Jean-Philippe Lauer spent the greater part of his life excavating and restoring Djoser's funerary complex.

Early Dynastic monuments

  •     tomb of king Hotepsekhemwy.
  •     tomb of king Nynetjer.
  •     Buried Pyramid, funerary complex of king Sekhemkhet.
  •     Gisr el-Mudir, funerary complex of king Khasekhemwy.
  •     Step Pyramid, funerary complex of king Djoser.

Old Kingdom

Nearly all Fourth Dynasty kings chose a different location for their pyramids. During the second half of the Old Kingdom, under the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties, Saqqara was again the royal burial ground. The Fifth and Sixth Dynasty pyramids are not built of massive stone, but with a core consisting of rubble. They are consequently less well preserved than the world famous pyramids built by the Fourth Dynasty kings at Giza. Unas, the last ruler of the Fifth Dynasty, was the first king to adorn the chambers in his pyramid with Pyramid Texts. It was custom for courtiers during the Old Kingdom to be buried in mastaba tombs close to the pyramid of their king. Clusters of private tombs were thus formed in Saqqara around the pyramid complexes of Unas and Teti.

Old Kingdom monuments

  •     Mastabet el-Fara'un, tomb of king Shepseskaf (Dynasty 4)
  •     pyramid complex of king Userkaf (Dynasty 5)
  •     Haram el-Shawaf, pyramid complex of king Djedkare
  •     pyramid of king Menkauhor
  •     mastaba of Ti
  •     mastaba of the Two Brothers (Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum|Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep)
  •     pyramid complex of king Unas
  •     mastaba of Ptahhotep
  •     pyramid complex of king Teti (Dynasty 6)
  •     mastaba of Mereruka
  •     mastaba of Kagemni
  •     Mastaba of Akhethetep
  •     pyramid complex of king Pepi I
  •     pyramid complex of king Merenre
  •     pyramid complex of king Pepi II
  •     pyramid of king Ibi (Dynasty 8)
Middle Kingdom

From the Middle Kingdom onwards, Memphis was no longer the capital of the country, and kings built their funerary complexes elsewhere. Few private monuments from this period have been found at Saqqara.

Second Intermediate Period monuments
  •     pyramid of king Khendjer (Dynasty 13)
  •     pyramid of an unknown king
New Kingdom

During the New Kingdom Memphis was an important administrative and military centre, second only to the capital. From the Eighteenth Dynasty onwards many high officials built tombs at Saqqara. When still a general, Horemheb built a large tomb here, though he was later buried as Pharaoh in the Valley of the Kings at Thebes. Other important tombs belong to the vizier Aperel and to Maia, the wet-nurse of Tutankhamun.

Many monuments from earlier periods were still standing, but dilapidated by this period. Prince Khaemweset, son of Pharaoh Ramesses II, made repairs to buildings at Saqqara. Among other things, he restored the Pyramid of Unas and added an inscription to its south face to commemorate the restoration. He enlarged the Serapeum, the burial site of the mummified Apis bulls, and was later buried in the catacombs. The Serapeum, containing one undisturbed interment of an Apis bull and the tomb of Khaemweset, were rediscovered by the French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette.

New Kingdom monuments

  • Several clusters of tombs of high officials, among which the tombs of Horemheb and of Maya and Merit. Reliefs and statues from these two tombs are on display in the National Museum of Antiquities at Leiden, the Netherlands, and in the British Museum, London.
After the New Kingdom

In the periods after the New Kingdom, when several cities in the Delta served as capital of Egypt, Saqqara remained in use as a burial ground for nobles. Moreover the area became an important destination for pilgrims to a number of cult centres. Activities sprang up around the Serapeum, and extensive underground galleries were cut into the rock as burial sites for large amounts of mummified ibises, baboons, cats, dogs, and falcons.

Monuments of the Late Period, the Graeco-Roman and later periods
  • Several shaft tombs of officials of the Late Period.
  • Serapeum (the larger part dating to the Ptolemaeic Period)
  • The so-called 'Philosophers circle', a monument to important Greek thinkers and poets, consisting of statues of Hesiod, Homer, Pindar, Plato, and others (Ptolemaeic)
  • Several Coptic monasteries, among which the Monastery of Apa Jeremias (Byzantine and Early Islamic Periods)

Site looting during 2011 protests

Saqqara and the surrounding areas of Abusir and Dahshur suffered damage by looters during the 2011 Egyptian protests. Store rooms were broken into; the monuments were mostly unharmed.


This area is arguably the most important pyramid field in Egypt outside Giza and Saqqara, although until 1996 the site was inaccessible due to its location within a military base, and was relatively unknown outside archaeological circles.

The southern Pyramid of Snofru, commonly known as the Bent Pyramid, is believed to be the first Egyptian pyramid intended by its builders to be a "true" smooth-sided pyramid from the outset; the earlier pyramid at Meidum had smooth sides in its finished state – but it was conceived and built as a step pyramid, before having its steps filled in and concealed beneath a smooth outer casing.

As a true smooth-sided structure, the Bent Pyramid was only a partial success – albeit a unique, visually imposing one; it is also the only major Egyptian pyramid to retain a significant proportion of its original smooth outer limestone casing intact. As such it serves as the best contemporary example of how the ancient Egyptians intended their pyramids to look.

Several kilometeres to the north of the Bent Pyramid is the last – and most successful – of the three pyramids constructed during the reign of Snofru; the Red Pyramid is the world's first successfully completed smooth-sided pyramid. The structure is also the third largest pyramid in Egypt – after the pyramids of Khufu and Khafre at Giza.

Also at Dahshur is the pyramid known as the Black Pyramid of Amenemhet III, as well as a number of small, mostly ruined subsidiary pyramids.


Mazghuna (also known as Al Mazghunah or Al-Muzghumah), 5 km to the south of Dahshur (coordinates 29°45′0″N 31°14′0″E), is the site of several mudbrick pyramids dating from the 12th Dynasty. The area was explored by Ernest Mackay in 1910, and was excavated by Flinders Petrie in 1911. Amenemhet IV and Sobekneferu have been suggested as the owners of 2 unfinished pyramids at Mazghuna but there is no conclusive evidence of this. The southern pyramid is about 3 miles from Sneferu's bent pyramid. The base was 52.5 meters square but it was never finished. The outer burial chamber contains an inner monolithic burial vault made out of quartzite like the one for Amenemhet III at Hawara. there was a large granite plug ready to slide over the top however it was never used since no one was ever buried there.

There was a second pyramid planned at north Mazghuna even larger than this one but the superstructure was never begun. There was a U shaped passage leading to the burial chamber which contains another monolithic burial vault. There was scarcely 2 cm (less than 1 inch) clearance between the vault and the chamber. There was a 42 ton quartzite slab waiting to be slid over the burial chamber.


Lisht or el-Lisht is an Egyptian village located south of Cairo. It is the site of Middle Kingdom royal and elite burials, including two pyramids built by Amenemhat I and Senusret I. The two main pyramids were surrounded by smaller pyramids of members of the royal family, and several hundred mastaba tombs of high officials and their family members. They were constructed throughout the Twelfth and Thirteenth Dynasties. The site is also known for the tomb of Senebtisi, found undisturbed and from which a set of jewelry has been recovered. The pyramid complex of Senusret I is the best preserved from this period. The coffins in the tomb of Sesenebnef present the earliest versions of the Book of the Dead.


The pyramid at Meidum is one of three constructed during the reign of Sneferu, and is believed by some to have been started by that pharaoh's father and predecessor, Huni. However, that attribution is uncertain, as no record of Huni's name has been found at the site.

It was constructed as a step pyramid, and then later converted into the first "true" smooth-sided pyramid when the steps were filled in, and an outer casing added.

The pyramid suffered several catastrophic collapses in ancient and medieval times; medieval Arab writers described it as having 7 steps – although today only the three uppermost of these remain, giving the structure its odd, tower-like appearance. The hill on which the pyramid is situated is not a natural landscape feature – it is the small mountain of debris created when the lower courses and outer casing of the pyramid gave way.


Hawara is an archaeological site of Ancient Egypt, south of the site of Crocodilopolis (Arsinoe) at the entrance to the depression of the Fayyum oasis. The first excavations at the site were made by Karl Lepsius, in 1843. William Flinders Petrie excavated at Hawara, in 1888, finding papyri of the 1st and 2nd centuries CE, and, north of the pyramid, a vast necropolis where he found 146 portraits on coffins dating to the Roman period, famous as being among the very few surviving examples of painted portraits from Classical Antiquity, the "Fayoum portraits" illustrated in Roman history textbooks.

Amenemhet III was the last powerful ruler of the 12th Dynasty, and the pyramid he built at Hawara (illustration, right) is believed to post-date the so-called "Black Pyramid" built by the same ruler at Dahshur. It is this that is believed to have been Amenemhet's final resting place. At Hawara there was also the intact (pyramid) tomb of Neferu-Ptah, daughter of Amenemhet III. This tomb was found about 2 km South of the king's pyramid.

In common with the Middle Kingdom pyramids constructed after Amenemhet II, it was built of mudbrick round a core of limestone passages and burial chambers, and faced with limestone. Most of the facing stone was later pillaged for use in other buildings - a fate common to almost all of Egypt's pyramids - and today the pyramid is little more than an eroded, vaguely pyramidal mountain of mud brick, and of the once magnificent mortuary temple precinct formerly enclosed by a wall there is little left beyond the foundation bed of compacted sand and chips and shards of limestone.

From the entrance a sloping passage way with steps runs down to a small room and a further short horizontal passage. In the roof of this horizontal passage there was a concealed sliding trapdoor weighing 20 tons. If this was found and opened a robber would find himself confronted by an empty passage at a right angle to the passage below, closed by wooden doors, or by a passage parallel to the passage below, carefully filled with mud and stone blocking. He would assume that the blocking concealed the entrance and waste time removing it (thereby increasing the likelihood of detection by the pyramid guardians).

In fact there was a second 20-ton trapdoor in the roof of the empty passage, giving onto a second empty passage, also at a right angle to the first. This too had a 20-ton trapdoor giving onto a passage at a right angle to its predecessor (thus the interior of the pyramid was circled by these passages). However this passage ended in a large area of mud and stone blocking that presumably concealed the burial chamber.

This, however, was a blind and merely filled a wide but shallow alcove. Two blind shafts in the floor, carefully filled with cut stone blocks, further wasted the robbers' time, for the real entrance to the burial chamber was even more carefully concealed and lay between the blind shafts and opposite the alcove.

Despite these elaborate protective measures, Petrie found that none of the trapdoors had been slid into place and the wooden doors were open. Whether this indicated negligence on the part of the burial party, an intention to return and place further burials in the pyramid (when found there were two sarcophagii in the quartzite monolith described below and room for at least two more), or a deliberate action to facilitate robbery of the tomb, we cannot know.

The burial chamber was made out of a single quartzite monolith which was lowered into a larger chamber lined with limestone. This monolithic slab weighed an estimated 110 tons according to Petrie. A course of brick was placed on the chamber to raise the ceiling then the chamber was covered with 3 quartzite slabs (estimated weight 45 tons each). Above the burial chamber were 2 relieving chambers. This was topped with 50 ton limestone slabs forming a pointed roof. Then an enormous arch of brick 3 feet thick was built over the pointed roof to support the core of the pyramid.

The entrance to the pyramid is today flooded to a depth of 6 metres as a result of the waters from the Bahr el-Yusuf (Joseph's Canal) canal, which flows around two sides of the site and passes within 30m of the pyramid.

The huge mortuary temple that originally stood adjacent to this pyramid is believed to have formed the basis of the complex of buildings with galleries and courtyards called a "labyrinth" by Herodotus (see quote at Labyrinth), and mentioned by Strabo and Diodorus Siculus. (There is no historicity to the assertion of Diodorus Siculus that this was the model for the labyrinth of Crete that Greeks imagined housed the Minotaur,) The demolition of the "labyrinth" may date in part to the reign of Ptolemy II, under whom the Pharaonic city of Shedyt (Greek Crocodilopolis, the modern Medinet el-Fayum) was renamed to honour his sister-wife Arsinoë; a massive Ptolemaic building program at Arsinoe has been suggested as the ultimate destination of Middle Kingdom limestone columns and blocks removed from Hawara, and now lost.

Queen Sobekneferu of the Twelfth dynasty also built at the complex. Her name meant "most beautiful of Sobek", the sacred crocodile.

Among the discoveries made by Flinders Petrie were papyrus manuscripts, including a great papyrus scroll which contains parts of books 1 and 2 of the Iliad (the "Hawara Homer" of the Bodleian Library, Oxford)


Located in the Faiyum, Egypt, el-Lahun or Kahun (Arabic: كاهون‎) is the workers' village associated with the pyramid of Senusret II (also spelled Sesostris II). It is located near the modern village of el-Lahun (Arabic: لاهون‎), and is often known by that name. Also nearby is the pyramid itself, known as the Pyramid of Lahun.

Like the other Twelfth Dynasty pyramids in the Faiyum, the Pyramid of Lahun is made of mud brick, but here the core of the pyramid consists of a network of stone walls that were infilled by mud brick. This approach was probably intended to ensure the stability of the brick structure. Unusually, despite a Pyramid Temple on the east side, the entrance to the pyramid is on the south. The archaeologist Flinders Petrie nevertheless spent considerable time searching for it on the east side. He discovered the entrance only when workmen clearing the nearby tombs of the nobles discovered a small tunnel at the bottom of a 40-foot shaft, which led to the royal burial chamber. Evidently the original workmen on the tomb had used their legitimate activity as a cover for digging this tunnel, which enabled them to rob the pyramid. Once he was in the burial chamber, Petrie was able to work backwards to the entrance.

The pyramid stands on an artificial terrace cut from sloping ground. On the north side eight rectangular blocks of stone were left to serve as mastabas, probably for the burial of personages associated with the royal court. In front of each mastaba is a narrow shaft leading down to the burial chamber underneath. Also on the north side is the Queen's Pyramid or subsidiary pyramid.

The most remarkable discovery was that of the village of the workers who both constructed the pyramid and then served the funerary cult of the king. The village, conventionally known as Kahun, is about 800 meters from the pyramid and lies in the desert a short distance from the edge of cultivation. When found, many of the buildings were extant up to roof height, and Petrie confirmed that the true arch was known and used by the workmen in the village. However, all the buildings found were demolished in the process of excavation, which proceeded in long strips down the length of the village. When the first strip had been cleared, mapped and drawn, the next strip was excavated and the spoil dumped in the previous strip. As a result there is very little to be seen on the site today.

The village was excavated by Petrie in 1888-90 and again in 1914. The excavation was remarkable for the number, range, and quality of objects of everyday life (including tools) that were found in the houses. According to Dr Rosalie David's Pyramid Builders of Ancient Egypt, "the quantity, range and type of articles of everyday use which were left behind in the houses may indeed suggest that the departure [of the workmen] was sudden and unpremeditated" (p. 199).

Among the curiosities found there were wooden boxes buried beneath the floors of many of the houses. When opened they were found to contain the skeletons of infants, sometimes two or three in a box, and aged only a few months at death. Petrie reburied these human remains in the desert.

Also found in the town were the Kahun papyri, comprising about 1000 fragments, covering legal and medical matters. Re-excavation of the area in 2009 by Egyptian archaeologists revealed a cache of pharaonic-era mummies in brightly painted wooden coffins in the sand-covered desert rock surrounding the pyramid.

The site was occupied into the late Thirteenth Dynasty, and then again in the New Kingdom, when there were large land reclamation schemes in the area.

Town Layout

The town was laid out in a regular plan, with mud-brick town walls on 3 sides. No evidence was found of a fourth wall, which may have collapsed and been washed away during the annual innundation. The town was rectangular in shape and was divided internally by a mudbrick wall as large and strong as the exterior walls. This wall divided about one third of the area of the town and in this smaller area the houses consisted of rows of back-to-back, side-by-side single room houses. The larger area, which was higher up the slope and thus benefited from whatever breeze was blowing, contained a much smaller number of large, multi-room villas. Petrie compared the village to a Welsh mining village, where the workers lived in terraces in the valley while the mine owner and overseers lived in larger houses up the hill.

A major feature of the town was the so-called ‘acropolis’ building. This was an important building, as indicated by the presence of column bases. Petrie suggested that this may have been the King’s residence whilst he was visiting construction work. The building seems to have been out of use and derelict before the end of occupation.

Other records show that there were a large number of Semitic slaves in Egypt during the Twelfth Dynasty  It is interesting that some of the villas were constructed of layers of mudbrick separated by layers of reed matting, a technique used in Mesopotamia. Furthermore, burial beneath the living quarters of a house was a custom noted at Ur by Woolley. It is possible that the workers who were so carefully guarded by the village wall and separated from the overseers by an equally strong wall were Semitic (Asiatic) slaves not trusted by their overseers.


It was announced by the Supreme Council of Antiquities on 26 April 2009 that an anthology of pharaonic-era mummies vividly painted wooden coffins were uncovered near the Lahun pyramid in Egypt. The sarcophagi were decorated with bright hues of green, red and white bearing images of their occupants. Archaeologists unearthed dozens of mummies, thirty of which were very well-preserved with prayers purposed to help the deceased in the afterlife inscribed upon them. The site, once enveloped in slabs of white limestone, revealed that it could possibly be thousands of years older than previously thought.

Experts think that a new understanding of Egyptian funerary architecture and customs of the Middle Pharaonic Kingdom all the way to the Roman era could be learned from the exploration of the dozens of tombs encompassing the site near the Lahun, Egypt’s southernmost pyramid. "The tombs were cut on the rock itself, and they vary in architectural designs," said archaeologist Abdul Rahman Al-Ayedi, head of excavations at the site. . Some of the tombs were erected on top of gravesites from earlier eras. Ayedi told reporters, "The prevailing idea was that this site has been established by Senusret II, the fourth king of the 12th dynasty. But in light of our discovery, I think we are going to change this theory, and soon we will announce another discovery." He said teams had made a discovery of an artifact that was dated earlier than the 12th dynasty, but did not include any specifics on the item and promised an official statement would be made within days.

Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities announced May 23, 2010 that 57 ancient Egyptian tombs discovered in an area close to Lahun. Most of the graves contained an ornamental painted wooden sarcophagus with a mummy inside. Some of the tombs date from the Egyptian First and Second Dynasties, as far back as 2750 B.C. Several of the sites were decorated with hieroglyphics that the ancients believed would help the deceased travel through the afterlife.

Twelve of the tombs were found to belong to the 18th dynasty which ruled Egypt during the second millennium B.C. Egypt's archaeology chief, Zahi Hawass, said the mummies that date to the [18th dynasty] are covered in linen decorated with religious texts from the Book of the Dead and scenes of ancient Egyptian deities. The discovery might help experts have a better understanding of the ancient Egyptian religions. Some of the tombs are decorated with religious texts that ancient Egyptians believed would help the deceased cross over to the underworld, said Abdel Rahman El-Aydi, chief archeologist of project.

El-Aydi said one of the oldest tombs is almost completely intact, with all of its funerary equipment and a wooden sarcophagus containing a mummy wrapped in linen.

In 31 of the tombs, dating back to around 2030 - 1840 B.C., during the Middle Kingdom Era, archeologists found scenes of different ancient Egyptian deities, such as the Horus, Amun, Hathor & Khnum decorated on the tombs.
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