June 21, 2012

The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Age Facts P10

Compared with Khufu’s pyramid, the internal structure of Khafre’s is of extreme simplicity. There is again a polar entrance passage which eventually leads to a simple tomb chamber at the base of the structure and under its apex. The only complication is provided by a second entrance, emerging a little further north under the pavement outside the pyramid, but soon joining the main corridor. When Belzoni entered the tomb chamber in 1818 he found a beautiful granite sarcophagus set into the floor, with the broken lid lying beside it. It clearly had been rifled in ancient times and contained no body. The roof of the tomb chamber consists of gabled limestone blocks, similar to the construction employed in the Queen’s chamber and entrance passage of Khufu’s pyramid.

Ancient Egyptian Pyramid
Since the existence of upper corridors and chambers in Khufu’s pyramid was only discovered by the accidental fall of a ceiling block in the entrance passage, a similar pattern could be suspected in Khafre’s monument. It was a question to which there seemed to be no answer, except by extensive and destructive tunnelling. However, the problem was solved in a most ingenious manner by taking an X-ray picture of the building. The scheme was
undertaken at the initiative and under the direction of Professor Luis Alvarez, a Nobel Laureate of the University of California, in 1970, using cosmic rays. This radiation, whose origin is unknown, impinges upon the earth at equal strength from all directions of outer space. It is the most penetrating radiation ever discovered and it can pass through the huge mass of limestone of a pyramid, although in doing so its intensity is diminished. Just as the absorption of ordinary X-rays by different types of body tissues will provide us with information on our bones and internal organs, the cosmic rays, recorded in the central tomb chamber of a pyramid will furnish a shadow picture of the body of the building. Any hidden chamber, being a void in the masonry, must then show up as a ‘negative’ shadow. The actual experiment and its evaluation is a very complex operation, requiring a large team of workers and highly sophisticated equipment. However, the result turned out to be negative, showing conclusively that no upper chamber exists in the Khafre pyramid.

The third great pyramid on the Giza plateau is that of Menkaure, whom Herodotus called Mycerinus, and who was the son of Khafre. Compared with the gigantic twins of Khufu and Khafre the monument is a miserable runt. With a base of 108 m. square and a height of 70 m., it contains less than one-tenth of the limestone built into each of the two great pyramids. Moreover, it marks the end of the true Pyramid Age. The one remaining pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty built a quite different type of tomb at Saqqara and the pyramids of the next dynasty are small and very shoddy in comparison with the immense monuments erected by the kings of the Fourth Dynasty.

Apart from its much smaller size Menkaure’s pyramid does not differ in essential design from its predecessors. The angle of elevation is the same and there is also an entrance passage pointing at the celestial north pole. The three tomb chambers are excavated in the rock under the apex of the pyramid. A blind passage from the uppermost one has been generally interpreted as indicating a change in the building plan. When in 1837 Colonel Howard Vyse entered the second chamber he found a basalt sarcophagus, a wooden coffin lid and a mummy. The latter two are now in the British Museum. The sarcophagus is unfortunately not available for examination since it now rests at the bottom of the Mediterranean. Drawings made before it was shipped show an outer design similar to an archaic palace facade, and it is assumed to have held the body of Menkaure. The coffin lid bearing Menkaure’s 66 name, however, is of the Late Period and the mummy radiocarbon dated to the early Christian era.

The sixteen lowest courses of the casing of the pyramid are of pink granite but some of these blocks have remained undressed, indicating that the building was finished in haste. Such casing blocks of the higher courses, which were not taken away by stone robbers, show that the top was covered with Tura limestone. The hurried completion of the whole complex is also apparent in the large mortuary and valley temples, constructed of enormous limestone blocks, which were finished with the use of crude bricks and other inferior materials. An inscription found by Reisner in the mortuary temple, and another one recently discovered near the pyramid entrance, leave no doubt that the monument as a whole was completed by Menkaure’s son, Shepseskaf.

Reisner assumed that Menkaure was the son of Khameremebti i who then, in order to assure her son’s succession, must have been a sister of Khafre. On the other hand his mother may have been ths twice-widowed Hetepheres n, or even her daughter Mersankh in, both being of the royal blood. While speculation on this question depends on the relative ages of the pharaoh and these two queens, we know for certain that Hetepheres n outlived Menkaure.

Menkaure was married to his sister Khameremebti n and the magnificent double statue discovered by Reisner in the valley temple leaves no doubt as to the close facial resemblance of the royal couple. The figure of the queen is famous for the masterly treatment of the female form, and the position of her right arm, encircling the waist of her husband, is usually regarded as a gesture of wifely affection. However, it is more likely that the pose of the queen, with her left hand on the king’s arm, is one of deep ritual significance. As heiress of the royal blood she appears to protect and present her brother, on whom she has conferred the kingship by marriage. The base and back of the statue were left unfinished and this is further evidence for the haste attending the completion of the last of Egypt’s great pyramids.

Apart from all other evidence, the alabaster head of Shepseskaf in the Boston Museum shows by sheer family resemblance that he was the son of Menkaure and Khameremebti IL He was the last pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty and possibly married to his sister, Khentkaues. However, Shepseskaf broke with the Fourth Dynasty tradition and, instead of erecting a pyramid, built for himself a sepulchre at Saqqara, to which the Arabs gave the name of Mastabat Fara’un. It has the shape of a large sarcophagus, but is not nearly as imposing as a pyramid. The base is only 100 m. long and 72 m. wide, with a total height of about 20 m. The burial chain-! bers are reached by a polar passage and there was a modest mortuary temple at the east with a causeway to an unexcavated valley temple.

Another similar, but rather smaller, tomb was built for Queen Khentkaues between the causeways of the Khafre and Menkaure pyramids at Giza. It seems that she carried her half of the royal blood into the Fifth Dynasty, since in her tomb she is described as ‘mother of two kings’ but there is no mention of the father who sired them. Khentkaues was venerated throughout the Fifth Dynasty as its founder, and it is clear that the father may not have been Shepseskaf.

With Menkaure a period in the history of Egypt and, we would suggest, a significant era in our civilisation, had drawn to a close. Within less than a century the four largest pyramids had been built, employing something like 100,000 people, quarrying, shaping and moving over 20 million tons of stone. Nobody knows why the Pyramid Age came to this sudden end from one reign to the next. However, before we can speculate on the reasons for the end of an era we first have to find out how, and why, this era ever came into being.

Egyptian Pyramid Age :
The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Age Facts P1
The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Age Facts P2
The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Age Facts P3
The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Age Facts P4
The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Age Facts P5
The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Age Facts P6
The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Age Facts P7
The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Age Facts P8
The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Age Facts P9
The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Age Facts P10

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