June 28, 2012

Ancient Egyptian Pyramids at Dahshur Part 1

Ancient Egyptian Pyramids at Dahshur
The rhomboid shape of the southern stone pyramid at Dahshur, which has earned it the name of the ‘Bent Pyramid’, is the direct consequence of the disaster at Meidum. There are two stone pyramids at this site which is just south of Saqqara and 45 km. north of Meidum. It is now certain that chronologically the Bent Pyramid followed that of Meidum and that the northern Red Pyramid was the successor of the Bent Pyramid. Owing to certain architectural features which will be discussed presently, the Bent Pyramid was, until recently, thought to predate that of Meidum. Recent excavations have also shown without doubt that the Bent Pyramid has to be ascribed to Snofru. The same is true for the Red Pyramid, and there exists an important decree by King Pepi 1 of the Sixth Dynasty, exempting the priests of the ‘two pyramids of Snofru’ from certain taxes and services. This stela of Dahshur was found in the cultivation near the Red Pyramid and may have belonged to that monument’s valley building. However, owing to the confusion over dating these pyramids, that of Meidum was first be- , lieved to be the ‘southern pyramid of Snofru’.

Ancient Egypt Pyramids
Unlike the deserted Meidum site, the Dahshur pyramids seem to have been places of active worship for a long time and the Dahshur necropolis bears witness to a long line of funerary priests whose tombs unfortunately attracted the attention of Arab treasure seekers in the Middle Ages and, even more so, that of the nineteenth-century hunters for objets d’art. There is a good deal of evidence that the pyramids were entered and robbed of their contents in the First Intermediate Period and, while their treasure did not survive the time of unrest, the cult of Snofru did. The Dahshur pyramids remained a site of worship for well over a thousand years and Snofru’s cult was alive throughout the New Kingdom, and possibly down to Ptolemaic times. The pyramids may have been re-sealed in the Saite period or even earlier but, if so, they were opened again by the Muslims. European travellers of the seventeenth century entered the Bent Pyramid and its first exploration was carried out by the indomitable and ever-active Mr Perring in 1839.

Perring, in fact, invented scientific archaeology a century ;n advance. In spite of later work at Dahshur by such noted Egypt, ologists as Lepsius, de Morgan, Barsanti and Jequier nothing superseding Perring’s original observations on the Bent Pyramid was found until after World War n. Then, in 1948 Abdulsalam Mohammed Hussein began serious work at the Bent Pyramid on behalf of the Antiquities Department. His first great discovery was the name of Snofru on the corner stones of the building and also in the upper chamber. This settled the question of to whom the Bent Pyramid belonged. Hussein also discovered the cedar beam framework in the upper chamber which had been hidden by a great number of small squared stone blocks with which the chambers of the Bent Pyramid, like those at Meidum and the Red Pyramid, had been partly filled. The purpose of this packing, in which nothing seems to have been hidden, is not known. Neither can one be sure that it formed part of the original design. Hussein died suddenly in 1949 on a trip to the United States and his notes have never been found. His work was continued by Ahmed Fakhry, to whose discoveries we have already referred. There is a lingering suspicion that the Bent Pyramid may contain some so far undiscovered passage or chamber. When in 1839 Perring broke through the choked northern entrance, there occurred a rush of fresh air. down the passage into the inner chambers, which continued for two days so strongly ‘that the lights would with difficulty be kept in’. Since the western entrance was at that time still sealed he concluded ‘that the apartments must have had some other communication with the outside air’. Fakhry reported that on windy days a noise, sometimes lasting for ten seconds, can be heard in the connecting passage between the two chambers.

In order to understand the reasons for changing the angle of elevation when building the Bent Pyramid, we have to return to the problems of pyramid design and construction. Imhotep had discovered the method of erecting a tall stone building by appreciating the inward thrust of a buttress wall, and this ingenious device seems to have dominated the construction of all large pyramids. The buttress walls can be seen openly at the step pyramids of Zoser, Sekhemket and Khaba and, owing to its collapse, also at the Meidum pyramid. Because of their immense bulk and their good state of preservation, nothing can be said about the internal structure of the two stone pyramids at Dahshur or the Khufu and

^hafre pyramids at Giza. However, we may safely assume that jjjey, too, were designed in the same way since the hole cut into Menkaure pyramid in 1215 by Caliph Malek clearly discloses the step structure of this building. Moreover, buttress walls can also be seen in the subsidiary pyramids at Giza and in the more heavily ruined pyramids of the Fifth Dynasty at Abusir. It appears therefore that Herodotus’ statement that ‘the pyramids were built in tiers, battlementwise, as it is called, or according to others, step- wise’, is correct.

Egyptian Pyramids at Dahshur :

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