June 25, 2012

A Clue at Meidum Pyramid Part 2

A few years later Denon, with other members of the scientific expediti011 accompanying Napoleon’s army, came to Meidum, and some of his colleagues may have climbed the building. Denon made an excellent drawing which was published in the expedition’s records. There is a curious discrepancy between this sketch and Denon’s description, to which we will return later. Visits to the jvleidum pyramid by a number of noted Egyptologists followed, among them Perring in 1837, Lepsius in 1843, and Mariette in 1871- The latter discovered close by the tomb the statues of Prince Rahotep and his wife, Nofret, as well as the famous ‘panel of geese’, now among the principal treasures of the Cairo Museum. Then in 1882 the Head of the Antiquities Services, Gaston Mas- pero, opened the pyramid but found it empty.

Ancient Egypt Pyramids

Perring’s visit is of particular interest, since he not only provided an excellent sketch of the building but also investigated its base by sinking trial pits at the north-east comer and on its western side. From these he concluded that the base was that of a true pyramid, although he felt that owing to the short time at his disposal, this suggestion had to remain tentative. He also mentioned that the huge amount of debris covered the whole base in an irregular fashion. Only the north-east corner of the pyramid was not covered with rubbish and from here stones had been removed. Perring, in fact, suggested that casing blocks from the pyramid had been used to build the bridge at Tahme.

It appears that on the previous day Perring had had ample opportunity to examine what was evidently the same bridge because his boat had fouled it. Fortunately a number of Arabs were at hand to free the craft but not, as Mr Perring was at pains to point out, until a suitable remuneration had been agreed upon. All this took time and it delayed his visit to Meidum by one day. It was a small, if irritating, incident which, however, was to acquire far-reaching importance. By innocently mentioning the pyramid masonry in the bridge at Tahme, Perring drew a red herring across the trail of all future investigation which was to deflect his successors from the obvious conclusion for well over a century.

More recently four explorations of the Meidum pyramid have been carried out, all of which have some bearing on my own observations. After a cursory visit to the site in 1883, Petrie returned in 1891 to undertake serious excavations. He cleared some of the debris from the east face and discovered the existence of a small mortuary temple at its centre. He also discovered the causeway but found that any valley building which may have existed had sunk 16 Schematic section of the Meidum Pyramid in the north-south direction. The first two phases of construction were step structures and E2, built consecutively, on which finally a true pyramid E3 was superimposed. The tomb chamber (a) is entered through a passage (b), pointing to the celestial North Pole. The building contains ten buttress walls (c) which stand on a rock foundation, whereas part of the outer pyramid mantle E3 rests on sand (d). The lower part of the building is covered by debris (e) and the existing visible part is shown in heavy outline. The top of the steps was slightly sloping and not, as has generally been assumed, horizontal

deep into the mud. As for the pyramid itself, he realised that its present state revealed the three distinct building stages to which we have already referred. The first two of these were step pyramids - one of seven, and the next of probably eight steps. Finally, the second step pyramid was covered with an outer mantle of which only the lowest part surrounding the two lowest steps now remains. The next two steps, the third and fourth, have disappeared, leaving the core of the fifth step standing, surmounted by the intact sixth step and remnants of the seventh. It is this freely rising core which gives the building its tower-like appearance. The remaining part of the outer mantle shows that the third building phase was to be a true pyramid, the first of its kind. Because the complexity of this heavily ruined structure tends to be somewhat confusing, we shall use the notation introduced later by Borchardt, which has since been generally accepted. He calls the first step pyramid En the second step pyramid E2, and the outer mantle of the true pyramid E3.

In i9°9 Pet™! accompanied by E. Mackay, G. A. Wainwright and others, returned to Meidum to carry out further work, which included clearing the mortuary temple completely and also the causeway. Within the peribolus wall they discovered the ruin of a small subsidiary pyramid to the south and a mastaba tomb to the north. Wainwright drove a tunnel under the whole pyramid and, when working inwards from underneath the base of the mantle (E3), he found the foundations of ten successive buttress walls. His tunnel ended up in the rock near the tomb chamber, showing that the Meidum pyramid was not based on a mastaba such as at Zoser’s monument. This is quite in keeping with discoveries at the S3khemket and Khaba pyramids which were excavated after Wainwright’s work. These two edifices were built as step pyramids right from the start and it is therefore not surprising that the Meidum pyramid followed the same constructional pattern. An interesting feature of Wainwright’s excavation was the investigation of the outermost buttress wall of the second step pyramid (E2), underlying the mantle of the true pyramid (E3). He showed that this buttress wall was dressed down to ground level, indicating clearly that the second step pyramid (E2) was intended as the final stage before the transformation of the monument into a true pyramid (E3), was undertaken.

Further proof that the two step pyramids (Ej and E2) were each for a time regarded as ultimate before the next phase was started is provided by Petrie’s observations in the passage descending into the pyramid. The internal masonry lining of this corridor shows clear discontinuities at those places which correspond to the original entrances of the successive step pyramids Ej and E2. Beyond these the passage was subsequently continued outwards to the final entrance in the pyramid mantle (E3). Altogether, the thorough work of Petrie and Wainwright at Meidum covered all essential features of the pyramid, leaving, as it turned out, comparatively little to the three following explorations.

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