June 27, 2012

A Clue at Meidum Pyramid Part 4

When Browne saw the pyramid in 1793, the outer mantle was completely covered with debris and only by his exploration was the pyramid character of the base revealed. He removed the rubble from two of the comers and there discovered the existence of the outer casing which he found completely intact. He stated that ‘The stones and cement may be observed to the very bottom’. Until then the local fellahin evidently knew nothing about this hidden treasure of building material, but it seems that Browne’s discovery encouraged them to extract some of these readily available casing stones. They evidently used them for the bridge at Tahme and, as Petrie points out, as gravestones. Neither use can have contributed much to the loss of 250,000 tons. In fact, when Petrie surveyed the Meidum pyramid a century after Browne had shown the local inhabitants where to quarry, the pillage was still not at all significant. Only small inroads of 7 to 10 m. had been made at three corners while the south-east corner remained buried under the debris. Petrie excavated it and found it completely untouched.

Ancient Egypt Pyramids
Apart from the four comers, there are only two small areas where the pyramid mantle (E3) has been laid bare. The rest of its surface remains buried under the debris. In 1909 Petrie and Wainwright, when freeing the small mortuary temple adjoining the eastern face of the pyramid, cleared the centre of this face down to the foundation level. They found the exposed casing perfectly intact and there was no sign of any attempt to remove casing blocks. A smaller clearance, not going down to foundation level, was made by Maspero in 1881 when he opened the entrance of the descending passage located in the north face about 20 m. above the base and just below the present level of the debris. This free surface of E3 also shows the original casing in position.

None of these findings admit any suggestion that the mantle of the Meidum pyramid had ever been attacked by stone robbers before it became covered with large quantities of debris. In fact, the supposition that the pyramid owes its heavily ruined state to the activity of stone robbers can be confidently rejected. The evidence further shows that whatever calamity overtook the building occurred while the outer casing was still undamaged. It is also evident that the collapse of the pyramid was not a gradual one. The nature and the distribution of the debris leave no doubt that a sudden disaster took place in which the masonry was thoroughly broken up, cascading down from a great height. The angle of repose of the rubble and the considerable distance to which the fragments had travelled show that they came down with great speed, indicating a high kinetic energy. This fact precludes a slow disintegration of the edifice and points to an instantaneous catastrophe which must have ruined the structure in a matter of a few minutes. Having arrived at this conclusion, our next task must be to estimate when in the history of the Meidum pyramid this sudden destruction occurred.

For a number of reasons we must assume that it took place before the third building phase, the transformation of a stepped monument (E2) into a true pyramid (E3), was completed. Evidence - especially Wainwright’s investigation obtained by tunnelling under the structure - makes it clear that two successive building phases, resulting in the step pyramids Ei and E2, had each been meant to represent the final form of the monument. This is also shown by the well-planed surfaces of these two step pyramids and by the discontinuities in the passage, corresponding to the original entrances of Ex and E2. The latter even shows grooves for metal bars to hold the final casing stone by which the step pyramid was to be closed.

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