June 25, 2012

The Unsolved Problems about Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P4

Herodotus gives a quite fantastic description of the interior of Khufu’s pyramid, referring to a subterranean lake under the building with an island in it on which the pharaoh was buried. This indicates that the pyramid, which certainly had been entered during the First Intermediate Period, had been closed up again. Moreover, the original entrance must still have been well concealed and all knowledge of its existence had evidently been lost when in the ninth century AD the Caliph Ma’mun drove his tunnel into the building in order to discover the tomb chamber and its hidden treasure.

Ancient Egypt Pyramids
The final closing of the pyramids which had been pillaged in ancient times probably took place during the latest period of Egyptian independence under the Saite dynasty which ruled the country in the seventh and sixth centuries BC. Whereas we have had to deal so far with the destruction of evidence by treasure seekers and stone robbers we now have to discuss an entirely different aspect: the fabrication of misleading evidence. In spite of the neglect and wanton destruction of the Old Kingdom edifices in later times the pyramids retained their aura of sanctity and, with the passage of the centuries, veneration of the Old Kingdom returned. It became a mark of distinction and an insurance for a man’s afterlife to be buried in or near the ancient tombs. The earlier of these ‘intrusive’ burials, to use an archaeological term, bear so clearly the stamp of their own age that they can easily be recognised for what they are. However, more difficult problems for the archaeologists were created by the pharaohs of the last Egyptian dynasties.

Towards the end of the pharaonic empire the priests of Amun at Thebes gained an ever-increasing political power which, in keeping with the ancient matrilineal tradition, was exercised in the name of a royal princess who held the title ‘wife of the god’. She was never the pharaoh’s wife but the spouse of Amun and her succession was ensured by adoption of further royal princesses. Thus the pharaoh now held power in a less direct manner - not as husband of the ‘great wife’ but as father of his daughter. The central power had slipped from the hands of the king into those of the priests who, in order to maintain it, began to employ foreign mercenaries. These, however, were no match for any powerful aggressor, such as the Assyrians who overran Egypt without much difficulty at about 650 BC. The Assyrians’ victory was of short duration because they, in turn, had to defend themselves against Media.

As the Assyrians’ power in Egypt crumbled, the man whom they had installed to govern the country on their behalf turned against them. He was Psammetichus who declared himself pharaoh and legitimised his position by having his eldest daughter, another Nitokerti, adopted as ‘wife of the god’. Enthroned at his capital of Sals, Psammetichus and his successors in the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty tried to restore the splendour of the ancient traditions, and the Old Kingdom of 2,000 years before their time became their model. Their sculpture and architecture imitated that of the early dynasties so closely that at first Egyptologists were frequently misled. It seems that the Saltes also cleared the pyramids and resealed them after having buried their own dead there. When in 1837 Perring discovered sixty mummies in a large gallery under the Step Pyramid at Saqqara he took them naturally to be the dead retainers of Zoser. Only later was it discovered that not only did the mummies belong to the Late Period but that the gallery itself had been newly excavated by the Saites.

Recently both the wooden coffin lid, inscribed with the name of Menkaure, and the mummy found in the pyramid were recognised as late substitutions. Some doubts have therefore arisen about the authenticity of Menkaure’s basalt sarcophagus, which unfortunately had been lost at sea. The existing drawing of it does not make it appear impossible that this sarcophagus too was a Saite production, despite the fact that it reproduces the ‘palace fa$ade’ decoration.

Summarising all these facts and taking into account early pillage and late restoration, it becomes clear that the evidence presented by the pyramids today is often confusing and, to some extent, perplexing. The complexity is further increased by the existence of the small subsidiary pyramids which were attached to each big pyramid, dating from that at Meidum onward. The interior chambers of some of these are too small to have served for the burial of a human body, and it has been suggested that they may have been the repositories of the canopic jars, holding the pharaoh’s viscera. In that case this ‘ritual’ pyramid should be regarded as an integral part of the standard pyramid complex, together with the mortuary temple, causeway and valley building.

The matter, however, becomes more complicated by the fact that the pyramid complexes of Khufu and Menkaure each contain three of these small pyramids. A pointer concerning their occupants is given by Herodotus. According to the priests from whom he obtained his information, the pharaoh, Khufu, wishing to raise funds for the building of his pyramid, induced his daughter to sell her charms. The lady, who wished to erect a memorial to her filial devotion, asked each man to give her one stone, and she was eventually buried in the small pyramid collected in this manner. Quite apart from the fact that Herodotus could have rejected this preposterous story on numerical grounds - the pyramid contains at least 20,000 stones - it is hardly in keeping with the position of a royal princess of the Fourth Dynasty. However, even the most unlikely legends usually contain a grain of truth and it seems probable that some, at least of these subsidiary pyramids were the tombs of the ‘great queens’. Indeed, according to a late stela, the southernmost of Khufu’s small pyramids was built for Queen Henutsen, one of Khufu’s wives and the mother of Khafre. The details about all these subsidiary pyramids are best given in tabulated form.

Ancient Egyptian Pyramid :
The Unsolved Problems about Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P1
The Unsolved Problems about Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P2
The Unsolved Problems about Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P3
The Unsolved Problems about Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P4
The Unsolved Problems about Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P5
The Unsolved Problems about Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P6

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