June 30, 2012

Ancient Egyptian Pyramids Part 1 | Problems and Solution

The results of our investigation so far lead to two main conclusions. The first is the destruction of the Meidum pyramid through a building disaster. The second is an explanation of the rhomboid shape of the Bent Pyramid as a direct consequence of this disaster. In the preceding two chapters we have adduced a considerable number of further observations and correlations to prove the correctness of these two main conclusions. Moreover, this research, like all investigations, has led to other results besides the main line of thought which it is customary to call the ‘fall-out’ of the work. These were the realisation that the stepped phase of the Meidum pyramid was never completed, that a true pyramid always had to have a stepped core, and that pyramid casings were dressed from the bottom of the structure while the top was still building. This fall-out, and the two main conclusions, will be of some interest to Egyptologists but are unlikely to engage the attention of a wider public. They could be adequately accommodated in papers submitted to learned journals but by themselves they would hardly justify a book addressed to the general reader.

Ancient Egyptian Pyramids
It was not until I realised the existence of a third conclusion, based on the two earlier ones, that the subject suddenly acquired a very much wider significance. Up to this point my interest had been entired focused on the immediate consequences of the initial discovery that an immense building catastrophe had occurred almost 5,000 years ago. It proved an absorbing investigation into technological problems of ancient building construction but at no stage had it touched on the intriguing riddle of why the pyramids were built at all. The third conclusion completely changed the aspect of this originally fairly narrow study into an exciting quest for the answer to the riddle. As was made clear in the preface, it had never been my intention to solve this central problem and when its solution came, it was a complete surprise.

The third conclusion concerns the timing of building operations of successive pyramids. We have seen that the sudden decision to change the shape of the southern pyramid at Dahshur resulted from the catastrophe at Meidum. The disaster, as could be proved conclusively, took place in the middle of the third constructional phase at Meidum. On the other hand, the pyramid at Dahshur had reached about half of its projected height when the angle of elevation had been changed. This means that roughly 70 per cent of the masonry of the Bent Pyramid had already been placed in position when the previous pyramid at Meidum was still under construction. The inescapable conclusion is that the building periods of these two pyramids overlapped very considerably.

This, of course, conflicts with the opinion generally held so far that each pharaoh, on ascending the throne, began the building of his pyramid which it was his aim to finish well before his death. It means that the pyramids would have been built consecutively in the succeeding reigns. The discovery of strongly overlapping building periods came at first as a surprise. However, once we consider the technological effort involved, it soon becomes apparent that consecutive construction is an economic and organisational impossibility. Owing to their immense size, the building of pyramids on the scale undertaken in the Fourth Dynasty had to become an activity in its own right which demanded its own economic rules. It essentially dominated the pattern of life and, once started, tended to continue and escalate like a self-sustaining chemical reaction. It was the pyramid and not the pharaoh that ruled Egypt and new pyramids had to be erected, irrespective of whether a pharaoh was ready for burial or not. Once it is realised that the continuous construction of pyramids had become compulsive, the strange fact that Snofru should have built no fewer than three large pyramids acquires new meaning. These assertions must necessarily appear somewhat sweeping and it will now have to be shown how they were derived from our conclusion that the building periods of the large pyramids were overlapping.

Ancient Egyptian Pyramids at Dahshur Part 6

The pharaoh was gradually becoming closely connected with Re and, after death, was going to accompany the sun god on his daily journey across the sky. After Khufu the name adopted by the pharaoh contained the syllable ‘re’, and the tutelage of Heliopolis, which was to come into full force in the Fifth Dynasty, began to make itself felt in the affairs of state. For instance, Prince Rahotep who, with his wife Nofret, was buried at Meidum, was a ‘son of the king’ (probably Huni), commander of the army and high priest of Heliopolis. Meanwhile the Heliopolis priesthood had established a cult by which Horus was worshipped as ‘Harakte’, a variant of Re. It was in this era, which had evidently begun with Snofru, that the influence of the solar cult made its first impact on the monarchy. For entirely different reasons, the use of the pyramidal emblem of Re and its exaggeration into fantastic proportions went hand in hand. The building of pyramids had become the foremost activity of the country as a whole and it was evidently sustained by the Heliopolitan priesthood. This possibly also had an effect on the structure and recruitment of the civil service.

Ancient Egyptian Pyramids
From early times the Egyptian civil service was of a dual nature, with offices corresponding to Upper and Lower Egypt, the Red and the White House. The highest official, who was the representative of the pharaoh, was the vizier to whose office the other departments, such as the Treasure House and the Store House, were responsible. The vizier and the heads of the other essential departments were usually sons of the king; during the first two dynasties royal princes also replaced local dignitaries as governors of the provinces. It seems that the vizier as supervisor of ‘all the king s works’ was in charge of pyramid construction which, as we shall see, was of paramount importance in the economy of the Fourth Dynasty. While Imhotep himself was evidently not a king’s son he may have been connected to the royal house by marriage.

The Fourth Dynasty viziers were all sons of the pharaoh and their titles and offices are known from their mastaba tombs. The first vizier in charge of building operations who is known to us was Nefermaat, the son of a king, probably Huni, and who was buried at Meidum. His successor was a son of Snofru’s, called Kanefer, whose tomb is at Dahshur, and who may have been in charge of the work when the Meidum pyramid collapsed. However, the disaster did not harm his career since we know that Kanefer continued in office into the reign of Khufu. He was succeeded by his own son, Prince Hemon, Khufu’s cousin and his great architect, whose impressive and forceful portrait statue is in the Hildesheim Museum. Hemon is generally credited with building Khufu’s pyramid but there exists no definite proof for it except that the work seems to fall into Hemon’s term of office. It is possible that the vizirate was then conferred on Baufre and perhaps on Djedefhor, both sons of Khufu by Queen Merytyetes. However, there is a suspicion that they were eliminated in one way or another by Djedefre, whose vizier was another Nefermaat, a grandson of Snofru’s by his daughter Nefertkau.

While the tombs disclose to us the names and even the portraits of the leading officials, and of many lower ones, who formed the administration of the Fourth Dynasty, they tell us nothing about the meaning of the change which the influence of the Heliopolis Priesthood created in the Egyptian monarchy. This change evidently brought greater power to the priests of Re and it was intimately connected with the building of enormous pyramids. ' With Menkaure, this phase came to an end, and it is possible that his pyramid is nothing better than a left-over from the previous gigantic effort. It almost looks as if existing material was used up, « as the labour force was being drastically run down.

There is a suspicion that at this time the hold which the priests of Re had over the monarchy was declining and it may be signifi-rJ cant that Shepseskaf, Menkaure’s son and successor, did not build a pyramid for himself. He also forsook the Giza necropolis, erecting a tomb in the shape of a large sarcophagus at the ancient necropolis of Saqqara. This heavily ruined building, called by the Arabs ‘Mastabat Fara’un’, though much larger than the mastaba tombs of the princes, is quite small in comparison with the Giza pyramids. It contains only about 3.5 per cent of the masonry of the Khufu pyramid. Egyptologists have regarded the departure from the pyramid shape which Shepseskaf decreed for his monument as reflecting a weakening of the Heliopolitan influence on the status of the pharaoh. Early Memphite texts describe Ptah as protector of Horus, i.e. of the king, and it may be significant that the first known high priest of Ptah was Ptahshepses, a son of Shepseskaf.

However, more important than abstract religious considerations or even the shape of the tomb appears to us the sharp decline in building effort which may have been foreshadowed by Menkaure’s monument. We have to remember that pyramid construction was by far the most important activity for the Egyptians of the Fourth Dynasty. When dealing in the next chapter with the economic effects of this large-scale technological enterprise we shall see that, by the time of Khafre, pyramid building may have exhausted its usefulness, becoming a burden on society rather than a benefit to it. The servants of the sun god who seem to have fostered the channelling of the country’s efforts towards gigantic representations of the solar emblem had possibly pushed the power of Re too far, and this may have turned the monarchy in its own interest towards the worship of the less exacting Ptah.

If this was the case, the establishment at Heliopolis did not take it lying down. There is no record of any serious disorders at the end of the Fourth Dynasty, but when Queen Khentkaues, Shep- seskaf’s sister, became the founder of the Fifth Dynasty, she brought Re and his Heliopolitan priesthood back with her. However, the priests had now significantly changed the position of the pharaoh from god into son of god. It seems to have been a fairly smooth take-over, in which Ptah and his priesthood were not victimised, but simply relegated to their former dignified but innocuous position. The sun god was re-installed by a famous legend which has come down to us in the Westcar papyrus in the Berlin Museum. Although the papyrus dates from the Middle Kingdom it clearly goes back to an Old Kingdom source. According to it a magician, Dedi of Meidum, who had been brought before Khufu to demonstrate his supernatural powers, prophesied the future of the royal house. The descendants of Khufu, he predicted, would rule over Egypt for three more generations, but then the three next kings would be triplets, begotten by Re himself, and borne by the wife of his high priest.

The legend, even in its corrupted form, bears the stamp of a priestly mythos, created to glorify the new dynasty of children of the sun god. The advantage of the new cult is immediately apparent. Being merely the son of Re, the pharaoh no longer required a monument of stupendous dimensions. It still had to be a pyramid to agree with the traditional pattern of solar worship 3 but it could now be on a more modest scale. In fact the pyramids of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties are all of fairly uniform size, each being about one-thirtieth of the Khufu pyramid’s bulk. In addition, the much smaller masses of these monuments did not require the stringent and costly precautions against collapse which had followed the Meidum disaster and which we have discussed above. Consequently, while the constructional pattern of using buttress walls was maintained, the internal masonry consists merely of roughly quarried rubble. Therefore, these small pyramids, because o. their shoddy construction, did not stand the ravages of time as well as the giant edifices of Giza and Dahshur. Their ruins are of interest to us because they disclose not only poor workmanship, but also the existence of internal buttress walls.

Considering the greater ease of construction due to their smaller size and the saving effected by poor materials, it can be estimated that the labour force, which had to be devoted to these pyramids, amounted to no more than 2 or 3 per cent of that lavished on the Giza structures. As far as the communal effort was concerned, the Pyramid Age had definitely come to an end, and although still shoddier pyramids were erected for almost another thousand years after Khufu, their building never again became the primary occupation of the Egyptian people.

In order to compensate the pharaoh and his court for the loss of immense tombs, the Heliopolitan priesthood devised an entirely new place of solar worship for the king. This was an imposing sanctuary built for each pharaoh at the very edge of the desert plateau just north of Memphis, near the present village of Abu Gurob. These sanctuaries could be reached by a covered causeway from a landing stage at the Nile which led to a sacrificial enclosure. This contained an altar and a series of alabaster basins to receive the blood of the slaughtered animals. The main feature of these temples, however,, was a novel structure which, in due course, came to replace the pyramid as the emblem of Re. It was an obelisk. The original obelisks of Abu Gurob were, unlike their monolithic descendants, squat and massive structures, closer in concept to the Pyramid Age than the slender spires in the New Kingdom temples. Again it should be noted that the amount of labour required to build these solar sanctuaries was minimal when compared with that lavished on a pyramid.

Egyptian Pyramids at Dahshur :

Ancient Egyptian Pyramids at Dahshur Part 5

The Menkaure pyramid, too, was built with large, well-squared blocks. Vyse and Perring said that ‘The bulk of the pyramid has been more carefully built than the two larger and the stones have been better finished, and are of greater size’. Moreover, the hole cut into its eastern face by the Caliph Malek al Aziz Othman reveals a substantially built buttress wall. On the other hand, the mortuary temple, the causeway and the valley building were finished with inferior materials by Menkaure’s successor, Shepseskaf. There is a strange contrast in Menkaure’s mortuary temple of immense limestone blocks, weighing as much as 200 tons each, and the use of mud brick and plaster. All these signs of a sudden lack of interest and saving of labour are part of the abrupt end of the Pyramid Age. The surprisingly large number of granite courses at the Menkaure pyramid casing may be another indication of this decline. Possibly the granite quarries at Assuan, which began only after Khufu to produce in large numbers casing stones for pyramids under construction and future ones, were taken by surprise at the sudden drop in demand. It almost looks as if the quarry masters found themselves with an excessive number of casing! blocks on their hands which were then all used at the Menkaure pyramid, the last one of the Fourth Dynasty.

Ancient Egyptian Pyramids
Other architectural innovations on the pyramids of the Giza period concern the design of the interior passages and chambers. The only corbelled roof at Giza is that of the Grand Gallery in Khufu’s pyramid. This high and sloping passage provides interesting evidence for the fear of slip which seems to have been ever present in the mind of the Egyptian architects after the Meidum disaster. The roof slabs are made to lie individually against notches in the top of the walls and not against each other. This was to ensure that the weight of the slabs did not accumulate at the lower end of the sloping ceiling. The roof of the Queen’s chamber in the Khufu pyramid and those of the tomb chambers in the Khafre and Menkaure pyramids consist of very large gabled blocks of limestone which have stood the test of time. We do not know whether, above these roofs, there are relieving chambers similar to those above the King’s chamber of Khufu.

The efforts made by the Giza architects to erect large pyramids with a gradient of 4/7r mainly involved the development of mega- lithic building on an immense scale. Even if we assume that the large squared blocks were confined to the packing only, this required the preparation of about 700,000 carefully shaped limestone cubes, weighing roughly 2^ tons each. To these will have to be added something like one million m.2 of well-built buttress walls and 200,000 m.2 of smooth planed casing consisting of large blocks of Tura limestone. The remaining examples of this casing show that the stones were made to fit so closely that a postcard cannot be inserted between the blocks.

Who were the people that issued the orders for this immense enterprise, and who executed them? Who were the members of the Egyptian ‘establishment’, to use contemporary parlance? First and foremost it was, of course, the pharaoh, but his position seems to have undergone a considerable change during the first four dynasties. Arising from a tribal society, the early pharaohs evidently held a divine kingship as it has survived to our day in Africa. The welfare of the people depended on the health and vigour of the king, who originally was not allowed to lose his powers with advancing age but had to be killed ceremonially when his strength waned. In historic times the slaying had been replaced by a magical rejuvenation ceremony, the heb-sed festival which soon came to be regarded as a regnal jubilee.

It was evidently during the four centuries covering the first two dynasties that the position of the king changed from a wizard with magical powers into the institution of the crown. The unification of the two kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt required the beginnings of a central administration, based on the capital, which had to be more rational and more permanent than the somewhat haphazard activities of a tribal chieftain. It was probably a gradual, though not necessarily a smooth development, but always tending towards centralisation. As the heresy of Peribsen indicates, this was a period still perturbed by religious schisms, the origin of which lay in the past. It was a time when the local gods were both relegated to a secondary position and absorbed into a remarkably unadjusted pantheon. The Egyptians were extremely conservative and never threw anything away. So they kept all the tribal fetishes without making much effort to integrate them into a unified religious system. All that happened was that some of the local gods attained some specific, and generally accepted, minor function. So, for instance, the cow totem of Dendera, Hathor, and the cat Bast of Bubastis became the universally acknowledged goddesses of love, and the hippopotamus Toueris the goddess of childbirth.

The invading dynastic race conquered Egypt under the standard of the Horns falcon, and their leader, finally to become king of Upper and Lower Egypt, was personally identified with this totem bird. The most important of the king’s titular names was his Horus name which is inscribed in the ‘serekh’, an image of the palace facade surmounted by the falcon. It was incidentally from this representation of the royal palace, the Great House, in Egyptian ‘per-o’, that the Hebrew word ‘pharaoh’ was derived. 120 rpjje royal name had become taboo and ‘the Great House’ was the standard circumlocution used in reference to the king. The local 0(js had their temples and priesthoods but Horus stood high above them, his supremacy challenged only by the indigenous god Seth of Ombos. As mentioned in the first chapter, Seth succeeded under the Second Dynasty pharaoh, Peribsen, in supplanting Horus, but Horus was re-installed later during this same dynasty. It is significant, however, that eventually, under Kha-sekhemui, a compromise was reached with both the Horus and Seth emblems surmounting the serekh. Subsequently a judicious division of the world was instituted by the priesthood, in which Seth received the heavens and Horus the earth. This permitted the king, as the personification of Horus, to rule unimpeded over the land of Egypt.

With the consolidation reached at the turn of the Second Dynasty, the capital, as the seat of the central administration, gained in importance and it was inevitable that the priesthoods of the local gods were the most likely sources to provide the civil service. The local god of Memphis was Ptah, who had become the patron of learning and the scribes, which marked out his temple as a suitable sanctuary for the members of the administration. It appears that the kings, especially the early ones, relied heavily on this institution which they fostered and endowed. Another even more ancient sanctuary existed 30 km. north-east of Memphis at On, which was called Heliopolis by the Greeks. As the name indicates, it was a shrine of the sun god Re and its emblem was a conical stone, the ben-ben, representing the rays of the sun falling on earth. The temple of Heliopolis was also the home of astronomy, mathematics, the measurement of time and the calendar. Such little information as we have indicates a certain amount of rivalry between the priesthoods of Ptah and of Re for a leading part in advising and guiding the monarchy.

It seems that during the first two dynasties the influence of Ptah was decisive but with the beginning of the Third Dynasty Heliopolis took an ever-increasing share. Imhotep was a high priest of Heliopolis and there can be little doubt that the scientific and architectural expertise manifested in the building of the Step Pyramid of Saqqara emanated from the mathematics school of the sun god. Apart from the novel design of Zoser’s tomb, the Step Pyramid complex itself is still dominated by the ancient tribal traditions with a stone replica of the heb-sed court, laying stress on the pharaoh’s rejuvenation by magic. A similar enclosure R.P.—7 121 around the pyramid of Sekhemket shows that this tradition was maintained in the Third Dynasty.

Then, however, a fundamental change in the position of the pharaoh seems to have taken place at the turn of the Third Dynasty. Our evidence for it is the departure in the lay-out of the Meidum pyramid. Even before it was decided to transform the original step structure into the pyramidal emblem of Re, important changes in design had taken place. The tomb chamber was not at the bottom of a shaft; there was a polar passage laid out from the beginning of the plan and the large heb-sed enclosure was omitted in favour of an unadorned small temenos wall with a causeway and a valley building. The meaning of the Egyptian monarchy was taking on a new form under the guidance of the Heliopolitan priesthood.

Egyptian Pyramids at Dahshur :

Ancient Egyptian Pyramids at Dahshur Part 4

Even when compared with Zoser’s Step Pyramid the very much larger Red Pyramid loses by being less steep. Fakhry’s suggestion that the new form of the upper part of the Bent Pyramid ‘must have appealed to the architect’ somehow seems to lack conviction. As we have seen, the lowering of the angle of elevation was purely a safety precaution and it is likely that only for this reason was it chosen for the Red Pyramid. How keen the Egyptian architects were to erect again a steep, imposing building is shown by the fact that they returned at Giza to the original gradient of 4/TT and that they retained this shape for all future pyramids. On the other hand, they were fully aware that this steeper angle had caused the disaster at Meidum and that, in order to avoid a repetition, they would have to introduce structural modifications in any new venture of this kind. Our next step, therefore, must be to look for these modifications in the structure of the great Giza pyramids and find out what was done to overcome the defeatist attitude of the cautious builders we have seen at Dahshur.

Ancient Egyptian Pyramids
The new features introduced at Giza show, like the modifications of the Bent Pyramid, an amazing clarity in the analysis of the stability failure at Meidum. The stability of the Giza pyramids, which has preserved them structurally intact for more than four and a half thousand years, bears witness to the acute understanding of the basic physical and technological problems with which the builders of the Fourth Dynasty approached their task.

Since earlier and later stone pyramids relied on a basic core of buttress walls it is more than likely that the same design was used in the great Giza pyramids. Borchardt has drawn attention to the existence of ‘girdlestones’ in that part of the ascending passage of the Khufu pyramid which was cut through already existing masonry at the first alteration of the interior design. These are large vertical slabs through which the new corridor passes at intervals, and he has taken them as parts of internal buttress walls. This view has been disputed by Clarke and Engelbach, who have pointed out that it would be wholly fortuitous for the passage always to have encountered whole stones. They also maintain rightly, that the walls of this passage are made of fitted stones. Probably both sides are correct. The passage was evidently lined with new masonry and the girdlestones, while not being part of the original buttress walls, were placed to mark their positions. This seems the more likely since the girdlestones are spaced at intervals of 10 cubits (about 5 m.), which is the distance between buttress walls in the Meidum pyramid. This indication of internal buttress } walls shows that no novel features seem to have been introduced in the core structure of the Giza pyramids.

On the other hand, the builders clearly improved the stability of the outer skin in order to make a pyramid with the steep gradient of 4./ir proof against slip. They had evidently recognised that the right way to prevent the appearance of lateral forces was the use of well-squared packing blocks. These blocks are not only carefully shaped but also very large, each weighing approximately 2 1/2 tons.

In addition to the size and good shape of the packing blocks the builders of the Khufu pyramid introduced an additional measure to ensure stability. In each horizontal row of blocks a gentle grading was carried out by which the blocks at the edges were very slightly higher than those in the middle of the face. In this way the corners of each layer of packing blocks was somewhat lifted, making the whole layer slightly concave towards the apex. This method provided an additional inward thrust which further counteracted any tendency of lateral forces to develop.

This last-mentioned safeguard was clearly a laborious and time- consuming device, requiring selection and grading of the blocks before they could be laid. It seems to have been regarded as an unnecessary precaution and was not employed at the next Giza pyramid, that of Khafre. Its place was taken by a new method of preventing slip in the casing. This consisted of fashioning the lowest layer of casing stones out of granite blocks which, owing to their hardness and strength, formed a reliable base for the outer mantle. Granite blocks in the same position were also employed in Djedefre’s pyramid at Abu Roash whose reign immediately followed that of Khufu. At the last of the Giza pyramids, that of Menkaure, the sixteen lowest layers of the casing are of pink granite. This feature had always been regarded as an embellishment. However, since clearing the sand from the base of the Djedefre and Khafre pyramids has revealed single layers of granite, which were hardly visible, it seems justified to assume that their function was structural rather than artistic.

Egyptian Pyramids at Dahshur :

Ancient Egyptian Pyramids at Dahshur Part 3

The first explanation for the rhomboid shape was given early in the nineteenth century by Sir J. Gardner Wilkinson who suggested that the monument had to be completed in haste because the king died prematurely. Perring supported this view since he thought that the smaller packing blocks and less careful work in the upper part suggested a hurried construction. For two reasons this explanation is not convincing. In the first place, owing to the geometric shape of a pyramid, the quantity of stone that can be saved in changing the top part is not large. In the present case it amounts to only g per cent of the total masonry, an economy hardly worthwhile. Secondly, the next pyramid, the Red one, was entirely built at this lower angle.


Ancient Egyptian Pyramids
The second explanation given for the change in angle is that the superincumbent weight had to be reduced because cracks had developed in the building. It has also been argued that the cedar- wood beams in the upper chamber were introduced in order to shore up the structure against lateral pressure. Reasonable as this explanation might appear at first sight, the technological evidence is quite unconvincing. First of all, as was mentioned in the last chapter, the effect of pressure due to the weight of stone on the rest of the building is not serious and, moreover, the reduction in weight on lowering the angle of elevation amounts in this case to no more than 23 per cent. The cracks in the Bent Pyramid are small and could easily be plastered over. They are no worse than the cracks due to ‘settling’ in any other pyramid. As regards the cedar beams, they are at right angles to the acting force and, in any case, would have been easily broken by the forces involved. It is our opinion that they were not introduced later to save the structure, but that they were used as horizontal spacers while the pyramid was being built. They were not removed because, as the shape of the roof shows, the upper chamber was never finished. Far from being damaged, this corbelled roof presents the same aspect as the undressed roof slabs in the Meidum pyramid. There, incidentally, cedarwood spacers had been employed, too, and their remnants are still in situ. Altogether there existed in the Bent Pyramid itself no reason to reduce the superincumbent weight of masonry.

On the other hand, we have ample evidence that it was primarily the angle of elevation and not the weight which was considered perilous, and that the danger envisaged was not a crushing of the interior chambers but a slip of the outer mantle. It was this slip which had caused the disaster at Meidum and it appears an inescapable conclusion that the change in design of the Bent Pyramid was an effort to avoid a similar catastrophe at Dahshur. At the time when the Meidum pyramid collapsed, nothing could be altered at the half-finished Dahshur structure, except the construction of the packing and the outer casing. And for this there is, indeed, clear evidence. When the step pyramid at Meidum (E2) was transformed into a true pyramid (E3), packing blocks had been put onto the steps in horizontal layers. Moreover, these layers had been continued for about 6 m. beyond the outer limits of the supporting buttress walls. It was evidently here that the disaster occurred and the builders at Dahshur had to make sure that any repetition of it should be avoided. They were fully aware of Imhotep’s stabilising device of inwardly inclined buttress walls, composed of layers of masonry sloping towards the centre of the structure. In order to assure similar inward thrust by the outermost layers of the Bent Pyramid, they laid the packing blocks and also the casing stones not horizontally but in courses which slope inward at an angle of about 6°.

It is this apparently archaic feature in design, reminiscent of the structure of Zoser’s Step Pyramid, which induced the archaeologists for some time to date the Bent Pyramid before that of Meidum. From the evidence since discovered, revealing the name of Snofru in the Bent Pyramid and its valley building, we now know that it was the successor of the Meidum monument. The return of the builders to the earlier system of inward sloping courses was simply the result of their knowledge that this was a method ensuring increased stability. Moreover, the casing stones at the lower and steeper part of the Bent Pyramid are much larger than those employed at Meidum. Finally, whereas at Meidum the outer casing rested simply on sand, that of the Bent Pyramid is firmly supported by a limestone base which itself slopes inward. Thus everything was done to safeguard against plastic flow in the already existing part of the monument whose steep angle of elevation could not be lowered.

As for the upper part of the pyramid, the building-up of the core could now be done less steeply, at a gradient of 3/m instead of 4/m, which appreciably reduced the danger of slip for the packing blocks and casing. The somewhat laborious laying of inward sloping courses of masonry could here be dispensed with, nor was it necessary at this safe angle of elevation to employ large fitted casing stones. We therefore find, in the upper part again, horizontally laid packing blocks and small casing stones. These were the features which appeared to Perring and his successors as indications of less careful and hasty building. However, this impression is mainly caused by the selective activity of stone robbers who, after having scaled the lower part along the edges, found it much easier to remove casing stones resting on horizontal packing layers than at the steep lower section. There, the difficulty of dislodging large casing stones, lying at a camber, has saved larger areas of intact outer casing than at any other pyramid.

All these features the reduced angle of elevation, large blocks of inward sloping casing, and the firm foundation - render the Bent Pyramid a strongly confirmatory testimonial of the catastrophe which overtook the Meidum monument. These three structural changes turned the Bent Pyramid into a hybrid edifice which had been started as a steep true pyramid, outshining that at Meidum, but which then had to be converted midway in search of greater structural stability. It is interesting to follow the technological lessons which had been learnt at Meidum and were applied at Dahshur.

The wish to play safe, even at the cost of a less impressive appearance, completely dominated the design of the next monument : the Red Pyramid. Its height is similar to that of its southern predecessor which, however, it exceeds in volume, for the Red Pyramid was built throughout at the safe angle of elevation of 43|°. Owing to its good state of preservation and its great bulk, we know nothing about the underlying internal structure. It is, nevertheless, to be assumed that this too was constructed as a step pyramid on top of which was placed the marker needed to obtain the straight edges of the casing. While its main structure is well preserved, almost nothing is left of the casing. Owing to the gentle slope, this pyramid became an ideal quarry for stone robbers who were able to remove the blocks of dressed white limestone safely and without much difficulty. Today its appearance is characterised by the underlying packing blocks of reddish local stone which have given the building its name.

As in the upper part of the Bent Pyramid, the packing blocks of the Red Pyramid are laid in horizontal courses. These blocks are well-shaped, though not as carefully squared as those of the next pyramid at Giza. Altogether the two Dahshur pyramids show a transition from the small-scale masonry of the early step pyramids to the megalithic stonework at Giza. This distinction between the two different types of masonry was emphasised by Clarke and gngelbach in their standard work on ancient Egyptian masonry. As they point out, entirely new methods of handling had to be adopted as soon as the blocks employed became too heavy to be lifted by a few workmen; the use of lifting tackle was unknown in the pyramid age. These special skills had been needed in the Third Dynasty only sparingly, but we witness their employment on a very large scale at the Giza Pyramids.

Egyptian Pyramids at Dahshur :

June 28, 2012

Ancient Egyptian Pyramids at Dahshur Part 2

There is another reason why it is not feasible to build a true pyramid, gradually rising but without first constructing a central core. Whereas in a step pyramid slight errors of alignment are hardly apparent and can always be corrected at the next step, the same is not the case for a true pyramid. Its edges must be straight and, at the same time, meet in one point which, in the early phases of construction, is high up in the sky and unattainably far from the building operations. It seems quite impossible that the Egyptians could have been in possession of sophisticated surveying methods or instruments to carry out this task. For a building of the size of the great Giza pyramids a tiny error of only 2° in the alignment of the edges will result in a mismatch of over fifteen metres at the top. Since the edges had to be straight from the outset, they could not be corrected later and had to be accurate to a fraction of a degree. The only feasible explanation would be the existence of a tall core building with a central marker set up on the top. That this, in fact, was the case, was proved by Robert who, in 1899, scaled the unfinished top of the Meidum step pyramid (E2) to set up a flagpole, a marker for the Egyptian Survey Department. He found the place already prepared by a 30 cm. deep hole in the centre of the structure which, he concluded, had held a mast. Somebody had set up a marker there more than 4,000 years earlier. It had evidently served as the required reference point in the sky on to which the pyramid edges of E3 could be sighted accurately.

Ancient Egypt Pyramids
This fact and some of the observations mentioned in the preceding chapter allow us to trace the sequence of operations in erecting a large pyramid. First the site would be levelled and aligned in the cardinal directions by methods thoroughly discussed by I. E. S. Edwards. Then the erection of a step pyramid, consisting of core masonry held by a series of buttress walls, would begin. As this structure gradually rose, an ever-increasing number of the buttress walls would be discontinued with increasing height, leading to a succession of steps. Building material for the core would be brought on to these steps by building ramps, the relics of which exist to this day at the Meidum and Sekhemket pyramids. After the completion of the whole step pyramid, the marker was set up on top and packing blocks were laid on to give the building its pyramidal shape, the correct angle being checked by sighting on the marker. Subsequently, or possibly at the same time, the outer casing would be laid on, starting at the bottom, and finally it would be dressed to a plane smooth finish. The nature of the Meidum ruin suggests that workmen were engaged on these last operations simultaneously, since we see there the outer casing dressed and finished at the bottom while packing stones were still added at the higher steps.

At the Bent Pyramid the core had reached a height of about 50 m. when it was decided to lower the angle of elevation from 54!° to 43J0, reducing its ultimate height from approximately 130 to 100 m. Two explanations have been proposed to explain the alteration as a reduction in height whereas in our opinion lowering of the edifice was not primarily important but the concomitant decrease in the angle of elevation was the really decisive factor. At this stage there will have existed only the unfinished central core with probably four steps, and buttress walls rising at an angle of roughly 750.

Egyptian Pyramids at Dahshur :

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 :

A Clue at Meidum Pyramid Part 7

Another conclusion derived from our evidence answers a much wider question of pyramid construction which has been much debated in the past. It concerns the problem of that stage in building operation when the outer casing was laid on and when it was dressed. Although, as we now know, the mantle of E3 had never reached its full intended height, the casing at the lower part had been both laid and smoothed from the very beginning. The same argument, of course, applies to the casing of the underlying step pyramids Et and E2. This is of particular interest in the case of E2, which, as now appears certain, was never completed.

Ancient Egypt Pyramids
Turning now to the structural reasons for the collapse of the monument, something has to be said about the stability conditions governing a large building such as a pyramid. There is little chance that the mere weight of the monument, large as it is, will by itself cause its collapse. This is, of course, attested to by the success with which Zoser’s Step Pyramid and all the other great pyramids have withstood both constructional inadequacies as well as the ravages of millennia. In fact, they have proved to be remarkably stable structures, in spite of their immense size. The pressure exerted by its own weight at the base of a pyramid, such as that at Meidum, amounts to about 25 kg/cm2 (25 atmospheres). This is high for a building but not excessively so. It certainly would not cause crumbling of limestone in a well-built edifice.

Taking the case of an ideally constructed pyramid, built with perfectly squared blocks, the pressure everywhere within the structure acts only downwards. At each horizontal face of any building block the force of the superincumbent weight acts vertically downward on the face of the underlying block. It is balanced by the rigidity of the building material and will not cause any deformation, except for the negligibly small elastic compression of limestone. However, once we depart from the ideal cube form of the blocks, these conditions change. If the surface of the blocks is somewhat irregular, they will touch at a few points only and consequently the pressure at these points of contact may rise to hundreds, or even thousands, of atmospheres, which is large enough to cause crumbling and serious deformation of the blocks. The result will be a movement of the building material in a direction to avoid this pressure - and that is sideways and out of the building. In other words, in a pyramid containing stones of irregular shape, the vertically downwards acting force will develop lateral components, favouring a break-up and flattening of the structure. It is therefore significant that the large hole in the north side of the Meidum pyramid core (Ex) discloses the imperfect nature of the masonry underlying the smooth casing. The blocks are relatively small and only roughly shaped, with large and irregular gaps between them.

In a well-built pyramid, on the other hand, any lateral components developing from a weak spot in the structure will remain localised and a small deformation is likely to be taken up by the surrounding material. All that will happen in this case is a slight ‘settling’ of the building, for which evidence exists in nearly all the pyramids. It seems that Imhotep was fully aware of the danger of lateral forces and therefore introduced a stabilising internal In the first large stone building which he designed, Zoser’s mastaba, Imhotep used horizontal building courses and the feature which he introduced to ensure stabilitywas an inward inclination of the outer walls. This was simply achieved by cutting the outermost building blocks of each horizontal course at a slope. This type of construction, however, offers very little resistance to lateral forces. There is nothing to counteract an outward sliding of the courses except the friction of one building block lying upon another. This system, however, was completely changed in the subsequent design of the step pyramid built above and around the original mastaba. The core of the pyramid was given an internal structure of buttress walls at intervals of 5 cubits - about 2.5 m. - all leaning inward at an angle of about 75 °. The blocks forming these walls were of regular shape, giving them strength to prevent the masonry enclosed by them from moving outward.

Such inclined buttress walls, but made of mud brick, had evidently been used with success in some of the tombs of the earlier dynasties. The construction of a whole mastaba in stone must have convinced Imhotep that, by using this new and hard building material, he could erect a far more impressive monument than anything which had been attempted before. His aim was to raise a structure of unprecedented height which should be as steep and commanding as possible. He decided on the buttress wall as the essential building element.

From the crumbling of earlier mud brick buildings Imhotep must have been fully familiar with the undesirable development of lateral forces. Although at that stage the labour force at his command was clearly able to quarry, cut and transport limestone in huge quantities, he evidently could not count on obtaining one million tons of limestone in the form of perfectly squared cubic blocks. His pyramid would therefore not correspond to the ideal conditions outlined earlier and he knew that he would have to contend with the development of sizable lateral forces. He decided on counterbalancing these forces with inwardly inclined buttress walls of sufficient strength and in sufficient number. Although the sequence of building operations was, of course, quite different, the basic design of his monument can be described as a high tower rising to a height of 60 m. at an angle of about 75 °. Such a tower would naturally not be stable and so he had to support it with a series of surrounding buttress walls. Admittedly, the resulting structure would not be as steep and imposing as the tower, but by grading the height of the buttress walls outwards he still could achieve an imposing edifice. The result was Zoser’s Step Pyramid, and its stability and solidity are ample proof of Imhotep’s superb design.

His successor at Meidum was not so fortunate in his efforts. Nevertheless, it is interesting that by a curious chance the ruin now provides us with the aspect of Imhotep’s basic design, the tall and impressive tower. However, Imhotep wisely decided to hide its grandeur by the strengthening outer buttress walls. These, of course, also existed at Meidum but fell away when disaster overtook the building. Our next task is now to discover why the Meidum building collapsed whereas Imhotep’s Step Pyramid at Saqqara still stands.

Neither the size nor the original foundation of the Meidum step pyramids (E, and E2) can be held responsible. The projected building was not much higher than Zoser’s and as regards its foundation, the design at Meidum was sounder than at Saqqara. Instead of forming a structure superimposed on a mastaba with horizontal courses of masonry, the Meidum pyramid consists of buttress walls built directly upon a rock foundation. Nevertheless, the Meidum pyramid exhibits a number of design faults which nowadays, to us, are so obvious and dangerous that the catastrophe can be traced with remarkable certainty. Most, though not all, of these faults were introduced when the step pyramid E2 was changed into the true pyramid Es.

One serious departure from Imhotep’s original design concerns the number and spacing of the supporting buttress walls. In Zoser’s monument the spacing of buttress walls is 5 cubits (about 2.5 m.), which means that there are two buttress walls for each step. The same spacing was employed in the unfinished step pyramids of Sekhemket and Khaba. At Meidum the architect evidently economised by increasing the spacing between the buttresses to 10 cubits, which allowed for only one wall per step. He was possibly encouraged to effect this saving because he considered Imhotep’s design as unduly cautious. Nevertheless, the lateral forces against which the buttresses had to protect the pyramid were twice as large at Meidum as at Saqqara. In all fairness it should be remembered that Ej and E2 did not collapse spontaneously as long as they were left alone. The disaster was triggered off by the addition of K and it is conceivable that a major catastrophe might have been avoided by twice the number of buttress walls supporting the building.

The real trouble was the decision to superimpose E3 on a completely unsuitable substructure. Both E, and E2 had their outer surfaces planed when the masonry of the mantle E3 was laid on. The smooth surfaces represented very dangerous slip planes and the ruin shows that the Es masonry was not anchored to these surfaces by anything better than a layer of mortar. Much the same can be said of the lack of adherence of E2 on E1. A conspicuous feature of the ruin is the unscarred surfaces of Et and E2 which indicate that the outer material was sheared off in bulk, simply falling away when the mishap took place.

However, we may assume that the primary failure occurred in E3 which, presumably due to the novelty of its design, suffered from two serious structural errors. First of all, Wainwright’s tunnel has revealed that, whereas E, and E2 were firmly laid on the rock bed, this was only partly true in the case of E3. In fact, much of its foundation, particularly near the periphery, simply rested on the underlying desert sand and its casing was merely supported by three rows of fairly thin slabs of limestone which, in turn, had only been loosely embedded in sand. Maragioglio and Rinaldi mention this fact but considered it as harmless since, as they state,

The process of transforming E into a true pyramid was carried oUt by first filling up the steps so that a pyramidical shape resulted, jlowever, these packing blocks did not rest as securely on the steps as was hitherto believed. When Robert ascended the building, he noticed that, although the underlying masonry courses of the buttress walls sloped inwards the two remaining top surfaces, those of steps 5 and 6 of E2 were laid sloping outward. This design is similar to Zoser’s pyramid and served the purpose of letting rain water run off the monument instead of seeping into its structure. This outward slope had not been levelled when packing blocks were laid on to the steps. The blocks were therefore less stable than they would have been on the horizontal steps drawn in Borchardt’s and Rowe’s reconstructions. The lower steps were destroyed in the disaster but there can be little doubt that they, too, had an outward slope and the accepted reconstruction has therefore to be modified.

For some reason the builders were not satisfied with merely filling up the steps but extended the mantle outward by about 6 m. beyond the structure of E2. Since the top of the building has disappeared we do not know what motivated this design but it was probably necessitated in order to achieve the intended angle of 52°, i.e., an elevation of 4 in ^r. Whatever the cause, it constituted the most serious threat to the stability of a building which already suffered from a number of design faults. The filling blocks resting on the sloping steps received only a limited amount of support from the buttress walls and this was not even the case for the mantle as a whole. The packing blocks and those used in the outward extension of the mantle were not well squared and the force exerted by their weight acted not merely downward but to a large extent along the surface of the mantle itself. In other words, the force acting on any point in the mantle was very much larger than the weight of the blocks immediately above it. This force rose steadily as the accumulated weight of the mantle increased until it caused its structure to bulge out of the pyramid. As a result, the whole mantle slipped and crumbled, taking the third and fourth steps of Ej and E2 with it.

How and where the catastrophe was triggered off cannot at this stage be determined with certainty. It may have started on one of the slip planes but it seems equally or even more likely that the R.p.—6 IOI initial failure occurred in the mantle itself. Owing to the seriov»1 structural faults of the building there was no chance of any local failure to right itself by ‘settling’. Wherever the first breach in the structure took place, it was bound to become immediately cumulative, resulting in a sudden and large-scale disaster. Examination of the casing of E3 near the mortuary temple shows the lowest courses of casing stones to be smooth and in perfect condition. Higher up, the casing becomes progressively more scarred, and this is quite consistent with a landslide of rubble careering down over the pyramid casing in which more material will pass across the higher than across the lower courses. When Petrie examined the casing in 1910 he tried to explain its damaged state as due to ‘weathering’, but nevertheless described it as ‘chipped’.

Related Post to Meidum Pyramid :

A Clue at Meidum Pyramid Part 8

Whether the slip of the mantle was aided by the poor foundation of E3 is not clear since, except for the two small clearances mentioned above, the rest of the casing is completely covered with debris. It may be significant, however, that the diagram given by Rowe shows the casing at the north clearance to have sagged heavily. Any decision on this point will have to wait until the rubbish can be cleared from the base of the pyramid, and this would require very extensive work. Such clearance may also be interesting for a different reason. If, as seems likely, the disaster took place very rapidly, equipment, and even bodies, may be buried underneath the rubble. They might furnish valuable information, having been left undisturbed since the beginning of the Fourth Dynasty.

Ancient Egypt Pyramids
The average size of the fragments visible in the debris indicates that the material coming down from the higher reaches of the building had been broken up rather thoroughly. This is not surprising in view of the irregular shape of the building blocks, and it may also be due to the poor quality of the local limestone. As to the latter, Rowe states that many of the tombs surrounding the Meidum pyramid have fallen in because of the softness of the stone. One of the causes triggering off the catastrophe may have been a heavy rainstorm, such as occurs occasionally in Lower Egypt. In fact, most of the Old Kingdom buildings show provision to cope with large amounts of rainwater; but during the laying on of the outer mantle, the Meidum structure would have been completely unprotected. As is well-known from natural landslides, water can act as a dangerous lubricant; it certainly did so in the case of the Aberfan minetip. Owing to the softness and the irregular shape of the limestone building blocks, most of the rapidly descending material was quickly ground down into a rubble of fairly small pebbles. Their average size is clearly visible in those carts of the debris from which the blown sand has been cleared during excavation. This rubble cascading down the sides of the pyramid had the dynamic properties of a fluid rather than that of large-scale solid debris. In fact, it exhibited the well-known characteristics of plastic flow, behaving very much like a stream of treacle. This means that it would not destroy the stelae or the temple at the foot of the building but rather flow around and over them. Any large packing blocks that remained unbroken did not hurtle down but were carried engulfed in the stream of rubble, like crumbs in treacle. When first excavating the temple, Petrie found such blocks deeply embedded in the rubble.

By far the best illustration of the flow of rubble is provided by the aerial photographs of the Meidum site. They show how the debris spread out from the ruin in all directions until it finally came to rest as a result of its own internal friction. The blown sand held by the rubble provides excellent contrast with the darker surrounding soil. In particular the picture taken directly overhead reveals the circular area around the monument to which the flow extended.

Plastic flow of this kind seems to have menaced the pyramid of Pepi II four centuries later. It was a badly built edifice constructed of small stones bonded with mud, and overlaid with a limestone casing. The base of this pyramid, after its construction had proceeded to an advanced stage, was then surrounded by a massive dyke of 8 m. thickness which dammed it in completely. It appears that lateral forces must have developed in its poor construction to such an extent that they threatened to flatten out the building. Another case of plastic flow occurred fairly recently when excavators removed the stone covering from some sections of the large Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan in Mexico. The core of the structure, built of adobe brick and clay, began to flow after heavy rain, and rapid emergency action had to be taken to save the edifice. Because of their enormous mass, pyramids are especially prone to this type of destruction by plastic flow which never became dangerous in later, and very much lighter, buildings.

Finally, we have to examine what happened to the Meidum pyramid between the fatal day of its catastrophic collapse and the present time. A number of attempts have been made to reconstruct its history, all of them based on the idea of the gradual destruction of a perfect building by stone robbers. Maragioglio and Rinaldi have tried to trace this decay through the height of inscriptions on the walls of the monument, starting with the hieroglyphic and Greek graffiti near the present top of the core. This is, of course, at variance with our own deduction that the pyramid collapsed while still under construction. Their conclusion also ignores the tendency of tourists to carve their initials, not necessarily at the contemporary level but at the highest point to which they had climbed. Equally misleading is the frequently repeated statement that five steps of the structure still existed in Napoleon’s time. It is based on an ambiguity in translation of Denon’s famous account into the English language. The French gradin means ‘tier’ rather than ‘step’, and Denon’s own drawing leaves little doubt that he referred to the separation due to the ‘rough bands’ on the smooth core. His sketch of the Meidum pyramid was based on observations from a distance by means of binoculars. It gives a very faithful picture of the pyramid core as we see it today, but he was not as accurate as Norden or Perring in sketching the wide distribution of the debris.

Denon was the first to comment on the large hole in the north face which is now about 10 m. above the height of the debris but which he thought could then be reached from the rubble. However, it has to be recalled again that his observation was made from a distance and Robert comments on steps which the local fellahin had cut into the north wall to reach this hole. They are clearly visible today and enable the local population to harvest from the cavity bats’ dung which is valued for its curative properties. The villagers told Robert that neither in their, nor in their forefathers’ memory, had anyone ever scaled the pyramid to a greater height.

Another frequently quoted account of five still existing steps is that of Sheikh Abu-Mohammad Abdallah who visited Meidum in II17-19 and whose observation was recorded by Makrisi in the fourteenth century. It is to be noted, however, that the Arabic word used by Makrisi translates correctly as ‘storeys’ and not as ‘steps’. Small remnants of a third step of E2 may possibly have existed after the disaster close to the present core. The aerial photographs indicate that this is the only place from which stones appear to have been removed by the fellahin and archaeologists, and it comprises only a very small section of the ruin.

The most reliable information of the history of the debris is provided by Wainwright’s excavation in 1910. He found two figures of the Twenty-second Dynasty ‘in the highest part of the rubbish, just below the present surface, showing the rubbish to

have been practically as high in the xxn dynasty as it is today’. He, and later Rowe, found a number of intrusive burials in the debris, presumably of roughly the same date or later. Summing up all this evidence, we must conclude that the Meidum site presents today much the same aspect as it did 3,000 years ago.

Going back still further towards the day of the pyramid’s collapse and its abandonment, we are hampered by the fact that, except for the corners of Es, the entrance and the mortuary temple, the base of the building is still completely covered by debris. Almost certainly the tomb chamber and the temple were entered during the First Intermediate Period; Petrie found in the corridor some pieces of a destroyed wooden coffin of plain style, possibly an early intrusive burial. The paved floor of the tomb chamber has been torn up and a hole cut into one of the walls, and this damage, as well as beams and pieces of ancient rope found by Maspero, indicate the activity of thieves.

As mentioned earlier, the roof slabs of the tomb chamber had never been dressed and it seems unlikely that the chamber ever contained a stone sarcophagus. Access to it from the corridor is by the vertical shaft described earlier, which enters the floor of the chamber and is only 117x85 cm. wide. A sarcophagus would have had to be placed in the chamber at the time when this was being built and it could not have left the chamber by the narrow shaft, except if broken into pieces. Apart from the fact that such destruction would be useless, no granite fragments were found, either in the chamber itself or anywhere in the corridor.

The mortuary temple, first uncovered and investigated by Petrie, was thoroughly excavated by Rowe, and from his work the following sequence of events emerges. First of all, after the disaster the little building served as a habitation of shepherds, as is shown by a fireplace and animal dung and also by a grain silo constructed outside the temple door. Graffiti on the temple walls indicate that it was visited by tourists down to the Seventeenth or Twentieth Dynasty when somebody was buried in it and the doorway was bricked up. Still later graffiti indicate that the outer court must have been accessible after the burial but it appears from Wainwright’s excavation that it had become covered with sand and debris at the time of the Twenty-second Dynasty.

It is quite impossible to say whether the temple was cleared immediately after the catastrophe or during the First Intermediate Period, or whether it was spared in the original avalanche. Whereas scientific analysis has no difficulty in determining the causes of

the collapse and its final result, it is unable to give evidence on the immediate state of the structure after the initial disaster. The debris may have settled in its ultimate state straight away but it is also quite possible that for some time parts of the masonry re- ; mained in a precarious position at higher levels only to crash down eventually - perhaps again after heavy rains. Regarding the geometry of the building and the wide spread of the rubble, our own opinion is that the temple was engulfed instantaneously and subse- i quently dug out again. Such an operation would not have been too difficult, as was shown by Petrie who, in 1891, accomplished this task with only twenty-five men in under two months.

Not much useful indication about the state of the ruin can be gleaned from the graffiti at the temple and the pyramid entrance appended by tourists of the Eighteenth Dynasty, more than 1,200 years after the catastrophe. One of these, the ‘son of Amen-mesu, Scribe and Ritualist of the deceased King Tutmose 1’, said that he ‘came to see the beautiful temple of the Horus Snofru. He found it as though heaven were within it and the sun rising in it.’ These words mean nothing since they are a standard phrase used by tourists on ruins all over Egypt at that time. However, it is interesting that the scribe mentioned Snofru as the owner of the building although this attribution cannot, after the enormous lapse of time since the erection of the pyramid, be regarded as conclusive.

Summarising the observations described in this chapter, we conclude that the heavily ruined state of the Meidum pyramid cannot be attributed to the activities of stone robbers, but that the building collapsed during the third phase of its construction. This collapse occurred as a sudden catastrophe and can be traced to a number of design faults. When the disaster took place, the outer pyramid mantle (E3) had reached a height of about 60 m., and not only this third phase but also the underlying step pyramid (E2) was never completed.

The Meidum structure was only the second monument which had attained a considerable height and one may wonder why a catastrophe of such colossal dimension did not discourage the architects of the Old Kingdom from erecting further edifices of enormous size. The answer to this question is simple. When the Meidum pyramid collapsed in its final building phase, the next pyramid, planned on more than twice as large a scale, had already reached a height of 50 m. at Dahshur.

Related Post to Meidum Pyramid :

June 27, 2012

A Clue at Meidum Pyramid Part 6

Another conclusion derived from our evidence answers a much wider question of pyramid construction which has been much debated in the past. It concerns the problem of that stage in building operation when the outer casing was laid on and when it was dressed. Although, as we now know, the mantle of E3 had never reached its full intended height, the casing at the lower part had been both laid and smoothed from the very beginning. The same argument, of course, applies to the casing of the underlying step pyramids E, and E2. This is of particular interest in the case of E2, which, as now appears certain, was never completed.

Ancient Egypt Pyramids
Turning now to the structural reasons for the collapse of the monument, something has to be said about the stability conditions governing a large building such as a pyramid. There is little chance that the mere weight of the monument, large as it is, will by itself cause its collapse. This is, of course, attested to by the success with which Zoser’s Step Pyramid and all the other great pyramids have withstood both constructional inadequacies as well as the ravages of millennia. In fact, they have proved to be remarkably stable structures, in spite of their immense size. The pressure exerted by its own weight at the base of a pyramid, such as that at Meidum, amounts to about 25 kg/cm2 (25 atmospheres). This is high for a descends at a gradient slightly steeper than i in 2 for about 60 m. At its end there is a horizontal corridor of 10 m. length, from the end of which a vertical shaft, 6| m. high and just wide enough to climb through, rises to the floor of the tomb chamber. The chamber itself was clearly left unfinished. The large limestone slabs forming the corbelled roof are perfectly fitted together but have remained undressed, and the wooden bulks, used during construction, were never removed. Comparison with the beautifully finished interiors of mastaba 17 and the Red Pyramid leaves no doubt that work on the tomb chamber of the Meidum pyramid was interrupted before completion.

The sudden abandoning of the Meidum site is also demonstrated by the considerable number of mastabas, built for courtiers, which were never occupied or were left unfinished. It is significant that no tombs of mortuary priests, who usually liked to be buried close to the pyramid complex which they served, have been found at Meidum. On the other hand, there are a number of tombs of such priests at the Dahshur sites.

While all the evidence cited so far indicates that the disaster occurred during the third building phase of the monument, we have so far not discussed the stage which the outer mantle (E3) had reached when the building collapsed. Traces of mortar can be seen adhering to the smooth walls of steps 5 and 6 - that means, practically to the full height of the remaining core. This shows that the outer mantle was at least 60 m. high, and the question arises whether it had extended further. Since the top of the edifice is missing, this might appear an insoluble problem but here we are fortunately helped by a chance observation recorded in 1899 by A. Robert of the Egyptian Survey Department. He ascended the top of the structure to set up a marker - a pole with a flag attached - to serve as a reference point. On this occasion he not only noted some Greek and hieroglyphic graffiti but also found that the highest existing step, the seventh, was never completed.

Before discussing the reasons for structural failure, we will first examine the effect of Robert’s observation on the accepted ideas about the Meidum pyramid. It has so far been generally believed that the two successive step pyramids (E! and E2) were fully completed before the next building phase was embarked upon. This theory was based mainly on the smoothly dressed surfaces of Ej and E2 and on the provision made for the entrances of both these phases. Since the upper part of E, is completely enclosed in the present remains of E2, nothing can be said about the final stage of {his first step pyramid. However, we now know that the second step pyramid (E2) was never completed, which clearly means that the decision to transform the monument into true pyramidal shape was taken before E2 was finished. In that case the architect would have waited for the mantle of E3 to reach the present height of E2 before proceeding to the construction of the apex. The premature collapse clearly did not allow for this plan to be pursued and the whole pyramid complex at Meidum was abandoned.

In this context we should also remember the unfinished state of the tomb chamber. If either E, or E3 was ever considered as a completed sepulchral monument, the slabs in the tomb chamber would have been dressed. Instead, we must now assume that there was never an inactive interval between plans Els E2 and E3. Each of these two changes must have been decided upon at a time when the previous phases were still building. There are technological implications of this overlap of constructional phases to which we shall return later. For the Egyptologist the main interest in this conclusion lies in the fact that there never existed a completed step pyramid tomb at Meidum in which a burial was likely to have taken place before the monument was changed into a true pyramid.

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A Clue at Meidum Pyramid Part 5

Another indication that the collapse took place before the pyramid was finished is provided by the fact that the building was abandoned and evidently never used. In the little court of the mortuary temple stand the two stelae which traditionally were to bear the name and titles of the king. However, they remained uninscribed. The temple itself was not completed, as is shown by the fact that the lower courses of its limestone walls were left undressed whereas their upper portions were already smoothed.

Ancient Egypt Pyramids

Further evidence that the pyramid was never completed is provided by the internal state of the monument. The entrance lies a little below the present level of the outer mantle (E3) from where it has to be negotiated, and there is the unpleasant prospect of missing it and sliding down the smooth surface of the pyramid which offers no hold. A low and slippery passage, just over i m. high, descends at a gradient slightly steeper than i in 2 for about 60 m. At its end there is a horizontal corridor of 10 m. length, from the end of which a vertical shaft, m. high and just wide enough to climb through, rises to the floor of the tomb chamber. The chamber itself was clearly left unfinished. The large limestone slabs forming the corbelled roof are perfectly fitted together but have remained undressed, and the wooden bulks, used during construction, were never removed. Comparison with the beautifully finished interiors of mastaba 17 and the Red Pyramid leaves no doubt that work on the tomb chamber of the Meidum pyramid was interrupted before completion.

The sudden abandoning of the Meidum site is also demonstrated by the considerable number of mastabas, built for courtiers, which were never occupied or were left unfinished. It is significant that no tombs of mortuary priests, who usually liked to be buried close to the pyramid complex which they served, have been found at Meidum. On the other hand, there are a number of tombs of such priests at the Dahshur sites.

While all the evidence cited so far indicates that the disaster occurred during the third building phase of the monument, we have so far not discussed the stage which the outer mantle (E3) had reached when the building collapsed. Traces of mortar can be seen adhering to the smooth walls of steps 5 and 6 - that means, practically to the full height of the remaining core. This shows that the outer mantle was at least 60 m. high, and the question arises whether it had extended further. Since the top of the edifice is missing, this might appear an insoluble problem but here we are fortunately helped by a chance observation recorded in 1899 by A. Robert of the Egyptian Survey Department. He ascended the top of the structure to set up a marker - a pole with a flag attached - to serve as a reference point. On this occasion he not only noted some Greek and hieroglyphic graffiti but also found that the highest existing step, the seventh, was never completed.

Before discussing the reasons for structural failure, we will first examine the effect of Robert’s observation on the accepted ideas about the Meidum pyramid. It has so far been generally believed that the two successive step pyramids (E, and E2) were fully completed before the next building phase was embarked upon. This theory was based mainly on the smoothly dressed surfaces of E, and E2 and on the provision made for the entrances of both these phases. Since the upper part of E1 is completely enclosed in the present remains of E2, nothing can be said about the final stage of this first step pyramid. However, we now know that the second step pyramid (E2) was never completed, which clearly means that decision to transform the monument into true pyramidal shape was taken before E2 was finished. In that case the architect would have waited for the mantle of E3 to reach the present height of E2 before proceeding to the construction of the apex. The premature collapse clearly did not allow for this plan to be pursued and the whole pyramid complex at Meidum was abandoned.

In this context we should also remember the unfinished state of the tomb chamber. If either Et or E2 was ever considered as a completed sepulchral monument, the slabs in the tomb chamber would have been dressed. Instead, we must now assume that there was never an inactive interval between plans E„ E2 and E3. Each of these two changes must have been decided upon at a time when the previous phases were still building. There are technological implications of this overlap of constructional phases to which we shall return later. For the Egyptologist the main interest in this conclusion lies in the fact that there never existed a completed step pyramid tomb at Meidum in which a burial was likely to have taken place before the monument was changed into a true pyramid.

Related Post to Meidum Pyramid :
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