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Chap. 16. Notes on Other Pyramids

Pages 140 - 148

105. [p. 140] Some of the other pyramids that I have examined have such important bearings on those of Gizeh, that it will not be out of place to give some notes here upon their construction, though they have been mostly described by Vyse and Perring, to whose account this must only be considered supplementary.

Beginning at the north, the first Pyramid is at Abu Roash, five miles N. of Gizeh. It is situated on the top of a striking hill of white limestone, a culminating point of the Libyan Desert, which is seen from far in the Nile Valley. This hill is deeply scored by watercourses which wind through it; and its Nile face rises at a steep slope of 35º. The wild and desolate valleys of it were used for interment by the ancient Egyptians; as outside a cave, now partly fallen in, I found fragments of bronze, and of a very large, thin, translucent alabaster bowl. On this hill there are apparently the remains of two Pyramids, but of one of them nothing much can be stated without excavations. Of the other, the general appearance is a large pit cut in the rock, with a passage leading down to it; about ten courses of limestone around it, and a great quantity of broken stones heaped about it, making a mass some 300 feet square and 40 feet high. Beyond this are heaps of granite chips lying in a line all round the Pyramid, and most abundant just in front of the entrance. Leading away northward from the Pyramid is a causeway, nearly a mile long, and in some parts 40 feet high, running down to the plain.

The rock-cut pit and passage were originally lined with fine Mokattam limestone, which, it is said, was stripped out in the time of Mohammed Ah by a mudir. Since Vyse's time some more masonry is gone; and this Pyramid (perhaps the most ancient in existence) is being quarried during high Nile at the rate of 300 camel-loads a day, I was told.

The pit is now about 30 feet N. to S., by 70 feet E. to W., and about 30 feet high, besides the depth of a large quantity of broken stone in it, beneath which Vyse found the pavement. The passage is about 18 feet wide. The sides have a batter of about 1 in 30. The entrance passages of Pyramids are in no [p. 141] case over about 40 inches wide; if such was the case here, then the lining must have been 7 feet thick. Now, looking at the rock-pit, this would imply a chamber about 16 feet by 56 feet (or probably 17 feet, i.e., 10 cubits, in width), the length of it being, perhaps, divided in separate chambers; and what makes this the more likely is that, by this thickness of lining, the sloping roof-beams would lie on it and act as cantilevers without any thrust, just as they do at Gizeh and Sakkara. Perring considered that there were traces of superposed ceilings and spaces, like those over the King's Chamber at Gizeh; and such a covering seems very likely. Roughly observed, by the noon-day gun of Cairo the rock-cut passage is only 20' W. of N.; this, at least, shows it to be as well oriented as could be expected in a mere rock cutting which was to be afterwards lined.

An important question about this Pyramid is, whether it was ever finished. It has been often written of by Vyse and others as being unfinished; and the rude stone hammers met with here have been classed as implements left by the workmen. We now know, however, that jewelled saws and drills were the tools used by Pyramid builders; and the rough stone hammers are of exactly the types belonging to the rude remains of Ptolemaic times. These, therefore, more probably tell of destruction rather than of construction. The great heaps of granite all round the Pyramid show that it has been cased with granite; and as it is always believed that no casing was put on a Pyramid until the core was entirely finished, this is evidence of the completion of the Pyramid. The far larger heaps of granite in front of the entrance, show that it has been lined in part with granite. Now, all these heaps, like the hammers, tell of destruction, for throughout them broken pieces of worked surfaces of granite may be seen, some with two planes meeting; and also many blocks which have cleavage holes in them, are too large to be masons' waste, and too small for casing blocks, but exactly such as would result from cutting up the casing. The large amount of masonry carried away is shown by the depth of 6 or 8 feet of chips lying on the top of the remaining courses; so that the objection that there is not sufficient bulk here for the Pyramid to have been complete, is put to rest at all respects by the remains of what has been destroyed.

Whether the body of the king was actually placed in the Pyramid or no, is a point of less consequence compared with the fact of finding pieces of granite coffer, and of diorite statue. The pieces of the granite coffer, which I observed in the rubbish which had been carried out of the inside, are some of them curved; belonging, therefore, to a modified box-coffin, partially suited to the figure. One curved piece of coffer is 8.1 thick, and a plane piece is 10.2 thick. Besides this I found fragments of the diorite statue, including several pieces of the figure, and one piece of the throne. This throne had borne an inscription arranged exactly like that on Khafra's large statue, and of the same scale; the [p. 142] fragment found reads " .... nub (Ramen . . . .), " showing that the king's name was MEN . . . . RA (see Pl. xii). Altogether, eight pieces of the polished surface and quantities of unwrought chips, were picked up; and beside these I also found chips of basalt (one wrought), and several scraps of Mokattam limestone. Everything here has been smashed with great care; the wrought granite had been mainly burnt and powdered; and the surfaces of the statue were bruised to pieces before it was broken up; the block with the piece of cartouche on it had been used as a hammer, having a groove cut round it to hold a cord by which it was swung. Exploration here would be most desirable, to recover more of these remains, considering how much was found without any aid in a couple of casual visits. For the remarks on the builder, see the Historical Notes, section 112.

There is a large quantity of broken pottery on the N.E. of this Pyramid, and well-wrought flint flakes mixed with it. This, from its character, I concluded to be of late period; and this opinion was confirmed by finding a green bead accidentally baked in one pot, which proved it to belong to the later dynasties.

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106. The recently opened Pyramid of Pepi of the sixth dynasty, at Sakkara, is very interesting as showing many details of construction. The first description of it that was published was one that I sent to Dr. Birch, and which was communicated by him to the Society of Biblical Archaeology, in April, 1881, with seven plates of inscription which I copied one day.1  As the description then given did not contain all the measurements that were taken, I repeat them here. The chamber is of the form of the Queen's Chamber in the Great Pyramid; the beams of the gable roof rest 3/5 on the side wall, and projects 2/5 over the chamber; thus they were completely cantilevers, and were quite free from arch thrust until they were broken. The roof is not merely formed of one set of these deep beams on edge, but of three successive layers of beams, or complete roofs, one over another in contact. Yet the destroyers have forced a way through all the beams, and broken them up, so that many of them are upheld by merely the thrust of the fragments against each other. Like the spaces over the King's Chamber in the Great Pyramid, the E. and W. walls of this chamber are wholly independent of the N. and S. sides and of the roofing-beams, the great end walls extending into the masonry of the Pyramid past the building of the rest of the chamber.

The chamber is 123 wide (= 6 x 20.5), and 307.6 long (= 15 x 20.51); the roof being composed of five beams (therefore of 3 cubits each), which divide it thus from the E. end 0, 62?, I22.2, I82.9, 244.7, 307.6. The vertical lines of the inscription on the W. wall are spaced thus, beginning at the S. end each successive ten columns occupies 21.3, 21.4, 21.3, 21.3, 21.8 and seven columns 15.2. [p. 143] The roof-beams being 85 long over half the chamber, shows their angle to be about 43½ º; and they extended 93 inches horizontally over the wall, or 128 of their total length of 213 on the under-side. These 30 beams of limestone therefore weigh over 30 tons each.

The coffer itself is of black basalt, of the plain box-shape; slightly curved, with about 2 inches swell in the sides, to fit the body. The lid slid on from the W.; and to support it a sort of side-board of masonry appears to have been built up between the W. wall and the coffer, from off which the lid could be slid over the coffer. The coffer has only one band of inscription, which is along the E. side; this is only the name Ra-meri and usual brief titles. The form of the box is remarkably massive, the sides being over a foot thick, and the bottom 20 inches, although it was only 2 feet wide inside. The dimensions are:—

106.5 long
82 ?
48.6 wide
44.7 high
24.8 .2

The bottom was measured, in perhaps a rather different part to the depths above, as 20.3 thick; this might make the inside width and depth equal. The ledge for the lid is 1.9 below top, and 1.3 extreme width; the lower side of it being cut with a deep groove along its back, so that the surface in which the lid would rest is convex. This was probably done to prevent scraps lodging in the groove, and jamming the lid in its sliding. The bottom of the coffer is crusted with resin; but this may have been melted out of the mummy wrappers when the coffer was raised on stones, and a fire burnt under it, as appears to have been the case during its destruction. It has been broken up by cutting rows of grooves in it, and banging it to pieces; one end being even broken off through the 12 inches thickness of the sides. On the E. inside are two nearly vertical grooves, leaning towards the S. at the top; their places measured from the N. end are at 23.6 to 25.0, and 26.2 to 27.6.

Beside this coffer there is a square box of granite sunk in the floor; it is 28.1 x 27.9 across the inside, and the sides are 6.2 thick; thus outside it would be 40.4. There is a covering slab, quite flat, and without pin holes or fastenings, 41.2 square and 9.0 thick.

The chamber is at present half full of chips of the N. and S. walls, which had been industriously destroyed in early times; and of the large quantity of the fragments taken out in the recent opening of the Pyramid, it will be impossible to restore the inscription now, as the inscribed parts were never collected or examined, but lay with the rubbish and were carried off by Arabs and travellers. Thus much of an extensive text of the early period has been lost. The heaps still remaining in the Pyramid should be carefully sorted, and from the large pieces of inscription which are among them a good deal might be put together. The E. and W. walls are perfect; but only the W. is yet visible, of which I [p. 144] copied more than half. The hieroglyphs are beautifully cut in the fine white limestone and are painted bright green).

The general bulk of this Pyramid is of very poor work; merely retaining walls of rough broken stones, filled up with loose rubble shot in. This appears to be the usual construction under the sixth dynasty. On a block of the W. wall of the chamber, where it was covered over by the roof-beams, is a painted slab. It is of the style of tomb decoration, with figures variously engaged, and brief inscriptions. But it is very rough, and has been built as a common building stone and slopped over with mortar. It therefore seems probable that we have here the first example yet known of a learner's work; great quantities of such must have been done by an artist, before he could be entrusted with the execution of the bold clear drawing for decorating a tomb.

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107. The Great Pyramid of Dahshur is of fine work, about equal to that of the second Pyramid of Gizeh; and it was cased with fine white Mokattam limestone like that on the Great Pyramid of Gizeh. The entrance passage of limestone has never been polished, but is about equal in work to the fine hammer-dressing of the granite passage of the Second Pyramid. The passage is 41.3 wide, and 47.5 high; the fine stone of the floor is two courses deep, but does not go very far under the sides. The first chamber has 11 overlappings, like those of the Great Pyramid gallery, and the work of it is much like that; it measures:—

N. 143.9, S. 142.8, E. 328.5, W. 330.0, N. door 41.2, S. door 41.1.

Height to first overlapping is 87.0 N., and 87.2 S., above the tops of the doorways (whose floor is invisible owing to encumbrance); from the first to the second lap is 35.5, thence to third lap 32.0; width of first lap is 5.4 to 6.0. The whole height of 87.0 is filled by a single block over each door; these single blocks extend 115.2 on the N., and 113.6 on the S. wall, besides a part of each hidden in the side wall. The passage to the second chamber is 124.6 long; and the second chamber 1030 wide, with a doorway 41.2 wide. The dimensions were evidently in the usual cubits; 329.7 16 = 20.61, 143.4 7 = 20.73, 103.0 5 = 20.60, 41.4 to 41.2 2 = 20.6. In the chamber are many ox-bones; some in bitumen, and therefore probably ancient. The passage is much polished, as by continual passing, and some animal has a lair in the inner chamber; I did not disturb it, being unarmed and miles from any help; and a pair of hyaenas with a family might have proved awkward acquaintances.

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108. The Southern or Blunted Pyramid of Dahshur, is in many respects the most interesting of any existing, as the greater part of its casing still remains; it is so out of the way, that the tide of Arab pillage (which only stripped the Gizeh Pyramids in the last few centuries) has only lately reached it; and much of the destruction has been done in the present century, and even a few years ago. It is also remarkable for containing two hieroglyphic scribbles of visitors, the only examples of such known in the Pyramids; and a curious Greek drawing, [p. 145] of a beast of the pug-dog type. It is cased with yellowish Mokattam limestone, of the same quality as that of the Second Pyramid of Gizeh. This is broken away just round the bottom in most parts, also all over the top, and over a large part of the W. and S. sides; the S.W. corner being so much ruined that it can be very easily ascended. The courses at the top are 20 to 21 inches high; a reputed cartouche of King Unas on one block is merely a royal bee. The casing blocks are very deep from back to front, about 80 inches; though only 20 inches high, and about 60 wide. They are more like layers bevelled off at the edges than a coating of "slabs of stone," as such casing has been described. The joints are not quite horizontal, but dip inward a little; they are very good and close.

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109. The most valuable part of the remaining casing is that of the doorway, as it shows the arrangement for closing the Pyramid (see Pl. xi.). On either side of the passage is a hole in the wall; now very rounded and cavernous, owing to weathering; but apparently about 3 or 4 inches in diameter, and 5 or 6 deep, originally. These two holes are just opposite one to the other, the centres being about 13 inside the Pyramid, and 6 above the passage roof.2  From the point above these holes, the roof slopes upward more steeply to the outside, being cut away; the joint of the passage side, however, continues in a straight line. This formation of the passage seems exactly adapted for a stone door working on a horizontal hinge; the holes being for the bronze bearings of the pivot, and the cut-out of the roof being to allow the top edge of the door to rise when turning it on its hinge.

Some way within this point is a vertical hole in the roof, 6.2 to 8.2 from the W. side, or 33.5 to 35.5 from the E. side of the passage; and from this hole inwards the roof is cut away horizontally for about 32 inches. It is plain that this is intended for a door, probably of wood by the smallness of the pivot, and working on a vertical hinge. The cut-out in the roof shows this by its length, which agrees with the width of the door required; and also by its only extending over the eastern part of the roof, up to the pivot; while W. of that, the 6 inches behind the door when opened, the roof slopes down as elsewhere. Unhappily, the floor is all torn up for 195 inches from the outside; a layer of 19 or 20 inches being missing from 36 to 195 inches, and a thicker amount of 25 inches from 36 to the outside. Hence the lower pivot hole and other details are missing. At about 130 inches down the passage are two holes on each side, one near the top and one near the bottom; they are about two inches wide and one deep, flat on the N. and curved on the S. Probably they were for some fittings.

The form of the outer stone door may be roughly estimated by the requirements and limitations of the case. A plain flat slab is what would probably first occur to the observer; but such a slab, which must be 20 inches [p. 146] thick by the position of the pivots, would need a pull varying from 700 to 1,500 lbs. to lift it up, which could hardly be applied in such a position; also it would leave a gap 13 inches wide at the top edge when shut. Considering the various data, we may conclude that the door must have been thinned at the lower edge to permit of a person getting in without needing to tilt it so much as to require a great amount cut away at the top edge, and probably the mass would be extended to the S. of the pivot, so as to bring the centre of gravity more nearly under the pivot, and thus make the door easier to open. Thus the conditions almost limit the form of the door to that shown in open shade on the diagram (Pl. xi.); the closed position of it being outlined by dots. The pull required to open such a door by the lower edge would vary from 2½ cwt. at the beginning, to 5 cwt. when fully open; and it could be easily kept open by a rod put across the mouth of the passage at A. Thus, when lifted, there would be an opening about 15 inches high and 41 wide, for 4½ feet long under the block, which would leave access to the lock of the wooden door inside. For the further discussion of this, and the confirmatory passages of Strabo and an Arabic author, see the Architectural Ideas, section 126.

The passage of this Pyramid is lower than any that I have measured, being:—

Near the mouth
Above the dislocation
Below the dislocation
41.7 wide
41.7 high

The dislocation is at a remarkable place, where the roof and floor in their outward course suddenly turn up in a curve to a point 11.1 above the true line, and then dropping sharply, they begin again only 1.1 above the true line, and fully regain the old direction in 23 inches distance. This formation is not due to a settlement, for (i) a settlement of 11 inches in such solid masonry, not far from the ground, is impossible, the more so as it would need a uniform settlement of the whole of the lower part of the passage, which should quickly cease at one point, and soon after continue at an equal amount; and (2) because the roof on the upper side of the dislocation is cut away in a slope for 23 inches, 1.1 being removed at the maximum. This shows that the builders were well aware of this formation in their time; and yet that they did not wish to smooth it all out, as if it were an accident or settlement, though nothing would have been easier for them than to have removed all trace of it. This part, like the rest of this Pyramid, needs far more examination.

The general work of this Pyramid is about equal to that of the Larger Pyramid of Dahshur, and like that of the Gizeb Pyramids; it is entirely of a superior class to that of the sixth dynasty Pyramids of Sakkara.

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110. The Pyramids which have been described above are all true Pyramids; [p. 147] though they are often confounded all in one class with the Mastaba-Pyramids3  of Medum4  and Sakkara (the Step-Pyramid), which are really of a different class, distinct in their system and construction. The Mastaba-angle of about 76º or a rise of 4 on a base of 1, has been already described (section 103), and the usual Pyramid angle of about 52º is well known. The two are wholly distinct, and the examples of them do not merge one into the other. And it may further be stated that there are no true Step-Pyramids. Those commonly so called (at Gizeh, for instance,) are merely in process of destruction, showing the successive working platforms of the building, which rise far steeper than the Mastaba-angle; and of one of the most step-like of all (the middle small one by the Great Pyramid), sloping casing may still be picked up around it, and found in situ under the rubbish. There are only two of the so-called Pyramids that were not cased in a slope without re-entering angles; these are the two Mastaba-Pyramids of Sakkara and Medum, which really consist of superposed Mastabas, with the characteristic angle of 76º 5  

The tower-like appearance of the Medum Pyramid is only due to the lower steps having been broken away. Not only may the places where the steps joined the existing surface be seen, but the lower part of each step-face may be found standing in the rubbish at the base (see F. F. in Pl. vii., drawn from a photograph). The roughened part of the face, where the step joined it, has been supposed to be for affixing some decoration or moulding; but (beside the fact that such ornament is unknown in Pyramid architecture) the start of the top of the step may be seen in some parts projecting out from the face. The lower parts of the sloping faces which are still to be seen in the rubbish (well figured in Denkmäler) are also conclusive evidence of faces having existed outside of the present tower form; these faces must have ended their rise and been joined to the tower horizontally, at some level; and the probable equality of the steps would require them to join the body at just the places where the roughened lines of junction are still visible. An historical proof of the existence of the steps formed by these lower faces is given by Abu Abdallah Muhammed, quoted by Makrisi (circ. 1400 A.D.),6  who mentions a Pyramid built in five terraces, and called "Meidoun." It is true that he says it is the highest of the Pyramids, which it is far from being; but, from its situation in a plain, as a [p. 148] modern author writes, "It is most imposing, more so than Gizeh, more so than Sakkara;" and the name is conclusive as to which Pyramid he intended. The five terraces visible about six centuries ago would be the five upper ones, showing that the lowest was ruined, or buried in a heap of rubbish, at that time. Both of these Mastaba-Pyramids are also peculiar as having been repeatedly enlarged. In no case have successive enlargements been found in a true Pyramid;7  but both of these structures have been several times finished, each time with a close-jointed, polished casing of the finest white limestone; and then, after each completion, it has been again enlarged by another coat of rough masonry and another fine casing outside of the former casing. This explains how readily the Medum Pyramid was stripped into a towering form; there were the older polished casings inside it; as soon as the later coats were stripped off, the older surface was revealed again.

The Step-Pyramid of Sakkara is of poorer work, but on just the same principle as that of Medum; and in this case the additions have been very one-sided, since on the South two finished fine casings may be seen far inside it, only about a third of the distance from the present middle to the W. side (see F. F., Pl. vii.). On the South may also be seen, at the E. end, two polished casings, one about 8 feet inside the present rough stripped outside, and another 10½ feet inside of that casing. These two casings are not quite at the same slope, showing that the exact angle of it is not important, as the additions were not uniformly thick all over one side: hence the difference of a couple of degrees, between this Pyramid and the best Mastaba-angle, is not astonishing.

The Step-Pyramid, or Mastaba-Pyramid, of Sakkara is of an oblong plan; unlike any Pyramid, but similar to the Mastabas. The Mastaba-el-Farun at Sakkara is an intermediate form, being as large as the base of a Pyramid, but as oblong and low in its proportion as a Mastaba. Now that the name of King Unas has been found in one of the Pyramids, it is evident that his name occurring in the Mastaba-el-Farun merely shows that he built it; probably as a base for an obelisk, such as is often seen in early inscriptions representing a monument or temple to Ra.

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NOTES:     (Use browser back button to return.)

1. Unfortunately the lithographer confounded hawks and eagles, which were carefully separated in the MS.

2. The sides of the holes are 11 to 15.5 on E., 11 to 16.2 on W., the tops and bottoms are 4 to 8.5 on E., 2 to 8 on W.

3. Mastaba  is the native Arabic name (adopted by antiquarians) for the sloping sided tombs, of about 76º angle, and 10 to 20 feet height.

4. This name has always been variable. In the third dynasty it is Metun;  Mariette, from some hieroglyphic source, spells it Metum or Meri-tum; Abu Abdallah Muhammed (ante,  1400 A.D.) writes Meidoun;  modern Arabs say Medum.

5. The Pyramid of Riga, near Abusir, is stated by Vyse to have had a slope of 75º 20' on the upper part, and of 50º below that; if so, it was a Pyramid on the top of a Mastaba; but more excavation and critical examination of it is needed.

6. See Vyse, ii 354.

7. Even the Third Pyramid of Gizeh, the size of which has been increased from that of the first design, has not been enlarged over a finished casing, but merely modified in the course of its building.

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