Posts Tagged With: Abydos

Giza Month Part One: Khufu and the Great Pyramid of Giza

Welcome to Giza Month! This month, I’m going to fill you in on the creation of one of the Seven Wonders of the World: the Pyramids at Giza, and their surrounding, but lesser known, treasures. Finally, we’ll end the month with a discussion of the ongoing and heated debate surrounding the construction of the pyramids.

map giza pyramid complex- courtesy of khan academy

map Giza pyramid complex – courtesy of khan academy

It’s evident that Giza Month should begin with the largest and most iconic pyramid in the history of Ancient Egypt: The Great Pyramid constructed during the reign of Pharaoh Khufu (known in some ancient documents by the Greek version of his name, Cheops). Built over an estimated 20-30 year period, Khufu’s pyramid stands around 480 feet tall, with a base length of more than 750 feet per side. Almost more impressive than the pyramid’s imposing dimensions is the fact that the difference in length among the four sides is a mere 4.4 cm, an incredible engineering accomplishment for an ancient society.

Entrance, Pyramid of Khufu (Photo: Olaf Tausch)

Entrance, Pyramid of Khufu (Photo: Olaf Tausch)

The Great Pyramid of Giza incorporates around 2.3 million stone blocks weighing an average of 2.5 to 15 tons each. The stones you see in the image above are the inner, locally quarried core stones. During the original construction, angled outer casing stone made of white Tura limestone was installed on top of these less ornamental blocks to give the pyramid a smooth surface while being bright and reflective. Finally, the pyramid would have possessed a capstone, known as a pyramidion, that may have been gilt, and would have certainly been visible for miles around. Both the pyramidion and casing stones were removed and repurposed long ago in order to construct other monuments.

To enter the pyramid, the visitor has to crawl up an extremely cramped ascending chamber that opens suddenly into the Grand Gallery. From this 26-foot tall corbelled passageway, the visitor can decide to descend to the Queens Chamber or the unfinished subterranean chamber below, or to ascend to the King’s chamber, which is constructed entirely from red granite brought from the southern quarries at Aswan.

Diagram of the interior of the Pyramid of Khufu

Diagram of the interior of the Pyramid of Khufu

Above the King’s Chamber are five stress-relieving chambers of granite blocks that create a roof that helps distribute the weight of the pyramid itself. The king’s sarcophagus was found sitting at the exact central axis of the pyramid in a burial chamber. The chamber was sealed with a collection of large granite blocks and the entrance of the main shaft filled with limestone to obscure the opening to the human eye.

The pyramid was not Khufu’s only successful construction project: The Great Pyramid was the centerpiece of an entire complex, which includes several smaller pyramids, a mortuary temple, a causeway, a valley temple, many small tombs for officials and some members of the royal family, and more than five large boat pits.

Reconstructed funerary boat of Khufu (Photo: Dr. Amy Calvert)

Reconstructed funerary boat of Khufu (Photo: Dr. Amy Calvert)

These boat pits, which have a history of accompanying pharaonic mortuary structures (discovered at the Dynasty 1 pharaonic cemetery at Abydos), were intended to store the boats the pharaoh would need to transport himself across the sky in the afterlife. Although five of these pits contained only boat-shaped models, two pits on the south side of the Great Pyramid contained completed disassembled boats and all the supplies necessary to build them.  Using only ancient instructions and materials (or materials created through use of ancient instructions), one of these boats was removed and reconstructed, now standing in a special museum on the south side of the pyramid. The reconstructed cedar boat is 142 feet in length and contains 1,224 individual pieces! Investigation of the burial site, seems to indicate that these boats were most likely used for the funerary procession of the pharaoh to his resting places, and were then dismantled and buried.

Khufu’s Great Pyramid and the accompanying treasures not only helped to insure the safe passage of the king into the afterlife, but have contributed to humankind’s continuing fascination with Ancient Egypt. People from all over the world continue to flock to Giza to see these monuments. Even in an age dominated by technology and somewhat jaded human sensibilities, the pyramids represent something grand and immovable, they exert a mysterious power, drawing our attention and stirring our imagination.

“Man fears time, but Time fears the pyramids.”

Photo by Astronaut Terry W. Virts

Photo by Astronaut Terry W. Virts

Additional resources:
Mark Lehner, The Complete Pyramids (Thames and Hudson, 2008).

David O’Connor, Abydos: Egypt’s First Pharaohs and the Cult of Osiris (Thames and Hudson, 2011).

Amy Calvert , Old Kingdom: Pyramid of Khufu, Khan Academy

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Recycled Tomb Rewrites History

One of the questions I often hear immediately after I tell someone I want to be an Egyptologist (other than “What does that even mean?”) is always, “Didn’t we find everything already?”

This month, the Penn Museum team answered that question loud and clear.

Image

(courtesy of Penn Museum)

An archaeological team working at Abydos, a site in southern Egypt, have discovered the tomb of a previously undiscovered ruler: Pharaoh Woseribre Senebkay—and in turn have discovered the first material proof of a unknown Abydos dynasty ca. 1650-1600 BCE.

The excavation of this tomb began in the summer of 2013, when Dr. Josef Wegner, The Egyptian Section Associate Curator of the Penn Museum, led the Penn Museum team in the discovery of a 60-ton royal sarcophagus chamber at South Abydos (depicted above). The summer ended with little information on the sarcophagus—no known owner and only a possible dating to the late Middle Kingdom.

Then, during just the last few weeks of excavations, more and more information was discovered concerning this mysterious chamber. It is now known that the chamber is derived from a royal tomb built originally for Pharaoh Sobekhotep in the 13th Dynasty, but re-used for the previously unknown Pharoah Senebkay in Egypt’s Second Intermediate Period. Senebkay’s tomb dates from around 1650 BCE and is composed of four chambers (including a decorated limestone burial chamber). The tomb has multiple texts providing the king’s titulary.

As is the case for many Egyptian tombs, tomb robbers had most certainly hit the tomb of Senebkay. The king’s body was originally mummified, but his remains were torn apart during the assumed violent incursion that also likely resulted in the loss of the pharaoh’s tomb equipment. However, archaeologists were able to recover remains of the body (and reconstruct it—minus a jaw bone), coffin, funerary masks, and even the canopic chest. The canopic chest of Senebkay was made of cedar wood that had been reused from the nearby tomb of Sobekhotep I and still bore Sobekhotep’s name, covered by gilding. Along with the reused sarcophagus, the canopic chest provides historical evidence for the suggestion of limited resources during the economic situation in the Second Intermediate Period.

Image

(courtesy of discovery.com)

Yet the most important aspect of this discovery is best expressed by the Co-Founder/Owner of Past Preservers (and my former boss!) Nigel Hetherington, a British archaeologist in Egypt.

“There was a gap in the chronology for this period, so people presumed that these pharaohs existed but they had not found the graves. The history books will now be rewritten because of what [these archaeologists] have discovered.”

The excavation of this tomb has further proven that the tomb is just one of many that may be hidden in this area. Lead archaeologist Joseph Wegner predicts that around 20 previously unknown pharaohs may be buried near Senebkay’s tomb.

Who knows what the future holds for the Acropolis at Abydos and what wonderful discoveries may be made in the future? One thing that is certain, however, is that there will always be more to discover about the Ancient Egyptians.

Sources:

http://news.discovery.com/history/ancient-egypt/mystery-pharaoh-found-in-egypt-140116.htm

http://www.penn.museum/press-releases/1032-pharaoh-senebkay-discovery-josef-wegner.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/egypt/10592988/Egyptian-pharaoh-unearthed-after-3600-years.html

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