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The Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara

The Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara

The pyramids are the most famous monuments of ancient Egypt and still fascinate people in the present day. These enormous tributes to the memory of the Egyptian kings have become synonymous with the country even though other cultures (such as the Chinese and Mayan) also built pyramids. The evolution of the pyramid form has been written about and debated for centuries but there is no question that, as far as Egypt is concerned, it began with one monument to one king designed by one brilliant architect: the Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara.

Djoser (c. 2670 BCE) was the first king of the Third Dynasty of Egypt and the first to build in stone. Prior to Djoser's reign, mastaba tombs were the customary form for graves: rectangular monuments made of dried clay brick which covered underground passages where the deceased was entombed. For reasons which remain unclear, Djoser's vizier, Imhotep (c. 2667 BCE), conceived of building a more impressive tomb for his king by stacking mastabas on top of one another, progressively making them smaller, to form the shape now known as the Step Pyramid.

Djoser's vizier, Imhotep conceived of building a tomb for his king by stacking mastabas on top of one another to form the shape now known as the Step Pyramid.

Little is known of Djoser's reign. He is thought to be the son of the last king of the Second Dynasty of Egypt, Khasekhemwy (c. 2680 BCE). His mother was the queen Nimaathap and his wife the queen Hetephernepti, who was probably his half-sister. Djoser was an ambitious builder of monuments and temples. He is thought to have reigned for twenty years but historians and scholars usually attribute a much longer time for his rule owing to the number and size of the monuments he had built.

Djoser was highly respected during his reign and still, centuries after, was held in high regard as evidenced by the Famine Stele from the Ptolemaic Dynasty (332-30 BCE) which tells the story of Djoser saving the country from famine by re-building the temple of Khnum, the god of the source of the Nile River, who was thought to be holding back his grace because his shrine was in disrepair; once Djoser restored it, the famine was lifted. None of Djoser's accomplishments or building projects are as impressive, however, as his eternal home at Saqqara.

Construction

The Step Pyramid has been thoroughly examined and investigated over the last century and it is now known that the building process went through many different stages and there were a few false starts. Imhotep seems to have first begun building a simple mastaba tomb. The highest mastaba was 20 feet (6 meters) but Imhotep decided to go higher. Investigations have shown that the pyramid began as a square mastaba, instead of the usual rectangular shape, and then was changed to rectangular. Why Imhotep decided to change the traditional rectangular mastaba shape is unknown but it is probable that Imhotep had in mind a square-based pyramid from the start.

The early mastaba was built in two stages and, according to Egyptologist Miroslav Verner,

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... a simple but effective costruction method was used. The masonry was laid not vertically but in courses inclined toward the middle of the pyramid, thus significantly increasing its structural stability. The basic material used was limestone blocks, whose form resembled that of large bricks of clay (115-116).

The early mastabas had been decorated with inscriptions and engravings of reeds and Imhotep wanted to continue that tradition. His great, towering mastaba pyramid would have the same delicate touches and resonant symbolism as the more modest tombs which had preceded it and, better yet, these would all be worked in stone instead of dried mud. Historian Mark Van de Mieroop comments on this, writing:

Imhotep reproduced in stone what had been previously built of other materials. The facade of the enclosure wall had the same niches as the tombs of mud brick, the columns resembled bundles of reed and papyrus, and stone cylinders at the lintels of doorways represented rolled-up reed screens. Much experimentation was involved, which is especially clear in the construction of the pyramid in the center of the complex. It had several plans with mastaba forms before it became the first Step Pyramid in history, piling six mastaba-like levels on top of one another...The weight of the enormous mass was a challenge to the builders, who placed the stones at an inward incline in order to prevent the monument breaking up (56).

When completed, the Step Pyramid rose 204 feet (62 meters) high and was the tallest structure of its time. The surrounding complex included a temple, courtyards, shrines, and living quarters for the priests covering an area of 40 acres (16 hectares) and surrounded by a wall 30 feet (10.5 meters) high. The wall had 13 false doors cut into it with only one true entrance cut in the south-east corner; the entire wall was then ringed by a trench 2,460 feet (750 meters) long and 131 feet (40 meters) wide. The false doors and the trench were incorporated into the complex to discourage unwanted guests. If one wished to visit the inner courtyard and temples, one would have needed to have been told how to enter.

The Pyramid Complex

The pyramid and its surrounding complex was designed to be stunning and inspire awe. Djoser was so proud of his accomplishment that he broke precedent of having only his own name on a monument and had Imhotep's name carved as well. The complex consists of the Step Pyramid, the House of the North, the House of the South, the Serdab, the Heb Sed Court, the South Tomb, Temple T, and the Northern Mortuary Temple. All of these, with the surrounding wall, made up a complex the size of a city in ancient Egypt. Djoser's complex, in fact, was larger than the city of Hierkanpolis at the time.

The purpose of the House of the North and House of the South is unknown but it has been speculated they represented Upper and Lower Egypt. The Serdab ('cellar') is a limestone box near the northern entrance of the pyramid where a life-sized statue of Djoser was found. This statue would have been of great importance to the soul of the king in the afterlife.

The soul was thought to consist of nine aspects and one of them, the ba (the bird-shaped image often found on tomb engravings), was able to fly from earth to the heavens at will. It required some recognizable landmark on earth, however, and this would have been the pyramid with the likeness of the king in front of it. Once the ba, high above, saw the home of its owner, it could swoop down, enter, and visit the earthly plane again. The importance of names and images of pharaohs comes into play here in that the soul needed to be able to recognize its former home (physical body) on earth in order to be at rest in the afterlife. The statue of Djoser, erected at the complex, is the oldest known life-sized Egyptian statuary extant and would have been created for this purpose as well as to remind visitors of the great king's legacy.

The Heb Sed Court was related to the Heb Sed Festival in which the king validated his right to rule. The festival was held in the 30th year of the king's reign and then every three years afterwards to revitalize his rule by re-enacting his coronation. This courtyard, which contains the House of the North and the House of the South, also has thirteen small chapels. The South Tomb has three carved panels depicting Djoser performing the Heb Sed ritual. This tomb is mastaba shaped and is thought to have been built to house another statue of the king. Temple T is among the most fascinating and mysterious structures in the complex. The outer facade of the building is plain and shows no efforts at ornamentation but the inside is beautifully constructed with Djed pillars (representing stability) throughout. There are intricate carvings inside as well, including one of a half-opened door which seems like an actual doorway. The meaning of this door carving is not clear but may have represented a symbolic passageway to the afterlife. The Northern Mortuary Temple, to the north side of the pyramid nearby, was used to access the subterranean passages of the pyramid which led down to the burial chamber.

The Step Pyramid

The actual chambers of the tomb, where the king's body was laid to rest, were dug beneath the base of the pyramid as a maze of tunnels with rooms off the corridors to discourage robbers and protect the body and grave goods of the king. Djoser's burial chamber was carved of granite and, to reach it, one had to navigate the corridors which were filled with thousands of stone vessels inscribed with the names of earlier kings. The other chambers in the subterranean complex were for ceremonial purposes. Historian Margaret Bunson writes:

The subterranean passages and chambers were adorned with fine reliefs and with blue faience tiles made to resemble the matted curtains of the royal residence at Memphis. The great shaft of the structure, leading to the burial chamber, was 92 feet long. The chamber at the bottom was 13 feet high, encased in granite. A granite plug sealed the passageway to the actual tomb. Mazes were also incorporated into the design in order to foil potential robbers (253).

The underground passages are vast and one of the most mysterious discoveries inside are the stone vessels. Over 40,000 of these vessels, of various form and shape, were found in two of the descending shafts of the pyramid (the 6th and 7th shafts). These vessels are inscribed with the names of rulers from the First and Second Dynasty of Egypt and are made from all kinds of stone such as diorite, limestone, alabaster, siltstone, and slate. Names of the kings Narmer, Djer, Den, Adjib, Semerkhet, Ka, Heterpsekhemwy, Ninetjer, Sekhemib, and Khasekhemwy all appear on these vessels as well as non-royal names of lesser personages.

There is no agreement among scholars and archaeologists on why the vessels were placed in the tomb of Djoser or what they were supposed to represent. The archaeologist Lauer, who excavated most of the pyramid and complex, believes they were originally stored by Khasekhemwy toward the end of the Second Dynasty and were given a "proper burial" by Djoser in his pyramid to honor his predecessors. There are other historians, however, who claim the vessels were dumped into the shafts as yet another attempt to prevent grave robbers from getting to the king's burial chamber.

Unfortunately, all of the precautions and intricate design of the underground complex did not prevent ancient robbers from finding a way in. Djoser's grave goods, and even his mummy, were stolen at some point in the past and all archaeologists found of the king was parts of his mummified foot and a few valuables overlooked by the thieves. There was enough left to examine throughout the pyramid and its complex, however, to amaze the archaeologists who excavated it.

Discovery

As with many of the monuments of Egypt, visitors and thieves explored the pyramid complex for centuries after it was abandoned but no systematic exploration was undertaken until Napoleon's Egypt campaign 1798-1801 CE. Napoleon brought a team of scholars and scientists along with his army who explored, examined, recorded, and studied the monuments of ancient Egyptian culture and who, among other accomplishments, discovered the Rosetta Stone in 1799 CE, the trilingual inscription stele which enabled French scholar Jean-Francois Champollion (1790-1832 CE) to decipher the Egyptian hieroglyphs and open up the history of ancient Egypt for the world. Napoleon's expedition was the first systematic study of the civilization and, later, led to the first western museum to install a permanent Egyptian wing at the Louvre in Paris.

Following Napoleon's artists and scientists, German, English, and Prussian archaeologists and researchers visited the Step Pyramid throughout the 19th century but no critical, scientific, examination was begun until the 1920's CE when the English archaeologist Cecil Mallaby Firth (1878-1931 CE) arrived at the site. It was Firth who, in 1924 CE, discovered the Serdab and Djoser's statue. In 1926 CE, Firth was joined on site by the French architect and Egyptologist Jean-Philippe Lauer (1902-2001 CE) who would make the major discoveries at the complex and contribute the most to modern-day understanding of pyramid construction generally and the Step Pyramid specifically.

Lauer restored, excavated, and explored the Step Pyramid and its complex for the next fifty years. He uncovered the shafts and burial chambers, found and restored the blue faience rooms, and devoted himself to bringing the ancient site back to life. Much of what one sees today in visiting the site is due to Lauer's personal efforts or those he mentored and inspired like the Egyptologist Zakaria Goneim. Lauer preserved Imhotep's grand design and brought to light the intricacies of the complex which had been overlooked by Firth and those who'd worked with him. Unfortunately, the pyramid and its grand complex today is in danger of collapse owing to an earthquake which shook the region in 1992 CE and inadequate and incompetent efforts taken to preserve and restore it.

Danger of Collapse & Preservation Efforts

A September 2014 article by Beverley Mitchell for the on-line magazine Inhabitat notes how the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities hired a company which had never worked on ancient sites before and the pyramid was in critical condition. Giant air bags were inflated under the pyramid while construction work was done but, to date, the chambers beneath the monument are still in danger of collapsing and the complex surrounding the monument is unstable. Mitchell writes, "it is a tragedy that such an important archaeological legacy could be destroyed by incompetence and lack of adequate funding" which is entirely true and should be self-evident to all; but nothing of significance has been done to preserve the pyramid or the complex in the last two years.

Miroslav Verner writes, "Few monuments hold a place in human history as significant as that of the Step Pyramid in Saqqara...It can be said without exaggeration that his pyramid complex constitutes a milestone in the evolution of monumental stone architecture in Egypt and in the world as a whole (108-109)." The Step Pyramid was a revolutionary advance in architecture but, just as importantly, it became the archetype which all the other great pyramid builders of Egypt would follow. The design of the Step Pyramid influenced the builders of the famous pyramids and their complexes in the Fourth Dynasty including the Great Pyramid of Giza, last of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Hopefully, preservation efforts at Djoser's Step Pyramid will improve in time to save this unique site for visitors to appreciate and admire in the future as they have for the past 4,000 years.


Step Pyramid of Djoser: facts, location, history, photo

Saqqara Step Pyramid is dominating the horizon of the area, it is believed to be the world's oldest monumental masonry structure. The unique pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara is part of a mortuary complex for the 3rd Dynasty king Djoser. He was the 1st among the pharaohs to construct a limestone pyramid with a limestone funerary complex surrounded by an enclosure of fine limestone. Created by the architect Imhotep, it is a unique stepped pyramid with 6 tiers. The Pyramid rises in six unequal stages to a height of 60 meters (appr.) and is the first and oldest ancient Egyptian pyramid, although not a "true" one with smooth sides.

Before the pyramid got its final shape of the Step pyramid many changes were applied to it. First it was in a shape of a square mastaba facing the "four cardinal points". It was built of a local Saqqara limestone the length was 63 square meters and the height was just 8 meters. Later 3 more meters of limestone were added to all 4 sides of the construction, making it a square mastaba of 71.5 square meters. Then to the east side of the construction 8.40 meters were added, thus making the pyramid rectangular and 79.90 square meters from east to west and 71.50 square meters from south to north. The eastern addition was made for digging up a vertical shaft of 33 m of depth to bury the royal members of the family inside his own tomb.

A royal tomb changed into a Stepped pyramid when 3 more steps above the original mastaba were added. So, the pyramid became 85.9 meters from east to west and 77.50 meters from south to north and 43 meters height. A casing 3 meters thick layer was added to 4 sides as well. Later on when a casing layer was added to the south and north of the pyramid, it became rectangular 6 steps pyramid with 121 m from east to west, 109 m from south to north and 59.64 m in height. And for the last time the pyramid was cased with fine dressed limestone of Tura.

There is a burial chamber at the bottom of a large shaft about 28 meters deep and seven meters square, it lies almost exactly beneath the center of the pyramid. It is surrounded by a series of chambers and a corridor to house the furniture and the artifacts of the deceased.

The blue faience-tiles of KIng Djoser's symbolic palace were found deep under the pyramid. Deep beneath the pyramid of King Djoser is a series of chambers and corridors representing the royal palace. The limestone walls here were ornamented with delicate tiles of blue and blue-green faience, inlaid in stone panels to imitate mats made of bound reeds. Similarly decorated chambers were found beneath the South Tomb. Several of the original faience tiles, attached to modern blocks, are reinstalled here. In center is a deep niche, with a relief at the back that is finely carved with an image of the king visiting a sanctuary at Edfu. Now, part of this chamber is on display at Imhotep Museum in Saqqara.


Inside the Pyramid of Djoser — the world's oldest still-standing stone building — that reopened after 14 years of restoration

The first stone pyramid ever built has been restored and is now open to the public.

The Pyramid of Djoser, also known as the Step Pyramid, a UNESCO world heritage site, was reopened on March 5, after a restoration took 14 years and nearly $6.6 million.

An architect named Imhotep designed the pyramid more than 4,600 years ago to house the coffin of Pharoah Djoser. He decided, for the first time, to build up. He devised a new structure made of six layers of stone that got smaller as they ascended. The final product was meant to be a stairway to heaven.

It was the first building ever made of stone, and led the way to Egypt building more famous pyramids, like the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Over centuries its condition deteriorated due to the effects of time, neglect, fierce winds, and serious damage sustained in a 1992 earthquake.

And while fixing a crumbling stone pyramid is difficult, it was delayed for almost two years by Egyptian unrest. The restoration also faced scrutiny by Egyptian NGOs that claimed the work was actually making the pyramid worse.


The tiered structure known as the Step Pyramid at Saqqara is the direct descendant of the smooth-surfaced Great Pyramids at Giza

Using a verbal sleight of hand to distract us after our whirlwind tour of the Giza necropolis, our guide Ahmed, who was selected for us by the Kempinski Nile Hotel in Cairo, began telling us about the history of Saqqara. He paused only briefly to encourage us to stop at a souvenir shop on the way, this one peddling papyrus or perfume, where he would surely get commission if we bought anything. Ahmed seemed to be a knowledgeable guide, but his lack of enthusiasm was glaringly obvious.

After spending our morning getting rushed through the Pyramids and Sphinx, I mentioned stopping for lunch at the Marriott Mena House, having been told there was a spectacular view of the Pyramids while you ate alfresco. Ahmed replied that he had recently eaten there and dismissed it as overrated and ridiculously expensive, lying about the prices of the meals. It became clear that he wasn’t going to let us go there, even though it was part of our planned itinerary.

It was about this time that I turned to Wally and muttered, “We must have passed the Solar Boat Museum when we were leaving Giza.” We were both upset by this, never imagining we’d have a guide who wouldn’t even ask if we’d want to see the various sites at an attraction. There’s a good chance this would be our only time in Egypt and we wanted to see as much as we could — especially since we were paying for our guide and car service until 4 p.m.

But were in a stranger’s car in a foreign country and by this time too far away to go back.

Pharaoh Djoser commissioned the Step Pyramid for his tomb in 2630 BCE

Step on It

Frequently paired with the more famous Giza Plateau, the Saqqara necropolis is where the world’s oldest large-scale stone monument, the Step Pyramid of Djoser, was built. Admission costs 150 Egyptian pounds per person (a bit over $9 at the time of this writing).

Prior to its construction, Ancient Egyptian kings were buried beneath great oblong mud-brick structures with a flat roof and sloping sides known as mastabas. According to the Abydos King List, carved on a temple wall, Djoser was the first king of the Third Dynasty, and it was his 19-year reign that allowed the grandiose plan for his pyramid complex to be completed during his lifetime.

Built in stages, the Step Pyramid was constructed between 2630 and 2611 BCE. The tomb began as a traditional mastaba, but instead of mud-brick, it was built of stone taken from the nearby enclosed burial complex of Gisr el-Mudir. It was gradually enlarged, with smaller mastabas stacked on top of one another in concentric tiers to form the final height of 200 feet high — steps which the dead king could use to ascend into the heavens.

What’s truly amazing is that that’s just the beginning. What can’t be seen are the three miles of passageways and chambers that were carved beneath the pyramid!

Scaffolding covered parts of the Step Pyramid when we visited

When we visited the atmospheric Step Pyramid of Djoser, it was partially covered in scaffolding. Ahmed told us that it was closed due to ongoing conservation work and structural concerns after an earthquake in 1992.

Imhotep was many things, including the architect of the Step Pyramid at Saqqara — but a reanimated evil mummy he was not

Imhotep: The Man, the Myth, the Legend

A man named Imhotep was responsible for the design of the Step Pyramid of Saqqara. Considered the first recorded architect in history, he was later portrayed as an evil high priest who had been buried alive in The Mummy movie franchise. But he was actually just a mortal man whose name translated as “The One Who Comes in Peace.”

A savant who rose to the top of Egyptian society, Imhotep served as a scribe, architect and vizier in the court of Pharaoh Djoser. He was also a high priest of the creator god Ptah, physician and scientist. That talent would eventually lead to his posthumous deification as the patron god of medicine by the Egyptians and later by the Greeks as Asclepius.

Duke insisted we include a historically accurate image of Imhotep as well

King Djoser was so pleased with Imhotep’s work that he allowed the architect’s name to be inscribed on the pyramid along with his own.

Imhotep’s tomb is probably located at Saqqara but has yet to be found.

Fun fact: In 1964, archaeologist Walter Bryan Emery discovered a network of catacombs holding the remains of thousands of mummified ibises, long-legged, long-necked birds with downward-curving beaks, brought to the necropolis by pilgrims as offerings to the deified Imhotep. (These weren’t the only mummified animal remains found at Saqqara. Learn more about animal mummies here.)

Some of the buildings of Ancient Egypt struck us as surprisingly modern, including the entrance hall to Djoser’s funerary complex

Entrance Hall Colonnade

Like Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple, the clean geometric exterior of Djoser’s entrance hall struck me as quite modern. There’s only one way into the complex, situated in the center of the largest bastion of the enclosure wall. The narrow hall is comprised of 20 pairs of columns, each connected to the side wall by masonry, as opposed to free-standing, and are carved to resemble bundles of reeds. The colonnade was probably once timber-roofed, though now austere concrete slabs hover high above these unique, but decaying, pillars.

The columns at Djoser’s complex aren’t in the best shape

Heb Sed Court

After passing through the entrance hall colonnade, Wally and I wandered over a low wall and into a sunken open-air courtyard with a raised stone platform. I later learned that this was known as the Heb Sed Court.

Beyond a pair of elevated shrines or chapels are replicas in stone of structures that would have been used for Heb Sed, the king’s jubilee festival marking the 30th year of a pharaoh’s reign. (As we know, Djoser never quite made it there.) One chapel appears to be a flat-roofed tentlike structure, while the other has a curved roof and false door, a symbolic passageway for the king’s ka, or spirit, to use in the afterlife.

While we enjoyed our visit, which also included an expedition into the Pyramid of Unas and the Mastaba of Mereruka, Ahmed never went beyond his own agenda and he certainly didn’t encourage us to explore. A lot of the information contained in our posts pertaining to Giza and Saqqara has been supplemented with our own research and curiosity about the sites. –Duke


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Once made king, he began commissioning his building projects. According to historian Margaret Bunson, Djoser “ruled during an age witnessing advances in civilization on the Nile such as the construction of architectural monuments, agricultural developments, trade, and the rise of the cities.”

Even though cities had grown before Djoser, his reign brought forth more cities and architectural masterpieces which had never been seen before in Egypt. His Step Pyramid at Saqqara, built by skilled Egyptian laborers and craftsmen, is one such project.

Step Pyramid. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Records say that before Djoser assumed the throne, Egyptian kings were buried in mastabas which were rectangular tombs built above underground chambers rising at most 20 feet (6 meters) high. Djoser’s Step Pyramid, however, is “a series of mastabas stacked on top of each other, each level a little smaller than the one beneath, to form the shape of a pyramid,” according to Ancient History Encyclopedia.

The Step Pyramid, which has since undergone major renovations and was reopened to the public this year, was 204 feet (62 meters) high when it was completed. Located outside the royal capital of Memphis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site south of modern Cairo, the Pyramid’s surrounding complex included shrines for royal rituals, a temple, courtyards and living quarters for priests.

The pyramid has undergone major renovations. Pic credit: Khaled Elfiqui/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Historian Mar Van de Mieroop writes: “Imhotep reproduced in stone what had been previously built of other materials. The facade of the enclosure wall had the same niches as the tombs of mud brick, the columns resembled bundles of reed and papyrus, and stone cyliners at the lintels of doorways represented rolled-up reed screens. Much experimentation was involved, which is especially clear in the construction of the pyramid in the center of the complex. It had several plans with mastaba forms before it became the first Step Pyramid in history, piling six mastaba-like levels on top of one another…The weight of the enormous mass was a challenge to the builders, who placed the stones at an inward incline in order to prevent the monument breaking up.”

But before the Step Pyramid, Djoser had already been hailed for saving lives when a famine broke out in Egypt. For seven years, there was no solution to the problem until Djoser had a dream in which the god Khnum of the Nile River’s source complained to him that his temple on the island of Elephantine was in a poor condition.

Under the guidance of his chief minister and vizier Imhotep, Djoser built a new temple and once it was done, the famine ended. Djoser, as part of measures to ensure his country’s stability, would extend Egypt’s power all the way south to Aswan, and north to Sinai largely through military expeditions.

Defeating the Libyans in battle and annexing part of their lands, his military victories were among some of his greatest accomplishments. Many of these have largely been forgotten but not his final resting place – the Step Pyramid – which is not only a monument to his life and reign but among a flurry of amazing architectural wonders of Egypt that continues to attract tourists.


Step Pyramid at Saqqara

reconstruction of four mastaba tombs.

The earliest graves were pits cut into the bedrock and covered in stones—but soon they developed into more elaborate structures made from mud brick and stone, featuring rooms designed so that people could enter and pay their respects to the dead. These structures became known as mastabas, from the Arabic word for “bench.” All of the early pharaohs of the first two dynasties were buried in mastabas.

This all changed during the third dynasty when King Djoser (2667-2648bc) began work on his mastaba tomb at Saqqara. The man responsible for carrying out the project was Djoser’s Prime Minister, Imhotep.

Imhotep is credited as the inventor of building in stone and was a man of many talents—arc hitect, physician, master sculptor, scribe, and astronomer. He may be the first true genius in recorded history, and his impact on Egyptian life and custom was profound. He was later deified as the god of wisdom and medicine.

Step Pyramid at Saqqara

Djoser and Imhotep decided to build an enormous mastaba of stone, but at some point during construction they built another mastaba on top of the first—and then another on top of the second. They continued this process until they had enlarged the structure into the world’s first pyramid. It was what we now call a “step pyramid,” consisting of six terraces some 200 feet (60 m) high.

Saqqara is also the site of many tombs of minor royalty and court officials. These are known as “the tombs of the nobles.” The limestone walls of these structures are delicately incised with images showing all kinds of animals, fish, birds, insects, vegetation, and people hunting, herding, and farming. Some of the pictures still retain their original paint after 4,500 years. The quality of these compositions is proof that the ancient Egyptians quickly attained an artistic culture of a very high order. The sophistication and excellence of their artistry and architectural craftsmanship reached their apotheosis in the development of the pyramids.

Saving Egypts Oldest Pyramid

by National Geographic Channel

The Tombs of the Nobles

Cattle Crossing

Cattle Crossing (etching) Some of the loveliest works of art I have ever seen are to be found at Saqqara, in the tombs of the nobles. The limestone walls are delicately incised with myriads of animals, fish, birds, insects, vegetation and people – hunting, herding and farming. Some of the forms still retain their original paint, after 4,500 years! The quality of these compositions demonstrates that the Egyptians had attained, at an early stage, an artistic culture of a very high order.

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The Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara - History

The Step Pyramid of Djoser is the core of the ancient Saqqara complex. The Pyramid of Djoser is considered to be the first Pyramid in the history of mankind. According to the official version, it was built by the scientist and architector Imhotep. He built it for his master, the king of Upper and Lower Egypt - Djoser Nechericheta.

The Pyramid has a stepped structure. Studying the structure of the Pyramid shows a large number of rebuildings and repairs, which had strongly changed the scale of the whole building. According to the researches of the modern scientists, the whole complex of Djoser, including the Pyramid itself, has undergone a detailed renovation and restoration during the 26-28 Dynasties (Saiss Period). The external features of the Pyramid are described in the December report of the previous expedition. The aim of the March expedition - was exploring the interior of the Pyramid of Djoser.

The internal structure of the Pyramid of Djoser represents a vertical 30 meters Shaft, punched deep into the bedrock. The Shaft has a rectangular section - 10 x 12 meters. Dozens of tunnels, coming from different directions and at the different levels can be seen on the walls of this Shaft. At the bottom of the Shaft, there is a structure of black granite blocks, which occupies almost the entire area of the Shaft basement. This structure is considered to be the external sarcophagus of the King Djoser. It is located not at the very bottom of the Shaft, but on the layer of broken limestone blocks with stars carvings. The contents of this huge box - is still unknown.

From every angle on the walls at the bottom of the Shaft, one can see the tunnels of irregular complex shapes. These tunnels are going on the hundreds meters into the bedrock. We managed to visit the southeast tunnel system. The walls and ceiling there are covered with bas-reliefs with floral ornaments and scenes from the life of the King Djoser. Here we also saw blue glazed tiles, decorating the walls.

A special attention was paid to the design features of the main internal structure of the Pyramid. A huge Shaft has a well processed walls and four 90 degrees angles. Eleven vertical shafts with a square section of 1.5x1.5 meters are cut in the bedrock on the eastern side of the main Shaft of the Pyramid. All these narrow vertical shafts are reaching to the horizontal level of the bottom of the main Shaft. They are connected with the main Shaft of the Pyramid by the horizontal tunnels of the same section 1.5x1.5 meters.

This central structure, described above, is probably the Main Interior of the Pyramid, around which the entire complex was built by Djoser.

A number of tunnels of irregular forms, located around the central Shaft of the Pyramid, were built much later, by another more primitive technologies. Tunnels do not have straight walls and ceilings, and their height varies, forthing one crawl in some places.

The fact of existing of a great number of shafts in Saqqara - is of a special attention. The shafts with a rectangular section 8x10 meters are accompanied by the vertical shafts with the square section of 1.5x1.5m, connected with the main one at their bottom level, as well as we see it in Djoser's case. These shafts, located all over the Saqqara area were used as the tombs, during the XXIV-XXVIII Dynasty (Saiss Period). A good example is the Tomb of General Pedenisis and Amen Tefnakht, located to the east from the Pyramid of Unas.

There is a clear analogy between the buildings of III and XXIV-XXVIII dynasties, what is the real nonsense. It would be logical to assume that these shafts are much older than they are dated by egyptologists, who are basing on the their last application, as the tombs.

Therefore, we assume, that Imhotep just managed to clear one of the largest shafts, found in Saqqara, and has built something like a dome, made of rubble with wooden props and rough limestone blocks, which consequently became a Step Pyramid, which we are watching till our days.

Regarding the presence of the 11 well-processed massive blocks on the bottom of the central Shaft of the Pyramid of Djoser, we can logically assume, that they, probably, remained from the original structure and blocked the entrances to the 11 shafts, mentioned above.

During the present time, the restoration and research works are going inside and outside the Pyramid of Djoser.

For better orientation in the interior of the Pyramid, use the interactive scheme, shown below.

Click on the image of the camera to get a picture of the relevant place.

Southern Entrance to the Pyramid and descending into the Shaft :

Entrance to the one of the tunnels on the northern wall of the shaft.

The descent down the Shaft to the Sarcophagus of King Djoser .

The first photo of the next row shows the south passage to the central Shaft of the Pyramid. The second, third and fourth pictures are showing the lid of the sarcophagus of King Djoser. The last photo shows a passage between the sarcophagus and the wall of the Shaft.

The first photo below shows a cork in the lid of the sarcophagus of Djoser. The following pictures are showing the side tunnels, cut in the bedrock, perpendicular to the central Shaft.

The first three pictures of the row below are showing the wall of the sarcophagus of Djoser.

The first photo below is showing the bas-relief of the King Djoser. It is covered with gauze, because of the restoration work. Other four photos are showing the limestone blocks with the stars carvings. Lets note that unlike the stars, which are decorating the ceiling of the Pyramid of Teti Burial Chamber, the rays of the stars, found in the Pyramid of Djoser are asymmetrically arranged.


Pyramid of Djoser

The pyramid of Djoser itself was first conceived as a large square mastaba, subsequently enlarged in several stages over the course of Djoser’s reign.

The entire structure was originally covered with a casing of fine white limestone. Below the center of the pyramid of Djoser is a large vertical shaft, at the bottom of which lies a granite burial vault.

The vault was sealed with a granite plug weighing some 3.5 tons nevertheless, robbers were able to enter the tomb in antiquity, making off with the king’s treasures.

The Step Pyramid of Djoser

A few mummy fragments were found in the vault in modern times, but carbon-dating has indicated that they are from a much later date than the reign of Djoser.

In addition to the main shaft, eleven smaller vertical shafts lie below the eastern side of the pyramid of Djoser , leading to galleries that extend to the west.

We know from the presence of two intact alabaster sarcophagi, as well as fragments of others, that four of these galleries were used for the burials of royal family members.

The other galleries were filled with stone vessels, some dating to the Early Dynastic era and most likely buried here to associate Djoser with his predecessors.

King’s apartment

The walls of the ‘king’s apartment’ are covered with blue faience tiles laid on a limestone background, imitating a reed-mat façade with niches containing carved scenes depicting the king performing rituals for his Sed-Festival (Jubilee).

Subsidiary structures surround the Step pyramid of Djoser . The South Tomb, the specific function of which is unclear, has a long descending underground corridor that leads to a series of chambers.

Like the ‘king’s apartment’, its walls are lined with blue faience tiles and carved reliefs of the king.

Pyramid of Djoser Facts

A series of “dummy” buildings to the east of the pyramid has been identified as a sed-festival complex was the ritual location for the eternal celebration of the king’s rejuvenation.

The stone architecture of these buildings was carved to represent perishable materials, such as wooden beams and reed matting.

This large pyramid-funerary complex was built for the transformation of the deceased king into a god, and to ensure his well-being in the afterlife through the maintenance of his mortuary cult.


Contents

Early Dynastic Edit

The earliest burials of nobles can be traced back to the First Dynasty, at the northern side of the Saqqara plateau. During this time, the royal burial ground was at Abydos. The first royal burials at Saqqara, comprising underground galleries, date to the Second Dynasty. The last Second Dynasty king, Khasekhemwy, was buried in his tomb at Abydos, but also built a funerary monument at Saqqara consisting of a large rectangular enclosure, known as Gisr el-Mudir. It probably inspired the monumental enclosure wall around the Step Pyramid complex. Djoser's funerary complex, built by the royal architect Imhotep, further comprises a large number of dummy buildings and a secondary mastaba (the so-called 'Southern Tomb'). French architect and Egyptologist Jean-Philippe Lauer spent the greater part of his life excavating and restoring Djoser's funerary complex.

Early Dynastic monuments Edit

  • tomb of king Hotepsekhemwy or Raneb
  • tomb of king Nynetjer , funerary complex of king Sekhemkhet , funerary complex of king Khasekhemwy , funerary complex of king Djoser

Old Kingdom Edit

Nearly all Fourth Dynasty kings chose a different location for their pyramids. During the second half of the Old Kingdom, under the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties, Saqqara was again the royal burial ground. The Fifth and Sixth Dynasty pyramids are not built wholly of massive stone blocks, but instead with a core consisting of rubble. Consequently, they are less well preserved than the world-famous pyramids built by the Fourth Dynasty kings at Giza. Unas, the last ruler of the Fifth Dynasty, was the first king to adorn the chambers in his pyramid with Pyramid Texts. During the Old Kingdom, it was customary for courtiers to be buried in mastaba tombs close to the pyramid of their king. Thus, clusters of private tombs were formed in Saqqara around the pyramid complexes of Unas and Teti.

Old Kingdom monuments Edit

    , tomb of king Shepseskaf (Dynasty Four) of the Fifth Dynasty
  • Pyramid of king Menkauhor
  • Mastaba of Ti
  • Mastaba of the Two Brothers (Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum)
  • Mastaba of Ptahhotep (Dynasty Six)
  • Mastaba of Mereruka
  • Mastaba of Kagemni
  • Pyramid complex of king Pepi II Neferkare (now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York)

First Intermediate Period monuments Edit

Middle Kingdom Edit

From the Middle Kingdom onward, Memphis was no longer the capital of the country, and kings built their funerary complexes elsewhere. Few private monuments from this period have been found at Saqqara.

Second Intermediate Period monuments Edit

New Kingdom Edit

During the New Kingdom Memphis was an important administrative and military centre, being the capital after the Amaran Period. From the Eighteenth Dynasty onward many high officials built tombs at Saqqara. While still a general, Horemheb built a large tomb here, although he later was buried as pharaoh in the Valley of the Kings at Thebes. Other important tombs belong to the vizier Aperel, the vizier Neferrenpet, the artist Thutmose, and the wet-nurse of Tutankhamun, Maia.

Many monuments from earlier periods were still standing, but dilapidated by this period. Prince Khaemweset, son of Pharaoh Ramesses II, made repairs to buildings at Saqqara. Among other things, he restored the Pyramid of Unas and added an inscription to its south face to commemorate the restoration. He enlarged the Serapeum, the burial site of the mummified Apis bulls, and was later buried in the catacombs. The Serapeum, containing one undisturbed interment of an Apis bull and the tomb of Khaemweset, were rediscovered by the French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette in 1851.

New Kingdom monuments Edit

  • Several clusters of tombs of high officials, among which the tombs of Horemheb and of Maya and Merit. Reliefs and statues from these two tombs are on display in the National Museum of Antiquities at Leiden, the Netherlands, and in the British Museum, London.

After the New Kingdom Edit

During the periods after the New Kingdom, when several cities in the Delta served as capital of Egypt, Saqqara remained in use as a burial ground for nobles. Moreover, the area became an important destination for pilgrims to a number of cult centres. Activities sprang up around the Serapeum, and extensive underground galleries were cut into the rock as burial sites for large numbers of mummified ibises, baboons, cats, dogs, and falcons.

Monuments of the Late Period, the Graeco-Roman and later periods Edit

  • Several shaft tombs of officials of the Late Period (the larger part dating to the Ptolemaeic Period)
  • The so-called 'Philosophers circle', a monument to important Greek thinkers and poets, consisting of statues of Hesiod, Homer, Pindar, Plato, and others (Ptolemaeic)
  • Several Coptic monasteries, among which the Monastery of Apa Jeremias (Byzantine and Early Islamic Periods)

Saqqara and the surrounding areas of Abusir and Dahshur suffered damage by looters during the 2011 Egyptian protests. Store rooms were broken into, but the monuments were mostly unharmed. [4] [5]

During routine excavations in 2011 at the dog catacomb in Saqqara necropolis, an excavation team led by Salima Ikram and an international team of researchers led by Paul Nicholson of Cardiff University uncovered almost eight million animal mummies at the burial site next to the sacred temple of Anubis. It is thought that the mummified animals, mostly dogs, were intended to pass on the prayers of their owners to their deities. [6]

"You don't get 8 million mummies without having puppy farms," she says. "And some of these dogs were killed deliberately so that they could be offered. So for us, that seems really heartless. But for the Egyptians, they felt that the dogs were going straight up to join the eternal pack with Anubis. And so they were going off to a better thing" said Salima Ikram. [7] [8]

In July 2018, German-Egyptian researchers’ team head by Ramadan Badry Hussein of the University of Tübingen reported the discovery of an extremely rare gilded burial mask that probably dates from the Saite-Persian period in a partly damaged wooden coffin. The last time a similar mask was found was in 1939. [9] The eyes were covered with obsidian, calcite, and black hued gemstone possibly onyx. "The finding of this mask could be called a sensation. Very few masks of precious metal have been preserved to the present day, because the tombs of most Ancient Egyptian dignitaries were looted in ancient times." said Hussein. [10] [11]

In September 2018, several dozen cache of mummies dating 2,000 years back were found by a team of Polish archaeologists led by Kamil Kuraszkiewicz from the Faculty of Oriental Studies of the University of Warsaw. [12] The Polish-Egyptian expedition works under the auspices of the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology University of Warsaw. [13] Investigations were carried out for over two decades in the area to the west of the Djoser Pyramid. The most important discoveries include the tomb of vizier Merefnebef with a funerary chapel decorated with multi-colored reliefs, which was uncovered in 1997. [14] as well as the tomb of courtier Nyankhnefertem uncovered in 2003. [15] The expedition also explored two necropoles. Archaeologists revealed several dozen graves of noblemen from the period of the 6th Dynasty, dating to the 24th–21st century BC, and 500 graves of indigent people dating approximately to the 6th century BC – 1st century AD. Most of the bodies were poorly preserved and all organic materials, including the wooden caskets, had decayed. [12] [16] [17] The tombs discovered most recently (in 2018) form part of the younger, so-called Upper Necropolis. [18]

Most of the mummies we discovered last season were very modest, they were only subjected to basic embalming treatments, wrapped in bandages and placed directly in pits dug in the sand

The research of the Polish-Egyptian expedition also focuses on the interpretation of the so-called Dry Moat, a vast trench hewn around the Djoser Pyramid. The most recent discoveries confirm the hypothesis that the Dry Moat was a model of the pharaoh's journey to the netherworld, a road the deceased ruler had to follow to attain eternal life. [13] [19] [20]

In November 2018, an Egyptian archaeological mission located seven ancient Egyptian tombs at the ancient necropolis of Saqqara containing a collection of scarab and cat mummies dating back to the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties. [21] Three of the tombs were used for cats, some dating back more than 6,000 years, while one of four other sarcophagi was unsealed. With the remains of cat mummies were unearthed gilded and 100 wooden statues of cats and one in bronze dedicated to the cat goddess Bastet. In addition, funerary items dating back to the 12th Dynasty were found besides the skeletal remains of cats. [22] [23] [24] [25]

In mid-December 2018, the Egyptian government announced the discovery at Saqqara of a previously unknown 4,400-year-old tomb, containing paintings and more than fifty sculptures. It belongs to Wahtye, a high-ranking priest who served under King Neferirkare Kakai during the Fifth Dynasty. [26] The tomb also contains four shafts that lead to a sarcophagus below. [27]

On 13 April 2019, an expedition led by a member of the Czech Institute of Egyptology, Mohamed Megahed, discovered a 4,000-year-old tomb near Egypt's Saqqara Necropolis. Archaeologists confirmed that the tomb belonged to an influential person named Khuwy, who lived in Egypt during the 5th Dynasty. [28] [29] [30] [31] "The L-shaped Khuwy tomb starts with a small corridor heading downwards into an antechamber and from there a larger chamber with painted reliefs depicting the tomb owner seated at an offerings table", reported Megahed. [29] Some paintings maintained their brightness over a long time in the tomb. Mainly made of white limestone bricks, the tomb had a tunnel entrance generally typical for pyramids. [29] Archaeologists say that there might be a connection between Khuwy and pharaoh because the mausoleum was found near the pyramid of Egyptian Pharaoh Djedkare Isesi, who ruled during that time. [28] [30] [29] [31]

On 3 October 2020, Khalid el-Anany, Egypt's tourism and antiquities minister announced the discovery of at least 59 sealed sarcophagi with mummies more than 2,600 years old. Archaeologists also revealed the 20 statues of Ptah-Soker and a carved 35-centimeter tall bronze statue of god Nefertem. [32] [33] [34]

On 19 October 2020, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities announced the discovery of more than 2,500 years of colorful, sealed sarcophagi. The archaeological team unearthed gilded, wooden statues and more than 80 coffins. [35] [36]

In November 2020, archaeologists unearthed more than 100 delicately painted wooden coffins and 40 funeral statues. The sealed, wooden coffins, some containing mummies, date as far back as 2,500 years. Other artifacts discovered include funeral masks, canopic jars and amulets. [37] According to Khaled el-Anany, tourism and antiquities minister, the items date back to the Ptolemaic dynasty. One of the coffins was opened and a mummy was scanned with an X-ray, determining it was most likely a man about the age of 40. Another burial site 2100 BC was found a whole family was buried considered to be a rich person's found by his weak bone structure, death determined to be malaria. [38]

“This discovery is very important because it proves that Saqqara was the main burial of the 26th Dynasty,” said Zahi Hawass, an Egyptologist and Egypt's former Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs. [39] [40]

In January 2021, The tourism and antiquities ministry announced the discovery of more than 50 wooden sarcophagi in 52 burial shafts which date back to the New Kingdom period, each around 30 to 40 feet deep and a 13 ft-long papyrus that contains texts from the Chapter 17 of Book of the Dead. Papyrus scroll written in hieroglyphics belonged to a man named Bu-Khaa-Af whose name is written on it. His name can also be seen on his sarcophagus and on four wood-and-ceramic figurines called ushabtis. [41] [42]

A team of archaeologists led by Zahi Hawass also found the funerary temple of Naert or Narat and warehouses made of bricks. [43] [44] [45] Researchers also revealed that Narat’s name engraved on a fallen obelisk near the main entrance. Previously unknown to researchers, Naert was a wife of Teti, the first king of the sixth dynasty. [46]


3 Confounding Discoveries Made Near Egypt’s Oldest Pyramid

An aerial image of the Saqqara necropolis and the Step Pyramid of Djoser. Shutterstock.

Egypt’s oldest pyramid is a treasure trove of history. Although we have no ancient texts that mention its exact construction date, Egyptologists infer, based on historical data, that the Step Pyramid at Saqqara is Egypt’s oldest pyramid.

Experts argue that during the Third Dynasty of Egypt, a revolution took place in architecture.

King Djoser had among his many servants a young man called Imhotep. He was Djoser’s Royal vizier and architect. Early in his reign, Djoser had commissioned Imhotep to build a monument at a royal necropolis called Saqqara.

It wasn’t the first monument Djoser had commissioned, but it would become his most impressive and most important. Northwest of Memphis, the Step Pyramid of Djoser, was a revolutionary construction.

Generally acknowledged as the oldest monumental structure constructed of dressed masonry, the Step Pyramid underwent a series of revolutionizing construction phases.

That’s because experts argue Imhotep most likely envisioned the monument not as a Step Pyramid in the beginning but more as a morphed mastaba.

After choosing the exact location where the monument would stand, Imhotep order the builders to dig into the bedrock at Saqqara and create a shaft inside the rock, 28 meters deep and seven meters square.

This excavation resulted in the first step towards creating the monument above the surface. At the bottom of the shaft, the builders were tasked with creating chambers and rooms.

Mainstream Egyptologists agree that the pyramid and its above-ground elements were built in several phases.

Egyptologist Jean-Philippe Lauer, the main excavator at Saqqara, has revealed that in total, there were six stages through which the pyramid was built: M1-M2-M3-P1-P1′-P2.

Assuming this theory is the correct one, it would suggest a major expansion took place at the construction site every three years. If we divide the six stages into 19 years that King Djoser is thought to have ruled over Egypt.

The Pyramid of Djoser is believed to have initially had the shape of a square mastaba, which was gradually enlarged. The first step involved expanding the structure on all four sides, and later additions saw the builders add just on the eastern side of the structure.

The mastaba of Djoser was constructed in two distinct phases. The first saw the structure adopt a four-stepped shape, and then a six-stepped structure which a rectangular base positioned on an east-west axis.

Since Djoser’s mastaba at Saqqara was initially square, any experts have theories that the monument was therefore never meant to be–in its final shape– a mastaba since there are no square mastabas in Egypt.

However, since there are no ancient texts, blueprints, or anything recorded when the monument was built, we can’t possibly know what the architect had in mind when he started building the structure.

For all we know, he may have desired to build the first square mastaba in Egypt but eventually opted for a much taller, superimposed structure.

He may also have initially planned to build the pyramid as he did.

However, experts who have excavated Saqqara and its famous pyramid argue that the structure evolved progressively. When the builders began transforming the square mastaba into the step pyramid, the structure underwent a major construction shift.

They built a crude core of rough stones and decided to case them in fine limestone with packing in between.

However, this phase had a major construction difference: in mastaba construction, the courses were laid horizontally, but for the pyramid layers, the builders opted for accretion layers that leaned inwards with stone blocks that were much bigger and of better quality.

The final construction phase saw the Step pyramid measure 140 meters from east to west and around 120 meters from north t south. The pyramid rose to the sky, standing 60 meters high. The entire pyramid of Djoser had a total volume of 330,400 cubic meters (11,667,966 cu ft).

The Step Pyramid of Djoser revolutionized architecture in ancient Egypt. The entire pyramid complex, its temples, and statues were surrounded by a massive limestone wall, 10.5 meters high and 1,645 meters long, encompassing a total area of around 15ha, comparable in size to a large town from the third millennium BC.

Djoser made sure to leave his imprint in history by erecting the pyramid complex. But although it might be expected that his successor would surpass the technical and artistic achievements, this was not the case. The monuments of Djoser, which stand proud at the edge of the western plateau overlooking the capital, inspired future kings of Egypt.

It might perhaps be expected that t long line of similar, Step Pyramid complexes would follow Djoser’s. Although many specific elements were taken by future generations, the rectangular step pyramid complex and the Step Pyramid did not endure in Egyptian history.

Shutterstock.

The pyramid of Pharaoh Sekhemkhet at Saqqara was an attempt to build another complex, but soon after the project began, it was abandoned.

The Layer Pyramid of Zawiyet el-Aryan is another third dynasty attempt to build a step pyramid complex and another that failed. Had this pyramid be completed, it would have risen in five steps to a height of no more than 45 meters.

In fact, it wasn’t until the Fourth Dynasty reign of King Sneferu that Egypt would see the birth of another pyramid, and in many ways, Meidum is the most mysterious of all great pyramids.

Embedded within the puzzles of the ancient pyramid and its nearby necropolis are events that transformed Archaic Egypt into the classic Old Kingdom Pyramid Age.

When Sneferu became king around 2575 BC (according to Manetho), Djoser’s was the only Pyramid that stood complete. Sneferu would eventually become the greatest pyramid-builder in Egyptian history. He constructed three impressive pyramids resulting in a total mass of stone that exceeds even that of his son and successor Khufu in Giza’s Great Pyramid.

Although Meidum and Dahshur saw the rise of Egypt’s transformed pyramids that eventually laid down the foundation for the construction of Egypt’s most impressive pyramid, Saqqara is where the magic lies.

Hidden beneath the royal Necropolis’s golden sands are many secrets that had remained hidden since before history was written.

One of the most confounding discoveries at Saqqara and not far from Djoser’s Step Pyramid are the remnants of two ancient pyramids.

The buried pyramid and the layer pyramid of Zawiyet el-Aryan are two ancient structures believed to have been commissioned by the pharaohs that succeeded Djoser. It is believed that both Sekhemkhet and Khaba wanted to build a complex just like that of Djoser. However, for reasons that remain unclear, neither the pyramid of Sekhemkhet nor that of Khaba was completed.

Sekhemkhet’s sarcophagus is believed to have been found beneath his uncompleted monument and is unique of all ancient sarcophagi in Egypt: it was made of a single piece of stone with a sliding door at one end. The sarcophagus was sealed with mortar. However, once opened by experts, it was found to be empty.

The Layer Pyramid is a greater mystery. Experts are unsure as to who had commissioned it. However, one of the vases of a nearby mastaba to the pyramid had the Horus name of Khaba inscribed on it, leading experts to believe the Layer Pyramid was his. Experts discovered no burial.

The third confounding discovery is directly beneath the Step Pyramid. And rather than what experts found, it’s what they didn’t find. Although the Step pyramid of Djoser was completed in his lifetime, and Egyptologists say the pyramids were tombs, once the underground chambers beneath the pyramid were accessed, archaeologists never found the mummified remains of Djoser.

It remains a profound mystery as to why the mummies of Djoser, Sekhemkhet, and Khaba were not discovered beneath their respective monuments. Another mystery is why Djoser chose to construct a massive 5.7-kilometer-long underground world beneath his pyramid.


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