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article imageStep pyramid predating Giza's Great Pyramid uncovered in Egypt

By Karen Graham     Feb 4, 2014 in Science
To date, 138 pyramids have been found in Egypt, almost all of them on the west bank of the River Nile, and all of them in "pyramid fields." Recently uncovered "step" pyramids have Egyptologists unsure of their function, as they had no burial chambers.
The ancient settlement of Edfu, in southern Egypt, is where archaeologists have uncovered one of seven step pyramids, believed to date back 4,600 years, predating the Great Pyramid of Giza by at least three decades.
Gregory Marouard, a research associate with the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute led a team working at the Edfu pyramid. The results of the findings were presented by Dr. Marouard at a symposium held in Toronto, Canada recently by the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities (SSEA) on January 11, 2014.
The step pyramid, which once stood 43 feet high, is one of seven "provincial" pyramids built by Huni, an ancient Egyptian king, and the last pharaoh of the 3rd dynasty during Old Kingdom period in Egypt. Some archaeologists also attribute these pyramids to King Sheferu, believed to be Huni's son.
Granite head of an Old Kingdom pharaoh  thought to represent Huni. Circa 2650-2600 B.C.
Granite head of an Old Kingdom pharaoh, thought to represent Huni. Circa 2650-2600 B.C.
Keith Schengili-Roberts
Absence of a burial chamber raises questions
Today the step pyramid is only 16 feet in height, owing to weathering and the pillage of the stones for other building projects. The provincial pyramids were all built near large settlements, and had no internal chambers of any sort. Six of the seven provincial pyramids have similar dimensions, including the one at Edfu, being 60 x 61 feet.
The absence of a burial chamber in these pyramids has stumped archaeologists for years. One possible, and perhaps logical, explanation may be that they were monuments to a royal cult meant to affirm the power of the king. Evidence suggests the structure was only used for about 50 years, and then it was abandoned.
This sort of ancient religious belief was prevalent in the southern region of the country at that time. This explanation is based on the finding of the remains of a food installation on the east side of the pyramid. The remains of women and children were also found at the base of the pyramid, along with hieroglyphic graffiti scrawled on the rock surfaces. Based on the dating of the remains and the graffiti, these burials were long after the pyramid was constructed.
Courtyard in the Temple of Osiris  Abu Sir (Taposiris magna)  Egypt.
Courtyard in the Temple of Osiris, Abu Sir (Taposiris magna), Egypt.
Roland Unger
Abandonment of provincial pyramids
The step pyramid was built of sandstone and clay mortar, and was actually three-steps, similar to the step pyramid built by Djoser (reign ca. 2670-2640 B.C.). The Meidum pyramid also has similar construction, and started out as a step pyramid, but was eventually turned into a true pyramid. Meidum pyramid is also attributed to Huni or Snefru. But the step pyramids in southern Egypt would soon be abandoned.
By the time of the reign of Khufu (ca. 2590-2563 B.C.), the builder of the Great Pyramid at Giza, the provincial pyramids in southern Egypt had been abandoned. Apparently, Khufu no longer felt those pyramids were needed as proof of his sovereignty in the south, and his kingdom appeared to be politically secure. Besides, there was a new center of the kingdom, Memphis, and the Great Pyramid was close by.
Marouard, in an email to Live Science, said, The "center of gravity of Egypt was then at Memphis for many centuries — this region draining resources and manpower from the provinces, all regions being put to use for the large construction sites of funerary complexes."
More about edfu, Egypt, step pyramids, 3rd dynasty, burial chambers
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