Excavations at Meydûm

Originally Published in 1931

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THE Museum’s expedition at Meydûm, Egypt, under the direction of Mr. Alan Rowe, has entered upon its second season and work has been in progress for some time. Meydûm is the site, about fifty miles south of Cairo, of the Fourth Dynasty pyramid of Seneferu which rises in several stage to a present height of about two hundred and fifty feet above the surrounding plain.

View of cemetery being excavated with the pyramid in the background
Plate VI — Fourth Dynasty Cemetery at Meydûm, Egypt, with Pyramid of Seneferu in Background
Image Number: 35921

Last year our expedition made notable progress: the pyramid passages and chamber were entirely cleared and three sides of the exterior of the pyramid were partially cleared; the pyramid temple, a small structure built against the east face of the pyramid, was thoroughly examined; and the causeway, leading from the temple to another temple (not yet found) in the valley below, was excavated for its entire length. In addition to this, important discoveries were made in connection with the construction and burials of the large mastabah just to the northeast of the pyramid [Plate VII], and various tombs of all periods were also examined in different parts of the expedition’s concession. A complete report of last year’s work on the pyramid, the temple, and the causeway, will be published in the next number of the Museum Journal.

Excavated graves
Plate VII — Intrusive Graves in the End of the Large Mastabah at Meydûm, Egypt

We have recently received an extensive report on the results that have been achieved so far this year, and it is with gratification that we are able to announce two discoveries of the first importance as well as to report on the general progress of the work. Of the greatest interest is the finding of a sarcophagus chamber of a son of Seneferu which has been revealed in a mastabah tomb adjoining that of Nefert and Rā-Hotep and one of a group some distance to the northeast of the pyramid. The entire chamber is lined with masonry blocks, and on the east, south, and west walls are inscriptions reading: ‘The King’s Son, Ny-Hep.’ One of these inscriptions is shown in Plate VIII. Ny-Hep means literally, ‘He who belongs to the god Apis’, and is a name quite unknown up to now. The mother of Seneferu, however, was called Ny-Maāt-Hep (literally, ‘Truth belongs to the god Apis’); the similarity of the two names tends to confirm the assumption that Prince Ny-Hep was the son of Seneferu and the grandson of Ny-Maāt-Hep and also affords further evidence that Seneferu was indeed the king who built the Meydûm pyramid.

Of hardly less importance is the discovery of a massive, red granite sarcophagus [Plate IX], entirely complete and unbroken, dating from the Fourth Dynasty. This find was made by following a tunnel leading to the southern sarcophagus chamber of the great mastabah near the pyramid. The chamber is a magnificent piece of work and was built around the sarcophagus which is far too large to pass through the doorway. The roofing block of the chamber is estimated to weigh about thirty tons, while the sarcophagus itself weighs approximately twelve tons. It measures approximately seven and a half feet long, five and a quarter feet wide, and three and a quarter feet high without the granite lid. It is thus considerably larger than the great sarcophagus of Cheops found at Giza, which, furthermore, lacks a lid. It has not been determined whose massive tomb this was; perhaps the answer may be revealed after further excavations have been made.

Hieroglyphs raised on a wall
Plate VIII — Inscription on Wall of Sarcophagus Chamber of Ny-Hep, Meydûm, Egypt
Image Number: 36297

In addition to clea1ing out a Fourth Dynasty cemetery [Plate VI], containing a great number of crouched burials, and searching for the northern chamber of the large mastabah whose southern chamber contained the granite sarcophagus, extensive work has also been done in a Graeco-Roman cemetery east of the group of mastabahs which include that of Ny-Hep. This cemetery is of importance by reason of the evidence it affords that a considerable population existed at Meydûm in Roman times. No doubt these people were chiefly the immediate descendants of the inhabitants of the place Moithymis (Meydûm), known to us from the Greek papyri of the Ptolemaic era.

Most of the Graeco-Roman tombs are entered by a passage leading into a hall; in the sides of the hall itself are various burial places of the loculus type; the burials are either in rock-cut slots, generally roofed over with slabs, or, more rarely, in limestone sarcophagi or pottery coffins. It is interesting to note that, in accordance with the custom of the times, the funerary objects were placed as a rule not in the loculi, but in the passages or halls, a custom directly contrary to the Ancient Egyptian one of placing objects in the graves with the mummies themselves.

The halls of the Roman tombs were doubtless used, as was always the case elsewhere than at Meydûm, as the apartments where the relatives of the deceased met for a funeral repast on the days sacred to the worship of the dead: days such as dies rosae, the Day of Roses, dies violae, the Day of Violets, and so on. Absent from the Meydûm tombs are the three couches, cut in the solid rock, which were covered with mattresses at the time of each meeting, and the wooden table which was placed between the couches. However, there seems to be no doubt whatever that funeral repasts were carried out in the Meydûm tombs of the Roman period.

A man standing next to a giant rectangular sarcophagus with the lid ajar
Plate IX — Red Granite Sarcophagus from the Large Mastabah at Meydûm, Egypt
Image Number: 36253

Cite This Article

"Excavations at Meydûm." Museum Bulletin II, no. 6 (April, 1931): 190-194. Accessed July 23, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/bulletin/769/

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