Most Egyptian pharaohs possessed only a single tomb, leaving little doubt as to where they were buried. But Senwosret III belongs to a small group of pharaohs who built multiple tombs. How were is different tombs used and where was he actually buried?
Like all of his predecessors in the 12th Dynasty, Senwosret III built a pyramid complex in northern Egypt, at Dahshur, just south of Memphis. Senwosret III’s pyramid is considered by many Egyptologists to be his logical burial place. In contrast, his second tomb, the mortuary complex at South Abydos, is generally considered to be a royal cenotaph—a symbolic tomb associating him with Osiris.
Since 1990 the pyramid at Dahshur has been the focus of excavations by the Egyptian Department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met’s expedition has revealed a large and complex site with burials of royal women and nearby tombs of high officials from the reign of Senwosret III. The pharaoh’s tomb beneath the pyramid, however, appears to be entirely unused, contrasting dramatically with the extensive techniques used inside the tomb at Abydos to protect the royal sarcophagus. Our recent investigations provide strong evidence that Senwosret III was buried beneath the Mountain-of-Anubis rather than at Dahshur.
Why did this pharaoh build two tombs, and why might he have chosen to be buried at Abydos? An inscribed stela set up by Senwosret III’s treasurer, Ikhernofret, might provide a clue. Dating to Year 19 of Senwosret III’s reign, this object discusses a royal commission to completely renovate the temple of Osiris at Abydos. Since the main phase of construction of the Dahshur pyramid had already been completed by this date, it is possible that Senwosret III’s personal interest in the cult of Osiris—which may have intensified over time—led him to build his tomb and mortuary complex at Abydos. Another stela erected by Nebipusenwosret, one of his officials, at Abydos after the pharaoh’s death was intended to “witness the divine beauty of king Khakaure-Senwosret.” Does this imply that Senwosret III’s final resting place was indeed Abydos?
Although many questions remain, we hope that continued explorations at Dahshur and South Abydos will provide further perspective on why this pharaoh built two tombs—a traditional pyramid and an innovative subterranean tomb—and in which it now appears probable he was buried.