A New Expedition to Egypt

By: H. H. F. Jayne

Originally Published in 1929

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THE MUSEUM is pleased to announce that it is about to resume archæological work in Egypt. An expedition has been formed under the leadership of Mr. Alan Rowe and in November next it will begin work at Medum, a site which offers great possibilities not only for fresh contributions to existing knowledge in Egyptian research—always the principal aim of any archæological work—but as well for interesting and valuable material. The Expedition will be carried on under the auspices of the Eckley Brinton Coxe, Jr., Foundation, established for the support of the Egyptian Section and for the furtherance of field work in Egypt. The Museum is of course greatly in debt to the Egyptian Government for its permission to carry forward the intended excavation and wishes at this time to give recognition to those who have cooperated so courteously in this regard.

Previous excavations at Medum have been made by Professor Maspero in 1881-1882 and by Professor Petrie in 1891 and 1909-1910. It is intended that the forthcoming expedition will largely extend the work of these earlier excavations. Mr. Rowe has outlined the situation, history, and possibilities of this site in the following paragraphs which will serve to indicate briefly the work planned for the coming season.

“Medum lies in the Libyan desert, roughly between the northern end of the Fayyum and the River Nile, some fifty odd miles south of Cairo. To the north of Medum and in the following order from south to north, lie the following Ancient and Middle Empire pyramid sites: Lisht, Dahshur, Sakkara, Abusir, Zawiet el-Aryan, Gizeh, and Abu Roash, the last mentioned being a few miles to the west of Cairo. To the south of Medum are the Middle Empire pyramid sites of Illahun and Hawara. All these sites really form one continuous royal cemetery nearly sixty miles in length on the western side of the Nile.

“As we shall see later, Medum apparently consists chiefly of a Fourth Dynasty site, dating onwards from about 2930 B. c. The most important structure visible is a great pyramid of three, originally seven, square receding stories which according to Professor Steindorff, rise to a height of two hundred and fourteen feet eight inches in steep stages at an angle of seventy-four degrees ten minutes or, according to another authority, seventy-three degrees thirty minutes. The first story is eighty-one feet six inches high, the second ninety-eight feet eleven inches, and the third, now almost destroyed, is thirty-four feet three inches high. Professor Petrie points out that the pyramid was built cumulatively— ‘that is to say, in [seven] successive coats each of which bore a finished dressed face’ around a central mastabah tomb. He states that the stepped stories were originally filled out in a smooth slope from top to bottom at a different angle to the coatings; this outer filling or casing was removed at an early date, perhaps by Rameses II. Owing to its storied appearance the pyramid is called by the Arabs El-Haram el-Kaddab, that is, ‘The False Pyramid.’ The entrance to the pyramid is far above the ground level on the north side, whence a passage slopes downwards to the sarcophagus chamber which is situated in about the centre of the base portion of the structure. Fragments of a plain wooden sarcophagus, perhaps forming part of the original royal burial, were found in the chamber.

“On the east side of the pyramid is a small temple, which consists of a rectangular building with an entrance passage at the east leading into a centre chamber. A door in the western wall of the chamber opens into the inner sanctuary, the back wall of which is formed by the sloping face of the first story of the pyramid. The sanctuary contains an altar and two uninscribed stelæ.

“Enclosing the pyramid and the temple is a wall, now in ruins, which has a door in that part of it which is opposite to the entrance of the pyramid temple. The door leads from the temple enclosure out on to a causeway running downwards into the valley to the east of the pyramid and temple. By analogy with other Ancient Empire pyramid sites we must assume that there is a temple at the lower end of the causeway, but this has not yet been found. Some magnificent statuettes came from the valley temple of Mycerinus at Gizeh when it was unearthed some years ago by Dr. Reisner of the Harvard-Boston Expedition. Just to the east of the causeway and running diagonally downwards from near the top of it to the valley below is an approach; according to Mr. Wainwright, who found it while working with Professor Petrie at Medum, this approach was apparently filled in before the pyramid was completed. It was perhaps the road upon which the stone quarried in the hills on the opposite side of the Nile was hauled up to the pyramid site. The pyramid temple, the peribolus wall, the causeway, and the approach at Medum are now covered up by the sands of the desert, and will be cleared by us during the course of our work this year.

“From various graffiti made in its temple by visiting scribes during the Middle and New Empires we gather that the Medum pyramid was erected by king Seneferu, although a certain eminent modern authority believes it may have been made by Huni, the predecessor of Seneferu. One of these graffiti reads: Thrice beautiful (neferu) is the name of king Seneferu.’ This sentence contains a play on words, for Seneferu actually means ‘Making Beautiful.’ A most interesting graffito in the temple is one dated in the forty-first year of the reign of Thothmes III (1501-1447 B. c.). This has been published by Dr. Griffith and reads: ‘ The scribe Aa-kheper-ka-Ra-senb, son of Amen-mesu, the scribe and reader of the deceased king Aa-kheper-ka-Ra (Thothmes I), came here to see the beautiful temple of the Horus [king] Seneferu: he found it like heaven within when the sun-god is rising in it : and he exclaimed ‘The heaven rains with fresh frankincense and drops incense upon the roof of the temple of the Horus king Seneferu’. And he says, ‘O every scribe, every reader, every priest, who reads this inscription, and all people who hear it, as ye would win the favour of your local deities, transmit your offices to your children, and be buried in the necropolis of the god Ptah . . . on the west [of Memphis], after old age and long life on earth—so say ye: May the king give an offering, and may Osiris . . . the god of Abydos, and Ra-Harmachis, and Atem, the god of Heliopolis, and Amen-Ra the king of the gods, and Anubis . . . who dwells in the place of embalmment . . . give offerings. May they grant a thousand loaves of bread, a thousand jars of beer, a thousand oxen, a thousand fowls, a thousand offerings, . . . a thousand of every good and pure thing that heaven gives, that the earth produces, that the Nile brings from its source, to the ka of the Horus king Seneferu.’

“We know from private tomb inscriptions of the Fourth Dynasty that Seneferu had two pyramids each called Kha-Seneferu (literally, ‘Seneferu has appeared’), one of which was sometimes referred to as the ‘Southern Pyramid Kha-Seneferu’. It has been shown by Dr. Borchardt that one of these pyramids is the northern stone pyramid at Dahshur, not far from Medum, for he found a pyramid-city of Seneferu at the end of its causeway and also a decree of Pepi I of the Sixth Dynasty confirming certain rights of the inhabitants of that city. In view of the references to Seneferu in the graffiti translated above, the mention of a district named ‘Nurse of Seneferu’ in a contemporary mastabah near the Medum pyramid, and the generally accepted idea that there seems to be no other pyramid available which could be regarded as the ‘Southern Pyramid Kha-Seneferu’ except the Medum one, the connexion of Seneferu with Medum seems at present to be fairly well established; perhaps our excavations will enable us to settle the question of identification. A statuette bearing the title ‘ Overseer of the Two Pyramids Kha-Seneferu’ is said to have come from the site. Also, Professor Petrie found at Medum the base of a statuette of a woman which bore an inscription mentioning Djed-Seneferu, a place in which, according to the Westcar Papyrus, lived a magician in the time of Cheops, the son of Seneferu. The papyrus informs us that the magician ‘ is a townsman of 110 years, and he eateth five hundred loaves of bread, a haunch of beef in the way of meat, and drinketh one hundred jugs of beer, unto this very day! He knoweth how to put on again a head that hath been cut off, and he knoweth how to make a lion follow after him, with its leash trailing on the ground.’ Djed-Seneferu is doubtless the district of Medum itself. The same papyrus also gives us details of how another magician amused king Seneferu when he was sad on one occasion by taking him out for a row on a lake. One of the maidens who rowed the boat happened to drop a malachite pendant in the water, whereupon the magician piled up the water at one end of the lake and recovered the pendant. This story reminds us of the dividing of the waters for the Israelites, as referred to in Exodus, xiv, 16-22.

“The Medum pyramid seems to have been the third of the great completed pyramids in order of date constructed in Egypt, the first being that of Zoser at Sakkara, the second possibly that of Kha-ba(?) at Zawiet el-Aryan (both of the Third Dynasty), the fourth that of Seneferu at Dahshur, and the fifth that of Cheops at Gizeh (both of the Fourth Dynasty). Nefer-ka (or Huni?) a king of the Third Dynasty commenced a pyramid at Zawiet el-Aryan, but never completed it. It was the famous Imhotep, the master-architect of Zoser, who erected the oldest Sakkara pyramid and its wonderful temple (recently found by Mr. Firth of the Service des Antiquités), and who had, as pointed out by Dr. Reisner, ‘apparently translated for the first time the highly developed crude-brick architecture of that period into finely dressed small blocks of limestone. In the Fourth Dynasty, a few generations later, the unknown architects of Seneferu and Cheops had substituted massive blocks of limestone for the small blocks of Imhotep, and had also begun the translation of the limestone architecture into granite.’

“At Medum are many tombs of various periods including mastabahs belonging to Ra-hetep and Nefer-Maat the sons of the king who built the pyramid. Two magnificent statues of Ra-hetep and his wife Nefert are among the finest treasures of their kind in the Cairo Museum, while in the University Museum there is a painted fresco from the tomb of Nefer-Maat.

“Summing up, therefore, we have at Medum a royal pyramid site founded probably at the commencement of the Fourth Dynasty by Seneferu the first really great king of Egypt. Seneferu worked mines in Sinai; built vessels nearly one hundred and seventy feet long for traffic on the Nile; sent a fleet of forty vessels to the Syrian coast to procure cedar logs from the Lebanons; and made raids from Egypt southwards to the land of the Nubians and southwestwards to the land of the Libyans. The greater part of our knowledge of the events of his reign is obtained from inscriptions of later date, such as the text on the famous Palermo Stela of the Fifth Dynasty which contains the annals of the early rulers of Egypt.

“The length of the reign of Seneferu is unknown, but it was probably from twenty-four to thirty-two years. He died about 2900 B. c., and was succeeded by his son Cheops, who built the great Pyramid at Gizeh. According to the inscriptions Seneferu had three queens, Merit-ites, Meres-ankh, and Hetep-heres I, the mother of Cheops. The transferred burial of Queen Hetep-heres was found in a secret tomb at Gizeh, in the commencement of the year 1925, by the Harvard-Boston Expedition. Her original tomb has not so far been identified. The eldest son of Seneferu was Ka-nefer who was buried at Dahshur; it was probably due to intrigues of some kind that on the death of their father, Cheops and not Ka-nefer ascended to the throne. The eldest daughter of Seneferu was Nefert-kau, who was buried at Gizeh near the pyramid of Cheops, her brother and husband.

“From the foregoing it will have been seen that Medum is a most important site, and it is to be hoped that its forthcoming excavation by the UNIVERSITY MUSEUM will provide much new light upon the period representing the end of the Third and the beginning of the Fourth Dynasty of Ancient Egypt. Very shortly, therefore, the fragrant rains from heaven will again be able to drop down upon the ‘beautiful temple’ of the king, while in the inner sanctuary where the prayers to Anubis and to Ra were chanted nearly four thousand nine hundred years before our time, there will resound the strange cries of the Arab workmen. Seneferu really needs none of the colossal monuments left by him to perpetuate his memory, for his recorded achievements alone stand as a witness for all ages to his greatness.”

It is certain that those interested in the work of the MUSEUM will eagerly follow the results of the excavations at Medum, now under the direction of Mr. Rowe. It is naturally a great satisfaction to have the MUSEUM once more actively concerned in the field of Egyptian archæology where its earlier work, also carried on under the Eckley Brinton Coxe, Jr. Foundation, accomplished so much in the past.

H. H. F. J.

Cite This Article

Jayne, H. H. F.. "A New Expedition to Egypt." The Museum Journal XX, no. 2 (June, 1929): 114-118. Accessed February 21, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/journal/9215/

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