V. The Pyramid Temple, Silo, and Causeway

The Eckley B. Coxe, Jr., Expedition Excavations at Meydûm, 1929-30

By: Alan Rowe

Originally Published in 1931

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A. The Pyramid Temple

The temple on the eastern face of the pyramid discovered in 1891 by Professor Petrie was not completely cleared by him, wherefore it was decided to uncover and thoroughly examine this important building, perhaps the most interesting part of the pyramid complex. We found the temple covered with an immense amount of debris, part of which was thrown down intentionally by Petrie in order to preserve the building from destruction by stone-robbers, and the other part, that over the roof and against the east and north sides, accumulated since about the Twentieth Dynasty. The undisturbed debris could easily be recognized by the white colour of the stone chips, by regular stratification, and above all by the untouched burials found in several places and already dealt with in the last chapter.

After the débris bad been cleared down to the rock surface between the temple and the head of the causeway [see Plate XII], we noticed that the rack sloped slightly downwards towards the temple, and that it had a slight, perhaps natural dip, running from north to south, about half way between the two above-mentioned points. In places near the east side of the temple were signs of the original mud-plaster floor. A layer of blown sand mixed with pieces of limestone, about half a metre thick, covered the rock floor in front of the temple; above this, and roughly between a point a little to the east of the temple door and the west side of the rock dip, was a thick layer of black charcoal dust containing many pieces of burnt wood, several fragments of bowls and dishes, a broken goblet and a pot-stand, all of crude red ware, with black centre, and all blackened by fire. Below the fireplace itself, which we found, were some Fourth Dynasty model offering dishes and fragments of crude hand-made jars. Mixed up with the black layer and also in the sand in the corresponding level to the north of it was a quantity of cow and sheep dung. The big blocks and debris thrown down by the pyramid stone-robbers were above this layer. Taking all these finds into consideration, it is obvious that for some period of its history the temple had been used as a habitation, doubtless by shepherds. Its ceilings are considerably blackened in places, as if by smoke. Moreover, a silo was found near its southeast corner; this will be described later. Since Petrie discovered an intrusive burial, which he dates Eighteenth Dynasty, in the entrance passage of the temple, it is quite certain that the temple was not used as a habitation after this interment was made. Petrie states [42 : I, 9, 34] “The temple contained about two feet of blown sand. It was evident that the courtyard had been blocked between the Twelfth and Eighteenth Dynasties, as all the later graffiti were within the light of the outer door, and pieces of burnt papyrus plant strewed the chamber floor, having been taken in by persons wishing to see the blocked doorway into the courtyard, which we found much smoked. In this sand in the passage was an interment of the Eighteenth Dynasty, with some [blue] beads, two small bronze lance heads, and some pomegranates and nuts. This burial explains why I found the outer doorway carefully blocked with pieces of stone; evidently the passage was looked on as a convenient sepulchre, and the door was blocked, and covered with rubbish. . . . In the sand in the passage were a few objects probably of the Fourth Dynasty. Four stone hawks and one in blue glazed pottery seem to refer to the worship of ‘the Horus Seneferu,’ as he is called in the inscription here.1 The most interesting piece is the base of a statuette in hard black serpentine . . . dedicated to the gods of a town called Ded-Seneferu by a woman named Snefru-Khati. [This dates from the Twelfth Dynasty.] The lower part of a basalt stand was also found, in the courtyard.” Petrie was of the opinion that the date of the latest graffito in the temple is the Eighteenth Dynasty, but M. Černý informs me (through Mr. Gunn) that apart from those of the Maspero Eighteenth Dynasty, apparently five of the graffiti belong to the Nineteenth Dynasty and at least one to the Twentieth. If this is the case, it may perhaps mean that we must revise the dating of the intrusive burial in the passage to at least the Twentieth Dynasty, for in view of the fact that the blocking in the door was found intact by Petrie, it is not likely that the latest graffito was made after the interment; we can scarcely imagine a visitor carefully replacing the stones after he had once removed them! It seems reasonable to believe, therefore, that the temple could not have been used as a habitation after the Twentieth Dynasty and it is probable, further, that it was not so used during the preceding two dynasties, since the veneration of the king was at that time greatly in vogue locally. We may now see whether or no it is possible to establish the approximate time when the shepherds lived in the temple. The statuette found in the passage shows that the temple was still used for sacerdotal purposes during the Twelfth Dynasty,2 while the dung of the cattle, the fireplace, and so forth were found lying near the rock level outside the temple and immediately above the model offering dishes and jars of the Fourth Dynasty. Taking these finds into consideration, therefore, it seems that the temple was lived in by people some time in the period between its abandonment by the priests of the Fourth Dynasty and the beginning of the Twelfth Dynasty. From the fact that during the Fifth Dynasty, as we have already seen, various priests looked after the two pyramids of Seneferu; from the existence of the decree concerning Seneferu’s two pyramid-towns issued by Pepi I of the Sixth Dynasty; and from the presence in the Meydûm temple of the two Wenen-neferu names of Seneferu of about the Sixth Dynasty — it may be assumed that the earliest date for the habitation was evidently the Sixth Dynasty. It possibly took place during the First Intermediate Period (Seventh to Tenth Dynasties), when the pyramid appears to have been first robbed and, perhaps, partly destroyed. That the silo remained more or less intact to the present day may be accounted for by assuming that not long after it ceased to be used by the early shepherds, it became gradually covered up by débris.

The temple [Plate XI] consists of a small building built against, but not bonded into, the east face of the pyramid; its outside base-measurements as shown in the elevations are 900 centimetres at the sides and 918 centimetres in front. Its maximum height, from the top of the foundation course to the top of the roof, is 270 centimetres. The exterior faces of the outer walls have a slight batter which improves the general appearance of the building. As will be seen from the plate, the masons never completed their work, for they left some of the lower courses undressed. On the roof is the incised emblem of the “Vigorous” quarry gang [Plate VI]. The walls were made of blocks of unequal heights which meant greater solidity for the temple when it was completed.3 When finished, a mud-plaster floor was laid around the building and inside the passage and chamber at a height just sufficient to cover the tops of the foundation stones; the floor of the offering court was paved with stone. The temple is the oldest complete stone building of its kind in existence. In Plate IX will be found details of the earliest known use of stone in tombs, and so forth, from which we see that the first time the material was employed was for the floor of the tomb of King Udimu of the First Dynasty, which was made of granite. Next comes a reference in the Palermo Stone to a stone temple of a king who, Breasted [8 : 42] thinks, was Sendi, the last king of the Second Dynasty, and who Hall [77 : I, 276] thinks was king Nynether, also of the Second Dynasty. The reference in question, dated Year 13, reads: “Appearance of the King of Upper Egypt. Appearance of the King of Lower Egypt. ‘The temple called] ‘The-Goddess-Abides’ was built of stone” [7 : 1, 64]. After this comes the limestone chamber of the tomb of Kha-sekhemui, the successor of Sendi, and the first king of the Third Dynasty. The most notable stone temple of the latter dynasty is of course that erected by king Zoser near his pyramid at Saqqâra; it is now more or less in ruins.

The Meydûm temple consists of three main parts: the passage, a central chamber, and an offering-court. The passage leads from the entrance to the central chamber, which has a door in the west wall opening out in the small court containing two stelæ with a libation altar between them. The internal lengths and widths of the passage, chamber, and offering-court, as given below, are taken from the plan, which is made from the third course from the base, inasmuch as the lower courses are undressed.

(a) The Passage. In this passage, as we have already seen, Petrie found a statuette base of about the Twelfth Dynasty and a burial which he assigned to the Eighteenth Dynasty. Among other things in the sixty centimetres of blown sand covering the floor were some blue beads, bronze lance heads, and dried fruits, all from the same burial, and four hawks in stone and one in pottery. The outer doorway was carefully blocked after the burial had taken place. The passage, inside, is 600 centimetres long and 120 centimetres wide; its height from the floor to the ceiling is 228 centimetres, which is the same as the height of the chamber. The walls and ceiling of the passage are covered in places with the graffiti of visitors to the temple, the majority of which have been published by Petrie [42]. Two new graffiti were noticed by us: one, that of the son(?) of Seneferu-ankh already referred to, and that of May(?), here illustrated in Plate XXXV, 1. As all the graffiti in the temple will be republished later by Mr. Gunn, we need not give further details of them here. In passing, however, it may be stated that there are a few faintly scratched drawings of boats on the outside wall, to the left of the temple entrance, and also a crudely scratched figure of some animal on the ceiling of the entrance itself.

(b) The Chamber. The chamber, like the passage and the rest of the temple, is entirely bare and unadorned. It is 600 centimetres long and 193 centimetres wide at the south end and 198 centimetres at the north end. In addition to the graffiti published by Petrie, there are in this chamber three other scratched graffiti, one of which is as yet unreadable; this is on the west wall, to the left of the entrance to the offering-court. Of the other two, one of about the Twelfth Dynasty made by the scribe Hor(?)-em-sa-ef, is found to the right of this entrance; while the other, of about the Sixth Dynasty, mentioning, as we have said above, that the name of the Horus Seneferu . . . is Wenen-neferu, is on the east wall. There is also a crudely scratched boat on the east wall just to the right of the door leading to the entrance passage.

(c) The Offering-court. Unlike the passage and the chamber, which are roofed over, the offering-court is open to the sky. Its back wall is formed by the sloping base of the pyramid itself. It is 600 centimetres long, with a width from east to west at the floor level, of 239 centimetres. In the court are two great monolithic round-topped stelæ, 420 centimetres high, 100 centimetres broad, and 50 centimetres thick. They are of limestone and rest on low rectangular bases with sloping sides. The bases, which are 7 centimetres high, measure 164 centimetres in length and 114 centimetres in (average) width. The southern stela is 50 centimetres from the wall of the chamber, while the other stela, which seems to have subsided slightly, is 45 centimetres from the same wall. Between the stelæ is a small limestone altar for offerings, 142 centimetres long, 88 centimetres wide, and 50 centimetres high, while behind the altar itself must once have stood a great “false door”, perhaps of granite, through which the deceased monarch was supposed to step forth from the pyramid in order to receive the offerings placed upon the altar. [See 9 : 74, and 77 : I, 337.] No trace whatever of this false door was found in the court, but parts of it may be discovered later, somewhere outside the temple. Petrie records [43 : 11, 12] having found a fragment of a royal stela near the small pyramid to the south of the king’s pyramid; compare also the royal granite stela from the Meydûm village, the date of which is referred to in footnote 2 on page 11. The stelæ in the court are similar in shape to the two stelæ with rounded tops set up at Abydos in many of the royal tombs of the First and Second Dynasties, and to the double heb-sed (thirty-year festival) kiosks represented on stone fragments of the First Dynasty. Compare, for instance, the stelae of Za-it4 and Mer-neit5, and the kiosks of Semerkhet-semsem6 and Qaa-sen7 of the First Dynasty; and also the stelæ of Sehkem-ib Per-en-Mai-it8 of the Second Dynasty. Similar round-topped stelæ were found in the small chapel of the Fourth Dynasty matabah of Ra-hotep at Meydûm; for some reason or other these particular stelæ bore the name of prince Bu-nefer, who held the title “Concerned with the king’s affairs.”9 In the pyramid texts of kings Pepi I and Mer-en-Ra I of the Sixth Dynasty, paragraphs 1142, 1236, are shown other similar stelæ or boundary stones. [63 : II.] They also draw attention to the peculiar “obelisk” of Senwoseret I of the Twelfth Dynasty at Begîg in the Fayyûm, which is rounded at the top with a cylindrical curvature parallel with the wide face [47 : 165]. The two stelæ seem, in the later dynastic tombs of the Memphite period, to have been supplanted by two small obelisks. Maspero writes: “These two [small] obelisks belong to a class of monuments which are rarely found, except in tombs of the Memphite period (ending in the Eighth Dynasty). In their origin, the obelisks probably represented the two steles or stone columns, which were set on the right and left sides of the house-door of a king or personage of high rank, or of the temple of a god: it was a sort of ensign on which the name of the occupant was written. As the tomb was the dead man’s dwelling house, it was natural that the same should bæ done for it that was done for his earthly habitation; and we therefore find, on the right and left of the stele, that is to say of the door which gave entrance to the vault, two small obelisks on which the name and titles of the owner were inscribed. This custom seems to have died out in the interval between the Memphite period and the first Theban Empire (commencing with the Eleventh Dynasty), at least in the case of private tombs, but the funeral vault of the Pahraoh Antufi Nubakhpirrîya of the Eleventh Dynasty, at Drah abu’l Neggah, had two limestone obelisks at the entrance. In later times, the employment of obelisks was confined to palaces and temple almost exclusively. In some few cases, nevertheless, probably owing to an archaistic fashion, private individuals set up obelisks in front of their tombs or villas.”10 The obelisks themselves certainly had a solar significance; for instance, in paragraph 1178 of the Sixth Dynasty pyramid texts [63], we read that Pepi “is the guardian of these two obelisks of Ra which are on earth.” As a matter of fact, an obelisk is really a pyramid on a long shaft, the apex or pyramidion representing the pyramid itself, the latter being the chief symbol of the go Rā at Heliopolis, where there was preserved a pyramidal stone in the sun sanctuary [9 : 15, 70 ff.]. Incidentally, the bases of the Meydûm stelæ are like those of the obelisks represented in the early hieroglyphs. In concluding the account of the offering-court, it must bæ stated that with the exception of two incised hieroglyphs on the east face of the northern stela, evidently made by some passing scribe — one representing an owl (m) and the other a quail chick (w) — [Plate XXXVI, 1 and 2] — both the stelæ are plain and show no trace of any inscriptions.

The pyramid temple was, of course, the place in which the royal mortuary ritual was performed by the priests, who dedicated both it and the pyramid itself with magical formulæ for their protection. In the pyramid texts of king Pepi of the Sixth Dynasty the priest charged the pyramid to receive the deceased king: “When this king Pepi, together with his ka, comes, open thou thy arms to him” At the same time the god Horus is supposed to say, “Offer this pyramid and this temple to king Pepi and to his ka.” “Again,” says Breasted [9 : 75-77], “the priest addresses the Sun-god under his earliest name, Atum (Itum), and recalls the time when the god sat high on the sacred ben, the pyramidal symbol at Heliopolis, and created the other gods. This then is a special reason why he should preserve the pyramid of the king forever. ‘Thou west lofty,’ says the priest, ‘on the height; thou didst shine as Phoenix of the ben in the Phoenix-hall in Heliopolis. . . . 0 Atum, put thou thy arms behind king Mernere (Mer-en-Ra), behind this building, and behind this pyramid, as a ka-arm, that the ka of king Mernere may be in it enduring forever and ever. Ho, Atum I Protect thou this king Mernere, this his pyramid and this building of king Mernere’. ” Long after the original priests had left Meydûm, pious visitors entered the temple and placed their offerings upon the altar for the benefit of king Seneferu. Many of them have handed down their names to us in the graffiti on the temple walls.

B. The Silo near Pyramid Temple

Not far from the outer door and against the southeast corner of the pyramid temple we discovered a circular silo of bricks, 150 centimetres in diameter at the base [Plates XI and XXVII, 2]. It originally had a vaulted roof, and when found was 150 centimetres high. The bottom of the silo is 22 centimetres above the temple floor level and 64 centimetres above the rock level, and rests on small stones and débris. It must have been used by the shepherds who once inhabited the temple. Nothing came from the silo, but near it were several fragments of Fourth Dynasty jars and some model offering dishes.

C. The Pyramid Causeway

It is of course well known that each king’s pyramid of the Ancient Empire had a causeway leading down from the pyramid-temple, or mortuary-temple, to the temple in the valley below near the edge of the cultivation. But, whereas in all the other cases, the causeways have only been partially cleared, the causeway at Meydûm has been excavated by us for its entire length [Plate XII]. The causeway, which has been cut in the rock base of a sloping natural valley running slightly southeastwards from the pyramid (actually at an angle of 86° 20′ from the east face of the latter structure), consists of two parallel walls of stone with rounded tops. One of these coping stones was found in the causeway itself, lying on the floor [Plate XXXIV, 1]. This evidence indicates that the causeway was never roofed over, as is believed to have been the case with other causeways of the Ancient Empire. A bronze kohl stick was the only other object found in the causeway [Plate XV, 21]. The original height of the walls of the causeway was about 210 centimetres; owing to a small batter, they average 150 centimetres in thickness at the base and 128 centimetres at the extreme top, while the space between them —other than that at the extreme eastern end — varies between 295 centimetres and 310 centimetres. At the lowest part of the causeway near the cross brick walls, the intervening space is only 235 centimetres. The overall length of the sloping part of the causeway is 210.1 metres; between the west end of the slope and the east face of the peribolus wall of the pyramid is a distance of 445 centimetres. The peribolus wall itself is 140 centimetres thick, while between its west face and the front of the pyramid temple there is a space of 25.3 metres. Altogether, therefore, the lower end of the causeway is 241.25 metres from the entrance door of the pyramid temple. The floor of the causeway is made of a layer of mud-plaster, about 8 centimetres average thickness, and is 14.9 metres lower at the east end than at the west end near the peribolus wall. We found no traces of a path between the peribolus entrance and the temple entrance, but, as there certainly were signs of a floor of mud-plaster to the east of the temple, it is probable that the area inside the peribolus wall was originally covered with that material. At the upper end of the causeway itself is a small door opening out on its north side and another similar door opening out on its south side. Further on, and between the peribolus wall and these side doors, are two small chambers, one on either side of the path which leads straight along westwards from the causeway top to the peribolus wall entrance, which is roughly opposite the door of the pyramid temple. In each of these chambers doubtless once stood a statue of the king himself. Some peculiar holes in the rock below the floor of the northern chamber are shown in Plate XXXIII, 2. At a distance of about three metres west of the lower end of the causeway, there is an offset on either side, and against each offset a door-socket of limestone which once held the pivot of one of the leaves of the great double door of wood which was fixed at this point. In this connection, one is reminded of the mention in the Palermo Stone of the making of the cedar-wood doors of Seneferu’s palace [7 : I, 66], the wood for which came from the Lebanon. At the east end of the causeway, Petrie found traces of a great brick wall running at right angles to the south, while we found another similar wall running at right angles to the north. These walls must be parts of those which enclosed the pyramid area during the Fourth Dynasty. Similar enclosing walls are known at Giza and elsewhere. It is at some place to the east of these walls and below the cultivated Nile deposits that the remains of the valley temple must lie [Plate I], but the work of searching for them was held over until the next season so that the necessary pumps could be obtained to remove the water which covers the buildings at this part of the site. A certain amount of sand, however, has already been removed from this area.

Not far west of the lower end of the causeway and about two metres above its southern wall was a furnace of bricks used for smelting metals [Plates XIII; XXXIV, 2]. Several pieces of slag were lying in it and were submitted to the authorities of the Cairo Museum for analysis. The furnace had a small opening on its north side, and was certainly built much later than the causeway, but there was no evidence to fix its date. On the desert surface a little to the southwest of the furnace was found a limestone fragment from a private tomb of the Ancient Empire; this bears the words “with him by,” and the sentence to which it belonged is evidently to be reconstructed somewhat as follows: [“As for any man who damages this tomb, I will be judged) with him by [the Great God”]. [Plate XXXVII, 1.]

1 [31: VI, 70, 71] says the blue glazed hawk is similar to one from Giza bearing the name of Ahmose I of the Eleventh Dynasty.

2 It doubtless continued to be so used until the intrusive burial was placed is the passage. Also, graffiti of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Dynasties were found in the temple l42:1,40; Plate XXXII. 2, 3, 4].

3 See Somers Clarke and Engelbach [18 :107, 1081 for some valuable remarks concerning masonry of this type.

4 Mentioned and illustrated in 47 : 17; 62 : 184; see also Petrie’s reference in Royal Tombs, I, 6.

5 Mentioned and illustrated in 42 : 6, Frontispiece and Plate LXIV, 6.

6 Mentioned and illustrated in 42 : 6, Plate VII, 5. Compare also Plate V, 2. of the present work and on the reading of the King’s name see the note on Plate IL

7 Mentioned and illustrated in 42 : 6, 26; Plate VIII, 7. See also Plate V, 3, of the present work.

8 Mentioned and illustrated in 43 : 33; Plate XXXI.

9 Mentioned and illustrated in 42 : 37, Plate XII, and 27 : 485, 486; in the latter wrongly attributed to tomb of Rā-nefer(?).

10 Maspero, 30 : 36, 37; see also Petrie, Royal Tombs, I, 6. Incidentally, Maspero suggests (pages 12, 81) that the idea of the rounded-top stela may have been derived from the appearance of a vaulted door. But compare also the kiosks shown in Plate V, 2, 3, of the present work.

Cite This Article

Rowe, Alan. "V. The Pyramid Temple, Silo, and Causeway." The Museum Journal XXII, no. 1 (March, 1931): 28-36. Accessed July 24, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/journal/9308/

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