Amenemhat I was the first king of the Middle Kingdom to build a pyramid as his tomb. Probably near Itj-tawy, the new capital that he founded, his pyramid was at Lisht, to the east of the northern Faiyum. A late Old Kingdom model was used for the design of this pyramid, which had a base line of 84 meters. The pyramid was built on a terrace, with mastaba tombs to the east and a number of tomb shafts for royal women to the west, developments seen in earlier royal tombs at Thebes. Although stones from Old Kingdom pyramids were reused in Amenemhat’s monument, including granite blocks from Khafra’s Giza complex, the pyramid’s core consisted of small locally quarried blocks, mud-brick, and loose debris. The burial chamber and valley temple are now below the water table, and so cannot be examined or excavated except at great cost.
Also at Lisht was the larger pyramid of Amenemhat I’s son, Senusret I (Figure 7.5). Gaston Maspero first identified the owner of this pyramid in 1882. Major excavations have been conducted there by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, most recently in the 1980s by Dieter Arnold. With a base line of 105 meters, this pyramid was constructed with internal reinforcing walls of limestone. They consisted of four thick walls, two along the pyramid’s diagonal lines, and two from the centers of the four bases, with parallel walls extending from them. Between these walls were slabs of limestone arranged in steps. The limestone came from quarries to the south, southeast, and southwest of the pyramid. Despite the pyramid’s innovative design, construction problems weakened the structure and today it is a low mound of stone and rubble. Huge granite plugs of ca. 20 tons blocked the subterranean passageway to the burial chamber, which was located in the bedrock beneath (or near) the pyramid’s center.
Entrance hall Causeway
Figure 7.6 Planks excavated at the Lisht pyramid of Senusret I, reconstructed into a cross-section of a freight boat. Source: Reproduced by permission of cheryl Ward.
Similar to 6th-Dynasty ones, Senusret I’s mortuary temple is not well preserved. Eight standing statues of the king were found that had been placed in niches along the causeway. Statues of the king wearing the Red Crown of Lower Egypt were on the causeway’s north side, with statues with the White Crown of Upper Egypt on the south. A small subsidiary pyramid was located to the south of the mortuary temple, and between the inner stone enclosure wall and an outer one of mud-brick there were nine more small pyramids. One of these was for Senusret I’s wife, Neferu, and the last one built may date to a later reign, long after the king’s death.
Later 12th-Dynasty pyramids were farther south, at Dahshur and Hawara. Amenemhat II’s pyramid at Dahshur has not been well preserved because sand was used as fill. When its interior retaining walls of limestone were robbed for use in later construction, the structure collapsed. Jacques de Morgan, who excavated at the site in 1894-1895, was mainly interested in the rich jewelry and other artifacts he found in the subsidiary tombs of two princesses.
Senusret II built his monument at Lahun - the first royal pyramid of mud-brick, with a base line of 106 meters. Interior reinforcing walls of limestone extended out from a core of limestone bedrock. unusually, the subterranean burial chamber was reached from a vertical shaft to the south of the pyramid and a long horizontal passage - probably designed to foil tomb robbers. A larger vertical shaft for construction of the subterranean passages and chambers was hidden beneath the passage to another tomb. When Flinders Petrie excavated this pyramid all that was left in the burial chamber were some bones and a gold uraeus from a crown. Inlaid with faience, feldspar, and carnelian, the uraeus had a head of lapis lazuli and garnet eyes. For archaeologists, the most important architecture from Senusret II’s reign is the nearby town that was constructed at Kahun (see 7.7).
In 1913 Petrie and Guy Brunton found the shaft tomb of a daughter of Senusret II, Princess Sit-Hathor-Iunet, to the south of the king’s pyramid. Although the tomb had been robbed, boxes with her jewelry, cosmetic equipment, and canopic jars were hidden in a sealed recess in the tomb. Called the Treasure of Lahun, the jewelry includes a gold headband decorated with a uraeus, rosettes, and gold “plumes” (Plate 7.5), and two gold pectoral necklaces, one with Senusret II’s cartouche and the other with the cartouche of the princess’s nephew, Amenemhat III. A mirror made of imported silver has a handle of obsidian, probably imported from the southern Red Sea region.
Senusret III, the great builder of the 12th Dynasty, chose Dahshur as the site of his pyramid. With a base line of 105 meters, the pyramid was made of mud-brick laid horizontally and encased in Tura limestone. With an unusual entrance passage on the west side of the pyramid, the burial chamber was lined in granite and contained a granite sarcophagus. Above the granite roof, Dieter Arnold found a second roof to relieve stress, made of five pairs of enormous limestone blocks, each weighing about 30 tons - above which was another roof of vaulted mud-brick. With no evidence of an actual burial or canopic equipment, the question remains whether Senusret III was buried in this pyramid or at Abydos (see 7.5).
Seven subsidiary tombs, now thought to have been covered by small pyramids, were to the north and south of Senusret III’s pyramid. The northern tombs were connected by two underground galleries, where Jacques de Morgan found boxes with jewelry and toilet articles of two princesses, Sit-Hathor and Merit. The boxes contained hundreds of artifacts, many in gold and semi-precious stones - similar to the treasure that Petrie and Brunton would later find at Lahun. From the southwestern subsidiary pyramid a shaft and passage led to the robbed burial of the king’s mother, Weret, which was discovered in 1994 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art expedition. More jewelry was found in a niche at the bottom of this shaft - including over 6,500 tiny beads in gold, carnelian, lapis lazuli, and turquoise. As a result of these and other finds, Middle Kingdom jewelry is generally considered to be the high point of this craft in ancient Egypt.
In a second building phase the pyramid’s enclosure was extended to the north and south, and an unusual temple, now destroyed, was built to the south. Instead of the elaborate mortuary temples that were built with earlier pyramids, a small temple was built on the east side, which Arnold thinks reflects a decline in the royal mortuary cult. The buried cedar boats discovered at Dahshur by de Morgan were next to a mud-brick structure outside the southwest corner of the pyramid’s enclosure wall.
Amenemhat III, the son of Senusret III, built two pyramid complexes, at Dahshur and Hawara. The dahshur pyramid (Figure 7.7), which was made of mud-brick with limestone casing, was designed with a complex arrangement of subterranean corridors, chapels, and chambers, including burial chambers for the king and two queens. Although the tombs had been robbed, some of the queens’ burial equipment was still in their burial chambers. Since the pyramid was not built on a solid base, its weight created stress on the underground chambers and passages. The pyramid was abandoned as the king’s burial place, but all of the constituent elements of a pyramid complex, including a small mortuary temple, causeway, and valley temple, were nonetheless constructed. In the floor of the complex’s valley temple,
Rainer Stadelmann has found a small limestone model of the pyramid’s underground chambers, which may have aided the tomb’s builders as a kind of three-dimensional blueprint.
Figure 7.7 Plan of Amenemhat III’s pyramid at Dahshur. Source: Drawn by Philip Winton. From Mark Lehner, The Complete Pyramids. London and New York: Thames & Hudson, 1997, p. 179.
Amenemhat III’s second pyramid at Hawara, also in mud-brick with limestone casing, was designed with elaborate devices to foil tomb robbers. These included blind passages and passage entrances hidden in the ceilings of other passages. The burial chamber is unique: it is made of a gigantic block of quartzite seven meters long, weighing ca. 110 tons, which was covered by two layers of blocks, in quartzite and limestone, with two more ceilings above these blocks. This structure provides evidence of a technique used by the Egyptians to position heavy stones. Before the burial, the ceiling blocks were supported by beams resting on sand that was then released into tunnels, with the ceiling slabs falling into place. It took Flinders Petrie two excavation seasons to locate the water-logged burial chamber, which contained two stone sarcophagi and canopic chests, for the king and possibly for a queen. The elaborate construction of rooms, galleries, and courts to the east of Amenemhat III’s Hawara pyramid was called the “Labyrinth” by visitors from the Greek world. Little remains in the area of the Labyrinth now, but it has been suggested that the architecture there was an attempt to imitate the plan of Djoser’s pyramid complex at Saqqara (3rd Dynasty; see 6.2) - emulating a much earlier model of the royal mortuary monument.
It is not known where the last two rulers of the 12th Dynasty, Amenemhat IV and Queen Sobekneferu, were buried. Two unfinished pyramids which are located at Mazghuna, to the south of Dahshur, may date to the 13th Dynasty. Possibly eight pyramids, from South Saqqara to Mazghuna, were built by 13th-Dynasty kings, but little remains of them except for some underground chambers. King Hor, who ruled for less than a year, usurped a shaft tomb between the inner and outer walls of Amenemhat III’s pyramid at Dahshur. The king’s wooden fcfl-statue, the only known such statue, was found in the antechamber of the enlarged tomb, which is a greatly diminished mortuary monument compared to the 12th-Dynasty pyramids.