Pyramid “Lepsius no. XXIV”

The exploration of the monument was renewed about 80 years later by the Czech archaeological expedition. Minor trial diggings in the archaeological seasons of 1980-81, 1987, 1990, and the complete excavation in the season of 1994 proved that the monument was a small pyramid complex.

From the pyramid only scanty remains survived. Contrary to the neighbouring pyramid of Khentkaus, the core of pyramid no. XXIV was built more carefully, and with bigger blocks of local limestone joined with clay mortar. The builders combined the methods of horizontal and accretion layers. The 27,20 m length of the eastern side of the lowest step of the core indicates that the side of the pyramid was originally 60 cubits long.

Many blocks within the core bear masons’ inscriptions and marks in red or, exceptionally, black paint. The marks of the five pointed star, the pyramid, the labrys-shaped sign, etc. occur very frequently on the building blocks of the pyramid. The inscriptions containing the personal name of Ptahshepses, the vizier and overseer of all the royal works in the time of Nyuserre, are of special historical importance. The fact that Ptahshepses name is preceded by the titles of iry nfr-h3t and h3ty-‘ seems to indicate that the pyramid was probably constructed at the same time as the first enlargement (2nd building stage) of his own mastaba, at the northern end of the necropolis of Abusir. Apart from the marks and the inscriptions, a grid of horizontal lines in 1 cubit intervals and accompanied by measurements in cubits, was drawn on all four outer faces of the core. Unfortunately, in all of these masons’ inscriptions the name of the pyramid owner was omitted.

The casing of fine white limestone appears to have been almost completely stripped off by stone robbers. However, a small, but archaeologically very important piece of the casing was left in situ on the northern side of the pyramid. It shows us, among other things, the precise position and width of the entrance to the pyramid. The fragment in position, and several loose blocks from the casing also indicate that the faces of the pyramid were a little uneven and that the angle of their inclination fluctuated from 58 to 61degrees.
No traces of the so-called northern chapel were found in front of the entrance.
At present, there is a crater (about 10 m deep) in the pyramid, reaching as low as the floor level of the burial chamber. Prior to the excavation, the crater was filled up – almost to its upper rim – by debris. However, regardless of the large amount of devastation, enough of the architecture has remained in position to enable us to reconstruct the plan of the pyramid’s substructure.

The substructure consists of a descending corridor which lies along the north-south axis of the pyramid, and a burial chamber which is oblong and has an east-west orientation. By some lucky chance, a very small portion of the corridor, including the floor and the ceiling, have survived. A broken, green glazed clay lamp was found near the extant fragment of the corridor: it dates from the Early Arab (?) Period. In the burial chamber only pieces of the floor and the north and south walls remained in position, the east and west walls and the originally flat ceiling were quarried away by stone robbers. Interestingly, and in contradiction to the neighbouring pyramid of Khentkaus, the construction of the burial chamber included large, high quality blocks of white limestone.
The debris in the crater above the burial chamber consisted of grey sand mixed with fragments of stone masonry from the core. The debris in the burial chamber itself was more heterogenous. It mainly contained fragments of the white limestone casing of the chamber and grey sand, but it also had fragments of the red granite sarcophagus, 5th Dynasty pottery, the remains of the burial equipment and, last but not least, the mummy of a woman.

According to the anthropological examination, the mummy, broken into several pieces, belongs to a woman of about 25 years of age. There is some doubt about the date of this mummy. Some features of the mummification method indicate a date later than that of the 5th Dynasty. The question of the dating of the mummy, however, remains open but is expected to be definitely answered in future by the C14 tests.

The massive rectangular sarcophagus of red granite had been broken into pieces most of which were taken away. The drawing of a crossed circle in red colour on one of these pieces left in the burial chamber indicates that the fragments of the sarcophagus had once been planned for the use as mill stones.
The canopic jars of calcite were also shattered to pieces by the robbers. Originally, however, the jars had ben relatively large, and their surface was well polished.

From the burial equipment only afew pieces, mostly in fragments, survived, e.g. the well preserved set of small symbolic copper instruments (rounded knives, adzes, needles, etc.), and several small symbolic calcite dishes. Other objects – calcite rounded tables, a calcite model of a piece of meat, pottery, etc. – were found only in fragments.
The small mortuary temple in front of the eastern side of the pyramid was almost totally destroyed by stone robbers. The remnants are so small that even the reconstruction of the temple’s ground plan will be very difficult, if not impossible.

The temple had an oblong, north-south oriented plan. In the western part there was a relatively long and narrow, north-south oriented offering hall. The northern part of the temple included store-rooms. In the southern, and most devastated part of the temple even the floor is missing. It was in this place that the stone robbers built their temporary shelters made from other stone fragments.

Surprisingly, not one fragment of a relief was found in the whole temple precinct. This presents us with a problem. Is the absence of any scenes or inscriptions in reliefs accidental, and due to the massive devastation of the temple? Or, does it indicate that the temple, except for the false door, was not decorated with reliefs at all?

South of the mortuary temple lie the tiny remnants of the north-west corner of the cult pyramid. Compared with the pyramid and the temple, the orientation of the north-south axis of the cult pyramid bears a marked deviation to the east. Originally, the cult pyramid was cased with small blocks of fine white limestone.

The stratigraphy of the site, and the archaeological finds enable us to establish the preliminary chronology of the pyramid complex Lepsius no. XXIV. The monument was built in the latter part of the reign of Nyuserre, probably at the same time when the neighbouring pyramid complex of Khentkaus was basically reconstructed and enlarged. As already mentioned above, no written evidence for the pyramid owner has been discovered to date. Nevertheless, the character of the monument strongly indicates that it belonged to a queen, perhaps a wife of Nyuserre.

The cult for this pyramid owner lasted in the mortuary temple probably until the end of the Old Kingdom, and it was briefly revived at the beginning of the Middle Kingdom. The assumption that the pyramid chamber was opened and plundered in the First Intermediate Period is based on analogical evidence from other pyramid complexes at Abusir.

The stone robbers started to dismantle the temple as early as the 18th Dynasty. However, the major devastation of the monument came later, in the Saite-Persian Period. The builders of the shaft tombs, situated in south-west Abusir and not far from pyramid no. XXIV, converted the whole monument into a quarry. The monument’s destruction was probably completed in the Coptic Period and in the early Arabic middle ages.

  Jaromír Krejčí