The Unfinished Pyramid of Neferre

The excavation of the pyramid complex of Raneferef was practically completed in the course of the eighties, except for the unfinished pyramid itself. A deep crater, full of debris, in the middle of the pyramid promised demanding, expensive and time-consuming work, and this was the reason for delaying the completion of this aspect of the project. The finds made in the mortuary temple of Raneferef left no doubt about the pyramid having been used as the grave of the king – even a small fragment of papyrus was found which expressly mentioned the unfinished monument as ‘3t (the gravemound).

The first examination of the unfinished pyramid was made by Ludwig Borchardt at the beginning of this century. He made a sondage approximately in the middle of the open trench leading from the north to the interior of the monument. He reached a depth of about 7 metres below the surface of the pyramid, and ceased work at this point because, in his opinion, the substructure of the pyramid had never been completed.

In 1985 we made a new sondage in the unfinished pyramid, and after reconsideration, made it in the same place where Borchardt had worked. As a matter of interest, the place chosen by Borchardt was precisely in the area where the portcullis might have been expected. Fortunately for us, large fragments of a red granite portcullis were discovered very quickly, some of them including the flooring slab which was still in position. In addition to that, on the western wall of the masonry, next to the portcullis, a graffito in black paint was found with the name of the pyramid – which included the cartouche of Raneferef. From that moment on, there was no doubt in our minds that the substructure of the monument had once been completed. An iron wedge and fragments of textiles (dating very probably to the Coptic period) found among the fragments of the portcullis provided us with some indication the probable date of the destruction of this part of the substructure.

In the 1995 season the excavation of the pyramid itself commenced. Approximately one half of the volume of the debris filling the crater of the pyramid was removed.The debris consisted of large hunks of the pyramid core masonry mixed with sand. In the south-east sector of the crater there was a deposit of yellow sand, indicating the possible avenue by which the robbers penetrated the burial chamber. In the western sector of the crater, a thick layer of crushed and compacted limestone chips was discovered. In addition to that, numerous fragments of white limestone bearing clear traces of the marks of a saw, remained as indicators of a stone-cutter’s workshop having been present here in antiquity. The stone robbers’ activity might have been of an even earlier date than the disturbance in the descending corridor found in the portcullis area. A more precise dating for the flourishing of this workshop cannot be suggested, but it is possible that the stone cutting was connected with the building of the Saite-Persian shaft complexes, south-west of the pyramid. This assumption is based on material in the neighbouring funerary monuments, in particular the pyramid “Lepsius no. XXIV” and the mastaba of Prince Nakhtkare, both of which monuments were clearly turned into quarries in Saite times, and their stones reused for the aforesaid Saite tombs.

The above-mentioned, compacted limestone layer may be all that remains from the major portion of the substructure of the unfinished pyramid – in particular, the burial chamber. In all probability, the ceiling of the burial chamber was constructed of flat limestone slabs, not the great, angled ceiling blocks commonly associated with Fifth Dynasty pyramids. Many finds seem to indicate that the king died at the time when the masonry of the first step of the core of his pyramid had been completed, but work on his burial chamber had not yet started. The ancient architects had to work fast after the death of the king, so they were forced to improvise. The flat ceiling of the burial chamber seems to have been the most expedient solution to the problem. This assumption is indirectly corroborated by the discovery at the end of the descending corridor of a huge, flat ceiling block, still in situ.

There were practically no finds within the debris removed from the pyramid this season, except for graffiti bearing masons’ marks and inscriptions. Some of the graffiti contain parts of the name of Raneferef’s pyramid complex, Ntry-b3w-R’nfr.f. No other names – either personal or building names – were found. Among the masons’ marks discovered so far there are: a circle with a cross inside it, a five-pointed star, the hieroglyphic sign ntr (maybe an abbreviated form of the name for the pyramid complex), etc.

As mentioned above, this season about one half of the volume of the debris within the pyramid was removed. For the time being, the excavation has stopped at a level approximately 1 metre above the aforesaid ceiling block at the end of the descending corridor. In the as-yet-unexcavated debris at the bottom of the crater the ruins of the burial chamber can be expected, and we expect to report on this at the end of the next season.

  Jaromír Krejčí

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