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Wednesday, June 03 2020 @ 03:02 PM CDT

New pyramid found at Saqqara

Pyramid Mysteries

The newly discovered subsidiary pyramid of queen Sesheshet, mother of King Teti I, the founder of the Sixth Dynasty, is another clue to understand more such an enigmatic dynasty as Nevine El-Aref writes

Hosni and Hawass inspecting the five metres tall subsidiary pyramid of queen Sesheshet at Saqqara necropolis
photos: Mohamed Wassim


Last week the announcement of the discovery at the Saqqara necropolis of the 4,300-year-old subsidiary pyramid of Queen Sesheshet, mother of King Teti I, the founder of the Sixth Dynasty, caught the headlines. Not only does it bring the number of pyramids discovered in Egypt to 118, but it enriches our knowledge of the Sixth Dynasty and its royal family members.

Sesheshet's pyramid, found seven metres beneath the sands of the Saqqara necropolis, is five metres in height, although originally it reached about 14 metres. The base is square and the sides of the pyramid slope at an angle of 51 degrees. The entire monument was originally cased in fine white limestone from Tura, of which some remnants were also unearthed. Ushabti (model servant) figurines dating from the third Intermediate Period were also found in the area, along with a New Kingdom chapel decorated with a scene of offerings being made to Osiris. Also found were a group of Late Period coffins, a wooden statue of the god Anubis, amulets, and a symbolic vessel in the shape of a cartouche containing the remains of a green substance. These objects will be transported to the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square where they will be restored and put on display.

According to Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), who led the excavation team, the finds show that the entire area of the Old Kingdom cemetery of Teti was reused from the New Kingdom through to the Roman Period.

Culture Minister Farouk Hosni described it as "a great discovery" and said he wished that within the next couple of weeks excavators could find more of the funerary complex of the queen.

"Sesheshet's pyramid is the third subsidiary pyramid to be discovered within Teti's cemetery," Hawass said. He added that earlier excavations at the site had revealed the pyramid of King Teti's two wives, Khuit and Iput. "This might be the most complete subsidiary pyramid ever found at Saqqara," he said.

Scholars have long believed that Khuit was Teti's secondary wife, but excavations and studies proved that her pyramid was built before that of Queen Iput, who was previously believed to have been Teti's chief queen. The fact that her pyramid was built before Iput's, however, tells us that Khuit was in fact the primary royal wife. Previous excavations at this site have also revealed the funerary temple of Queen Khuit, offering much new information about the decorative codes of queens' monuments of the period.

"No one can ever know what's hidden beneath the sands of Egypt," Hawass told Al-Ahram Weekly, adding that the excavators had been somewhat surprised to find a pyramid within Teti's cemetery since they thought the area had been thoroughly explored.

In fact, he continued, over the last century, since French archaeologists Auguste Mariette found Teti's pyramid, archaeologists had used the area as a sand dump as they considered it empty and without anything of interest.

Teti's pyramid is mostly a pile of rubble constantly threatened with being covered by sand. There is a steep pathway that leads to the burial chamber, where the walls are decorated with the pyramid texts and the ceiling decorated with stars. Inside the chamber was found an undecorated sarcophagus containing a mummified arm and a shoulder, presumably Teti's.

Up to now no other parts of Teti's pyramid complex; the valley temple and causeway have been discovered. However, in addition to the subsidiary pyramids of the king's wives and mother, tombs of his consorts and viziers have been found. Among these are those of his chancellors Mereruka and Kagemni.

The archaeologists found that a shaft had been created in Sesheshet's pyramid to allow access to her burial chamber, so they do not expect to find Sesheshet's mummy when they reach the burial chamber within the coming two weeks. However, they anticipate finding inscriptions about the queen, whose name, according to Hawass, was only known from being mentioned in a medical papyrus containing a recipe, supposedly created to her request, to strengthen the hair.

It is also believed that Queen Sesheshet was instrumental in enabling her son to gain the throne and reconciling two warring factions of the royal family. The dynasty that arose with her son is considered part of the Old Kingdom portion of the history of Egypt, a term designated by modern historians. There was no break in the royal lines or the location of the capital from its predecessors, but significant cultural advances occurred to prompt the designation of different periods by scholars.

Until the recent rediscovery of her pyramid, little contemporary evidence about her had been found. Her estates under the title King's Mother are mentioned in the tomb of the early Sixth-Dynasty vizier Mehu, and she is referenced in passing as the mother of King Teti in the remedy for baldness in the Ebers Papyrus.

After the death of Unas, the last king of the Fifth Dynasty, Teti took the throne. The exact length of his reign is not known as it was destroyed in the Turin Kings' List, but the last year that can be attributed to his reign was the year of the sixth cattle count, which means roughly 11 years.

Many of the officials and administrators from the reign of Unas remained during the rule of Teti, who seemed intent on restabilising the central government. So far nothing is shown about his military campaigns or trade agreements, but it is assumed that diplomatic relations between north and south continued in the customary way. He quarried in the south and imported timber for building from Syria.

Teti granted land to Abydos by decree, and he was also the first known king with links to the cult of the goddess Hathor in Dendereh. Reliefs found at Abydos show that he exempted the area from taxes, probably because of a bad harvest or inundation.

During Teti's reign high officials were beginning to build funerary monuments that rivalled that of the king. For example, his chancellor Mereruka built a large mastaba consisting of 32 rooms, all richly carved. This is considered a sign that wealth was being transferred from the central court to the officials, a slow process that culminated in the end to the Old Kingdom.

Teti may have been murdered by the usurper Userkare; the historian Manetho states that he was murdered by his palace bodyguards in a harem plot.

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