Egypt: 4,600 Year Old Pyramid Purpose Remains a Mystery


A step pyramid was recently uncovered in Egypt which is believed to be 4,600 years old and even predates the Great Pyramid of Giza by at least several decades however the structure’s purpose still remains a mystery. Archaeologists working near the ancient settlement of Edfu, located in southern Egypt have uncovered the ancient pyramid which once stood as high as 43 feet (13 meters) but, due to the passage of time and weathering it is now only 16 feet (5 m) tall. The initial findings of this ancient Egypt pyramid were presented at a symposium of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities held at Toronto, Canada.

The structure is one of the so-called “provincial” pyramids built during the reign of either pharaoh Huni (2635-2610 B.C.) or the pharaoh Snefru (2610-2590 B.C.). These types of pyramids are scattered throughout central and southern Egypt and are located in major settlements. Unlike normal pyramids, these provincial pyramids have no internal chambers and are not really intended to house the dead. Out of the seven pyramids, six of these (including the one at Edfu) have almost identical dimensions which are 60 x 60 feet (18.4 x 18.6 m).

What stirred the interest of archaeologists is the fact that its actual purpose remains elusive. One possible answer could be that these pyramids were used as symbolic monuments to honor those who ruled Egypt. According to University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute research associate Gregory Marouard who led the team at the Edfu discoveries, “The similarities from one pyramid to the other are really amazing, and there is definitely a common plan.”

Included in the research team’s discoveries are the remains of a structure built beside the pyramid presumably used as a place where food offerings are placed. The researcher’s noted the discovery of this part as this can have a significant implications in finally understanding the purpose of the step pyramid. They also found hieroglyphics etched on the outer faces of the pyramid which are located just beside the remains of babies and children who were all buried at the foot of the structure. However, the researchers believe that the inscriptions and the burials were all made long after the pyramid was built and that the structure was not really meant as a place for burials.

The team likewise noted that the structure did not look like a pyramid at first. Even the residents of a nearby village thought that it was a tomb of a sheikh. However, as excavation and cleaning were earnestly undertaken in 2010, the ancient pyramid was soon revealed.

The structure was made from blocks of sandstone and clay and was built in the form of a three-step pyramid. It was like a three-step pyramid because a core of blocks stands vertically supported by two layers of blocks right beside it. This style of construction is reminiscent of the step pyramid done in the time of pharaoh Djoser (2770-2640 B.C.) who was credited for constructing Egypt’s first pyramid at the beginning of the third ancient Egyptian dynasty. This is also similar to the ones used at the Meidum pyramid built during the time of Snefru or Huni which was first built as a step pyramid before it was converted into a true pyramid people know today.

Marouard added that the way the step pyramid was built shows a certain expertise in stone construction. The pyramid at Edfu was constructed using local materials where its quarry was located about a half mile (800 m) from the actual structure.

With the continued advance of modern land uses like a cemetery and a garbage dump, the pyramid is threatened. And with the assistance from the American Research Center in Egypt and the National Endowment for the Humanities, a fence was built around the structure to protect it from encroachments.

The researchers also believe that the uses of these provincial pyramids were stopped once the construction of the Great Pyramid at Giza started. Pharaoh Khufu (2950-2563) led this initiative to build this grand structure which still stands today. Khufu focused the use of all the country’s resources in order to build the pyramid which is near the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis.

The discovery of this step pyramid in Egypt which is already 4,600 years old may also bring to light the ancient culture of the time. However, until then, the pyramid’s purpose still remains a mystery.

By Roberto I. Belda


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