Pyramid of Khentkaues


On the south side of the pyramid of Neferirkare at Abusir is a small structure that may have first been investigated by Ludwig Borchardt. Even though its location and east-west orientation would suggest that this was a small pyramid, Borchardt dismissed it as a double mastaba of little significance and so did not explore it fully. Only after a much later investigation in the 1970s by a Czech team of archaeologists was its true nature revealed and its owner clearly established as none other then the consort of Neferirkare, Khentkaues II.

Inscriptions within the pyramid help us decode the history of this period. They tell us that there were probably two stages of this pyramids construction. The pyramid was probably begun during the reign of Neferirkare, but around the tenth year of his rule, construction was halted. We presume this was due to the king's death. On this part of the construction, Khentkaues II was referred to as "King's Wife". After some time, construction was continued, but this time she is referred to as "King's Mother", indicating that her son, probably Niuserre, who was now pharaoh finished her pyramid. It may have even been that Khentkaues herself ordered resumption of the work. Niuserre was perhaps underage when he ascended the throne, and if so, Khentkaues probably acted as his regent, effectively, as ruler of Egypt.

The pyramid itself, mostly in ruins as others at Abusir and measuring four meters high, was of a simple design built using the discarded limestone from the Neferirkare pyramid. The core is of three layers, bound with mortar made of clay. The casing was high quality white limestone, and it once had a dark gray granite pyramidion, of which fragments have been found.

The entrance to the pyramid is near ground level in the middle of the north wall. The initial corridor, made from small blocks of fine white limestone, first descends, and then becomes level leading slightly to the east and was terminated by a simple stone barrier just prior to the burial chamber. The burial chamber is also line with white limestone, but with larger blocks serving as it flat ceiling.

There were small remains of the queens funerary equipment found within the pyramid, including fragments from her pink granite sarcophagus, bits of her mummy wrappings and some shards from stone vessels. Markings on these clearly demonstrated that they belonged to Khentkaues II.

In front of the east wall of the pyramid is her mortuary temple which, like Neferirkare's, was also finished in several stages. The earliest part of the temple is made from limestone and was entered through a pillared portico from the south-east. A pillared courtyard led to a room for the cult statues of the queen, an offering hall with a false pink granite door, and alter and storage annexes.

At least the offering hall, and probably other rooms, were decorated with bas-relief funeral scenes. These, and other scenes, confirmed without doubt that this was indeed the a part of the pyramid complex of Khentkaues II. There were similar scenes on the pillars in the courtyard and portico. Here, we find one scene of the queen wearing the uraeus, a symbol that during this period was reserved for rulers and divinities. There was also a stairway that led to a roof terrace, were astronomical rituals were most likely carried out.

The second phase of the temple's construction was mostly of mudbrick construction. For the first time in the Old Kingdom, an extension to the temple on the south and west, were found other queens tombs, and a small cult pyramid. Extensions on the east included a new entry vestibule and pillared portico, along with housing for the priests and storage annexes.




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