site on the western bank of the Nile River, 65 kilometers (40 miles) south of Cairo (31°10′E, 29°23′N). A step mastaba and a royal cemetery were constructed there from the transitional years of the third to fourth dynasty. The step mastaba is the last royal tomb that was built in steps (begun with seven steps and enlarged to eight), with a base length of 120.75 meters (365 feet), a height of 85 meters (256 feet), and a slope of 75 degrees. The entrance is located 16 meters (50 feet) high on the north side and slopes to the crypt built on ground level. The small crypt is covered by the oldest known corbeled roof. The builder was probably Sneferu. In the fifteenth to seventeenth years of his reign, the step structure was transformed into the first real pyramid, with a base length of 144.32 meters (440 feet), a height of 92 meters (285 feet), and an inclination of 51 degrees, 51 minutes. At the same time—probably under the influence of solar aspects—a new type of pyramid complex was developed, replacing the older type and culminating in the Djoser complex at Saqqara. The new concept included a valley temple (unexcavated), a causeway, an east-west oriented enclosure surrounding the pyramid, and a small cult place in the center of the eastern side. Its western court contains the offering table, flanked by two uninscribed stelae. To the north and the south of the pyramid were ruins of smaller subsidiary pyramids of unknown function. Important remains of construction ramps have been observed there. A theory about an alleged collapse of the pyramid casing during the construction created much scholarly confusion, but it has been proven wrong.

Meidum

Meidum. The pyramid of Meidum. (Courtesy Dieter Arnold)

Mastaba no. 17, northeast of the pyramid, is the majestic tomb for an important member of the royal family. The huge building 52 by 105 meters (165 by 330 feet) is constructed of rough field stones with a wide cult place at the southern end of the eastern side (13.5 meters/32 feet), now destroyed. The spectacular, stone-cased crypt contains a granite sarcophagus that is 5 meters (16 feet) high.

A mastaba field to the north of the pyramid consists of a dozen brick mastabas of the early fourth dynasty. Of great importance for the development of tomb architecture is the mastaba of Nefermaat and Atet (no. 16). Two offering niches are built into the brick core and cased with limestone; they were decorated with the first line decorations of subjects from everyday life. The decoration of the door frames was executed with incised figures that were filled in with colored pastes. The tomb façade displays a rich panel pattern. The mastaba of Prince Rahotep and Princess Nofret (no. 6) contained a pair of painted, life-size seated figures of the couple, in a unique state of preservation, masterpieces of Old Kingdom sculpture.

Excavations at the site were originally by W. M. Flinders Petrie in 1891 and 1909; Alan Rowe (Eckley B. Coxe Expedition) in 1929–1930; and the Egyptian Antiquities Organization.

Bibliography

  • Borchardt, L. Die Entstehung der Pyramide an der Baugeschichte der Pyramide von Mejdum nachgewiesen. Brussels, 1928.
  • El-Khouli, Ali, et al. Meidum. Warminster, 1999.
  • Petrie, W. M. Flinders. Medum. London, 1892. Meydum and Memphis. London, 1910.

Dieter Arnold