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History PAGE 1
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From local elite to royal cemetery

As one of the main burial fields of Memphis, the history of Saqqara is very closely related to the history of Memphis itself.

The oldest known funerary monument at Saqqara was built during the reign of the Horus-Aha, one of the first kings of the 1st Dynasty, at around 3.000 BC. It is located at the ridge of the northern plateau of Saqqara. This monument was a large but relatively low rectangular structure, known as a mastaba, built above the actual, subterranean tomb. There has been a lot of debate whether or not this tomb actually belonged to the Horus-Aha, or to one of the high officials who lived during his reign. The fact that a tomb dated to the reign of Aha is the oldest in Saqqara has also been an argument in another debate: the identification of the founder of the 1st Dynasty, whom legend has also credited with the founding of Memphis. Because there are apparently no tombs of importance prior to Aha’s reign, Aha is sometimes thought to have founded Memphis and thus also to have been the founder of Memphis.

The Northern plateau of Saqqara continued to be used throughout the 1st Dynasty, with the building of several large mastabas along the ridge of the plateau. As is the case with the mastaba from Aha’s reign, these mastabas too are believed by some to have been royal tombs. In most of these tombs, however, including the oldest one, the names of non-royal persons are prominently featured, often one name per tomb. This, along with the fact that the kings of the 1st Dynasty all had tombs at Umm el-Qa’ab in Middle Egypt, has led the present author to think that the Saqqara tombs were, indeed, private tombs.

To the West of these large mastabas smaller tombs, belonging perhaps to some less important officials, were built. The oldest of these tombs are relatively small and simple, some not much more than a hole in the ground with a small funerary chapel. This cemetery continued to extend to the West throughout the first dynasties, until the end of the Old Kingdom.

Saqqara definitely became a royal necropolis with the beginning of the 2nd Dynasty, around 2.800 BC. At least the first and third king of this dynasty built their tombs there, and there are reasons to believe that the second king did the same.

It is not known why these kings chose to move the royal necropolis from Umm el-Qa'ab to Saqqara, and it has often been suggested that their motivation might have been political or religious. Even though they moved to Saqqara, the first kings of the 2nd Dynasty also moved away from the older cemetery along the Northern plateau discussed above, choosing an area slightly more to the South, to the location where some 150 years later, Djoser would also build his famous Step Pyramid. The structure of their tombs too was very different from their predecessors’: in stead of pits dug into the ground with side chambers, the tombs of the first kings of the 2nd Dynasty consisted of a very long, descending corridor, with a maze of long, narrow galleries. The burial chamber was located at the end of the descending corridor. It is not known if the tombs, at this stage, also had a superstructure. Later examples of this type of tomb were covered by a long, narrow building, the center part slightly higher than its sides and with a rounded roof. These tombs were probably also connected with the large, rectangular enclosures, built in mud-brick, found more to the West. The function and purpose of these enclosures, which often had a raised platform slightly off-center, are not known.
(Jacques Kinnaer)

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