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Pyramid Texts

The Pyramids with Texts

The Pyramid Texts are inscribed on the walls on ten pyramids which are all situated at the necropolis of Saqqara. These pyramids date to the Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Dynasties of the Old Kingdom (2705-2213 BC). The main part of this enormous collection of texts is inscribed in the pyramids of the kings of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties: Unas, the last King of the Fifth Dynasty, his successor Teti, who was the first king of the Sixth Dynasty and his successors Pepi I, Merenre and Pepi II. A small selection of these texts are also found in the pyramids belonging to the three queens of Pepi II: Oudjebten, Neit and Apouit, and that of the Eighth Dynasty petty-king Ab. Recently (March 2000), the discovery of a tenth pyramid containing texts was announced at the 8th International Congress of Egyptology in Cairo by the Head of Egyptian Antiquities Dr. Gaballah and the Director of Excavations, Prof. Jean Leclant.

These pyramids are built on a much smaller scale than their more famous counterparts on the Giza plateau, and have, by comparison, very eroded and unimpressive exteriors. It seems that construction techniques during this period were inferior to those used to build the earlier pyramids. These pyramids, instead of being solidly built, have an outer casing of Tura limestone which is filled with a core of rubble. The largest of these pyramids belong to the kings Unas, Teti, Pepi I, Merenre and Pepi II.

For example, the base of the pyramid of Unas measures 220ft. square with a calculated original height of 43 metres (+/-141ft). Unas erected his pyramid close to the South-West corner of Djoser's step-pyramid enclosure wall and almost diagonally opposite the pyramid of Userkaf, founder of the dynasty. The pyramid of Teti is located to the North-East of the step-pyramid. The pyramids of Pepi I, Merenre and Pepi II are further south, close to the mastaba of Shepseskaf.

The entrance to these pyramids is from their Northern side, in keeping with the style of earlier pyramids. An innovation lies in the exact location of the entrance which is under the pavement instead of on the facade of the pyramid. Three granite portcullises were used to block the square entrance to the corridor which descends into the funerary chambers. The soft Tura limestone bedrock was a suitable medium for the carving of the Pyramid Texts. The mortuary complex of Unas survives in a much more complete state than any of the others and includes a causeway about 750 yards long. It does not follow a straight line and changes direction twice to use natural features to their best advantage. South of the causeway lie two boat-pits, side-by-side, each about 148 ft. in length and lined by Tura limestone.


The Funerary Chambers

The funerary chambers within the five pyramids belonging to the Kings Unas, Teti, Pepi I, Merenre and Pepi II all follow a very similar plan. The entrance is on the pavement, at the foot of the Northern facade of the pyramids. A narrow passage descends down to a horizontal corridor that leads into the Antechamber. This is a small rectangular room which is flanked by two further chambers, the burial chamber to the West and another chamber in the East, containing three small niches, perhaps intended for offerings. The burial goods were pillaged from the pyramids in antiquity and all that remains is the architectural shell - the walls and the ceiling of these chambers. When the pyramids were first investigated in the early 1880s by Gaston Maspero, Head of Antiquities in Cairo, the architecture in all but Unas' pyramid was found to be damaged or unstable in many places. The French Archaeological Mission at Saqqara has been involved in a project of restoring these pyramids which was begun in the 1950s and which continues today. It is fortunate that the enormous basalt sarcophagus, now empty and partially damaged, still remains in its original position at the Western end of the burial chamber. Nearby, there is a square impression in the floor where the canopic chest would have been placed, containing the internal organs of the deceased king.



Credits: Ms. Jackie Jay

What is unique about these pyramids is that they contain the Pyramid Texts. These texts are inscribed onto the limestone walls in vertical columns in Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic script. These sacred texts cover the walls of the Burial Chamber, Antechamber, the short passage in between them, and part of the walls of the Passage leading into the Antechamber from the Entrance. The vaulted ceiling of these chambers is decorated with stars representing the night sky, the heavens.


The Pyramid Texts

The Pyramid Texts have aroused much speculation regarding their origin because they emerge, as a fully-fledged collection of mortuary texts, without any precedent in the archaeological record.

The Pyramid Texts are made up of approximately 759 utterances. The term utterance is used to describe the spells which make up these texts because it is likely that they were uttered, that is, spoken, by priests in the course of the royal mortuary rituals. These utterances vary considerably in length and are often separated from one another by markers in the hieroglyphic text. No pyramid contains every single one of these utterances, rather, each pyramid contains a unique selection of them. The pyramids belonging to the kings of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties contain by far the largest selections. The fact that the texts are made up of distinct utterances which do not have a strict narrative sequence linking them together has led scholars to believe that many of them were not composed specifically for the purpose of being inscribed in the pyramids but may have had earlier uses. The main theme in the Pyramid Texts is the king's resurrection and ascension to the Afterworld and this is described in many different ways. In some of the texts, the king boards the sun-boat of Re and passes through different regions in the sky, encountering many gods. In other texts, the king reaches the sky by flying up as a bird, such as a falcon or a goose. At other times the king climbs up the ladder of the sky. What all these texts have in common is an emphasis on the eternal existence of the king and the location of the sky as the realm of the Afterlife, which is dominated by the sun-god Re. The night sky is also described, particularly the Imperishable stars. In many of the texts the king is identified with the god Osiris, who is lord of the Underworld.

The sarcophagus in the Burial Chamber is inscribed with several lines of Pyramid Texts. These texts show that the sarcophagus was personified as Nut, who was the sky goddess and also the mother of the deceased king. So, to achieve eternal life in the Afterworld, the king had to be reborn through Nut.

The gable above the sarcophagus, on the Western wall of the burial chamber, is inscribed with protection spells to guarantee the safety of the deceased king, both physically, within the pyramid, and spiritually in the Afterlife.

Many of the Pyramid Texts consist of food and drink offerings which give us an insight into the variety of ingredients which were available for the king. Different types of bread and beer - staples in the Ancient Egyptian diet - feature prominently. Also mentioned are grain, barley and wine, as well as carob beans, figs, many different cuts of meat, milk and onions. We are also informed that the king was offered all kinds of fresh vegetables and all kinds of sweets.
(Aloisia De Trafford)


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