Before the pharaoh Djoser began Egypt’s era of massive pyramid building at the dawn of the Old Kingdom around 2650 BC, people tried their hand at less ambitious steped, or tiered, pyramids, the remains of which can be found scattered across the country.
Recently, archeologists uncovered one of these lesser pyramids while excavating near the ancient settlement of Edfu, about 500 miles south of the Egyptian capital of Cairo. Although the existence of the pyramid had been known for more than one hundred years, the structure was so buried beneath the sand that local residents had no idea a great monument once resided there.
The researchers, who recently reported their findings at a symposium held in Toronto by the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities, say their newly uncovered pyramid is one of six identical pyramids known as “provincial” pyramids because they all were built about the same time in southern Egypt’s early provincial centers.
Although no one is certain who built these pyramids, the researchers think they were built by either by the pharaoh Huni (reign ca. 2635-2610 B.C.) or his successor Snefru (reign ca. 2610-2590 B.C.).
While the stepped construction of the Edfu pyramid is similar to Egypt’s first great pyramid built by the pharoah Djoser, there’s an important difference: Djoser designed his pyramid as a tomb.
Unlike the great funerary pyramids of Giza, provincial pyramids like the Edfu structure weren’t intended as burial chambers. Instead, archeologists think the smaller pyramids were probably symbolic monuments dedicated to the ruling king, who was worshipped as a living god.
On the eastern side of the Edfu pyramid, the team uncovered a structure, perhaps a kind of chapel, where food offerings appear to have been made. The archeologists also found hieroglyphic graffiti and the remains of children buried at the foot of the pyramid. However, they say the inscriptions and burials appear to be from later periods.
Of concern to archeologists is the spread of the village of al-Ghonemiya toward the pyramid. A modern road, built in the 1990s runs about 164 feet (50 meters) from the structure and authorities plan to build a gas pipeline along the same route, according to a report by National Geographic. So, researchers are hurrying to learn as much as possible about the pyramid before further encroachment damages the ancient site.