At an elevation of about 490 feet above sea level at the base, this unique pyramid is attributed to the funerary complex of Djedefre (2528Â–2520 BCE), the third ruler of ancient Egypt\\\\\\\'s 4th Dynasty, having been build not on flat terrain on the bank of the Nile River as with most pyramids, but atop an escarpment on the plateau of Gaa.
Abu Rowash (also known as Abu Roach and Abu Roash), located about five miles North of Giza, is the site of Egypt's most northerly pyramid.
Also known as the “lost pyramid” (though “forgotten” may be more accurate), it was long thought that Abu Rowash had never been completed, but the current archaeological consensus is that not only was it completed, it was once about the size of the pyramid of Pharaoh Menkaure, the smallest of the three Giza pyramids.
Its close proximity to a major crossroads, however, made it an easy target for pilfered stone, which apparently began in Roman times, resulting in little more than the natural hillock that formed part of the pyramid's core remaining.
But even from what still stands, archaeologists know it was unlike any other pyramid--serving a purpose like no other in Egypt.
Abu Rowash belongs to the northernmost of the necropolis of the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, and is one of numerous sites dated from the Early Dynastic Period to the Coptic Christian Period.
At an elevation of about 490 feet above sea level at the base, this unique pyramid is attributed to the funerary complex of Djedefre (2528–2520 BCE), the third ruler of ancient Egypt's 4th Dynasty, having been build not on flat terrain on the bank of the Nile River as with most pyramids, but atop an escarpment on the plateau of Gaa.
And while funerary rituals may well have been enacted here at various times, a growing number of modern scholars believe its primary purpose was probably that of an astronomical observation structure, perhaps the first and only such structure in Egyptian history.
While known since the late 1800s from the descriptions of Egyptologists Howard Vyse, Flinders Petrie, and Richard Lepsius, no significant excavations were conducted at Abu Rowash until 1900 when Emile Chassinat of the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology discovered the remains of a funerary settlement, a boat pit, and numerous statuary fragments that had the name Didoufri inscribed (an early version of Djedefre), which allowed the complex to be identified.
Under the direction of Pierre Lacau, the French Institute continued excavation between 1912 and 1913, clearing new structures to the east of the pyramid. However, much to several archaeologist’s surprise, an earlier occupation was discovered at Abu Rowash, evidenced by objects bearing the names of the 1st Dynasty pharaohs, Aha and Den, found near the pyramid. Subsequent excavation between 1922 and 1924 also uncovered burials dating to the 1st and 5th Dynasties, as well as some of the Middle Kingdom (11th to 14th Dynasties).
It is now known that like all such tomb-related complexes of the Old Kingdom, Abu Rowash was built with a harbor on the Nile and several buildings in sequence. There was, apparently, a temple at the foot of an ascending causeway that led to a funerary temple next to the royal pyramid, which included a satellite pyramid and one or more solar observation centers, the whole of which was surrounded by a wall.
Recently, a second subsidiary pyramid was discovered that appears to be that of a queen's tomb. However, the significance of this complex being associated with the pharaoh Djedefre is only now being understood.
As the first Egyptian king to use "Son of Re" in his title, Djedefre appears to have been the first pharaoh (at least of that time period) of the cult of the solar god Re.
While Egypt seems to have alternated between a “moon-oriented” society, and a “sun-oriented” society throughout the ages, Djedefre’s religious conviction appears to have included not just an ongoing tracking of the heavens--which was at the foundation of all Egyptian socio-religious beliefs--but such strict adherence to the movement of the stars (particularly Sirius), the constellations, and planets, that a formal astronomical observatory was built--which Abu Rowash appears to be.
Unlike any other pyramid, Abu Rowash is completely open to the sky.
Instead of being constructed in what has become recognized as the traditional Egyptian pyramid fashion, Abu Rowash has a wide causeway which extends from the edge of the Nile to a temple at the base of the encarpment. From there, a ramp climbes up the side of the hill and into the very heart of the pyramid, having been cut into the foundation, which ultimately rises 33 to 40 feet above the surface as it descends.
To accommodate this structural departure, the sides of Abu Rowash appears to have been pitched far steeper than the pyramid at Giza or any other traditionally-constructed pyramid.
The result of this construction resulted in two very remarkable physical features. Firstly, in constructing this unique structure, not only did the builders have to move blocks weighing as much as eighty tons to amazing heights (as did the builders of the other pyramids), they had to first move them up an escarpment some 490 feet to reach the pyramid base. No other existing pyramid was build under these circumstances--thus attesting to its unique purpose.
And secondly, upon following the passage which descends into the pyramid center (to what some archaeologist refer to as the funerary area), one need only turn around and look back up the ramp to see that the sides of the ramp form a perfect sighting mechanism to view the movement of the sky--much as the pillars of Stonehenge are believed to have been used for lunar and solar alignments.
The Illustrated Guide to the Pyramids, Zahi Hawass
The Pyramids of Ancient Egypt, Zahi A. Hawass
The Carnegie Museum of Natural History
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