Metanavigation

Dahshur

Dahshur: Archaeological investigations at the pyramid necropolis of the Old and Middle Kingdom (2,600-1,700 BC)

Archaeological research at the cemetery and reconstruction of the ancient landscape

Location

Location

Germany

fig.1 The necropolis of Dahshur, animation of Art+Com companyThe vast necropolis of Dahshur measures 6 x 2.5 km and is located in the desert, approximately 30 km south of Cairo, Egypt; it lies on the west bank of the Nile to the south of the other large pyramid fields of Giza, Saqqara and Abusir. It is dominated by the Old Kingdom pyramids of Sneferu, the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid, which are situated deep in the desert. The pyramids of the Middle Kingdom were built closer to the cultivated area. Extensive cemeteries of the high officials are located in the vicinity of the pyramids; the settlements and valley temples are near the edge of the desert.

Background

In addition to the traditional excavations magnetometric prospection gives information about location, shape and extension of archaeological monuments. Drillings reveal information about the location and level of archaeological sites. The analysis of the soil samples results in the basis for the reconstruction of the historic landscape and paleoenvironment. The establishment of a geographic information system shall facilitate large-scale geographical analysis.

History

fig.2 Map of Dahshur © DAIDahshur was inaugurated by king Sneferu in the 4th Dynasty (ca. 2,600 BC) and acted as royal necropolis during his reign. Throughout the entire Old Kingdom (for more than 400 years until 2,200 BC), the cult of his pyramids was carried out by priests who lived in pyramid towns at the edge of the cultivated area and were buried in Dahshur. In the Middle Kingdom (12th and 13th Dyn., 1,900-1,700 BC), Dahshur was once again the royal necropolis and the cult was resumed at the temples of the Bent Pyramid.

Objectives

fig.3 Bent Pyramid and the edge of cultivation © DAIIn Dahshur, many large monuments still await investigation. Thus, the primary documentation of the pyramids with their temples and causeways, as well as the cemeteries of the royal family members and officials is of utmost importance. In addition, the necropolis is now more and more being viewed as an entity. In recent years, the focus therefore lay on the cemeteries and settlements of the priests who were involved in the funerary cult at the pyramids for many centuries. Little research has yet been conducted on the workmen's settlements and work shops that were constructed along with the pyramids and the valley temples and pyramid towns located at the edge of cultivation. In addition to the archaeological work, the historic landscape and the environmental conditions of Dahshur shall be reconstructed and visualized in a digital model.

History of Research

Dahshur was mapped for the first time in 1843 by the Royal Prussian Expedition led by R. Lepsius. From 1894 until 1895, J. de Morgan excavated at the pyramids and private tombs of the Middle Kingdom and made spectacular finds of jewellery and statues which are now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Ahmed Fakhry conducted work at the Bent Pyramid and its temples from 1951-55 until the area was closed by the military. In 1975, the Cairo Department of the German Archaeological Institute was granted the excavation concession for Dahshur.

Previous Activities

fig.4 Reconstruction of the pyramid complex of Amenemhat III (1,800 BC) Art+ComUnder the direction of Di. Arnold, the Cairo Department of the German Archaeological Institute started focusing work on the pyramid of Amenemhat III in 1975. Since 1980, R. Stadelmann has been examining the pyramid complexes of Sneferu (Red Pyramid and Bent Pyramid) and the connected tombs of the officials. Since 2000, S. Seidlmayer and N. Alexanian have been conducting a project funded by the German Research Foundation at the Free University of Berlin (Freie Universität Berlin); this project focuses on the cemeteries of the priests and settlements of the Old Kingdom.

Recent Activities

fig.5 Taking drill cores in the territory in front of the Bent Pyramid © DAISince 2008, studies concerning the valley temples and pyramid towns have been carried out with the support of research cluster 4 'Sanctuaries'; these studies should yield data pertaining to the reconstruction of the historic landscape and environment of Dahshur. The causeway of the Bent Pyramid was traced further down to the valley. It was thereby discovered that the entrance to the temple was much steeper at the causeway than it seems nowadays. The conducted drillings showed that not only the settlements at the edge of the cultivation lay 6 meters below the modern level but also that the desert landscape must have looked clearly different in historic times.

Methodology

In addition to the traditional excavations magnetometric prospection gives information about location, shape and extension of archaeological monuments. Drillings reveal information about the location and level of archaeological sites. The analysis of the soil samples results in the basis for the reconstruction of the historic landscape and paleoenvironment. The establishment of a geographic information system shall facilitate large-scale geographical analysis.

Results

fig.6 Red Pyramid (2,600 BC) © DAIThe royal pyramids of Dahshur belong to the most impressive monuments of the 2nd and 3rd Millennia BC in Egypt (fig.6). The temples of the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid of Sneferu have solved important questions regarding the understanding of the formation of pyramid complexes and have yielded data pertaining to the duration of Sneferu's reign and the construction of his pyramids. In many respects, the cemeteries of the royal family and officials of Sneferu can be seen as predecessors of the planned cemeteries of Giza. It was possible to assign numerous monuments that are stored in museums and magazines without any reference to their provenance to specific tombs and thus regain their original context. The funerary cult at the pyramids of Sneferu was carried out by priests in part for several centuries (fig.7). Their cemeteries give an insight into a closed group of persons and the circumstances of their every day life and enable inferences regarding the settlement history of the pyramid towns. Drillings located a pyramid town at the border of the cultivated area and showed that the landscape of Dahshur must have looked very different in historic times. Investigating the pyramid complexes of the Middle Kingdom has not been completed yet, but has yielded new information about the construction of pyramids and houses, about royal funerary customs and the architecture of non-royal tombs of this time.fig.7 Mastabas of priests © DAI

Cooperation / Cooperation partners

  • The investigations in Dahshur are being carried out in close collaboration with the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt.
  • Free University Berlin, Egyptological Seminar
  • Excellence cluster TOPOI - The Formation and Transformation of Space and Knowledge in Ancient Civilizations, Free University Berlin, Institute for Physical Geography (Prof. Dr. B. Schütt, Dr. W. Bebermeier)
  • Prof. Dr. med. A. Nerlich, Dr. des. med. S. Lösch, Städtisches Klinikum München Bogenhausen, TU-München (Anthropology and Archaeopathology)

Foerderung

The project "Die Residenznekropole von Dahschur" (The residence necropolis of Dahshur) is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). The project is settled at the Free University of Berlin (Freie Universität Berlin) and is conducted since 2000 with the support of the Cairo Department of the German Archaeological Institute.

Project director

S.J. Seidlmayer, field director: N. Alexanian.

Bibliography

N. Alexanian, Dahschur II, Das Grab des Prinzen Netjer-aperef. Die Mastaba II/1 in Dah-schur, AVDAIK 56, Mainz 1999.
N. Alexanian, S. Seidlmayer, Die Nekropole von Dahschur. Forschungsgeschichte und Perspektiven, in: M. Bárta, J. Krejcí (eds.), Abusir and Saqqara in the Year 2000, Archiv Orientalní Supplementa IX, Prag 2000, 283-304.
N. Alexanian, S. Seidlmayer, Die Residenznekropole von Dahschur. Erster Grabungsbericht, in: MDAIK 58, 2002, 1-28.
N. Alexanian, H. Becker, M. Müller, S.J. Seidlmayer, Die Residenznekropole von Dah-schur. Zweiter Grabungsbericht, in: MDAIK 61, 2006, 7-41.
Di. Arnold, Der Pyramidenbezirk des Königs Amenemhet III. Band I. Die Pyramide, AV 53, Mainz 1987.
Di. Arnold, The Pyramid Complex of Senowsret III at Dahshur. Architectural Studies, PMMA Egyptian Expedition 26, New York 2002.
Ahmed Fakhry, The Monuments of Sneferu at Dahshur, I, The Bent Pyramid, Cairo 1959.
id., The Monuments of Sneferu at Dahshur II. The Valley Temple 1. The Temple Reliefs, Cairo 1961.
id., The Monuments of Sneferu at Dahshur II. The Valley Temple 2. The Finds, Cairo 1961.
J. de Morgan, Fouilles à Dahchour Mars-Juin 1894, Wien 1895.
id., Fouilles à Dahchour 1894-1895, Wien 1903.
R. Stadelmann, Die ägyptischen Pyramiden, Mainz 1985.
R. Stadelmann, H. Sourouzian, Die Pyramiden des Snofru in Dahschur. Erster Vorbe-richt über die Ausgrabungen an der nördlichen Steinpyramide, in: MDAIK 38, 1982, 379-393.
R. Stadelmann, Die Pyramiden des Snofru in Dahschur. Zweiter Bericht über die Aus-grabungen an der nördlichen Steinpyramide, in: MDAIK 39, 1983, 237-241.
id. et al., Pyramide und Nekropole des Snofru in Dahschur. Dritter Vorbericht über die Grabungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts in Dahschur, in: MDAIK 49, 1993, 259-294.
R. Stadelmann, N. Alexanian, Die Friedhöfe des Alten und Mittleren Reiches in Dah-schur, in: MDAIK 54, 1998, 293-317.

Report 2002 (PDF, 1.15MB)
Report 2003 (PDF, 1.21MB)
Conservation report 2005/06 (PDF, 1.76MB)
Report 2006 (PDF, 2.93MB)
Report 2007 (PDF, 1.59MB)
Report 2008 (PDF, 2.12MB)
Report 2009 (PDF, 1.09MB)
Report 2009/10 with plates (PDF, 2.84MB)
Report 2010/11 with plates (PDF, 1.06MB)
Report 2011/12(PDF, 1 MB)

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Contact

The German Archaeological Institute (DAI) is a »scientific corporation« of the Federal Institution under the auspices of the Foreign Office. The staff of the Institute carries out research in the area of archaeology and in related fields and maintains relations with international scholars.
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