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Athena Review: Recent Finds in Archaeology 

An Egyptian Queen's Pyramid from the Old Kingdom at Abu Roash

Remains of a 4,500-year-old pyramid of an unidentified Egyptian queen from the Old Kingdom has been recently found at Abu Roash, about 8 km north of the Great Pyramid of Cheops at Giza. Swiss excavators, clearing around the 4th Dynasty tomb of Pharoah Djedefre (or Ra’djedef), son and first successor of Cheops, accidentally discovered a square, 5 x 5 meter foundation of cut stone blocks sticking out of the sand. They spent the next two months excavating the newly-found pyramid base, whose tomb was buried 5 meters deep. Three underground chambers included fragments of a limestone sarcophagus or coffin, and an alabaster canopis jar (used to store human organs after mummification). The royal mummy itself, however, was missing and presumed stolen by ancient looters.

The pyramid’s size and location near the larger pyramid of Djedefre indicate the tomb belonged to his sister, wife, or daughter. Djedefre, son of Cheops by a reportedly “minor, blond Libyan consort,” may have usurped the Egyptian throne by murdering his older half-brother, to become the third king of the Fourth pharaonic dynasty after Cheops' death in 2568 BC. 

After reigning for ten years until 2558 BC, Djedefre himself may, in turn, have been killed by his brother Cephren (Khufu) in an internecine power struggle. Hieroglyphics found in the tomb spelled out the word “Cheops.” Most Egyptian queen's tombs, however, show no trace of the occupants own name. Names of two of Ra’djedef ’s wives are known to be Heterpheres II (who was also his sister), and Khentetenka.  

Fig.1: The Great Pyramid of Cheops at Giza, which  is flanked by several tombs of r 4th Dynasty queens (photo: ca 1870).

Zahi Hawass, director of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, stressed the importance of the find, the 110th pyramid found so far in Egypt and one of a number known to be erected for women rulers. The famous Great Pyramid of Cheops at Giza is itself flanked on the east by several smaller pyramids belonging to 4th Dynasty queens (fig.1).  The last similar discovery occurred four years ago, when another queen's pyramid was found at Saqqara, south of Cairo.

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