The rubbly exterior of Sahura’s pyramid juxtaposed with the recently cleared and restored chambers (all images courtesy Mohamed Ismail Khaled)

A team of Egyptian and German researchers led by Mohamed Ismail Khaled from the Julius-Maximilians-Universität of Würzburg recently uncovered multiple storage chambers within the ruins of the Fifth Dynasty pyramid of the pharaoh Sahura, putting centuries of ambiguity surrounding the structure to rest.

Sahura reigned over Ancient Egypt for 13 years during the early 25th century BCE within the Old Kingdom period. The pharaoh had his funerary pyramid erected in the Abusir complex, diverging from the necropolises where his predecessors’ pyramids stood in Saqqara and Giza.

Standing at 154 feet tall, Sahura’s pyramid is rather small in stature and was constructed from roughly hewn stone blocks and a mortar made from mud, making it more prone to degradation and collapse compared to other renowned funerary monuments of Ancient Egypt.

Mohamed Ismail Khaled and his team of German and Egyptian archaeologists within the excavated and restored chambers of the pyramid of Sahura

British Egyptologist John Shae Perring and his team accessed the pyramid of Sahura in 1837, cleaning off the entrance and descending passageway to discover a chamber containing a single fragment of basalt that he attributed to Sahura’s sarcophagus as well as another passage that was completely blocked off by fallen rubble. Fearing that the pyramid would collapse with additional excavation, Perring didn’t attempt to pursue the passageway further but alleged that there were more storage chambers beyond the rubble.

Khaled and his team ventured into the unstable pyramid, identifying the crumbling structure of eight chambers during their restoration work to prevent further collapse of the compromised monument.

The 3D scan of the eight chambers captured and modeled by Khaled and his team

The team of archaeologists began conservation and restoration work on the pyramid in 2019, supported by the Antiquities Endowment Fund of the American Research Center in Egypt. They conducted excavations that underscored Perring’s original findings through the use of handheld light detection and ranging sensors to visualize the tight passages.

In Khaled’s writeup of the discovery, he notes that the structural integrity of the chambers, known as “magazines,” was poor as their floors, ceilings, and walls were in varying states of dissolution.

Khaled and his team noted that while Sahura’s pyramid is smaller, the number and size of magazines within the structure exceeds those of his predecessors, adding that they could have been used to store additional funerary equipment.

“The discovery of the magazine area inside the pyramid of Sahura has completely changed our
understanding of the architecture of pyramids in the Old Kingdom,” Khaled wrote, hypothesizing that Sahura may have been the only pharaoh to see the construction of their funerary monument to completion.

“Sahura might have been the pioneer of this architectural innovation which was adopted by his successors,” he said.

Further investigations must be conducted to address unanswered questions about the architectural purposes of the magazines.

Rhea Nayyar (she/her) is a New York-based teaching artist who is passionate about elevating minority perspectives within the academic and editorial spheres of the art world. Rhea received her BFA in Visual...

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