Andrzej Æwiek

Poznañ Archaeological Museum


Recent archaeological research at Saqqara resulted in spectacular discoveries made around the Step Pyramid complex. The existence of the Dry Moat (as suggested in 1988 by N. Swelim) has been confirmed at the area west of the pyramid and to the south-east of it. On the west the moat is 45 meters wide and has considerable depth. The plateau between the moat and the temenos wall had been worked during the Third Dynasty and terraces were cut across the slope. A peculiar structure discovered in the moat wall, a 22-meters long corridor with a chamber opening at the end off the axis, might date from the time of Netjerykhet. A large wooden ritual harpoon was found there, redeposited in a Sixth Dynasty context, but probably connected with the original ideological programme of the Moat. The harpoon is decorated with figures of undulating snakes and there is little doubt that it comes from the royal sphere. Another important object, found near Teti’s pyramid by Z. Hawass, was the limestone door-jamb bearing Netjerykhet’s titulary and likewise decorated with figures of undulating snakes.

Sedimentological research made by the Polish mission proved that during the Old Kingdom catastrophic rainfalls occurred, possibly already in the Third Dynasty. The results suggest indirectly that the roof of the middle one of the Western Massifs was not curved in its entire length; probably the roof had not been finished when the pyramid was built over the easternmost of the massifs.

Discovery of a Third Dynasty building on the ‘Khaemwaset Hill’ by the Japanese team and the results of work of the Scottish mission at Gisr el-Mudir and L-Shaped Enclosure area (including uncovering of Late Period temples) are also of significance. The archaeological discoveries were supplemented by some important theoretical studies, including new, ingenious interpretation by F. D. Friedman of the relief panels under the Step Pyramid and the South Tomb.

Trying to incorporate the new evidence into the overall concept of Netjerykhet’s mortuary complex – of its structure and function, and the role it played in later periods of Egyptian history - one might suggest that some of the ideas taken for granted thus far should be seriously revised and some new assumptions made:

The Dry Moat was the outermost limit of the mortuary precinct. It cannot predate Netjerykhet, surrounding the precinct in its final, developed form. The Moat’s shape reflects the direction of approach (from the north via Wadi Abusir and round the southern side of the enclosure to the gate in the south end of the eastern wall). The moat, the enclosure wall, and the area between them played an important role in the ideological programme of the complex. The terraces created on the slope, when viewed from the west (from the approach to the royal necropolis), looked as steps - a downward extension of the Step Pyramid.  The fourteen dummy gates in the temenos wall, conceived as giant false doors for the fourteen kas of the king, were possibly supplemented with paths extending from them to the four cardinal directions. They might have crossed the Dry Moat by means of bridges. The path around the temenos wall served for the ceremony of ‘Going Round the Wall’. The Dry Moat was the simulacrum of a real moat and a stage for the procession with Henu-barque of Sokaris dragged along the moat floor. The harpoon found by the Polish mission is likewise to be set in this context as the Pyramid Texts suggest. One may also expect boat burials in the vicinity.

The Step Pyramid complex was obviously copying many features of the royal residence of Inebu-Hedj, being an eternal abode of the king. The magical ways, along which the king in his eternal spirit form was supposed to move around the complex, can be traced in various features of the architecture.

There are clear parallels between Netjerykhet’s complex and later mortuary temples, visible in the structural divisions of the precinct: e.g. Entrance Colonnade = pr wrw; great South Court = wsxt; South Tomb = satellite pyramid, Heb-Sed Court = square antechamber, ‘northern temple’ = northern chapel. Main sanctuary with the offering place was located at the eastern side of the pyramid, where stelae were found by J.-P. Lauer. One might suggest that this very place was the original location of the door-jamb with snakes found reused in the Sixth Dynasty building in Teti’s precinct. Along with boundary stelae it belonged to an early stage of the complex, possibly as a part of the snwt-shrine. The entry on the Palermo Stone recorded ‘Introducing of the King into the snwt-shrine’ in the second year of Netjerykhet’s reign.

Western Massifs were probably not finished when the pyramid was settled upon them. This would point towards an assumption that they are not a Second Dynasty royal tomb, but the earliest version of Netjerykhet’s tomb. Recent discoveries at Abydos proved that Netjerykhet followed Khasekhemui directly. Western Massifs should be placed in the sequence of royal funerary monuments after the Umm el-Qaab tomb of Khasekhemui. Mortuary complex of Netjerykhet in its primitive form comprised thus the Western Massifs and a rectangular precinct adjoining them on the east. Only subsequently the mastaba initiale (to become the Step Pyramid) was designed to be the king’s tomb, and the whole precinct extended northwards.

The issue of ‘Divine Fortresses’ of Netjerykhet should be analysed anew. The names of ObH-nTrw and Nrw-tAwj, recorded on a relief from Netjerykhet’s shrine at Heliopolis, on the Palermo Stone and on sealings, almost certainly refer to royal funerary monuments.

Djeser was not a contemporary name of Netjerykhet, nor did it refer to another Third Dynasty ruler. It was an honorific designation, derived from &A-Dsr, of the king whose achievements were unparalleled and whose mortuary complex was for millennia the focal point of the necropolis as well as a template for mythical places. A unique position held by Netjerykhet’s monument, widely recognised since a long time, should be re-evaluated in respect to such toponyms as PDw-Sj, *nnt or the Cavern of Sokaris.