Memphis To Memphite private tombs of the Old Kingdom (Archaeology of Ancient Egypt)


The city of Memphis (Men-nefer, Inbu-hedj, Hikuptah) is today represented by a large field of ruins, circa 600ha in area, surrounding the modern towns of Mit Rahina and Aziziya, 25km south of central Cairo on the west bank of the Nile (29°51′ N, 31°15′ E). After the final depopulation of Memphis in the seventh or eighth century AD, the site is often mentioned in medieval Arabic literature (Abd el-Latif, el-Qalqashandi, el-Maqrizi) and by early travelers (William of Tyre, Benjamin of Tudela, Joos van Ghistele); the toponym "Manf" survived into the nineteenth century. One of several names of the city and its temple, Hut-ka-Ptah/Hikuptah, became by extension the Greek name of the whole country, Aigyptos.

The actual location was lost until the late sixteenth century, and remained a question of scholarly debate until the Napoleonic expedition settled the matter at the end of the eighteenth century. From the 1820s the site became the target of archaeologists and antiquities dealers after the discovery by Giovanni Battista Caviglia of a colossal statue of Ramesses II. Major survey and excavations were conducted by Joseph Hekekyan in 1852-4, Auguste Mariette in the 1860s, Flinders Petrie in 1907-13 (for the British School of Archaeology in Egypt), Clarence Fisher in 1914-21 and Rudolph Anthes in 1955-6 (for the University Museum, University of Pennsylvania), and Ahmad Badawi in the 1940s (for Cairo University). Salvage archaeology in advance of building and agricultural development has been undertaken by the Egyptian Antiquities Organization (EAO) during this century, and current archaeological work includes the Apis House Project (American Research Center in Egypt), excavations by the EAO and Cairo University, and the London-based Egypt Exploration Society’s Survey of Memphis.

Traditionally the city was founded circa 3,100 BC to mark the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under one rule and to provide a new national capital. Desert-edge cemeteries closest to the settlement site reflect occupation only from this time, although important Predynastic settlements are known on the east bank, at Ma’adi to the north and el-Omari near Helwan to the south. No part of the valley settlement prior to the First Intermediate Period has yet been located with certainty, although current geoarchaeological work is attempting to determine the shifting course of the river and settlement in Early Dynastic and Old Kingdom times.

The city’s superb geographical location, commanding the Delta apex and the confluence of desert trade routes, from the Levant and Red Sea to the Sahara and beyond, meant that it was constantly being selected as the administrative center after periods of political instability. After serving as the capital and the center of the royal funerary industry during the Old Kingdom, Memphis ceded power to provincial cities, such as Heracleopolis (Ihnasya el-Medina), Hermopolis (el-Ashmunein) and Thebes, before Amenemhat I revitalized the Memphite region by establishing his new residence at el-Lisht (ancient ‘l-t^T) in the 12th Dynasty. In the 18th Dynasty Memphis became preeminent after (and perhaps even before) the move to Akhetaten (Tell el-Amarna) by Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten, and in the Late period it was again the home of royal power: and the chief prize for Assyrian and other invading armies. Ptolemaic kings were still crowned at Memphis and the city was popularly regarded as the Egyptian rival to Alexandria, founded by the Macedonian Greeks. In Roman times texts mention the extent of the palaces and the urban sprawl of Memphis, and it remained a religious center and place of pilgrimage until the eighth or ninth century AD, by which time the Islamic city of el-Fustat (Old Cairo) had effectively replaced it. In medieval times standing monu ments at Memphis were systematically dismantled or quarried for building material, particularly at the Cairo citadel of Salah el-Din.

Taken together with its extensive cemeteries (at Dahshur, Saqqara, Abusir and Giza on the west bank, and Helwan, Masara, Tura and Ma’adi on the east bank), Memphis provides an unparalleled body of evidence for the history and material culture of Dynastic and Hellenistic Egypt. The present area of ruins, although often ignored, is one of the largest floodplain sites in Egypt and once stretched along the river for 10km.

In the following description the site is divided into individual mounds (known as tells or koms), whose local names are subject to some variation. Between these koms are three or more large pools (birkas), low-lying areas which usually mark the position of sacred enclosures. The southern half of the site is by far the most extensively explored, although only a tiny part is seen by most visitors to the site today. This summary follows a general south to north, and west to east progression.

Kom el-Rabia, Kom Sabkha

Two small temples built by Ramesses II (19th Dynasty) for Ptah and Hathor have been found at Kom el-Rabia. Both were frequently reused in the Late period and built over by Roman times. Other remains include a building of the 21st Dynasty; part of a Hellenistic temple and laconicon (ritual bath), and another bath house on Kom Sabkha to the south. Recent excavations on the west side of el-Rabia have shown a sequence of intensive settlement, from the Middle Kingdom to the Late period, with a notable break in occupation between the 13th and 18th Dynasties. This evidence supports the suggestion that the early phases of the city lie beneath and beyond the western side of the area of ruins, largely buried by the rise of the valley floor.

Kom el-Oala, Kom Helul

A temple and palace complex was laid out here on virgin ground by Ramesses II’s successor, Merenptah, and its boundaries were still respected in Roman times even though the Ramesside structure had long since disappeared under later construction. To the south on Kom Helul, a faience workshop of the Graeco-Roman period was found by Petrie.

Ptah temple enclosure

This enclosure occupies the central birka and was probably also built on a virgin site reclaimed from the river. In its original conception it rivaled in scale the Amen-Re temple at Karnak and colossal statues surrounded the enclosure wall, especially at the four cardinal approaches, with sphinxes at or near the north and south gates. Little is known of the internal design of the temple other than at the west gate, where a hypostyle hall perhaps commemorated a heb-sed (jubilee) of Ramesses II. In the southwest corner of the enclosure stood a building of the sixth-first centuries BC associated with the cult of the Apis bull, whose burial place, the Serapeum, was on the desert escarpment at Saqqara. Also at this corner was a small "oratory" of Seti I, perhaps built to mark the ambitious new building program since it contained statues personifying the city and temple walls.

There is no evidence that the Ptah enclosure predates the 19th Dynasty. All earlier inscribed material, such as a lintel of Amenemhat III at the north gate, pyramid casing stones at the west gate, and blocks from the reigns of Amenhotep III and Akhenaten in the interior, is demonstrably reused in the Ramesside construction or otherwise redeposited.

Kom el-Fakhry

A cemetery of the First Intermediate Period and an early Middle Kingdom settlement lay beneath later occupation levels to the south of Mit Rahina, on high ground which almost certainly reflects underlying stratigraphy of the late Old Kingdom. The burials found here were intact but poorly preserved, and probably constitute a family vault. Grave goods and tomb decoration, where preserved, appear closest in style to contemporary tombs at South and North Saqqara. Recent excavations to the east have revealed occupation levels of the 18th Dynasty, including provision for grain storage on a domestic level.

Kom el-Arbain, Kom el-Nawa, Kom el-Qala

Sporadic finds have been made in this eastern area over the past century, but the only concerted archaeological work was by Petrie in the early 1900s. It is now an army camp and therefore inaccessible. On the eastern edge, part of the Roman riverside wall was found in the 1850s, and historical cartography suggests that the celebrated Memphis nilometer, which was used to assess national tax returns in the Hellenistic period, lay nearby. The site of a temple of Mithras was recorded on the north side in the 1840s, and a Late period stone gateway found by Petrie still stands to its full height. The discovery over the years of non-Egyptian (Phoenician, Persian, Archaic Greek) artifacts in this area, and quantities of ceramic heads of foreigners at Kom el-Qala to the south, may signify the whereabouts of the earlier (New Kingdom) port of Perunefer, which attracted the city’s ethnic minorities.

Kom Tuman, Kom Dafbaby

At over 20m above level of the plain, the 26th Dynasty foundations of a royal palace and surrounding military(?) enclosure remain the highest part of the site. Evidence of military occupation in the Persian period was found, including massive column fragments inscribed for Apries and the remains of a pylon thrown into the ditch in front of the palace. The palace would have been a natural focus for the city’s defenses and may well have been the citadel known in Hellenistic times as the "White Fortress" (Leukon Teikhos), perhaps a survival or revival of the Egyptian name of Memphis, "Inbu-hedj" (White Walls).

The location of many of the major institutions of the city remains a matter of conjecture or guesswork, a problem compounded by its sheer size and by the fact that contemporary accounts and references rarely distinguish between the metropolitan area and its suburbs and cemeteries. None of the royally endowed temples is known, nor are hardly any of the other cult places for which Memphis was renowned in antiquity. The city center was surrounded on the landward side by river defenses, and several "Islands of Memphis" are recorded, but very few of them can be identified. Horticultural gardens were probably located west of the city, and a possible location for the municipal theater lies north of Kom Dafbaby, just outside the walls of the garrison. Remains of a number of ecclesiastical buildings are known, but again they cannot be identified with any confidence. By Coptic times (seventh century AD) the "Polis-Mempheos" (City of Memphis) had certainly fragmented and shrunk to the size of the neighboring villages, and was outdone in terms of population and resources by the monastic desert communities of Gregorius on the east and Jeremias on the west.

Memphis, Apis bull embalming house

The site known as the embalming house of Apis bulls is located in the southwest corner of the walled enclosure built in the Late period around the Ramesside temple of Ptah in Memphis. It is on the north side of the main road between el-Badrashein and Saqqara, some 180m west of the great fallen limestone colossus of Ramesses II (Abu’l-Hol) now covered by the local museum.

The earliest recorded discovery in the area was made in the mid-nineteenth century. A group of alabaster blocks was found in what is now the southeast corner of the site. One block bears the names of Ramesses II and the god Living Apis, and another the cartouches of Sheshonk I, figures of the god Anubis and Shedsunefertem (High Priest of Ptah in Memphis) and the names of the gods Osiris, Apis, Atum, Horus. The inscription of Sheshonk I also records the founding of a w’bt, possibly an "embalming place" for Osiris-Apis. The first methodically recorded excavations were carried out by the British archaeologist Flinders Petrie in 1908. He found part of a small Late period or Ptolemaic chapel containing an inscribed block with the name of the 25th Dynasty ruler Shabako, probably reused. In about 1914, local farmers digging sebbakh (decayed mudbrick used as fertilizer) found six quartzite doorjamb blocks with reliefs of the 26th Dynasty ruler Amasis. Four remain at the site while two have been in Memphis, Tennessee since 1916.

In 1941 Egyptian archaeologists Mustafa el-Amir and Ahmed Badawy began digging into the palm-covered mound east of Petrie’s Shabako chapel and the find spot of the Amasis doorjambs. During the course of their work the embalming house of Apis bulls was uncovered. It is a mudbrick building whose walls were originally clad in limestone blocks, many of which were cut from fragments of decorated column bases and capitals. The thickness of the remaining walls, together with the great overburden of collapsed mudbrick debris that filled the long rooms when the site was excavated, suggest that it may have been roofed with mudbrick barrel vaults similar to those still preserved at the Ramesseum storerooms on the west bank at Luxor. An unusual feature is a carved panel resembling a false door in the center of the south wall; parallels may be found in the mortuary temples of the Old Kingdom, the temples of Seti I and Ramesses II at Abydos and the temple of Osiris Heqa-Djet at Karnak. Amir believed that he had discovered the stall, or sekos described by classical writers, in which the Apis bull was housed during its lifetime. He dated the monument to the 26th Dynasty on the basis of inscriptions naming Neko II and Amasis. The reference to Apis came from the same 26th Dynasty inscriptions, those of Ramesses II and Sheshonk I and a basin of Darius I. While the dating was generally accepted, this identification of the site as the Apis stall was not.

It was the American architect John Dimick, working with Rudolph Anthes in 1955, who proposed the name by which the site is known today. Dimick based his identification on the interpretation of limestone and alabaster slabs with lions carved in relief on their longer sides. The largest and most magnificent of the two large alabaster slabs has, in addition to the lions, a revetted upper surface carved to slope down toward a spout beneath which a large circular alabaster tank was found in situ. Dimick and others have seen the lion beds as platforms on which the body of the dead Apis bull was embalmed and prepared for its burial in the Serapeum at Saqqara. This view is supported by the w’bt inscription of Sheshonk I (in which w’bt is translated as "embalming place"), by scenes on the walls of temples and tombs of the New Kingdom and later and on Late period coffins, showing the god Osiris and some royal and non-royal mummies lying on lion-shaped biers frequently attended by Anubis. In addition, the theory draws on the symbolism of the lions as guardians of the dead and sleeping, and their association with rebirth as shown by the lion god Aker, whose form becomes the horizon in which the sun rises at dawn. However, only complete mummies, fully equipped with their masks, are shown on lion biers; the rare representations of the mummification process depict the work taking place on plain boards.

The correct identification of the site and the archaeological interpretation of its remains have therefore been open to dispute. Survey and excavation carried out between 1982 and 1986 by New York University aimed at clarifying these points. As a result, it is now known that the structure found by Amir and Badawy containing the stone lion beds and inscriptions of the 26th Dynasty rulers is the latest in a series of several buildings on the site constructed between the 19th Dynasty and the Ptolemaic or Roman periods. Furthermore, this latest building was fashioned from masonry that had been reused from earlier monuments. The pieces inscribed for Neko II and Amasis, and possibly the basin of Darius I, which bear the only references to the god Apis to have been found at the site, are among these recycled blocks. The alabaster blocks of Ramesses II and Sheshonk I were found to be fragments of a dismantled alabaster building, possibly the w’bt itself; probably they had been reused more than once.

John Dimick had already realized in 1955 that the structure was built on a foundation platform whose purpose was to elevate it above the contemporary surrounding ground level. The New York University survey defined the extent of the platform and also ascertained that it was laid out on two levels, creating a terraced structure whose upper level is 1.05m (two cubits) above the lower. The fill of the foundation compartments provides important evidence for dating the building. In the rubble sealed beneath the floors of the lower terrace, limestone slabs were found inscribed with the names of Psamtik II and the god Osiris-Apis. The names of Psamtik II had been carved in palimpsest over the erased hieroglyphs of the names of Shabako. The fill of the upper terrace contained pottery datable from the Old Kingdom to the Persian period. A hoard of silver coins, locally struck in imitation of Athenian "owls," was discovered within the brickwork of the platform of the upper terrace in a context highly suggestive of a foundation deposit. The coins are datable to the mid-fourth century BC. No pottery of the Ptolemaic period was found, as would be consistent with a religious building in use at that time. Nevertheless, a scatter of pottery and other objects datable to approximately AD 100, found in the ruins of the building that once stood on the upper terrace, suggests that by then at least a section of the site had been abandoned and partly demolished.

The archaeological evidence for the rebuilding of the site in the fourth century BC is supported by the text of a stela found at Saqqara, dated to the second year of the reign of Nectanebo II (358 BC). It records the inauguration of a new place of Apis in the precinct of Ptah in Memphis. Included as an element of the place of Apis is a w’bt to which lavish endowments of property were made by royal decree.

The realization that all the inscribed material found by Amir and Badawy had been reused, none remaining in its original context, cast serious doubt on the identification of the building with the god Apis. However, an inscription on the basin belonging with the largest of the alabaster lion beds states simply "the w’bt of the sacred precinct of Apis" (w’bt [n] b"**ttrntfp) This basin and lion bed are clearly in situ, and archaeologically associated with the latest building into which all the earlier inscriptions had been rebuilt. A continuity in the cult of Apis may therefore be seen in the remains at this site. There is also good reason for supposing that the purpose of the building remained the same from one period to another since lion beds are present both reused in pavement foundations and as a major feature of the latest structure. The two w’bt inscriptions, both dedicated to Apis, one of Sheshonk I and the other on the basin which was probably in use during the Ptolemaic period, suggest that this continuity lasted at least from the tenth century BC until the Roman period.

The association with the worship of Apis is further confirmed by the discovery at the site of a number of small limestone plaques bearing carved images of the Apis bull in a shrine conveyed on a wheeled vehicle. Other similar plaques have also been found near the Serapeum at Saqqara. Similar representations of other sacred animals survive, for example a crocodile from Karanis (Kom Aushim); they are dated to the Late, Ptolemaic or Roman periods. It is not known whether this scene represents the procession in which the preserved remains of the animal were transported from Memphis to the Serapeum, or another ceremony in which the live bull was paraded in a shrine. It may be significant that all the plaques found at the Apis precinct in Memphis with a recorded provenance came from the southern area of the site where they could have been votive objects associated with a processional way leading into the sacred precinct and onto the elevated terraced buildings within.

The extraordinary amount of alabaster present at this site, much of it inscribed for Apis and fashioned into lion beds, implies a highly specific use of the building. Depictions of lion beds, such as those mentioned above, in which color survives, show them painted a golden yellow. By its association with gold, as shown in the name of the quarry at Hatnub ("Mansion of Gold") whence it came, alabaster was associated with the life-giving energy of the sun and the peculiar properties of light. It was used for temple pavements in the pyramid complexes of the Old Kingdom (for example, those of Khafre, Unas and Teti), for offering tables, sarcophagi (such as Queen Hetepheres and Seti I), certain kinds of statues and lamps such as the elaborate examples from the tomb of Tutankhamen. Alabaster was thus identified with the quality of w’b "purity," from which the name of the w’bt derives. This kind of edifice could have been any of the service buildings, including workshops, attendant on a temple, and in this context mummification may well have been carried on there. In the case of the alabaster lion beds, they may be better understood as the places where the embalmed remains of the Apis bull were placed for purification and revivification ceremonies, prior to the long procession through the Ptah temple and along the Serapeum Way for burial at Saqqara. Libations poured over the mummy would probably have been collected in the basin attached to the bed.

Memphite private tombs of the Old Kingdom

The typical mastaba (named after the Arabic word for "bench") private (i.e. non-royal) tomb of the Old Kingdom (3rd-6th Dynasties) contained a rectangular limestone or mudbrick superstructure resembling a box with gently sloping slides. Above ground, the mastaba was originally filled solid with mudbrick or rubble, and, later on in its development, with solid masonry. The more elaborate tombs utilized more masonry than their simpler mudbrick counterparts, but both materials continued to be used throughout Egyptian history.

The north and south niches on the exterior of the tomb faced east and were focal points for offerings to the cult of the deceased; they evolved into increasingly elaborate recesses now known as "false doors." The deceased was thought to pass through the false door in order to partake of offerings left by the living to ritually sustain his spirit. The only carved and/or painted decoration on the earliest mastaba tombs was either the false door, or a slab stela, with a representation of the deceased seated before a table piled high with bread loaves, and various inscribed spells for the invocation of offerings.

View of the western cemetery at Giza, taken from the top of the Great Pyramid.

Figure 67 View of the western cemetery at Giza, taken from the top of the Great Pyramid.

The solid core mastaba form was eventually enlarged and altered to house a room or series of rooms within the superstructure. Statues of the deceased and his or her family were placed in certain chambers or pits of the tomb, known as serdabs, to serve as substitute homes for the spirit should the mummy be damaged. Decoration also expanded from the false door or slab stela to the walls of the interior chambers, and even exterior entrance wall and architrave inscriptions. The chamber walls contained both raised and sunk relief sculpture and painted scenes of daily life on the deceased’s estate and beyond (processions of animals, craft work, tax collecting, fishing and fowling, and so on), as well as funerary rites and biographical and religious inscriptions. These mentioned the names and titles of the tomb owner, and included stock laudatory phrases about his career and accomplishments. All of these scenes and texts would be magically recreated in the next world to provide a successful afterlife for the deceased. Stone and ceramic vessels, personal cosmetic implements and servant statuettes were among the various grave goods often deposited in the tomb.

The burial chamber was located underground, usually connected to the mastaba by means of a deep shaft through the rubble or debris-filled interior that cut into the bedrock; the shaft was often located behind the false door. The mummified body was placed in a stone or wooden sarcophagus and lowered into the burial chamber, which was then sealed for eternity. In the case of family tombs, several shafts and burial chambers were included. The most complex tombs, occurring later in the Old Kingdom (late 5 th—6th Dynasties) contained multiple serdabs, multiple burial shafts and on occasion as many as 30-40 decorated chambers housed within the superstructure.

In terms of the economics of the tomb complex, the offerings left in the tomb on specific days for the deceased were part of an arrangement established during life for the provision of the funerary cult. The offerings (bread, beer, cuts of meat, wine, milk, alabaster, clothing and so on) could later be removed from the tomb and redistributed among the priests, administrators and workers responsible for maintaining the cult. This system enhanced the economic relationship between the living and the dead, until the breakdown of the highly centralized Old Kingdom administration at the end of the 6th Dynasty.

The mastaba tomb is best preserved in a series of cemeteries stretching along the edge of the desert on the west bank of the Nile in the region of the Old Kingdom capital, Memphis, some 24km south of modern Cairo. From north to south these sites are: Abu Roash, Giza, Zawiyet el-Aryan, Abusir, Saqqara, Dahshur and Meydum. Although there are numerous private tombs at sites possessing no royal burials, the general trend for the governing classes was to build a tomb at the site chosen by the reigning king. Members of the royal family and court officials closest to pharaoh were granted the honor of tombs in closest proximity to the royal pyramid complex. The largest and best known of these cemetery sites are Giza and Saqqara.

Located on a desert plateau overlooking the floodplain, a few kilometers west of modern Cairo, Giza was the principal royal necropolis of the 4th Dynasty. The early mastabas of the family and court of King Khufu were laid out in rows or streets on the east side of the Great Pyramid. Great double mastabas of princes and princesses, containing exterior chapels and inscribed niches, fill the streets closest to the satellite pyramids southeast of the Great Pyramid. One mastaba of a queen contains several rock-cut chambers located beneath the solid mastaba superstructure. The largest mastaba in the eastern field, and second largest one at Giza, belongs to Prince Ankh-haf, possibly a son of King Seneferu, and the vizier under King Khafre.

On the western side of the Great Pyramid, the cemetery is even larger. The earliest 4th Dynasty tombs were core-filled mastabas laid out in rows with exterior slab stelae added as the only decoration. Many were later altered during Khufu’s reign by the addition of casing walls and chapels. Later intrusive mastabas from the 5th and 6th Dynasties complicate the layout. One of the earliest tombs in Egypt to contain a decorated subterranean burial chamber belonged to an official in this area. Other notable mastabas include the largest in the necropolis (G 2000), whose owner remains anonymous, and the (third largest) tomb of Hemiunu, vizier and probable supervisor of the Great Pyramid construction project. A family of successive chief royal architects was buried in a large tomb complex at the northwest corner of the Great Pyramid; this contained copies of letters from a 5th Dynasty king mentioning the length of one mastaba’s construction (fifteen months) inscribed on the exterior walls. In addition, numerous rock-cut tombs were carved from the Giza plateau cliffs (East and West Cemeteries, Menkaure Quarry Cemetery), and unusual mudbrick tombs with vaulted ceilings were discovered south of the Sphinx. Excavations to the south have revealed additional cemeteries of construction crew members and overseers, as well as bakeries, fish-processing installations and perhaps even palace buildings. Giza continued to be used as a necropolis during both the New Kingdom and the Late period.

In terms of modern archaeological investigation, Giza was apportioned to different expeditions in an organized and well-defined fashion. At the beginning of the twentieth century the Egyptian antiquities authorities divided the major sections of the necropolis among several international teams, in an effort to put an end to illicit digging. German and Austrian expeditions excavated the central strip of the western cemetery, the street of mastabas south of the Great Pyramid, and the temples associated with the large pyramids of Khufu and Khafre. American teams dug the entire Eastern Cemetery, the two outer thirds of the Western Cemetery (one-third obtained upon departure of an Italian mission), and the pyramid complex of King Menkaure. Egyptian expeditions excavated the rock-cut tombs south and west of the Great Sphinx and Khafre causeway, and smaller areas at the western edge of the Western Cemetery. Principal finds from these excavations are now at Giza itself, in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Pelizaeus-Museum, Hildesheim, the Agyptisches Museum, Leipzig and the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

Basic elements of a typical Old Kingdom mastaba tomb

Figure 68 Basic elements of a typical Old Kingdom mastaba tomb

Saqqara is the primary cemetery of the Memphite capital and closest to it geographically. Located high on a desert bluff above the western edge of the cultivation, and measuring some 6km long and 1.5km at its widest point, the site first contained cenotaphs of the Early Dynastic period. It was then enlarged with the 3rd Dynasty Step Pyramid complex of King Zoser, probably the world’s first monumental structure in stone. The site is larger and less unified than the necropolis at Giza. Limestone and mudbrick sepulchers from a wide range of periods, many of them later than the Old Kingdom, are in close proximity to each other, and there are far fewer areas with streets of mastabas arrayed in a symmetrical fashion than at Giza. The site was therefore excavated in a less systematic manner. Egyptian, French, British, German, Dutch and Japanese expeditions are just a few of the nations that have worked or continue to work at the site.

South of the Step Pyramid complex lies the pyramid of King Unas, the last pharaoh of the 5th Dynasty, around whose causeway a number of mastabas were constructed, some of them predating and thus underlying Unas’s construction. Among the best preserved are those of Ny-ankh-Khnum and Khnum-hotep, Nefer, and the viziers Iy-nofret and Mehu. The largest group of mastaba tombs lies north of the Step Pyramid, and includes those of Ti (containing a portico and pillared court), Akhet-hotep and Ptah-hotep (5th Dynasty). Some of the 6th Dynasty tombs surrounding the pyramid of King Teti belonged to the officials Mereruka, Ka-gem-ni, Ankh-ma-hor and Nefer-seshem-Ptah. Excavations continue in these and many other parts of the necropolis.

Private mastaba tombs of the Old Kingdom account for some of the largest and best known necropoleis in all of Egyptian archaeology. Rock-cut tombs without superstructures are also known from Giza and Old Kingdom sites in Upper Egypt, such as Sheik Sa’id, Deshasha and Aswan. While these show several different layouts and arrangements of their rock-cut chambers, they include the critical mortuary elements, namely, the false door, inscribed offering formulae, and shafts and burial chambers. It should be remembered that the surviving evidence for Egyptian tomb architecture is skewed in favor of the governing classes and bureaucracy, since their wealth and influence allowed for construction in more permanent materials such as limestone. The great cemeteries of the Memphite area, the largest and most impressive in the country, represent but an elite fraction of the population. The largest proportion of Egyptian society was probably interred in modest graves at the desert’s edge.

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