The necropolis of Dashur is one of the most impressive sites of Ancient Egypt. It sits on the west bank of the Nile south of Cairo and southwest of the ancient Egyptian city of Menefer (Memphis). It forms part of the necropolis of Menefer along with Abu Rawash, Saqqara, Zawyet el Aryan and Meidum.
The necropolis is named Dashur after the village of the same name which is close to the ancient necropolis. The site may have been known as “wnt snfrw” (“unet Sneferu“) in ancient Egypt, as referenced in the Story of Sinuhe, but it may also have been known by a number of names or by the names of the most prominent monuments (as was the custom).
Dashur is host to a large number of ancient Egyptian burials, but it is probably most famous as the home of the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid of the Old Kingdom pharaoh Sneferu. However, there are a number of other Old Kingdom burials at the site, and pyramids and tombs were also built at Dashur during the Middle Kingdom and the Second Intermediate Period.
The most impressive Old Kingdom tombs at Dashur are undoubtedly the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid of Sneferu who seems to have been the first to build here. It is sometimes proposed that he chose to build on this virgin site because he was moving from stellar theology with the step pyramid (such as the one at Meidum) to a solar theology exemplified by his construction of the first true pyramid. There is a small incomplete pyramid to the northeast of the Red Pyramid which also dates to the fourth dynasty, but it is unclear who was responsible for this monument.
A number of officials and members of the royal family also placed their tombs at Dashur to the east of the two pyramids of Sneferu. Among them is the tomb of Kanefer, the son of Sneferu.
The next major construction undertaken at Dashur was the pyramid of the twelfth dynasty pharaoh Amenemhat II who built his pyramid close to the Old Kingdom mastabas. His example was followed by Senusert III (Sesostris III) and by Amenemhat III. The Middle Kingdom pyramids were built closer to the edge of the desert where they were more at risk from flooding, and it is thought that Amenemhat III abandoned his pyramid because the foundations were unstable as a result.
There are a number of tombs dedicated to the royal women of the Middle kingdom in the area. Many of them were undisturbed in antiquity and have provided us with a great deal of information on the period and some beautiful artifacts. A number of high officials were also buried at Dashur, such as the Vizier Sa-Iset.
Second Intermediate Period
The thirteenth dynasty ruler Hor was buried in a shaft tomb next to the pyramid of king Amenemhat III. The undisturbed tomb of his daughter, Nubhetepti-khered, was discovered close by. A number of small pyramids in the area are thought to date to the thirteenth dynasty, but only that of Ameny Qemau has been fully excavated and none are in a particularly good state.
The northern part of Dashur remained popular as a necropolis for private burials during the New Kingdom but it seems to have been abandoned as a royal burial site by this time. Fine examples of noble tombs from the period are the tomb of Ipay (a Royal Butler buried during the reign of Tutankhamun or Horemheb) and the tomb of Mes (Royal scribe and Overseer of the Horses during the Ramesside period).
- Bard, Kathryn (2008) An introduction to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt
- Kemp, Barry J (1991) Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilisation
- Lehner, Mark (1997) The Complete Pyramids
- Malek, Jaromir (2000) “The Old Kingdom”, in The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt Ed I. Shaw
- Verner, Miroslav (2001) The Pyramids
- Wilkinson, Richard H. (2000) The Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt
Copyright J Hill 2008