Mastaba el-Fara’un

Mastabat el Fara’un (also known as Mastabat el Fir’aun and “the pharaoh’s bench”) is the tomb of the last king of the fourth dynasty of the Old Kingdom, Shepseskaf.

His decision to build a large mastaba at the remote site of South Saqqara, rather than a pyramid at Giza (or elsewhere), is taken by Jequier as evidence that he rejected the solar cult. He further notes that Shepseskaf did not include Ra in his throne name. However, this has been rejected by Ricke (and others) who note that the obelisk rather than the pyramid were solar symbols. Instead Ricke proposed the mastaba was a “Buto-type” tomb imitating an archaic hut hung with reed matting.

Mastaba el Fara'un The Egypt Archive

Verner notes that there was no appropriate site for another pyramid at Giza, and that Shepseskaf faithfully completed the Pyramid of Menkaure, so it may have been a financial decision rather than a religious one. Furthermore, South Saqqara was close to Dashur, the location of the pyramid of Sneferu, the founder of the dynasty. Shepseskaf may have chosen the site to associate himself with the illustrious founder to strengthen his credibility if he was the son of a minor wife.

The structure was described briefly by Perring and then Lepsius, and investigated by Marriette (whose notes have been lost) and was originally ascribed to Unas of the fifth dynasty. It was not until Jequier undertook a thorough investigation in 1924-25 that its substructure and attribution to Shepseskaf were confirmed.

The mastaba is oriented north-south and set within a large double enclosure wall of mudbrick. It is composed of a core of two levels of yellow-grey limestone blocks from the quarries west of Dashur, cased in Tura limestone and (in the lower layer only) pink granite.

Lepsius drawing - Mastaba Faraun
Lepsius drawing – Mastaba Fara’un
Lepsius drawing - Mastaba Faraun
Lepsius drawing – Mastaba Fara’un from the west

The entrance has much in common with the standard pyramid entrance. It is set into the north wall about two and a half meters above ground level with a small entrance hall leading to a descending pink granite corridor which was once plugged with large granite blocks. The entrance corridor lead to an antechamber, burial chamber, and five small storerooms.

The ceilings are composed of pink granite and (like those of Menkaure’s pyramid) are built to imitate a vault. Remains of a sarcophagus resembling that of Menkaure were found in the burial chamber. A narrow corridor leads from the antechamber to six niches, resembling those of Menkaure and Khentkawes.

The mortuary temple does not resemble those of his predecessors. It stands in front of the east wall, oriented north-south and (despite its relatively small size) seems to have been build in two phases. There is a small open courtyard paved with limestone in the eastern half of the structure which once had an altar in the northwest corner. The western half of the temple is shaped like an inverted “T” and included a false door and a number of small storage rooms. No statue niches have been found in the temple, but a fragment of a statue of Shepseskaf was found here.

The causeway does not lead directly to the entrance of the temple, but rather to the south east corner and along the south wall before emerging into the courtyard surrounding the mastaba. It was composed of whitewashed mudbricks decorated to resemble a corridor with a vaulted ceiling.

The valley temple has not been excavated, and there are no tombs for the either the family or officials of the king in the surrounding area, raising more questions about the circumstances of the tomb’s construction.

  • Bard, Kathryn (2008) An introduction to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt
  • Lehner, Mark (1997) The Complete Pyramids
  • Malek, J (2000) “The Old Kingdom”, in The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt Ed I. Shaw
  • Verner, Miroslav (1997)The Pyramids

Copyright J Hill 2016