Abusir: Pyramid of Neferirkare

Like his predecessor Sahure, Neferirkare (a pharaoh during dynasty five of the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt) chose to build his pyramid at Abusir. His pyramid complex is composed of a pyramid (named “Pyramid of the Ba of Neferirkare”) and mortuary temple. He did not manage to complete the causeway and valley temple so they were finished and to some degree usurped by his son, Niuserre to form part of his own pyramid complex. There is no sign of a satellite pyramid although it is thought that the pyramid of Khentkhaus II (his wife) to the south of his pyramid started out as his satellite pyramid and was then adapted to form her pyramid complex.

Pyramid of Neferirkare, Abusir (copyright Axel Seedorf)

With a base of one hundred and five square meters the pyramid of Neferirkare would have been larger than that of his brother Sahure if it had been a true pyramid. However, unlike his predecessor he chose to build a step pyramid with six steps and then later changed his mind and converted it to a true pyramid. Although the six courses of limestone that formed the step pyramid were finished, the conversion to a true pyramid involved increasing the monument to eight layers. The first few courses of the granite cladding were laid but the blocks of the upper levels are not as well finished as those on the lower levels and it is likely that the upper layers of cladding were never completed. Today only four of the original six steps remain.

plan of the pyramid complex of Neferirkare, Abusir
  1. Burial Pyramid
  2. Inner sanctuary
  3. Five statue niches
  4. Open courtyard
  5. Entrance hall
  6. Storerooms

The entrance is on the north face of the pyramid. A descending passage lined with limestone leads to a horizontal passage with a granite portcullis. The roof of this corridor is flat but there is a gabled ceiling above it and above the gabled ceiling there is a layer of reeds. The corridor continues after the portcullis taking a couple of turns before connecting with a gabled antechamber. A door in the west wall of this chamber leads to the burial chamber which also had a gabled roof. The interior of the pyramid is quite badly damaged and no trace of a sarcophagus has been found.

Mortuary temple

The mortuary temple attached to the pyramid of Neferirkare seems to have been hastily completed. There is some evidence that the oldest remaining part of the temple was built over an earlier structure after the death of the king and that the temple had to evolve to take on the functions of the valley temple as there was no valley temple in this pyramid complex.

mortuary temple of Neferirkare, Abusir

The oldest section of the temple is the inner section. It was formed from large limestone blocks on a small stone platform. There was an offering hall, one annex to the north, two annexes to the south and five niche shrines. Fragments of the decorations depicting Neferirkare with Khentkaus II (his wife) and Neferefre (his son) were found here. The later parts of the temple (the colonnade, the outer court and the entrance hall) were finished in mudbrick on a clay floor. The wooden columns throughout were in the form of lotus stalks and flowers. There were also a series of storage rooms added in the southwest.

A large cache of papyrus (known as the “Abusir Papyri”) were found here. These hieratic texts are the temple archives mostly dating to the reign of Djedkare Isesi. The texts provide many details regarding the management of the funerary cult, building works in Abusir, the duties of priests and they record the offerings sent to the various temples of Abusir. The texts also helped archaeologists find the pyramid complex of Neferefre and provided valuable information about the sun temples built at Abu Ghurob including the sun temple built by Neferirkare which has not yet been located.

Enclosure wall, causeway and valley temple

The construction of the causeway and valley temple did not progress beyond the laying of the foundations. These partial constructions were later adapted by Niuserre who incorporated them into his own pyramid complex.

Two large wooden boats were found buried in the courtyard surrounding the pyramid; one to the north and the other to the south. These boats were discovered because they were mentioned in the cache of papyrus found in the mortuary temple of the pyramid.

The complex was surrounded by a mudbrick wall. A small settlement of mudbrick houses was built to the south of the mortuary temple to house the priests of the mortuary cult and there is evidence that this settlement was inhabited until at least the sixth dynasty of the Old Kingdom.

  • 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, J (2000) “The Old Kingdom”, in The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt Ed I. Shaw
  • Verner, Miroslav (1997)The Pyramids

copyright J Hill 2016