Mazghuna Pyramids: An Exploration of the Unfinished Ancient Egyptian Monuments
The ancient Egyptian pyramids of Mazghuna, located about 5 kilometers south of Dahshur, are a pair of enigmatic and unfinished royal tombs from the 12th or 13th Dynasty. Although the identity of their owners remains uncertain, many archaeologists attribute the monuments to the reigns of Amenemhet IV and Sobeknefru. Despite their incomplete state, these pyramids provide valuable insights into the architectural techniques and cultural practices of the Middle Kingdom. This article explores the history, location, attribution, and architectural features of the Mazghuna pyramids.
1. Historical Background
1.1 Discovery and Excavation
The Mazghuna pyramids were rediscovered in 1910 by British archaeologist Ernest Mackay and excavated the following year by renowned Egyptologist Flinders Petrie. Since then, these monuments have been the subject of ongoing debate and research, with archaeologists attempting to uncover the identities of their builders and the reasons behind their unfinished state.
1.2 The 12th and 13th Dynasties
The 12th Dynasty marked the height of the Middle Kingdom, a period of political stability, economic prosperity, and cultural revival in ancient Egypt. Notable pharaohs of this Dynasty include Amenemhet III, who built the pyramid at Hawara, and his son Amenemhet IV. The 13th Dynasty, on the other hand, witnessed a gradual decline in royal authority, with numerous short-lived pharaohs ruling over a fragmented kingdom.
The Mazghuna pyramids are situated in the Mazghuna region, approximately 5 kilometers south of the Dahshur cemetery in Egypt. This location is relatively remote and less well-known than other pyramid fields, such as Giza and Saqqara.
2.1 Amenemhet IV and the Southern Pyramid
Although no inscriptions bearing the name of Amenemhet IV have been found, the Southern Mazghuna Pyramid is often attributed to him due to stylistic similarities with his father's pyramid at Hawara. The substructure and burial chamber of the Southern Pyramid resemble Amenemhet III's monument, leading many archaeologists to believe that this pyramid was built for his son.
2.2 Sobeknefru and the Northern Pyramid
The Northern Mazghuna Pyramid is sometimes attributed to Sobeknefru, the sister and possible wife of Amenemhet IV and the last ruler of the 12th Dynasty. She is the first attested female pharaoh in ancient Egyptian history. The attribution of the Northern Pyramid to Sobeknefru is based on structural grounds, as the monument was planned to be larger than its southern counterpart.
However, it should be noted that the ownership of both pyramids remains far from certain, as no inscriptions bearing the names of these rulers have been discovered.
3. Architectural Features
3.1 The Southern Pyramid
The Southern Mazghuna Pyramid is characterized by its ruined mudbrick core, with no traces of casing stones found. This suggests that the superstructure still needs to be completed. The entrance to the pyramid is located in the middle of its southern side, leading to a descending staircase flanked by side ramps. The burial chamber, located beneath the pyramid's vertical axis, contains a single massive block of red quartzite with carved-out spaces for a coffin and canopic jars.
The complex is surrounded by a wavy mudbrick enclosure wall, with a mudbrick mortuary temple attached to its eastern side. The temple consists of a central chamber or court with storage annexes on either side and an offering hall that does not abut the pyramid itself.
3.2 The Northern Pyramid
The Northern Mazghuna Pyramid is more significant than its Southern counterpart but appears to have never had its superstructure begun. The entrance to the substructure is located on the east side of the northern base, leading to a descending staircase with several turns and chambers fitted with blocking plugs. Like the Southern Pyramid, the burial chamber is filled with a massive quartzite block, although the sarcophagus was never used.
A mudbrick causeway with walls approaches the Northern Pyramid from the east, although the rest of the complex must be completed.
4.1 Architectural Techniques
The Mazghuna pyramids provide valuable insights into the architectural techniques employed during the Middle Kingdom. The use of mudbrick for core construction and wavy enclosure walls are characteristic features of this period. Furthermore, these monuments' complex substructures and burial chambers reveal a high level of architectural sophistication and innovation.
4.2 Cultural Practices
The unfinished state of the Mazghuna pyramids raises intriguing questions about the cultural practices of the Middle Kingdom. The short reigns of Amenemhet IV and Sobeknefru and the decline of the 12th Dynasty contributed to the abandonment of these monumental projects. Alternatively, the lack of inscriptions and grave goods may suggest that these pyramids were intended for symbolic or religious purposes rather than as actual burial sites for the pharaohs.
Mazghuna in Fiction
The Amelia Peabody mystery novel "The Mummy Case" by Elizabeth Peters is set in Mazghuna, exploring the enigmatic pyramids as a backdrop for the story.
- Dahshur Necropolis
- Hawara Pyramid of Amenemhet III
- Pyramid of Khendjer
- Lehner, Mark. The Complete Pyramids. London: Thames and Hudson, 1997.
- Dunn, Jimmy. "About Egyptian Pyramids." Tour Egypt.
- "Southern Mazghuna Pyramid." Land of Pyramids.
- "Mazghuna Pyramids." EgyptSites.
- Petrie, W.M.F., Wainwright, G.A., and Mackay, E. The Labyrinth, Gerzeh, and Mazghuneh. London, 1912.
- Shaw, Ian. The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford University Press, 2000.
- Verner, Miroslav. The Pyramids: The Mystery, Culture, and Science of Egypt's Great Monuments. Grove Press, 2001.
The Mazghuna pyramids, although unfinished and enigmatic, offer a fascinating glimpse into the architectural prowess and cultural practices of ancient Egypt's Middle Kingdom. Despite the uncertainty surrounding their ownership and purpose, these monuments stand as enduring testaments to the ingenuity and ambition of the pharaohs who commissioned them. Further research and exploration may one day reveal the secrets of the Mazghuna pyramids and shed new light on the lives and beliefs of the rulers who built them.