Posted by: Johan Normark | December 20, 2009

A unified plan of Sneferu’s four pyramids

I am not an expert on Egyptology but I do have an old hobby-like interest in that field. This resulted in a trip to Egypt in 1990. At that time I visited Saqqara and from that place one can see Dashur where the founder of the fourth dynasty, Sneferu, constructed two pyramids (the Red and the Bent pyramids). His first construction project was as far as I know to finish up Huni’s pyramid at nearby Meidum. A while ago it was noted that Sneferu may have initiated the construction of a fourth pyramid at Seila, close to the Fayoum Oasis. This one is less preserved and is only 7 m tall in its current state of preservation. It has a four stepped core built of small local limestone blocks. This is not the only small step pyramid in Egypt. At least six others exists in-between Seila and Aswan. All seems to date to the late 3rd dynasty to the early 4th dynasty. In fact, most of them have been attributed to the last ruler of the 3rd dynasty (Huni).

These pyramids lack internal chambers and underground structures. They appear not to have been true tombs. No evidence of funerary temples exists. Some Egyptologists believe that they were cenotaphs (fake tombs) of queens, or maybe shrines dedicated to Horus and/or Seth, or early sun temples, or representation of the primeval mound where life emerged.

Now, on a blog that I frequently visit, Talking Pyramids, it is said that Kerry Muhlestein at BYU (Brigham Young University) believes he has found evidence of a unified plan of Sneferu’s four pyramids. According to him we must change our understanding of the purpose of these pyramids. Muhlestein says that they were built to work in conjunction with each other. Pyramids cannot just be tombs since Sneferu built four when he only needed one for the tomb. Muhlestein does not reveal anything more than this so we have to wait for the official report. What I would like to know is why later pharaohs did not built such unified plans. Some changes in how pyramid assemblages were formed must have taken place after Sneferu.

I am sure this research will result in an increased activity among 2012ers and others who probably will try to fit these pyramids to star maps and claim it is an ancient knowledge delivered to the Egyptians from outer space and/or from Atlantis. That would not surprise me at all. Since Muhlestein is at BYU and apparently knows the Book of Mormon I guess we will see an increased activity among Mormons as well.



  1. I am always bothered by how archaeologists have to always hype their finds. All the projects I know do this (including the ones I’ve been on) as it is necessary to get publicity to get funding. It’s an evil game we have to play but it is still annoying to have to read about finds that it is claimed will revolutionize our understanding of the past when the finds, even spectacular ones, either fit quite well into current models or the interpretations are so speculative they will never be accepted except by a minority of scholars. Hardly revolutionary.

    I have my suspicions as to whether all of these pyramids can be attributed to Sneferu. Even if they can, this doesn’t revolutionize our view of pyramids. A comparison with the much better understood tombs of the pharaohs of the New Kingdom suggest a number of different interpretations. Some of these pyramids could pertain to the wives or sons of Sneferu, explaining any possible finds of his cartouches in the various pyramids. Or some of them could be cenotaphic as the pyramid of Ahmose at Abydos was. From the Valley of the Kings it appears that pharaohs kept working on their tombs continually throughout their reign. This is why pretty much all tombs are unfinished. If a tomb plan was actually finished it appears the workers were sent on to expand the original plan and dig out yet more chambers. If Sneferu had a long reign he may well have made a pyramid or two and then figured he was hale and hearty enough to warrant starting yet another. Especially if his architects thought they could better their designs and construct an even more impressive monument. But it will be interesting to see what interpretation this Muhlestein of BYU comes up with. Whatever it is will compete with thousands of other ideas, most of which have long been consigned to the dustbin of baseless speculation.

  2. I agree that archaeological projects tend to glorify their own findings (I remember a quite parodic tour on a fourth of July party in the northern lowlands a few years ago).

    The general consensus (and I do not know how strong the evidence is) is that Sneferu (or rather his architect(s)) first transformed Huni’s pyramid at Meidum from being a step pyramid like Djoser’s to become a “real” pyramid. His next project would have been the bent pyramid where they encountered construction problems and decided to change the angle of the pyramid. The last (and presumably his tomb then) would be the red pyramid. In this view we have a historical development of pyramidal forms. The impression I get from Muhlestein is that they were all designed at one time (but I would rather go for the above mentioned interpretation which also is in line with what you say the ruler working on his tomb during his life). In any case I doubt that the small pyramid at Seila will add anything sensational to the whole picture. Pragmatic interpretations always tend to stand the test of time. Idealist ones, like a unified plan, usually do not stand the test of time.

  3. I like Guenter’s view about the pyamids of Sneferu. It’s a good point that his family members could have made one or two of his pyramids.They certainly had the right to use his cartouche. We’d have to extend the dates of our chronology. I guess. Normark’s logic makes sense. But I just don’t understand how Sneferu had enough time to build them all (and the resources). No other king did this on such a large scale multiple times.


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