Pyramid pit reveals ancient remains and gold


Egyptian archaeologists performing routine conservation work at the southern side of Saqqara’s step pyramid (dating back to 2687-2668 BC) stumbled upon what is believed to be a deep hole full of remains of animals and birds. At the bottom of the pit is a thick layer of plaster.

Dr. Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), said the mission unearthed a large quantity of gold fragments during their restoration work at the southern tomb of Djoser’s Pyramid. The precious artifacts may have been used by the ancient Egyptians of the Late Period to decorate wooden sarcophagi or to cover cartonnage. Cartonnage are plastered layers of fiber or papyrus, flexible enough for molding while wet against the irregular surfaces of the body; the method was used in funerary workshops to produce cases, masks or panels to cover all or parts of the mummified and wrapped body. Thirty granite blocks were also discovered, each weighing five tons. These blocks, Dr. Hawass explained, belonged to the granite sarcophagus that once housed Djoser’s wooden sarcophagus – the final resting place of the king’s mummy.

While cleaning the internal corridors of the pyramid, the mission has also found limestone blocks bearing the names of King Djoser’s daughters, as well as wooden instruments, remains of wooden statues, bone fragments, the remains of a mummy and different sizes of clay vessels.

The new discoveries were made following massive restoration work at the site of the pyramid. The project is the first complete restoration program done to rescue Djoser’s Pyramid and the southern tomb after the salvage operation carried out at the Abu Simbel temples. Egyptian engineers and archeologists have been working on it in an attempt to restore all features of the pyramid’s structure currently deteriorating. The weakening facade led to the demolition and collapse of several blocks, which once held together the different steps on the pyramid. Cracks are showing on different sides of the queen’s subterranean corridors found beneath the pyramid’s burial chamber, as well as on ceiling and reliefs on the southern tomb.

Restoration work, carried out in three phases, costs over LE 25 million ($4.33 million) in total. The first phase included cleaning of the pyramid’s six steps and the removal of dust and sand that has accumulated on them during the past decades. This process reduced the load off the pyramid’s structure. Fallen blocks scattered on the ground around the pyramid were collected, restored and returned to its original location on Djoser’s Pyramid. Broken blocks were to be replaced with similar new ones after being subjected to a complete scientific analysis. This will prevent the concrete from further crumbling off the face of the ancient pyramid. Empty spaces between blocks will be re-filled with small fallen blocks.

All run-down corridors and ceilings of the pyramid’s burial shaft will be consolidated with the new pieces.

The restoration’s committee used a high-tech system to control and supervise the blocks movement and refilling of cracks found on the ceilings and corridors. The group also uses state-of-the-art technology with removing salt accumulated on the pyramid’s internal bas-reliefs at the same time, with strengthening the ceramic shreds that have eroded.

Djoser’s pyramid is the first structure to be built by the ancient Egyptians using limestone blocks. It includes 5.5-kilometer long subterranean corridors and tunnels, and a burial shaft decorated with reliefs and ceramic tiles made of faience.

Imhotep, an Egyptian architect who lived 4500 years ago, is the one who built this fabulous pyramid. He began the pyramid as a single storey structure, before adding five more levels. He then covered it with fine limestone. In front of the pyramid, he built a stone structure that contains a wooden box with two peepholes. Looking through it, one may view a life-size painted statue of king Djoser. Peepholes were built to allow the king’s ‘Ka’ (or life spirit) to connect with the outside world.