Egypt: The 2nd Dynasty Tombs at Saqqara in Egypt

The 2nd Dynasty Tombs at Saqqara in Egypt

By Jimmy Dunn

Layout of Tombs A and B, Royal Tombs of the 2nd Dynasty at Saqqara

The reason for the downfall of the 1st Dynasty is not clear, and little is really known of the pharaohs that ruled during the 2nd Dynasty. This period of history, known as the Early Dynastic Period, just before the Old Kingdom, remains a mystery in many ways.

To date, only three large sets of underground galleries of royal tombs are known at Saqqara that date to the 2nd Dynasty. They are all located in an area to the south of Djoser's Step Pyramid complex.

Tomb A, Probably belonging to Hetepsekhemwy

Of these, the largest and most elaborate (Tomb A) is the one underneath the pyramid temple of Unas, which was discovered by Barsanti in 1901. According to the seal impressions, the tomb belongs either to Hetepsekhemwy, the first ruler of the 2nd Dynasty, or to his successor, Raneb. It was only partially cleared, but this tomb, measuring about 130 by 46 meters, has a long, north-south corridor entered from the north by a staircase passage. The corridor begins about 20 meters northeast of the Unas Pyramid's northeast corner. It was carefully cut into the rock five meters below the surface. This corridor has four portcullis blocking stones. It leads to the burial chamber and some lateral rooms in the south and also gives access to more than eighty storage chambers on both sides. After about 25 meters, a passage opens on the west wall of the stairway leading into the first set of store rooms. This is an east-west corridor on which the north and south sides open into 14 long chambers of the same size. A similar set of store rooms is five meters south of the first, on the opposite (east side of the stairway. About ten meters further along the stairway reaches the horizontal floor about about seven meters below the ground level. The corridor then continues to branch out into scores of secondary galleries. This labyrinth of chambers is thought by some to be perhaps an imitation of the corridors in the royal palace. Mud-brick walls blocked the entrances to these chambers, and some still contained wine jars and animal bones.

Entrance to the  Tomb of Hetepsekhemwy at Saqqara in Egypt

The maze of galleries had been reoccupied in the Saite and later periods, and therefore there were bones and burnt mummies in hundreds of late burials which had been robbed during the Coptic period. The subterranean cemetery was entered from a pit in the main gallery just in front of the entrance to the second (eastern) set of store rooms.

Floor Plan of Tomb B, a 2nd Dynasty Royal Tomb at Saqqara in Egypt

Floor Plan of Tomb B, a 2nd Dynasty Royal

Tomb at Saqqara in Egypt Tomb B, Probably belonging to Ninetjer

Floor Plan of Tomb B, a 2nd Dynasty Royal Tomb at Saqqara in Egypt

The third king of the 2nd Dynasty, Ninetjer, appears to have been buried a little further to the east of Tomb A. His tomb (Tomb B) was overbuilt by the causeway of Unas (Unis), and was first excavated by S. Hassan between 1937 and 1938. The stairway entrance started under the 6th Dynasty mastaba of the Vizier Nebkawhor, and after a straight run, blocked by porcullis (blocking stone), it curved towards the west expanding into the first group of magazines and adjoining galleries. The three principal galleries of chambers formed the main axis of the subterranean level and from these long passages spread out the vast labyrinth before finally reaching the burial chamber. It is currently being re-examined by a German mission. Though it is not completely explored, this tomb appears smaller, measuring about 40 by 45 meters, than that of Hetepsekhemwy. The arrangement of chambers also seems to be more irregular, but the original layout is obscured by many intrusive shafts and chambers from later periods.

Tomb C

A third substructure of similar design has only recently been discovered underneath the tomb of a New Kingdom official named Merneith. We are not sure of its owner, but given its small size of only 15 by 15 meters, it would be appropriate for one of the the kings that reigned for only a short period during the 2nd Dynasty. There is also another 2nd Dynasty tomb to the west of the Unas pyramid, but it has not yet been excavated.

It should be noted that there have been no superstructures remains discovered at any of these tomb. They probably existed, but were early on destroyed. It is likely that they were surmounted by large rectangular mastabas in brick or stone similar in shape to the South Tomb of Djoser, and the western mastabas in the Step Pyramid complex.

The 2nd Dynasty Tomb No. S2302 at Saqqara in Egypt

A stela of Reneb, the second king of the 2nd Dynasty, indicates offering places in front of the tombs flanked by two stelae with the king's Horus name. One must also believe that there existed counterparts of the valley enclosures of the 1st Dynasty. In fact, there are several large precincts further to the west in Wadi Abusir that are likely to be identified as such. One of them, the Gisr al-Mudir, covers an area of 500 by 250 meters and is enclosed with a niched stone wall and can certainly be dated to the 2nd Dynasty.

Private Tombs of the 2nd Dynasty at Saqqara

Most of the known, private tombs of the 2nd Dynasty at Saqqara date to the reign of Ninetjer. One is the huge tomb of Nyruab (or Ruaben), numbered S2302, which had a plain double casing with only two niches in the eastern face. Other contemporary tombs include S2171, S2498, and S3009.

Tomb S2302 is one of the greatest private mastabas of the older tombs at Saqqara . Ruaben, its owner, was probably an overseer of Sculptors. The superstructure was made of mudbrick and was originally surrounded by a revetment that left only a narrow corridor between the two internal walls. Both the inner and outer facades were plain except for two niches on the east side, one near the northern corner and another, which is more complex, near the southern.

The tomb has a descending stairway that starts on the east side. After about ten meters the stairway connects to the north and west with some chambers and then a bit further with the first portcullis. The corridor continues south and, after two more storerooms meets another portcullis. After this, there are two more store rooms and then a final blocking stone. Afterwards, the corridor is larger and there are more, larger store rooms to either side of it

The 2nd Dynasty Tomb No. S2171 at Saqqara in Egypt

Tomb S2171 was probably built during the reign of Djer but rebuilt under that of Ninetjer. The superstructure of this tomb is a mudbrick mastaba with two niches on the east facade. It is a fairly small tomb with a substructure that has been partly excavated out of the sand rock It has a straight stairway that descends from the North, and after about ten meters, was blocked by portcullis. Just before the blocking stones there were four small storerooms, two each on either side of the corridor.

The owner of S2498 is unknown and it is the smallest of these tombs. The substructure can be entered by an east-west stairway which, after a portcullis, leads to the main corridor which is rather of a large chamber with store rooms to either side. A southern passage then leads to a funerary chamber. This tomb is very ordinary, consisting of not much else besides a large chamber.

Tomb S3009 has been by some dated to the 3rd Dynasty, but other scholars believe it dates to the 2nd Dynasty. On one stone vessel is the name of Ptahenhpty, but there is also an inscription attributed to Khnwmenii. The tomb more likely belonged to the latter.

More work is needed in Saqqara and other sites related to the 2nd Dynasty. We think that this was a period with considerable upheaval, and only more research on its sites is likely to reveal more on this important beginning to Egyptian civilization.






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