The Ancient Egyptian Archaeological Site of Abu Rowash (Abu Rawash, Abu Roash)

About Egyptian Pyramids

Abu Rowash (Abu Rawash, Abu Roash)

The complex of Djedefre, with the new Pyramid thought to be that of a Queen's in the foreground and behind it, the principal pyramid

in Egypt is located in the continuation of the Gebel el-Ghigiga, which is on the western fringe of the Nile Valley (30o2'N, 31o4'E). This archaeological site belongs to the very northern part of the necropolis of the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, and joins various sites together that date from the Early Dynastic Period to the Coptic Christian Period. Gebel Abu Rowash, an elevation in the region, is limited in the north by the depression of Wadi Qarun and in the south by Wadi el-Hassanah, where a section of the desert route leads from Cairo on the Nile River to Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast. This site with an elevation of about 150 meters owes its name to the vicinity of the village of Abu Rowash, which is located about eight kilometers north of the Giza pyramids and about fifteen kilometers west of Cairo. Here, the funerary complex of Djedefre, the third ruler of ancient Egypt's 4th Dynasty was built at the top of this escarpment, on the plateau of Gaa. The location of this pyramid, making it the most northerly major pyramid in Egypt, has been known since the nineteenth century from the descriptions of Howard Vyse, W.M.F. Petrie and Richard Lepsius, the latter of whom also lends his name to a second mudbrick step pyramid nearby that is simply known as Lepsius Pyramid #1. This is actually the most northern pyramid of any in Egypt.

Map showing the location of the primary Abu Rowash field

Excavations at the site were begun in earnest by the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology in Cairo. At the complex of Djedefre, Emile Chassinat, between 1900 and 1902, discovered the remains of a funerary settlement, a boat pit and numerous statuary fragments that had the name of Didoufri (an early reading of Djedefre), which allowed for the identification of the tomb owner. Under the direction of Pierre Lacau, the French Institute, between 1912 and 1913, continued the excavation work and cleared new structures to the east of the pyramid.

The internal ramp leading into the primary pyramid substructure

However, and earlier presence was indicated at Abu Rowash evidenced by objects bearing the names of the 1st Dynasty pharoahs, Aha and Den, which were found near the pyramid. Hence, in connection with those excavations, Pierre Montet was asked to explore two sections of the huge Thinite necropolis and one dating to the 4th Dynasty, located to the southeast of the village of Abu Rowash. On the northern spur of this cemetery between 1922 and 1924, Fernand Bisson de la Roque excavated mastaba tombs of the 5th and 6th Dynasties, and between 1957 and 1959, Adolf Klasens surveyed burials dating to the 1st and 5th Dynasties, as well as some of the Middle Kingdom in the southern part of the site under the patronage of the Museum of Antiquities of Leiden in the Netherlands. Since 2001 this area has been re-examined by Michel Baud with the IFAO, who have found that most of the necropolis is not an elite provincial cemetery but the private part of the royal necropolis of Djedefre. The tomb of one of Djedefre's sons, a vizier named Hornit, has recently been identified here.

In Wadi Qarun to the north, many sites have been worked archaeologically since the beginning of the twentieth century. At the turn of the century, Charles Palanque excavated the Coptic monastery of El-Deir el-Nahya, which was constructed using many blocks form the Djedefre Pyramid. In 1913, Pierre Lacau identified a necropolis of the 3rd and 4th Dynasties and in the 1920s, Bisson de la Roque sampled numerous borings in galleries that, in the Lat Period, served as burial sites for sacred crocodiles. Rizkallah Macramallah discovered some solid remains of a Middle Kingdom fortress in the 1930s which have more lately been identified as a sacred precinct more recently by a team from the Egyptian Antiquities Organization, and in 1980, Zahi Hawass, current chairman of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, found a necropolis of the Early Dynastic Period. It should also be noted that part of a statue of Queen Arsinoe II, the sister and wife of Ptolemy II Philadelphus who was the second ruler of Egypt's Greek Period, was discovered in the Wadi.

Research goes on at Abu Rowash. A joint mission of the French Institute and the University of Geneva, together with the collaboration of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, initiated a new program at the funerary complex of Djedefre in 1995. Today, this mission directed my Michel Valloggia. Like all such tomb complexes of the Old Kingdom, this monumental complex was built with a harbor on the Nile and several buildings in sequence. There was, of course, a temple at the foot of an ascending causeway that led to a funerary temple next to the royal pyramid, which included a satellite pyramid and one or more solar barks, the whole of which was surrounded by an enclosure wall. Only recently, a second subsidiary pyramid ha been discovered that appears to be that of a queen's tomb.

The complex began to deteriorate at the beginning of the Roman period when it served as a quarry. That did not end with the Romans, as its use as a quarry continued into modern times. In fact, the site was in much better condition when Perring and Vyse visited it in 1839 then it is today.

In fact, the recent excavations have revealed some interesting facts and cleared up other issues. For example, the Romans maintained a sizable force in this location due to its tactical elevation. And, it has been discovered, that it was they who wrought much of the destruction which, previously, had been attributed to the 4th Dynasty. That destruction had suggested a problem with the reign of Djedefre, indicating perhaps that his successors had caused it as retribution for Djedefre's illegitimate rule, but now such theories have been cast aside. It has also been fairly well determined that his pyramid was, in fact, completed whereas in the past it was thought not to have been.






Reference Number

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Baines, John; Malek, Jaromir


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None Stated

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ISBN 977 424 825 2

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Carnegie Museum of Natural History, The

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Last Updated: June 13th, 2011