Pyramids of the First Intermediate Period

About Egyptian Pyramids

by Jimmy Dunn writing as Alan Winston


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In the First Intermediate Period, the central power structure of Egypt broke down. In effect, Egypt was divided, and for 194 years or so became two or more weaker countries ruled by local kings. It was a period of time when rulers had short reigns, as well as far fewer resources then during the preceding Old Kingdom of a united Egypt. While Mantho is most likely wrong, he even tells us that the 7th Dynasty had 70 kings in 70 days. Even though his assessment may be an exaggeration, pyramid building during this time was almost nonexistent as far as we can determine. If very many leaders during the First Intermediate Period built pyramids, then they have not been discovered, and the ones that have are mostly poor examples. In fact, we can only document three possible pyramids during this 194 year period, and there remains some questions about at least one of those. They include the Pyramid of Ibi, Khui's complex, that is probably a pyramid, and Lepsius Pyramid number 29, the "Headless Pyramid", which may or may not even date to the First Intermediate Pyramid.


Pyramid of Ibi



A view of the Pyramid of Ibi in Egypt


The Pyramid of Ibi, located in the South Saqqara necropolis, is the only pyramid that we can date to the First Intermediate Period and definitely call a pyramid without some controversy. It would have been the first known pyramid of this age, and the poor quality of its architecture is revealing of a less affluent time. In fact, this is exactly what makes pyramids such as this important to Egyptologists. What ever information can be obtained from such a structure is often needed for a period we know so little about.


Gound Plan of the Pyramid complex of Ibi in Egypt



The Lepsius expedition gave this pyramid the number 40, and it was later the focus of an investigation by Jequier. The monument was not quite oriented in accord with the cardinal directions and was very near the causeway leading to Pepi II's complex. It looked like a mastaba. However, Lepsius guessed that the small mound only three meters high was a pyramid, though this assessment was questioned by his contemporaries. Jequier confirmed Lepsius' theory. He also discovered older tombs from the 6th Dynasty nearby.


The destruction of this pyramid was not caused by nature, but rather stone thieves. However, limestone core blocks were discovered by Jequier that only added more questions. They were crudely inscribed with the title, "Prince of Libya", in red. No meaning explanation for these has been put forth.


Little of the layout of this pyramid is known. We do know that the substructure had a descending passage that led to a burial chamber and a serdab, or side annex. And fragmentary inscriptions on the walls not only reveal pyramid text, but also provide the evidence we have in order to attribute the structure to Qakare Ibi, a ruler of the Eighth dynasty we know little else about. Significantly however, these pyramid text have a unique place in history, as they represent the latest such text that have been discovered. Today, the roof of the burial chamber is modern concrete constructed to protect the pyramid text.

Technical Base: 31.5m


Probable Pyramid of Khui


It is not clear whether the pyramid located at Dara in Middle Egypt, first investigated in the late 1940s and early 1950s by the French Egyptologists Raymond Weill, was in fact a pyramid. For example, while Mark Lehner, one of the living legends of Egyptology, in his book The Complete Pyramids, addresses the issue and firmly assesses the structure as that of a pyramid. He reasons that, "The mudbrick superstructure with rounded corners had sloping sides and a square ground plan with a base length of 130 m (426 ft 6 in) - nearly equal to the base of Djoser's Step Pyramid". He also seems to definitely attribute the pyramid to Khui. This is because a block that was possibly a part of the pyramid found in a tomb just south of it had an offering scene with Khui's name in a cartouche. However, in Miroslav Verner's recent publication, The Pyramids, he seems less sure in regards to both the structures nature and the owner. While perhaps not as well known as Lehner, Verner is also a very well respected Egyptologist from the Czech Institute. Both Lehner and Verner have had careers that seem to have been mostly focused on the study of Pyramids.


Verner seems to believe that it is just as likely that the structure was a stepped mastaba, but then is not that, perhaps in an evolved state, the nature of Djoser's pyramid? Verner also tells us that the long entrance corridor is at first horizontal and open and then becomes a descending vaulted tunnel, a plan he seems to think resembles a Third Dynasty mastaba in Beit Khallaf. The last part of the corridor was reinforced with pilasters. The burial chamber is located about 8.8 meters (29 feet) below the base level of the pyramid. Both the corridor and burial chamber were lined with rough limestone, itself stolen from nearby tombs apparently dated to Egypt's 6th Dynasty.


This pyramid is in such a ruined state that it cannot be determined whether it was destroyed, or never finished in the first place. The layout of the mortuary temple cannot be determined, though the outer part of the masonry consists of a massive mudbrick mantle about thirty five meters in length. The inside of this was probably filled with sand.


There was nothing found within the tomb, and the only evidence we have of its builder is the cartouche referred to above. Khui was probably a local ruler who we know almost nothing about. Dara, the location of the pyramid, is just outside the Dakhla Oasis.


Ground Plan of the probable Pyramid of Khui in Egypt



Lepsius Pyramid Number 29, The Headless Pyramid


If Lehner and Verner differ on their interpretations of the so called Khui pyramid, they completely disagree with the possible dating and ownership of the Headless Pyramid, located in the northern part of the Saqqara necropolis. They both seem to agree that it was most probably a pyramid, but Verner seems to believe that it belonged to Niuserre's son and successor, Menkauhor, of the 5th Dynasty, while Lehner thinks it was a First Intermediate Period pyramid possibly belonging to Merikare who probably ruled during the 9th or 10th dynasty. In fact, they cannot even agree on the number that Lepsius assigned this pyramid, Lehner calling it number 29 and Verner calling it 30. Were it not for the fact that they both refer to it as the "Headless Pyramid", telling us that is was east of Teti's complex, that Maspero worked it in 1881 and Firth investigated it in 1930, and in the 20th century, it was further investigated by Jocelyne Berlandini, we might assume that they were writing about two different structures. Also, both Lehner and Verner mention both kings as possible owners, though each seem to find some reason to dismiss the other's findings. Lehner, who titles his account of this pyramid simply as "Lepsius Pyramid XXIX" seems less firm in his convictions of ownership then does Verner, who tentitavely calls it the "Menkauhor's (?) 'Headless Pyramid'". They seem to agree on the pyramid's general structure.


Lehner's argument seems to be that a 12th Dynasty priest of the funerary cult of Merikare was found interred in the pyramid. He mentions the study conducted by Jocelyne Berlandini that points toward the owner being Menkauhor, but tells us that a more recent examination by Jaromir Malek seems to return to Merikare as the pyramid owner.



Ground Plan of the Lepsius Pyramid Number 29, known as The Headless Pyramid


Verner also references Jaromir Malek's investigation and arguments for the pyramid belonging to Merikare. However, he quotes earlier examinations, particularly that of Maragioglio and Rinaldi, that point out the structural similarities between this pyramid and that of Teti, the first ruler of the 6th Dynasty, a view that seems to also be held by Lauer and Jean Leclant who also studied this and surrounding structures. It should also be noted that since Verner published his book on Egypt's pyramids, an abstract by G. Ockinga seems to connect the Teti complex with the cult of Menkauhor.


A view of the Lepsius Pyramid Number 29 known as The Headless Pyramid


We have no information on the structure of this pyramids associated mortuary temple, though the local Arabic name for the ruins are "Joseph's Prison".


The entrance corridor, which descends from approximately the middle of the north side, does not lie precisely on a north-south axis, but was offset to the east. Maragioglio and Rinaldi noted in their arguments for the pyramid belonging to Menkauhor that this was a trait of 5th Dynasty pyramids. The existence of Menkauhor's pyramid is known from text, and all of the other pyramids of the 5th Dynasty kings have been mostly positively identified. Within his corridor a granite portcullises was used as a barrier. The barrier was found in place, sealing the corridor, so we assume a burial did take place. This corridor apparently led to an antechamber, and then to the burial chamber.


Within the burial chamber, no fragments of pyramid texts were discovered. Again, this points to an earlier period prior to the use of such texts on pyramid walls. A broken lid of a fine sarcophagus was found within the burial chamber.


If this was the pyramid of Menkauhor, it was called "Divine are the (cult) places of Menkauhor. It it belonged to Merikare, it was called Wadj Sut, meaning "The Fresh Places". One thing Lehner and Vernon absolutely agree on is that more investigation of this little explored pyramid is need to settle the debates that surround it.




Base 65m x 68m




See Also:








Reference Number

Complete Pyramids, The (Solving the Ancient Mysteries)

Lehner, Mark


Thames and Hudson, Ltd

ISBN 0-500-05084-8

Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, The

Shaw, Ian


Oxford University Press

ISBN 0-19-815034-2

Pyramids, The (The Mystery, Culture, and Science of Egypt's Great Monuments)

Verner, Miroslav


Grove Press

ISBN 0-8021-1703-1



Last Updated: May 16, 2005