Timeline for development of pyramids and pyramid like structures
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Dynasty 1 and 2[edit | edit source]
Ptahhotep Enclosure[edit | edit source]
Ruler: unknown, possibly 2nd dynasty, possibly Peribsen or Sekhemib?
Date: ca 2625?
Materials used: mud brick?
The Ptahhotep enclosure is located to the west of Djoser's step pyramid. It has been dated anywhere from the second to the early third dynasty. A large mudbrick structure is situated in the center, but the hello structure is not known.
Gisr el Mudir (Great Enclosure)[edit | edit source]
Ruler: Unknown (Possibly 2nd dynasty, Khasekhemwy?)
Date: ca 2611 – 2584 BC
Dimensions: the enclosure measures ca 350 X 650 m
Materials used: ??
Large enclosure in Saqqara thought to possibly date to the time or Khasekhemwy. It may date to an even earlier time period. It is one of the largest monumental structures at Saqqara. No structure has been definitely located inside the enclosure, but granite and stone found in the north-west corner may indicate that a building once stood there.
link: Gisr el-mudir page at Saqqara online. The page includes a short description and an areal photograph.
Mound Burial of Khasekhemwy?[edit | edit source]
Date: ca 2611 - 2584 BC
Materials used: mud brick
The last king of the 2nd dynasty was buried in Abydos and the remains of his burial complex shows evidence of the existence of a mound over the burial site. The mound consisted of sand and gravel covered by a mud brick layer. The mound was not buried as it was in earlier funerary monuments. The mound was part of a larger funerary monument enclosed by a large mud brick wall. This wall would have been about 5 meters thick and the remains stands some 11 meters tall even today.
Dynasty 3[edit | edit source]
Step pyramids were developed during this period. The capital of Egypt was likely in Memphis and the royal necropolis was situated in Saqqara. There were two different possiblities for constructing a pyramid like shape. The first method is to stack inscreasingly smaller square or rectangular shapes, thereby created a stepped core that could then be dressed is a layer of stone. Another technique is to create a solid core followed by accretions. Concentric shells of decreasing height would be angled against the core thereby creating a stepped center that could then be covered by a layer of stones. Both techniques were used in the history of the construction of pyramids.
Link: The Accretion Theory by Bonnie M. Sampsell.
Djoser's Pyramid (aka 'Step' Pyramid)[edit | edit source]
Ruler: Djoser (Horus name: Netjerikhet)
Date: ca 2584 – 2565 BC
Dimensions: Stage I (4-step pyramid) – base 71 meters X 71.5 meters; height 8.4 meters
Stage II (6-step pyramid) – base 109 meters X 121 meters; height 62.5 meters
Materials used: limestone
Djoser – Horus name Netjerikhet – was likely the first king of the 3rd dynasty.
This famous complex in Saqqara was investigated by Napoleon's Egyptian Campaign, the Prussian General von Minutoli and John Perring. The first thorough excavation was conducted by Firth in the 1920s. Much of our present knowledge about Djoser's complex is due to Lauer however.
See also Djoser's Step Pyramid in Saqqara for a more detailed description of the pyramid complex.
Sekhemkhet's Step Pyramid[edit | edit source]
Ruler: Djoser-Ti (Horus name Sekhemkhet)
Date: ca 2556 - 2550 BC
Dimensions: ca 120 meters X 120 meters base with a height of 70 meters.
The pyramid was only completed to a height of ca 8 meters.
Materials used: Limestone (?)
According to Verner, mason's inscriptions on the perimeter wall include the name of the architect Imhotep, indicating that the man responsible for the design of Djoser's complex also designed Sekhemkhet's funerary complex. The complex was never finished, and the pyramid may have only been constructed up to a height of 26 feet. The size of the ground plan indicates the planned structure could have been as high as 210 feet.
According to Lehner the masons used "accretions leaning inwards at an angle of 15o with sloping courses of stone laid at right angles to the incline."
Link: Saqqara Online – Sekhemkhet Short description of the sire with an areal photograph.
The Layer Pyramid (Lepsius XIV)[edit | edit source]
Ruler: Possibly Khaba (or possibly Neferka)
Location: Zawiyet el-Aryan
Date: ca 2545 BC
Dimensions: base of 84 meters X 84 meters, height ??
Materials used: ??
Possibly belonging to Khaba. This pyramid is situated in Zawiyet el-Aryan, located between Giza and Abusir. "The superstructure consist of 14 accretions leaning inwards against a central core" The pyramid was likely meant to be a 5-step pyramid. The name of King Khaba has been associated to this pyramid because the Horus name of the king was found on vases found in a nearby, associated mastaba. Lepsius only mentions it was poorly constructed.
Link: Pyramid of Khaba Short description with a photograph of the site.
Lepsius Pyramid No. I[edit | edit source]
Ruler: Unknown, possibly Huni.
Location: Abu Rawash
Date: end of 3rd dynasty (ca 2530 BC?)
Materials used: mudbricks
This strange monument is located in Abu Rawash, not too far from the pyramid of the 4th dynasty king Djedefre. It may be yet another step pyramid, but this is not certain. It is built on a rocky knoll. Lepsius describes it as being covered by a mudbrick pyramid shape and gave it the number I, hence the name Lepsius I. It is nonstandard to have a mudbrick pyramid. A passage opens up to a burial chamber and the general structure resembles a burial chamber in a 4th dynasty pyramid. Lepsius describes a brick wall 17 m high, and claims this was one of the largest pyramids and he estimates it must have been about 145 m high.
Small Step Pyramids[edit | edit source]
According Lehner and Verner 7 small provincial step pyramids have been found. They are relatively small in size, and seemingly were not constructed for the purpose of burial. Five of the pyramids are thought to possibly date to the reign of Huni who ruled at the end of the 3rd dynasty, while at least the pyramid at Seila may have been constructed during the reign of Snefru, the first king of the 4th dynasty.
|Location||Ruler||Dimensions of the base|
|Sinki||Huni ?||ca 18.2 m X 18.2 m|
|Ombos||Huni ?||ca 18.2 m X 18.2 m|
|Kula||Huni ?||ca 18.2 m X 18.2 m|
|Edfu||Huni ?||ca 18.2 m X 18.2 m|
|Elephantine||Huni ?||ca 23.4 m X 23.4 m|
|Seila||Snefru ?||ca 25 m X 25 m|
|Zawiyet el-Meiyitin||Unknown||ca. 22.4 m X 22.4 m|
Dynasty 4[edit | edit source]
True pyramids were first developed during the reign of Snefru and later perfected during the reigns of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure. The dating for the rulers are taken from Dodson and Hilton. Information about the pyramids is taken from Verner and Lehner.
Pyramid of Meidum[edit | edit source]
Ancient name: The stable pyramid (?)
Date: ca 2520 – 2505 BC and again in ca 2485 – 2470 BC
Dimensions: The base measures 144 m, the height was 92 m
Snefru was the first king of the 4th dynasty. It is not known who his parent were. It is thought that his Queen – Hetepheres I – may have been a daughter of the 3rd dynasty King Huni. Snefru moved the royal necropolis to Meidum at the beginning of his reign. In his 15th year he would move the necropolis to Dashur, but would return to Meidum at the end of his reign.
The core of the pyramid was built using the method of accretions. This is the part we see today. The pyramid of Meidum was the first – what we would call – true pyramids. I.e. it is no longer stepped in appearance, but has a flat surface.
On the east side of the pyramid a mortuary temple was constructed using limestone. To the south was a small satellite pyramid. Remains of an enclosure wall have been found, as well as a causeway. Associated with the pyramid complex is a (royal) cemetary including for instance the mastaba of the King's Son Nefermaat.
The Bent Pyramid[edit | edit source]
Snefru is shining (in the South)
Date: ca 2505 – 2485 BC
Dimensions: The base measures 189.45 m, the length of the sides at the bend is 123.58, height of the pyramid is 104.7 m (the lower part is 47.04 m)
Materials used: A stone core with a Tura limestone casing
In his 15th year Snefru moves the royal necropolis from Meidum to Dashur. The Bent pyramid is the first of two pyramids constructed at that site. This pyramid seems to be the first to have been planned as a true pyramid from the outset. The name of the Bent pyramid refers to the fact that half way during the construction the angle of incline was changed from 60 to a little under 54. After reaching a height of 45 meters the angle of incline was further reduced to 45. The pyramid complex consists of a small chapel made of Tura limestone, which was later enlarged using mud bricks. A causeway stretches for 210 m and connects the pyramid with a valley temple. A small satellite pyramid was constructed to the south of the pyramid. The satellite pyramid was built with the new technique of laying courses horizontally. Lehner mentions that this meant the masons had to cut the slope of the pyramid into the casing stones. There is evidence of masons chipping off the sharp corners of the casing stones and the necessity of patches to mend these chipped edges.
The North or Red Pyramid[edit | edit source]
Snefru Shines – North Pyramid
Date: ca 2505 – 2485 BC
Dimensions: base 220 m 220 m; height 104 m.
Materials used: Tura stone was used for the foundation, the core was made of red limestone from nearby quarries, and the casing was made of Tura limestone.
In Snefru's 30th year the construction of the Red pyramid was initiated. It was planned as a true pyramid form the start and there are no adjustments to the slope like in the Bent pyramid. Not much of the casing remains and the red limestone core is what gives this pyramid its name.
The pyramid was completed before Snefru's death, but the same may not be true of the other components of the pyramid complex. The mortuary temples may have been unfinished, as was the causeway. The sattelite pyramid was likely never constructed at all. Remains of a perimeter wall have been found.
The complex may have been finished by Khufu, Snefru's successor. It is believed that Snefru may have been buried at the Red pyramid. Even though Snefru's Cult was located at the Valley Temple of the Bent Pyramid complex.
The Great Pyramid or Khufu's Pyramid[edit | edit source]
Akhet-Khufu (The horizon (or spirit?) of Khufu)
Date: ca 2470 – 2447 BC
Dimensions: base 230.4 m X 230.4 m; height 146.5 m
Materials used: Limestone
Khufu was the son of King Snefru and Queen Hetepheres I. Khufu likely finished the pyramid complexes of his father at Dashur (and Meidum ?). Khufu moved the royal necropolis to Giza. There he ordered the construction of what is now called the Great Pyramid. Khufu may have abandoned Dashur because there was no room for a large scale pyramid complex, and because there was not enough limestone nearby for the construction of the complex.
Part of the core consisted of limestone blocks. Pink granite was used for the burial chamber. Pockets inside the core were filled with sand and gravel. The casing was created from white limestone excavated from the Muqattam range on the east bank of the Nile.
The pyramid complex includes three subsidiary pyramids, sometimes called Queen's pyramids. These smaller pyramids are sometimes lbeled as G Ia, G Ib and G Ic:
- G Ia Pyramid of Queen Mother Hetepheres I?
- The northern most queen's pyamid fas first thought to have belonged to Meritites. But on the basis of Lehner's work it is now believed that this pyramid was made for the Queen-Mother Hetepheres I. This pyramid came with a small mortuary temple and a boat pit. Only ruins remain of the temple and the no boat was fo in the pit. No sarcophagus was found in the pyramid. Funerary equipment for HEtepheres was found in G 7000X.
- G Ib Pyramid of Queen Meritites?
- This pyramid had a boat pit and a small mortuary temple. It is not known who this pyramid was meant for, but it is possible that the pyramid belonged to Queen Meritites.
- G Ic Pyramid of Queen Henutsen?
- This pyramid had no boat pit. It is thought to belong to Queen Henutsen. The mortuary temple may have been started as late as the reign of Shepseskaf. On a stela Henutsen is referred to as the Kings Daughter. It's not clear whose daughter she was. Some experts have pointed out that G Ic was not part of the original pyramid complex of Khufu (Janosi). It has been suggested that the pyramid was added during the reign of Khafre. Some have suggested (Stadelmann for instance) that Khafre is identical to Prince Khufukhaf I. If so, Khafre could have been a son of Khufu and Henutsen and he could have added his mother's pyramid to his father's complex.
Pyramid at Abu Rawash[edit | edit source]
Djedefre moved his necropolis from Giza to Abu Rowash. It is not known why he moved away from the necropolis established by his father. The erection of the pyramids of Khafre and Menkaure shows that there was room to build more pyramids when Djedefre ruled. Lepsius initially estimated the base of the pyramid to be 95 m, but more recent work has shown the pyramid had a base of about 106 m. The core of the pyramid was made of stone. Lepsius mentions a casing of granite at the bottom and Mokattem stone higher up.
Next to the main pyramid the remians of a smaller satellite pyramid have been found. It is not clear if this is a cult pyramid or the burial place of one of Djedefre's wives. Lepsius mentions the satellite pyramid (Lepsius III) and mentions that it is rather large. He estimated the base to be 60 m.
Unfinished Pyramid (Lepsius XIII)[edit | edit source]
Location: Zawiyet el-Aryan
Date: ca 2447 – 2439 BC
Dimensions: the core was 180 X 180 m and the total base may have been 200 X 200 m
Materials used: Stone (limestone?)
Lepsius described this pyramid and it's also known as Lepsius XIII. Lepsius estimated the base to be 180 m and he mentions an enclosure wall surrounding the pyramid. Some egyptologists have dated this pyramid to the 3rd dynasty (Nebka or Neferkare), but others (Lehner for instance) date the structure to the 4th dynasty. This later date is based on for instance the use of lage blocks in the burial chamber, and a north south oriented plan for the perimeter wall. The pyramid is unfinished and of the superstructure only a platform with some remains of the structure is preserved. The pyramid may have belonged to Baka, a son of Djedefre, who may have ruled briefly after his father.
Khafre's Pyramid[edit | edit source]
Khafre was a younger son of Khufu. Khafre may have been the son of Queen Meritites. He came to the throne after the death of his older brothers Kawab (who never ruled) and Djedefre. His brother Djedefre had moved the royal necropolis to Abu Roash, and Khafre moved it back to Giza where he constructed a pyramid next to the one made for his father Khufu.
The pyramid complex includes a mortuary temple, a valley temple, a causeway and the Sphinx. Next to the pyramid there is one subsidiary pyramid.
Subsidiary Pyramid – GII a
It is not clear who was buried there. Sealings have been found of a King's eldest son of his body etc and the Horus name of Khafre.
Menkaure's Pyramid[edit | edit source]
Menkaure's pyramid at Giza was called The Netjer-er-Menkaure which means "Menkaure is Divine". This pyramid is the smallest of the three pyramids at Giza.
Three subsidiary pyramids ("Queen's pyramids")
These pyramids are sometimes labeled G-IIIa (East subsidiary pyramid), G-IIIb (Middle subsidiary pyramid) and G-IIIc (West subsidiary pyramid). In the chapel associated with G-IIIa a statue of a Queen was found. It is possible that these pyramids were meant for the Queens of Khafre. It may be that Queen Khamerernebti II was buried in one of the pyramids.
Mastabat el-Fara'un[edit | edit source]
The Purified Pyramid.
Verner has the name of the monument written with a determinant that looks like a truncated pyramid.
Location: South Saqqara
Date: ca 2396 - 2392 BC
Dimensions: Base 99.6 x 74.4 m
Materials used: A casing of Turo limestone encased the monument.
Shepseskaf broke with tradition and moved the necropolis to South Saqqara where he erected a Mastaba now called Mastabat Fara’un. In antiquity the structure was named Khebu-Shepseskhaf which means Shepseskhaf is purified.
Miroslav Verner mentions that "the entrance to the substructure resembles that of a pyramid more than that of a mastaba". Jequier suggested that the unusual shape of the tomb was a rejection of the pyramid (as a symbol of Re). There may have been an attempt to stop the increasing influence of the priesthood of Re. Several other egyptologists disagreed. Ricke stated that the obelisk was the symbol of Re, not the pyramid. He suggested the tomb was conceived as a "Buto type" tomb. Muller thought it resembled an enormous stone version of a hut hung with matting.
Stadelman at some point questioned why an archaic form of niches was used. This together with the fact that the tomb is not close to Giza, but actually closer to one of Snefru's pyramids. It has been suggested that Shepseskaf was the son of a secondary wife of Menkaure and tried to strengthen his claim on the throne by associating himself with the founder of the 4th dynasty. Another line of thought is that Shepseskaf finished the construction of Menkaure and this was a major drain on resources. A large infrastructure was necessary at Giza to complete Menkaure's pyramid and temple. The tomb of Shepseskaf was started at the Saqqara site, but could not use the full resources of the egyptian state because of the Giza building project that needed to be finished first. The similarities of the substructure of the Mastabat Fara'un to those of a pyramid could suggest that the tomb was meant to become a pyramid.
Link: Mastabat el-Fara'un page on Saqqara Online. According to this site the Mastabat el-Fara'un is a two step pyramid or even just a very large mastaba. The monument may have been made to resemble a Buto shrine.
References[edit | edit source]
- Toby Wilkinson, Early Dynastic Egypt, 2001, Routledge.
- Stan Hendrickx, Barbara Adams, K M Cialowiez, Egypt at Its Origins, 2005, Peeters.
- David O’Connor, Boat graves and pyramid origins: New discoveries at Abydos, Egypt, 1991, Expedition, Vol 3, nr 33, pg 5-17
- Aidan Dodson and Dyan Hilton, The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt: A Genealogical Sourcebook of the Pharaohs, 2004, Thames & Hudson
- Mark Lehner, The Complete Pyramids: Solving the Ancient Mysteries, 1997, Thames and Hudson
- Lepsius, Denkmahler.
- Lepsius, Denkmahler. Online at 
- Miroslav Verner, The Pyramids: The Mystery, Culture, and Science of Egypt's Great Monuments, 1997, Grove Press.
- Porter and Moss, Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Reliefs, and Paintings; Part III; Pdf version downloaded from gizapyramids.org
- Lepsius, Denkmahler. Online at 
- Lepsius, Denkmahler. Online at 
Comments and Questions[edit | edit source]
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