The riddle of the pyramids.

by K. (Kurt) Mendelssohn, 1906-

1974

Status

Available

Call number

DT63 .M43

Publication

Publisher Unknown

User reviews

LibraryThing member setnahkt
Author Kurt Mendelssohn is a physicist. Close enough. His book starts with a quite credible introduction to Early Dynastic and Old Kingdom history, but his main focus is on one particular pyramid - not the Great Pyramid, like just about everybody else, but the pyramid at Meidum. This structure doesn’t look like a pyramid at all (at least, now it doesn’t) but like a large stone tower. Egyptologists have shown it has an interesting history; it started out as a step pyramid but was converted to a “regular” pyramid by filling in the “steps” (it’s really even more complicated; google for details). There’s also no real clue to its builder; it’s often assigned to Huni, the last pharaoh of the Third Dynasty, for the plausible reason that Huni appears to be a fairly powerful pharaoh who doesn’t have a pyramid anywhere else. However, all the circumstantial evidence points to construction by Snefrw, the first pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty (which is a problem on its own; Snefrw is Huni’s son, so why the dynastic change?). Assigning the Meidum pyramid to Snefrw just makes other problems, though - Snefrw has three other pyramids - the Bent, or Southern Stone Pyramid at Dashur; the Red, or Northern Stone Pyramid at Dashur, and the small pyramid at Seila. The Bent and Red Pyramids are the third and fourth largest after Khufu and Khafre at Giza, and have unique features: the Bent Pyramid has two different angles and the Red Pyramid has the shallowest angle of any large pyramid (which happens to be the same angle as the upper part of the Bent Pyramid). So what did Snefrw need with four pyramids, and why the funny shapes?

Mendelssohn’s theory runs as follows:

* Huni builds the Meidum pyramid as a step pyramid.

* Snefrw decides to “improve” his father’s pyramid by filling in the steps, converting it to a “true” pyramid, while simultaneously beginning his own pyramid at Dashur.

* However, the Meidum pyramid was finished when Snefrw starts the conversion; thus the coarse interior had already been covered with a smooth limestone casing. Thus the in-filling is unstable, and sometime during it the exterior of the pyramid collapses, burying the construction crew. Snefrw fears a similar disaster with his own pyramid, and changes the angle to reduce the finished size, resulting in the “Bent” Pyramid.

* Lastly, just to be safe, Snefrw constructs the Red Pyramid, with the same shallow angle as the top of the Bent Pyramid.

Egyptologists have generally been respectful to Mendelssohn, and were probably flattered by his interest. However, although his theory is often mentioned in the professional literature, it has not been accepted. The sticking points are:

* No documentary evidence connects the Meidum pyramid with Huni. All available ancient sources say it’s Snefrw’s.

* An inscription by a New Kingdom tourist - a thousand or so years after the Meidum pyramid was completed - describes it in glowing terms as “the beautiful pyramid of King Snefrw”. It’s considered unlikely that someone would describe a heap of rubble that way.

* The clincher was the discovery of Late Period burials underneath the rubble, showing that this area was accessible millennia after the pyramid was built. The general consensus among Egyptologists is that the rubble is the result of stone-robbing during Islamic times and the pyramid was intact until then.

There are, of course, some ways the objections of Egyptologists could be explained away. A definitive answer would require excavation of the rubble mound, something the SCA is extremely unlikely to allow. Thus Mendelssohn’s theory will probably remain interesting but unlikely.
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Original publication date

1974

Barcode

34662000582442
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