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Dahshur, Egypt

Pyramid Complex of Senwosret III, Dahshur

Sponsored by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Bioanthropology Foundation, and The American Research Center in Egypt (US-AID)

mastaba at Dahshur

Partially reconstructed mastaba of the high official Sobekemhat, with the pyramid of pharaoh Senwosret III behind it. The Dynasty 4 pyramid of Snefru is to the right in the background.

Senwosret III's pyramid complex was first excavated between 1894 and 1895 by the French Egyptologist Jacques de Morgan. The Metropolitan Museum of Art began excavating the site in 1990 and has returned annually since 1992.

Background

The pyramid complex of the Middle Kingdom pharaoh Senwosret III (ca. 1878–1840 B.C.) is located at Dahshur, a site approximately twenty miles south of modern Cairo. At the center of the complex is the royal pyramid, which now appears to be a mass of mudbrick, but was originally a 63-meter-high structure cased with fine limestone. The king's burial chambers, constructed of limestone and granite, lie beneath the pyramid and contain a beautifully carved red granite sarcophagus. Despite all these preparations, the king was likely buried at Abydos in another tomb he constructed.

A chapel and a modest temple were built respectively against north and east sides of the pyramid; at a later point in the king's reign, a large, innovative temple was constructed to the south of the original complex. To the north and south of the king's pyramid were smaller pyramids with attached chapels dedicated to the royal women of Senwosret III's court. The entire complex was surrounded by a series of mudbrick and limestone walls articulated with niches and recesses.

To the north of the royal complex was a large cemetery for officials who served Senwosret III and his successors. The burial places of these individuals were marked by mastabas, rectangular structures with gently sloping sides and flat roofs. Fragments of inscriptions listing the titles and the names of the owners have been recovered, as well as biographical and historical information.

Excavations

Although most of Senwosret III's aboveground monuments were dismantled and destroyed by ancient stone robbers, several thousand fragments of wall decoration have been recovered from the remains of the temples and chapels. The limestone reliefs are not only beautiful works of art, but provide important information about religious beliefs during the later Dynasty 12. Both the architecture and the decoration of the complex show that this was a period in which beliefs related to the king and his afterlife were evolving.

Bracelets of Queen Weret

Reconstructed bracelets of Queen Weret, now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo.

Important finds from the royal complex also include a small collection of exquisitely rendered jewelry that belonged to Queen Weret. These pieces are now displayed in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo.

Relief depiction of Sobekemhat

Relief depiction of the high official Sobekemhat, from the east side of his mastaba.

The excavation of the nonroyal mastabas to the north of the complex has resulted in the identification of important individuals. These tomb owners embellished their monuments with lists of their official titles and occasionally biographies that describe historical events.

Many of the complex's structures appear to have survived into the New Kingdom, as numerous graffiti left by visitors have been found. After the New Kingdom, the area was used extensively as a burial place for lower-ranking individuals.

Relief depiction from the causeway of Senwosret III

Relief depiction from the causeway of Senwosret III, showing fish and animals on an island. The relief probably belonged to scenes showing the seasons of the Egyptian year.

Suggested Further Reading

Arnold, Dieter. "The Pyramid Complex of Senwosret III in the Cemeteries of Dahshur." In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/dapc/hd_dapc.htm (October 2004).

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