Pyramid of Hawara

In fact, there was a second 20-ton trapdoor in the roof of the empty passage, giving onto a second empty passage, also at a right angle to the first. This too had a 20-ton trapdoor giving onto a passage at a right angle to its predecessor (thus the interior of the pyramid was circled by these passages). However, this passage ended in a large area of mud and stone blocking that presumably concealed the burial chamber. This, however, was a blind and merely filled a wide but shallow alcove. Two blind shafts in the floor, carefully filled with cut stone blocks, further wasted the robbers’ time, for the real entrance to the burial chamber was even more carefully concealed and lay between the blind shafts and opposite the alcove. Despite these elaborate protective measures, Petrie found that none of the trapdoors had been slid into place and the wooden doors were open. Whether this indicated negligence on the part of the burial party, an intention to return and place further burials in the pyramid (when found there were two sarcophagi in the quartzite monolith described below and room for at least two more), or a deliberate action to facilitate robbery of the tomb, we cannot know.

The burial chamber was made out of a single quartzite monolith which was lowered into a larger chamber lined with limestone. This monolithic slab weighed an estimated 110 tons according to Petrie. A course of brick was placed on the chamber to raise the ceiling then the chamber was covered with 3 quartzite slabs (estimated weight 45 tons each). Above the burial chamber were 2 relieving chambers. This was topped with 50 ton limestone slabs forming a pointed roof. Then an enormous arch of brick 3 feet thick was built over the pointed roof to support the core of the pyramid.


The first excavations at the site were made by Karl Lepsius, in 1843. William Flinders Petrie excavated at Hawara, in 1888, finding papyri of the 1st and 2nd centuries CE, and, north of the pyramid, a vast necropolis where he found 146 portraits on coffins dating to the Roman period, famous as being among the very few surviving examples of painted portraits from classical antiquity, the “Fayum” mummy portraits from Roman Egypt. Among the discoveries made by Petrie were papyrus manuscripts, including a great papyrus scroll which contains parts of books 1 and 2 of the Iliad (the “Hawara Homer” of the Bodleian Library, Oxford).