Pyramid of Neferirkare

was built for the Fifth Dynasty pharaoh Neferirkare Kakai in the 25th century BC. [a] It was the tallest structure on the highest site at the necropolis of Abusir, found between Giza and Saqqara, and still towers over the necropolis. The pyramid is also significant because its excavation led to the discovery of the Abusir Papyri. The Fifth Dynasty marked the end of the great pyramid constructions during the Old Kingdom. Pyramids of the era were smaller and becoming more standardized, though intricate relief decoration also proliferated. Neferirkare’s pyramid deviated from convention as it was originally built as a step pyramid: a design that had been antiquated after the Third Dynasty (26th or 27th century BC).[b] This was then encased in a second step pyramid with alterations intended to convert it into a true pyramid;[c] However, the pharaoh’s death left the work to be completed by his successors. The remaining works were completed in haste, using cheaper building material.

Location and excavation

The pyramid of Neferirkare is situated on the necropolis at Abusir, between Saqqara and the Giza Plateau. Abusir assumed great import in the Fifth Dynasty after Userkaf, the first ruler, built his sun temple and, his successor, Sahure inaugurated a royal necropolis there with his funerary monument. Sahure’s successor, his son Neferirkare, was the second ruler to be entombed in the necropolis. The Egyptologist Jaromír Krejčí proposes a number of hypotheses for the position of Neferirkare’s complex in relation to Sahure’s complex: (1) that Neferirkare was motivated to distance himself from Sahure and thus chose to found a new cemetery and redesign the mortuary temple plan to differentiate it from Sahure’s; (2) that geomorphological pressures – particularly the slope between Neferirkare’s and Sahure’s complexes – required Neferirkare to situate his complex elsewhere; (3) on the basis of the site being the highest point.

Mortuary complex

Pyramid construction techniques underwent a transition in the Fifth Dynasty. The monumentality of the pyramids diminished, the design of mortuary temples changed, and the substructure of the pyramid became standardized. By contrast, relief decoration proliferated and the temples were enriched with greater storeroom complexes. These two conceptual changes had developed by the time of Sahure’s reign at the latest. Sahure’s mortuary complex indicates that symbolic expression through decoration became favoured over sheer magnitude. For example, Fourth Dynasty pharaoh Khufu’s complex had a total of 100 linear metres (330 linear feet) reserved for decoration, while Sahure’s temple had around 370 linear metres (1,200 linear feet) dedicated to relief decorations. Bárta identifies that storage space in mortuary temples expanded consistently from Neferirkare’s reign onwards. This was a result of the combined centralization of administrative focus onto the funerary cult, the increase in the numbers of priests and officials involved in the maintenance of the cult, and the increase in their revenues.