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The Mystery of Djedefre Pyramid Staircase that Leads Nowhere

Djedefre Pyramid, the site of a staircase that leads nowhere.
Djedefre Pyramid, Egypt, the site of a staircase that leads nowhere. Credit: kairoinfo4u. CC BY-2.0/flickr

The mysterious Djedefre pyramid, which today lays in ruins, has eluded Egyptologists for years because of its unusual staircase feature.

Constructed in the Fourth Dynasty, more than four thousand years ago, the Pyramid of Djedefre is located about five miles from its matching counterpart, the Pyramid of Menkaure, in Giza.

Initially, it was suggested that the pyramid was never finished, but more recent archaeological work has shown it was designed and completed to match Menkaure in size. Menkaure is the third largest of the Giza pyramids.

The pyramid is shrouded in mysteries, particularly as to how it differs from other pyramids in Egypt. Its chambers, for example, were built beneath its pyramidal structure rather than inside it. As of yet, there is no explanation as to why this was the case.

The structure itself is also considered to be unique in that it was built on a naturally occurring mound. Experts claim this may have reduced the amount of time taken to complete construction.

Statue found in the ruins of the temple adjoining the pyramid of King Djedefre, north of Giza. Head of a King Sphinx Djedefre.
Statue found in the ruins of the temple adjoining the pyramid of King Djedefre, north of Giza. Head of a King Sphinx Djedefre. Credit: akhenatenator CC BY 1.0/flickr

Remains from various periods in ancient Egyptian history lie inside the pyramid, from the Early Dynastic to the Coptic eras. The remains provide some indication as to how long the building was utilized.

All of the archaeological finds have one thing in common. They are all exclusively related to the funerary process.

The Mystery of the Djedefre Pyramid Staircase

All that remains of the structure today are ruins, among which is also perhaps the most mysterious aspect of the pyramid. This would be a huge, 49-meter-long channel in the bedrock which leads to a twenty-meter deep shaft.

Within the channel lies a staircase that appears to lead nowhere. There is no tomb or ancient rooms. There is merely nothing.

More recent studies have revealed it was in fact a Roman step well, a place where Romans would dig down into the limestone bedrock to reach the water table and source water.

While very little is known about the pyramid itself, there exists a whole catalog of information about the site, including that it was built under the orders of the Pharaoh Djedefre, the Egyptian king of the Fourth Dynasty in the times of the Old Kingdom. He was the successor and son of the Pharaoh Khufu.

Egyptologists believe the Djedefre pyramid took around eight years to complete. The main  composite material of the structure and the staircase was limestone. The blocks angle towards the center of the structure, a practice that was first observed at the step pyramids in Saqqara. It is thought that this building technique was used to increase the overall stability and durability of the structure.

Djedefre Pyramid, where a staircase that leads nowhere was found.
Djedefre Pyramid, Egypt, where a staircase that leads nowehere was found. Credit: kairoinfo4u. CC BY-2.0/flickr

Excavations conducted in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries helped uncover whose tomb was inside the pyramid. Researchers discovered a cartouche, an oval carving with a line at one end tangent to it. This indicated that the text enclosed was a royal name, and that name etched into it was Djedefre.

Between 1900 and 1902, French Egyptologist Emile Chassinat carried out excavations which further uncovered a funerary settlement, boat pit, and several statutory fragments bearing Djedefre’s name.

Archaeological evidence confirms that the first burials at the site took place in the First Dynasty, with the outlines of a large Thinite cemetery still present.

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