Discovery of the pyramidion

Zahi Hawass , Tuesday 7 Jun 2022

Zahi Hawass describes the discovery of the satellite Pyramid of Khufu on the Giza Plateau, together with its pyramidion

Pyramid of Khufu
Pyramid of Khufu


A satellite Pyramid of Khufu was found at the southeast corner of the Great Pyramid in Giza in the early 1990s. It had not been expected to find a pyramid in that location because the site had been excavated fully by Petrie in 1881, and another clearance had been done in 1940.

The satellite pyramid is in a T-shaped style similar to the subsidiary Pyramid of Khafre located at the south side of the second pyramid in Giza. The superstructure consists of only about three courses of limestone located on one side of the burial chamber of the pyramid. Nothing has been found in the burial chamber except two large stones, a medium sized one and a small one, and a hole was cut in the ground. The ceiling of the burial chamber seems to be vaulted over the south and north walls.

There are boat pits located on the south of the subsidiary pyramids G1A and G1B. The boat pit to the south of G1B is also located on the immediate east of G1D, the recently discovered pyramid. One may suggest that this boat belonged to the satellite pyramid because of the location of the boat pit near it. But the problem with this idea is that G1A has a boat pit on the south, and this boat pit is located on the south of G1B and nothing has been found on the south of G1C. The southern side of G1C was excavated down to the solid rock, but nothing was found.

One may also suggest that the boat pit located on the north side of the subsidiary pyramid G1A belonged to it and not to the main Pyramid of Khufu because this period in Khufu’s reign was experimental and thus a boat pit was made for each pyramid. The problem with this theory is that the boat pit on the north side of pyramid G1C is so large that it cannot fit with the small size of the pyramid. The ancient Egyptians preferred symmetry. Also, it is located to the north of the causeway of Khufu, which breaks its connection with GIA.

Furthermore, the boat pit located north of the causeway is similar in size to the two boat pits that flanked the upper Temple of Khufu. Therefore, this boat pit must be one of the architectural components of the Khufu Pyramid Complex.

It has also been suggested that the trial passage was intended to be the substructure of the satellite Pyramid of Khufu. It was abandoned because of the enlargement of the upper temple, and then the satellite pyramid was moved and built in the southeast corner of Khufu’s Pyramid.

The problem with this theory is that the interior of the trial passage is exactly like the interior of the Great Pyramid, though shorter, and the substructure of the new satellite pyramid has a T-shape. However, I do not think that this is significant because Khufu’s reign initiated the development of the Old Kingdom architectural components of the pyramid complex and was an experimental period. It seems that the small area available for the satellite pyramid and the limited time in which to build it made it necessary to have a T-shaped style, not a trial passage. It seems that the new satellite pyramid was constructed in a hurried manner.

The function of the satellite pyramid is not known and has been debated among scholars. The most frequently cited possible functions are that it was a dummy tomb connected with the sed festival, a burial for the king’s ka, a symbolic burial for the king as king of Upper and Lower Egypt, a “burial of placentas”, a tomb for the viscera, a solar symbol, temporary storage for the body, and a tomb for crowns.

The southern tomb of the Djoser Pyramid Complex is a prototype of the Old Kingdom satellite pyramids. The reliefs on the panels in Djoser’s southern tomb represent the king wearing the white crown and running holding the flail, with these scenes in the southern tomb being interpreted as representations of the sed festival. Therefore, I propose a new theory about the function of the satellite pyramid: that it was used as a changing room for the ritual of the sed festival.

THE SED FESTIVAL: There is a very interesting sequence among the wall reliefs on the pyramid complexes of the Old Kingdom.

The first scene shows the king in his palace with his officials and courtiers. Alternatively, he is seated in his chapel. He wears the crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. He wears his robe and carries the flail to show his power over the Two Lands. The second scene shows the king wearing the skirt and holding the flail and dancing or doing the ritual of the sed festival. The last scene in the sequence always occurs in the offering room and shows the king receiving offerings and divinity. He is accepted by all the gods and becomes equal to them because he has accomplished what the gods required him to do on earth and now he is rewarded by becoming a god himself.

The king’s duty is to build a tomb for himself and temples for the worship of the gods, to unify Upper and Lower Egypt, to give offerings to the gods, and to smite the enemies of Egypt.

The scenes of the sed festival occur on the walls of the southern tomb, which is a prototype of the satellite pyramid. The scenes also occur in the wall reliefs of the pyramid complexes from Dynasties IV to VI of the Old Kingdom. Therefore, it is proper to suggest that there is a connection between the sed festival and the satellite pyramid.

The sed festival is a subject of debate among scholars. It held an important meaning for the reign of the living king, as is known since the reign of Narmer in Dynasty I. The wall reliefs of Khufu’s Pyramid Complex and other Old Kingdom Pyramid Complexes illustrate the activity of the king during this festival and picture the king as the primary figure.

The ancient Egyptian term for this ceremony is hb sd, which has been translated incorrectly in Greek as a regal jubilee that the king celebrated every 30 years after his accession in order to renew his power and strength. But the sed festival is not a regnal jubilee because it was celebrated at irregular intervals, there being no fixed years for its celebration.

The scenes of the sed festival that are depicted in the reliefs of the Old Kingdom illustrate three types of rituals involved: the donning of the sed robe, the king sitting on his throne in his chapel wearing his crown, and finally the cultic dance, when the king took off his robe and danced in his short kilt. The rituals differ because there was one for Upper Egypt and another for Lower Egypt; however, the robe is a very distinctive feature that always occurs in any scene depicting the ritual activity of the sed festival.

The relationship of the sed festival to other festivals and to the king’s duties can be interpreted through the wall reliefs. It is related to the Libyan defeats, the victory and glory of the king, his coronation, his appearance in front of the gods, and also the strength of the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt.

Different Egyptologists have taken different views. Bleeker, in the conclusion to his study, explained that this festival “marked a critical phase in the king’s relationship to the gods”. He pointed out that it was a ritual that made a highly dramatic impact. It was not a sacred drama, but it had a magical aspect. It also renewed the office of the king as the high priest. Finally, the king’s glory was shown when he wore the sed robe.

Other scholars have commented on the function of the sed festival. Brinks believed that it confirmed the king as the ruler by the renewed presentation of the sceptre, as well as the bow and arrow. Bonnet described it as an overwhelming presentation of royal power. Horning stated that the sed festival was intended to guarantee royal power. Arnold suggested that the sed festival was a renewal rite for the life and strength of the king.

I believe that the sed festival is the celebration by the king when he has finished all that the gods asked him to do. The rituals showed that he had completed them all and now he was happy celebrating.

The wall reliefs depict the powers that are renewed through the festival, and which entitle the king to carry it out. The king celebrates good government, as is documented by scenes of the estates that produced offerings for the cult as well as scenes of victories over enemies. Such scenes are repeated throughout the pyramid complex. The king appears on the throne in his sed festival robe to represent his role as ruler. This scene appears in various places in the upper and sometimes the lower temple. The king is received by the gods as a divine equal. This appears in many places in the complex. The king appears celebrating a dance. He is shown taking off his robe and wearing only a skirt and dancing joyfully because he has accomplished what the gods required of him.