Wednesday, March 25, 2015

End-of-Season: The pyramid burial chamber

Between the hectic work at the end of the season and the terrible internet connection, I wasn’t able to post about our final results for the season. So in the next few days, I’ll write about where things stand and our plans for next season.

Our most dramatic result was in the burial chamber of the pyramid. After two years of work, and about 250 tons of sand removed by hand, we came down on a big granite slab, about 10 feet (3.3 meters) long that was aligned between the door and the “stele niche” in the back of the burial chamber. 

Granite slab when first cleaned (Jaffar Madani of El Kurru village at left)

Would this be the inscribed stele that would finally give us the name of the king who built the pyramid?

Well, we cleaned off the stone and it was pretty roughly finished. So we thought maybe on the other face…so we looked underneath, but the space was too confined for us to see.

Me and Mahmoud Suliman Bashir, my Sudanese friend and colleague
 (and the project's Inspector from the Department of Antiquities)
trying to see under the stele
So we got all our strongest guys and turned it so it was vertical. 

And that face was unfinished too! Here's what I thought about that:

When we excavated the rest of the room, the granite slab turned out to be resting right on an unfinished sandstone "coffin bench" that was originally intended to support the coffin of the king. But the rest of the room was completely empty, showing that the pyramid burial chamber was NEVER USED! 

Granite slab on top of the coffin bench, with the beginnings of the "stele niche" at the back wall
We had more indications that the pyramid was also unfinished above ground. Next post!


  1. What happened after that? Why is there so little information available? Are you done? Or going back? Any other Promising Sites?

    1. Hi John,

      Well, we found out all we could about the pyramid. We are back at El Kurru right now working on a city wall. It's Medieval (built around 600 AD) but turns out to be made of the stones of all the other pyramids from El Kurru.

      The Napatan settlement of the "Black Pharaohs" continues to be elusive, although I do think it was here somewhere. Possibly now under the modern village.

      That's archaeology for you--sometimes it's spectacular discoveries, but it often tells you about something other than what you were seeking.

  2. Just saw the PBS special here in Sunnyvale CA. Great work, you are living a dream of all armchair archaeologists. Thanks for a great story.

  3. Thanks Jim. Just finishing our current season (focused on other parts of the site...). The pyramid continues to be a mystery!

  4. Hi, Geoff Emberling, Is there any word for any future excavations of the other pyramid site in Nuri? I remembered you saying the Sudanese archaeologist plan on excavating that site in the future. I am wondering when?

  5. Hi Brian,

    Nothing yet...but there are some possibilities. Will take a few years to know if any of them pan out. Our biggest priority there is actually preservation--the site is threatened by a higher water table after the completion of the nearby 4th Cataract (Merowe) dam.

  6. Is there any recorded dimensions or architectural survey of any of these Sudanese structures? I’m collecting as much data as I can so I can build some CAD models. Very interesting work and finds here. It’s not as empty or unfinished as it may appear. It really depends on your POV.

    1. Hi Ryan,
      Yes, we have measured everything! You can find more info at our new website, under "reports". The 2015 report has the most recent published plans of the pyramid burial chamber and the mortuary temple.

  7. I assume this is the Qu-1 that the documentary shows where you reached the third chamber at end of season and had to stop.
    I teach ancient cultures to elementary school children, and we have seen this documentary about Kush.
    My question is: do you now think differently about the opening above the entrance and the cave-in? I would like to give an update to the kids, they were disappointed that there was no ending to the dig. :)
    Thank you,