Meidum Necropolis


Meidum, Maydum or Maidum is an ancient Egyptian archaeological necropolis in Lower Egypt. It contains a large pyramid and several mudbrick mastabas. The pyramid was Egypt’s first straight-sided one, but it partially collapsed in ancient times.

Location of Meidum Necropolis

Meidum Necropolis is located around 72 kilometres (45 mi) south of modern Cairo.

Meidum Pyramid

The pyramid at Meidum is thought to be just the second pyramid built after Djoser’s and may have been initially built for Huni, the last pharaoh of the Third Dynasty and continued by Sneferu. Because of its unusual appearance, the pyramid is called el-haram el-kaddaab — (False Pyramid) in Egyptian Arabic.

The second extension turned the original step pyramid design into a true pyramid by filling in the steps with limestone encasing. While this approach is consistent with creating the other true pyramids, Meidum was affected by construction errors. The outer layer was founded on sand, not rock, like the inner layers. Secondly, the internal step pyramids were designed as the final stage. Thus, the outer surface was polished, and the platforms of the steps were not horizontal but fell off to the outside. This event severely compromised the stability and likely caused the Meidum Pyramid’s collapse in a downpour while the building was still under construction.

Franck Monnier and others believe the pyramid did not collapse until the New Kingdom, but several facts contradict this theory. The Meidum Pyramid seems never to have been completed. Beginning with Sneferu and to the 12th Dynasty, all pyramids had a valley temple missing at Meidum. The mortuary temple, which was found under the rubble at the pyramid’s base, apparently never was finished. The walls were only partly polished. Two stelas inside, usually bearing the pharaoh’s names, are missing inscriptions. The burial chamber inside the pyramid is uncompleted, with bare walls and wooden supports still in place, usually removed after construction.

Affiliated mastabas were never used or completed, and none of the usual burials has been found. Finally, the first examinations of the Meidum Pyramid found everything below the surface of the rubble mound fully intact. Stones from the outer cover were stolen just after the excavations exposed them. This rubbery makes a catastrophic collapse more probable than a gradual one. The collapse of this pyramid during the reign of Sneferu is the likely reason for the change from 54 to 43 degrees of his second pyramid at Dahshur, the Bent Pyramid.

The collapse of Upper Steps

By the time it was investigated by Napoleon’s Expedition in 1799, the Meidum Pyramid had its present three steps. It is commonly assumed the pyramid still had five steps in the fifteenth century and was gradually falling further into ruin because al-Maqrizi described it as looking like a five-stepped mountain. Still, Mendelssohn claimed this might result from a loose translation, and al-Makrizi’s words would more accurately translate into “five-storied mountain”. A description which could even match the present state of the pyramid with four bands of different masonry at the base and a step on top.

Excavations in Meidum Necropolis

John Shae Perring excavated the Meidum Pyramid in 1837, Lepsius in 1843 and Flinders Petrie later in the nineteenth century, located at the mortuary temple facing the east. In 1920 Ludwig Borchardt studied the area further, followed by Alan Rowe in 1928 and Ali el-Kholi in the 1970s.

In its ruined state, the structure is 213 feet (65 meters) high, and its entrance is aligned north-south, with the entry in the north, 66 feet (20 meters) above present ground level. The steep descending passage 57 feet (17 meters) long leads to a horizontal passage below the original ground level, leading to a vertical shaft 10 feet (3.0 meters) high that leads to the corbelled burial chamber itself. The section is unlikely to have been used for any burial.

Flinders Petrie was the first Egyptologist to establish the facts of its original design dimensions and proportions. Its final form was 1100 cubits of 0.523 m, around 175 cubits high, thus showing the same proportions as the Great Pyramid at Giza and, therefore, the same circular symbolism. Petrie wrote in the 1892 excavation report that:

We see then that there is an exactly analogous theory for the dimensions of Meidum … to that of the Great Pyramid; in each, the approximate ratio of 7:44 is adopted, as referred to the radius and circle …

These proportions equated to the four outer faces sloping in by precisely 51.842° or 51°50’35”, which would have been understood and expressed by the Ancient Egyptians as a side slope of 51⁄2 palms.