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Pyramid of Baka in Zawyet el-Aryan
bA-kA-ra(u) , sbA-...(b)

The Northern Pyramid of Zawyet el-Aryan, also known as Pyramid of Baka and Pyramid of Bikheris is a huge, unfinished pyramid at Zawyet el-Aryan in Egypt. Its owner is not known for certainty, most Egyptologists think it should be a king known under his hellenized name, Bikheris. Other Egyptologists doubt this datation, though. The Baka pyramid can be found in the northern sector of Zawyet el'Aryan, around 8 km south-west of Giza. It lies in the north-east sector of the today military restricted area.

The first excavations and descriptions of the monument were performed during 1842 and 1846 by German Egyptologist Karl Richard Lepsius. He investigated the shaft and its surroundings and marked it in his pyramid list as Pyramid XIII. In the years 1905 to 1912, the pyramid shaft was closer examined by Italian archaeologist Alessandro Barsanti, who unfortunately died in 1917. The First World War brought any excavation to an halt until 1954. In this year an romantic film set construction for the movie Land of the Pharaoh, directed by Howard Hawk's was in need and the landscape of Zawyet el-Aryan seemed to be perfect. The shaft and its surroundings had to be freed from sand and rubble, which had devoured the area due time.

Today, the Baka pyramid lies within a military restricted area since 1964. No excavations are allowed, the original necropolis is overbuilt with military bungalows and the shaft is misused as a local dump. Thus, the today status of the burial shaft is uncertain and most possibly disastrous.


unfinished shaft

burial chamber with the oval sarcophagus (1905 photography)

Next to nothing is known about the superstructure. Only the quadratic base, made of natural bedrock, was finished. It measures 200 x 200 m and shows traces of a surrounding pedestrian, preserved for the lime stone covering. If the pyramid was planned to have a slope of 52°, as the Khufu pyramid does, the building would have reached a size close to the Khafre pyramid. However, the exact planned size and slope cannot be evaluated, because no covering blocks were ever found and fundaments were always larger than the base of the pyramid itself.
The substructure consists of a T-shaped burial shaft, the passage facing south to north, the burial chamber facing east to west. The complete shaft has no ceiling anymore and it's possible, that it never had any. A steep stairway leads down to the burial chamber, at the half of its way the stairs are interrupted by horizontal landing of unknown purpose. The burial chamber was obviously never finished, the shaft walls were smooth but never covered with stones. Only the floor of the chamber was finished and covered with massive granite blocks, each being 4,5 m long and 2,5 m thick and weighing up to 9t each. Close to the western end of the chamber an unusual sarcophagus was found. It has an oval shape and was embedded into one of the floor blocks. It seems obvious, that the sarcophagus was brought into the chamber during the foundation laying, since it was too big to fit through the passway. The sarcophagus is 3,15 m long, 2,22 m broad and 1,50 m deep. The oval lid was found in situ, the sarcophagus was therefore found sealed. According to Barsanti, small traces of a burial were found inside the sarcophagus, but unfortunately they were never examined closer and today they are lost. Furthermore, Barsanti claims to have found an damaged dedication tablet with the name of king Djedefre on it.
The pyramid complex consisted of an 465 x 420 m measuring enclosure wall. The alignment of the necropolis is very similar to that of the Djedefre pyramid. Since not even a first layer of the pyramid was started, the necropolis was also left unfinished. There are no traces of a mortuary temple, a causeway, a valley temple or other cultic buildings.

Egyptologists and Historians discuss a secure datation. They point to several graffiti made of black ink, which were found in the burial chamber and along the passage. They call different names of workmen's crews and the name of the planned necropolis: Seba[-weref] ?-Ka ([great] star of ?-Ka). They also mention twice an interesting royal name: Nebkare (Lord of the Ka of Re). It is unknown, if it's actually the name of a (yet unknown) king, or that of a prince. A further inscription mentions a possible Gold name: Neb hedjet-nwb (Lord of the Golden Crown). Some Egyptologists propose to see it either as the Horus name of king Huni or as the Gold name of king Nebka.

But the main problem is the correct reading of a cartouche name found within six ink inscriptions. Whilst the lower (therefore second) hieroglyphic sign is for sure a Ka-symbol, the early sign is illegible. Unfortunately the excavator, Alessandro Barsanti, made no facsimiles, but slipshod hand-drawings, so that the last sign remains indefinable. As a consequence, there are several, alternative readings of the cartouche name: Kurt Sethe reads Nebka (His Ka is the Lord), Jean-Philippe Lauer as Bik-Ka (His Ka is Divine), Peter Kaplony reads Schena-Ka (His Ka is Forceful) and Gaston Maspero reads Nefer-Ka (His Ka is Beautiful). Wolfhart Westendorf even proposes the depiction of a giraffe, an animal that was seen as wise and bedizen with shamanistic powers.
Jürgen von Beckerath and George Reisner instead think that the pyramid was planned as the tomb of an archeologically detected prince named Baka, who was definitely the son of king Djedefre. His name was written with the symbols of a ram and the Ka-symbol. Beckerath assumes that Baka changed his name into Bakare (Soul and Ka of Re) when he ascended the throne, but then he died surprisingly, leaving an unfinished tomb shaft. Thus, Beckerath and Reisner read the mysterious name at Zawyet el-Arjan as Ba-Ka (His Ka is His Soul). Aidan Dodson instead sees a sitting Seth-animal and therefore reads Seth-Ka (Seth is Mine Ka). He believes that the pyramid was planned as the tomb of prince Setka, a further son of king Djedefre. Dodson doubts a reading as "Baka", he wonders why the cartouche name at Zawyet el-Arjan contains no sun-hieroglyph when it was actually meant to be addressed to the sun god. Both theories, if correct, would place the date of the tomb into the IVth dynasty. Finally, Beckerath, Reisner and Dodson point to the architectural features of the burial shaft: the use of hewn granite blocks for bases in such size occurs not earlier as under king Khufu and according to Barsanti, fragments of an similar oval sarcophagus were found in the pyramid ruin of king Djedefre. Furthermore, they point to the dedication tablet of Djedefre allegedly found by Barsanti at the stairway.
Kurt Sethe, Nabil M.A. Swelim and Wolfgang Helck contradict the former arguments and date the burial shaft into the late 3rd dynasty. They point out that, in general, the use of hewn granite as a floor covering in royal tombs was a tradition since the reign of king Khasekhemwy, the last pharaoh of IInd dynasty. Furthermore, the tradition of building shaft-like tombs beneath a pyramid was a tradition of the IIIrd dynasty, not of the IVth dynasty. The alignment of a pyramid necropolis from south to north was also a common tradition during the IIIrd dynasty. Additionally, W. Helck and Eberhard Otto point out, that the design similarities between the Baka pyramid and that of king Djedefre might be striking, but the design of Djedefre's pyramid was also untypical for the IVth dynasty anyway. Thus, to use Djedefre's tomb design as a comparison argument, would be not confirming. And finally, both Egyptologists doubt the evaluations of Barsanti concerning the base measurement of the pyramid. They think that the pyramid was not so big as Lepsius and Barsanti once had evaluated. They also doubt the finding of Djedefre's dedication tablet, because this artifact was never published.

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