- Illahun -

Monuments and Sites of Ancient Egypt
  Monuments and Sites   Sesostris II  
  Illahun   Sithathor-Iunit    


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Illahun is the name of a modern village located near the opening of the Hawara Channel from the Nile Valley into the Fayum basin.

This is the location that Sesostris II choose for his funerary monument, a choice that stresses the growing importance of the Fayum oasis during the early 12th Dynasty.

The pyramid

Sesostris II continued the innovative way of building his pyramid started by his predecessors. This is not only clear in the building technique that was used, but also in the groundplan of the pyramid and its surrounding complex, which deviates drastically from the 5th and 6th Dynasty stereotype.

The pyramid was built around a core of yellow limestone, around which radial and cross walls were built. This formed a framework of relatively small compartments that were filled with mudbricks.


Locator Map of Abydos/Umm el-Qa'ab

Illahun is located between Memphis and the Fayum oasis.

Sesostris II's pyramid was the first to be built mostly of mudbrick.


The inner structure of the pyramid is completely different from any of the pyramid's predecessors.

Contrary to older pyramids, this monument's entrance is not located in the north, but at the bottom of a narrow shaft located near its southeast corner. The entrance shaft was too narrow for the sarcophagus, so a second, wider shaft was dug into the ground at some distance to the south. This second shaft was then hidden beneath a sloping passage to the tomb of an unidentified princess.

The entrance shaft opens into a horizontal corridor which runs north to a hall with a vaulted ceiling. In the east of this hall, there is a well dug into the floor. It is not known how deep this well runs, but it is likely that it reached groundwater level. This would have allowed the pit to be filled with some groundwater, which the Ancient Egyptians considered to be the primeval water out of which creation had come into being. By allowing some of this primeval water into the pyramid, the king himself would be able to spring into being as well. This feature has also been found in some tombs of the Valley of the Kings in Thebes, dated some 300 or 400 years after Sesostris II.


Three dimensional drawing of the pyramid complex at Illahun.
Source: Lehner, Complete Pyramids, p. 175.


That this well was not a way to trick potential tomb robbers is clear from the fact that the corridor that leads to the burial chamber continues, sloping up at a slight angle, along the west of the vaulted hall. Underneath the pyramid, a first chamber opens to the west of this corridor, while the corridor continues towards an antechamber, which opens at a right angle to the west.

The burial chamber continues along the axis of the antechamber. Clad entirely in granite and with a garbled roof, it measures 5 by 3 metres and is 3 metres high. The red granite sarcophagus was placed at the far end of the burial chamber.

A small chamber opens to the south of the burial chamber. It is here that the only remains of the burial were found: a golden uraeus that once adorned the king's head and some leg bones, perhaps the king's.

A passage in the north wall loops around the burial chamber and enters the antechamber in the south. This unique feature is thought to symbolise the king's departure to the north and his re-emergance in the pyramid to the east of the burial chamber. It is also possible that it was created to symbolically make an island out of the burial chamber, which is an important aspect in the cult of Osiris, the god of the dead and of resurrection.

The pyramid complex

The inner enclosure wall was made of limestone and was decorated with niches in a way that is strongly reminiscent of the enclosure wall of Netjerikhet's complex. An outer enclosure wall was made out of mudbrick. Rows of trees were planted parallel to it, probably also a reference to the cult of Osiris.

Against the north wall within the outer enclosure, there were eigth mastabas, intended as tombs for some princesses. In the north eastern corner, there is a small pyramid. The entrance to this 18 metres high pyramid has never been found. It has been suggested that it was either a Queen's pyramid or a satellite pyramid and it is possible that it only served a symbolic purpose.

The causeway leading to this complex has never been investigated. The Valley Temple is now completely destroyed.

The nearby tomb of princess Sithathor Iunit was found almost completely plundered. All that remained were her red granite sarcophagus and canopic jars. A hidden recess in the tomb, however, was also found to contain five wooden boxes, two of which were of inlaid ebony. These contained finely crafted pieces of jewellery, such as diadems, bracelets, rings, a cosmetic container and a mirror.



The golden uraeus found in the burial chamber of Sesostris II.