Monuments and Sites of Ancient Egypt

- The Buried Pyramid of Sekhemkhet -

  Saqqara Pyramid of Sekhemkhet:   Sekhemkhet
  Pyramid of Sekhemkhet   Location and Structure    
        South Tomb and Enclosure Wall    
        Step Pyramid    


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The Step Pyramid

Like Djoser's, Sekhemkhet's pyramid was intended as a step-pyramid. In the construction of the pyramid, the same technique was used as for Djoser's: accretions leaning inwards by 15, with sloping courses of relatively small stone blocks were laid at right angles to the incline.

As a result of the pyramid not being finished, the outer casing never appears to have been added. Had it been finished, the pyramid would have risen in 7 steps to a height of 70 metres, thus surpassing Djoser's. Probably due to the short reign of Sekhemkhet, it was abandoned at a very early stage and it never rose above the surface of its rectangular enclosure. In its present state, all that is left are a few courses of core masonry, nowhere higher than 7 metres above ground level.


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Map of Sekhemkhet's complex, highlighting the pyramid.

View on Sekhemkhet's pyramid showing the internal details and the surrounding magazines.
Source: Lehner, Complete Pyramids, p. 95.

The substructure of the pyramid wasn't as complex as Djoser's. A subterranean set of 132 galleries or magazines built in U-shape around the North, East and West side of the  pyramid was never finished.

The entrance to the substructure is located to its North, but outside of the actual pyramid. A descending entrance corridor leads to the burial chamber, past three sets of blockings which appeared intact. A wide vertical shaft enters the ceiling of this passage, rising through the rock and the core of the pyramid. This shaft was probably used to lower blocks into the passage when the tomb needed to be sealed.


The entrance to the sub- structure of the Step Pyramid, as it is today.


The roughly rectangular burial chamber of the pyramid, located directly under the centre of the monument, measured 8.9 by 5.22 by 4.55 metres and was left unfinished. Corridors led to different but again unfinished galleries, that may have been intended to be "apartments", as was the case in Djoser's pyramid.

The burial chamber

A glimpse of the burial chamber reveals its unfinished state. The white, rectangular block almost in the centre of the picture is Sekhemkhet's unique sarcophagus.
Source: Lehner, Complete Pyramids, p. 94.

The alabaster sarcophagus discovered in the burial chamber is unique in that it was made of a single piece of stone with a sliding door at one end. On top of it lay some decomposed plant material, originally believed to be a funerary wreath, but analysis has shown that it was bark and wood. Although the sarcophagus was closed and sealed with mortar when it was found, it was empty. Because it was sealed and because the descending passage was still blocked when it was cleared by archaeologists, it is unlikely that this tomb had been violated by tomb-robbers.

The question what happened to Sekhemkhet's body and why it never appears to have been placed inside the sarcophagus intended for it has never been answered.