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Archaeologists discover ancient queen's pyramid

Video by Sarah DRURY

Text by Tatiana EL KHOURY

Latest update : 2008-11-13

A team of Egyptian archaeologists have discovered a previously unknown pyramid, which probably housed the remains of Queen Sesheshet, hidden beneath 20 metres of sand. The monument is believed to date back to 2,700 BC.

Egypt still hides some fascinating treasures. A team of local archeologists who had been excavating the Saqqara necropolis since 1988, have found what they believe to be the pyramid of Queen Shesheshet, mother of the pharaoh Teti, founder of Egypt’s Sixth Dynasty.


The pyramid, which was actually found two months ago although the announcement was not made until November 11, is believed to be 4,300 years old and had sunk 20 meters below the sands, 20 km south of the Egyptian capital, Cairo. “It’s a great discovery,” says the country's top antiquities official, Zahi Hawass.


The headless, five-meter (16-foot) high pyramid originally reached about 14 meters, with sides measuring 22 meters long, Hawass says. The pyramid, apparently the 118th found in Egypt, was uncovered near the world’s oldest pyramid at Saqquara, a burial ground for the rulers of ancient Egypt.


Queen Shesheshet’s mysteries


The discovery may shed some light on a little-known queen whose tomb had been actively sought for years. “I had been looking for this tomb for ages,” says Hawass, who heads the Egyptian expedition that found the tomb. “Pyramids discovered here in the past sheltered the remains of Teti’s two wives. We had yet to find the tomb of the queen mother, Shesheshet.” In the Old Kingdom (2469-2150 BC), the mother of the sovereign and his spouses were traditionally buried south of the king’s pyramid.


The mother of King Teti, who ruled from 2323 to 2291 BC, was mostly known for her baldness. A medical papyrus – ancient paper - dating back to the New Kingdom notes that Shesheshet had asked her doctors to find a cure for her loss of hair.


As royal spouses and mothers, queens were identified with the divinity Isis, whose name in hieroglyphs means Iset, “the seat” or “the throne”. In Ancient Egypt, queens were also protected by the goddess of festivities and love, Hathor, who was feared by pharaohs.


Today, there is little data on the political role Shesheshet might have played. However, other Egyptian queens were famous for their political tactics and the influence that they held over the authorities. Queen Hetepheres, the mother of Pharaoh Khufu, commonly known as Cheops, played an important role in the Old Kingdom.


Some queens conspired against their husbands. A wife of Pharaoh Pepi I fomented a plot against her husband in the harem. During the Middle Kingdom, women in the harem played an important role in the conspiracy that led to the assassination of Pharaoh Amenemhat I, founder of the XIIth dynasty.


Not all queens, however, harboured treacherous thoughts against their husbands. Nefertari, the wife of Ramses II and Nefertiti, Akhenaton’s wife, were both famous for their beauty and the sway they held over their husbands through that beauty.


Archeologists who are investigating Shesheshet’s tomb have yet to enter the pyramid’s burial chamber. Excavations, however, are unlikely to shed much light on the life of the queen. “We intend to enter the burial chamber this week,” says Hawass, “but I think looters have already visited the site.” Unfortunately, clues about the life of Queen Shesheshet may have already been erased by thieves.

Date created : 2008-11-12