Abusir is a pyramid field on the west bank of the Nile to the north of Saqqara where many of the Dynasty V pharaohs chose to site their burial monuments. The Pyramid of Neferefre is at the southern end of the site. Neferefre (sometimes known as Raneferef) was the eldest son of Neferirkare and the fourth or fifth king of Dynasty V (depending where the shadowy king Sheseskare fits in). Neferefre came to the throne at a young age and had barely begun to construct his pyramid complex next to that of his father, when he died after a reign of only a few years, probably in his early 20s.
Until excavations were begun by the Prague University Egyptology Institute in 1974 little was known of Neferefre. When his funerary temple on the eastern side of the monument was discovered it revealed important papyri from the archive, providing much needed information as well as statuary of the king. Other important papyri (Abusir Papyri of Neferirkare) have been found at Abusir and it was these which gave information about Neferefre’s pyramid and the fact that it had been hastily completed to function as a burial monument by the king’s younger brother, Niuserre.
Neferefre’s pyramid had a base measurement of 65m on each side but only the first step of the core had been completed at the king’s death, looking like a low mastaba and now rising only a few metres above the desert. The pyramid seems to have been hastily capped with pebbles and mud mortar on its flat top. The burial chamber was built in a pit with a large trench leading from the northern side of the pyramid and although destroyed, recent excavations have produced finds suggesting that the subterranean parts of the pyramid were completed by the time of the king’s burial. Fragments of a red granite sarcophagus and fragments of canopic jars have been discovered along with mummy and bone fragments.
Excavations of the mortuary temple on the eastern side of the pyramid have been more fruitful, revealing an extensive mudbrick structure which surrounded an original small stone building. We know that Neferefre’s younger brother Niuserre completed the cult chapels in the second stage of construction which extended along the whole eastern side of the pyramid and included an early form of hypostyle hall. In a third building phase a columned courtyard was added which formed an L-shape with a structure known as the ‘Sanctuary of the Knife’ (a name found in texts) which was a slaughterhouse for sacrificial animals. Inside the extended area of the mortuary temple were storage magazines in which archaeologists found two wooden model funerary boats with thousands of carnelian beads. Among many other artefacts found in the mortuary temple, was a fragment of a beautiful statuette of Neferefre, sculpted in limestone and painted, depicting a young king wearing a short black wig and being embraced by a Horus falcon (now in Cairo Museum). Other discoveries included the papyri temple archive and ceramics inscribed with the king’s name.
There is so far no evidence of a causeway or valley temple for Neferefre, lending further weight to the suggestion that the king’s burial was completed in haste in an improvised tomb.
How to get there
The Abusir pyramids are situated to the south of Cairo on the west bank of the Nile, about 12km south of Zawyet el-Aryan. Take the road for Saqqara and turn off to the village of Abusir, from where a track leads to the edge of the desert. It’s not clear whether this site is officially open but on the occasions when visitors are allowed in, tickets are available from the Saqqara ticket office for EGP 20.