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Userkaf

2498 - 2491 BC

 

 5th Dynasty

Westcar Papyrus and the start of the 5th Dynasty.

The Westcar papyrus states how the 4th dynasty passed into the 5th (a certain Djedi, a wise man who may have been a 'magician' or priest, was a member of the court of Khufu. Djedi would entertain the king with stories - one of these stories turns into prophecy,

This prophetic story relates how a wife of the High priest of Re at Heliopolis would give birth to three sons ("born one cubit long.... the covering of whose limbs were of gold and whose headress was of real lapis lazuli"), each son would become king.

(The Westcar papyrus itself was written in the Hyksos period, but the story of Djedi at the court of Khufu probably originated in the 12th dynasty - read the full account of this prophecy).

 

(Left, statue of Userkaf found in his sun-temple, above colossal statue of Userkaf found inside his funerary temple - on the south side of Userkaf's pyramid (note this has been restored slightly electronically)).

Userkaf himself, was the grandson of Djedefre (son of Khufu) - his mother, Queen Neferhetep, was Khufu's daughter. Userkaf further strengthened his claim to the throne by marrying Khentkawes, daughter of Menkaure.

Apart from details given in the Westcar Papyrus, nothing is known concerning the reign of Userkaf. However, Userkaf's reign did leave two monuments:

 The Pyramid of Userkaf

('Userkaf is purest of sites')

Original Height - 49 m

Length of Side - 73.5m

The Pyramid has suffered greatly over the years, now barely recognisable as a pyramid instead looking more like a giant mound of rubble (the site had been used a convienant quarry for builders of other local projects). The pyramid was first identified as being that of Userkaf's by Cecil M. Firth in 1928, it is located at Saqqara along the north-east wall of the pyramid enclosure of Djoser. Although it's battered state does not give a good impression of its former grandeur, enough information is left to although archaeologists to reconstruct the groundplan of the site:

 A - Pyramid of Userkaf  F - Vestibule
B - Entrance   G - Saite tomb
 C - funerary chapel  H - Satellite pyramid
 D - Funerary Temple  I - Secondary pyramid
 E - Courtyard  J - Processional Ramp

The pyramid was originally encased in fine Tura limestone, the burial chamber also lined and paved with fine limestone (the sarcophagus was made of basalt - this was empty when discovered).

The satellite pyramid (the tomb of Queen Neferhetepe) was similarly ruined - the remains now contain only a few blocks of limestone which had been the ceiling of the burial chamber.

The funerary temple, originally surrounded with granite pillars, was decorated with bas-reliefs and also held a colossal statue of Userkaf (see picture above)

Two scenes found within the funerary temple

The Sun -Temple of Userkaf - 'Stronghold of Re'

Although his pyramid was built at Saqqara, Userkaf began a new building project at Abusir - that of the Sun temple, this signifies the with the beginnings of the Fifth Dynasty - the cult of Re at Heliopolis takes on new importance. Following the building of this first solar temple, following members of the dynasty would not also build their sun-temples at Abusir but also their pyramids (written sources state that there were six temples built here, but only four are known). Although the site had extensively quarried for stone in acient times, when Herbert Ricke excavated in 1955-7, enough was left for its basic plan to be mapped out. Userkaf's temple was built in several successive periods (the 1st phase being the temple being perhaps nothing more than a symbolic mound surrounded with a wall, 2nd phase a granite obelisk added to the top of the mound, a building clad in quartzite and granite replacing the original mound. 3rd phase the enclosure and area around the obelisks completely rebuilt (it is thought that it was the later king, Niuserre that added an inner enclosure wall and chambers of limestone. In the 4th phase a mudbrick altar was added - the Palermo stone states that two oxen and two geese were sacrificed daily in this temple.

phases 1,2 and 3 (diagrams not to scale)

Both queens had their own separate pyramids within their own enclosures. Iput's pyramid was originally built as a mastaba tomb but was later altered into a pyramid by Pepi I (her son). The pyramid had a height of 15.75m - it was built directly over the burial shaft of the Masataba. Although Iput's burial had been disturbed, her skeleton was still intact - part of a necklace, a gold bracelet and 5 canopic jars were also found.

Little now remains of Khuit's pyramid - its estimated original height of 20m has now shrunk down to a mere 7m.