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By all Egyptological reckoning the Step Pyramid itself is a functional royal tomb. But in Djoser's complex, in addition to the Step Pyramid, we find the enigmatic South Tomb. Below it the builders replicated three essential features of the substructure of the pyramid: the descending corridor; central shaft with the granite vault; and the king's palace with its blue-tiled chambers. As under the pyramid, the builders blocked the descending corridor except for a narrow stairway to allow them to bring in whatever it was they placed in the vault. About halfway down the corridor a side chamber was found filled with large jars. On top of these the workmen had left a wooden stretcher, box and posts from a baldachin that resemble those of Hetepheres's cache at Giza.

Robbers had done far less damage to the South Tomb than the pyramid itself, so excavators found the manoeuvre chamber intact. The walls were of large limestone slabs and the underside of the stone ceiling beams had been rounded to imitate palm logs. As in the pyramid (though here at the south rather than the north end), the burial chamber was entered by a round aperture. Remarkably, the wooden beam used to lower the granite plug was still in place with traces left by the ropes still visible. Incorporated into the masonry of the manoeuvre chamber were blocks of fine limestone with relief-carved stars - remains of a previous vault.


The granite vault is similar to the one under the pyramid, but it is much smaller, and its interior was covered in green traces of copper. What was placed in this vault, too small for a human burial? Various suggestions have been made: that it was a fictive tomb for a ritual death during the Heb-Sed ceremonies when the king renewed his vital forces; that it was the home of the king's ka; that it was the burial place of the royal placenta, preserved from birth until death; that it was for the burial of the crowns; or that it was a symbolic reference to the old tombs at Abydos, be they actual or fictive burial places. Lauer thought it might have been for the king's internal organs, removed during mummification, though in later times the canopic chest containing these was placed in the same chamber as the body.
The entire South Tomb complex may have been intended for the king's ka, and the Egyptians often gave the ka special funerary treatment by the separate interment of a statue. There is compelling evidence that Khafre's satellite pyramid was used for a statue burial. The South Tomb may thus be seen as the precursor of later satellite pyramids. The wooden stretcher, box and poles found in the magazine in the South Tomb may be the ritually disassembled parts of the apparatus used to carry such a statue.

All indications point to the fact that the South Tomb was finished first: the king's inner palace is far more complete than that of the pyramid. Chamber I has six panels identical to those under the pyramid, with blue faience tiles laid on a limestone backing imitating reed-mat facades with a vaulted top supported by djed columns. One contained the real door from the vestibule. In another chamber three more panels contain false door stelae, while the fourth contains the real door exiting to a short corridor. Two more chambers are covered, like their counterparts under the pyramid, with blue faience inlay. The blue-tiled chambers are one of the most impressive features of the Djoser substructure. Ye the product of this extraordinary care and craftsmanship was never intended to be seen by living eyes; it was meant instead to ensure something in the king's existence after death. The clue to what that was lies in the false door stelae, which form the pictorial and textual determinative to the entire underground complex. In the darkest, most in-accessible place the Egyptian builders could devise, the, used the best of their nascent abilities in relief and text to depict the king in perpetual communion, not so much with his living subjects, as with the netjeru, the gods and denizens of the Nether world, where the king's mat palace was now part a the watery, sacred region of primeval reed shrines.
Source: The Complete Pyramids, Mark Lehner; Thames and Hudson; 1997I

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