Archaeologists stumble onto pyramid

Monday, May 6, 2002

CAIRO, Egypt -- Archaeologists have discovered the 110th pyramid to be uncovered in Egypt -- the 4,500-year-old tomb of a queen whose identity remains a mystery, the country's antiquities director said Sunday.

"When we discover in Egypt a tomb or a statue, it's something important," said Zahi Hawass, director of Egypt's Supreme Council of the Antiquities. "But when we discover a pyramid, it's the most important thing."

Hawass said the last such discovery was four years ago, when he found another queen's pyramid at Saqqara, south of Cairo.

The latest discovery was made by a Swiss team excavating the tomb of the 4th dynasty pharaoh Redjedef, son and successor of Cheops or Khufu, who built the Great Pyramid at Giza.

The Swiss archaeologists were clearing sand from the desert around Redjedef's unfinished pyramid just outside Cairo when they found an unmistakable shape: sharply cut blocks rising just a few feet above a square base of just 5-by-5 yards.

The discovery "was completely by accident," Hawass said.

The site is just a few miles from Cheops' Great Pyramid, one of the world's best-known pyramids. Redjedef ruled for a few years after Cheops' death and may have been killed by his brother in an internecine power struggle.

The Swiss archaeologists, who completed a two-month excavation of the queen's pyramid last week, found it contained three chambers in addition to the tomb located about 15 feet underground. No mummy was found -- ancient tomb robbers had been at work, Hawass said. Researchers did find a remnant of a limestone sarcophagus, some pottery and one alabaster jar of the type used to store organs removed from a body before it was mummified.

The new pyramid's proximity to the much larger pyramid of Redjedef and its small size indicate it was the tomb of a woman, probably the sister, daughter or wife of Redjedef.

"All this evidence proves that once a queen was buried in this pyramid," Hawass said.

She may have been both sister and wife of Redjedef, said Hawass, noting the only hieroglyphs found in the tomb spelled out Khufu. Most queens' tombs found in Egypt bear no trace of the occupant's own name, Hawass said.

In all, 110 pyramids have now been found in Egypt, Hawass said. Another 20 tombs atop which pyramids probably once sat also have been found, he said.

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