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Lisht or el-Lisht is an Egyptian village located south of Cairo. It is the site of Middle Kingdom royal and elite burials, including two pyramids built by Amenemhat I and Senusret I. The two main pyramids were surrounded by smaller pyramids of members of the royal family, and many mastaba tombs of high officials and their family members. They were constructed throughout the Twelfth and Thirteenth Dynasties. The site is also known for the tomb of Senebtisi, found undisturbed and from which a set of jewelry has been recovered. The pyramid complex of Senusret I is the best preserved from this period. The coffins in the tomb of Sesenebnef present the earliest versions of the Book of the Dead.
- Pyramid of Senusret I
- tomb of Senewosret-Ankh
- tomb of a certain Senusret, shaft of Hapy, found untouched
- tomb of Intef (?)
- French tomb
- tomb of Imhotep
- tomb of Mentuhotep
- tomb, South-Khor A
- tomb, South-Khor B
- tomb A in South area
- tomb of Djehuty
- tomb of Ipi
- tomb D in South area
- tomb E in South area
- tomb of Sehetepibreankh
- brick building
- tomb enclosure
- pyramid of Amenemhat I
- tomb 384 of Rehuerdjersen
- tomb 400 of Intefiqer
- tomb 470 of Senimeru
- tomb 493 of Nakht
- tomb 758 of Senusret, shaft with undisturbed tomb of Senebtisi
- tomb 954
- tomb 956
Egypt is the land to some of the world’s oldest civilizations. It is an area with the same amount of knowledge and power as it holds in the amount mystery for things we still do not know. There is constant exploring and excavating going on throughout the country in order to find answers to questions we have started asking back when Flinders Petrie decided to explore Egypt’s history in the mid to late1800s. We have come a long way since the father of Egyptology set out to discover what lay beneath the sands and ruins of ancient Egypt.
The ancient Egyptian site of el-Lisht can be found on the west bank of the Nile River south of the city Cairo. Archeologists believe the eleventh dynasty’s capital was located at the city of Thebes. The first king of Dynasty XII, Amenemhet I, moved the capital from Thebes to a city near el-Lisht called Itjtawy. Unfortunately this city has never been found to this day and the only thing that remains as evidence to this city are pieces of pottery in the area it is believed to be in. However the pyramids nearby have been found. El-Lisht is the necropolis of the first two rulers of Dynasty XII, Amenemhet I and his son who also happened to be his successor Senwosret I, whose pyramids could have one day been clearly seen on the road to Cairo but today, is lost to the sandy desert hills. The finding of these pyramids not only told us what this site was used for, but also established a look at the foundation of the Middle Kingdom, ties to neighboring cities and daily life in the area.
In 2000 BC Amenemhet I moved the capital from Thebes to the mysterious city of Itjtawy because it was close to the mouth of the Fayum, therefore easier to control the northern part of his Kingdom. By doing this, he saw is it as land reclamation and had hopes to increase the agricultural output for the region. Soon after this move, he decided to start construction on his pyramids to be buried in. His pyramid was to be constructed on the northern side of the necropolis.
El-Lisht was first excavated in 1882 by a French Egyptologist by the name of Gaston Maspero. Maspero was from Paris but had an interest for the history of Egypt so went on to study under Auguste Mariette. When Mariette died Maspero took on the archeological mission. His interest in ancient Egypt originally took him there to excavate for the French government but later he went on to found the French Institute for Oriental Archaeology. This group further excavated the site from 1884 until 1885. From 1906 to 1935 the Metropolitan Museum of Art continued to work on el-Lisht. In this time period Egyptologists were able to excavate for fourteen seasons. The Metropolitan Museum of Art remains doing work there today.
North Side of el-Lisht- Amenemhet I Pyramid
The pyramid of Amenemhet I was about 55 meters tall when originally built but because of poor construction and robbers, the pyramid is less than half what it was. Now it stands at only about 20 meters tall now. Apart from poor construction, the material used to build the pyramid was not very strong. Studies show it was made from unfired mudbrick and stones from other monuments. The mudbrick, sand and debris would have been the material of choice because of it being readily available and cheap since the city was so close to the Fayum. But it is unclear why he took smaller blocks from other burial sites. The names of Khufu, Khafre, Unas and Pepy have been found there. The pyramid, however, did not turn out how it was originally envisioned. With excavation, it was found to have been much bigger than actually constructed. One theory is that the terrain of the site was unsuitable for the structure because of the poor sloping topography. Another notion is that his health could have been declining and he did not think he would live to see it finished in time and did not want to be buried in an unfinished tomb. Similar to that, he had already died after designing the tomb and his son and successor rushed through Amenemhet’s so he could start construction on his own, not wanting the same thing to happen to him. The monument is designed to have the entrance on the north side of the pyramid. From here, there is a hallway that gradually descends into the burial chamber. Unfortunately the chamber has been filled with water from over the years and poor placement of the pyramid, keeping archeologists from possible evidence and new discoveries. Attempts have been made to get the water out but pumping has not worked.
South side of el-Lisht- Senwosret I
On the southern side of el-Lisht, Amenemhets successor and son, Senwosret I, built his pyramid. This south pyramid was also discovered by Gaston Maspero in 1882. He was able to figure out the owner by objects in the pyramid and finding the names in it. The excavation team found relief blocks, fragments, and small shrines on the site that confirmed the pyramid to the period of the Middle Kingdom. Then in 1894 the site was excavated by archeologists J.E. Gautier and G. Jequier who worked there until 1895. From 1906 until 1943 a team from the Metropolitan Museum of Art excavated it. Years later, in 1984 to 1987, further excavation was carried out by Dieter Arnold. This pyramid was much bigger than Amenemhets. Its base was 105 meters wide with a height that would have one day been 61.25 meters tall. Although he followed a similar plan, architects used a new technique. In theory this new technique was supposed to make the pyramid stronger. They decided to build limestone bocks starting from the center of the pyramid then filling the spaces with mudbrick and debris then covering it with a more limestone casing. This technique continued to be used by Senworsret II on his pyramid along with much of the Middle Kingdom. The inside of his chambers had lion heads that would sprout water out then would run through a drain. All of this effort did not do much for the long term because while some of the inner framework has been preserved, the pyramid itself is almost all rubble. Just like his fathers, the burial chambers have been flooded. Another tunnel has been found, its use was to transport funerary materials to the chambers. According to the excavations, the tomb was robbed shortly after being sealed. Maspero believes this is how the thieves got in and out of the tunnel because this is where he had found funerary goods from the king’s chambers.
Funeral Remains at el-Lisht
Both Amenemhet I and Senwosret I had funerary temples, but archeologists know more about Senwosret because his fathers is almost completely destroyed. The only remains of Amenemhet I funerary temple are carvings of Nile god and Nome deities. It is thought that Senwosret had Amenemhet rebuilt because his name is on the foundation of the temple remains. Since there is more left of Senwosret I, it was easier to reconstruct the original architectural plan for it. We know it was similar to those found in Dynasty VI with a courtyard, portico, and offering hall with store rooms on either side. Years later, the tombs of wives, children and close officials began to be plotted around the temples of these kings. It turned into a honeycomb of graves for their families and servants that multiplied with each generation. After the fall of the dynasty, the necropolis was no longer thought to be in need of guarding so grave robbers and looters descended.
What we know now
Through excavating this site, archaeologists were able to learn a few things, even if the remains were not in pristine condition. They were however able to learn about pyramid construction from the quarries around the area and that this site contains some of the most ancient debris in an Egyptian archaeological site. We also know that because of the construction and materials of the pyramid and various burial offering found that this was definitely from the twelfth dynasty. Each time archaeologists go to el-Lisht they find more pieces of the puzzle from this civilization so long ago. It is sad to think about how much knowledge and research we have lost to grave robbers, looters and the deterioration of the pyramids and tombs themselves simply because of poor construction thousands of years ago and Mother Nature taking a toll on the structures.
- "Egypt: The Pyramid of Amenemhet I at Lisht." Egypt: The Pyramid of Amenemhet I at Lisht. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2012. <http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/amenemhet1p.htm>.
- Egyptian Expedition for MCMXX - MXMXXI ... New York: Gilliss, 1921. Print.
- "Egyptian Monuments." Egyptian Monuments. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2012. <http://egyptsites.wordpress.com/2009/02/26/pyramid-of-amenemhet-i-at-el-lisht/>.
- "Egyptian Monuments." Egyptian Monuments. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2012. <http://egyptsites.wordpress.com/2009/02/26/pyramid-of-senwosret-i-at-el-lisht/>.
- Mace, A. C., Herbert Eustis Winlock, and Grafton Elliot Smith. The Tomb of Senebtisi at Lisht. New York: [The Gilliss], 1916. Print.