By Johannes Jüngling (Vienna)
Let us stay at Zawiyet el-Aryan for the moment, for now that we know how to read the name of the 4th-dynasty king who decided to have his pyramid built here (‘Neferka’), there is yet another topic that deserves attention: Given the knowledge about Neferka’s name, is it really that easy to learn about his pyramid’s name, too?Read more: How to Name a Pyramid and Other Things
Egyptian pyramids tend to be neighboured by an urban settlement: First, in order to house the workers who were building the complex, and second, for the personnel who would serve in the dead king’s mortuary cult. So, it comes as no surprise that these pyramid complexes and ‘pyramid towns’ bore names, too, just like ‘regular’ settlements.
Examples of such names are known from the beginning of the 4th dynasty onwards; for instance, all three of the pyramid projects of Sneferu, the first king of that dynasty, can be assigned a specific appellation:
(j:)ḏd-Snfr.w ‘Sneferu’s Endurance’ (Meidum)
ḫꜥ(.w)-Snfr.w-rs(.j) ‘Southern Appearance of Sneferu’ (Bent Pyramid)
ḫꜥ(.w)-Snfr.w-mḥ.t(j) ‘Northern Appearance of Sneferu’ (Red Pyramid)
Topics of Construction Dipinti
Usually, though, these names do not show up in the contemporaneous construction dipinti (administrative ink inscriptions on building components), but rather in (later) hieroglyphic inscriptions – in a more ‘formal’ or ‘representative’ setting, so to say. A notable exception to this is the complex of Khufu’s ‘Great Pyramid’ at Giza, ꜣḫ.t-Ḫwfw, the ‘Horizon of Khufu’, which in a few instances is alluded to as mḥr n(.j) ꜣḫ(.t) ‘pyramid of the horizon’ in dipinti from the ‘boat pits’ south of this very pyramid.
Notably, even those dipinti do not contain the full name of the pyramid, but merely repeat its head noun ꜣḫ.t ‘horizon’ within a different phrase.
This, then, raises one question: Why do we assume that things are different in Zawiyet el-Aryan? (‘We’ in this case being a number of contemporary scholars and recent publications, going all the way from the great Egyptologist Jürgen von Beckerath to the Arabic, English, French, and German Wikipedia pages dedicated to that pyramid complex; see the footnotes below.)
The ‘Star of Neferka’
As we shall see, the answer to this question will also help resolving another mystery that is connected to the Zawiyet complex. The issue may be summarised as follows: Among the dipinti from Zawiyet el-Aryan that contain Neferka’s name, there are a few (Barsanti’s numbers 1, 28, 41, 45, 49, and 54) that employ the lexeme sbꜣ ‘star’.
In recent discussions, these were commonly believed to represent the pyramid’s name, which, hence, would have been *sbꜣ-Nfr-kꜣ ‘Star of Neferka’: * (or, following the older, but erroneous reading of the royal name, *‘Star of Baka’). And this is also what has been taken up in the scientific literature as well as on the Wiki pages.
This Is not a Pyramid
When I came across this specific trail of research, I was already accustomed to those kinds of inscriptions. So, in contrast to the problems I had with the king’s name (which took me quite a long time to figure out), I immediately saw what was wrong with them this time.
In all the cases where it was preserved, the sign at the end of the name had been mistaken for Gardiner O24 , hence, the regular determinative of the name of a pyramid complex or of a pyramid town. But, having seen actual specimens of this sign from the Giza boat pits, I concluded that this was not correct. The shapes just didn’t match, even when considering the superficial character of Barsanti’s sketches.
A far better reading was Gardiner Aa20 , which served as a determinative for the basilophoric name of a workers’ group here: ‘Neferka is a Star’ (nos 28, 41, 45, 49, and 54) or ‘Neferka Is the Star of the Living’ (no. 1) rather than *‘Star of Neferka’ (similar group names are attested from the reigns of the 5th-dynasty kings Userkaf and Sahura).
A Name of a Workers’ Crew?
Not only did this make much more sense in terms of palaeography, but it also neatly fell in line with the structure of the rest of the attested workers’ groups’ names from Zawiyet el-Aryan. These comprised forms like Nfr-kꜣ-nb-ꜥnḫ.w ‘Neferka Is the Lord of the Living’, smḥr.w-šrr.w-Nfr-kꜣ ‘Little Companions of Neferka’, or šms.w-Nfr-kꜣ ‘Followers of Neferka’, to name but a few.
And, what is probably even more important, these group names comprised every single instance of a king’s name from the Zawiyet corpus. This means that even though some of the specimens of the debated first sign of Neferka’s cartouche name look rather dissimilar (or at least, they do in Barsanti’s sketches …), they are still embedded in a context of interconnected attestations within the same functional framework.
This contextual security ascertains the reading of the sign in the palaeographically difficult cases. It is therefore hard to believe that yet another king with a distinct, yet similar name had commanded work with the blocks of Zawiyet el-Aryan, as has been hypothesised in a recent article on the topic. The hieratic construction dipinti there really only refer to one king.
Yet, with this statement wrapped up, there still is a little downer to it. Since every single one of the cartouche names attested at the site is part of a workers’ group’s name, we still have no clue what the name of the unfinished pyramid complex was – and chances are we’ll never know. Neferka simply had too little time to leave behind many traces of his existence, let alone inscriptional evidence.
But still, research on the fascinating material from Zawiyet el-Aryan will go on, and one might be surprised what information is yet to be drawn from it once we have attained a better understanding of the construction dipinti of the Old Kingdom in general. If it’s me who does it, you’ll hear it here first!
The ‘Pyramid Name’:
- Theis, C.: Corpus Pyramidum Aegyptiacarum. GM-B 9 (Göttingen 2011), esp. pp. 29-30.
- Theis, C.: Zu den an der Pyramide Lepsius XIII gefundenen Namen: die Frage nach Nfr-kꜣ und Bꜣ-kꜣ, in: SAK 43, 423-438.
- Von Beckerath, J.: Handbuch der ägyptischen Königsnamen. MÄS 49 (Mainz 1999), esp. pp. 54-55.
The Names of Workers’ Groups in the Old Kingdom:
- Jüngling, J.: The Names of the ꜥpr.w-Crews of the Old Kingdom, in: Jiménez Serrano, A. (ed.), 8th Old Kingdom Art and Archaeology. Proceedings of the Conference, Arqueologías. Serie Egiptología tba (Jaén forthcoming), XX-XX.
 Wikipedia Pages (last accessed 30.05.2023):
This contribution is based on data collected as part of the ERC Starting Grant ‘Challenging Time(s) – A New Approach to Written Sources for Ancient Egyptian Chronology’ (GA № 757951), which has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme at the Austrian Archaeological Institute (Department of Classical Studies) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. The results published are solely within the author’s responsibility and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the funding agencies or host institution, which must not be held responsible for either contents or their further use.