When King Senefru, the founder of the Fourth Dynasty, decided that he would build the first ever complete pyramid in the world to be his resting place for eternity, he chose the remote area of Dahshour as the perfect location.
Eventually several pyramids were built at Dahshour: the Red and Bent pyramids of Senefru, father of the Great Pyramid builder King Khufu; the White and Black pyramids of the Middle Kingdom kings Amenemhat I and III; and the mud-brick pyramid of King Senowsert III of the 12th Dynasty. Alongside these were smaller monuments to minor rulers, nobles and officials that tell of a fairly stable and peaceful period of Egypt’s history.
Until recently Dahshour managed to retain an atmosphere of quiet, even regal tranquillity. Now, however, more than 4,500 years after the first pyramid was built there, the serenity of the necropolis has been shattered.
Until 1996, when it was proclaimed one of Egypt’s major tourist destinations, the archaeological site was part of a military zone. While the area is not as commercially developed as the Giza Plateau, it is most noteworthy for being a site that best demonstrates the transition from the Step Pyramid at Saqqara to the true pyramid.
Regrettably, however, the lack of security on archaeological sites during and after the January 2011 Revolution has had a bad affect on Dahshour. The spiritual and archaeological environment has been desecrated, with plundering and destruction by vandals, thieves and neighbouring residents.
Early this week, Dahshour archaeological site guards woke up to the roar of bulldozers and shotgun blasts that wrecked the age-long serenity. An armed gang accompanied by residents of Ezbet Dahshour was ravaging the area in front of King Amenemhat III’s Black Pyramid and digging in the sand in order to install a modern private cemetery.
Yet this area was a necropolis for ancient Egyptian nobles and officials, and a German archaeological mission is currently excavating there and learning more about Dahshour’s history. Over the last 10 years the mission has unearthed a number of funerary objects that can be dated back to the Old and Middle Kingdoms.
Guards and antiquities inspectors on the scene confronted the invaders, but their attempts to repel them failed because they lacked sufficient arms and force. One of the inspectors had a leg broken during the confrontation and he is now in hospital awaiting surgery.
Nasser Ramadan, director general of the Dahshour archaeological site, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the invasion was immediately reported to the Police Station on site but they failed to intervene, and even the military detachment stationed less than a kilometre from the site did not respond to a request to come to the site and clear it of invaders.