By the time a young king named Neferefre took over as pharaoh of Egypt around 4,500 years ago, the pyramids weren’t what they once were. He belonged to Egypt’s 5th dynasty, which has neither the fame of the 4th dynasty nor produced the same great architecture.
Neferefre, who lasted perhaps two years on the throne, didn’t add much to Egyptian legend. His measly pyramid was never finished, and only stood about 20 feet tall. Even his funeral monument wasn’t much to look at — hastily thrown together, “owing to the unexpectedly early death of the king,” according to an article in the Quarterly Journal of African and Asian Studies. As such, the following centuries have not been kind to Neferefre’s pedigree, and much of his reign is cloaked in obscurity.
More details of that reign, however, became clear on Sunday. That was when Egyptian officials announced they had unearthed a tomb that belonged to a heretofore unknown wife to Neferefre. Her name was Khentakawess III, and she was apparently buried in site called Abusir, known as the “site of the forgotten kings.”
Antiquities Minister Mamdouh al-Damaty was pretty pumped in a statement reported by Agence France-Presse. He said the tomb, which pictures show was encased in dust and sand, represented the “first time we have discovered the name of this queen who had been unknown before the discovery of her tomb. … This discovery will help us shed light on certain unknown aspects of the Fifth Dynasty, which along with the Fourth Dynasty, witnessed the construction of the first pyramids.”
A Czech researcher named Miroslav Barta led the excavation. “This makes us believe that the queen was his wife,” he said in a statement. The tomb, which the antiquities ministry said was likely built sometime between 2994 and 2345 B.C., was inscribed with the queen’s name and rank. It was strewn with utensils made of copper and limestone.
The tomb was only the latest discovery at Abusir, an extensive necropolis that provides a stunning glimpse into one of the lesser-studied eras of ancient Egypt. It is anchored by 14 pyramids, though none compare to the towering accomplishments of earlier dynasties. Located further south along the Nile River, Abusir is the domain of crumbling pyramids and atrophying tombs.
The finds Barta has dredged from that area help form the base of an evolving theory that, he told Radio Prague, was “contrary to the prevailing opinion.” He said the collapse Egypt in that period was due to the climate — during a “period of the Abusir kings of the fifth dynasty which we can match quite neatly with major climate change that we have in our records.”