Zahi Hawass on the SCA’s Projects at Saqqara’s Step Pyramid of Djoser

might be one of Egypt’s oldest archaeological sites, but it’s certainly one of the hottest right now. And the omnipresent Zahi Hawass has been enlightening fans on the latest breakthroughs and theories circulating the ancient necropolis. The first of these centres on the giant Step Pyramid of Djoser, Egypt’s first pyramid. Eleven burial shafts have been excavated, homes to each of the Old Kingdom pharaoh’s daughters. As such it was the only Old Kingdom pyramid built for the king’s family.

Yet there’s another shaft, soon to be studied, which Dr Hawass (coming to London soon!) feels may be the final resting place of the legendary architect and polymath Imhotep, adviser to Djoser, designer of his pyramid and worshipped as a god on his death. Inscriptions of his name alongside the king show he was highly valued. Why could he not have earned a place in his most famous creation? “Since he designed the pyramid for the king and his family, and he may have been as close as family to the king,” writes Dr Hawass in his blog, “it could be a possibility that he was allowed to be buried within the pyramid.”

The second of the SCA’s Saqqara projects is in its early stages. Yet it promises to be filled with excitement, as experts dig on the west side of the Step Pyramid, somewhre that’s never been excavated before. Not only may the work lead to yet more exciting discoveries in the area, it will also clean out the area so conservation work can begin on the 4,600-year-old monument.

Could Imhotep be buried in the Step Pyramid?

This will include a comprehensive project in the pyramid’s burial chamber, work which will take plenty of care. “We will put plastic bags full of sand underneath Djosers sarcophagus, and cover the surface with sand, in order to protect it while we erect the scaffolding inside the chamber,” Dr Hawass writes. “Once the steel scaffolding is in place, we will begin the work of restoring the 29 meter tall burial chamber, and will leave the scaffolding permanently in the burial chamber to support it.”

So that’s three major projects under way, all of which under the watchful eye of Dr Hawass. Add to that the quest for Cleopatra at Taposiris Magna, work preserving the Sphinx and Austrian revelations at Tel El-Daba and the world’s most famous archaeologist has got plenty on his plate right now. Consider that Egypt stretches over 650miles from north to south, and you’d be forgiven for thinking Dr Hawass has added teleportation to his ever-growing list of discoveries.

The third of Dr Hawass’ projects will be the restoration of Saqqara’s famous Serapeum, a chamber dedicated to the Apis Bull. Dr Hawass says he has endured opposition from those who don’t want to see scaffolding erected inside the chamber, but feel it is the only way to preserve one of the necropolis’ greatest assets. “We have put iron scaffolding in all of the niches for the huge sarcophagi of the sacred Apis bulls,” Dr Hawass writes, “except for one on the very end that is very well preserved.This phase will be finished around the beginning of the new year, and then we will initiate Phase II, to conserve another tunnel.We are hoping that the restoration will be completely finished in the next two years.