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Saqqara (Egypt)

Saqqara is part of the huge cemetery associated with the city of Memphis and covers an area more than 6 km long by 1.5 km wide. The area of the site nearest to Memphis contains the earliest burials: those of the nobles of the Early Dynastic period (about 3100-2613 BC). The earliest king whose name has been found at the site is Narmer (the first king of the First Dynasty) often equated with Menes and credited as the founder of Memphis.

There are fifteen royal pyramids at Saqqara. The earliest Egyptian stone-built pyramid, the Step Pyramid, is also the earliest known stone structure in the world. It was built by Djoser, a king of the Third Dynasty (about 2686-2613 BC). Nearby is the pyramid of Unas, the last king of the Fifth Dynasty (about 2494-2345 BC). This is the first pyramid to be inscribed with the funerary texts known today as the Pyramid Texts.

In the north-east part of Saqqara is a series of catacombs called the Serapeum. The catacombs are associated with various chapels and small temples and the Apis bulls were buried here. In the Late Period (about 661-3232 BC), the Serapeum became the focus for the burial of other sacred animals, such as cats, falcons, ibises and baboons.

Saqqara continued in use until the Christian period, when the monastery of Apa Jeremias was built.

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British Museum collections, £12.99

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