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The Maze Hidden Within a Pyramid

Embalming an Egyptian mummy

Do you think that an Indiana Jones movie is the only place you will find adventurers seeking ancient treasures guarded by a dangerous maze? Think again. One of the most fantastic mazes in the ancient world was actually buried deep within an Egyptian pyramid. It protected the mummy of Pharaoh Amemenhet III—and the golden treasures contained in his burial chamber—from tomb robbers.

Like all the pharaohs, Amenemhet III (19th century BC) believed that his burial chamber had to contain valuable objects if he was to be comfortable in the afterlife. But he had learned his lesson from the fates of earlier pharaohs, who had plugged the interior passages of their pyramids with massive granite blocks. Tomb robbers had simply tunneled through the softer limestone surrounding these blocks, found the chambers, and made off with the treasures they contained.

Amenemhet's Maze

quote

The correct route was actually a secret door concealed back in the middle of the long passageway..."

To protect his own burial chamber, Amenemhet, who was also the builder of the mysterious Egyptian Labyrinth, turned to a new strategy—he sculpted the interior of his pyramid into a fantastic life-size maze hewn from stone, complete with secret sliding doors, false passageways, and hidden chambers. Here is how it worked:

You entered the maze from a descending stairway, hidden on the south side of the pyramid, which led to a small chamber. This apparently led nowhere; the hidden exit was in the roof of the chamber, which concealed a sliding stone trapdoor. This led to an upper chamber that opened into a wide passageway completely filled in by massive stone blocks. One thief had laboriously carved through these blocks, only to discover he had been tricked—the passageway was a dead end. The correct path was a corridor closed only by a wooden door, which opened into a dead-end passage; to get out of this passage you had to find a hidden sliding stone. The sliding stone opened into a bare room; from here a secret trapdoor led to a long passageway. This passageway was filled in with massive stone blocks at its far end, which suggested it might lead somewhere important; even better, two open burial shafts gaped in its floor. One of these shafts was completely filled in by stone slabs and thus seemed like it might have concealed the burial chamber itself, while the other shaft appeared to be empty. The correct route was actually a secret door concealed back in the middle of the long passageway.

Interior of pyramid maze

Those who managed to get through all this were greeted with a burial chamber hollowed out of a single huge piece of stone and capped by a 45-ton granite slab.

Somehow, tomb robbers managed to penetrate all of these defenses. After plundering the burial chamber of its valuables, in understandable revenge they set fire to Amenemhet's embalmed body, totally obliterating his spirit in the afterlife. Amenemhet fared no worse than any other pharaoh, however—tomb robbers got them all, and strangely, no mummy of any pharaoh has ever been found in any pyramid...

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Text taken from Amazeing Art: Wonders of the Ancient World — HarperCollins Publishers — Serialized in Games magazine — Recommended by the Archaeological Institute of America — A BookSense "What's in Store" Main Selection —  Maze puzzle art reproduced by the British Museum

quote

The Pyramids likewise surpass description, but the Egyptian Labyrinth surpasses the Pyramids."

—Herodotus, Greek historian, 5th century BC

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