Landscape evolution of the necropolis of Dahshur

The necropolis of Dahshur is located at the eastern fringe of the Western Desert close to the flood plain of the river Nile, approximately 30 km south of Cairo. The necropolis is dominated by ancient monuments, first of all the Bent Pyramid, the Red Pyramid (both Old Kingdom) and the Pyramid of Amenemhat III (Middle Kingdom). The present landscape is characterised by an escarpment orientated N-S, parallel to the Nile valley, in which tributaries incised.

The research history of the necropolis of Dahshur dates back to the late 19th century and was focussed on its the meaning as a sanctuary. Since 2001 several auger-drillings were conducted along the margin of the Nile floodplain and in the channel-beds of its tributaries to localise the pyramid town of the Red Pyramid and to trace the causeway of the Bend Pyramid down the valley. Beside the localisation of the northern pyramid town, the drillings show that the relief of the necropolis underlay significant changes since ancient times. These changes were driven by two main processes: accumulation of Nile alluvial deposits and deposition of aeolian sand, the latter mainly in the wadi beds.

The aim of the geoarchaeological project was to study the landscape evolution of the necropolis of Dahshur. A special focus was set on the time slice of the Old Kingdom. In doing so, we analysed the structure of the drainage network of the pyramid plateau and compared it with the drainage network characteristics of the adjacent catchments. Morphometric, geomorphological, archaeologicical and sedimentological field data gave evidence that the relief of the pyramid area can be hardly explained taking into account only fluvial processes or processes like gully erosion or soil erosion. For the area of the pyramid plateau a direct anthropogenic relief forming influence has to be considered.