"While the texts themselves are ancestral to the Book of the Dead, 
the architecture they decorate is conceptually identical to the cosmic geography
of the sun's nightly journey described in the Amduat and similar New Kingdom creations.
In this respect, the pyramid substructure can be read as a 
concrete expression of the Amduat's title zh3w n't jmnt 
'Description of the Hidden Space'".

- J.P.Allen 1

The Duat, written with the star ideogram, or sometimes a star enclosed in a circle, was what the Ancient Egyptians called the starry night sky.  It was the equivalent of the Netherworld, the place where the souls of the dead reside and the region through which the Sun-god Ra, or Re travelled after his death each day in the western horizon.  To know the path of the Sun at night was to know the journey of the soul after death.  Pyramids built after Khufu's that were inscribed with text describe the King's desire to unite with the Sun-God Re in death and travel in the solar bark either as Re, or as himself united with Re.  It was thought that the souls of the dead could be ferried out of the Duat by entering into the boat of Re as he passed through.  They would exit the Duat with the Sun in the eastern horizon at dawn to be reborn into a new existence.  

The Duat was pictured on the ceilings of tombs and lids of sarcophagi as the star spangled body of the goddess Nut, the mother of Osiris.2 As the goddess of the Duat, she is seen swallowing the Sun in the west and giving birth to it in the east, her hands and feet resting on the western and eastern horizons.  

The architecture of the tomb itself was traditionally designed to correspond with the geography of the Duat, the passages mimicking the Sun's path through that dark abyss.  In this sense, the tomb was an instrument of rebirth, the King's body entering into the starry body of Nut in the west so that he can be resurrected or reborn like the morning sun in the eastern horizon.  The middle of the pyramid corresponds with midnight, the belly of Nut, where the King's soul is conceived and given new life.  

Utterance 577 of the Pyramid Texts, which associates the King with Osiris reads:

"The Sky has conceived him, the dawn has borne him, 
and this King is conceived with him by the sky, 
this King is borne with him by the dawn."

Many of the pyramids have names that suggest they were intended to be places of ascension and transformation of the soul.  Khufu called his pyramid Akhet, meaning the "place of becoming a spirit".

A study of architectural symbolism of Old Kingdom pyramids was carried out by J.P. Allen in his paper entitled Reading a Pyramid. Inspired by Jean Leclant's numbering of the columns of text in each pyramid in the order that they appear on each wall in each room, he recognised a relationship between the content of the text and its location within the tomb. By concentrating on the most complete of the original Old Kingdom tombs, such as the pyramids of Unas, Teti, Pepi I, Merenre and Pepi II, and others as well as the Middle Kingdom tomb of Senwosret-ankh, Allen was able to draw corresponding similarities between the layout of the tomb and the placement of the texts that adorned its walls. He found that the texts flowed from the innermost part of the tomb to the outside, as if written for the benefit of the King's soul as he left the body lying in the sarcophagus and moved through the tomb. The Pyramid Texts identify the sarcophagus chamber as the Per Duat, the 'House of the Duat' and on both its north and south walls the text runs from west to east, the direction of the Sun's path through the Duat. The room is divided by these texts into two halves on a west-east axis, with the Offering Ritual occupying the north half of the room and the Resurrection Ritual the south half.

Allen writes of the architectural symbolism apparent in the arrangement of the pyramid's chamber system:

The concept of the king's journey from death to new life enshrined in Unas' Pyramid Texts parallels that of the sun: dying in the west, uniting with Osiris in the Duat, and rising again in the East. The cosmology of this solar passage is that of night (west to east) rather than day (east to west). It is reflected not only in the texts and their layout but also in the substructure of the pyramid itself. 

The western and innermost, room, the sarcophagus chamber, corresponds to the Duat. In the western, and innermost, part of this room the king's body lies in its sarcophagus as the body of Osiris lies in the most hidden (st3) part of the Duat. The identity of the king's body with Osiris is reflected in the Offering Ritual, which refers to the king as "Osiris Unas" (the only texts that do in this pyramid), and in the Resurrection Ritual, which equates the king with Osiris (e.g., PT 219). The sarcophagus itself is Nut - here not in her role of the sky but in what seems to be the character original to her name: the "oval" (nwt) enclosing the body of her son Osiris."

"His body is Osiris [cf. Pyr. 193, cited above], and clearly remains within the sarcophagus as Osiris remains within the Duat.  But the King's  new life is not restricted to this mode of existence.  Within the sarcophagus the king's spirit (ba) unites with his body and receives new life from it, as the sun is regenerated though its union with Osiris in the Duat [Osiris's restriction to the Duat is elaborated best in BD 175].   Life force (ka) derives from the body (hence the need for its preservation), which in turn derives nourishment (kau) from food. 

Once released from its attachment to the body, the king's ba proceeds (with the sun) through the Duat toward sunrise.  Between the Duat and the morning sky lies the Akhet.  Though it is usually translated "horizon", the Akhet is in fact a region below the visible horizon, rather than a dividing line between night and day; It is the region through which the sun passes in the hour between its emergence from the Duat at first light and it appearance in the day sky at dawn.

Three distinct stages in the sun's journey are characterised in this description:
(1) emerging from the Duat and transferring to the day-bark;
(2) ascending to the Akhet; and
(3) rising from the Akhet at dawn. The same three stages underlie the architecture and texts of Unas's pyramid.

Arrows show the movement of the King's ba as it  (1.) leaves the Sarcophagus chamber, 
(2.) enters the Akhet chamber, where it unites with the Sun, and then
(3.) exits the pyramid into the northern sky as a living akh

(1) Emerging from the Duat. As the king's ba proceeds from the sarcophagus chamber to the antechamber, it emerges from the Duat: the first spell of the antechamber (PT 247) address the king in precisely those terms (Pry. 257c). The king's transferral from the night-bark to the day-bark is the subject of PT 262 (A/S).

(2) Ascending to the Akhet. As the sun journeys from the Duat to the Akhet, the king's ba travels from the sarcophagus chamber to the antechamber, the architectural counterpart of the Akhet. Like the Akhet, the antechamber lies east of the Duat/sarcophagus chamber. 3 The final spell of the sarcophagus chamber rituals (PT 246) urges the king to "stand at the door of the Akhet" (Pyr. 255 a). The transition is clearer in the pyramid of Teti, and to a lesser extent those of Pepi I and II, where the passage between the sarcophagus Chamber/Duat and the antechamber/Akhet is devoted to spells of passage through the marshland at the western edge of the Akhet.

The Akhet is more than a zone of passage, however: It is literally the "place of becoming an akh," where the deceased's ba and the sun together are transformed into a newly effective (akh) mode of existence (cf., for example, Pyr, 152 ff., cite above). In the antechamber the king "becomes an akh in the Akhet" (Pyr. 350c), just as the sun "becomes akh again" in the cosmic Akhet".
4 This process of transformation is reflected in the generic term often applied to spells such as those of the Pyramid Texts: s3hw, literally, "akhifiers". Although there is some question whether the term referred to the entire corpus, it does seem to reflect the central purpose of these texts, just as the place of becoming an akh, the Akhet/antechamber, is central to the pyramid substructure.

(3) Rising from the Akhet at dawn. The New Kingdom "Book of the Dead" describes the sun rising "from the mouth of the Akhet's door" into the day-sky at the first hour of daylight. The same image is reflected in PT 311, at the end of the antechamber sequences (s), which speaks of opening "the door of the Akhet for the emergence of the day-bark" (Pyr. 496 a). This doorway in each case is both the exit from the Akhet and the entrance to the day-sky. Architecturally it corresponds to the door from the antechamber to the corridor: the first spell of the corridor envisions the king standing at this door (see Pyr. 502 as cited above). Like the sun, the king's ultimate goal is to be in possession of your akh emergent from the Akhet, and emergent in this day in the proper form of a living akh. (Pyr. 455b).

This last quotation sounds a theme represented in the Pyramid Texts only here but eventually canonized as the central purpose of the Book of the Dead: namely, prt m hrw "to emerge in the daytime". In the Pyramid Texts this goal stands at the end of the King's process of resurrection from the sarcophagus, as it does for the sun's nightly passage through the Duat. The Pyramid Texts thus combine in one corpus the same vision of rebirth that the New Kingdom divided into the Book of the Dead on the one hand the and the "Netherworld" books on the other."

Applying these principals to Khufu's Pyramid

The same themes present in the Pyramid Texts are repeated in later texts such as the Book of the Dead.  Similarly, the substructure of the earlier pyramids are precursors for the design of later pyramids.

The internal architecture of Khufu's and other earlier pyramids, being forerunners to these later inscribed pyramids, likewise reflect the cosmic geography of the sun's nightly journey. The same rituals that were carried out in the later pyramids would have occurred in the tombs of the previous Kings, and their pyramids designed and built accordingly to serve a similar purpose.

Halfway between the west and east sides of the pyramid would theoretically correspond with the nadir of the Sun, the lowest point of Re's path through the Duat, i.e., Midnight.  The entire internal structure of Khufu's pyramid is offset from this midpoint to the east by almost 24 feet. There is, however, one part of the complex that reaches to the pyramid's midpoint, that is the western end of the King's chamber, the location of the sarcophagus.  The Kings body lies midway between the east and west sides of the pyramid, in the middle of the Duat, or the belly of Nut.

This mid-region marks a point of significant change in the journey through the Duat, as it is the place where the regeneration or resurrection of the King/Sun begins. From here the Sun starts its journey towards the eastern horizon and it is from here that the King's ba begins its journey eastwards to the open end of the sarcophagus chamber.

Situated between the Duat and the morning sky is the Akhet, the antechamber through which the Sun must pass before emerging from the Duat in the east and into the day sky.  The Akhet is literally the 'place of becoming an Akh', or 'place of becoming a Spirit' and the pyramid's antechamber is the architectural counterpart of the cosmic Akhet.

Texts covering the walls of the Akhet chamber in later pyramids describe the King's akh rising in the eastern horizon like the Sun God.  In utterance 257, for example, the King is identified with the Sun. 6

In all of the pyramids built dating from the end of the fourth dynasty to the end of the sixth dynasty, with the exception of a select few, the Akhet chamber is situated to the east of the Duat chamber.  The passage through which the dead king's akh leaves the Akhet chamber is almost always located in the middle of the north wall.  This is also usually the same passage that the King's body enters the chamber through.

Khufu's pyramid was built before the end of the fourth dynasty, that is, before the addition of an Akhet chamber became standard practice.   It would appear that in Khufu's pyramid both the Duat and the Akhet were incorporated into the one chamber; the western half containing the sarcophagus being the Duat chamber, while the eastern half was intended as the Akhet chamber.  This appears to be the arrangement of Senwosrert-ankh's tomb also and according to James Allen his tomb is the most complete copy of Unas' corpus of Pyramid Texts, both originally and as preserved. 7

Instead of a passage in the middle of the north wall of a separate but adjoining Akhet chamber as in the later pyramids, Khufu's body entered his combined Duat/Akhet chamber through a passage on the eastern most end of the north wall.

However, in the middle of the north wall of Khufu's Akhet chamber, exactly where the akh's 'exit passage' is located in later pyramids, is a small shaft about eight inches wide by five inches high that leads to the open sky above.  In his son Khafre's pyramid built next to his, the entrance/exit passage to the burial chamber has already shifted to the middle of the eastern half of the north wall.

The King's akh is often described as alighting, rising or ascending on its release from the body of the deceased.  It is quite possible that these shafts were designed to allow the akh to exit the pyramid without having to descend through the pyramid's body, as it would have to in the case of Khufu's pyramid, his burial chamber being positioned high in the upper part of the pyramid unlike all other pyramids.  This explanation could account for the lack of any such shafts in other pyramids.

Khufu's burial chamber is pictured below as representing both the Duat and the Akhet chambers combined, his pyramid being designed prior to the later tradition of a separate Akhet chamber.

It is possible, but by no means necessary, that the whole chamber was even divided in half by a wooden partition with a doorway in the middle so that the western half would function as the Duat chamber, while the eastern half could have been considered as the chamber of the Akhet.  In his paper Niches, Slots, Grooves and Stains: Internal Frameworks in the Khufu Pyramid,Mark Lehner shows that wooden sections were originally installed in the sarcophagus chamber of Khufu.  He notes the tradition of real or simulated wooden-frame and reed shrines within elite burial chambers dating back to the late Predynastic era.   The reed mat shrine was symbolically inscribed and painted on the walls surrounding the sarcophagus inside the burial chamber of the pyramid of Unas.

Khufu's ba would leave the sarcophagus and move into the eastern end of the chamber, which in this interpretation, is the Akhet chamber.  Here the ba of Osiris-Khufu would unite with the ba of Re, and then fly up through the shaft to the day sky, like Re rising from the cosmic Akhet in the morning in his Going Forth by Day.

Arrows show the movement of the King's ba as it  (1.) leaves the Sarcophagus, 
(2.) enters the Akhet chamber, where it unites with the Sun, and then 
(3.) exits the pyramid into the northern sky as a living akh

Several aspects lend weight to this interpretation:

Situated to the east of the Akhet chamber in the later pyramids are magazines, or niches.  It has been suggested that these were used to store provisions or offerings.  The tombs of Menkaure and Khentkawes were among the earliest to incorporate this feature and although they both had six such niches, three later became the standard.

Why the need for an extra southern shaft?

The addition of a similar shaft on the south side of the chamber is a unique addition in pyramid design.  On the south wall of the Akhet chamber texts are typically found in which:

a.) A stairway to the sky is set up for the King that he may ascend on it to the sky (§267);
b.) Two reed floats are set for him as for Re and for Horus of the Horizon (§337);
c.) He ascends on the smoke of inscense(§365);
d.) He flies like a goose and alights on the seat of Re in the solar barge (§366);
e.) The ferryman of heaven is invoked; he has to transport the king as he does the gods (§383).

Considering the nature of these texts the inclusion of a second shaft in this location could be interperated as a second exit from the chamber offered to Khufu.

Perhaps this southern shaft was incorporated into his Akhet chamber to enable the ba of Re to enter the chamber and unite with ba of the King.  In utterance 410 of the Pyramid Texts it is written that the Djed Pillar in Djedu is in the 'place where his soul is found'.  This notion is later repeated in chapter 17 of the Book of the Dead, in which it describes the ba of the deceased King and the ba of Re meeting and embracing in Djedu - the 'Place of the Djed Pillar'.  

"He found the soul of Re there, and they embraced each other".
- pAni, chapter 17.

The ba of Re and the ba of Osiris meet and embrace in
the 'Place of the Djed Pillar' otherwise known as the 'House of Osiris'

Flinders Petrie notes that the Sun does indeed shine down the southern shaft of Khufu's burial chamber at Midday on two particular days of the year. 9 The bringing of the sun into the tomb contained significantly potent symbolism of rebirth and rejuvenation.  For this to occur inside Khufu's Akhet chamber purely by accident would be extremely fortuitous indeed!  Rather, it would seem that this feature was an important aspect of his tomb and was intentionally factored into its design.

It is worth repeating that the south wall of the Akhet chambers of inscribed pyramids speak of the King joining with the sun-god Re and ascending on the solar barge or a stairway:

A stairway to the sky is set up for me that I may ascend on it to the sky. 
- PT, Utterance 267 - South wall of Akhet chamber.

Two reed floats of the sky are set in place for him as for Re 
That he may cross on them to the Horizon.

The reed floats of the sky are set in place for me
 that I may cross on them to the Horizon, to Re.
- PT, Utterance 263 - South wall of Akhet chamber.

"...the apertures of the sky-windows are opened for you,
the movements of the sunshine are released for you."

-  PT, Utterance. 456.

Monumental Hieroglyphs

The 'Book of Pylons' is an older text than the 'Chapters of Going Forth By Day', better known today as the 'Book of the Dead'.  In the last hour of the King's journey as described in the 'Book of Pylons', the encircling horizon, the border between this world and the Duat, the Akhet, is likened to the body of Osiris. 10 The soul's emergence from the Duat via the Akhet, the very name Khufu gave to his pyramid, could be likened in this way to its release from the body of Osiris, the Lord of the Duat.

The old theory promoted by Borchardt that the three main chambers of the Great Pyramid were the result of a continuing change of plans, has been revised in recent years.  That the entire chamber system was intentionally planned from the outset is evidenced in a number of ways by Mark Lehner in his Complete Pyramids.
11 The individual chambers and connecting passageways then, must have been intended to function together as a whole.

Lehner speaks of the ancient Egyptian's view of the pyramid as a representation of Osiris:

"Physically entombed in the pyramid, the dead King became identified with Osiris, the divine father of Horus.  The pyramid complex was, in one sense, a temple complex to the Horus-Osiris divinity, merged with the sun god in the central icon of the pyramid...(the pyramid was the) embodiment of light and shadow: and the union of heaven and earth, encapsulating the mystery of death and rebirth." 12

"The Pyramid was above all an icon, a towering symbol.
It has been said that the Egyptians did not distinguish between hieroglyphic writing,
two-dimensional art and relief carving, sculpture and monumental architecture.
In a sense, the pyramids are gigantic hieroglyphs." 13

The cross section of the Great Pyramid looking from the south appears as a combination of three hieroglyphic signs:

    1. The mummified body that is made into a statue and stood upright as a sign of revivication is denoted by the first hieroglyph.  

    2. The Djed Pillar sign is a very old symbol of the reconstitution and subsequent resurrection of the King's body.

    3. The last hieroglyph is the sign of the Pyramid, which is of course the King's tomb. 

A hieroglyphic statement that could be extracted from these images apparent in the pyramid's cross section might be something to the effect of:

The King is Resurrected in his Pyramid

Is the appearance of these 'architectural hieroglyphs' coincidental or were the chambers arranged in the pyramid in such a way as to intentionally make this bold claim?

The Osiris-Djed


1. Reading a Pyramid, pg. 28.
2. The body of Osiris itself is likened to the Duat on the sarcophagus of Seti I. His sarcophagus is also decorated by a life size representation of the goddess Nut.  See also PT 364, § 616.
3. The same directionality is reflected on Teti's sarcophagus, whose east and west sides are devoted to spells confirming the king's control over the Akhet and the Duat, respectively. (PT6-7).
4. Pyr. 585a, 621b, 636c, *1886b; see Allen, in Religion and Philosophy in Ancient Egypt.
5. James P. Allen, Reading a Pyramid, pg. 25 -28.
6. See also utterances 247-258, 260-263 and 270-312.
7. James Allen, Reading a Pyramid, pg. 7.
8. Piankoff, The Pyramid of Unas, pg. 11.
9. Petrie, Pyramids & Temples, 7:56
10. See the sarcophagus of Seti, Gods of the Egyptians, vol I, pg. 178. BR> 11. Lehner, Complete Pyramids, page 111.
12. Lehner, Ibid, pg. 9.
13. Lehner, Ibid, pg. 34.

The Concept of the Pyramid