Evidently Maidum began as a step pyramid (like Zoser’s at Saqqara), with four levels, which was then enlarged to an eight-step pyramid, and finally given an outer shell to make it a “true” pyramid. It seems, however, that the design was faulty, distributing stresses outwards rather than inwards, so that its own mass blew the structure apart. When exactly this happened is unknown – and the crux of the riddle of the Collapsed Pyramid.

No inscriptions appeared on the coffin found inside, but New Kingdom graffiti in the nearby mortuary temple led archeologists to attribute the pyramid to the IV Dynasty ruler Snofru or to his father Huni (c.2637–13 BC). Partisans of Huni argue that Snofru commissioned the Red and Bent pyramids at Dahshur, and would therefore not have needed a third repository for his ka.

Most scholars accept Kurt Mendelssohn’s theory that the design of the Bent Pyramid at Dahshur was hastily altered because Maidum collapsed during its construction. But critics argue that there is no evidence for the collapse having happened while Dahshur was underway – indeed, Maidum’s mortuary temple would not have been built had this happened – and the collapse might have occurred as late as Roman, or even medieval, times.

The nineteenth-century Egyptologist Flinders Petrie calculated that its original height from base to summit was 93.5m (today’s ruin is 65m high), with a base-to-height ratio and slope identical to the Great Pyramid at Giza which would have been expressed by the Ancient Egyptian measurement of seked (dividing the royal cubit into seven palms and four further digits), specified millennia after the last pyramid was built in the XVII Dynasty Rhind Mathematical Papyrus.

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