Recent Discoveries at Giza

Dr. Zahi Hawass, the Undersecretary for the Monuments at Giza, Supreme Council of Antiquities spoke at an event co-sponsored by the Northern California Chapter of ARCE on Wednesday, August 19th. Introduced by the Honorable Madame Islambouly, consul general of the Arab Republic of Egypt in San Francisco as the “wealthiest man in the world” because he has the pyramids of Giza in his care, Dr. Hawass shared his work and his views covering the last decade of his excavations and consolidations there.

New Age philosophies and the pyramids were the focus of his opening remarks. He outlined the tensions between the SCA and many New Age authors and media spokesmen. The primary difficulty with the New Age camp is that they place high demands on the SCA based on “feelings” they have about the monuments rather than taking a scientific approach to the subject. Excavating in Egypt can be conducted only under the auspices of accredited universities and trained fieldwork personnel; amateurs are not allowed access to the monuments except as tourists. Dr. Hawass also confirmed that a deep shaft found sunk into the causeway of the pyramid of the pharaoh Khafre contained a sarcophagus as has been reported on the internet, but stressed that this is not Campbell’s tomb as has been erroneously reported. The shaft is of a much later date than the causeway itself.

Of the 105 pyramids in Egypt, the three at Giza hold a special fascination for people of all countries. The great pyramid, constructed for the pharaoh Khufu by the architect (and his cousin) Heniumu ? whose magnificent statue in the Hildesheim museum is currently touring the U.S. with the Splendors of Egypt exhibit ? receives the most interest. Currently closed for cleaning and the installation of a new ventilation system, it is scheduled to reopen January 1, 1999 at which time the Khafre pyramid will be closed for one year in its rotation. Dr. Hawass stressed that this is necessary to save the monuments, not to hide some arcane finds as some of his detractors have claimed. Cleaning in the relieving chambers above the King’s  Chamber has revealed not only modern graffiti, often done with the soot from torches, but also the red ochre markings left behind by the ancient workmen who constructed the monument and called their gang with some pride, “The friends of Khufu”, as illustrated by a slide of this now famous inscription.

The so-called airshafts and the operations of the Upauet robot project were touched on next. Dr. Hawass pointed out that the findings of the German team were announced without consulting with the SCA and contained inaccuracies which only fueled the fires of controversy about these peculiar narrow passages which lead out of the burial chamber and stop short of reaching the outside. Contrary to what was reported, there is no crack in the stone block which closes these shafts for the ascension of the King’s soul to the heavens (which Dr. Hawass insists is the purpose these shafts). Talks are underway with experts to see if there is a non-destructive method of getting past the stone to see if the shaft continues or if it is solid stone beyond. As Khufu’s pyramid and the Red Pyramid of his father Seneferu at Dahshur are the only two pyramids with burial chambers within the body of  the monument, a Frenchman has proposed that the real burial of Khufu lay beneath the floor of the unfinished chamber carved into the bedrock under the structure. Drillings were made in the floor of the chamber, but no substructure was found.

The mortuary temple at the eastern base of the Great Pyramid has an unusual basalt floor which is still visible today. From its entrance and the great shaft that lies at its mouth stretches the causeway of the Khufu pyramid which runs into the village lying below the plateau. Recent work on a new drainage and sewer system for the village enabled scientists to go into the village and mark out the remains of the causeway, estimated as an en-closed structure some thirty feet high and running a distance of some 825 meters, and its attached Valley Temple. Remains of a limestone wall further to the east mark the delineations of the harbor of Khufu which was connected by a canal to the Nile. An unusual feature of Khufu’s causeway is a tunnel which runs under the causeway to give access to the rest of the necropolis.

On the subject of whether pyramids were tombs for the kings of the fourth dynasty, Dr. Hawass noted we only have to look in the Giza plateau's Western and  Eastern cemeteries to find the answer. The cartouche of Khufu figures prominently in most of the mastabas constructed there beginning in year 12 of Khufu’s reign. Near the tomb of the famous dwarf Seneb, whose sculpture is a masterpiece of Old Kingdom art found in the Cairo Museum, Dr. Hawass decided to excavate in the dumps left by the Reisner and Junker expeditions early in this century. To date sixty-five tombs have been  uncovered, including one with extremely beautiful painted reliefs which is being held for further excavation until sophisticated conservation methods can be employed while it is uncovered. The tomb of another dwarf whose dancing and singing “were pleasing to His Majesty” has been uncovered  in this area. A slide of a wonderful basalt statue was shown and Dr. Hawass pointed to the depiction of elephantiasis exhibited on the statue which was borne out in the human skeletal remains recovered from the tomb.

Dr. Hawass stressed that pyramids, in addition to being tombs, were symbols of the primal mound upon which the sacred phoenix rested and symbols of royal power. A new pyramid was uncovered during work around the Great Pyramid. This small structure has a burial chamber but no sarcaphagus and was referred to as a cult pyramid by Dr. Hawass. A pyramidion has been uncovered, the most complete one found to date, and scenes from the tombs demonstrate that such stones were covered in electrum. Singing and dancing mark the setting of the capstone in one such scene, marking the completion of the project. As part of the millennium celebrations, the Great Pyramid will be fitted with its own electrum covered capstone and singing and dancing is expected to follow this event as well.

Small but significant clues to pyramid construction have also turned up during excavations in the last several years. In clearing the queens’ pyramids prior to their being made available to the public, holes carved in the bedrock reveal the sighting methods used to lay out these structures. Unfinished pave-ments at the base of Queen Henuit’s pyramid show how the blocks were marked off prior to trimming as these were abandoned when the queen appears to have died prematurely. Work around the queens’ pyramids next to Menkaure’s pyramid where Dr. Hawass was leading excavations to examine the granite casing blocks which have fallen off the structure found an unfinished red granite dual statue of Ramesses II, abandoned because a crack developed in the work. This is the first evidence of that king being active at Giza. Tools (including diorite smoothing stones) have been recovered from this site and the area around the Sphinx as well.

The other monument which generates controversy at Giza is the Sphinx. As the Sphinx is known as Horem-akhet (the Horus of the Akhet) it is not surprising that it sits like the sun in the valley between the two mountains (in this case pyramids) of Khafre and Khufu. Dr. Hawass addressed some of the more controversial aspects of the Sphinx in his slide show. Various small tunnels do indeed exist both in and under the Sphinx. One large tunnel, going forty-five feet in two directions, lies at the back of the Sphinx, but the only object of note found in any of these tunnels was a shoe dated to the last century. The Dream Stela seems to be the reason for all the mystery surrounding hidden chambers beneath the Sphinx. On it a pair of Sphinxes sit upon two palace facade structures which New Agers have ascribed to the hidden library of Atlantis. Despite any claims that the Sphinx enclosure exhibits water or flood erosion, Dr. Hawass assured his listeners that numerous geologists have attested to the source of this erosion as wind-borne sand. In 1977 the Stanford Research Institute drilled underneath the paws looking for hidden chambers and found nothing. Imaging radar which has recently turned up an anomaly between the paws of the Sphinx will be further tested elsewhere on the plateau and if it can be demonstrated that such imaging is reliable, further drillings may be made at the Sphinx. Dr. Hawass noted that the Sphinx is indeed a political issue in Egypt and any steps taken in proximity to the Sphinx must be made cautiously. With evident pride, Dr. Hawass shared the story of the Sphinx restoration. Ninety worldwide experts were consulted on the best methods to save the monu-ment from forces working its destruction, but the actual workmen carrying out the project were Egyptians directed by Egyptian archaeologists. Damaging cement used as repair earlier in the century was removed and a new facing of limestone modeled on the Roman restorations in the first century was added ending in this year’s gala attended by President Mubarak which reinaugurated the Sphinx after ten years of meticulous work.

Finally, Dr. Hawass addressed the issues of how and who built the Pyramids at Giza. Showing slides of various soundings made on the plateau, Dr. Hawass demon-strated that parts of several ramps exist in situ made of local limestone, limestone chips and mud plaster. These ramps were used during construction for hauling in building mayerials. One example of such a ramp was excavated beside the road opposite the north face of Khafre’s pyramid. From his forthcoming book on the Giza plateau, Dr. Hawass showed us a newly completed map of the Giza plateau which includes the ramp system stretching from the quarry next to the Menkaure pyramid and leading up to the pyramid site.

The workmen’s village, factories and tombs which lie to the southeast of Menkaure’s pyramid were shown in a series of slides. Dr. Hawass noted that some object of sig-nificance is found almost every day at this site and it is becoming a rich source of information about the men who labored to build these fascinating monuments. Their tombs take many forms including mounds and beehive shaped and pyramid shaped tombs (demonstrating that the pyramid was not only for royal monuments as has been previously suggested). One tomb contained the burial of the overseer of a workgang, his wife and son as well as the graves of members of his gang. One fascinating slide sequence showed the uncovering of a niche in one of these tombs containing at first glance a single minor masterpiece of sculpture of an overseer and his wife but further excavations uncovered three more statues of this man at various stages of his life in more diminutive sizes. Twenty-two new Old Kingdom titles have come to light in this cemetery, including “Overseer of the Side of the Pyramid”.

On a lighter note Dr. Hawass shared some of his personal photographs of important visitors to the plateau who, like all of us, have a fascination with the pyramids and Sphinx including Barbara Bush, Lady Diana, Mrs. Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea, the queen of the Netherlands, the consort of the Queen of Denmark, and others. He also shared a few slides of his role as an actor (playing Dr. Hawass) in a film with Stacy Keach.

In the question and answer period following the slide presentation Dr. Hawass ably fielded questions from New Agers as well as interested amateurs and professionals, proving that the Giza plateau is capable and caring hands.

  • Al Berens
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