August 14, 2009
Pharaoh’s Underworld Found In Giza Complex
British history and science writer Andrew Collins claims to have found the lost underworld of the pharaohs -- a vast system of caves, chambers and tunnels that had been hidden in the limestone bedrock beneath the pyramid field at Giza.
The complex system had been rumored to exist since the construction of the Great Pyramid some 5,000 years ago.
Armed only with the forgotten memoirs of a nineteenth century British explorer, Collins, working alongside Egyptological researcher Nigel Skinner Simpson, set out to track down the entrance to this forgotten cave system. The pair was the first to explore the system in modern times.
The story begins in 1817 when Henry Salt, a former British Consul General to Egypt, and Italian explorer Giovanni Caviglia entered a series of what they described as "Catacombs" beneath Giza's famous pyramid field and traveled for a distance of "several hundred yards", before coming upon four large chambers from which went further cave passageways.
Salt's memoirs were never published, and no one seems to have recorded the caves existence since that time.
"The importance of the memoirs had previously been overlooked,' Collins said.
"They'd been catalogued but never studied in depth. They were ultimately published in 2007.
"We found in them reference to Salt and Caviglia's exploration of the Catacombs and after reconstructing the two men's explorations on the plateau we eventually located the cave entrance."
It turned out to be a previously unrecorded tomb west of the 5,000-year-old Great Pyramid, which Collins and his team explored in March 2008.
Here they discovered an opening that led into a vast cave chamber filled with fallen rock debris, animal bones, colonies of bats and venomous spiders.
Following in the footsteps of Salt and Caviglia, Collins and his team explored the caves for some distance, finding incised walls and mummy fragments, before the air became too thin to carry on. Subsequent visits to the caves revealed more about their extent and construction.
But some dismiss the idea that Collins has beaten the Egyptologists at their own game by finding the entrance to Giza's lost underworld.
Dr Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities has been quick to dismiss the discovery.
"There are no new discoveries to be made at Giza," said Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.
"We know everything about the plateau - amateurs cannot find anything new," he added.
However, Collins is confident that his discovery is genuine.
"We have searched academic libraries in London and Cairo and have found no mention of the caves or the tomb in modern times," he said.
"I have asked Dr. Hawass to supply me with any report or paper relating to either the tomb or the caves. He said he would send them. I am still waiting."
Collins says that since the caves are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years old, they may have influenced the development not only of the famous pyramid field but also ancient Egyptian beliefs in an underworld where the soul achieves resurrection before ascending to the stars.
"Ancient funerary texts clearly allude to the existence of a subterranean world in the vicinity of the Giza pyramids, calling it variously the Underworld of the Soul and the Shetayet, quite literally the Tomb of God," he said.
"Hopefully, the existence of the caves will help us understand the earliest human activity on the plateau."
Collins describes the full story of the discovery in his new book "Beneath the Pyramids" (Fourth Dimension Press, 2009).
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