Feature Articles – Down into the Giza underground
A vast network of caves and tunnels is believed to exist within the Giza Plateau, but so far the Egyptian authorities have refused to give credence to the idea or conduct scientific explorations.
by Philip Coppens
Facade of the Tomb of the Birds The Great Pyramid of Giza is the only surviving wonder of the ancient world. It is also unique in that, for centuries, it has been the subject of intense intrigue and speculation, far beyond the scope of the actual discoveries that have been made in and around the structure.
The pyramids on the Giza Plateau, just outside the Egyptian capital Cairo, remained largely unexplored until the 19th century, when the inner chambers were finally penetrated. Since then, there have been continuous claims that the Great Pyramid, specifically, contains still-undiscovered chambers. Indeed, by far the most prominent series of recent investigations were robotic explorations of the so-called “air shafts” that run from the Queen’s Chamber, which revealed a sequence of two tiny doors. The discovery has reignited the debate about the possible existence of more chambers, although archaeological work on this project is particularly slow to progress.
The pyramids on top of the Giza Plateau are so special and intriguing that the rest of the plateau has received less attention. Still, it is to be expected that the reason why pyramids were built here is because the Giza Plateau was already held to be sacred by the ancient Egyptians. And this means that there is something on the plateau that would have given it its sacred nature. That “something” is likely to be the plateau itself and the network of natural cavities that are a typical trademark of limestone formations.
Most of the attention when it comes to underground structures in Giza has gone to one man: Edgar Cayce. In the 1920s, this American psychic predicted the presence of a Hall of Records near the Sphinx, which was prophesied to contain information about the lost civilisation of Atlantis. Since then, dozens of books have been written about this prophecy alone, but, so far, no Hall of Records has been discovered. Yet slowly, the underground of the Giza Plateau is beginning to surrender some of its secrets…and these suggest that what’s underneath the plateau might be just as interesting, if not more, than what is on top.
In 1998, Egyptian authorities revealed the existence of a so-called Tomb of Osiris on the Giza Plateau. Osiris is the Egyptian Lord of the Underworld, and this rock-cut, tomb-like structure is interesting as it shows that the ancient Egyptians drilled deep into the ground to create sanctuaries for the dead. Unfortunately, the structure’s lower levels are currently inhibited from being explored because of underground water, due to the nearby presence of the River Nile.
However, it is less well known that the Tomb of Osiris was discovered as early as 1933–34 by Dr Selim Hassan. He reported that the tomb dates from the Saitic period (26th Dynasty, c. 600 BC), and he labelled it “the most extraordinary example of this type of hole”. He noted that the first chamber led to a second, in which there were seven niches, each containing a basalt sarcophagus, two of which were substantially larger than the others.
In what has become an unfortunate trend when it comes to official announcements by some senior Egyptologists, we thus find that the 1998 revelation is bogus and that also, by that time, just two sarcophagi survived, with no questions posed as to what had happened to the five others. As early as 1934, the third chamber was already under water, but the clear water still allowed Hassan to see additional sarcophagi. Hassan tried to clear the chamber, but, after four years of pumping, the water level had not descended.
This is but one of several known underground cavities. Less well known is that one part of the Great Pyramid was built on top of and incorporated a natural cavity, the so-called Grotto. This is located off the Well Shaft that connects the Ascending Passage to the Descending Passage. The Well Shaft’s purpose remains unclear, and the Grotto’s even more so. Often described as “an unusual feature” because it is unique in pyramid design, the Grotto also contains a large granite block: how it got there or why it was left remains unexplained.
In 2006, a team led by Abbas Mohamed Abbas, of the National Research Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics, performed extensive groundpenetrating radar (GPR) scans on various sections of the Giza Plateau. The team discovered cavities deep within the bedrock, some down as far as 25 metres, with several tunnels at least three to five metres wide. In their report, (1) Abbas et al. speculated that the individual cavities and tunnels might link up and even connect to still unexplored “precious tombs”: “The results of the survey support the possibility of the presence of undisclosed relics, of high value.” Abbas et al. concluded: “…we can presume the existence of a momentous diversity of archaeological structures at the Pyramids plateau which remain, as yet, unexposed.” Giza Cave System Rediscovered In August 2009, British author Andrew Collins and researcher Nigel Skinner-Simpson announced that they had made a fortuitous discovery on the Giza Plateau: a cave system explored by Henry Salt and Giovanni Caviglia in 1817, entered through a rock-cut tomb.
Salt, the British Consul-General to Egypt, working alongside the Italian explorer and sea captain Caviglia, had entered unknown “catacombs” at Giza, somewhere west of the pyramid field. However, the existence of these caves was subsequently forgotten.
Colonel Howard Vyse, who conducted excavations on the Giza Plateau in 1837, wrote about the tomb in his 1840 book. (2) The site turned out to contain several mummies of birds, which Vyse and engineer John Shae Perring apparently removed. Collins relocated the lost tomb in January 2007 in the company of his wife, Sue. They found little, other than further evidence of a local bird cult practised within this structure.
When Salt’s memoirs (3) were finally published in 2007, Collins and Skinner-Simpson realised that they contained a detailed account of the exploration of the catacombs. The explorers had apparently penetrated “several hundred yards” into this structure before coming upon a spacious chamber that connected with three others of equal size, from which went labyrinthine passages. Caviglia later pursued one of these passages for a distance of “300 feet further” before giving up, the two men being put off by the fact that they had not found anything of value—no gold, no treasure, the primary obsession of these early pyramid explorers.
On 3 March 2008, Sue and Andy Collins, together with Nigel Skinner-Simpson, went back to the newly baptised Tomb of the Birds, having gained sponsorship from the Association for Research and Enlightenment (ARE) in Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA. After some searching, they found a small crack in the rock face that led into a huge natural cave chamber which connected with other cave compartments and a long cave passage. In short, the trio realised that their structure coincided with the caves discovered in 1817.
At present, no-one knows the total extent of the caves. As mentioned, Salt and Caviglia never reached the end, and so far Collins has been unsuccessful in interesting the Egyptian authorities in this discovery. Were the caves to continue beyond the farthest point reached, they would most likely head off in the direction of the Second Pyramid (the Pyramid of Khafre), whose southwestern corner is only 480 metres southwest from the entrance to the Tomb of the Birds.
Collins did learn from a guardian living in the vicinity that the cave system went on for many kilometres. The guardian added that it was haunted by a giant snake called el-Hanash—the reason why he would not go down there himself. As such, his claim is hearsay and not based on factual exploration. Still, there is a tradition that existed through to mediaeval times that either the Great Pyramid or the Second Pyramid was the Tomb of Agathodaimon, the “good spirit”, a Gnostic god in the form of a serpent which was said to “repose”, or rest, beneath the plateau.
In his typically arrogant demeanour, the leader of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Dr Zahi Hawass, when confronted with news of Collins’s discovery, claimed that the structure had “recently” been explored by Egyptologists. He commented: “This story shows how people who do not have a background in archaeology use the media and the Internet to make headlines… When I saw this Internet story about a new discovery at Giza, I knew it was misleading. The article reports that a huge system of tunnels and caves has been found; however, I can say that there is no underground cave
complex at this site.” (4)
Collins has challenged Hawass to produce the scientific report proving that the structure has indeed been fully explored in recent years. He notes: “Our caves are the only natural caves recorded on the plateau so far (despite the multitude of rumours). Our caves, even if proved to be isolated (which we hope is not the case), prove that Giza’s geology does include a natural cave system, which is arguably what Abbas could have been detecting on the east side of the plateau in 2006. Salt records that the caves go for ‘several hundred yards’, then link with chambers and passages, one of which Caviglia explored for ‘300 feet further’. Note the word ‘further’. I say this as people might try and say that what we found is all there is to find, i.e., approximately 300 feet (90 metres) of caves, and no more. We did not reach the end, and neither did Salt and Caviglia. We reckon that the caves extend to beneath the Second Pyramid. Chambers were detected under the Second Pyramid by the SRI [Stanford Research Institute] team when they performed their scans of the structure in 1977.” (5) Emerald Tablets and Hidden Temples Sue Collins in the Giza cave system in April 2008 The Collinses’ discovery is therefore part of a slowly emerging picture that shows that the Giza underground holds several more secrets. Indeed, Hawass himself, while drilling down in front of the Sphinx temple in 1980, struck red granite at a depth of 15 metres. Red granite is not native to the Giza Plateau; the only source is Aswan, hundreds of miles to the south. The very presence of red granite proves that there is a man-made structure underneath the plateau.
Collins writes in his newly released book Beneath the Pyramids (6) that he has also identified another possible entrance to the Giza underground, in a well in a cemetery near the village of Nazlet el-Samman at Gebel Ghibli. The cemetery is largely off-limits and is obviously on sacred ground, which will make any scientific excavations virtually impossible.
The well is dedicated to the holy man Hamid el-Samman, and Collins suspects that el-Samman, about which nothing is written, may be linked with the life of a Sufi master, Dhu’l-Nun al-Misri (759–859 AD), who is known to have died at Giza. Born in Akhmin in middle Egypt, he was also an hermeticist who would have taken a great interest in the knowledge that Hermes Trismegistus, the legendary founder of the hermetic tradition, was said to have been buried somewhere in the vicinity of either the Great Pyramid or the Second Pyramid. Interestingly, Hermes Trismegistus—equated with the Egyptian god Thoth—has been linked with the so-called Emerald Tablets, a series of artefacts said to contain all the knowledge in the world and which was referred to in ancient Egypt as The Book of Thoth.
The Swiss psychologist C. G. Jung identified one of the Emerald Tablets with a table made of green stone, which he encountered in a series of dreams and visions beginning at the end of 1912 and climaxing in his writing Seven Sermons to the Dead in 1916. One of the Emerald Tablets is linked with memory—as in the Hall of Records about which Edgar Cayce spoke?
For his new book, Collins also investigated “the Sleeping Prophet”—Cayce—and his case for the Hall of Records. He argues that Cayce, in his visions, sometimes confused physical with immaterial—other-dimensional—Halls of Records. At the same time, he has uncovered the fact that Cayce did not make claims about a physical Hall of Records on the Giza Plateau in a void.
In 1913, the American Sunday edition of the Times of India carried a feature on the excavations of American archaeologist George A. Reisner (1867–1942), who was at the time working in the vicinity of the Sphinx. The article, which had previously appeared in the British magazine The Sphere, speculated on the alleged discovery by Reisner of “hidden temples within the natural rock of which the Sphinx is formed”. It went on to say: “Not only is the head of the Sphinx occupied by two small chambers, one superimposed above the other, but the actual body of the Sphinx is also occupied
by a larger pillar-lined temple with passages leading off in several directions. The actual tomb of Menes, the great but mysterious founder of remote Egypt, is also supposed to be within the Sphinx.” (7)
Then, in 1938, Cayce went to the same library-style Hall of Records to gain a sitter’s past-life reading and, while there, was “given a book that was very large (tall and wide), beautifully bound but quite thin” (8)—perhaps the very Book of Thoth, of which the ancient Egyptians spoke?
In Beneath the Pyramids, Collins states: “…these accounts, which are rarely published, demonstrate that Cayce’s sleep hypnosis enabled him to enter what he believed was some kind of astral hall of records. Thus it is possible that Cayce’s vision of an Egyptian Hall of Records…was thought of initially as a physical counterpart to the astral hall of records accessed during sleep states.” (9) As Above, So Below For millennia before the Great Pyramid was constructed, caves were seen as veritable wombs of Mother Earth, in which religious ceremonies occurred and intricate rock paintings were created. Indeed, when looking at the interior of pyramids, with their narrow entrances and long narrow corridors giving way to small chambers, are we not
confronted with man-made, highly artistic representations of cave systems? The very name of the area in ancient times provides links with a subterranean realm: Rostau, meaning “mouth of the passages” and “entrance to the winding passages”. It should therefore not come as a surprise that Dr Selim Hassan concluded that a physical representation of the Duat, the Egyptian Underworld, existed underneath the Giza Plateau.
The Duat was the ancient Egyptian equivalent of the Greek Hades or the Christian Purgatory, a realm through which the soul of the deceased had to pass before it could join God. Hassan argued that it was specifically a description of the fourth and fifth hours of the night that would have been portrayed at Giza, if only because they relate to the kingdom of Sokar in Rostau. Collins concludes that the Tomb of the Birds which he found, and which is known to have been a bird cemetery, likely honoured a bird deity such as the falcon god Horus the Elder or the falcon-headed Sokar, the latter especially linked with Giza.
Collins states that, based on the work of astronomer Dr Ronald Wells and Egyptologist Dr Amanda-Alice Maravelia, the ancient Egyptians of the Pyramid Age saw the stars of Cygnus as the cosmic womb of the sky goddess Nut, who was personified as the Milky Way. They argue that the Duat physically symbolised Nuit’s body. The caves of Giza are therefore indeed likely to be cosmic wombs.
Within this framework, Deneb, Cygnus’s brightest star, marked the entrance into, or exit from, the Duat. In the sky, this is represented by the part of the Milky Way that we know today as the Cygnus Rift. Collins argues that this entrance would also be located on the Giza Plateau and would potentially form the principal entrance into the subterranean complex.
Also on the Giza Plateau is Campbell’s Tomb. This enigmatic shaft sunk into the plateau is often left unmentioned because its purpose is obscure at best. Recently, the structure did get some attention as its sides display erosion patterns that are similar to those of the Sphinx enclosure. According to some observers like geologist Dr Robert Schoch, these erosion patterns suggest that the Sphinx is much older than the c. 2500 BC date which it is currently given.
As French journalist Antoine Gigal has pointed out, the Belgian researchers Guy Mouny and Guy Gruais posit that the grooves of the structure look very mechanical and might have been used to raise or lower a platform that was linked with a subterranean canal system underneath the plateau. This would suggest that the ancient Egyptians had advanced understanding of hydraulics. This also should not come as a major surprise, considering that extensive and advanced hydraulic engineering was carried out under Pharaoh Amenemhat (1991–1962 BC) in the Fayum Oasis. Belgian researcher Gerd Vandecruys has noted that the erosion patterns in Campbell’s Tomb appear to be from standing water inside the structure and not from rainwater erosion—as is suggested for the Sphinx enclosure.
Knowing that the ancient Egyptians believed that travel in the Duat occurred by boat, and that depictions in The Book of the Dead show boats moving on canals in the Underworld, if the Egyptians physically represented the Duat underneath the Giza Plateau then they must have incorporated an underground canal system.
Campbell’s Tomb might be one enigmatic structure that could thus easily be explained within this new framework: that what we see above ground might not be nearly as exciting as what is waiting to be discovered underneath the Giza Plateau.
Collins should therefore be applauded for having brought the underground network of Giza to the attention of an international audience. But the attitude of the Egyptian authorities remains remarkable, to say the least, seeing that they themselves have official reports that show that something exciting might be waiting to be discovered in the Giza underground. © All images Andrew Collins Endnotes 1. Abbas, Abbas Mohamed, EI-said A. El-Sayed, Fathy A. Shaaban and Tarek Abdel-Hafez, “Uncovering the Pyramids Plateau–Giza Plateau–in a Search for Archaeological Relics by Utilizing Ground Penetrating Radar”, NRIAG Journal of Geophysics, 2006 Special Issue, pp. 2, 12
2. Vyse, Col. R. W. Howard, Operations Carried on at the Pyramids of Gizeh in 1837, James Fraser, London, 1840 (3 vols)
3. Salt, Henry, The Sphinx Revealed: A Forgotten Record of Pioneering Excavations (Patricia Usick and Deborah Manley, editors), British Museum Press, London, 2007
5. Personal email from Andrew Collins
6. Collins, Andrew, Beneath the Pyramids: Egypt’s Greatest Secret Uncovered, 4th Dimension Press, Virginia Beach, USA, 2009
7. Quoted in Collins, ibid.
8. Collins, op. cit.
9. Collins, op. cit. This article appeared in Nexus Magazine 17.1 (December 2009-January 2010).