BRITISH WRITER DISCOVERS THE PHARAOHS’ LOST UNDERWORLD
Wednesday, 05 August 2009
A British writer has staked claim to finally finding the lost underworld of the pharaohs which has been rumoured to exist since the construction of the Great Pyramid nearly 5,000 years ago, creating a stir that is set to rock the Egyptological world.
Armed only with the forgotten memoirs of a nineteenth century British explorer, history and science writer Andrew Collins, working alongside Egyptological researcher Nigel Skinner Simpson, tracked down the entrance to this forgotten cave system and were the first to explore it 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 travelled 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 published, finally, 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 came upon 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.
Is it possible 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”, he stated. “We know everything about the plateau - amateurs cannot find anything new.”
Yet 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."
“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.”
The full story of the discovery of Egypt’s lost underworld is revealed in Collins’s new book Beneath the Pyramids (Fourth Dimension Press, 2009).