Andrew Collins, Author of the Month for December 2009
Giza's Cave Underworld Rediscovered - It is the Entrance to the Tomb of Hermes?
By Andrew Collins
For December 2009 Author of the Month, the Forum is pleased to welcome back author and researcher Andrew Collins, presenting an article on the underworld of Giza, both literal and symbolic. Beneath the Pyramids Egypt's Greatest Secret Uncovered is the title of his latest book, evidence from which is featured in this exclusive Graham Hancock Forum article, Giza's Cave Underworld Rediscovered - It is the Entrance to the Tomb of Hermes?
Andrew Collins is a science and history writer, and the author of various books that challenge the way we perceive the past. They include From the Ashes of Angels (1996), which shows that the Watchers of the book of Enoch were shamans responsible for the Neolithic revolution, and that their homeland-the biblical Eden-was southeast Turkey, where archaeologists have recently found the oldest stone temple in the world; Gods of Eden (1998), which reveals that Egyptian civilization is thousands of years older than is conventionally believed; Gateway to Atlantis (2000), which demonstrates that Plato's Atlantis was located in Cuba and the Bahamas, and The Cygnus Mystery (2006), which argues that veneration of the Cygnus constellation was responsible for the world's earliest sky religions. Andrew, born in 1957, lives with his wife Sue near Marlborough, Wiltshire.
For more information go to www.andrewcollins.com
On March 3rd, 2008 I entered a large, yet little understood tomb on the Giza plateau. It was a place I had explored a year earlier, and on that occasion I had found nothing of consequence - no hieroglyphs, no evidence of burials - just strange letterbox-like slots in the walls, where the mummies of embalmed birds might well have been left in honour of some local deity over 2,000 years ago. I had come here again to this neglected area of the plateau, some 806 yards (740 meters) due west of the Great Pyramid, following new information that was set to challenge everything we know about the evolution of Giza's famous pyramid field.
Fig. 1. Giza's Tomb of the Birds, designated NC 2 by George Reisner's team in 1939. They drew a rough plan of the site, but failed to record the presence of the caves.
British Egyptological researcher Nigel Skinner Simpson, a friend and colleague, had been studying the memoirs of Henry Salt (1780-1827), a former British Consul General in Egypt, rediscovered in the basement of the British Museum in 2005, and published two years later by the British Museum Press (Usick and Manley, 2007). Salt was an avid explorer and collector of Egyptian antiquities. What most excited Nigel was the brief but tantalizing mention of Salt and his employee, the redoubtable Italian explorer and former sea-captain Giovanni Battista Caviglia (1770-1845), entering a vast network of "catacombs" that stretched beneath the plateau, a story he had first seen mentioned, if only briefly, in an old biography of Salt (Halls, 1834). However, this had not said where the catacombs were located, only that they lay west of the main pyramid field. This time the information was much more specific, with the site of the catacombs alluded to on Salt's rather distorted plan of the plateau.
Fig. 2 - Henry Salt (1780-1827)
Inside the caves, Salt and Caviglia had journeyed for an estimated distance of "several hundred yards", crawling on hands and knees where necessary, before eventually coming across a spacious chamber that connected with three others of equal size, from which went various labyrinthine tunnels. Yet because the two men were unable to locate anything of value - no gold or treasure - Salt had given up the search, leaving his Italian colleague to continue on his own. This Caviglia did, taking one of these new cave tunnels for a distance of "300 feet further", before giving up himself.
What concerned Nigel most was the fact that no one in the Egyptological community had ever picked up on the significance of this account dated 1817, which describes an extraordinary cave complex existing beneath the Pyramids themselves.
Explorations at Giza
The next people to have possibly come into contact with these caves after Salt and Caviglia was the British explorer Colonel Howard Vyse (1784-1853) and his colleague, the engineer John Shae Perring (1813-1869). They would appear to have chanced upon the tomb containing the caves during their routine explorations of the plateau in 1837.
Vyse records how during their excavations there, his team carefully removed from its interior a mummified bird of great size(Vyse, 1840). Nothing more is known of what Vyse and Perring found here, although a detailed plan of the plateau prepared by Perring shows the tomb's deeply-cut façade in the rocky north cliff, with dotted lines indicating its interior compartments, next to which is the legend "Excavated tombs and pits of bird mummies" (see also Perring, 1839-40). Whether or not Vyse and Perring explored the cave system is debatable, although Perring's published plan does hint at the fact that they at least went beyond the tomb into the complex's entrance chamber.
After this time no one is known to have visited the rock-cut tomb until American Egyptologist George Reisner came here with his team in 1939, and designated it the identity NC 2, with two other smaller tombs, also found in the north cliff, becoming NC 1 and NC 3. At least two rough plans were drawn of NC2 by Reisner's team, although neither indicate the presence of the caves, a strange oversight in itself. Nothing was written about the tomb, although a comment on one of Reisner's plans offered the thought that it might date to the eighteenth dynasty of Egyptian history, c. 1575-1307 BC. It is a theory that could well have some merit, since the exterior façade is similar to that of at least one key tomb dating to the Amarna period. This said, their interiors are entirely different in style. Whatever the age of the tomb, it seems likely that access to the caves would already have been possible, since they most likely broke through into the plateau's northern cliff face, prior to them being used to create a new tomb.
Fig. 3 - Geological map of the Giza plateau, showing the approximate location of the Tomb of the Birds (NC2) and cave entrance.
Rumours and Stories
There is no question that what Salt and Caviglia found in 1817 is of immense importance to the Egyptological world, for rumours of the existence at Giza of a vast underworld of the pharaohs are as old as the Pyramids themselves. Ancient Egyptian creation texts, as well as an assortment of funerary literature, i.e. books of the dead, speak repeatedly of a realm of darkness existing beneath the earth, guarded by demons and snakes. It was through this confusing labyrinthine realm of the night, known as the Duat, that the deceased, in his (or her) role as the sun-god, had to navigate in order to enter an afterlife among the stars. Only by learning and using a series of different spells outlined in these texts, and left on tombs, sarcophagi or in papyrus form, could he hope to handle a sequence of trials and tribulations, involving pits of fire and venom-spitting snakes, before exiting the Duat via its eastern gate on the dawn horizon. From here the pharaoh's ba, or "spirit", usually represented by a hieroglyph showing a human-headed bird, would be free to journey on into the starry firmament.
Underworld of the Soul
Egyptologists have always considered the Duat as a purely mythical concept, meant to strike fear into those hoping to gain any easy passage to heaven. Yet there are clear indications that a physical representation of this nocturnal realm existed somewhere near the Giza Pyramids. This was the conclusion of Egyptian-born Egyptologist Dr Selim Hassan (1893-1961), who for ten years was director of excavations on the plateau on behalf of the Egypt University, Cairo, and later the Service des Antiquités de l'Egypte. He proposed that the Duat's Fourth and Fifth Hours (each of its twelve compartments were represented by one of twelve symbolic hours of the night) seemed different to the rest, and bore the name Rostau which was the ancient name for Giza. Hassan therefore concluded that the descriptions of these particular "hours", as portrayed in a 3,500-year-old text known as the Am-duat, the "Book of that which is in the Underworld", were once part of a quite separate tradition that in some manner related directly to the topography of Giza (Hassan, 1946).
Fig. 4 - The Fifth Hour of the Duat Underworld from the Am-duat
text, dating from the New Kingdom period, c. 1575-1087 BC. It is known as the Duat of Memphis, also Rostau, the name given to the Giza necropolis in pharaonic times.
Moreover, the hidden realm of darkness in the Fifth Hour was ruled over by the falcon-headed god Sokar, who in the Am-duat text is shown standing on a massive two-headed snake. Sokar was the patron god of the sprawling cemeteries and pyramid fields that served the ancient city of Memphis, and in particular those at Rostau, ancient Giza. In the area once known as Upper Rostau - Giza South as it is known to Egyptologists today - textual evidence of the former presence there of an important shrine to Sokar have been unearthed (Pasquali, 2007, and Pasquali, 2008). This now lost structure featured in an annual festival involving the falcon-headed god, which celebrated the existence thereabouts of a mythical site called the Shetayet, quite literally the "Tomb of God". Ancient texts tell us that the dweller of this underground sepulchre was none other that the god Osiris, Lord of the Underworld, who lies in a secret chamber somewhere north of Memphis, i.e. in the vicinity of Giza. Other texts preserved on the walls of the temple of Edfu in southern Egypt refer to this same chthonic realm as the Duat n Ba, or "Underworld of the Soul". Here, we are told, mythical beings in an age known as zep tepi, the First Occasion, came in order to celebrate the act of First Creation around the time of a great catastrophe brought about by an "enemy snake" called the Great Leaping One (Reymond, 1969).