15 Jul 2000

A thirteenth century account of the possible existence of a second coffer in the Queen's Chamber, and of possibly hieroglyphic graffiti on the ceiling

[The full text of the following account of the interior of the Great Pyramid was omitted from G:TT due to space constraints, but it is sufficiently intriguing to warrant reproduction here]

For some 700 years between the 9th and 16th centuries, we have only the accounts of Arab writers to shed any further light on Giza. There has been a tendency to dismiss almost all of this plethora of Arabian histories with disdain. Although we have been somewhat scathing about the reports of those such as Al Hokm, we nevertheless believe that this blanket dismissal is a mistake. There are a few accounts which are less fanciful and arguably therefore more reliable, and which shed important light on the subject. One in particular, which has been almost forgotten in modern literature, is Edrisi’s History of the Pyramids, written c. 1245. Amongst other things he recounts a visit into the interior of the Great Pyramid which appears to be a first hand account. It is extremely difficult to follow, owing to the vagueness of the language used (although the translation into English may not have helped). Nevertheless, once one has taken the time and trouble to identify the various features which he records, they match what we now know of the interior pretty well, with little apparent exaggeration or embellishment. He even goes as far as to record the recesses cut into the platforms at the side of the Grand Gallery. The following is the relevant extract (the explanatory comments in square brackets are ours, as are the italics for emphasis):

He, that enters the Pyramid [via the forced, not original entrance], continues in it for about twenty draas; in some places in an upright, in others in a bent posture. Daylight shines upon him until he turns walking upright to his left hand [at the junction of the forced, Descending and Ascending Passages], where he finds a sloping alley, which he ascends to the distance of a man's length, without meeting with any level step. Below this alley is a pit, said to be a well formed here, the opening of which admits a feeble light. A slender person only can enter into it. The learned Noor Eddyn-Al-Tabary has informed me that he crept into it upon his stomach to the distance of less than a man's length, and then walked in it upright upon his legs about twenty draas [the upper portion of the Descending Passage], after which he reached the exterior of the Pyramid, at a place elevated above the breach practised on the north side, right in front of him who enters [the original entrance]. To return now to the description of the alley [the Ascending Passage]. It is ascended until a door is reached [the Queen’s Chamber passage] near a block of stone [the step at the base of the Grand Gallery], by which one ascends towards another sloping alley. To the right of him, who ascends, is a well situated between the two alleys and the just-mentioned door, but below the second alley. By this door, or opening, a square room [the Queen’s Chamber] is entered with an empty vessel in it. On the roof of the room are writings in the most ancient characters of the heathen priests. Returning from hence to the place, through which one enters, the second alley [the Grand Gallery] is ascended. On both sides of it are blocks of stone, in which cavities have been cut out with axes to facilitate the ascent. They are about one draa distant from each other. Another square room [the King’s Chamber] is then finally reached, in which is a hole, which appears to have been excavated there [as seen today in the floor near the coffer, probably dug by Al Mamun, one of his contemporaries, or even a distant predecessor). An empty vessel is seen here similar to the former. Youssef Al Baba e' Sherr Abou Derr has told me, that, in company with Kalyan the Persian, he entered into some of the descending passages of the Pyramid, which led them to a place [the Subterranean Chamber], from whence they found no way to proceed. [From a translation of Edrisi’s History of the Pyramids by J.L. Burkhardt reproduced in Richard Howard Vyse, Operations Carried Out on the Pyramids of Gizeh, Vol. II, Appendix, p. 335]

We can see from this that Edrisi adds three new pieces of information which do not commonly emerge from accounts of Mamun’s explorations. First, “to the right of him who ascends is a well situated between the two alleys and the just-mentioned door, but below the second alley”. This is surely sufficient evidence to indicate a feature which is commonly thought to have only been rediscovered early in the 17th century, and is now known as the “Well Shaft”.

Second, he reports something which, if we have interpreted his account correctly, we have not seen mentioned in any other account, ancient or modern: “By this door, or opening, a square room is entered with an empty vessel in it.” From our inserted comments above it is clear that the chamber to which he refers is the Queen’s Chamber: and at first sight one might dismiss this as being a description of the Niche therein, until one gets to the description of the King’s Chamber, about which he says: “An empty vessel is seen here similar to the former.” He is clearly suggesting that the Queen’s Chamber also contained a coffer, similar to the one in the King’s Chamber. Since this account appears to reliable, we must take this seriously, and it raises a number of important questions: If such an additional coffer did exist, how does this affect the symbolic interpretations of the Great Pyramid? And, since it is quite clear that this artefact was not in situ by the time detailed accounts came to be written about the interior in the 16th and 17th centuries, who removed it in the intervening period?

As if this account hadn’t provided us with enough rare information, we have a third tour de force. Still referring to the Queen’s Chamber, Edrisi says: “On the roof of the room are writings in the most ancient characters of the heathen priests.” It is sensible, given the absence of any other original votive inscriptions in the interior of this or any other of the three Giza Pyramids, to assume this was graffiti of some sort. But we must also assume that it was not written in Arabic or Latin, otherwise Edrisi would have recognised it. This must mean that the symbols were hieroglyphs, and must have been placed there in pre-Classical antiquity. We have already seen that Mamun supposedly noted torch marks on the ceiling of the Subterranean Chamber: But if this new analysis is correct, then it surely adds fuel to the argument that the upper reaches of the edifice had also been violated and looted previously, and probably in remote antiquity. This would explain why Mamun may have found little of note in the edifice, and gives the lie to those who suggest that the Pyramid was always completely devoid of funerary accoutrements.

Of course it is possible that our interpretations are not correct, or that Edrisi himself recorded false information. But when we compare his account to those of many others, both Arabian and European, coming both before and after him, it appears to stack up extremely well in terms of detail, credibility and lack of exaggeration. It should not therefore be dismissed lightly.

31 Jul 2000

Link to paper suggesting that 'Mamun's Tunnel' was dug in order to extract large pieces of booty from the GP, rather than to get in, by Ralph Ellis and Mark Foster (click on 'articles' and then 'Tunnel Vision').

31 Jul 2000

Email response from IL to Ralph Ellis

Hi Ralph

I thoroughly enjoyed your joint article with Mark Foster, a good contribution and interesting new theory. You may be aware that in G:TT we went into a lot of detail examining the possibility that the upper reaches of the GP had been breached well before Mamun's time (see pp. 135-144 and Appendix III), and concluded that there was strong evidence that it had. Nevertheless the "coincidence" of whoever dug the intrusive tunnel "hitting gold", and the reasoning behind them not using the original entrance which could not logically have been obscured, always bothered me as it clearly has you two. The hinging door idea is an interesting one which we also discuss, but my view is that if it existed it was not an original feature, mainly because of the likelihood that the descending passage would have originally been sealed off for some distance with plugging blocks just as the ascending one was - there is strong evidence that this was the case with the multiple descending passages in the Second and Third Pyramids, and it is something alternative researchers usually overlook.

As a result I think it highly unlikely that the two main upper chambers were originally empty save for the KC coffer - for example the full Edrisi extract I recently posted on my web site suggests there may have been a coffer in the QC as well, till well after Mamun's time. However none of this alters the fact that your suggestion that whoever dug the intrusive tunnel did it to remove large booty rather than to get in is a cracking one.

The next question is was it only a lid that was removed - all the indications being that the KC coffer lid would not have been particularly ornate - or something more interesting? Perhaps a magnificent gold inner coffer which contained Khufu's mummified body, and was far too precious to break up? Who can say?

I was going to suggest that your theory could be tested by inspecting the walls of the intrusive tunnel to see whether the chisel marks tend to work outwards rather than inwards, but it occurs to me that they could have easily used simple geometry to still dig it accurately from the outside, and your theory that its main purpose was removal would still hold true.

As to the "trial passage", this was something we were aware of but didn't give a great deal of exposure to in G:TT. Of course if you are right about the additional vertical passage at the junction of the other two, this would be BIG BIG BIG.

I wish you both great success if you are going to try to follow up on this latter aspect on site. Hope you're well

All the best, Ian

PS I will put a link on my site to the article, and if its OK with you also publish this response.

3 Sep 2002

Paper by IL entitled 'The Great Pyramid Puzzle' based on extracts from G:TT.