Ancient Egyptian Chambers Explored
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NHNE: Ancient Egyptian Chambers Explored
Wednesday, September 18, 2002
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ANCIENT EGYPTIAN CHAMBERS EXPLORED
By Nancy Gupton
National Geographic News
September 17, 2002
One of the mysteries of Egypt's Great Pyramid deepened early Tuesday when
archaeologists penetrated a 4,500-year-old blocked shaft only to find
another stone blocking their way.
During Pyramids Live: Secret Chambers Revealed, presented by the National
Geographic Channel, Egyptologist Zahi Hawass used a robot to peer into a
narrow shaft that opens into the queen's chamber of the Great Pyramid.
Within the shaft Hawass found another stone block, possibly a door.
"What we have seen tonight is totally unique within the world of
Egyptology," Hawass said. "There is nothing to compare it to, as these
passages are not in any other pyramids, with or without doors. The presence
of a second door only deepens the intrigue surrounding the Great Pyramid."
During the live television broadcast, Hawass also opened a sealed
sarcophagus in a tomb nearby. Inside he found the undisturbed skeleton of a
top pyramid builders village official.
"Something Important Is Hidden There"
The Great Pyramid shaft has been blocked for centuries by a chunk of
limestone that has copper handles and may have been wedged into the shaft by
pyramid builders after they used it as a polishing tool.
Around 5 a.m. Tuesday Egypt time, with Hawass and television viewers
watching, the robot sent a camera through a small hole drilled in the block
only to encounter another stone blocking the way.
Hawass, head of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities and a National
Geographic explorer-in-residence, was excited nonetheless.
"We can see another sealed door," he said over the shrieks of his team
members and television crew crowded into the chamber. "It looks to me like
it is sealing something. It seems that something important is hidden there.
"This is one of the first major discoveries in the Great Pyramid in some 130
years, and now what we need is time for further analysis," he said.
Archaeologists had speculated that the shaft might contain valuable
artifacts such as papyrus, builders' tools, or perhaps even a statue of
Pharaoh Khufu, the pyramid's builder. Or, they knew, it might have contained
nothing at all.
For Hawass, solving the mystery was important no matter what the
investigation uncovers. "I would just like to reveal what's behind it," he
said. "If nothing, it's fine with me."
Skeleton in Sarcophagus
During the live broadcast, which premiered in the United States on Monday,
September 16, on Fox Television, Hawass also visited the recently discovered
village of the pyramid builders, less than a mile (1.6 kilometers) away from
the Great Pyramid.
There, he opened the sealed sarcophagus of a man identified by hieroglyphics
as Ny Swt Wsrt, believed to be the overseer of the pyramid builders'
village. Inside they found a skeleton, lying on its side and facing east --
the direction of the rising sun.
"The skull is completely preserved," Hawass said in a preliminary
examination. "This man is resting beautifully."
During the time of the pyramid builders, mummification was rare and still in
No artifacts were immediately visible in the sarcophagus. The bones will be
carefully photographed, removed, and x-rayed, providing answers about when
and how the man died.
The discovery is important because the skeleton is that of a common man, not
a king or nobleman. At more than 4,000 years old, Ny Swt Wsrt's coffin is
also the oldest intact sarcophagus ever found by modern archaeologists.
"I've been excavating in this cemetery for ten years and I have not found
anything intact like this," Hawass said. "This man looks to be very
important because of the construction of the tomb, because of the way that
they wrote his title -- the overseer of the administrative district or the
mayor of the city of the pyramid builders."
The tomb of the overseer is one of many exciting recent finds in the pyramid
builders' village, south of the Sphinx.
Archaeologist Mark Lehner, director of the Giza Plateau Mapping Project,
believes that as many as 20,000 people moved in and out of the village while
building the pyramids. Dormitory-style buildings appear to have held
sleeping quarters for as many as 2,000 people. Diggers also have found
evidence of copper-making and cooking facilities.
"All the evidence points to a very large lost city of the Pyramids that
hadn't been known before we started working," said Lehner.
In Khufu's Great Pyramid, Hawass' team set up camp in the erroneously named
queen's chamber. (The room may never have been used, and its function
Inside the chamber are two shafts. Scholars aren't sure about the purpose of
these shafts, which were unique to pyramids built during the Old Kingdom
period (2575 to 2150 B.C.), but one theory is that they were built as
passageways for the pharaohs' journey to the afterlife.
"It's thought that the so-called air shafts are really conduits for the
king's soul," said Lehner.
The first modern investigation of the shaft in the queen's chamber occurred
in the 1990s, when archaeologist Rudolf Gantenbrink sent a robot into the
passageway. The machine was blocked by the stone after traveling 213 feet
(65 meters) into the shaft.
Further hampering the exploration, the interior of the shaft is only 8
inches by 8 inches (20 centimeters by 20 centimeters) and the shaft bends in
Before the television broadcast, measuring apparatus on the robot, similar
to those used to search for World Trade Center survivors, found the block
was only 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) thick, encouraging the suggestion that
it might in fact have been a door leading to another chamber or hidden
Did Hawass, Lehner, and the television crew know in advance what they would
Before the broadcast, executive producer John Bredar said even the research
and production teams were in the dark. "It's do-or-die that night," he said.
"We don't know exactly what's going to happen."
The National Geographic Channel special Pyramids Live: Secret Chambers
Revealed will air worldwide later in the week under a different title,
Egypt: Secret Chambers Revealed, on the National Geographic Channel. Check
local listings for more information.
LIVE PYRAMID BROADCAST NO EASY FEAT
Pulling off a live television broadcast from deep inside a 4,500-year-old
pyramid takes expertise, patience -- and a very long cable.
For nine months, supervising producer Richard Reisz and his team from
UK-based TV6 have worked on Pyramids Live: Secret Chambers Revealed.
The challenges include setting up camp in the cramped queen's chamber of the
Great Pyramid and snaking an enormous cable through the pyramid and hundreds
of yards across the Giza sands.
"It's an enormous challenge. We spent months sourcing equipment we're going
to need," Reisz said. "We've been working on this all through the summer,
all through the heat."
A production corps of 250 people was on site during Monday's broadcast,
which aired at 3 a.m. Tuesday Egypt time. Teams were dispatched to the
show's two different live locations, the Great Pyramid and the pyramid
Reisz was watching -- and waiting -- from an outside viewing area near the
"It's going to be a hairy weekend," he said Friday. "What happens on Monday
night will be fairly easy in comparison to the setup."
Despite the temptation to sneak a peek behind the blocking stone or inside
the sarcophagus, Reisz said, a promise is a promise. "We've said we won't
peek, and integrity matters," he said. "I think the robot group is finding
it difficult, though."
Although Reisz and his team tested the pyramid rover robot and tried to
anticipate any problems, anything could have happened Monday night.
"Something unexpected could happen. It usually does in live TV. That's what
makes it so interesting," he said.
"I've been in television for 25 years, and this is by far the most difficult
thing I've ever done. It's also one of the most exciting."
PREVIOUS NHNE POSTS:
ROBOT TO PROBE PYRAMID'S MYSTERIES (9/16/2002):
ROBOT TO INVESTIGATE SECRET SHAFT IN GREAT PYRAMID (8/27/2002):
PYRAMID BUILDERS' VILLAGE FOUND IN EGYPT (8/7/2002):
THE LOST CITY OF THE PYRAMID BUILDERS (11/27/2001):
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