The Giza Underworld
For many years, researchers, academics, amateur egyptologists, and psychics alike have been drawn to the mysterious allure of the caves and labyrinthine passages rumored to exist beneath the great pyramids of the Giza plateau. Among these people, is the popular American psychic, Edgar Cayce, who, on a July afternoon in 1925, gave a life reading to Thomas B. Brown.
Cayce revealed during the reading upon assuming a trance like state, that Brown originally had lived a previous life in the age Ra-Ta, who was in charge of the carving of the Great Sphinx. Brown's earlier incarnation stored geometric data relating to the Sphinx's location in an underground vault beneath the Sphinx.
The reading ended up being the first of what would later become one of many mentions of a legendary hall of records, said to contain the wisdom of a bygone age, or more specifically a storehouse full of "tablets" and "plaques" detailing the life experiences of the people that lived during the era of Ra-Ta. A further reading in 1932, revealed the presence of a passage that entered into the so called record chamber via the right fore paw of the Sphinx below ground.
Although a number of people doubt the accuracy of Cayce's predictions and readings, the fame of the so named "sleeping prophet" has in fact provided a huge boon in resources and inspiration for people exploring a possible underground world below the Giza Plateau. Through the Edgar Cayce foundation's A.R.E. branch, Association for Research and Enlightenment, some of the most detailed and useful mapping projects have been made of the plateau and launched the career of one the most well known egyptologists in the world, Dr. Mark Lehner, who originally on sponsorship of the A.R.E., sought to investigate many of Cayce's predictions and claims.
Lehner has since disowned such beliefs, at least publicly, but remains on good terms with the A.R.E.
Radar Mapping Projects
As a result of piqued interest in the plateau, several underground radar mapping projects have been undertaken at Giza over the years. The first major one being funded in 1974 by the National Science Foundation and consisting of a joint venture between Egypt's Ain Shams University and the Standford Research Institute. Using hi-tech ground penetration radar equipment, they attempted to search for underground anomalies, but, due to the intense porosity of the limestone, the distinction between natural fissures and hewn chambers made the discovery of "hidden chambers" virtually impossible to discern.
Later in 1977, the SRI returned under NASA consultant Lambert T. Dolphin, along with more advanced instrumentation, utilizing electrical resistivity. The team detected five anomalies:
"Behind the rear paws...two traverses...indicate an anomaly...possibly a tunnel aligned northwest to southeast. Another anomaly exists in the middle of the south side and there are two anomalies in front of the front paws of the Sphinx. One as much as 10 meters deep."
In 1978, Dolphin returned to map more extensively over three months, involving 3-D Mapping of the subsurface, detecting several new anomalies.
Perhaps the best and most advanced explorations took place in February 2006, headed by Abbas Mohamed Abbas from the National Research Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics. The team used state of the art GPR instruments to detect passages and shafts around the great pyramids and the Sphinx. The project identified anomalies at greater depths than had ever been achieved before, revealing a "network of tunnels" at depths of forty and eighty feet below the surface, with tunnels as wide as 16 feet, a network which intercepted "previously unexplored precious tombs." In his words, Abbas claims that, "the survey supports the possibility of the presence of undisclosed relics of high value."
Map of GPR detected anomalies on Giza Plateau
Stories, Rumors, and Legends
Arab travelers and historians relayed stories of a hidden world beneath the plateau learnt from Egypt's Coptic Christian communities. Cairo-born historian Taki-ed-din Ahmad al-Makrizi (1360-1442), who wrote on the authority of one Usted Ibrahim ben Wasyff Shah, related that prior to a great cataclysm or flood, subterranean passages were constructed as depositories of wisdom and acquirements of the arts and sciences, not all that different in account than many of Cayce's life readings.
Al-Makrizi detailed that the tunnels existed before the Pyramids and were located forty cubits (60 feet) below the surface, very similar in depth to Dr.Abbas Mohamed Abbas' radar mapping measurements made in February 2006.
Another story written by the Greco-Roman Historian Ammianus Marcellinus (360-390AD), recorded that, "there are subterranean fissures and winding passages called syringes, which it is said, those acquainted with the ancient rites, since they had fore-knowledge that a deluge was coming, and feared that the memory of the ceremonies might be destroyed, dug in the earth in many places with great labor..."
Evidence for the Labyrinth
Other discoveries have given major support to the idea of a vast network that Abbas purports to exist beneath the plateau. In 1934-1935, Dr. Selim Hassan, the director of excavations on behalf of the American University in Cairo, discovered a multilevel shaft tomb, located beneath the causeway between Khafre's pyramid and the Sphinx.
The Osiris shaft, as it is called, is believed to be the symbolic resting place of the god. The shaft consists of three vertical tiers, one on top of the other. The lowest chamber houses a granite coffin lid in the center of the room. At each corner of the platform broken remains of pillars stood, apparently the whole monument was hewn from the bedrock itself. Dr. Zahi Hawass, former secretary general of the SCA, documents that pot shards dated to Egypt's Sixth Dynasty lay in the chamber c.2340-2199BC.
In addition, tunnels below the coffin at the bottom of the Osiris Shaft were detected by ground penetrating radar instruments.
The Shabaka Stone, of whose inscriptions is believed to be dated to the Old Kingdom period, indicate that the burial place of Osiris lay in the "House of Sokar", entered via the "hidden portals", an allusion to the underground labyrinth of Rostau (the Giza Plateau).
A written passage in a Middle Kingdom text called "The Book of Two Ways," explains that the dwelling place of Osiris lies at the "Highland of Aker" another name for the Giza Sphinx. Selim Hassan wrote in 1936, that "this may be a reference to the sandy Libyan plateau where is the earthly Rostua, or Giza."
The Duat Realm of Sokar
In the Am-Duat funerary text of the New Kingdom, Rostua is specifically labeled the deepest part of the underworld Duat realm. Texts instructed individuals on how to navigate the netherworld system safely, giving advice on how to avoid and defeat monstrous snakes, foul demons, strange creatures, bypass fiery pits, pass sealed doors, open gates with the correct spells and answer riddles posed by guardians. If the tests were not passed, the ba soul would be lost forever and the ka could not be reborn in the afterlife.
Selim Hassan, director of excavations on the plateau for ten years, strongly believed that the physical counterpart of the mythical duat lay in the Giza necropolis, detailed extensively in his multivolume work "Excavations at Giza".
The Am-Duat text highlights the Fifth Hour of the Duat netherworld as being the "House of Sokar". A pictorial form divided the realm into three registers. The highest register displays a bell-shaped object, often colored orange, upon which rested two perched birds (kites). The bell shape is most certainly significant of the omphalos, a Greek word meaning "navel", which usually is depicted as a round-topped stone like that found at the oracle cult center of Delphi in Greece, the supposed "center of the world".
The Omphalos, derived from the word delphos (womb), is viewed as the navel of the mother Earth, whereby the fetus receives nourishment through the umbilical cord.
Omphalos of Delphi, Greece
The womb-like symbol of the rounded stone goes well beyond Egypt and Greece, as similar bell-shaped objects have been identified among carved art on megalithic monuments in Western Europe, dating from the Neolithic c.4500-3500BC. Much like the Greeks and Egyptians, the round stones with nipplelike protrusions symbolized the navel of a primeval goddess of death and regeneration.
Omphalos bell (note snake symbolic of umbilical)
That the omphalos object is connected with the underground realm of Sokar is no surprise, since cave systems and underground realms for ancient peoples felt damp and warm, reminiscent, of the fetus gestating in the inner womb of the female, the tunnels and passages symbolic of the journey that the fetus took finally exiting through the birth canal.
Directly below the Omphalos bell is the Khepri dung beetle, a visual reference to death and rebirth. The head of Isis, the mother goddess, lies atop a pyramidal mound that rests upon Sokar's realm further below. Tunnels enter and exit the oval shaped egg island of Sokar's house at the bottom, guarded on either side by two guardian sphinxes. Selim Hassan referred to it as, "a huge black tunnel through the thickness of the earth, each end of which terminated in a sphinx or lion."
The Realm of Sokar (Three registers)
Stelae and other inscribed artifacts found within the Memphis area, speak of the Shetayet shrine of Sokar being located in a place called "upper Rostua". The Dream Stele erected by Thutmosis during the New Kingdom between the paws of the Sphinx at Giza specifically records of "Harmarkhis, beside Sokar in Rosta [Rostau]." The heart of Upper Rostau is the hill Kafr el-Gebel, where a village called Nazlet el-Batran now rests.
Place of the Sacred Well
According to legend, a sacred holy well existed at the village guarded by a Sufi master Hamid el-Samman. Such a well does indeed exist on the plateau, within the Cemetery of the Crow just north of the village in a grove of sycamore trees.
Bir el-Samman is suspected of being very old, as Menkhuare, the pharaoh of the third great pyramid on the plateau, refers to Hathor, the lady of the sycamore, on the slate triad statues. The Inventory Stela also writes of the title of Hathor as, "Mistress of the Sycamore of the South," mentioned in connection with Ptah-Sokar, the local funerary deity of Memphis/Giza. The stele recounts that the Sycamore tree along with the nearby Sphinx got struck by lightning, prompting King Khufu to come and assess the damage to the statue on the plateau.
Dr. Selim Hassan (1887-1961)
Selim Hassan proposes that the epithet of "Mistress of the Southern Sycamore" in fact refers to a local form of the Goddess that was connected with an old sycamore tree to the south of the Great Sphinx, found near the bir el-samman well.
Omar, a local Arab artist and sculptor working in the village of Nazlet el-Samman, claims to have descended down a rope into the well when the water level was especially low. According to Omar's personal testimony, the man saw two tunnels leading horizontally away from the shaft both east and west, one slightly higher than the other. The shafts were squarely wrought and 1 meter in width and height. Omar believes that additional tunnels exist at an even greater depth leading north and south.
The Muslim cemetery that surrounds the well is strictly off limits to non-muslims, and only serves families born in Nazlet el-Samman; one must have a dead relative interred in the cemetery to even go beyond the gates. Within ancient Egyptian lore, sycamores and accompanying wells often came to be seen as the entrance to the afterlife, the waters bringing new life beyond death. Obviously, that view appears to be preserved with the current local Islamic community at the Nazlet el-Samman cemetery.
The Tomb of the Birds
Another entrance into the cave underworld of Giza was discovered not very long ago, when Nigel Skinner-Simpson, an amateur British egyptologist, happened on a tome cataloging the ventures and work of the British Diplomat Henry Salt, in a book entitled "The Life and Correspondence of Henry Salt," published 1834.
Later, Nigel's search lead to a series of unpublished memoirs chronicled by the explorer and diplomat that had been languishing in the British Museums archive library for over one and half centuries. Within the letters, Salt wrote of a set of catacombs labeled Q.Q. west of the pyramid field that the diplomat had entered with the famous Italian explorer Captain Giovanni Caviglia, also known as the Tomb of the Birds. Salt wrote,
"We entered into one, and followed up our researches through rude and craggy vaults, several hundred yards into the rock, creeping at times on our hands and knees, among the bones, and carcasses of camels and other animals carried there by the hyenas, which frequent these caves. At last we entered by a forced passage through a thin wall into a spacious chamber, which presented nothing to our view, but bare and mouldering walls. This chamber communicated with three others of equal dimensions, whence issued many labyrinthick passages, which had too intricate and uninteresting an appearance to induce us to advance. Captain Caviglia informed that he afterwards advanced in another direction, three hundred feet farther but found nothing to tempt him to continue his researches."
An accompanying map detailed the entrance of the catacombs as the Tomb of the Birds, which is dug into the crescent shaped outcrop of rock running along the edge of the plateau near the mastaba tomb Lepsius.
Adventures of Andrew Collins, Nigel Skinner-Simpson and Sue Collins
With funding provided by the A.R.E., Nigel Skinner-Simpson, along with Andrew Collins, author of the book "Beneath the Pyramids" (a book that more fully explores the extent of Giza's underworld) the two proceeded to embark on an expedition determined to bring to light the catacombs that Salt and Cavviglia had explored over 2 centuries prior.
Andrew Collins at Tomb of Birds entrance
The Guardian of the Duat (El Hanash)
On their journey, Collins chanced upon a rumor by one of the tomb guardians patrolling the plateau working for the Antiquities Agency of Egypt. Ahmed, as he was named, told of a legendary snake el-Hanash 30 feet long that guarded the underworld, a giant cobra that could squeeze trespassers with its powerful coils.
The local sculptor Omar elaborated that el-Hanash came out once every year when a secret passage opened leading to the Hall of Records. In the snakes mouth gleamed a diamond. A poison spat from the snakes mouth would blind all who entered the hall, but one day, a worthy person would only be blinded in one eye, and gain entrance beyond a sequence of gates. Supposedly, upon entering the hall, the person would gain special powers through the diamond, the ability to "make rivers flow", or "go dry." If the diamond was removed, the person would die.
Sue Collins exploring Cave system
The origins of such a local myth is a hard one to trace, but the snake el-Hanash, curiously resembles the snake that Sokar stands upon in the Am-Duat text image of the underworld. The diamond also retains familiar powers of the sacred ihet relics mentioned in the Edfu texts of Zep Tepi, the primordial age of Egypt.
In that legend, the Sebtiw guardians of the original mound of creation that resided in the underworld, used the relics to draw back or summon up the waters surrounding the island, much like Omar's diamond crystal. Those relics in the Edfu text supposedly existed within the Omphalos atop Sokar's realm, aka the benben stone of creation (the navel of the earth).
The Arabic roots of el-Hanash establish the snake as a powerful guardian or demon, not necessarily evil, but very strong, that protected relics of great value. Medieval Arab writers wrote of a sect of star-worshiping Sabaeans that believed that the good snake spirit, Agathodaimon, resided under the Second Pyramid in a tomb. Agathodaimon was shown as a bearded snake with a halo atop its head with seven or twelve rays of the sun, denoting spiritual enlightenment. The snake was the father of Hermes (Thoth) the wisdom bringer deity of the ancient world.
What really does exist underneath the plateau, if anything is to be found of importance? Unfortunately, Andrew and Sue Collins on their last funded trip to the cave system in 2008, only went as far as 300 yards or so (1000 feet), probably where Henry Salt and Caviglia originally halted their arduous journey as well. A very small tube extended to another spacious chamber beyond, only accessible if one lays flat on one's belly and crawls.
Due to the stifling low oxygen level at the current depth and harmful exposure to gases stewing from countless years of bat guano, the two decided to turn back. Sue Collins also recalls having heard a creature of some sort moving in the opening that lay ahead.
What awaits discovery beyond that tunnel? A number of possibilities may be likely: a benben stone, or a conical Omphalos may be uncovered within the labyrinth, or tablets of the Hermetic tradition fabled to be buried under the second pyramid (eerily reminiscent of Edgar Cayce's life tablets stored in the hall of records). Or perhaps symbolic shrines of the underworld Sokar deity lie in wait, or a much older set of relics as yet undiscovered coming from prehistoric Egypt that goes far beyond the age of the Pharaohs.And what did the tunnels in fact mean to the ancient peoples in the past? In Greco-Roman times, certainly the tunnels came to be associated with a sacred Duat netherworld connected to Sokar and/or Thoth. In earlier times, well before the dynastic period, the caves may have symbolized the womb or birthing canal of Mut, the wife of the primordial creator god Atum; the caves' organic-looking walls, formed and eroded through natural processes, exhibit a dusty red color, actually consisting of a mineral called red ochre used in painting, a color which may have prompted ancient and prehistoric peoples to associate the caves with the red fleshy organic texture in the inner female womb.