On March 3rd, 2008 I entered a previously overlooked large tomb on the Giza plateau. I had come to this neglected area, west of the Great Pyramid, following new information that was set to challenge everything we know about the evolution of Giza’s famous monuments. In 1817 Henry Salt (1780-1827), the British Consul General in Egypt, an avid explorer and collector of Egyptian antiquities, recorded how he and Italian explorer Giovanni Caviglia (1770-1845), entered a network of Catacombs beneath the plateau, exploring them for a distance of “several hundred yards”. Even though they chanced upon three large, interconnected chambers, the two men abandoned their search and returned to the surface, having come upon no gold or treasure. What they did uncover has never been made public, and Salt’s memoirs recording their work remained unpublished until 2007, the site of the Catacombs being lost in the process.
Underworld of the Soul
What Salt and Caviglia found back in 1817 is of immense importance to the Egyptological world, for rumours concerning the existence of a lost underworld at Giza go back to the Pyramid age. Ancient Egyptian creation texts, as well as an assortment of funerary literature, i.e. books of the dead, speak of a hellish realm of darkness called the Duat, guarded by demons and snakes, which has to be navigated by the soul of the deceased to achieve rebirth and an afterlife among the stars.
In an ancient Egyptian funerary text called the Am-duat, the “Book of that which is in the Underworld”, the Duat is ruled by the falcon-headed god Sokar. He was patron of the sprawling cemeteries and pyramid fields that served the ancient city of Memphis, and in particular those at Rostau, the ancient name for Giza. Archaeologists have found textual evidence of the existence in South Giza of an important shrine to Sokar honouring something called the Shetayet, a name given to the Tomb of Osiris.
Adding to the belief that a physical representation of the pharaoh’s underworld existed at Giza is its ancient name, Rostau, which means something like the “mouth of the passages”. In the fourth-century AD Graeco-Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus (fl. AD 360-390), wrote of “subterranean fissures and winding passages called syringes” beneath the Pyramids, constructed before a great deluge in order that the memory of the ceremonies of the ancients might not be destroyed.
Arab travellers recorded similar tales. These spoke of subterranean passages created beneath the Great Pyramid by a legendary king named Saurid to preserve his race’s knowledge of the arts and sciences in advance of a cataclysm involving fire from heaven and a subsequent deluge.
As far back as the ninth century the ruling caliph, al-Mamoun, spent an enormous amount of energy tunnelling a hole through into the Great Pyramid hoping to find gold and treasure. This he failed to do, but those who came after him continued the trend, forever searching for hidden entrances to subterranean tunnels and vaults that were said to connect the Great Pyramid with the nearby Sphinx monument.
Having determined to locate Salt’s lost Catacombs, I sought the help of the Association for Research and Enlightenment of Virginia Beach, VA, the research wing of the Edgar Cayce Foundation. Since the mid 1970s they have sponsored research expeditions in the hope of locating the lost Hall of Records, the name given to Giza’s lost underworld by their founding mentor Edgar Cayce (1877-1945). With their support our team made preparations to fly out to Egypt.
My intention was to investigate a seemingly unrecorded tomb west of the Great Pyramid that was in the search area indicated by Salt’ newly-discovered memoirs as concealing the entrance to the lost catacombs. This same general area of the plateau conformed to a ground-sky star correlation involving the stars of the constellation of Cygnus, the celestial swan, known also as the Northern Cross. In ancient Egyptian funerary texts Cygnus would appear to have signified the womb, navel and even the site of the vulva of a sky-goddess named Nuit, who is personified in the night sky as the Milky Way. It was in the terrestrial counterpart of Nuit’s womb, the so-called Shetayet, that the god Osiris achieved transformation into an ascended being, and there seemed every good reason to conclude that Salt’s Catacombs were the entrance to this underworld realm, lost to the world for thousands of years.
Having reached the tomb on camels that eventful day in March 2008, Egyptological researcher Nigel Skinner Simpson, my wife Sue Collins and I explored its every nook and cranny without discovering the entrance to any lost Catacombs. About to move on to other nearby tombs to continue the search there, we noticed a crack in a rock face, once sealed by a mud brick wall. Peering inside, an incredible sight greeted us – a vast cave chamber filled with rock debris, and enhanced here and there to make it more rectangular in appearance.
Hesitantly, I descended into the darkness, as flocks of bats exited the entrance, disturbed by this rude intrusion into their natural habitat. After exploring the opening chamber and various side compartments, I entered a long cave tunnel that headed in the direction of Giza’s Third Pyramid. In the pitch darkness, I navigated a seemingly never ending carpet of fallen rocks and boulders. The uneven floor, thwart with dangerous cracks and hollows, was covered with animal bones, most likely those of camel carcasses dragged in by hyenas.
Dangers in the Darkness
Reaching a natural bifurcation in the cave tunnel, I felt it the right time to double back and return to the surface, having taken some 20 minutes to travel just 80-90 metres. On subsequent visits, Sue and I penetrated the darkness for a much greater distance, before we began suffering the ill effects of oxygen starvation. Adding to our problems was the constant threat of life-threatening diseases associated with bats and bat guano, as well as the shocking discovery in the caves of a species of spider that we tentatively identified as the white widow.
Clearly, we had not found Cayce’s Hall of Records, or the legendary Tomb of Osiris. Yet in the deepest cave compartment reached we found lightly incised parallel lines on the walls, as well as other evidence of untouched archaeological features, giving hope that the caves might provide firm evidence of human activity on the plateau going back before even the Pyramid age. The cave complex’s existence might even throw new light on the ancient Egyptians’ belief in a Duat underworld existing at Giza in its role as Rostau, the “mouth of the passages”.
Most extraordinary of all is the story told to us by an elderly tomb guardian, who we encountered in the vicinity of the Tomb of the Birds. He refuses point blank to enter the caves. When asked why, the man, who wore a headscarf and traditional galabeya, said that they were the abode of a giant snake called el-Hanash. Apparently, it is “nine meters (30 feet)” long, and anyone attempting to enter el-kahf (Arabic for “the cave”) will be squeezed to death in its powerful coils. It is a fable, of course, yet one that echoes the very ancient belief that snakes of great size inhabited the Duat underworld, a tradition that persisted into Roman times with the belief that beneath the Great Pyramid reposed a god in the form of a huge serpent called Agathodaimon, the “good spirit”.
I later learnt more about the mysterious el-Hanash. One story told to me by a local craftsman in Nazlet el-Samman, the village of the Pyramids, related how this underworld serpent protects the entrance to the “Hall of Records”. He will spit venom in the face and blind anyone who attempts to steal the great “diamond” it protects. Yet one day a chosen one will enter the caves and el-Hanash will blind them in just one eye. This person will go on to enter the Hall of Records and find the great jewel that has the power to bestow on them great powers.
It is a strange tale, tainted by modern new age thought, although it seems to echo the ancient Egyptian belief that the Underworld of the Soul, or Tomb of Osiris, contains a power object that radiates an unearthly light. Clearly, nothing like this was found in the caves by Salt and Caviglia. Yet they left this underground world only partially explored, as we did ourselves, offering hope that one day this mystery will finally be revealed. Until then, it remains safely under the protection of el-Hanash.
Copyright Andrew Collins, 2009 – All theories and evidence presented in this article are expounded in Beneath the Pyramids by Andrew Collins (Fourth Dimension Press, Virginia Beach, VA, 2009).
Andrew Collins will be a guest on The Explore Your Spirit with Kala Show in spring 2010 . Check back for the official show date coming soon.
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. His latest book Beneath the Pyramids uncovers Egypt’s cave underworld for the first time. Andrew, born in 1957, lives with his wife Sue near Marlborough, Wiltshire. For more information on Andrew Collins and his work, go to www.andrewcollins.com