What is important to me is that I have the great good fortune to spend my days doing something I love, and being given the opportunity to make a difference in the world.

— Zahi Hawass

Collins' Cave Controversy

I have seen that stories are surfacing on the Internet about the discovery of a so-called cave system under the Giza plateau and I would like to set the record straight.

This story shows how people who do not have a background in archaeology use the media and the Internet to make headlines. Unfortunately, when people make statements without knowing the history of the subject, they may mislead the public. For example, if a person did not know the history of the Sphinx and the pyramids of Giza, they might say that it came from a lost civilization, but scholars of Egypt have disproved that. When I saw this Internet story about a new discovery at Giza, I knew it was misleading. The article reports that a huge system of tunnels and caves has been found; however, I can say that there is no underground cave complex at this site.

Giza has evidence of thousands of years of activity, with many monuments from all periods, so many that most pass unnoticed by the average visitor. It takes years of study for Egyptologists to know the site in detail, and work is still ongoing to study many of the areas less well-known by the public. Giza is one of the most well studied sites in Egypt; it has been explored, mapped and recorded by many archaeologists, including myself. We know everything about this site as it currently stands, though new discoveries may come about through continued scientific excavation.
Scholars have many resources they can consult about sites in Egypt and the finds from them. For example, we have a book the public should know about called Porter and Moss: A Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Reliefs and Paintings, which contains information about all the sites in Egypt and what has been found there, including the site of Giza. If you consult this resource, it will tell you that this “cave” is a rock-cut tomb that was found and opened in 1816-1817 by Henry Salt. Salt was the British consul in Egypt, not an archaeologist, who worked with Giovanni Caviglia to discover this tomb. When they explored it, they called it a catacomb because it contains some tunnels and corridors cut deep into the rock. Anyone who enters this tomb may feel they are in a maze corridor because of the multiple tunnels, and it seems more than its 35 meters long. Henry Salt and Caviglia noticed that the structure was similar to catacombs known from the Graeco-Roman Period. Years later, Howard Vyse and John Shae Perring came to examine the rock cut tomb. It has also recently been re-explored by my office, the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

Andrew Collins and Nigel Skinner-Simpson came to Egypt in order to rediscover the tomb. They thought that they were the first to fully explore the tomb although it had been found almost two centuries ago and has been explored and reported by many scholars. This rock-cut tomb is about 150 meters from my excavation in the western field and extends from north to south with the entrance in the north. About 3.2 meters high, the entrance leads south into the front hall, shaped like an inverted T. From there two halls are visible, one to the right and one to the left. The left leads to a big room cut into the rock, about 6 meters long, which contained Latin inscriptions on the ceiling, showing that this tomb has been opened throughout the ages. To the right there is another square hole cut into the rock, which leads to a descending passage filled with sand, and contains pottery sherds, bones and other artifacts. There are other passageways cut into the rock from the main corridors, but these are short tunnels.

It can be clearly shown that this tomb has been entered recently due to finds of modern debris and gypsum plaster coating the walls, as well as the modern lighting found in one of the chambers. Also, this tomb is known to have been used as a storeroom by George Reisner during his excavations at Giza in the 1910’s to 1920’s.
My academic opinion, based on the offical report, is that this is likely a catacomb cut during the Graeco-Roman Period that was used for the burial of sacred animals, similar to the catacombs at Saqqara and Tuna el-Gebel. These burials of sacred animals are well known in Egyptological literature, and were made for the purpose of offering to the gods, they have nothing to do with the idea of a lost civilization or other unscientific ideas that people come up with and circulate on the Internet.
 I hope people who wish to learn more about the Giza tombs will consult academic sources, for example books published by scholars such as myself and not rely on unsupported Internet accounts.



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