What is Happening Under Giza? Lost Cave System Becomes More Mysterious & More Controversial

by Dr. Greg Little

When Andrew Collins, his wife Sue Collins, and Nigel Skinner-Simpson entered the lost cave system under Giza in March 2008, they knew that what they had found was extremely important. The caves had been briefly described nearly 200 years earlier in an obscure personal journal, but the journal was hidden away in the British Museum. During those 200 years Giza was extensively explored and the many finds dutily cataloged, but no one rediscovered the caves. Myths of a labyrinth of caves under Giza, concealing a hidden repository of lost knowledge, persisted, but that's all they were—myths. According to the official catalogs of archaeological locations at Giza, no natural cave system exists. That is, it didn't exist until 2008 when the hidden entrance to unrecorded caves was found deep inside an obscure tomb, known as “NC2,” on the north face of the Giza plateau by Collins who was spurred on by the clues in the forgotten journal.

It's likely that the Collins' team thought that their discovery would be appreciated by Egyptian authorities, but one thing they probably never expected was an official denial that the dark, dangerous place that they bravely explored didn't even exist. The official denial of the caves' existence, by Dr. Zahi Hawass, has created an even more intriguing story.

Collins detailed the discovery of the caves in his book, Beneath The Pyramids, which was released in October 2009. However, prior to the book's release a flurry of activity on the internet happened revealing the discovery. Numerous articles and press releases—along with film and stories by MSNBC, Discovery, and other news sources came out that revealed the existence of the previously-unknown caves and their extent. Collins had actually handed Dr Hawass a private report in April 2009 fully informing him about the caves, but Hawass appears to have dismissed the report. Even more oddly, in October 2008, Hawass was shown photos of the cave system in his office in Cairo. In that meeting, Hawass related that the system was "unknown" to him.

Not long ago Hawass officially responded to the cave controversy by first relating that the NC2 tomb, which Collins called the "Tomb of the Birds," due to its ancient usage as a bird necropolis, was well-known and had been fully explored. Hawass speculated that Collins and his team had become "confused" and mistook the tomb as a cave system. But the description of the tomb given by Hawass clearly showed that it was Hawass who was confused. It was obvious at that time Hawass was completely unaware that a cave system extended for some considerable distance from the back of the actual tomb. Hawass then issued another statement revealing that he had an archaeological team now "clearing the catacombs" and that he would issue a formal report in the future. Oddly, on his internet site Hawass dismissed internet reports by stating, "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." Indeed—use an internet release to belittle internet reports.

Hawass's recent description of pop-singer Beyonce as "stupid" shows that he can become deeply offended by what he sees as intrusions into Egyptology by outsiders and people who don't appreciate the depth of Egyptology. What also seems likely is that Hawass sees himself as the sole guardian of Giza and it creates a deep resentment when something new is found that comes as a surprise. (It is true in some ways that he is the guardian and that fact needs to be recognized.)

When Collins first approached him about the caves' existence, Hawass responded by consulting the known archaeological reports and quickly concluded that all Collins did was enter the actual tomb NC2. The reason is that the tomb itself is a little over 100-feet long with various rooms and compartments. Hawass concluded that the description of the caves extending for hundreds of yards was wrong and again that Collins was confused. That accounts for Hawass's initial statements that a cave system didn't exist. But as the furor over the caves increased with the publication of Collins' book, a team was dispatched to the tomb by Hawass. Much to their amazement, the unrecorded cave system did, in fact, exist. It had been missed by everyone. But while Hawass is capable of calling someone "stupid," he seems incapable of admitting that he was wrong. For a professional and academic, that looks pretty stupid.

One of the things that Andrew Collins was concerned about, and a concern that he directly related to Dr. Hawass several times, was that as long as the tomb was open and accessible, others would secretly enter and then the possible archaeological finds that might be made could be compromised. Hawass responded by keeping the tomb open, but oddly he dispatched a professional team, described by him in an email as a group of "archaeologists, geologists, engineers, and architects" to completely excavate the entire site. The clearing and excavation of the system quietly began in August 2009 after Hawass was told that the caves did, in fact, exist. The extent and discoveries made by this team is becoming increasingly clear, and what they may find might prove even more embarrassing to Hawass.

Obviously following the description and photos of the cave system entrance in Collins' book, another British citizen (Richard Gabriel) recently gained entrance into the caves and managed to take dozens of photos. Collins has written an article about the newly released photos which make it clear that Collins was correct and Hawass was wrong. From the photos it is apparent that Gabriel entered the system recently and at a time when workers were not present.

The photos show that the tomb that provides access to the caves has been now cleared of debris and dust. In addition, excavation tools and equipment are shown lying in several areas of the tomb. Two previously unrecorded descending stairways have been revealed inside the tomb’s anteroom and newly-cleared sub-floor chambers are also visible. Precisely how Hawass will describe the clearing of the caves he had earlier stated don't exist is unclear, but it's unlikely he'll ever admit that he was wrong.

One group that seems to understand the situation is the Egyptologist's Electronic Forum (EEF), a subscription-only group comprised of some of the world's top Egyptologists. But even members of that group have been sometimes confused by wrongly suggesting that the caves Collins discovered might have been something previously explored by Dr Mark Lehner, an Egyptologist, director of Ancient Egypt Research Associates (AERA), who for 25 years has explored and recorded the hundreds of monuments and tombs at Giza. On the EEF, as well as on other key Egyptological forums, there have been discussions of the controversy with the consensus being that the Giza caves do seem to be unrecorded, and are thus worthy of further investigation.

Oddly, a few of the newly-released photos give credence to a local folk legend telling how the caves are guarded by a giant snake. A natural rock face in a chamber deep inside the system has a protrusion that looks like a massive snake head. And a recently released satellite-based ground penetrating radar image examined by Collins indicates that the cave system he has found might well follow the course of localized geological faulting that extends all the way to the Second Pyramid. Collins points out that it is this pyramid, and not the more obvious Great Pyramid, that was said to be the location of the lost cave-tomb of Hermes, a legendary wisdom bringer and founder of Egyptian civilization. Collins most recent musings on the situation are here.

Overall this is an intriguing story that becomes more and more interesting as the caves appear to become a free-for-all that is being entered by more and more people. Hawass has only increased the intrigue and mystery by denying that the very thing he's investigating even exists! It is quite likely that whatever is eventually reported to be found in the caves by Hawass will be important to Giza and Egyptology, but it's also likely that Hawass will take credit for it by relating that he knew about it all along. Nevertheless, Egyptology should accord some respect and recognition to Collins as the individual who made it all come about. Sadly, that's unlikely.