An Interview with Andrew Collins: Zahi Hawass and the cave system beneath Giza
By Brent Raynes
ANDREW COLLINS, acclaimed British science and history writer, last year authored the thought-provoking and controversial book, Beneath the Pyramids. We featured a lengthy interview with him in the November 2009 issue (#142), still archived on this site. Dr. Zahi Hawass, the Secretary General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, has denied the existence of such a cave system at Giza, claiming that Andrew and his team had simply gotten disoriented inside an ancient tomb and mistook it for a cave.
However, the History Channel’s Chasing Mummies, a show which centers around Dr. Hawass and his archaeological exploits, presented a feature entitled “Bats” on Wednesday, September 1st. On this episode, Hawass was to expose those he called the “pyramidiots,” and prove that there was no cave system at Giza.
A couple of days before the program was to be shown I contacted Andrew asking for his thoughts on what was going to happen. He was hesitant to say much. “We will just have to wait and see what is aired,” he stated. “I hope for vindication but stranger things have happened when all looks like it is going swell.”
As it turned out, Andrew Collins got his vindication!
For those interested, Andrew maintains a fascinating website at: http://www.andrewcollins.com.
Brent Raynes: I watched Chasing Mummies and I, of course, read Dr. Greg Little’s post with his reaction to the TV show on this site (Alternate Perceptions), and I read your comments on Facebook. I saw where you stated that your first reaction to the program was one of vindication. Care to explain?
Andrew Collins: Zahi Hawass had previously stated that there was no cave complex at this site, not only making us look foolish, but officially preventing anyone from accepting that there was anything there of interest to the Egyptological world. Hawass’s exploration of the caves in Chasing Mummies was vindication enough, but the team also pronounced the caves to be of natural origin, which is what we had also proposed as well. At least now people can see what we experienced for the first time back in 2008.
Brent Raynes: While Dr. Hawass had to admit that there was a cave system beneath Giza, he nonetheless couldn’t let those caves be reported as continuing to the pyramids and so was anxious to implement what Dr. Little called a “hastily made backup plan,” meaning that he had to deny that they continued. But in all of the confusion, darkness, bats flying everywhere, can we truly depend on the single observation of Zahi’s young “helper” who reported that he had located an end? Where was the photographic proof? How come an important point like this wasn’t followed up with the observation of another individual to properly confirm this?
Andrew Collins: It is impossible to say. However, we have to accept the possibility that the stone tube at the end of the cave system doesn’t go anywhere. Even if this is the case, not all is lost. We have clear evidence from a radar image taken of the Giza plateau by the TerrasSAR-X satellite that the caves continue in the direction of the Second Pyramid. Plus we have the memoirs of British diplomat and explorer Henry Salt, who in 1817 was the first to explore the caves. He stated very clearly that he explored them for a distance of “several hundred yards” before coming upon a “spacious chamber” that communicated with three others of equal size. None of that has been found so far, and unless we are to accept that his words should be interpreted differently, then it remains possible that he really did enter a deeper part of the cave system.
Brent Raynes: What do you hope to see happen next in this ongoing saga?
Andrew Collins: We have to encourage others in the future to investigate the caves still further, not just to find deeper sections but also to try and understand how our ancestors would have interpreted their presence at Giza. There is no way that if these caves were accessible during the Pyramid age that they would have been seen as anything other than sacred and important. To know that they were used as a bird necropolis seems to confirm this fact, and although we have no idea what species of bird was interred here, I suspect that it was probably the Ibis. If so, then it would hint at the presence of a local cult associated with the god Thoth-Hermes. In medieval times the cave-tomb of Hermes was thought to exist on the plateau, so I strongly suspect that from the Graeco-Roman period onwards our caves were seen as a symbolic tomb of Thoth-Hermes. New evidence might allow us to focus more clearly on what was happening here in the past.
Do I think that this is the entrance to the Hall of Records? Until I know for certain that it leads into a deeper part of Giza’s underlying cave system this question is impossible to answer. I suspect that if nothing else what we have found so far gives us hope that something special will be found beneath the bedrock at Giza.
A full article on the future of caves research at Giza in the wake of Chasing Mummies can be found on my site.
Brent Raynes: Now that it’s nearly the end of September, have you been getting a lot of increased feedback from people regarding the cave system at Giza since the Chasing Mummies episode on September 1st? What seems to be the predominant mood, tone, and consensus of the people who have written and spoken to you recently?
Andrew Collins: By far the best feedback we have had since Chasing Mummies was aired on September 1st is from the consultant archaeologists who went into the caves during the making of the program. They were suitably impressed by what they saw to suggest that the caves were created by karst processes, the action of rain precipitation seeping down through sink holes across tens of thousands of years, dissolving the carboniferous limestone to create the caves.
One of them suggests that the caves should be subject to a full investigation to explore the possibly of evidence of early human activity being preserved here. This is an exciting prospect, which I shall look at in due course.
We have not found the Hall of Records, but we might well have found something that is equally important to geologists and palaeontologists.
Brent Raynes: As a result of the confirmation that the Chasing Mummies episode provided regarding the existence of the cave system at Giza (which Dr. Hawass originally denied) does there appear to be any news or are there any developments in the works that suggest that somebody is going to take a much needed and responsible follow-up investigation of this site?
Andrew Collins: I think the biggest problem is that anyone working in the field of Egyptology, whether they be Egyptologists, geologists, cavers or movie makers, are frightened that they might upset Dr. Zahi Hawass by proposing what might be seen as unorthodox explorations or projects in Egypt. Exploring the caves at Giza would be a case in question. Only Hawass can pronounce the official position and future of the caves, and no one wants to go up against him.
With Dr. Hawass’s upcoming lecture at the A.R.E.’s Ancient Mysteries conference in October, I hope that he might see that there is immense interest in further exploration of the caves, which, we must remember, were sealed shut at the beginning of the year. For the time being no one is going anywhere near them without a lot of red tape being cast aside, and that could take years.
Brent Raynes: I see that a few days ago you and Sue got to spend a delightful day no doubt with well-known author Whitley Streiber and his wife Anne, walking with them among the ancient megalithic stones of Avebury and other ancient sites in England. I wonder if they weighed in on this subject and what sort of thoughts and support that they may have offered?
Andrew Collins: Anne and Whitley Strieber have been extremely supportive of our work in Egypt, interviewing me regularly for their Dreamland and Unknown Country radio shows. Obviously, they want to try and understand the more metaphysical side of the caves.
I have speculated that some kind of secret chamber, representing the Tomb of God, exists beneath the sands at Giza. It was the prototype to all dynastic tombs, sarcophagi and coffins. I have proposed that it was seen as the point of first creation in the material universe, and that this hidden chamber once contained a large crystal or some symbolizing an embryo or seed of creation. This is just speculation, however, based on my personal interpretation of ancient Egyptian creation texts.
What seems immediately more apparent, and is currently my personal intuition, is that the caves and the sepulcher attached to them (the enigmatic Tomb of the Birds, also known as tomb NC2), was once seen as the entrance to a symbolic Tomb of Hermes. This was the name given to the Graeco-Egyptian form of Thoth, the ancient Egyptian god of the moon, who was also divine scribe and presided over the judgement of souls in the hereafter. The Graeco-Egyptian Hermes was seen as the creator of Egyptian civilization, as well as the inventor of language, astronomy, arithmetic, geometry and music, which were contained in 42 books. Yet since Hermes was in Greek tradition the conveyor of souls through Hades to the Elysian Fields, he also became associated in Egypt with Anubis, the jackal-headed god who guarded the entrance to Amenti, a factor that led to Hermes becoming an important deity there following the conquest of Alexander in the fourth century B.C.
Medieval Arab writers spoke of crowds of Sabaeans, the pagan peoples of Harran in what is today southeastern Turkey, going on regular pilgrimages to Giza in order to venerate the tomb of Hermes, whom they saw as the founder of their hermetic doctrine. Various Hermes related place-names close to the plateau seem to strengthen the connection between Giza and the cult of Hermes.
That the Tomb of the Birds was used to inter bird mummies tells us that the site was significant to a deity venerated in the form of a bird. From the evidence at our disposal, it seems possible that the bird in question was the ibis, sacred to Thoth-Hermes. If this could be confirmed, then I am sure my speculations are correct. If the bird mummies interred here turn out to have been another species of bird, then we will have to revise our ideas based on any new evidence that becomes available.
Brent Raynes: I know that you’re pleased with the outcome of the show’s revelation about the caves. Are the other members of your team, who originally explored and researched that cave system with you, your wife Sue and your friends Nigel Skinner-Simpson and Rodney Hale, do they seem to also feel vindicated finally?
Andrew Collins: I think we all realize that, although our work has been vindicated, nothing exciting is going to happen in the short term. We have established a firm foundation for the future, and hope that as time passes we shall gradually gain scholarly support for the work ahead, which would include a comprehensive survey of the caves, both above ground using ground penetration radar, and within the caves themselves.
In the meantime, we should look ahead to Dr. Hawass’s report on his recent clearance of the Tomb of the Birds and, in particular, what he uncovered within its subterranean level, which is absolutely huge. I shall be looking closely for any evidence that might support my speculation that the tomb and caves were seen in Graeco-Roman times as a symbolic Tomb of Hermes.
Brent Raynes: Thank you Andrew for this much appreciated and fascinating update.