Dig days: Promoting Pyramid secrets

By Zahi Hawass

Zahi Hawass Still on the subject of the so-called secret doors identified inside the Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza, by Rudolf Gantenbrink in 1993, we were extremely excited by discovery. Although we did not expect to discover a hidden treasure nor even uncover the Pyramid's secrets, it was clear that strong media coverage would give us an opportunity to let the public know more about the Pyramids and their builders.

A two-hour television programme was planned during prime time in the United States, at 8pm on network TV. It was also scheduled to be shown live world-wide on the National Geographic channel -- in China alone more than half a billion people tuned in.

The National Geographic arranged a promotional tour around the world for Egyptologist Mark Lehner and myself to familiarise more people about facts known, and unknown, about the Great Pyramid. Due to my busy schedule and office obligations, I was able only to go to Hong Kong and Singapore. It was my first time to travel to this part of the world and upon my arrival I met Pauline, the National Geographic representative in the area and Ward Platt the head of the National Geographic in Hong Kong who arranged a press conference for me.

All the journalists were anxious to know about the sarcophagus that had been found at Giza and asked whether we expected to find a mummy inside it. They were referring to the tomb of a man called Nswt-Wsrt found on the necropolis in which one of the shafts contained a sarcophagus 120cm long and 35cm wide. It had been broken and there was evidence that it was restored with mortar during the Old Kingdom.

I explained that Nswt-Wsrt was not a rich man; that he was the overseer of workmen and as such could not afford elaborate mummification. I pointed out that in the fourth dynasty (about 4500 years ago) mummification had not been perfected and that, in fact, we do not have any complete mummy that dates from that period. All we have, I told them, was a part of the hand of the third-dynasty King Djoser found inside the Step Pyramid by Reisner of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston during his excavations at Saqqara. Reisner had also discovered skulls and skeletons inside the tombs of the officials and princes at Giza -- but no fourth-dynasty mummy.

In fact, the only intact Old Kingdom mummy found so far was in the fifth-dynasty tomb of Nefer at Saqqara. Hence, I explained, the best we could hope for in the case of Nswt- Wsrt would be a skeleton. I added that beer jars and pottery vessels were also discovered inside his tomb along with two skeletons inside the tomb's shaft, one lying beside the other. The first one belonged to a person who may have been a friend or an assistant to Nswt-Wsrt who wanted to be buried beside his boss. The second was the skeleton of a dog. After X-raying the human skeleton, we found that it was of a 35-year-old man who probably died during a fight because there is evidence that he fractured his hand and that this injury caused his death.

The reporters in Hong Kong, far from being disappointed, became more excited. As to the secret door inside the Great Pyramid they anxiously asked what could we expect to find. I told them that we, like them, were anxious to know. But even if we find nothing, that in itself, is important, adding that I personally did not believe there was anything to be found. However, there are those that believe that a book written by Khufu, as mentioned by an Egyptian priest, lies behind the door; or a papyrus text that tells us how the Pyramids were constructed. But we never know what the sands of Egypt will reveal, I added to keep them guessing!

During my two-day trip in the Far East, I met more than 30 TV and newspaper representatives and realised the extent to which the idea of live TV coverage had captured attention and fostered interest. Wherever I went I saw posters and advertisements promoting the event: "Open National Geographic channel on your TV and see Ancient Egypt: Secret Chamber Revealed".

While there, I attended a special and well-attended event attended by the Egyptian consul in Hong Kong who gave an overview of Egypt today; Egyptian food was served at the dinner. I gave a half-hour talk about the Pyramid's secrets, and Mark Lehner a presentation about the Great Pyramid and major recent discoveries at Giza including a village and the administration zone of the Pyramid builders as well as the tombs of the construction workers. The presentations were well received and all expressed an interest to visit Egypt and experience its mystery and magic.

To be continued.

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