More on the So-called “Caves” at Giza
September 16, 2009
Recently Andrew Collins and Nigel Skinner-Simpson have been in the press concerning “newly discovered” caves and catacombs underneath the Giza plateau. An informative short blog entry by Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the SCA, has also recently appeared. Dr. Hawass sets the record straight, and indicates the location of the tomb in question, an undecorated rock-cut series of rooms west of the pyramids and the Western Cemetery (see fig. 1; to zoom in on this Quickbird satellite image on the Giza Web site, click here).
He mentions the excellent reference work known in the field as the Topographical Bibliography by Porter and Moss. The Giza pages from volume III of Porter-Moss are available on our Giza Digital Library page. However, that volume was last updated in 1974. The Giza Web site contains much more up-to-date information on the Giza plateau, and includes links to photographs, drawings, plans, manuscripts, and other documents absent from the Porter-Moss volumes.
Members of the Harvard University-Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition, directed by George Reisner, were indeed aware of several rock-cut tombs during their excavations between 1904 and 1947. One of them lies about 160 meters north of “Harvard Camp,” as the Expedition’s dig house was then called. The tomb in question is one of three rock-cut structures in the cliffs, numbered by the Expedition as NC1 (for “North Cliff”), NC2, and NC3. In fact, Reisner designated NC3 as the air raid shelter for his Egyptian workmen during World War II. (Reisner himself and other crew-members used tombs on the east side of the Great Pyramid when the air raid sirens sounded.) I recently visited the area with two sons, now in their 70s, of one of Reisner’s foremen (see fig. 2).
The view from the façade looks north towards the location of the future Grand Egyptian Museum site and greater Giza (see fig. 3).
The Harvard-MFA Expedition also produced preliminary plans of these North Cliff tombs. Tomb NC2 does not yet have an individual tomb record on the Giza Archives Project Web site, but it will eventually, as will its companions NC1 and NC3. In the meantime, one archaeological drawing at the MFA in Boston, by Expedition draftsman Alexander Floroff, is dated April 29, 1939. The inked version of this pencil drawing (figure 4 below) shows the façade of NC2 (see figure 5), the pillared chamber behind, and the long corridor extending further to the south.
A new clue as to the possible original date of this rock-cut tomb is provided by a pencil note added to the inked version of this plan, drawn by Nicholas Melnikoff. It is written in the hand of MFA Egyptologist William Stevenson Smith, and notes: “Rock cut tombs due north of Harvard Camp. Used as air raid shelters during War. In 1930 I saw traces of painting on columns in central one. Had the idea that this was an 18th Dyn. tomb or N.K. W[illiam] S[tevenson] S[smith] 1946” (see fig. 6 below).
Old plans and notes such as these indicate how valuable archaeological archives can be in reconstructing the history of the Giza Plateau. In fact, we are preparing about 5,000 additional archaeological drawings from the MFA for the Giza Web site before the end of 2009. And more documents, from our partner institutions in Berkeley, Berlin, Cairo, Hildesheim, Leipzig, Philadelphia, Turin, and Vienna, are on the way. Our work is an international collaboration that is steadily growing to cover the entire Giza Necropolis, not just the Harvard-MFA Expedition concession.