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).

Figure 1. Quickbird satellite image of the Giza plateau, showing the location (marked in red) of two of the rock-cut tombs in the northern cliffs (January 5, 2009).

Figure 1. Quickbird satellite image of the Giza plateau, showing the location (marked in red) of two of the rock-cut tombs in the northern cliffs (January 5, 2009).

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).

Figure 2. The facade of rock-cut tomb NC2, looking south (Peter Der Manuelian, January 16, 2006; PDM_06228).

Figure 2. The facade of rock-cut tomb NC3, looking south (Peter Der Manuelian, January 16, 2006; PDM_06228).

The view from the façade looks north towards the location of the future Grand Egyptian Museum site and greater Giza (see fig. 3).

Figure 3. The view northwards from the entrance to tomb NC2 (Peter Der Manuelian, January 16, 2006; PDM_06235).

Figure 3. The view northwards from the entrance to tomb NC3 (Peter Der Manuelian, January 16, 2006; PDM_06235).

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.

Figure 4. Plan of rock-cut tomb NC2 by Nicholas Melnikoff (1939). Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Figure 4. Plan of rock-cut tomb NC2 by Nicholas Melnikoff (1939). Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Figure 5. Entrance to tomb NC2 during recent SCA excavations, with the pyramid of Khafre in the background (SCA photo).

Figure 5. Entrance to tomb NC2 during recent SCA excavations, with the pyramid of Khafre in the background (SCA photo).

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).

Figure 5. Handwritten notation by William Stevenson Smith added to drawings of tombs NC1, NC2, and NC3 (1946). Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Figure 6. Handwritten notation by William Stevenson Smith added to drawings of tombs NC1, NC2, and NC3 (1946). Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

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.

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7 Responses to “More on the So-called “Caves” at Giza”

  1. Greg Reeder Says:

    Thank you for the additional information. The photos and video presented by Andrew Collins appear to show “caverns” more extensive than indicated in the plan you have now published. The cave-like environment looks natural as opposed to cut out of the rock. Of course photos can be deceiving when it come to size and distance. Have you explored this area of the tomb complex?

  2. Nigel Skinner-Simpson Says:

    Thank you for making the tomb plan available. I would be most grateful if you could you advise me if the plan is an inked version of EG020822, and if unpublished plan EG020839 provides more detail regarding the extent of the tomb.

    Regards,
    Nigel Skinner-Simpson

  3. Christian Gains Says:

    Since I’m basically ignorant of these matters, I must ask for some clarification: Does the above material & photos negate the “Bird Cave”, {to which Collins refers}, as being re-discovered, and are you thus stating that the photos above are the entrances to the “cave system”, or “Bird Cave” that Andrew Collins is referring to?

    If so, where is the “deep cut fasade” that Mr. Collins displays in his photo of the entrance to the Bird Cave”, (which he describes in his Post at Michael Heiser’s “Paleobabble” Blog)?

    I’m not capable of critiquing either you or Mr. Collins, so, please understand that I’m just trying to see if there’s possibly two entrances to either the cave/tomb you show in your photos, and/or the one Mr. Collins shows a photo of.

    Thank you for the complete explain above, and please forgive my ignorance, but I’m VERY interested in the Giza region.


  4. [...] Very insightful information on this intrigant subject from Dr. Peter Der [...]

  5. janchieta Says:

    Dear Professor Der Emanuelian,

    I hope this one finds you in high spirit.

    No need to say I’m extremely honored for the opportunity to write to you.

    Do you think that Petrie could possibly be aware of NC2 existence? I dare to draw your attention to this picture which you surely know:

    I guess rock tombs were not a completely strange subject for him.

    I thank you very much in advance for your time and attention.

    I’ll be looking forward to hearing from you with vivid interest.

    Whit my very best regards,

    Jose de Anchieta
    Jundiai – Brazil

  6. janchieta Says:

    Dear Prof. Der Emanuelian.

    How are you doing? I hope you’re healthy and happy as usual.

    I’m sorry for disturbing you with this but have you read this recent post on EEF list?

    ———————
    Drawings of sections and plans for all three rock-cut tombs in the north cliff at Giza, NC 1 – NC 3 have been located in the diary volumes at The Giza Archives as follows:

    Vol.33.p.794 Thursday, April 27, 1939

    “In the afternoon we working in cleaning the rock cut tombs north of the camp: 1) cleared the north cliff 1) to be ready for workers around the house to stay in case of war. Drawing.”

    section and plan drawings of NC 1.

    Vol.33.p.795 Friday, April 28, 1939

    “(1) In north cliff 2) In cleaning that rock cut tomb to be ready for the men in case of war. That one is a big one opened to north.
    Contains of a street in the middle and two rooms on east opened into the street and two rooms on west opened into the street also. Drawing.”

    section and plan drawings of NC 2.

    Vol.33.p.795 Saturday, April 29, 1939

    “(1) North cliff 3): In cleaning that rock cut tomb. It is cut in rock, drift sand. Door opened to north. Cleaned. Drawing.”

    section and plan drawings of NC 3.

    I believe the two following references also refer to the rock-cut tombs:

    Vol.34.p.830 Sunday, August 27, 1939

    “The carpenter is working in the rock cut tombs. North of the camp, in case of war or gas.”

    Vol.36.p.989 Friday, May 10, 1940

    “(2) In the rock cut tomb in the north cliff, north of the camp: in building the stairs in the eastern rock cut tomb and in changing the sand of the second tomb of the men. (because of the bad smell).”

    Rock-cut tomb NC 2 is the tomb associated with the “Collins Cave Controversy”. The diary drawing shows more detail than the unpublished plan recently made available on the Giza Archives Director’s Blog in that it shows the room to the east of the main N-S corridor and also the opening in the west wall of the corridor. No detail is shown beyond the opening.

    I would be most grateful if anyone having references to NC 2 other than in Vyse, Perring, Salt, Boston MFA already referred to, or the official report mentioned by Dr. Hawass in his recent blog article could please post them or send them to me at nigelss@blueyonder.co.uk.

    Regards,
    Nigel Skinner-Simpson

    ——————-

    With my very best regards,

    Jose de Anchieta
    from Jundiai – Brazil

  7. Jensen Says:

    Very good post. Hope to see even more excellent posts in the future.


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