The Great Pyramid at Giza
Although we have known about the outside of the pyramid since it was built, it wasn’t until the ninth century that we learned anything about the inside. How did anyone find a way in and when they did, what did they find exactly?
The entrance to the pyramid is in the North side, just to the east of the center. This entrance leads to a passage, sloping downwards, known as the descending passage. The passage ends in an underground chamber, which was never completed.
It appears that after they had started to build the pyramid they changed their minds about where exactly the King was going to be buried. Unlike all of the Pharaohs before him, King Khufu was not going to be buried underground; instead he was to be buried in the center of the pyramid itself. Because they had already built the entrance and descending passage, they built an ascending passage from the roof of the descending one. The ascending passage is very narrow and has a low roof. At the bottom of the passage are three large granite stone blocks. Granite is extremely hard, and difficult to cut, so it was hoped that these stones would stop grave robbers from breaking into the tomb. The outside entrance was hidden by a large limestone block, similar to all the other blocks in the pyramid, so for over 3,000 years nobody knew how to get into it.
Who discovered the entrance?
In the ninth century an Arab ruler, Caliph El Ma’moun, heard stories about treasures hidden inside the pyramid. Among the things believed to be inside were metal that wouldn’t rust and glass that could be bent. He was a very curious fellow, and decided that he had to see these things for himself, so he set off to explore. Well, he didn’t actually set off himself, instead he sent other people to do it for him.
His men had a very hard time finding an entrance. They seemed to know it was on the North side, but not where. Thinking that the Egyptians were very neat, they decided that it was in the middle, and they started to dig. Of course, since it was east of the middle, they were in the wrong place, and couldn’t find a way in. They had dug about 100 feet through solid rock and were getting fed up. They were just close enough, though for all their digging to pay off. Somehow the digging caused a stone in front of the granite blocks at the entrance to the ascending passage to fall. They heard the sound and started digging towards it. Eventually they reached the descending passage. The next day they went into the pyramid again, that is when they found the fallen stone and saw the three granite stones blocking the entrance to the ascending passage. The Ancient Egyptians were right, and the men couldn’t dig through the hard granite. That didn’t stop them, though, they just dug around them.
Up We Go
At the top of the ascending passage two things happen. First there is a horizontal (flat) passage, leading off into another unfinished room. This room is right in the center of the pyramid. El Ma’moun’s men called this the Queen’s Chamber. They thought that it was a room for the Queen to be buried in. This can’t be right though. We know that as soon as a King was buried his tomb was sealed and the entrance was kept secret, so robbers wouldn’t break in. So unless the poor Queen was killed straight after her husband, or worse still, buried alive, then she couldn’t be buried in his tomb. We know the Ancient As Egyptians didn’t kill their Queens or bury them alive we know this room wasn’t meant for her, so Queen’s Chamber isn’t a very good name for it. Since it isn’t finished it is quite likely that the King, or his designers, changed their minds yet again.
Immediately above the entrance to the Queens passage is another passage leading upwards. This passage is much wider than the lower part and is known as the Grand Gallery. It slopes at the same angle as the ascending passage but the roof is higher and more elaborate. Instead of having straight sides, the sides narrow as they go up to the roof, making a sort of an arch. At the top of the grand gallery we finally reach the King’s Chamber, the room in which he was eventually buried.
Inside the room is a large, pink granite sarcophagus. A sarcophagus is the container they put the actual coffin into. The room is covered in smooth granite, and there are two ventilation shafts in the roof, which lead to the outside of the pyramid. The roof of the chamber has five other “rooms” above it. Each is supported by a giant slab of granite. No one is quite sure why they are there, but it is thought that they were built to support the weight of the pyramid, and stop it collapsing into the chamber.
How Do We Know All This?
Nothing was ever written about the inside of the pyramid, or if it was, it has never been found, Everything we know is from looking and measuring and guessing. Some of the interesting theories that have been thought up so far are:
It is possible that the designers intended for the King to be buried in the top chamber all along. However, being cautious, they built other chambers along the way, so that if the King died before the pyramid was completed, there would be a burial place ready for him.
The sarcophagus must have been placed in the pyramid before it was completed, since it is wider than the ascending passage.
The granite stones protecting the entrance must also been placed and stored at the top of the grand gallery, before it was completed, because they are wider than the descending passage. They must have been dropped into place after the King was buried.
Now that brings us to an interesting theory. If someone had to stay behind to drop the stones, how did they get out?
There is another small passage leading from the ascending passage to the descending passage. We think that the workmen who dropped the stones, must have used this to escape from the pyramid, so it is called the escape shaft.
One of the things that makes the pyramid so fascinating is the fact that nothing was written about its construction. This means that every now and then somebody comes up with a new theory, and wants to investigate them all over again. Since they are so old they are important treasures, and the Egyptian Government doesn’t allow just anyone to go digging around them. However, if someone can come up with a good idea for investigating them, which doesn’t involve destroying them, the Government gives permission. Some of the most recent ideas have included one to do an ultrasound survey of the pyramid, to discover if there are anymore hidden passages. This hasn’t been done yet, since the experts can’t agree on whether or not it may damage the pyramid.
Who knows how many more secrets will be uncovered in the future?
Now take a 3D graphic tour of the inside of the pyramid.