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Chap. 4. Excavations

Pages 27 - 33

13. [p. 27] In Egypt all excavations are forbidden, and a special permission is required for any such researches, the law of treasure-trove being the same as in England. Having in 1880–1 done all the triangulation of my station marks, it was requisite in 1881–2 to connect them with the ancient points of construction. For this, therefore, I needed permission to excavate, and applied to M. Maspero, the courteous and friendly director of the Department for the Conservation of Antiquities; Dr. Birch kindly favouring my request. In order to save delay and needless formalities, M. Maspero at once said that he would permit me to work under his firman, on all the points that I had indicated to him in writing; the Bulak Museum being formally represented by a reis, who would observe if anything of portable value should accidentally be discovered, though such was very unlikely and unsought for. Under this arrangement, then, I carried on excavations for about six weeks, having during most of the time about 20 men and boys engaged. The total expense was only about £18, or £22 including the reis of the Museum. He was a son of old Reis Atweh, who worked for Prof. Smyth; a very polite man, who quite understood that his presence was a formality.1 

The first work that needed to be done (and that quickly, before the travellers' season set in) was to open the entrance passage of the Great Pyramid again to the lower chamber. The rubbish that had accumulated from out of Mamun's Hole was carried out of the Pyramid by a chain of five or six men in the passage. In all the work I left the men to use their familiar tools, baskets and hoes, as much as they liked, merely providing a couple of shovels, of picks, and of crow-bars for any who liked to use them. I much doubt whether more work could be done for the same expense and time, by trying to force them into using Western tools without a good training. Crowbars were general favourites, the chisel ends wedging up and loosening the compact rubbish very easily; but a shovel and pickaxe need a much wider hole to work them in than a basket [p. 28] and hoe require; hence the picks were fitted with short handles, and the shovels were only used for loose sand. In the passage we soon came down on the big granite stone which stopped Prof. Smyth when he was trying to clear the passage, and also sundry blocks of limestone appeared. The limestone was easily smashed then and there, and carried out piecemeal; and as it had no worked surfaces it was of no consequence. But the granite was not only tough, but interesting, and I would not let the skilful hammer-man cleave it up slice by slice as he longed to do; it was therefore blocked up in its place, with a stout board across the passage, to prevent it being started into a downward rush. It was a slab 20.6 thick, worked on both faces, and one end, but rough broken around the other three sides; and as it lay flat on the floor, it left us 27 inches of height to pass down the passage over it. Where it came from is a complete puzzle; no granite is known in the Pyramid, except the King's Chamber, the Antechamber, and the plug blocks in the ascending passage. Of these sites the Antechamber seems to be the only place whence it could have come; and Maillet mentions having seen a large block (6 feet by 4) lying in the Antechamber, which is not to be found there now. This slab is 32 inches wide to the broken sides, 45 long to a broken end, and 20.6 thick; and, strangely, on one side edge is part of a drill hole, which ran through the 20.6 thickness, and the side of which is 27.3 from the worked end. This might be said to be a modern hole, made for smashing it up, wherever it was in situ; but it is such a hole as none but an ancient Egyptian would have made, drilled out with a jewelled tubular drill in the regular style of the 4th dynasty; and to attribute it to any mere smashers and looters of any period is inadmissible. What if it came out. of the grooves in the Antechamber, and was placed like the granite leaf across that chamber? The grooves are an inch wider, it is true; but then the groove of the leaf is an inch wider than the leaf. If it was then in this least unlikely place, what could be the use of a 4-inch hole right through the slab? It shows that something has been destroyed, of which we have, at present, no idea.

Soon after passing this granite, we got into the lower part of the entrance passage, which was clear nearly to the bottom. Here a quantity of mud had been washed in by the rains, from the decayed limestone of the outside of the Pyramid, thus filling the last 30 feet of the slope. This was dug out and spread on the passage floor, to save having to carry it out up the long 300 feet of the narrow passage; no truck arrangement could be easily worked, owing to the granite block lying in the passage. Work down at the bottom, with two lanterns and six men, in the narrow airless passage, was not pleasant; and my visits were only twice a day, until they cut through to the chamber. Here I had the rest of the earth piled up, clear of the walls, and also of the well, and so re-established access to these lower parts.

In the well leading from the gallery to the subterranean passages, there is [p. 29] a part (often called the "Grotto") cased round with smalI hewn stones. These were built in to keep Back the loose gravel that fills a fissure in the rock, through which the passage passes. These stones had been broken through, and much of the gravel removed; on one side, however, there was a part of the rock which, it was suggested, might belong to a passage. I therefore had some of the gravel taken from under it, and heaped up elsewhere, and it was then plainly seen to be only a natural part of the water-worn fissure This well is not at all difficult to visit; but the dust should be stirred as little as possible. One may even go up and down with both hands full, by using elbows and toes against the sides and the slight foot-holes.

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14. The next business was to find the casing and pavement of the Great Pyramid, in other parts beside that on the N. face discovered by Vyse: the latter part had been uncovered, just when I required it, in 1881, by a contractor, who took the chips of casing from the heaps on the N. face to mend the road. Thus the tourists to the Pyramid actually drive over the smashed-up casing on their way. On the three other sides the Arabs had some years ago cut away a large part of the heaps of casing chips, in search of pieces which would do for village building. Thus the heaps were reduced from about 35 to only 20 feet in depth, over the middle of the base sides of the Pyramid; though they were not touched at their highest parts, about 40 or 50 feet up the sloping side of the Pyramid.

The shafts for finding the casing were then sunk first of all about 100 feet from the corners of the Pyramid; and then, finding nothing there but rock (and that below the pavement level), places further along the sides were tried; until at last the highest parts, in the very middle of the sides, were opened. There the casing and pavement were found on every side, never seen since the rest of the casing was destroyed a thousand years ago. Thus for the North casing four shafts were tried; but no casing was found, except where known by Vyse. On the East side four shafts were sunk, finding casing in the middle one. On the South four shafts were sunk, finding badly preserved casing in one, and good casing in another, entirely eaten away, however, just at the base (see Pl. xii.). On the West side five shafts were tried, finding casing in one of them, and pavement within the casing line at the N.W. The East and South casing was seriously weathered away; on the East it was only defined by the pavement being worn away outside its ancient edge; and on the South it was found to be even hollowed out (Pl. xii.), probably by the action of sand whirled up against the base, and scooping it out like sea-worn caves. The shafts were cut as small as possible, to avoid crumbling of the sides; and they were steined with the larger blocks where the rubbish was loose : ledges were left at each six feet down, for the men to stand on for handing up the baskets and larger stones. The Arabs never would clear away [p. 30] the loose stuff from around the shafts, without having special directions; and often there was a long slope of 15 feet high of rubbish, just at the angle of rest, over one side of a shaft: this needed to be cut away and walled Back. Both the excavators and myself had narrow escapes from tons of stuff suddenly slipping in, sometimes just after I or they had been at the bottom of the shaft: the deep Southern shaft no one but Negroes would work in at the last. As I did not uncover the casing on the North side, I did not consider it incumbent on me to cover it over again; and the casing down the shafts is safe from damage, as it is too troublesome and dangerous for the Arabs to try to break it or carry it off: it would be far easier for them to work out more loose pieces from the rubbish.

Besides these shafts, many pits and trenches were dug to uncover the outer edge of the pavement. For the basalt pavement, the edge of the rock bed of it was traced on N.E. and S.; but no edge could be found on the West. It was cleared at the centre, where the trenches converge, and was there found to be all torn up and lying in confusion, along with many wrought blocks of red granite. Further out from the Pyramid it was perfect in some parts, as when first laid. The trenches were cleared at the ends, where necessary; the North trench was dug into as far as nine feet below the sand at present filling it, or about eighteen feet below the rock around it, but nothing but sand was found; the E.N.E. trench was cleared by cuttings across and along it, so as to find the bottom of each part, and make certain that no passage led out of it; the N.N.E. trench was cleared by pits along it, and traced right up to the basalt pavement The trench near the N.E. corner of the Pyramid was cleared in most parts, and the rock cuttings around it were also cleared, but re-filled, as the carriage road runs over them. Thus altogether 85 shafts, pits, or trenches were excavated around the Great Pyramid.

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15. At the Second Pyramid it was not so necessary to find actual casing, as it was arranged differently: the bottom course of casing had an upright foot 10 or 12 inches high, at the bottom of its slope, not ending in a sharp edge, like the Great Pyramid casing, which was very liable to injury. The end of the slope being thus raised up already some way, the pavement was built against the upright face, and to get depth enough for the paving blocks, the rock outside the casing was cut away. Thus the casing actually stood on a raised square of rock, some few inches above the rock outside it (see Pl. xii.), and the edge of this raised square was further signalized by having holes along it (5 to 10 inches long and about half as wide), to receive the ends of the levers by which the blocks were moved. This arrangement is very clearly shown near the W. end of the S. side, where a block of casing remains, but slightly shifted; and therefore, where this raised edge was [p. 31] found in other parts, it was accepted as being equivalent in position to the foot of the casing slope, without needing to find actual casing in each place.

At the N.E. corner the raised edge was found, scarcely covered over. On the E. side two pits were sunk, and the edge was found in one at the S. end. The edge was cleared at the S.E. corner. On the S. side the edge was found at the E. end, and the casing in situ  cleared at the W. end. The S.W. corner of the edge was cleared. On the W. side the edge was found at the N. end. The N.W. corner was cleared, but no edge was found there. On the N. side the edge was found at the W. end. Thus the raised edge was found and fixed at eleven points around the Pyramid. The joints of the platform of huge blocks on the E. of it were partly cleaned to show the sizes of the stones. Three pits were tried on the N.W. of the Pyramid, and the edge of the rock bed of the pavement was found in two of them. Two trenches were made to examine the edge of the great rock cutting on the N. side of the Pyramid.

Twenty-three trenches and sixty-seven pits were dug to uncover parts of the great peribolus walls of this Pyramid. Thus it was found that all the heaps and ridges, hitherto called "lines of stone rubbish," were built walls of unhewn stone, mud plastered, with ends of squared stone, like antae. The great barracks, consisting of a mile and a half length of galleries, was thus opened. Many fragments of early statues in diorite, alabaster, and quartzite, were found, as well as early pottery, in the galleries; though not a five-hundredth of their whole extent was uncovered. The great hewnstone wall, built of enormous blocks, on the N. side of the Pyramid, was examined by pits; and quarry marks were found on the S. sides of the blocks. Two retaining walls of unhewn stone, like those of the galleries, were found in the large heap of chips, which is banked against the great N. wall. These retaining walls contained waste pieces of granite and basalt. The great platform of chips, tipped out by the builders beyond the S. peribolus wall, was cut into in two places. Some early pottery was found; and it was evident, from the regular stratification, that it had been undisturbed since it was shot there in the time of Khafra. Altogether, 108 pits and trenches were opened around the Second Pyramid.

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16. At the Third Pyramid it was necessary to clear the casing at the base level; and this was a more troublesome place to work on than any other. Howard Vyse reports that he abandoned his work here on account of the great difficulty and danger of it. The material to be removed consists entirely of large blocks of granite weighing a ton and upwards, which lie embedded in loose sand; hence, whenever the sand was removed in digging a hole, it ran down from the sides, and so let one of the large blocks drop into the hole. The most successful way of getting through it was to bring up other stones and place them so as to form a ring of blocks wedged together around the hole, and [p. 32] thus supporting one another. As there is no clear setting for the casing here as there is in the Second Pyramid, and as the substratum had been removed at the eastern corners, it was necessary to find the casing foot near each end of the sides, and not to trust to the corners. There was no difficulty in finding casing stones, as the casing still remains above the rubbish heaps on every side; the work was to get down to the foot of it. This was done at the E. end of the N. side, at both ends of the E. side, at both ends of the S. side, and at the S. end of the W. side. The N.W. corner was very deeply buried, and several trials were made to get down, but without finding any place sufficiently clear of the great granite blocks; here, therefore, I had to be content with fixing the edge of the fifth course of casing, which stood above ground, and projecting this down at the observed angle by calculation. Seven points in all were thus fixed, of the intended finished surface of the original casing at the bottom course. Besides this, eighty-four pits were made along the peribolus walls of this Pyramid; these holes showed that the walls were all built like those of the Second Pyramid, but less carefully. Ninety-one pits in all were made around the Third Pyramid. This makes a total of 284 shafts, pits, or trenches, sunk in the hill of Gizeh; and in almost every case the objects sought were found.

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17. Some few details may be useful to future explorers. The tools used were the ordinary native forms, with a few English tools for special purposes, as have been described. Of supervision the Arabs require a good deal to prevent their lounging, and Ali Gabri looked well after them, proving zealous and careful in the work: I, also, went out with them every morning, allotting their work for the day; then visiting them generally just before noon; and again before they left off, in the afternoon. Going thus round to six or eight places some way apart, and often stopping to direct and help the men, occupied most of the day. It is particularly necessary never to put more men on a spot than are absolutely needed to work together; generally each isolated party was only a man and one or two boys; thus there was no shirking of the individual responsibility of each man to get through his work. Every man was told what his party had to do, and if they were lazy, they were separated and allotted with good workers, where they would be closely watched. The men were allowed to choose their work somewhat, according to their strength and capabilities; and if any man grumbled he was changed to different work, or dismissed. A very friendly spirit, with a good deal of zeal to get through tough jobs, was kept up all the time by personal attention to each man, and without any extra stimulus of bakhshish, either during or after the work. The wages I offered, and freely obtained labour for, were rather above what excavators are required to work for by the Museum; but were far less than what had been paid there before by Europeans. For ordinary work the rate was 10d. a day, and 6d. for boys; for work inside the Pyramid, 1 shilling a day, and 7½d. for boys. The men were paid [p. 33] weekly, and no attempts were made to impose, as I kept a daily register of the number employed. Ali received what I always paid him while I was living there, £1 a week, and 4 shillings for his slave and nephew sleeping in the next tomb as guards; for this he was always at my disposal for work (though I did not occupy half of his time), and he made all purchases and arrangements with the neighbours, besides keeping me quite free from molestation or black-mailing by the other Arabs.

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NOTES:     (Use browser back button to return.)

1. A notice of these excavations appeared at the time in The Academy of 17th December, 1881.

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