The Great Pyramid of Giza, (The Pyramid of Khufu, 2560-2540 BC) has served as a source of fascination for the World since the earliest of times. Much mystery surrounds this mammoth structure of genius stone architecture. Indeed, it is hard not to be impressed by 2.3 million stone blocks weighing on average more than two tons cut from copper tools. How did they move these stones? Who put them there? How did they know how to cut and place stones so perfectly that each side of the pyramid is within two inches of length of each other? How did they create a structure that would withstand thousands of years of foot traffic and weathering? What was inside?
Through research, answers to many of these questions have been at least partially answered, but in regard to what was inside the pyramid, perhaps no one will ever know. Looters throughout the centuries have broken into the pyramid and removed the contents, hiding the history of the innards of the pyramid. This is not to say that the inside of the Great Pyramid is a total mystery- indeed archaeologists have done a fairly extensive amount of mapping. There is a known entrance to the Pyramid, and a subterranean tunnel and room that remained unfinished, a Grand Gallery, a Queen’s Chamber, and a King’s Chamber, as well as several tunnels that lead outside.
The Queen’s Chamber is shrouded in mystery. First and foremost, it seems extremely unlikely that a Queen would be buried alongside the King. The purpose of the chamber, therefore, is unknown. A common theory is that this room was a “Serdab”, which have been found in a number of other pyramids. A serdab is a room which houses the King’s “ka”- or his spiritual double. If this is the case, the room would have been sealed off and roofed over, as is characteristic of a serdab.
The mystery does not end there though. In 1872, a British Engineer, Waynman Dixon, made another discovery- openings for a North and South shaft leading out of The Queen’s Chamber. After pushing a wire through openings in the masonry on the South Wall, he found there was empty space and chiseled through the wall to reveal the shaft. He looked for an identical shaft on the North side of the chamber and found one. There was a slight draft coming from the shafts. From the South shaft, Dixon pulled a small bronze hook, and from the North shaft, he pulled a granite ball and a small piece of wood.
In 1993, Rudolf Gantenbrink searched into the shafts again, finding a metal pole and a long piece of wood. The metal pole is attributed to Dixon and his explorers, and it is believed that the wood was chipped off of the larger plank.
The presence of the shaft has caused some debate. Why were the shafts built? To answer the question, one must know a bit of history. Firstly, the features of the Pyramids can be traced back through earlier attempts at building Pyramids. Clearly architects gained practice and experience that, perhaps, culminated with the building of the Giza Pyramids. The shafts, however, are found neither in earlier pyramids… nor in later ones. Although there were indentations in burial chambers of earlier pyramids, these in no way compared to the extremely complex architecture of the shafts in the Great Pyramid, beginning with the fact that they were only a few inches deep.
The shafts were also not built for human passage, since their measurements are only about 8 inches by 8 inches. So what was the point of these shafts that must have been extremely complicated and labor intensive?
Since they were blocked off at both ends, they couldn’t possibly be air shafts. Air shafts would also have let critters and unwelcome natural forces in (such as water), and since the Egyptians were extremely dedicated to preserving the remains of the Pharaoh, this sort of oversight seems exceedingly unlikely. There has also been the idea that they were star shafts- which is also unlikely since they bend in several places. A popular theory is that the shafts are “soul shafts”, which would allow the King’s soul to ascend to the heavens and return to receive offerings. This seems to follow with religious traditions of the time- but prompts another question. Why do we only see these shafts in this one Pyramid? Was religion so drastically different for one generation, and if so, why isn’t there any evidence of such a change?
The shafts are epic feats of engineering- carved out of a roof block to form a stone canal and placed on a bed rock, these channels had to be surrounded with continuous diagonal joints and “griddle stones” that prevented the entire passage from sliding down and causing collapse of pyramid structures. Not only this, but the shafts had to be bent at different angles to go around the Great Gallery! Remarkable engineering of this kind would not have been done as a mere afterthought.
On top of all this- there are shafts leading from the King’s Chamber as well. So if these shafts were for the King’s soul to travel through, why are there shafts in the Queen’s Chamber as well? And why did these lower shafts stop eight centimeters short of penetrating the Chamber, when the shafts in the King’s Chamber reach all the way into the room? With no indentations or other indications to show their existence, why were these shafts so well hidden?
If it is possible, the mystery deepens still further. Gantenbrink sent an explorer robot into the shafts. The northern exploration did not get very far, as the robot was stopped by a bend in the passage that it could not navigate. However, before it could travel no further, the robot did happen upon the previously mentioned pole that is probably broken off and left from Dixon poking around in the shaft. The Southern tunnel revealed a questionable piece of damaged flooring (in an almost flawlessly engineered shaft, what was this broken stone doing?) and, even more mystifying, a stone that closes off the shaft. This stone has two round, conical brass pieces drilled into it. What lies behind the stone is unknown.
Future archaeological investigations of the Pyramids will hopefully bring answers to the puzzles surrounding these shafts. Are there hidden rooms in the Pyramid? Why were they built in the first place? As one of the World’s Wonders, Khufu’s Great Pyramid of Giza certainly lives up to its reputation and name.