An Archaeologist visits Ancient Egypt - Part 2


Dr. Greene: I'm going to take you now around the back of the Great Pyramid, to an extraordinary archeological enterprise of which this trench is the first thing that you see. It's cut in the bedrock as you can see. Across the top there's some very large slabs, some of which have been removed. Slabs, which when the sand was removed and this was discovered were very carefully sealed. When the first block was removed, some sand trickled in. There was a hollow inside and in that hollow space were pieces of wood and also pieces of rope.

So this is rope from 2500 BC. And it is rope which had been used to lower a boat, an entire boat into this pit.

This is what the boat looked like in this model. But I can do better than that, because I can show you the boat itself, which has been reassembled from the timbers, which were found in this pit.

It took 20 years for an Egyptian archeologist to carry out this immense task. But it has been carried out there, in the museum, on the site. Literally above that trench that you saw before is this wonderful boat. Now, it is known as the solar boat.

In the Tutankhamun exhibition are two boats from his tomb, and there is also a boat from one of his ancestors that you meet. It's one of the very first objects as you go in to the exhibition.

So boats are found in tombs, model boats, 35 in Tutankhamun's tomb, of two types. Boats suitable for traveling on the Nile or the Red Sea, like this, and also reed boats. These were for going across the marshes.

Both of these are significant in getting to the afterlife for a dead king of Egypt. The solar boat is about the passage of the sun across the heavens; the reed boat is about getting across the marshes, in this torturous and difficult journey to the afterlife.

So in the case of Khufu, he was provided with this magnificent boat. You can see it's made of timbers tied together with rope, and with a cabin on the deck. It may also have been associated with because there was some silt found on the bottom planks, it had actually been used on the Nile.

At a later date certainly, the mummified bodies of kings were taken up to Abydos and then returned. Possibly, it was used for that purpose. We don't know.

It had oars beautifully made. It's constructed of wood as you can see. There aren't many trees that grow in Egypt. So timber like this was imported from Syria, Lebanon, cedar, cedar wood, and used for construction of boats like this. Very elegant lines, it would have had a mast as well.

But it's not the only boat that was provided to Khafre. There were two more pits on the next side of the pyramid. On the same side as the boat we've been just looking at is a fourth one. So actually, four boats. A quite extraordinary aspect of the archeology of this site, of course telling us fantastically useful things about boat construction in ancient Egypt.

Well, this area is an area of extraordinary archeological landscapes. I'm moving down now towards the sphinx. In the middle ground is the causeway leading up to Khafre's pyramid. Beyond that are tombs of the ancient period. And beyond that is a modern cemetery. Then, above that is a bluff of rock, which public cannot normally get to, but which I did get to. And I'll show you some images from that in a moment.

But there we have the classic view of the sphinx and the Pyramid of Khafre. It seems pretty certain now that that is what the sphinx was created or carved as part of this mausoleum of Khafre, leading up to it, and next to a temple of the sphinx.

The old pictures that you will see of the sphinx show it not covered, but with considerable depth of sand around it. But that's all been removed. The sphinx is actually semi quarried out. You can see the edges of the quarry at the back there. There's different qualities of limestone there, some of which are very friable, which has presented a problem down the ages.

Just going back to the quarry, the stone from the quarry to create the sphinx and the stone used for the temple of the sphinx built by Khafre have been shown to be from the same source. In other words, they are contemporary. That is what links the sphinx with the pyramid.

I was allowed to go down into the area. It is fascinating to see the work of conservation taking place, the scaffolding around it. There always seems to be scaffolding around it. But it's not the first time it's been restored, because it was restored back in 18th dynasty at the time of Tutankhamun.

In fact, it seems in the 18th and 19th dynasties, much, much later, you know 1200 years after this was created, that the cult of the sphinx grew up, much more so than when it was created. So various kings of Egypt then left their mark on the site.

Tutankhamun himself built a rest house there, a rest house presumably to stay in while he engaged in activities in association with the cult of the sphinx. And Thutmose IV put a stele, which is dream stele, which is about him dreaming that he is going to become king of Egypt, which he became.

So although we're looking at a very ancient to Tutankhamun survival, we are nonetheless looking at something that he was familiar with.

And you can see the way in which the paws and so on have a casing over them. That sort of casing first of all went on in the 18th and 19th dynasties. There is the head, which would have been the head of Khafre on this lion's body with the names "headdress, the uraeus" on the top, which is the cobra.

And originally, it is suggested it would also have been painted.

About this Video

Part 1 of 6 of Dr Greene's lecture 'An Archaeologist visits Ancient Egypt'
Length: 9:30