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The following is an excerpt from one of a series of three articles entitled Pyramids And Their Purpose written by Noel F. Wheeler and published in the Spring, Summer and Autumn 1935 editions of Antiquity, an international journal of expert archaeology. The Antiquity website carries highlights and articles from recent editions and also has an electronic index for volumes 1 to 75 (1927-2002). All three articles are most deserving of the full attention of anyone interested in the pyramids of Egypt and the Great Pyramid in particular. This excerpt is taken from the second article entitled "The Pyramid of Khufu (The Great Pyramid)" published in the Summer (June 1935) edition. It remains © Antiquity Publications Ltd. and is reproduced here with their kind permission. The picture of the King's Chamber is © The Towers On-Line 1998.

King's Chamber

In view of the length of the excerpt, local links have been added to provide direct access to the main topics. In keeping with the original, headings have not been added although the first words of each area have been put into bold text to aid identification.

The excerpt makes several references to 'E' units. The following explanation of the 'E' unit is taken from the same article (page 167). 'Different values of the cubit or ell (referred to as E), are found in different sites, and in different structures of the same site and period; but it seems quite certain that the Pyramid Age ell had a value between 20.58 and 20.63 in. In later times the variation is much wider. Opinion differs on the division of the ell, since there was also a 'short ell' of 6 palms or hands (referred to as H), whereas the normal ell was divided into 7 hands. Most authorities take the ell of 20.58-20.63in., divided into 7 hands of 2.94-2.95in. each; and for the short ell, 6 hands of the same value, giving the value of the short ell as 17.64-17.68in. But Junker (Giza 1) gives a normal ell of 20.64 in., divided into 6 hands of 3.44in each; this last is not quoted elsewhere.'

Pyramids And Their Purpose by Noel F. Wheeler -
Antiquity Vol.9 pp 175-182:

Original Plan of the Pyramid of Khufu, and Purposes of its Parts

There is some reason for believing that the original design of Khufu was for a pyramid of about 300 E-Side (about the same size as that of his father), to contain only the normal passage descending to a burial-chamber in the rock, though this plan must have been discarded for a better one before the superstructure was begun. One indication of this is the height up the pyramid-face at which the entrance is placed.

Some examples of the proportion of this height to the total slant-height are:
Pyramid of Khufu, as it is: 0.116
Pyramid of Khafre, upper [entrance]: 0.0824
Pyramid of Menkaure: 0.0632
Pyramid of Khufu, had its face been at the end of the plug: 0.05
Pyramid of Khufu, 10 E outside plug: 0.06

This last case would have meant a pyramid of 330 E-base and 210 E-height, multiples of 11 and 7 by 30. The pyramid as it is has the base and height multiples of 11 and 7 by 40, and the Meydum pyramid 11 and 7 by 25.

Another indication is the unfinished state of the 'burial-chamber' in the rock. This, one of the first works undertaken in the pyramid construction, would scarcely have been left as it is unless discarded. It would even have been a better means of deceiving robbers had it been a convincing burial-chamber and not an obviously unfinished one.

However this may be, it is certain that the present pyramid was built from the platform upwards as one complete design, without alteration, so that the change in plan, if any, must have been made before the platform and baselines were laid out. It seems likely that Khufu, who would have begun plans for his pyramid as soon as he came to the throne, would have taken his ideas from the pyramids of his predecessors, and of his father in particular. One can imagine the architect who designed the present pyramid coming to Khufu with his plans and having them enthusiastically approved at once.

When we come to the internal passage-system we find a much more drastic and significant change in the plan which implies a complete alteration in the purpose to be served by the pyramid. Before going over the many clear signs of this, however, it would be well to attempt a reconstruction of the procedure of the burial arrangements as originally intended. The coffin would be carried down the Descending Passage and then up the then empty Ascending Passage - a portable ladder of some kind being used to mount from the one passage to the other. On entering the Grand Gallery the slab-bridge would be covering the horizontal passage to the Queen's Chamber, and the procession would probably proceed up the gallery on the plug-blocks which would then have been loaded into their places in the chute. There is accommodation for 25 of these blocks between the cross-beam sockets in the ramps, and 25 blocks of the same size as the three now in the Ascending Passage would have exactly filled that passage to an inch.

NO. 1 block at the time of the burial would have been about half an E above the upper end of the bridge-slab, and NO. 25 about halfway into the space now occupied by the Step at the top of the gallery

The coffin would then have been taken in under the three portcullis slabs and placed in the sarcophagus. Omitting here any possible ceremonies connected with this, the lid would have been closed and the procession have returned to the pyramid entrance. The Queen's Chamber, which would have had the 'Ka' statue of the King in its niche, would have been the offering room into which all the offerings, furniture, etc., would have been placed; whether before or after the coffin's journey up does not affect matters here. On emerging from the King's Chamber the priests would have seen the portcullis slabs dropped into place one by one, the 'granite leaf ' pushed up or built up to seal the space now vacant over the portcullis, and would have emerged from the pyramid, leaving the plug procedure to be carried out by the gangs brought up into the Grand Gallery for the purpose.

Probably the concealing limestone block at the opening of the Ascending from the Descending Passage would be built into place and fixed immovably before the plug-blocks were released, but it is also possible that a temporary measure for checking the plug blocks at their stopping position was used, and the limestone block put up afterwards. In any case the plug-blocks would have been lowered, NO. 1 first, step by step, from ramp-socket to ramp-socket, until each lay in the lowest position in the chute. Then, each block would have been released when it reached this position, to slide down the Ascending Passage and bring up against the rear of the preceding block. A thin liquid plaster was used between each pair of blocks, and this was probably put on immediately before slipping each block.

Now we come to an interesting point. What about the gangs who were doing the plug-block work, when the first block went home? Were they expected to remain to die of starvation or suffocation ? It is possible but by no means probable at this period. It is here suggested that the well-shaft was expressly constructed for their escape, either with or without the knowledge of the highest officials. If without, one can well imagine the representative of the workmen concerned getting hold of the right subordinate official at an early stage of construction and ' squaring ' matters. It is possible that, before the pyramid superstructure was begun,. they established themselves at the Grotto in the rock surface and tunnelled down to a point near the base of the abandoned Descending Passage, where no one would be likely to see too much of their operations. Then, as the courses of the pyramid rose, they were able with the connivance or help of the right man to have the upper part of their shaft left as a small gap in each course put in. The slight 'wandering' of the well-shaft may be due to their efforts to make a negotiable passage rather than a sheer vertical shaft which would have been a hindrance and danger to their projected escape: the vertical 20 feet or so at the extreme top would have been due to the local foreman having at that point realized where the lower end of the Grand Gallery was coming in the building.

With the well as an escape, the gangs had only to lift the bridge-slab, get down the well-shaft, seal the lower end with a block prepared, and emerge from the pyramid entrance when most expedient to themselves and those 'in the know'. Some time subsequent to this the sealing-stone would have been placed in the entrance and the pyramid be a finished task.

Assuming the above to have been Khufu's original intentions, we find a number of strange things in the actual pyramid. The details will be gone over and these discrepancies noted:-

ENTRANCE. The scaling stone must have been put in place, since Al Mamoun could not locate the true entrance.

CONCEALING BLOCK at foot of Ascending Passage. This was heard to fall by Al Mamoun and he found it later in the Descending Passage.

BRIDGE-SLAB. No trace of the actual slab is known, but it may well be that the workmen, when they lifted it for their escape, toppled it down the Ascending Passage and Al Mamoun removed it with his general tunnelling work. That three granite blocks have made their trip down implies that the bridge-slab did exist then.

GRAND GALLERY. There is a 'rail'-like groove along each side wall at a height of about 10 feet above the tops of the housed plug-blocks, which would well have carried a flooring of rafters for the tackle needed in handling the blocks and placing them. The sockets in the side ramps continue down past the bridge-slab recess to the end of the gallery, implying a step by step descent of each block to this point. There is a break through from the upper end of the gallery to the to the lowest of the Chambers of Construction over the King's Chamber. It was found by Davison in 1765, but whether it is Al Mamoun's work, or later or earlier cannot be said. If earlier it would have been original, and there seems no point in that. The Step at the upper end of the gallery is the interesting point here, since it encroaches on the area which would have been required for plug-block 25 in the uppermost socket position. It must therefore be unfinished and not completed as originally intended.

PORTCULLIS. This is clearly unfinished. There are no portcullis slabs, and the 'granite leaf' is incomplete as it is now.

KING'S CHAMBER. The sarcophagus is obviously unfinished. The worked faces are very poor, and the lid was never present, since the first to break into the pyramid found it missing then. He also found no trace whatever of burial offerings, pottery, etc. and one can presume the chamber to have been empty but for the sarcophagus itself.

HORIZONTAL PASSAGE AND QUEEN'S CHAMBER. The floor of the former is apparently unfinished, being originally intended to be 1 ell deeper. The niche in the chamber is and has always been empty of statue. No mass of offerings or furniture was ever in the chamber, or there would certainly have been mention of Al Mamoun's having found it. The two ventilation-shafts from the sides of the chamber to the outer casing of the pyramid were only completed to within 5 inches of the inner face of the walls, and did not connect with the room until Waynman Dixon broke them through in 1872.

WELL-SHAFT. The lowest ramp-stone on the West side of the Grand Gallery has been removed and there is no record of when this was done. It could have been done during the escape of the working gangs, since the uncompleted Horizontal Passage floor made the opening under the bridge-slab rather small otherwise; it may have been done by Al Mamoun's men. No trace has been found of the actual stone. A sketch in Davidson's The Great Pyramid is referred to as evidence of the ramp-stone having been forced out from below, but this sketch and an examination of the surrounding stonework in situ show quite clearly that the stone was prized out from above, i.e., from within the Grand Gallery. There is a better sketch in Edgar's The Great Pyramid, but in both sketches, as in the original, the breakage of edges and corners shows that a crow-bar or something of the kind was used on the right and left sides of the stone and above it at the back, to prize it out of place into the gallery. The greatest efforts were made at the side contiguous to the Ascending Passage opening, no doubt because the workers knew of the inclined seating of the stone which would release it best in that direction. There is not so much as a mark underneath to show any attempt to raise the stone from below, and in the confined space of the little narrow passage there to the opening of the well-shaft proper nothing but a modern 'jack' could have forced the stone upwards, and would not have caused the breaks on the adjacent stones on the gallery side. To anyone who has had experience of prizing blocks from masonry or working heavy stones through confined spaces it is obvious at a glance that the men who removed this ramp-stone were in the Grand Gallery.

In Mr. Davidson's book it is claimed that the well-shaft was tunnelled vertically upwards from the foot to the Grand Gallery in later dynasties for a tour of inspection of tombs. Since the main Pyramid entrance was intact there would be no reason at all for such an inspection according to Egyptian lights, as their later inspections were to ascertain whether robbers had gained access or made attempts to do so. A vertical shaft such as the well, driven upwards, would have been an entirely un-Egyptian method. Had they possessed the detailed plan of the building, as the accurate arrival of the shaft at both ends implies, they would have certainly tunnelled up alongside the plug-blocks - especially as it would be known that only three blocks existed, or, if Al Mamoun's account means what is said of it, that only limestone blocks had to be dealt with after the first three; the intersection of the well-shaft with the Grotto on the rock-surface would then have been mere coincidence.

Taking all the above signs of lack of finish - 3 plug-blocks only out of 25, Horizontal Passage floor unfinished, Queen's Chamber niche empty, Step uncut for receipt of plug-block 25, no portcullis slabs fitted, no lid to the sarcophagus, no reported trace of body, bones, offerings, pottery, etc., and uncompleted ventilating-shafts to Queen's Chamber - one is justified in presuming that a change took place in the purpose during construction. One can say, in fact, that this change must have taken place when the Grand Gallery roof was yet unplaced, when the King's Chamber also was open, and the roof-slab of the portcullis recess not yet in position. This would have been when the main mass of the Pyramid had reached about the 34th course, to allow the Grand Gallery floor to be completed high enough to accommodate three plug-blocks at least. The central part of the pyramid, including the King's Chamber, portcullis recess and remainder of Grand Gallery, would have risen at the same time above the 34th course probably to about the 50th to the 55th. It may well be no more than a coincidence, but there is one of those changes of course-depth, which occur many times in the height of the pyramid, at the 35th course; and it is the most noticeable change in the whole series. There is an interesting article on these course-depth changes, and an explanation, in Petrie's Ancient Egypt.

Until fairly recently there was no outside evidence of the existence of circumstances which might have caused such a change of plan; but from the information obtained from the excavation and recording of the tomb of Khufu's mother, Hetep-heres, certain conclusions have been reached which do supply an adequate reason. A sufficiently full account of the work on this tomb will be found in the Bulletin of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

To sum up the facts which emerged:- Hetep-heres was the daughter of King Huni of the third dynasty, wife of Seneferu, and mother of Khufu. She died in the reign of Khufu and was buried by him near the pyramid of her husband at Dahshur. Plunderers got at this tomb and their depredations were discovered too late, in that they had opened the sarcophagus and removed the body with the jewellery which was on it. The fact - of the robbery but probably not of the missing body - was conveyed to Khufu, and by his orders a secret tomb was commenced at once and finished roughly at great speed, situated in the most important point in his own royal cemetery at Giza. The tomb consisted of a vertical shaft, 100 feet deep in the rock, leading to a rock-hewn burial-chamber, and was situated alongside the causeway of Khufu's pyramid, nearer to it even than the pyramid of the first queen of Khufu, and with the whole vast cemetery of his queens and children behind it. The shaft was filled solid with courses of fine limestone masonry in plaster of Paris, and the top course was of irregular pieces of the local nummulitic limestone, so that its secret was kept safely from the day of the re-burial until A.D. 1925.

One can imagine the feelings, and to a certain extent the actions, of Khufu on hearing of his mother's tomb at Dahshur being attacked. One can imagine also that the responsible officials at Dahshur were in a very uncomfortable position, but that they affirmed strongly to the King that no real damage had been done, and kept silent as to the contents of the alabaster sarcophagus which was re-buried.

The idea of a secret tomb for the burial and a normal tomb with superstructure for the public to see was not a new one - Seneferu most probably had done the same thing, as others did after him - and if we put ourselves in Khufu's place I think we should cast quizzical eyes at our own pyramid from that day. There would certainly be ample reason for setting to and altering the whole intention of the pyramid; to continue the work so that outward seeming should not be changed, while saving unnecessary work by omitting what was no longer essential in the construction, and devising some entirely unsuspected site for the actual burial. Possibly, and probably, the number of persons aware of the reason for the change in plan would be very few - the King himself, and his most trusted officials only. It would have been quite in keeping for him to have arranged for a public ceremony at his funeral and a dummy burial in the pyramid, while those entrusted with the task buried him as previously planned where none other saw it.

This leaves us with the obvious question - where was Khufu buried?- the question remaining to the many who have arrived by one route or another at the conclusion that he was not buried in his pyramid.

No tomb has yet been found at Giza which could have been his. At one time the idea was circulated (it is in Edgar's Great Pyramid) that the tomb near to the Sphinx, called 'Campbell's Tomb', had been that of Khufu; but this tomb is now known to be of a very much later date. Taking the procedure adopted with Hetep-heres, one can assume that Khufu would probably have chosen a position within the boundary of his royal cemetery, which limits are clearly defined, but this area has been almost entirely excavated down to the rock. The possibilities lie in the 'almost '. There is, for instance, a pre-Khufu quarry alongside and beneath his causeway, which has been filled in with large blocks of limestone and gypsum. This was done presumably to give a level floor for Khufu's causeway, which crosses it, and the filled quarry lies within a few yards of the tomb of Hetep-heres. The clearing of this would be a difficult, laborious, and expensive task; but it cannot be said that there is nothing there but a filled quarry until the quarry has been emptied.

The area of the pyramid-temple has also remained unexcavated so far, though there appears to be little left beyond the basalt floor, across a part of which thousands of tourists trek yearly to the Sphinx, and perhaps the lowest courses or other traces of some of the walls There seem to be no other possibilities so far as we know at present. That there was a problem connected with Khufu's place of burial was known in later Egyptian times, when the fact that the Great Pyramid was his work must have still been well known; and the question was then put into writing as to who knew the places of burial of Im-hetep, Seneferu and Khufu, as though it were an oft-repeated query.

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