Experts have long believed that, apart from the sarcophagus of its builder, King Cheops, nothing was found inside the Great Pyramid. But now a British-based scholar, Robert Bauval, has discovered that three mysterious ritual objects were picked up by a British explorer inside a tunnel deep within the pyramid, 121 years ago.
Mr Bauval has established that the story of the relics is intertwined with that of Cleopatra's Needle and with 19th-century Freemasonry. He has spent five months tracing the movements of the relics - possibly ceremonial items placed in the pyramid by King Cheops - from Egypt to London. The three objects were:
A hook-like bronze implement known as a pesesh-kaf, used by ancient Egyptian surveyors during the construction of major buildings including the Pyramids - and also by ancient priests to open the mouths of the dead, allowing the corpse to 'breathe' and be 'reborn' into the next life.
A granite or dolomite sphere about the size of a cricket ball, probably used during pyramid construction as an implement to smooth rough stone.
A five-inch length of cedar wood which seems to have been broken off a larger piece, possibly a builder's measuring rod.
Dr Eiddon Edwards, author of The Pyramids of Egypt, said: 'Their existence had been forgotten. They are completely new to me. I've never met anyone who has ever heard of them before. It is conceivable that the objects were some kind of secondary foundation deposit, perhaps laid there by the king.
'They were probably magical tools symbolising various operations in the construction of the pyramid and would probably have been considered sacred,' said Dr Edwards, a former keeper of the British Museum's department of Egyptian Antiquities.
The story begins in 1872, when a young civil engineer, Waynman Dixon, went to Egypt to help build a bridge over the river Nile. Acting on a request by the Astronomer Royal of Scotland, Professor Charles Piazzi Smyth, to carry out survey work at the pyramids, Dixon went to the Great Pyramid. He started investigating one of its large internal rooms - the so- called Queen's Chamber - and discovered a tunnel.
All this is well known to Egyptologists. What they did not know until Mr Bauval's recent work was that six feet into the tunnel, in September 1872, Dixon found the three relics.
His brother, John, a prominent Freemason, arrived in Cairo a few weeks later and was given the relics. The brothers then went to Alexandria to look at a great obelisk, later to be known as Cleopatra's Needle, which they wanted to bring back to England.
Egyptian pyramids and obelisks were of great importance to Freemasons a century ago. Some believed that the Great Pyramid was an ancient masonic temple.
Cleopatra's Needle had been presented to Britain in 1819 by the ruler of Egypt, Muhammad Ali, in gratitude for victories over the French near Alexandria, 20 years previously.
In 1876, Sir Erasmus Wilson, a leading surgeon and Freemason, put up pounds 10,000 to bring the needle to London, and John Dixon was given the job of arranging its passage. Four years earlier, he had tried to sell the pyramid relics for several hundred pounds to the British Museum - but was apparently rebuffed by scholars there, whom he later described in a letter to a friend as 'a lot of old women'.
He then made drawings of the objects - which had been kept in a large cigar box - and these were published in the London weekly newspaper the Graphic and in the scientific journal Nature. But neither report ever found its way into files of Egyptological literature.
Until Mr Bauval's recent research, these were the last known references to the sacred pyramid relics.
In 1878, when John Dixon finally brought Cleopatra's Needle to London, he designed and built the monument's pedestal on the Embankment. Then, according to the Illustrated London News that September, he placed two earthenware jars within it, just before the obelisk was erected.
Among the objects in one of the jars, the magazine reported, was a cigar box. Its contents remain a mystery.
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