By Vincent Brown

The recent excavations in the Great Pyramid over the past month have created quite a stir in the field of Archeology.  The drilling through the 'Gantenbrink Door', that small 8 by 8 inch polished limestone plug with two copper prongs located 60 meters up the south shaft of the Queen's chamber, found a small empty compartment just ten inches or so long. 

Two men who could easily be regarded as the world's leading authorities on the subject of the shafts in Khufu's pyramid are Rudolf Gantenbrink and Dr Zahi Hawass.  

The work of Rudolf Gantenbrink inside the pyramid not only produced the first major discovery in the Great Pyramid in many years but also a detailed documentation of the shafts, including detailed drawings with accompanying measurements, schematic diagrams and photographs.  There is no doubt that he is the most learned and experienced in the exploration of the Great Pyramid's four shafts.

Dr Zahi Hawass, is the Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities and Director of the Giza Pyramids Excavation.  His work at Giza has uncovered some great finds including the tombs of the Overseers of the builders of the pyramid.  He is considered the 'Guardian of the Pyramids', a title that is well earned through his years of experience in archeological excavations in Egypt.

In the past month, these two men have made some very bold assertions of what may still be found behind 'Gantenbrink's Door'.  Both are of the opinion that what we see behind the first 'door' is in fact another door.

Prior to the drilling through the door, Hawass publicly speculated over what may be found.  In an article in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, he was quoted as enthusiastically suggesting that what we might find behind the door is the original burial chamber of Khufu. 

"The door may hide the original burial chamber of King Khufu,"

- Zahi Hawass, director-general of the Giza Plateau


This would of course imply that the 'King's chamber' containing the granite sarcophagus was not the chamber in which Khufu's body was entombed, as is the current consensus.  It is the first time, as far as I am aware, that Hawass has been reported as questioning the authenticity of the presently accepted burial chamber.

Gantenbrink, on the other hand, in an interview with Greg Taylor from Daily Grail, stated confidently that what would be found at the end of the shaft was the tomb of Khufu's mother, Hetepheres.  He puts forward a number of evidences for such speculation. 

On his web site, he discusses what he views as a "complete anomaly" in the section of the King's chamber southern shaft in the area located above the region where the 'doors' are in the Queen's chamber southern shaft.  He writes of the vertical joint in the King's Chamber shaft as evidence to suggest the possible existence of an as yet undiscovered chamber near by:

"Between Block No. 15 and 16 we discovered a vertical joint. In the shafts such joints, which have a distinct static function, otherwise occur only proximate to the chambers. (For more information on the normal arrangement of joints, see GENERAL REMARKS at THE FINDINGS page.)

It is a complete anomaly to find a vertical joint fully isolated in the nucleus of the pyramid.

Since it requires much greater effort to shape and fit the blocks in such an arrangement, we can assume that the builders must have had significant structural justification for going to the trouble of deflecting forces into the horizontal plane.

This vertical joint is located about 12 meters above a point in the lower southern shaft which is subject to extraordinary static influences (see LOWER SOUTHERN SHAFT , BLOCK No. 25).

The overall static's in this area seem to differ from those in the other shaft segments.

For a construction engineer this is a significant clue to the possible existence of an as yet undiscovered structure in the vicinity of these static anomalies." 

- Rudolf Gantenbrink

Apart from the vertical joint in the King's chamber south shaft he mentions another anomaly in the Queen's chamber south shaft to further support the existence of a hidden chamber between the upper and lower south shafts.  This concerns a 'dip' or deviation in the shaft below the area of the suggested chamber.  Gantenbrink likens this displacement to a similar one in an area lower down the same shaft, he attributes this lower dip in the shaft to settling or dropping of the south wall of the King's chamber directly above it.  He then suggests that the upper 'dip' could also have been caused by the weight of a concealed chamber above it.

Gantenbrink writes of the apparent downward force on the Queen's chamber south shaft:

"At the beginning of Block No. 26 , a large section of the floor has broken away. This is the worst damage we observed anywhere in the shaft sequences so far investigated. At this point, however, the pressure on the shaft amounts to only one-third of the maximum value. Near the Queen's Chamber, 115 meters of pyramid material press downward on the shaft. But only 35 meters of material press down on this spot, where we observe the greatest shaft damage. This highly unusual finding can have resulted only from one of two possible causes:

1. Extremely inept construction work below Block No. 25 and 26. It must be remembered, however, that it is this final section of the shaft which otherwise displays the highest quality workmanship observed anywhere in the shafts system.

2. The existence of an as yet undiscovered structure below or above this shaft section. Such a structure could produce a pressure peak, which could in turn focus considerable additional force on the shaft and possibly cause the observed damage."

- Rudolf Gantenbrink

In a previous  article I demonstrated that the small niches in the upper end of the King's chamber south shaft reflect what we now know of the area of the 'doors' in the Queen's chamber south shaft.  This would tend to suggest that this shaft may also continue after the second slab, which incidentally, both Gantenbrink and Hawass refer to as a 'door'. 

We know that no exit of this shaft has been found on the south side of the pyramid so where could this shaft continue to? 

Perhaps it leads to Gantenbrink's hypothetical undiscovered burial chamber of Hetepheres.

The upper ends of the King's and Queen's chamber southern shafts.

Below are listed some indications of the possible presence of an undiscovered chamber located somewhere between the end of the Queen's chamber southern shaft and the King's chamber south shaft above it:

  1. The change from a rough local limestone shaft to a nicely polished Tura limestone as the QC south shaft approaches the area of the slabs.

  2. Joints in the stones that form the shaft are also aligned more precisely in this area.

  3. The continuation of the QC south shaft based on the detailed similarities already observable between the KC and QC south shafts.

  4. The vertical joint in the KC southern shaft, otherwise only ever found in the vicinity of chambers and used to deflect the downward force that would otherwise push on a chamber wall.

  5. The 'dip' in the QC southern shaft below this area of the vertical joint in the KC south shaft. A similar deviation occurs lower down in the same shaft and is attributed to the settling of the KC south wall above it.

  6. The roughness (badly damaged floor) of this otherwise most accurately constructed area of the QC shaft is an anomaly and could be attributed to the settling of a hidden chamber located above it according to Gantenbrink.

* As a side note, Gantenbrink mentions the presence of mortar used in the placement of the shafts but the lack of mortar around the closure slab. He writes that this suggests is it movable.

Behind a Sealed Door

Much speculation over the meaning of 'Gantenbrink's Door' has been generated by the recent re-investigation of shafts by Dr Hawass and the National Geographic team.  Just what is its purpose and what are these copper pins for?  Are we looking at the back of a 'U' shaped staple as some have suggested?  Such staples were used by the Ancient Egyptians and can be seen, for example, fastened to the alabaster canopic chest of King Tutankhamen.  Looking closely at the photos below taken from Gantenbrink's web site, the pins or 'handles' as they have been called, appear to be fixed to the stone with some sort of resin.  Also, a distinct white patch can be seen on the stone underneath each of the pins.  

The two pins with white patches behind them 

Note the resin surrounding the copper pin

It has been suggested that what we are looking at could be a model door or false door through which the King's soul would leave the tomb.  This concept was not uncommon in Old Kingdom tombs and in the Pyramid Texts there are references to the opening the doors of the sky for the King to pass through.1

It would not be necessary for such a door to be physically opened as the King would symbolically unlock the doors as his soul ascends the shaft.  The handles on the shrines of Tutankhamen pictured below appear to have a number of things in common with those on the doors in the Queen's chamber shafts and may be a good indication of their intended purpose.

The sealed doors of the second shrine of Tutankhamen


Note the original seal of the officials remaining on the right handle, the left one having apparently fallen off.  Such seals could well have been attached to both of the pins on 'Gantenbrink's Door' as the residual markings suggest.  The shrine's handles also appear to be attached to the doors with resin as can be seen on the top of the left handle.  Over the 4500 or so years since the pyramid was built, the rope would of course disintegrated long ago and the seal fragments, if they were made of clay rather than wax, may still lie somewhere on the floor of the shaft.  Thus the copper pins could have served for the securing of the rope to symbolically seal the upper end of the shaft.  

Like a Russian Babushka doll, within the outer shrine of Tutankhamen is another sealed shrine, and another, and another, until finally, the sarcophagus containing his body is found. Similarly, beyond 'Gantenbrink's Door', Hawass and the National Geographic team found another door and behind this door, it has been speculated by several Egyptologists, including Mark Lehner, that we may find yet another door.  Or perhaps we will find Rudolf's burial chamber of Hetepheres.

Arguments against the likelihood of an undiscovered chamber's presence in this location mainly concern the presumption that a burial so close to the edge of the pyramid's casing would be more vulnerable to attack from tomb robbers.  This is of course a logical argument to make and would be very convincing if it were not for the evidence excavated by Zahi Hawass in which he found the remains of a woman entombed within the outer stones of one Khufu's satellite pyramids.  Hawass writes:

"Three discoveries around the subsidiary pyramids of Khufu (G1a and G1c) concern the construction of the base of the pyramids.  The evidence was found during general clearing of the sand from around the pyramids.  G. Reisner did not excavate, nor completely clear the sand from around the base of these pyramids.  

Our excavation around the south-west side of G1c, revealed the remains of a skeleton, found within a burial, inside limestone blocks, with hieroglyphic inscriptions of a person named Seshem-Nefer.  The burial was of a lady aged between 50 to 60 years.

- Zahi Hawass, Pyramid Construction - New Evidence Discovered at Giza.


That the name Seshem-Nefer was popular during the Old Kingdom may suggest the burial was contemporary with the pyramid's construction.  Being buried near the edge of the casing on the lower courses of the pyramid is very risky as far as security is concerned although in this case at least, it seems to have remained undisturbed until the excavation carried out by Hawass.

The placement of a similar chamber close to the casing in Khufu's main pyramid, as hypothesized by both Hawass and Gantenbrink would perhaps stand a better chance of not being robbed as it is positioned high on the pyramid's smooth face rather than near the ground.  

Why would Gantenbrink suggest that it was the burial chamber of Khufu's mother Hetepheres though?  

Although the body of Hetepheres has never been found, her funeral goods were discovered in a deep shaft north of GI-a, one of the satellite pyramids of Khufu.  This was considered to be a reburial, by Reisner who was in charge of the excavation.  He noted that the contents of the chamber were in the reverse order usually found in tombs.  Her bodily organs contained in a sealed canopic chest were also found with these funeral goods.

Judging from previous statements made by Zahi Hawass we know that he attributes the unusual positioning of Khufu's burial chamber high in the upper reaches of the pyramid as being a sign of an attempt to identify himself with the sun god Re, as the Ancient Egyptians considered the pyramid to be the manifestation of the Sun's rays.  It would of course follow that a burial chamber located even higher than the present burial chamber would have to have had greater significance. 

This most powerful position is, in Gantenbrink's opinion, held by Khufu's mother.  This is a fascinating proposal when we consider the fact that names of the Old Kingdom pyramids were sometimes used in exchange for the King's name, and that the pyramid was considered as an embodiment of the King.  The King's mother, for example, is sometimes referred to as the "Mother of the Pyramid".2   Hetepheres, then, like the sky goddess Nut, would be positioned above the body of her son the Osiris-King as the 'Mother of the Pyramid'.


My Mother the White Crown

The rays of the solar god, the protector and giver of life, were embodied by the pyramid, which was also associated with the Mother of the King.  The Hedjet crown of Osiris, the god with which each King was identified in death, was also associated with his Mother.

Although it is usually identified as the crown of the King of Upper Egypt, the Hedjet crown of Osiris, otherwise known as the 'White Crown', could be understood as the 'Crown of Resurrection' or 'Crown of Rebirth'.

This notion of the 'Rising Sun' also exists in the word for 'Coronation', kha, this hieroglyph being translated by Alan Gardiner as meaning 'sunrise', 'appear in glory'.  The location of the sunrise in the eastern horizon is a powerful symbol that plays a prominent role in the parts of the texts dealing with the King's rebirth.  The very name Khufu gave to his pyramid Akhet, is the the 'place of becoming a spirit', a pun on the word Akhet, the Horizon from which Re ascends into the sky after having triumphed over darkness, the sun's "Going Forth by Day". 

Gardiner points out that the 'sunrise' hieroglyph, kha,  is identified with the White Crown in a 'Hymn to the White Crown':

"PRAISE TO THE WHITE CROWN: Hail to thee, that Eye of Horus, the great one, 
Â…when she rises in the eastern horizon. Thou art the mistress of glorious appearances."

In the Pyramid Texts the white crown is identified with the mother of the deceased:

"I know my mother, I have not forgotten my Mother the White Crown..."
- Pyramid Texts, utterance 470.

I raise this connection between the Mother and the Crown of Osiris as it relates to the Pyramid of Man theory, which concerns the deliberate attempt of the designer to portray the figure of Osiris in the pyramid's substructure.  

If Gantenbrink's proposition proves to be true, that is, that the undiscovered burial chamber of Hetepheres is located between the doors in the Queen's chamber southern shaft and the vertical joint in the King's chamber southern shaft, then Khufu's Mother lies in a location that would correspond with the top of the White Crown of this giant internal statue of Osiris.


Osiris wearing the 'white' crown imposed over the King's chamber

Such a position could be interpreted as his mother symbolically giving him a second life.  Being located in the higher and thus more powerful position inside the pyramid of the King, Hetepheres could even be viewed as Isis3 in the form of a bird, hovering over the body of her dead husband enacting his spiritual rebirth.  

For more information continue on to the:



1. Utterance 313 for example: "The bolt of the door is drawn back, the doors of the sky are open."
2. See Pepi II's pyramid complex.
3. Isis was venerated as 'Mistress of the Pyramid' in later Dynasties.  Lehner notes that the chapel at the centre of the eastern base of Khufu's satellite pyramid GI-c (the same pyramid in which Hawass found the body of a woman near its outer edge) was converted to a temple of the goddess Isis under the epithet, 'Mistress of the Pyramids'.  See Lehner's Complete Pyramids, pages 116 & 38.

Other references:

Rudolf Gantenbrink's web site
An Interview with Mark Lehner on the recent exploration of the shafts
A Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian - Raymond O. Faulkner, Griffith Institute, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 1996.
Ancient Egyptian Literature vol. 1 - Miriam Lichtheim,  University of California Press, Ltd, London, 1975.
Egyptian Grammar - Alan Gardiner, Griffith Institute, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 1994.
The Complete Pyramids - Mark Lehner, Thames & Hudson Ltd, London, 1997.
The Pyramid of Unas - Alexandre Piankoff, Bollingen Series XL-5, Princeton University Press, 1968.