Al Mamun’s Forced Entrance

Today tourists enter the Great Pyramid via the ‘Robbers’ tunnel dug by workmen employed by Caliph al-Ma’mun around AD 820.
The tunnel was cut straight through the masonry of thepEn18 pyramid for approximately 27 metres (89 ft), then turns sharply left to encounter the blocking ‘plugs’ in the Ascending Passage.
The workmen tunnelled up beside them through the softer limestone of the Pyramid until they reached the Ascending Passage.
Al Mamun decided to bore direct centre on the North face of the pyramid and on the level of the 7th course.
The original entrance is ten courses higher and 24 feet east of the main axis than Al Mamun dug. The fact is that Al Mamun appears to have tunnelled directly towards the junction of the ascending and descending passages.
The hole that he quarried was unnervingly accurate… ?

Al-Mamuns Entry.   (820 AD).

The first recorded ‘Forced entry’ by   the 7th Abbasid   Caliph, Al-Mamun of Baghdad, son of Harun Al-Rashid from the ‘Arabian knights’, Caliph of Cairo. It is   generally considered that he was the first person to re-enter upper parts since the pyramids closing. Unfortunately, as Col. H. Vyse pointed out  ‘The only fact which seems to be established by the Eastern authors to whom we have now referred (the Arabians), is the opening of the Great pyramid by Al Mamoun; and even of that, no distinct or rational account exists.’  According to most versions, he arrived at the Pyramid with an army of scholars (workmen, engineers, architects and masons). For days they scoured the surface for an entrance, but drew a blank. He apparently decided to enter by force at the 7th level of masonry. (The actual entrance is on the 19th course). Having dug or blasted their way through approximately over 30 metres of masonry, they apparently heard (from about 24 ft away through solid masonry), the sound of a stone falling, at which point they turned towards the noise and eventually broke into the descending passage. At this point, they apparently realised that the fallen prismatic block had previously concealed the mouth of the ascending passage and so dug around the granite blocks. Extract from Miracle of the Ages — ‘The whole ascending passage, to their great dismay, was filled with large, loose stones. When one was removed the next, beneath the weight of the others above, slid down into the place of the first. Finally the last block was removed Up they went into the Grand Gallery. One or two stopped to examine and peer closely into the well. Into the queen’s chamber the men forged. Into the Ante-Chamber they went. Still the promised riches eluded them. Beneath the last, low-suspended stones they crawled, coming out into the beautiful Kings chamber. Alas the coffer was empty». The account continues  ‘ That night under the cover of darkness, while his weary men slept soundly, Mamoun, who was very rich, carried, with the aid of a few trusted officers, many gold coins to a spot adjacent to the pyramid and buried them securely. Next day he confronted his men and in his grandiose manner announced that in a vision during the night Allah had revealed to him where the wealth that they had been seeking really lay. The man dug at the spot directed by the Caliph, and soon uncovered the cache of gold’. There are problems associated with the Al-Mamun story: A number of pyramids had already been opened, and the descending polar passages would have been general knowledge by the time of Al-Mamun. The presence of an entrance and internal tunnels in the great pyramid had been recorded by Pliny, Strabo, etc. As we are told that the pyramid was sealed when he arrived, one has to ask why he started digging where he did (off-centre), and why he continued to dig horizontally into the pyramid for so long (over 30 metres), when no other pyramid has upper chambers or corridors. His passage leads in an almost (uncannily) direct line to the junction of the ascending and descending passage. Although Petrie states the tunnel to have been cut through the 7th course of masonry, he also shows it to run through the 6th course. At present, it is cut through at least two (the height of an average person). It is a curious fact that the 6th course of masonry is also the top level of the bottom stone that hid the granite blocks. This means that they would have been digging only one level above the actual junction of the descending and ascending passages. While the tunnel certainly bears down and left, it only does so at the end, after the ascending passage, and at the point of the granite plugs and junction. Is it really possible to hear/feel a stone drop 4ft, from behind approx 24ft of solid stone, and identify its exact direction, presumably while digging etc.. Question — Was Al-Mamun trying to reach the granite ‘plugs’ specifically? Answer -If the original, northern entrance was truly lost when he arrived, he took an incredible risk (almost foolish), digging into the pyramid the way he did. As ‘polar’ passages in pyramids were already well known, it is likely that he had more information available to him at the time. The same conclusions were reached by Mark Foster and Ralph Ellis (‘Tunnel Vision, About the Great Pyramid’), who believe that the ‘Trial passages’ were left as a clue, that Al Mamun realized this and the reason he dug such a large ‘exit’ tunnel was to ‘get something out’ of the pyramid, and that he had with him the coffer lid — now the K’aba of Mecca.  An interesting theory. The main criticism with this theory is that the ‘Trial passages’ are not the same. In fact they show distinct differences. (i.e. Why didn’t they try to find the vertical tunnel above the plugs). A stone slab (6ftx4ft), was reported by ‘Maillet’ in the Antechamber (see below) Isn’t the K’aba supposed to be a meteorite? While most books on the Great Pyramid talk about the first ‘forced-entry’ by Al-Mamun, the following quote from ‘Egypt — Gods, Myths and religion’, creates a different version of events altogether. ‘It is, in fact, highly likely that Al-Mamuns men made use of a passage created by ancient thieves. A man named Denys of Telmahre, the Jacobite Patriarch of Antioch, was present when Al-Mamun entered the pyramid, and he states that   the pyramid had already been opened before their visit…The same but (albeit tamed) story was recorded by Abu Szalt of Spain. Rather than fabulous treasure, he reports that Al-Mamun’s men discovered only a sarcophagus with some   old bones inside it’. If it is the case that it had been forcibly-entered before, then we are faced with a new set of questions (i.e. who and when). It is recorded that following entry, Al-Mamun first crawled back up to find the original entrance, then down the descending corridor to the subterranean chamber, there he reported    torch marks on the ceiling of the Subterranean Chamber. Should this have been the case, it is curious that the lower exit of the well-shaft wasn’t noted. Apparently, he continued upwards into the Queens chamber, and   ordered the hole at the back of the ‘niche’ to be dug. He continued upwards past the grand gallery to the king’s chamber where he apparently found nothing but the already opened coffer. It is also believed that he was also responsible for the excavations under the coffer, and the large bore hole in the floor on the north wall.  Comment — The direction of the hole that Al-Mamun dug is beyond serendipity. We should consider the probability that he was specifically trying to reach the upper parts. It is possible that if this were the case, the upper parts had already been previously breached.

Tunnel vision
Ralph Ellis & Mark Foster

The classical story of the discovery of the upper chambers inside pEn19the Khufu pyramid at Giza is well known. In the ninth century anpEn20 Arab governor of Cairo, known as the Caliph al Ma’mun, decided to see for himself what lay inside the Great pyramid and began to excavate a tunnel bodily through the casing and core blocks. Fortuitously for the Caliph, their busy tunnelling shook the structure so much that the capstone fell off the end of the ascending passage. The resonating crash was heard by the workers, who dug in that direction and found not only the descending passage, but also the ascending passage and all the upper chambers in the pyramid. After thousands of years lying undisturbed deep inside the pyramid, the King’s and Queen’s chambers were opened at last and their treasure would soon belong to the Caliph But, as the story goes, there was no booty; apparently this most ancient of cupboards was absolutely bare. There were not only no burial artifacts, but no burial and no inscriptions either! The first thought to cross the mind of the Caliph must have been that the ‘tomb’ had been robbed, but how? Even if the secret ‘Well Shaft’ deep inside the pyramid had been found at this stage, it is hardly a suitable tunnel through which to strip a wealthy burial chamber totally bare. So where was all the loot?pEn13 The Caliph and his excavators must have not only been very exasperated, after all their work, but mystified too. pEn14Fable?
Are we so sure that this is what really happened, just over a millennia ago? Are we simply complacent because this it what has been taught to us by respected authorities for centuries? Perhaps it merely easier to agree with the established consensus of opinion, rather than thinking positively and laterally about the problem. Fortunately there are a few individuals out there, who are more than happy to challenge a whole raft of classical myths; and so it was one day that a short e-mail arrived in Ralph Ellis‘ in-box from a like-minded colleague, Mark Foster. Mark had an idea that had been bothering him for some time and he wanted to throw it around a bit. A quick read convinced Ralph that it was a highly original idea and definitely worth some further thought. After a few debates here and there, the following alternative scenario to the classical story developed, which is quite attractive in many respects. The new explanation not only answers some irritating puzzles, but it also poses some interesting and fundamental questions in return. The basic problem with the classical explanation, was that Ma’mun’s hole is rather too accurate for comfort, it tracks into the pyramid in a direct line for the all important junction of the descending and ascending passageways. It is often cited that Ma’mun had to turn the tunnel sharp left to discover the original passageways, a fact that Ralph and Mark had in the bacpEn15k of their minds when they firstpEn5 independently visited the Khufu pyramid. But as Ralph and Mark ambled down the forced tunnel, they were both equally rather mystified, because the left turn could not be found! Having backtracked the tunnel and tried again, that ‘left turn’ seemed to be no more than a slight widening of the tunnel at this point. In actual fact, the diggings were almost right on their target. So how did this happen, was Ma’mun just lucky and happened to pick the right spot? Did he have an idea of where to go to? There is also the problem of why Ma’mun was tunnelling in the first place. Not only was the presence of the true entrance to the pyramid well known in classical times but people were also aware of the descending passage and the subterranean cavern at the very bottom of the pyramid. Strabo says of the original entrance to the Khufu pyramid: «The Great pyramid, a little way up on one side, has a stone that may be taken out, which being raised up there is a sloping passage to the foundations.» Strabo seems to be describing a door made of stone that is movable in some way, it can be moved upwards and outwards at the same time. This sounds like a hinged flap arrangement, with the hinge at the top of the stone. Strabo was clearly familiar with the internal layout of the lower portions of the pyramid and the form that the entrancepEn21 stone took. Petrie backed this quotation up with a detailed study of the entrances to the Vega (Bent)pEn11 pyramid, the only pyramid that still has the doorways around the entrance intact. He found that on either side of the entrance, there were holes cut opposite each other, about 9cm in diameter by 14cm deep. These holes were just inside the entrance and only 15cm from the top of the passage. Petrie, not unreasonably, interpreted these as being the hinge sockets to swing the stone door from. Behind these sockets, the passageway contained more door sockets. These were smaller vertical sockets, for a very lightweight door, perhaps made of wood and presumably to keep out the wind-blown sand. The diagrams right were developed by Petrie and based on his analysis of the Vega (Bent) pyramid entrance. The hinged stone door is clearly marked as the large shaded stone. It needs to be this shape, with a long top extending backwards, in order to counterbalance the weight of the stone. The amount of counterbalance at the top would have been judiciously arranged by the architect, so that the force required to open the stone was within normal human limitations, say about 25kg of force.
Here then, we have clear evidence that a movable entrance stone was fitted to the Khufu pyramid, pEn17and that the descending passage had been visited, pEn7perhaps many times, throughout recorded history. To gain entry to the pyramid, however, was still not easy. A series of ladders would have to be erected against the pyramid to reach the door. Presumably the entry stone must have had a handle of some sort on which to pull, and it would then need a prop of some nature to keep it open, while the new initiate scrambled into the thin hole and down the descending passage. A knotted rope would also have to be fed slowly down the length of the passage, to allow for an easy exit from the dark and foreboding depths of the sacred pyramid. Undoubtedly, all of this frenetic activity would have scratched and pitted the entrance to the pyramid over the millennia in a very obvious fashion. Yet, it is generally accepted that the casing blocks must have been intact during the rule of Ma’mun, as the casing blocks were used by Sultan Hasan for the construction of his mosque in 1356. The question is, therefore, why could Ma’mun not see these tell-tale marks and the original entrance to the pyramid that lay only a few meters above him?
Why could he not see the handle on the door, or the scuff-marks on the smooth exterior?
The knowledge of the true entrance must still have been known, so why could none of the locals be ‘persuaded’ to point it out?
This apparent invisibility of the original entrance could not have beenpEn18 because it was covered by sand, for instance, because Ma’mun’s tunnelpEn8 lies below the level of the real entrance.
So what was the problem?
Why so was much effort expended in digging a new tunnel, when an easy entrance lay just above?
Two very important questions have just been posed Ð why could Ma’mun not see the real entrance, when it was so well known?
And why was his alternative tunnel so accurate, if he did not know where the real entrance was?
Bit of a catch-22 really.
Guide passage
Mark Foster had had an idea that Ma’mun already knew of the original entrance and the descending passage, and had used the new forced entry tunnel for another reason, perhaps to get around the granite plug-blocks in the ascending passage, perhaps to get the necessary equipment into the right position to dig around those blocks. But if Ma’mun did not discover the ascending passage while he was creating his new forced tunnel, how did he know it was there? The ascending passage was, after all, completely secret and unexplored at this time, how was it discovered? Mark and Ralph both came to the same conclusions on this topic. The key to discovering the ascending passage lies outside the pyramid, just to the east of the base and to the north of the causeway. Here, there lies what Petrie called the ‘trial passage’, which is simply a foreshortened replica of the Khufu pyramid’s descending passage and the junction with the ascending passage. As everything on the plateau has a purpose, why is it there? pEn9Petrie thought it was a test-bed on which the architect could test out the procedures for laying out the internal passageways. This is a possibility. However, we both think that the real answer is that it is not a ‘trial passage’, but a ‘guide passage‘. Any interestedpEn2 party looking into this short passage system will clearly see the symmetry with the real descending passage inside the pyramid, but a little further down they will come across a junction with another ascending passage. The idea might just dawn on someone that the real pyramid passageways just might have the same configuration. Thus the ascending passage was quite possibly found by Ma’mun’s men entering the original entrance to the pyramid and tapping down the ceiling of the descending passage, searching for that elusive passageway that was hinted at by the ‘guide passageways’ outside. Success at last, the men found a concealed entrance! But as they were not able to penetrate the granite plugs that blocked this ascending shaft, a small tunnel was dug through the softer limestone core-blocks, around the granite plugs, and up into the ascending passage. Ma’mun was at last able to enter the Queen’s and King’s chambers and to plunder his expected booty. If all this is so, however, it may also be an indication of another passageway inside the Khufu pyramid. The only difference between the ‘guide passageways’ and the real passageways, is that the guide system has a vertical shaft attached to the junction of the descending and ascending passages. Mark believes this to be a sure sign that a similar vertical shaft lies undiscovered within the Khufu pyramid.
This is all very well as scenario’s go, you might say, but if this is the case then whypEn10 on Earth is that great forced tunnel there?pEn1 Surely the classical explanation is correct, Ma’mun came in via
this crude excavation! — Perhaps, but here is where Ralph’s traditional lateral thinking comes into play. Tunnels are not only for getting in, but also for getting out… It is highly probable that the real reason for the forced tunnel was not to get into the pyramid, but rather to get ‘something’ OUT. Whatever it was, though, it must have been small enough to go down the first part of the ascending passage, but it was too long to go around the bend between the descending and ascending passageways. The only alternative for the intrepid explorers, was to dig a tunnel directly outwards from the junction of the two passageways, bypassing the constriction. This explains both of the questions posed above. The original entrance had been known about, and the accuracy of the forced tunnel is because is was started from inside and dug outwards. This may also explain why so much rubble was later found in the bottom of the descending passage, it came from the forced tunnel’s excavations. So what was the long thin booty that Ma’mun had found and ‘liberated’? Had the King’s chamber been filled with sacred and valuable artifacts and the mummy of a great and ancient king? Had Ma’mun discovered a king’s ransom in bullion? Perhaps, but personally Ralph thinks that the real answer is probably more prosaic and poignant that this.
The Caliph’s tale
laboriously climbed his way up the 41.2 cubits of swaying ladders, to the original entrance of the Khufu pyramid, a difficult task for a well-fed Caliph and a worrying moment for his advisors. After a short slide down the descending passage, he entered the small rough shaft that his men had dug around the granite plug blocks and scrambled into the ascending passage. From there he struggled up the Grand Gallery,pEn16 his men cautiously pushing his bulk from behind. Sweating and cursing, he finally crawled on hands and knees into the King’s chamber, a degrading and exhausting experience that no Caliph had endured either before or since. Ma’mun was flustered, even angry, but also elated. Although he had been briefed that the King’s chamber was basically empty, what it did possess was an untouched, enigmatic and completely sealed sarcophagus! This was the prize that justified these privations, Ma’mun was going to be at the opening of this sarcophagus at whatever cost Ð he was not about to let his chief vizier run of with the treasure of the ancient kings, or perhaps even the secrets of the gods themselves! A disorganised rabble of workmen arrived and prised at the coffer lid with crow-bars; they cursed, swore and shouted, but the lid just would not budge. Finally, in a state of ecstatic anticipation, Ma’mun pushed the rabble aside and ordered the coffer to be smashed with sledge-hammers. The chief gaffir aimed a few heavy blows and with a great crash, one corner of the sarcophagus flew off. Ma’mun ordered the workers away, yelled for silence, grabbed a flickering lamp from a soldier and approached the hole in trepidation. Then, the significance of the moment struck him. He was standing inside the greatest of all the world’s ancient monuments, a structure rumoured to have been constructed by the gods themselves. Here at the heart of this sacred monument lay a simple, unadorned, solitary black-granite coffer, that had been sealed for thousands of years; and he, Caliph al Ma’mun, was going to be the first to see inside. His hand began to tremble at the thought and he quickly steadied it with his other, least the workers see him as apprehensive. The light flickered and it was difficult to see, but at last it steadied and he saw for himself that the sarcophagus was … empty! This is exactly what happened to the archeologist Zakaria Goneim a millennium later. He was excavating the pyramid of Sekhemkhet at Saqqara, when a sealed sarcophagus was found complete with its ‘funerary wreaths’ still on the top. With great difficulty the sliding end of the coffer was raised and it was … empty! Whilst Zakaria Goneim was greatly disappointed, the Caliph Al Ma’mun was absolutely livid. Suspecting, perhaps, that one of his workers had manufactured this little rouse, he flew into a violent rage and vented his anger on a few unfortunate victims of summary justice. Ma’mun was not about to go back to his palace empty handed, after all he had been through. But the chamber only contained the sarcophagus and it was quite obvious that it was bigger than the entrance to the chamber. As a consolation prize, they found that the lid of the sarcophagus could be turned diagonally and just about squeeze through the King’s chamber’s tough granite entrance blocks. Ma’mun was going to have it as a memento at all costs. Unfortunately for the workers, however, after sliding the great block of stone down the Grand Gallery, they found that the lid was not going to squeeze around the plug blocks and into the descending passage. Besides, the lid must have weighed a tonne, and if it ever got into the descending passage, nobody could think of a way of preventing it from plunging all the way down to the bottom of the pyramid. In addition, the original entrance stone-flap was far too small to get the lid through. It was all becoming a bit of a nightmare. Spurred on by an enraged Caliph, however, the chief of engineering came up with an answer. The only practical solution was to force a new tunnel from the junction of the descending and ascending passageways, horizontally through the core blocks of the pyramid and into the open air. THIS is Ma’mun’s forced tunnel.
Ralph Ellis & Mark Foster.

P.S. Many people continue to be critical of the ‘strange’ notion that the Khufu pyramid chambers were designed and constructed to be perfectly empty, it seems to be counter intuitive. But all the evidence seems to point towards the Khufu tomb being empty — just like the tomb of Sekhemkhet was found to be in recent excavations. But this is not actually so strange as it may first seem. The truth of the matter is that a billion or so people today, known as Christians, base their entire philosophy on just this concept — the empty tomb. The Egyptologists will not rock the contemporary boat with such symmetric symbolism, but perhaps the importance of the history of Egypt is slowly becoming apparent to some…