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The 4,500-year-old pyramid is the oldest and largest of the three ancient monuments in the Giza Plateau and is believed to have been constructed for the Pharaoh Khufu over a 20-year period. Less than a mile away stands the Great Sphinx, a limestone statue of a mythical creature with the body of a lion and the head of a human, said to have been built to protect Pharaoh Khafre, whose pyramid lurks in the backdrop. In the early 19th century, English traveller Henry Salt arrived in Alexandria and travelled to Cairo where he would be stationed as consul for the Government.
Once set up in Cairo, he began to work on his mission of securing antiquities and artefacts, relaying back his findings along the way to London. Yet, a two-volume manuscript, detailing his work on the Great Pyramid and Sphinx would go left unforgotten.
That was until they were unearthed in the British Museum, researcher Ben van Kerkwyk revealed during his new YouTube documentary ‘An investigation into the origins of the Sphinx’.
Mr van Kerkwyk said: “The Sphinx’s very first excavation in what we would call modern times isn’t as readily available as you might think.
“In fact, the account of this work was only uncovered in 2002, in previously unpublished volumes that were discovered in the archives of the British Museum when they were moving.
“They were handwritten and drawn by Henry Salt, who was the British consul general in Egypt from 1816 to 1827.
“They tell the tale of the excavation work done by his friend, Giovanni Caviglia, a Genoese mercantile captain.
“He isn’t a particularly well-known figure today and neither is the work that he did there, perhaps because Salt’s account of it was never fully published.”
Mr van Kerkwyk, who runs the channel ‘UnchartedX,’ detailed some of the fascinating work carried out.
He added: “Caviglia was responsible for some significant and quite famous discoveries.
“He was the first man in modern times to discover the connection between the well shaft and the descending passageway in the Great Pyramid – and also the first man to clear out and enter the subterranean chamber.
“He was also the first person in 1,000 years to excavate the Sphinx.
“One of the documents contained Salt’s handwritten account of all of the work, with many annotations and edits from other people, the other was his diagram and sketches.
“Eventually these books were published in 2007 in a very limited quantity. Fortunately, I did manage to find one and get my hands on it.”
The introduction to the British Museum papers read: “These volumes had been catalogued but never studied in-depth and many of the illustrations appeared to be otherwise unknown.”
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It also added: “It was the dramatic account of the discoveries made in 1817 by the Genoese mercantile captain at the Great Pyramid, including a survey and excavations at the surrounding necropolis and first clearance of the Sphinx since ancient times.”
Mr van Kerkwyk detailed why the work was so important at the time.
He continued: “Caviglia’s dig was the first in thousands of years to uncover the full-scale of the Sphinx, its chest and its paws, as well as the fragments of its beard and numerous other works including a large staircase that has since been destroyed.
“There was no doubt that people had been digging in the area around the Sphinx.
“It took a monumental effort and a huge number of people to clear that much sand from the area.
“Although Caviglia spent a lot of time clearing out tombs around Giza, as well as areas of the Great Pyramid, they really paled in comparison to the work he had to put in with the Sphinx.”
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