Built on a quest for immortality

GIZA, EGYPT

For ages it was widely believed that these great monuments were built by slaves forced into labor to serve the desires and the egos of their rulers. But, the truth, hidden for nearly 40 centuries, is only now becoming clear.

Standing in front of the Sphinx in Giza, Dr. Zahi Hawass talked with ABC7's Spencer Christian about two of the Seven Wonders of the World.

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"You can imagine after the pyramids were built, how many people came here from the ancient Egyptian, like King Tut. King Tut himself built rest house just south of this temple," explained Dr. Zahi Hawass. This rest house he used it for, to stay and hunt the wild animals. And, this why he was really interested in hunting."

Questions have always surrounded the Sphinx, a symbol of kingship with the face of a king and the body of a lion. What is hidden underneath?

"The Sphinx represents Khafra, the builder of the second pyramid at Giza, the son of Khufu whose giving offering was two poles to the Sun God who rise and sits from this temple in front of the Sphinx, the first Temple of the Sun."

Dr. Hawass explained that the Sphinx "was a solid rock or a living rock, that the ancient Egyptian tried to change a solid rock to have a face of a king and a body of a lion."

"And, we have been restoring the Sphinx for 10 years. I spent 10 years working in the restoration of the Sphinx, because the Sphinx has been restored badly all the time by putting cement and big large stones, changing the proportion of the Sphinx," he said.

"And, I have to tell you the Sphinx lost its right shoulder, that piece on the top, in 1988. It was just like, red flag," Dr. Hawass said as he continued sharing his inspiration. "I tell everyone that when I came to see the Sphinx after this chunk of limestone fell down, I could see the Sphinx was crying. I felt that the Sphinx is a living stone, not really something dead. We stayed 10 years taking the cement out, restoring the Sphinx, using mortar consists of lime and sand. For 10 years after we restored the Sphinx. I told everyone when I came to the Sphinx I could see that the Sphinx was smiling."

Dr. Hawass says the Sphinx and the ancient Egyptian civilization is still living today.

"It's still alive today because we can learn from these people. We can learn about this building technique. We can learn about their belief in the afterlife, how this pyramid made the king to be a god. That's a quest for immortality."

In his lifelong dedication to learn more about a complex and intriguing civilization, Dr. Hawass leaves no stone unturned, quite literally. People have always believed that secret tunnels existed underneath the Sphinx. Dr. Hawass actually found a few of them.

"A man, a workerman, was working for us and he told us that his grandfather told him, 'If you move a stone from the Sphinx tail you will find a tunnel.' We did move that stone and we found that there is a tunnel going inside the Sphinx for about 45 feet," Dr. Hawass said pointing at the actual spot. "I entered in this tunnel. Look, it goes inside for 45 feet."

Dr. Hawass told ABC7 his team found old shoeprints, evidence that someone had entered the tunnels before them.

"When I did a study of these tunnels, we found out they were done in the late period 500 B.C. Like us today, we dream of secrets hidden underneath the Sphinx."

While every tunnel may not lead to gold, with each discovery comes a better understanding of the remarkable people who built the great civilization in which Tutankhamun lived and died.

For many of the workers it took a lifetime of effort to build the monumental pyramids. Why was it so important to them that they would invest their whole lives in it?

Dr. Hawass said the pyramid was the national project of the whole nation.

"Every household in the north and south of Egypt used to participate in building the pyramid by sending workforce and food to help the king. It was the most important thing in the life of the ancient Egyptian."

Dr. went on to dispel the popular idea that the pyramids were built by slaves, citing his research indicating that the builders were buried beside the pyramid.

"If they were slaves they would never be buried beside the pyramids," he said. "And, they prepared their tombs for eternity like kings and queens."

In making their elaborate preparations for safe passage into the afterlife, the ancient people did, in a sense, achieve a measure of immortality. Perhaps the most prominent symbol of that immortal status is King Tutankhamun. The discovery of his tomb and its captivating and priceless artifacts turned an otherwise insignificant ruler, into a golden icon of ancient history to be remembered and talked about forever.

The true legacy of Tutankhamun is to connect humanity to its own ancient past. Tut's tomb and its priceless contents continue to intrigue and inform people nearly 4,000 years after the boy king's death.

The story of King Tut, much like the story of ancient Egypt itself, is not complete. Researchers and scientists are still learning more of the secrets and the mysteries of King Tut thanks to the work of Dr. Hawass and his team of archaeologists. And, thanks to their tireless efforts the world is learning not only about the history of King Tut and of Egypt, but of all humankind.

Resources and exhibit information:

>> The Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharoahs Exhibit
The de Young Museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park
Opens June 27, 2009 and runs through March, 2010
Tickets & info: http://www.famsf.org/deyoung

>> King Tutankhamun and the work of Dr. Zahi Hawass: http://www.drhawass.com

>> The King Tut exhibit and its return to San Francisco: http://tutsanfrancisco.org

>> Timeline of events in Ancient Egypt

>> Suggested reading: The Discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen by Howard Carter and A.C. Mace
>> Buy the book on Amazon

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