CAIRO, Egypt Sept. 3, 2004 — Egypt's antiquities chief on Thursday revealed a 2,500-year-old hidden tomb under the shadow of one of Giza's three giant pyramids, containing 400 pinkie-finger-sized statues and six coffin-sized niches carved into granite rock.
Zahi Hawass, the director of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, said archaeologists had been working for three months to clear sand from a granite shaft found between the pyramid of Khafre also known by its Greek name of Chephren Giza's second-largest tomb of a pharaoh, and the Sphinx.
Under blaring sun Thursday, Hawass said Giza's latest ancient discovery came to light after archaeologists detected what appeared to be a four-sided shaft. The antiquities chief verified it by climbing a pyramid to get a bird's eye look.
Excavators later removed several tons of fine sand to descend 33 feet below ground level to where they found the niches.
Hawass said a wooden coffin and a pile of turquoise-colored figurines made of faience, a non-clay ceramic material used by ancient Egyptians, were also found.
"The statues, called 'shawabtis,' depict servants. Their task was to answer questions for the deceased in the after life and to serve the dead people," Hawass told The Associated Press.
Hawass said workers will continue clearing sand from the shaft for a further 33 feet, where he believes more antiquities, including a granite sarcophagus, could be unearthed.
The shaft was built in the 26th pharaonic dynasty during a period of cultural revival when "remarkable, huge tombs" were constructed, Hawass said.