Titanic discoverer Robert Ballard called to find lost sarcophagus





It has been a source of enduring fascination for archaeologists and amateur Egyptologists everywhere: what exactly happened to the sarcophagus of Menkaure, one of Egypt's greatest Pharaohs? Now, more than 170 years after it was found and lost, the mystery could be solved.

Built from polished blue basalt to transport the king's earthly remains to the next world, the elaborately decorated vessel lay hidden inside the third-largest of Giza's renowned Pyramids for more than 4,000 years. In 1837 the British colonel Richard William Howard Vyse blasted his way into Menkaure's sepulchral chamber using gunpowder and discovered the stone casket.

The mummy was missing by that time — ancient Arabic graffiti indicated that the colonel was not the first to find the chamber — and he realised that his discovery could open the way for a new generation of grave robbers. "As the sarcophagus would have been destroyed had it remained in the Pyramid," he noted in his diaries, "I resolved to send it to the British Museum."

In a twist worthy of an Indiana Jones film, the sarcophagus was lost again the following year before it could reach British shores. The merchant ship Beatrice, which was carrying it and other antiquities found by the archaeologist, sank while sailing from Malta to Gibraltar — reportedly off the coast of Spain, near Alicante.

Now the Egyptian Government wants to recover it with the aid of underwater robots. Zahi Hawass, who heads Egypt's Supreme Council for Antiquities, told Spanish journalists that he was seeking financing from the National Geographic Society for the search.

To locate the Beatrice he has lined up the services of Robert Ballard, who found the Titanic using high-tech submersibles. The Egyptians have also privately suggested Franck Goddio, the French marine archaeologist who has discovered hundreds of artefacts from submerged parts of Alexandria.


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