PROVO — Some BYU programs are really dry.
Dry, sandy and full of mummies.
But that's just how professor C. Wilfred Griggs likes it.
As director of the BYU Egypt Excavation Project, Griggs has spent the past 30 winters excavating south of Cairo, unearthing pyramids, mummies and Christian burial grounds.
"(BYU) has the Jerusalem Center in Israel," Griggs said. "It's very important to have that kind of international exposure and that activity in Israel, and, in the same way on a much lesser scale, this project has given BYU a very positive and continuing presence in Egypt, in the Arab world."
This January, the team of professionals, professors and a few students will again travel to Egypt to map Snefru's fourth pyramid using GPS. They also will continue their excavation of an ancient cemetery.
"BYU has a motto, 'The World is our Campus,' " Griggs said. "This is probably as good an example as there is."
BYU became involved in the project through Griggs, who had been part of an excavation team at Berkeley while studying there in the 1970s.
Now, BYU returns each year, with the permission of the Egyptian government, to learn more about the pyramids of Snefru, one of the most famous Egyptian pharaoh architects and the first to build a real pyramid, not a step pyramid.
The pyramid on BYU's site, Seila, is named after a nearby city. It is about 140 feet long on a side and was originally about 100 feet tall, Griggs said. However, it had become buried under sand as deep as 20 feet in places.
After a years-long excavation, done by BYU-paid Egyptian laborers to aid their economy, the group can now focus on the connections between Seila and Snefru's three other nearby pyramids.
"It's starting to become clear that, contrary to what most Egyptologists and history books have taught … these (pyramids) were built to work in conjunction with each other," said Kerry Muhlestein, a professor of ancient scripture at BYU, who will become the program director upon Griggs' retirement. "It makes us rethink what the purpose of the pyramid was."
Pyramids have been considered elaborate burial spots for kings, Muhlestein said. However, why would Snefru build four when he would only be buried in one?
Muhlestein has several ideas about how Snefru's pyramids are interconnected in design and purpose, but didn't want to delve into details before the official report is finished.24 comments on this story
"By the time we're done with our publication, people will have to re-evaluate and come to a different understanding of the purpose of pyramids in Egyptian culture and religion," he said.
The cemetery has also produced interesting, and perhaps altering, data.
"(We've found) evidences of Christian beliefs relating to the afterlife that were much more complex and much more interesting than we would ever have guessed from the literature of early Christianity," Griggs said.
For more information or to donate to the project, contact Griggs or Muhlestein through e-mail at EgyptExcavations@byu.edu.