L’artiste et voyageur britannique Henry Salt (1780-1827) eut une carrière de diplomate en Égypte, comme consul général de son pays. Durant son séjour sur les rives du Nil, il s’ingénia à (faire) collecter de nombreux objets d’art pour alimenter le département des antiquités égyptiennes au British Museum.Son intérêt pour l’égyptologie se manifesta également par le soutien qu’il apporta aux travaux de fouilles entrepris par Belzoni et Caviglia.
Accompagnant ce dernier, qui explorait alors les entrailles de la Grande Pyramide, il put ainsi effectuer une visite approfondie de la chambre souterraine, sur laquelle il donna le commentaire suivant, que j’ai extrait de l’ouvrage The life and correspondence of Henry Salt, par J.J. Halls, vol. 2, 1834 :
“Before I quit this chamber, I must observe that though it now bears so rude and unfinished an appearance, yet, after comparing it very carefully with many other subterranean chambers that have been disfigured by the effects of time and the rude hands of curious inquirers, I cannot help entertaining an opinion that it was once highly ornamented, and perhaps used for carrying on some secret mysteries. I confess that I had flattered myself, before it was cleared out, that it would be found to correspond with the one described by Herodotus as containing the tomb of Cheops, and into which, according to the usual interpretation of the passage, was introduced a canal from the Nile ; but after the necessary examination, I was reluctantly compelled to relinquish the idea from there being no inlet for the water to enter, and from finding that the Nile, according to the late French observations, does not rise to within thirty feet of its level when the river stands at its highest elevation. From an expression, however, in Strabo, that the entrance leads directly down to the chamber in which stood the ' thua,' there seems some reason to believe that the new chamber was the only one open in his day : a circumstance confirmed by Pliny's making mention only of what he calls a 'well' at eighty-six cubits below the surface, which also very nearly agrees with the actual depth of this chamber.
It was left for a Mussulman to discover the real sanctuary and to despoil the tombs of their contents. Al Hamoun, the son of Haroun al Raschid, prompted by the treasure-searching spirit of the age, effected this laborious undertaking, and though the difficulties could not have amounted to what the prosing genius of Maillet has supposed, yet they might well have defied any efforts except those of a sovereign enthusiastic in the pursuit. The Arab authors of best repute have recounted the details of this discovery, and every circumstance, in the present aspect of the pyramid, serves to confirm their veracity.”
À ce texte, l’éditeur de l’ouvrage apporte le commentaire suivant :
“It seems difficult to conjecture on what grounds Mr. Salt entertained the above opinion, as the details of his description certainly appear to favour the supposition of this chamber being merely an unfinished excavation. The commencement of a well in its central compartment, the long passage literally "leading to nothing", and the fact of no vestige of ornamental remains being found among the rubbish with which it was filled, all tend to confirm the notion that the apartment must have been left originally in an incomplete state.”