GIZA PLATEAU, EGYPT -- American experts inserted a small camera into a limestone-covered pit early Tuesday and viewed on a television screen a dismantled boat buried about 4,600 years ago in the golden age of the Pharaohs.
Members of the expedition financed by the National Geographic Society also had hoped to extract air undisturbed over the millenniums. But the pit's air seemed to have been tainted.
"It was stale and didn't smell of cedar," said Pieter Tans of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colo., where the air will be shipped for analysis. "I couldn't resist a whiff."
Discovery of the boat had been predicted by many Egyptologists, including Kamal el-Mallakh, who in 1954 discovered a nearby pit containing a similar boat.
The boat was excavated from the first pit, but National Geographic has no plans to excavate the second boat.
Both limestone pits are about 60 feet from the southern wall of the Great Pyramid of Cheops, the best-known ruler of ancient Egypt's Old Kingdom. Cheops, or Khufu, ruled Egypt from 2590-2568 B.C., during the fourth dynasty.
Ahmed Kadry, chairman of the Egyptian Antiquities Organization, cosponsor of the project, identified the craft viewed Tuesday as a "4,600-year-old royal boat built for the Pharaoh Cheops."
Using a specially designed carbide-tipped drill, based on technology developed for lunar probes, National Geographic team members bored a 3 1/2-inch hole through one of 40 stones atop the pit.
The drill was followed by a camera equipped with a light source and a zoom lens. As the light illuminated stacks of wood inside the pit, team members went quickly from a "hush" to "hugging and kissing," said Wilbur E. Garrett, editor of National Geographic Magazine.
The $250,000 probe marked the first time such space-age technology has been used for archeology.
Farouk el-Baz, the project's scientific director, said that in addition to stacked wood, "the camera showed reed covers, small pieces of mortar that had fallen into the pit and inscriptions hewn by ancient workers into the walls."
The boat in the first pit had been dismantled into 651 large pieces, which broke down into a 1,224-part jigsaw puzzle. It took five tries to reassemble them over a 10-year period, and the resulting 143-foot-long "Royal Boat of Cheops" rests today in a glass museum overlooking the new discovery.
Visitors to the site Tuesday afternoon included Rosalyn Carter, wife of former president Carter, and their daughter Amy.