An Egyptian pharaoh had to be rescued from his burial chamber in the nation's oldest pyramid shortly after his sarcophagus was placed there, according to a new theory.
Pharaoh Djoser was a ruler in the Third Dynasty believed to have been buried in the Step Pyramid in Saqqara, a stunning six-tier monument built in 2600BC that is still standing today.
However neither the mummified bodies of Djoser or his chancellor who was buried with him have ever been found in the building.
Experts over the years have theorised the sarcophagi were either destroyed or stolen by grave robbers.
However, Peter James, a respected structural engineer and Egyptologist, has proposed an alternative explanation in a new book.
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In March the Step Pyramid was finally reopened to visitors after 14 years of restoration, which was carried out by Mr James' company Cintec after the structure was damaged by earthquakes.
"We were asked to have a look at the Step Pyramid and, at that time, there was an international interest from the French, the Germans and the Italians on how to look at the centre part – the burial chamber," he told Express.co.uk.
"It was about eight metres squared and about 29 metres high.
"In those days they did not have the sarcophagus above ground, the only technique was to go down, so they went down six metres and placed it there."
Builders used a groundbreaking technique to construct the Step Pyramid, placing mastabas (a mudbrick rectangular structure) on top of one another to create the famous pyramid shape.
"The pharaoh wanted to go higher and so they built three mastabas on top of that, taking them to six levels," Mr James said.
He went on: "The problem was, at the top of the burial chamber he used palm trees to support the next level.
"But as you go higher, timber starts to bend and flex and never recovers, and I'm sure it collapsed very early on.
"Every month, maybe one or two stones would drop down onto the sarcophagus.
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"For about 100 years nobody went in there because it was too dangerous."
His team worked to create a supporting structure that allowed the pyramid to be safely reopened. They repaired the damage using a product called Waterwall and used airbags to spread a load over the damaged area and secure it.
Mr James says the Ancient Egyptians were "learning as they went along" about how best to build a pyramid, finally perfecting their craft with the iconic Great Pyramid.
"They could have moved the body of Djoser having identified these structural problems," he said.
"I suspect that they knew fairly soon after putting all the weight on the chamber that there was a problem.
"It could well be that they moved him, of course, they are still looking for Imhotep who was the architect of it all. It's an interesting theory."
In his new book Saving the Pyramids: Twenty-First Century Engineering and Egypt's Ancient Monuments, Mr James provides his expert opinion on some of the common theories around the pyramids.
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