Scientists have discovered a mysterious and previously unknown “void” deep within the Great Pyramid at Giza in Egypt, using a new imaging technique based on cosmic rays to penetrate inside the 4,500-year-old structure.
The space, the first large inner structure found in the Great Pyramid since the 19th century, is at least 30 metres long, with a cross-section similar to the known Grand Gallery which lies beneath it. The findings of an international team from Egypt, France and Japan, operating as ScanPyramids, were published in the journal Nature on Thursday.
First images of the so-called Big Void are fuzzy and give no clue about its role and what, if anything, might lie inside. It is not clear whether its floor is horizontal or inclined like the Grand Gallery. The researchers are reluctant to speculate until more data are available but Mehdi Tayoubi, project leader from the HIP Institute in Paris, said he was confident that the void was deliberately designed into the generally solid stone pyramid.
“The pyramid is really perfect,” he said. “Maybe that is why people are still dreaming about this pyramid and there are so many myths about it. I don’t want to talk about crazy theories like aliens etc, but I think it would be very strange to have such a big void inside such a perfect structure by accident.”
The imaging technology uses muons, the subatomic particles that form when cosmic rays hit the Earth’s upper atmosphere and then rain down on the surface. Muons have different trajectories when passing through stone or air, which makes it possible to distinguish cavities from solid formations with carefully placed muon detectors. Japanese scientists have used the technology to look inside the Fukushima nuclear reactor and examine the interior of active volcanoes.
The ScanPyramids team combined observations from three different types of muon detector to probe the pyramid, which was built by the Pharaoh Khufu in about 2500BC. They found the three large inner structures already known to exist — the so-called Queen’s Chamber, King’s Chamber and Grand Gallery — and the new space.
The two chambers and the gallery are lined with finely finished stone but contain no valuable materials — anything precious was stolen in antiquity. Whether the newly discovered void is empty or full of treasure is a matter for speculation. Nor is it known yet whether small passages might link it to other parts of the pyramid. Although writings from Khufu’s reign, discovered in 2013, describe how stones were brought to Giza to build the pyramid, there is no description of how it was constructed.
The methods used — for example how the blocks and slabs were raised up the sides of the growing structure — remain a subject of debate among archaeologists.
ScanPyramids is set to explore the Great Pyramid in more detail with support from Egypt’s ministry of antiquities, using infrared scanning which can derive information about the interior from small temperature differences across the outside surface.
Team member Jean-Baptiste Mouret, an engineer at the Inria research centre in France, is also developing a tiny robot capable of fitting through a 3cm hole to carry out a more direct investigation. The scientists also appealed for Egyptologists to interpret the new evidence. “This discovery shows how the methods developed in particle physics can shed light on one of the most important heritage buildings, and it calls for more interdisciplinary collaborations to help [in] understanding the pyramid and its construction process,” the Nature paper said.
Source – FT