Archaeologists have discovered a long-lost passageway within Egypt’s 4,500-year-old Great Pyramid of Giza, thanks to 21st-century technologies including muon tomography and endoscopy.
It’s the latest find made possible with the help of ScanPyramids, an international effort that started documenting Egypt’s best-known archaeological sites with high-tech tools in 2015.
Over the past eight years, ScanPyramids’ team has identified several voids within the Great Pyramid. The passageway described today lies just beneath the pyramid’s north face, about 23 feet (7 meters) above the main entrance. It’s 30 feet (9 meters) long, about 7 feet (2.1 meters) wide, and high enough for a person to stand in.
For centuries, scholars suspected that such a cavity existed, due to the presence of chevron-shaped blocks that were exposed in a crevice of the north face. Such chevrons have been used in other areas of the pyramid to reduce the stress on internal structures.
ScanPyramids’ scientists confirmed the existence of a passageway by analyzing how cosmic-ray particles known as muons were absorbed as they passed through the pyramid’s stones. The 2-D patterns produced by the team’s muon detectors were combined to produce a rough 3-D map of the pyramid’s internal structure.
Follow-up observations, made with ground-penetrating radar and ultrasonic testing, fine-tuned the map. Guided by the map, the ScanPyramids team sent a 6-millimeter-wide endoscopic camera through a tiny joint between blocks of stone. The camera captured the first views of the passageway seen in millennia.
“Today’s revelation is the most important in the 21st century,” Zahi Hawass, an Egyptian archaeologist who’s never afraid of a little hyperbole, said in a news release from the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.
But the story isn’t complete: Archaeologists don’t yet know what purpose the passageway served, or whether it’s associated with an as-yet-undiscovered internal chamber. The passageway just might point to the location of the burial chamber of Khufu, the pharaoh who built the Great Pyramid as an eternal monument to his name. Although an empty sarcophagus lies in what’s known today as the “King’s Chamber,” Khufu’s true resting place hasn’t been found.
“The coming months will tell us what is behind this passage,” said Mustafa Waziri, the head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities.