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.
An international team of researchers has detected a mysterious, previously unknown void deep inside Egypt’s Great Pyramid that may be as large as an art gallery space.
The anomalous space, known as the ScanPyramids Big Void, showed up on imagery produced by tracking concentrations of subatomic particles called muons as they zoomed through the pyramid’s stones.
“We don’t know if this Big Void is made by one structure, or several successive structures,” said Mehdi Tayoubi, president of the Heritage Innovation Preservation Institute and co-founder of the ScanPyramids campaign. “What we are sure about is that this Big Void is there, that it is impressive [and] that it was not expected, as far as I know, by any kind of theory.”
Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities says thermal scanning has turned up anomalies inside the pyramids of Giza, including a “particularly impressive one” on the eastern side of the biggest monument. The report comes just days after the ministry said a similar scan found temperature anomalies in King Tutankhamun’s tomb, hundreds of miles to the south.
Empty space doesn’t hold heat as well as rock or soil, so heat anomalies provide clues to structural features beneath or beyond the surface being scanned. They could point to hidden chambers or passages at the ancient sites. However, the anomalies also could be due to less spectacular differences in structure or composition – for example, fractures in the underlying rock.
When infrared cameras scanned the interior of Tut’s burial chamber, in the Valley of the Kings near Luxor, the ministry said anomalies were found along the northern and western walls. That meshes with other evidence suggesting that yet another burial chamber – perhaps that of Tut’s mother, Nefertiti – lies beyond the walls.
Meanwhile, just outside Cairo, the international Scan Pyramids team took infrared readings of the Giza pyramids’ exteriors at sunrise, when the morning sun was starting to heat up the monuments; and at sunset, when the pyramids were cooling down. The ministry said scientists found intriguing anomalies in the cycle of heating and cooling, and singled out a temperature variation at the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops).
Infrared imaging conducted inside King Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt has raised hopes that it has a hidden chamber, which would be in line with archaeologist Nicholas Reeves’ recently published suggestions that another royal burial chamber could be discovered there. And there’s more to come.
Could the chamber have been built for Queen Nefertiti, thought to be Tut’s mother? Or for Kiya, a lesser wife of Tut’s father, Akhenaten? Could there be intact remains and 3,300-year-old treasures inside, as there were when Tutakhamun was discovered almost exactly 93 years ago in 1922?
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves: So far, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities has said only that a preliminary analysis of the infrared scans “indicates the presence of an area different in its temperature than the other parts of the northern wall.”
Further scans will be needed to confirm the results and pinpoint the area of temperature difference, the ministry said. But if the effect is confirmed, it could be caused by an open space behind the wall, which wouldn’t hold heat as well as the solid rock or soil surrounding other parts of the tomb.
That would be consistent with Reeves’ claim that there’s a continuation of Tut’s tomb lying beyond the boy-king’s burial chamber as it’s seen today, a space “containing the undisturbed burial of the tomb’s original owner – Nefertiti.” He said another hidden storeroom may lie beyond the western wail.
Indiana Jones, eat your heart out: The international project to scan Egypt’s pyramids for hidden chambers, using cosmic rays, is gearing up for its launch this weekend.
The scientists behind the Scan Pyramids effort will install sensitive detectors to map the pyramids’ structure by studying how the cosmic rays that continually zap our planet skitter through the stones. Similar techniques have been used recently to look inside ancient pyramids in Mexico and Belize, as well as theruined reactors at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear site.
“The survey will be implemented through invasive – though non-destructive – scanning techniques using cosmic rays in cooperation with scientists and experts from Japan, France and Canada,” Egypt’s antiquities minister, Mamdouh Eldamaty, told Ahram Online. Ahram Online and Le Figaro reportedthat Eldamaty would announce the project’s official launch on Sunday.