The pyramids of Egypt have always been a source of amazement. There’s something strange and otherworldly about them, even though they were built by human hands. And the more we learn about these wonders of the ancient world, the more interesting and enticing they become.
That’s certainly true in the case of this latest discovery; indeed, it turns out that the Great Pyramid of Giza has been hiding a surprise for thousands of years. And thanks to new scientific techniques, we’re finally getting a glimpse at it.
The Great Pyramid of Giza took anywhere from ten to 20 years to build and was eventually completed around 2560 BC. Originally standing at about 480 feet high, for over 3,800 years it was the loftiest construction ever built by man anywhere in the world. Moreover, the pyramid is said to have been the final resting place of a Fourth Dynasty pharaoh named Khufu.
Khufu’s Horizon, as the pyramid was known to the people of the time, is both the biggest and most ancient of the Egyptian pyramids. Furthermore, it’s the oldest – and the best preserved – of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The structure itself is surrounded by three lesser pyramids created in tribute to Khufu’s wives as as well as other temples and tombs.
And since it was first studied by Egyptologists in the 19th century, it had been believed that there were three chambers in the Great Pyramid of Giza. The first, however, is simply a work in progress, carved out of the rock below the main bulk of the construction.
Still, there are also the huge second and third chambers, known as the King’s Chamber and the Queen’s Chamber. These are connected by what’s known as the Grand Gallery – a passage 28 feet high and over 150 feet long.
The King’s Chamber is the larger of the two, measuring in at around 35 feet by 17 feet and with a flat roof that’s over 19 feet tall. The Queen’s Chamber, meanwhile, may only come in at just under 19 feet by 17 feet, but the top of its pointed roof towers at more than 20 feet from the floor.
However, a recent discovery has revealed that there’s more to the interior of the pyramid than Egyptologists first thought. And the technique that’s been used by scientists to reveal these new features is, quite literally, out of this world.
A research team marshalled by Cairo University and the Heritage, Innovation and Preservation Institute in Paris are engaged in the year-long, pioneering ScanPyramids program. And using the latest scientific techniques, in October 2016 they revealed not one, but two mysterious anomalies in the mausoleum.
Specifically, scientists believe that they have found two voids inside the Pyramid. There isn’t enough information about them to state categorically what they are, or what they are for, yet. But they’re one of the most important discoveries about Ancient Egypt made in recent years.
One of the new findings is on the northern wall of the pyramid: the researchers conducting the study believe that this is likely to be a corridor that extends into the main body of the pyramid. And with 12 more muon-detecting plates having been installed in 2016, it’s possible that we’ll know more soon.
The second of the two recent discoveries is on the north-east face of the pyramid; this is also a void that seems to extend deeper into the core of the pyramid. And although right now there doesn’t seem to be any connection between the two new cavities, the research is still at an early stage.
Moreover, while the discoveries themselves are fascinating, the process the scientists used to make them is also incredible. That’s because they essentially used cosmic rays to find out more about the insides of a very earth-bound construction.
Cosmic rays are formed of incredibly high-energy radiation, often from beyond our solar system. And when these rays hit atoms in the earth’s atmosphere, they create subatomic particles called muons. Around 10,000 of these muons per square meter per minute come into contact with the Earth. And thanks to a very exclusive property, they’re incredibly useful for scientists.
Furthermore, muons are capable of traveling through matter – like X-rays, but even better. And this means that scientists can use special equipment to measure how easily the muons pass through solid objects – even huge, solid objects like the stones of the Great Pyramid of Giza.
And as a muon passes through solid material, it can get deflected like a ball in a pinball machine and also lose energy. Using special detectors made from aluminum, then, scientists can work out the change in angle and energy of the muon. This in turn could show what sort of material it passed through.
The detectors at the pyramid itself were left in place for 67 days to receive and record the muons. After that, the results were studied at Nagoya University, Japan, and the exciting anomalies discovered. Basically, the insides of one of humanity’s greatest achievements have been revealed by incredible rays from outer space.
Right now, though, more work needs to be done to ascertain just what the new cavities in the pyramid are. The Ministry of State of Antiquities in Egypt, which is superintending the research, has suggested that another year of work is necessary before any conclusions can be drawn about the new finds.
It’s even possible that the anomalies detected by ScanPyramids are just differences between the sizes of the stones used to build the pyramid. And after an embarrassing U-turn regarding another find in 2015, it’s understandable that the Ministry of State of Antiquities is being cautious about trumpeting another discovery until all the data is in.
Even so, this is a wonderful example of the conjunction between modern scientific techniques and ancient mysteries. And in the event that the new cavities do turn out to be something significant, it’s fair to say that it’s an exciting time for anyone with an interest in ancient Egypt.