Sci­en­tists dis­cover hid­den cham­ber in Egypt’s Great Pyra­mid

Sun.Star Pampanga - - SCIENCE! -

CAIRO (AP) — Sci­en­tists say they have found a hid­den cham­ber in Egypt’s Great Pyra­mid of Giza, in what would be the first such dis­cov­ery in the struc­ture since the 19th cen­tury and one likely to spark a new surge of in­ter­est in the pharaohs.

In an ar­ti­cle pub­lished in the jour­nal Na­ture on Thurs­day, an in­ter­na­tional team said the 30-me­ter (yard) void deep within the pyra­mid is sit­u­ated above the struc­ture’s Grand Gallery, and has a sim­i­lar cross­sec­tion.

The pur­pose of the space is un­clear, and it’s not yet known whether it was built with a func­tion in mind or if it’s merely a gap in the pyra­mid’s ar­chi­tec­ture. Some ex­perts say such empty spa­ces have been known for years.

“This is a pre­mier,” said Me­hdi Tay­oubi, a co-founder of the ScanPyra­mids pro­ject and pres­i­dent of the Her­itage In­no­va­tion Preser­va­tion In­sti­tute. “It could be com­posed of one or sev­eral struc­tures... maybe it could be an­other Grand Gallery. It could be a cham­ber, it could be a lot of things.”

The sci­en­tists made the dis­cov­ery us­ing cos­mic-ray imag­ing, record­ing the be­hav­ior of sub­atomic par­ti­cles called muons that pen­e­trate the rock sim­i­lar to Xrays, only much deeper. Their pa­per was peer-re­viewed be­fore ap­pear­ing in Na­ture, an in­ter­na­tional, in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary jour­nal of sci­ence, and its re­sults con­firmed by other teams of sci­en­tists.

Chances of the space con­tain­ing trea­sure or burial cham­bers are al­most nil, said Ai­dan Dod­son, an Egyp­tol­o­gist at the Univer­sity of Bris­tol, but the dis­cov­ery helps shed light on build­ing tech­niques.

“The pyra­mid’s burial cham­ber and sar­coph­a­gus have al­ready been dis­cov­ered, so this new area was more likely kept empty above the Grand Gallery to re­duce the weight of stone press­ing down on its ceil­ing,” he said, adding that sim­i­lar de­signs have been found in other pyra­mids.

Egypt’s for­mer an­tiq­ui­ties min­is­ter and famed ar­chae­ol­o­gist Zahi Hawass, who has been test­ing scan­ning meth­ods and heads the govern­ment’s over­sight panel for the new tech­niques, said that the area in ques­tion has been known of for years and thus does not con­sti­tute a dis­cov­ery. He has long down­played the use­ful­ness of scans of an­cient sites.

“The Great Pyra­mid is full of voids. We have to be care­ful how re­sults are pre­sented to the pub­lic,” he said, adding that one prob­lem fac­ing the in­ter­na­tional team is that it did not have an Egyp­tol­o­gist as a mem­ber. He said the cham­ber was likely empty space builders used to con­struct the rooms below.

“In or­der to con­struct the Grand Gallery, you had to have a hol­low, or a big void in or­der to ac­cess it — you can­not build it with­out such a space,” he said. “Large voids ex­ist be­tween the stones and may have been left as con­struc­tion gaps.”

The pyra­mid is also known as Khufu’s Pyra­mid for its builder, a 4th Dynasty pharaoh who reigned from 2509 to 2483 B.C. Vis­i­tors to the pyra­mid, on the out­skirts of Cairo, can walk, hunched over, up a long tun­nel to reach the Grand Gallery. The space an­nounced by the scan­ning team does not ap­pear to be con­nected to any known in­ter­nal pas­sages.

Sci­en­tists in­volved in the scan­ning called the find a “break­through” that high­lighted the use­ful­ness of mod­ern par­ti­cle physics in ar­chae­ol­ogy.

“It was hid­den, I think, since the con­struc­tion of the pyra­mid,” Tay­oubi added.

The Great Pyra­mid, the last sur­viv­ing won­der of the an­cient world, has cap­ti­vated vis­i­tors since it was built as a royal burial cham­ber some 4,500 years ago. Ex­perts are still di­vided over how it and other pyra­mids were con­structed, so even rel­a­tively mi­nor dis­cov­er­ies gen­er­ate great in­ter­est.

Late last year, for ex­am­ple, ther­mal scan­ning iden­ti­fied a ma­jor anom­aly in the Great Pyra­mid — three ad­ja­cent stones at its base which reg­is­tered higher tem­per­a­tures than oth­ers.

Spec­u­la­tion that King Tu­tankhamun’s tomb con­tains ad­di­tional an­techam­bers stoked in­ter­est in re­cent years, be­fore scans by ground-pen­e­trat­ing radar and other tools came up empty, rais­ing doubts about the claim.

The muon scan is ac­com­plished by plant­ing spe­cial plates in­side and around the pyra­mid to col­lect data on the par­ti­cles, which rain down from the earth’s at­mos­phere. They pass through empty spa­ces but can be ab­sorbed or de­flected by harder sur­faces, al­low­ing sci­en­tists to study their tra­jec­to­ries and dis­cern what is stone and what is not. Sev­eral plates were used to tri­an­gu­late the void dis­cov­ered in the Great Pyra­mid.

While the tech­nol­ogy can de­tect large open spa­ces, it can­not dis­cern what is in­side, so it’s un­clear if the empty space con­tains any ob­jects. Tay­oubi said the team plans now to work with oth­ers to come up with hy­pothe­ses about the area.

“The good news is that the void is there, and it’s very big,” he said.

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