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How sub-atomic particle detectors are enabling archaeologists to peer inside ancient structures as never before
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Archaeologists have uncovered a mysterious chamber deep within the Great Pyramid of Giza, using a cutting-edge imaging technique based on the detection of subatomic particles created by cosmic rays.
Dubbed the ScanPyramids Big Void, after the name of the project that discovered it, the cavity is approximately 30m long and 3m high and is situated above the Grand Gallery, a large corridor that connects the two largest of the iconic structure’s three main chambers.
The Great Pyramid, also known as Khufu’s Pyramid, was built during the reign of Pharaoh Khufu, who reigned from 2509 to 2483 BC.
Despite years of research, there is no consensus on exactly how the monument was constructed.
As yet the precise structure and role of the newly discovered void remain unknown, but the findings may pave the way for further studies that could help researchers to understand the pyramid and its construction process.
“No important internal structures have been found in the Pyramid since 820AD, when the Calife Al Mamun dug a tunnel and penetrated inside, revealing most of the structure we know today,” said Prof Mehdi Tayoubi from Cairo University. “Finding something as important, in terms of size, as the Grand Gallery is an important breakthrough.”
The void was discovered using sensors tuned to detect muons, particles that are created when high energy cosmic rays slam into molecules in the upper atmosphere. By piecing together data from several different locations, the team were able to form a three-dimensional image of the pyramid’s internal structure.
“Our discovery is the first demonstration of the potential of cosmic ray imaging to gather new information in archaeology,” said Nagoya University’s Kunihiro Morishima.
“The Big Void has not been touched by anyone since the building of the pyramid 4,500 years ago, so if there are some artefacts inside the big void, they should be very important for understanding ancient Egypt.”
The team now plan to take further scans of the Big Void, in order to determine its shape and structure in more detail.
“OUR DISCOVERY IS THE FIRST DEMONSTRATION OF THE POTENTIAL OF COSMIC RAY IMAGING TO GATHER NEW INFORMATION IN ARCHAEOLOGY”
A previously unknown chamber has been found inside the Great Pyramid
Mehdi Tayoubi and colleagues now hope to
investigate the new chamber in more detail