Cosmic particles reveal mysterious void in Egypt’s great pyramid

2 Nov 2017

Image: Orhan Cam/Shutterstock

Unseen for centuries, a giant void has been discovered in the Great Pyramid of Giza using 3D-scanning technology.

To this day, the Egyptian pyramids remain a marvel of engineering, with archaeologists still racking their brains to figure out how the ancient Egyptians were able to carry out such an endeavour.

Now, new research into these vast structures has revealed something no one has seen for thousands of years: a giant void in an unmapped part of the Great Pyramid of Giza, according to National Geographic.

In a paper published to Nature, a team of researchers detailed how it used advanced particle physics technology to dive deep into the interior of the pyramid without harming its structure.

‘Discovery of the century’

Despite having no idea what the space was used for – or even if it is a group of multiple spaces – the void is approximately 153ft long with a height of 26ft, drawing comparisons with the pyramid’s Grand Gallery.

Analysis shows that the void connects with the burial chamber of the pharaoh Khufu, whose remains inhabit this giant memorial site.

Egyptologist and archaeologist Yukinori Kawae has not held back on the significance of this find, going so far as to label it the “discovery of the century”.

“There have been many hypotheses about the pyramid, but no one even imagined that such a big void is located above the Grand Gallery,” he said.

Harnessing the power of the cosmos

Its discovery was born out of the international ScanPyramids project launched in 2015, which aims to use the latest in imaging technology to map the structures without disturbing them.

In its two years of existence, scans of the pyramids had found small voids and pockmarks, but nothing on a scale like this recent find.

Behind the discovery was the harnessing of subatomic particles called muons that, each and every day, arrive here on Earth as cosmic rays from the deepest parts of the universe.

What makes them ideal for use in ‘x-ray archaeology’ is that muons pass through empty space easier than solid materials. Using sensitive detectors that identify changes in speed, these muons can accurately give us an image of empty spaces in buildings.

This makes them a “really fabulous treat from nature”, according to particle physicist Roy Schwitters, who uses the technology to study the Mayan pyramids of Belize.

No plans to explore

As for what the space would have been used for, speculation among experts is that it could be a leftover from when the pyramid was under construction, used as an internal ramp to put the massive roof blocks of the King’s Chamber in place.

While future research and non-invasive imaging are to be carried out by researchers, there are no plans to open up the void, given the pyramid’s importance and the lack of any known pathways or tunnels connected to it.

Egyptologist Salima Ikram agreed with this decision, saying: “If there’s something behind the Mona Lisa, would you want to wipe her clean and see what’s behind her? You really have to preserve the integrity of the monument.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic