Hidden Chamber Discovered Inside the Great Pyramid of Giza
Researchers used non-invasive, cosmic-ray imaging to locate the structure, but remain unsure if the “big void” contains any artifacts.
The Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. While erosion has reduced its initial 481-foot height to just over 455 feet, the pyramid was the tallest man-made structure in the world for the 3,800 years directly following its construction around 2560 BC.
Believed to have been erected as a tomb for the Fourth Dynasty Egyptian pharaoh Khufu (2589–2566 BC), the pyramid has long been known to contain four internal structures. They include a lengthy passage called the Grand Gallery, which leads to the Queen’s Chamber and the King’s Chamber. There is also an unfinished chamber cut into the bedrock upon which the monument was built.
In March 2016, Mehdi Tayoubi of the HIP Institute in Paris and his team were investigating the pyramid when they detected a previously unknown space comparable in size to the over 154-foot-long and 26-foot-tall Grand Gallery.
“We felt very excited as we understood that we may have found something big,” Tayoubi, who is the co-director of the ScanPyramids mission, told Seeker.
New research, published in the journal Nature, has confirmed that a “void” measuring at least 98 and a half feet long exists within the pyramid and above, but separate from, the Grand Gallery.
“The Grand Gallery is a spectacular internal structure, a kind of internal cathedral at the center of the pyramid,” Tayoubi said.
The newly discovered void could be successive chambers or a tunnel. “Many hypotheses are possible,” he said. It also remains unknown if the newfound structure contains any artifacts.
The find was made using cosmic-ray imaging, demonstrating how modern particle physics can non-invasively reveal new information about ancient structures.
Lead author Kunihiro Morishima of Nagoya University explained to Seeker that he has been working with nuclear emulsion technologies since his days as a Ph.D. student. Nuclear emulsion is a photographic plate or film that records the tracks of charged particles passing through it.
“Nuclear emulsion films are very compact and very thin, and do not need an electric power supply,” Morishima said, adding that the films can be installed almost anywhere.
The pyramid’s void, officially called the ScanPyramids Big Void, was first detected via nuclear emulsion films. Data obtained from gas detectors also supported the presence of the mysterious structure.
The researchers next utilized muon radiography, with the emulsions film, to analyze the pyramid. Muons are by-products of cosmic rays that are only partially absorbed by stone. They can therefore transmit information from within not only stone but also other dense materials.
Nobel Prize-winning physicist Luis Walter Alvarez (1911–1988) first came up with the idea of using muons to probe the pyramids of Giza, and inspired Morishima to improve upon the technology.
The muon imaging confirmed the presence of the void and shows it has the same characteristics as the known Grand Gallery, Tayoubi said. “We don’t know if it is horizontal or inclined, or if it is composed of one or more structures, but it is big,” he said.
Over the centuries, many theories have been proposed explaining how the pyramid was constructed. The limestone, granite, and mortar could have been dragged, lifted, or rolled into place by slaves or by willing laborers. A workforce of 40,000 may have been involved at the peak of construction
Some theorists have even proposed that aliens constructed the pyramids.
“Our digitally hypnotized society, which hums to the rhythm of ephemeral tweets of 140 characters, no longer believes that humans could have erected these ancient mountains of stone,” Tayoubi said. “For many people, the Great Pyramid must be the work of aliens.”
He added: “The loss of confidence in human capability and reason has left us to invoke supernatural forces as the only explanation for the pyramids, much as we cling today to ‘omniscient superheroes,’ archetypes of a bygone era, to calm our anxiety.”
It remains difficult to imagine how workers, without the benefit of wheels and iron tools, could have erected such a monument. Tayoubi believes that the skills of the ancient Egyptians have been underestimated.
“The Egyptians were a politically united people, conscious of the brevity of earthly existence, and moved by a strong spirituality,” he said.
He believes “they channeled this unity” when constructing the pyramids. Still, because so many unknowns remain about the process, he and his team hope that their findings will reveal more about the methods that were used.
Egyptologists are studying the recent muon radiography findings. The technology has many other possible applications. Morishima said that he even used it to probe the condition of an inner reactor vessel at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant “for confirmation of meltdown.”
The Great Pyramid of Giza continues to captivate the researchers, though.
“Trying collectively to solve the timeless and fascinating mystery of the pyramid’s construction helps us to explain how the impossible once became possible, and provides a shining confirmation that we can do the impossible in our own time,” Tayoubi said.
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