A team of scientists has discovered a mysterious "big void" inside the Great Pyramid of Giza, the largest pyramid in the Giza complex. The void was discovered using a novel scanning technology called cosmic-ray muon radiography, and while the scanning team is suggesting this could be an undiscovered inner structure, some Egyptologists are not convinced.
The scanning project, called ScanPyramids, was launched in late 2015 and set out to scan four specific Egyptian pyramids using a variety of new and innovative scanning technologies. In the case of the Great Pyramid, the team deployed a scanning technique that detects the path of muon particles, an elementary particle that is created when cosmic rays collide with atoms in the Earth's upper atmosphere.
The team developed three separate muon-detection techniques and investigated the path of these particles through the Great Pyramid. The path of muons is straight unless they hit a dense or solid object, and then they can be slightly deflected. By measuring these particle tracks scientists can identify whether they are moving through solid rock or if there are empty spaces.
Writing in the journal Nature, the scientists recently revealed the discovery of a large void above the Grand Gallery in the Great Pyramid. The discovery was confirmed using all three muon detection processes and it is suspected to be about 30 meters (100 ft) long.
What all this means is unclear, but the scientists are hesitant to draw any conclusions from the data just yet.
"We are confident that this void exists," says Hany Helal, one of the engineers working on the project, at a recent press conference. "What does it mean, why is it there, what is the purpose of it? We have to have an international discussion about that to know what it could be."
Mendi Tayoubi, one of the leaders of the scanning team has been a bit more forthcoming with his theories, suggesting this "void" is an intentional engineering choice that has been hidden and not just a random empty space in the construction.
"It's not a false start, where they tried something and abandoned it," Tayoubi says to Ars Technica. "The engineering and design of this structure was carefully planned. It's not an irregularity of construction. We leave the door open to discuss this with Egyptologists."
This "discussion" with the Egyptologists seems to be a non-event. Zahi Hawass, possibly the most prominent Egyptian archeologist and former antiquities minister, has expressed great skepticism at the "void" claims. While the published study makes the ostentatious claim that this void is, "the first major inner structure found in the Great Pyramid since the 19th century," Hawass says that this is not only not a new discovery, but the pyramid is in fact full of voids.
Hawass is also critical of the way the scientists are reporting their results. He says these kinds of stories often stoke pseudoscientific ideas in people he refers to as "pyramidiots."
"We saw that the team of the ScanPyramids project showed a video in October of last year about their work inside Khufu's Pyramid," explains Hawass in an interview with Ahram Online. "The video showed at the end a geometric reconstruction of an unknown passage behind the chevrons above the descending passage. This reconstruction of a passage is pure hypothesis to explain an anomaly. The ScanPyramids project cannot define the shape, size, or exact position of that void. So, we have to be careful on how the results are presented to the public."
The new research is undoubtedly exciting from a technological perspective. This is certainly a new and innovative way to explore ancient sites. But if the void is an undiscovered chamber, possibly full of treasures, we have no real way to confirm it. The potential void is completely sealed off and without drastically damaging the pyramid there is no way to access it with current technology.
Let the years of frustrating conspiratorial mysteries over this hidden chamber commence.
The discovery was published in the journal Nature.