Cairo: The pyramids of Egypt have held their secrets for more than 4,500 years. Now, Egyptian and foreign experts have begun unraveling their mysteries with the help of space particles.
The team are using ‘cosmic rays’ to create maps that show the internal structures of these ancient wonders – and they say they could hold some surprises.
Last week, archaeologists revealed the first results of their work involving the Bent pyramid, 25 miles south of Cairo.
The 3D images show the internal chambers of the 4,600-year-old structure, as well as clearly revealing the shape of its second chamber.
Located at the royal necropolis of Dahshur, the Bent pyramid was one of the earliest to be built under the Old Kingdom Pharaoh Sneferu.
Mehdi Tayoubi, president of the Heritage Innovation Preservation Institute, said that plates installed inside the pyramid collected data on radiographic particles known as ‘muons’.
Muons rain down from the Earth’s atmosphere. The particles pass through empty spaces but can be absorbed or deflected by harder surfaces.
By studying particle accumulations, scientists may learn more about the construction of the pyramid It has two entrances, which opens onto two corridors leading to two burial chambers arranged one above the other.
Some had suggested pharaoh Sneferu was buried inside the pyramid in an hidden chamber, but the latest scans have ruled out that possibility.
‘From these plates, more than 10 millions of muon tracks were analysed,’ Tayoubi, who is also co-director of the ScanPyramids mission told Discovery.
‘We count the muons and according to their angular distribution we are able to reconstruct an image,’ Tayoubi said.
‘For the first time ever, the internal structure of a pyramid was revealed with muon particles.
‘The images obtained clearly show the second chamber of the pyramid located roughly 60 feet above the lower one in which emulsions plates were installed,’ he added.
‘For the construction of the pyramids, there is no single theory that is 100 per cent proven or checked’ They are all theories and hypotheses,’ said Hany Helal, the institute’s vice president.
‘What we are trying to do with the new technology, we would like to either confirm or change or upgrade or modify the hypotheses that we have on how the pyramids were constructed,’ he said.
The Bent Pyramid in Dahshur, just outside Cairo, is distinguished by the bent slope of its sides.
It is believed to have been ancient Egypt’s first attempt to build a smooth-sided pyramid.
The Scan Pyramids project, which announced in November thermal anomalies in the 4,500 year-old Khufu Pyramid in Giza, is coupling thermal technology with muons analysis to try to unlock secrets to the construction of several other ancient Egyptian pyramids.
Tayoubi said the group plans to start preparations for muons testing in a month in Khufu, the largest of the three Giza pyramids, which is known internationally as Cheops.
‘Even if we find one square meter void somewhere, it will bring new questions and hypotheses and maybe it will help solve the definitive questions,’ said Tayoubi.
The team will also be using infrared 3D scans and lasers to study the two pyramids in Giza and the two in Dashur.
The same technology, they say, could also help find a possible hidden tomb in Tutankhamun’s burial chamber that may be belong to Queen Nefertiti.
Many previous missions have attempted to unravel the mysteries of the pyramids, but scientists have yet to come up with a concrete theory explaining how the structures were built.
Khufu’s pyramid, also known as the Great pyramid of Giza – the tallest of all the pyramids – was built by the son of Snefru, founder of the fourth dynasty (2,575-2,465 BC), and the Khafre’s pyramid or Chephren was built by the son of Khufu.
The two pyramids at Dahshur were built by Snefru.
‘The idea is to find the solution to the mystery of the pyramids,’ said Tayoubi.
‘A similar attempt was made 30 years ago, but this is the first project at a global level using cutting-edge technology to look inside the pyramids,’ he said.
Project ‘Scan Pyramids’ is expected to last until the end of this year.
Damati said the ‘infra-red and muon’ technologies that would be used to search the four pyramids could also be useful to look for a possible hidden chamber in King Tutankhamun’s tomb, which may be the burial place of Queen Nefertiti.
Archaeologists have never discovered the mummy of the legendary beauty, but renowned British archaeologist Nicholas Reeves said in a recent study that her tomb could be in a secret chamber adjoining Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of Kings at Luxor, southern Egypt.
Reeves, who was in Luxor in September to probe his theory, believes one door of Tutankhamun’s tomb could conceal the burial place of Nefertiti.
Egypt has already approved using radars to search the boy king’s tomb, which was found by British Egyptologist Howard Carter in 1922.
Last year, Egypt’s antiquities minister Mamdouh El-Damaty said scratching and markings on the northern and western walls are strikingly similar to those found by Howard Carter on the entrance of King Tut’s tomb.
El-Damaty was visiting Luxor with British Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves.
Dr Reeves suggested that Tutankhamun, who died at the age of 19, may have been rushed into an outer chamber of what was originally the tomb of Queen Nefertiti.
He said high-resolution images of King Tut’s tomb ‘revealed several very interesting features which look not at all natural.
They feature like very straight lines which are 90 degrees to the ground, positioned so as to correspond with other features within the tomb.’
These features are difficult to capture with the naked eye, he said.
Reeves said the plastered walls could conceal two unexplored doorways, one of which perhaps leads to Nefertiti’s tomb.
He also argues that the design of the tomb suggests it was built for a queen, rather than a king.
If Dr Reeves’ theory is correct, it may resolve a number of oddities about Tutankhamun’s burial chamber that have long baffled researchers.
For instance, the treasures found within seem to have been placed there in a rush, and are largely second-hand.
‘The implications are extraordinary,’ he wrote.
‘If digital appearance translates into physical reality, it seems we are now faced not merely with the prospect of a new,
Tutankhamun-era store room to the west [but] that of Nefertiti herself, celebrated consort, co-regent, and eventual successor of Pharaoh Akhenaten.’
Joyce Tyldesley, senior lecturer in Egyptology at the University of Manchester, told The Times that Dr Reeves’s hypothesis may prove correct.