For more than 4,300 years, the Great Pyramid of Giza has been the tallest man-made structure on the ground. Standing 481 feetThe Great Pyramid lost its title as the tallest in the world after the completion of the Washington Monument in 1885. Today it stands at about 450 feet, having lost about 31 feet from the top.
The Great Pyramid has long fascinated scientists, scholars and amateur Egyptologists. As old as it is, much of the Great Pyramid remains a mystery. Now, new technologies are helping scientists learn more about the pyramid’s internal structure.
In recent years, non-invasive technology has helped researchers discover a 30-foot passageway inside the pyramid. Although they do not know the purpose of the secret space, they believe that there may be others like it.
A peek into the pyramids
In the nineteenth century, scientists began exhumation and excavation Egypt pyramids. They realized that the architects had designed the pyramids with internal chambers designed to protect the pharaohs and their treasures from looters.
Digging deep into a pyramid risks destroying it, and for more than a century scientists have had to speculate about what’s inside. In recent decades, however, non-invasive technologies such as cosmic ray detectors and infrared thermography have helped researchers peer into the pyramids without causing damage.
In a 2023 study in nature, an international team of researchers from Egypt, France and Japan revealed more details about a hidden 30-foot corridor. The corridor is about six feet wide and is above the main entrance on the north face of the pyramid.
The research team is part of the ScanPyramids project, and in 2016 and 2017 they first identified the presence of the corridor and another empty space which they called “The Great Void”.
The pyramid builders may have designed the corridor as a way to distribute the weight and prevent the pyramid from collapsing. They aren’t sure what lies beyond the end of the corridor, and although no one has set foot in the tunnel for thousands of years, researchers believe the design is deliberate.
Read more: Are the Egyptian pyramids aligned with the stars?
The ScanPyramids teams took a divide and conquer approach to see inside the pyramid. Two Japanese teams went into known chambers beneath the corridor to better understand its shape. A French team was working outside.
Each used a type of cosmic ray muon detector to determine how much muons the structure absorbs. Fewer muons would mean the rock is heavy and dense. The greater amount of rays meant that there was nothing to block the rays’ passage.
After the teams compared their results and determined the size of the space, they were given permission to slide an endoscope camera through a gap and into the corridor.
The workers who built the pyramid were the last people seen inside the corridor. However, the footage provided a rare look inside the hidden camera and revealed how it was designed.
(Credit: Nature Communications (Nat Commun) ISSN 2041-1723 (online)) A. Underground chamber, B. Queen’s chamber, C. Great gallery, D. King’s hall, E. Descending corridor, F. Ascending corridor, G Para. -Ma’mun Corridor, H. north wall Chevron zone, I ScanPyramids Great gap with horizontal hypothesis (red hatching) and inclined hypothesis (green hatching) as published November 2017 (Morishima, K. et al. Development of nuclear emulsion for muography Ann. Geophys. 60, 0112 (2017) All these images were obtained from 3D modeling using special laser surveys and photogrammetric data.
The roof is chevron-shaped, like the entrance below, and the walls are unfinished. Unfinished walls may indicate that the hallway was never intended to be seen.
Unraveling the story
King Khufu, son of King Snefru, ordered the construction of the Great Pyramid around 2570 BC during the Fourth Dynasty. It is located southwest of present-day Cairo and was built using several million pieces of limestone.
Historians increasingly rejected the ancient Greek assumption that forced laborers built the pyramid. Instead, they suggest that the pyramid was built by skilled workers who considered it an honor to work on the king’s memorial. These workers learned from the problems and successes of the pyramids of previous dynasties. Some used stabilization corridors. Others created underground chambers. The Great Pyramid includes both.
Read more: Who built the Egyptian pyramids? Not slaves
In 1970, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Luis W. Alvarez proposed the use of cosmic ray muon detection to see inside the ancient pyramids. The technology has indeed helped scientists to confirm the presence of deliberate but hidden spaces.
The presence of the two hidden rooms has the potential to tell engineers more about how the structure was built. There was also the possibility that a corridor would lead to a hidden chamber of antiquities that could tell historians more about ancient life in Egypt.