Through a particle physics technique, an international team of researchers has used cosmic-ray collisions to peek inside and unearth a hidden "void" in The Great Pyramid Of Gaza which is roughly 100 feet long, identical to the Statue of Liberty.
“We don’t know if it’s a chamber, a tunnel, a big gallery or things like that,” said Mehdi Tayoubi, co-director of the ScanPyramids project, which published the finding Thursday in the journal Nature. “We have chosen the word ‘void’ and nothing else because we don’t know what this void is.”
Many archaeologists asked whether this recent research is able to find any new information about the ancient Egyptians. They also noticed that international team of researchers is unable to find a hidden room filled with the pharaoh's riches.
They also revealed that this void was probably empty space formed by the pyramid's architects to lessen the weight on its chambers and prevent them from collapsing, an example of features that were already documented in the construction of the ancient monuments.
Due to an advancement in a technological field, understanding of wonders of the ancient world that have long fascinated the human imagination could become richer.
Khufu, also known by his Greek name Cheops, is thought to have ruled from 2509 B.C. to 2483 B.C., during Egypt’s fourth dynasty. Though he constructed the largest pyramid Egypt has ever seen, the only intact three-dimensional figure of him that archaeologists have found measures a mere three inches tall. Very little is known about him, so his pyramid offers one of the few looks into his life and reign. The site at Giza where his pyramid was built also contains two other major pyramids and the Sphinx.
To see through its core, Dr. Tayoubi and his colleagues which consisted of three separate teams of physicists and engineers have revealed the pyramid using a particle physics technique known as muon tomography.
“We tried to do for the pyramid what a doctor can do with X-rays,” Dr. Tayoubi said.
What is Muons?
This team researchers despite X-rays, they used muons. The muons are heavy cousins of electrons that form when cosmic rays from outer space collide with particles in Earth’s atmosphere. The fallout from the collisions creates a constant bombardment of harmless particles that can penetrate deep into the planet.
As the muons pass through matter they lose energy and decay, so if the team detected a small number of muons, that means they were passing through matter. But if they detected more muons, it suggests the particles were passing through empty space or less dense material.
This is not the first time this technology is used, Luis Alvarez, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist previously used this technology to investigate whether there were hidden chambers in the Pyramid of Khafre in the 1960s.
And over the decades, muon detector resolution has greatly improved and it has since been used to see the inner structures of volcanoes as well as irradiated Fukushima nuclear reactor.
The first measurements were made by researchers from Nagoya University in Japan who were a part of the project. Then two more teams associated with ScanPyramids, one from France and another from Japan, also confirmed the anomaly with muon tomography, even from outside the pyramid.
The discovery comes on the footsteps of the team’s previous work, which detected a small void behind the north face of the pyramid in 2016.
Christopher Morris, a physicist who conducts research using muon tomography at Los Alamos National Laboratory and was not involved in the study, called the findings “pretty amazing,” adding that all the team needed to do was set up their muon detectors and reap the rewards.
“All the other physicists who could have done it, and didn’t, are jealous,” he said.
Arturo Menchaca-Rocha, a physicist from the National Autonomous University of Mexico who has used muon detection to investigate the Pyramid of the Sun in Mexico, echoed Dr. Morris’s sentiments and said the project’s physics supported its claims. But archaeologists were more critical of the work and they observed a single point meticulously.
Mark Lehner, an Egyptologist from Ancient Egypt Research Associates, said that the revelation is not out of the box and previous work had shown that the ancient Egyptians most likely constructed gaps in their pyramids.
“The great pyramid of Khufu is more Swiss cheese than cheddar,” he said. He added that the steep incline of the void also casts doubts on whether it was some sort of room.
“At that angle, it doesn’t make much sense for it to be a chamber that would contain artifacts, burials and objects and that sort of thing.”
Zahi Hawass, an Egyptologist, former Egyptian government minister and head of the scientific committee appointed by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities to review the work, was more critical of the finding.
“They found nothing,” said Dr. Hawass, noting that such construction gaps had been known of for at least two decades. “This paper offers nothing to Egyptology. Zero.”
Both Dr. Lehner and Dr. Hawass agreed that the scanning work should continue in hopes that the teams can retrieve higher resolution data about the inner workings of the pyramid, specifically the shape and size of the anomaly.
Hany Helal, who is also a co-director of the ScanPyramids project, responded to the criticism, saying that from an engineering perspective, it would not make sense to have such a big void above the Gallery if its purpose was to relieve pressure.
He said the next steps are to have an international discussion with archaeologists to figure out the structure’s purpose. In the future, he added that scientists may use drones to explore the void once they have more information about it.
“We are sure there is a void,” he said. “Now let us continue our research.”