Egypt to scan pyramids for undiscovered secrets

Friday 30/10/2015
Scan is to begin in early No­vember and last for a year

CAIRO - Mysteries shrouded in Egypt’s pyramids for thousands of years may, in a few months, become something of the past thanks to technology.
Scientists and specialists from Ja­pan, Canada, France and Egypt are working to scan the pyramids for hidden rooms, undisclosed corri­dors and unknown burial sites. The first such study may revolutionise knowledge of ancient Egyptian civi­lisation.
The scan is to begin in early No­vember and last for a year. It will probe, using infrared thermogra­phy, into the heart of Egypt’s largest pyramids without drilling into the stone.
“Mysteries abound when it comes to the pyramids and these need to be unravelled,” Egyptian Antiqui­ties Minister Mamdouh al-Damati said at the announcement of the scan in Cairo on Octo­ber 25th. “We have hopes that the scan will take us steps forward in un­derstanding the ancient Egyptian civilisation.”
Almost 35 years ago scientists and archaeologists attempted a scan of the pyramids for undiscovered chambers but to little avail. This time, however, hopes are high that the scan will usher in new discover­ies.
There are many questions about how the pyramids, especially the Great Pyramid of Giza, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, were built. With a base of more than 5 hectares, an original height of almost 150 metres and a mass of 5.9 million tonnes, the pyr­amid on the Giza Plateau, was built in only 25 years.
The internal structure of the pyr­amids is another mystery, scientists say, referring to what they describe as “inexplicable anomalies” when comparing plans of different pyra­mids. The builders of the pyramids multiplied tricks and obstacles to protect the remains and treasures of their sovereigns.
This was why previous explora­tions with less sophisticated means caught strange images that could correspond to hidden chambers in­side the pyramids, the scientists and engineers involved in the new scan say.
Called “Scan Pyramids”, the mis­sion will try to solve the mysteries of the pyramids using infrared ther­mography, which produces images with areas of different temperatures displayed in different colours.
Scientists will focus on four mas­terpieces of the Fourth Dynasty (2575-2465 BC) in Dahshur, 15 km south of Saqqara. They will study the South Pyramid, called the Bent, and the North Pyramid, called the Red, both built by Snefru (2575- 2551 BC). On the Giza Plateau, the mission will study the pyramids of Khufu and Khafre, built by the son and grandson of Snefru.
The members of the mission will develop a thermal map of the pyra­mids. A dynamic map will absorb the heat of the sun in daytime and restore it during the night.
The programme will take images on the four sides of the pyramids half an hour before sunrise, when the pyramids will be the coldest. Team members plan to repeat the operation at noon and the evening. They will record hundreds of thou­sands of images that will be com­pared via a computer programme.
The pyramids may reveal their secrets in blue and red — blue for colder areas, red for warmer — they say, adding that the goal of the mis­sion is to identify whether there are unknown voids behind the façades of the pyramids.
The techniques were developed in Japan by the High Energy Accel­erator Research Organisation and Nagoya University, according to Kumihiro Morishima, a researcher from the Institute for Advanced Re­search at Nagoya University.
A French company will launch a photogrammetric campaign using drones to rebuild the Giza Plateau and the site of Dahshur with all their monuments in 3D within a centime­tre’s precision. These models will be made available to research­ers and the public in data by the French non-profit HIP Institute.
Whether the project will succeed is a question the next 12 months will answer; however, Egypt’s tourism planners will use the scan investi­gation to promote Egypt and attract more visitors to make up for recent years’ losses in the tourism sector.
Egypt, according to Tourism Min­ister Hisham Zaazou, plans cam­paigns in Cairo and London to mar­ket the scan programme and bring in tourists to closely follow devel­opments.
“Tourists usually visit Egypt’s historic sites once in their lives,” Zaazou said. “I am sure the new project will make most tourists want to visit the country again.”
If the new technology proves a success, it will, antiquities experts say, allow for huge discoveries in the future.
Damati said the technology will be used to unravel secrets at other historic sites, including the tomb of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings in southern Egypt.
Almost 90 years after its opening, the tomb continues to fuel debate as some archaeologists sur­mise there are undiscov­ered chambers and corridors in it.