Egypt to scan pyramids for undiscovered secrets
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.