The Giza Necropolis is one of the planet’s most visited ancient sites, with its centerpiece Great Pyramid looming large as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Although this impressive tomb has been with us for an estimated 4,575 years it still holds many secrets that, due to the risks of excavating its potentially fragile contents, remain uninvestigated. This is about to change in a spectacular way: scientists have been given the go-ahead to use drone-mounted scanners and “cosmic rays” to peer inside the ancient mausoleum and its accompanying smaller pyramids, as reported by The Independent.
The Scan Pyramids Project, involving a group of diverse scientists from Egypt, France, Canada and Japan, will survey the famous tourist site and hypothesized tomb of Queen Nefertiti using non-invasive technology to look at the architectural “skeleton” of the pyramids.
A Japanese KEK particle physics institute technique called “muography,” something that is normally used to investigate the violent innards of active volcanoes, will be used on the pyramids. Muons are elementary particles somewhat similar to electrons, but with slightly different properties; they are unstable particles produced in high-energy interactions, including cosmic rays reacting with the atmosphere.
Way back in 1970, muography was actually used to peer inside Khafre’s pyramid, the second-largest pyramid in Giza. Essentially, the more muons that reached the detector, the less dense rock they had to travel through, perhaps suggesting a secret chamber remained hidden between the emitter and the detector. Although no new hidden chamber was uncovered, the technique was shown to be viable, and it will now be used on the entire pyramidal complex at Giza. Some of the scanners will be mounted on drones in order to beam muons through the pyramids at novel angles.
There have been other attempts to peek inside the pyramids using non-invasive techniques: in 1986, microgravimetry – a way of measuring the gravitational field strength of very small objects in order to build up a picture of their physical properties – was used to produce a “map” of their internal structures.
The Great Pyramid even today is still an undoubtedly awe-inspiring human construct, a tomb for the pharaoh Khufu. There have been a plethora of theories as to how it was constructed without the aid of modern technology, or indeed how any of the pyramids were built. Most agree that the blocks of limestone were carved – although there’s some evidence to suggest the stones were built out of an ancient cement and cast into block shapes – but how they were actually put together remains steeped in controversy. As reported by National Geographic, a computer generated 3D model suggested the presence of mysterious spiral structures within the pyramids, lending weight to the idea that the ancient monuments were built from the inside-out.
This new and ambitious research project, starting in November 2016, will actually generate intricate composite 3D models of the pyramids, hoping to shed some light on this longstanding construction mystery.