Friday, November 3, 2017

A New Chamber in the Great Pyramid?

Scientists using a new form of imaging involving tiny particles called muons have reported the discovery of a new chamber inside the Great Pyramid of Giza. Originally the group set out to determine if muon imaging could detect two known rooms within the massive structure. The method worked perfectly for those two chambers, but to the surprise of the scientists involved it detected a third, unknown void above the space called the Grand Gallery.

The Great Pyramid of Giza has been probed with the tools of modern particle physics by scientists who say they have discovered a huge, secret space hidden within its ancient walls. It is located above a tall, cathedral-like room known as the Grand Gallery, and this newly found space is comparable in size — about 100 feet long, according to a report in the journal Nature.

That makes it a major structure within this royal tomb, which was built around 2500 B.C. and is considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Yet until now, despite centuries of study, no one knew this space was there. "The romantic interpretation and what everyone wants to hear is that this is a hidden room and the king's body is inside or there's grave goods we didn't know about or we're going to learn more about history ... and none of that is responsible speculation at the moment," cautions Peter Der Manuelian, an Egyptologist at Harvard University who was not part of the research team.

"All we know is that we have a void, we have a cavity, and it's huge, which means possibly intentional and certainly worthy of further exploration," Manuelian says, noting that it's not yet clear whether it's a single chamber or more than one. "In that sense it's obviously frustrating," he says. "On the other hand, as an architectural discovery, something we didn't know about the interior of the Great Pyramid, it's absolutely big news." Indeed, the team that made the find reports that it is the first significant internal structure found within the Great Pyramid since the 19th century.

Archaeologists will have to verify that the new chamber exists, and then see if there is a good way to reach it without damaging the rest of the structure. It would be fascinating to find a cache of undisturbed burial goods in the new chamber, as that would be a discovery rivaling that of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922. Tutankhamun was a minor Pharaoh who took the throne as a child and died at the age of eighteen, but his tomb was so significant because it was mostly intact and literally stuffed with artifacts from the time of his reign. One can only imagine what sorts of goods might have accompanied the burial of Khufu, the much more significant Pharaoh for whom the Great Pyramid is believed to have been built.

Still, I have to say, it's probably more likely that the new chamber is empty, just like all the others in the Great Pyramid. It's not clear that the place was ever filled with burial goods, or if it was the tomb was emptied long ago. The chambers inside the pyramid may perform some entirely different function that serving as a tomb, and if this new chamber does turn out to be empty, it will lend some credence to those ideas. I'm looking forward to hearing more about this, once archaeologists have worked out a way to find out what might be inside.

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