History Files


Ancient Egypt

Pyramid Puzzle Persists

BBC News, 17 September 2002

Researchers may be planning new attempts to unlock the secrets of the Pharaohs, after a robot sent into the heart of Egypt's Great Pyramid found its way barred.

The miniature robot drilled a hole in a limestone door blocking a shaft and inserted a fibre optic camera through it only to find the chamber blocked by yet another door - not seen for more than 4,000 years.

Despite the disappointment, several scientists called the discovery "very important", believing that "something amazing" may be hidden behind the second door.

"The finding... promises almost with certainty that there is a chamber on the other side," Robert Bauvel, expert on ancient Egypt, said.

"Maybe something belonging to [pharaoh] Khufu is hidden behind the second one. Maybe there is nothing," Zahi Hawass, director of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), said.

Mr Hawass said the next job for researchers was to study the footage and plan for further inspections, which could take up to twelve months.

Scientists hope that the twelve centimetre (five inch) tall robot - dubbed the Pyramid Rover - may yet return for another crack at the mysteries of the Pharaohs.

Stellar afterlife

Mr Bauvel, who is also the author of The Great Pyramid book, expressed hopes that the robot would find another chamber.

He said that it may be "a room - probably with artefacts - but mainly with the stature of the king... where [the Egyptians] imagined that the soul of the king habits the statue."

Mr Bauvel said such rooms were quite common in tombs, especially in the Old Kingdom, and they were usually protected by several sliding doors.

"It has been known for a long time that they [the Egyptians] had stellar alignment...to their stellar destiny in the sky.

"My guess is that we probably going to have a statue of the king... gazing towards the sky and stars that are relevant."

"We know that this shaft is pointed towards Sirius, which is very important to the Egyptians."

Show must go on

Earlier on Tuesday, audiences watched live on television, as the robot crawled about 65 metres (71 yards) up a narrow tunnel to explore the shaft.

Mr Hawass's SCA, along with engineers from the Boston firm iRobot and researchers from National Geographic, had spent a year planning Tuesday's event.

The Great Pyramid of Khufu (translated as Cheops by the Ancient Greeks) is the largest of a family of three pyramids on the Giza plateau near Cairo and a "must-see" attraction for every tourist who has ever visited the Egyptian capital.

Deep inside the pyramid, running from the Queen's chamber, is a twenty centimetre-wide tunnel.

In 1993, a German archaeologist sent a small robotic probe into the shaft armed with a fibre-optic camera.

It travelled for about sixty metres before it ran straight into the thick limestone door that has now been pierced.

Inside the Great Pyramid
Inside the Great Pyramid



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