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Ancient Egypt

Pyramid Puzzle Persists

Edited from BBC News, 17 September 2002

A robot sent into the heart of Egypt's Great Pyramid in 2002 found its way barred. The miniature robot drilled a hole into a limestone door which was found to be blocking a shaft, and inserted a fibre optic camera through it only to find the chamber blocked by yet another door - one which had not been seen for more than four thousand years.

Despite the disappointment, several scientists called the discovery 'very important', believing that 'something amazing' may be hidden behind the second door. The find promised with some degree of certainty that there would be a chamber on the other side, according to Robert Bauvel, expert on ancient Egypt.

Zahi Hawass, director of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) was more phlegmatic, stating that maybe there could be something belonging to Pharaoh Khufu hidden behind the second door... and maybe there was nothing. He added that the next job for researchers was to study the footage and plan for further inspections, which could take up to twelve months.

Scientists hoped that the twelve centimetre-tall robot - dubbed the 'Pyramid Rover' - may yet be able to return to have another crack at the mysteries of the pharaohs.

Stellar afterlife

Mr Bauvel, who was 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'.

He added that 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 [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 at stars which are relevant. We know that this shaft is pointed towards Sirius, which is very important to the Egyptians.'

The show must go on

Audiences watched live on television as the robot crawled about sixty-five metres up a narrow tunnel to explore the shaft. Mr Hawass' SCA, along with engineers from the Boston firm, iRobot, and researchers from National Geographic, had spent a year planning the September 2002 event.

For those who may be unaware, 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 is a 'must-see' attraction for every tourist who has ever visited the modern 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 which has now been pierced. More certainly remains to be discovered.

Inside the Great Pyramid
Some details of the innards of the Great Pyramid and of the 'Pyramid Rover' which drilled through the door discovered in 1993 and immediately found another door beyond it



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