Scientists recently made a big discovery inside one of the pyramids in Egypt. Using exciting new technology, they found a hidden void that could help solve a number of mysteries. After calling it the discovery of a century, researchers speculate on what it might mean. Although those conclusions take time, the finding itself marks quite an occasion.
“No very big structure has not been discovered inside the Khufu pyramid since the Middle Ages,” Mehdi Tayoubi, co-founder of the nonprofit that led the research, later told Vox.
1. The pyramid commemorates a godlike figure
Newsweek reports that the Egyptians built the Great Pyramid during the fourth dynasty, between 2580 and 2560 B.C. It honors the pharaoh Khufu, who ruled the ancient civilization for decades. His subjects considered him godlike, and construction took tens of thousands of workers up to 20 years. It stands at 450 feet high and 750 feet wide. Today, we categorize it as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
2. It even impressed the ancient Romans
The pyramid held the record as the world’s tallest man-made building until 1300, Vox explains. That’s 3,800 years. It also fascinates us as much as the ancients. The Romans considered the pyramid about as ancient as we do them. Even today, it still holds many mysteries.
“This is definitely the discovery of the century,” said archaeologist and Egyptologist Yukinori Kawae, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer. “There have been many hypotheses about the pyramid, but no one even imagined that such a big void is located above the Grand Gallery.”
3. We still don’t understand the new discovery
Scientists used a program called ScanPyramids to find the void inside. They later determined it stands about as large as the Statue of Liberty. “We don’t know for the moment if it’s horizontal or inclined, [or] if it is made from one structure or several successive structures,” said study coauthor Mehdi Tayoubi, president and co-founder of the Heritage Innovation Presentation Institute. “What we do know is that this void is there, that it is impressive, [and] that it was not expected by any kind of theory.”
According to an article in Nature, the void measures 100 feet in length and 26 feet in height. It sits right above the Grand Gallery, a 153-foot long room that connects the chambers of the pyramid. The newly-discovered chamber includes a similar cross section to the Grand Gallery, indicating that the two must connect.
4. It may hold undiscovered treasure
Kate Spence, senior lecturer in Egyptian Archaeology at the University of Cambridge, told Newsweek the chamber probably featured in the pyramid’s construction. “What they seem to have found is a linear anomaly above a gallery, which is a very complex piece of construction in the center of the Great Pyramid,” she explained.
“If you look at the cross section of the pyramid, above the king’s chamber … there are a whole series of little chambers,” she continued. “[Those] are roofed with incredibly heavy big granite blocks. My suspicion is what they are looking at is the remains of a constructional ramp … probably for getting those blocks into place.”
Spence later explained that the pyramid’s unique shape complicates things. No similar structures exist, so scientists have no means of comparison. Since no written records of their construction exists, scientists must interpret it themselves.
5. We can’t tell what lies inside without going in
Salima Ikram, an Egyptologist at the American University in Cairo, said we must not drill into the structure. “There’s lots of heavy, thick rock, and by drilling something, you don’t know how you will affect the entire thing,” Ikram explained. “If there’s something behind the Mona Lisa, would you want to wipe her clean and see what’s behind her? You really have to preserve the integrity of the monument.”
Some Egyptologists said the void itself doesn’t hold much intrigue, but others say it points to how the structure was created.
“When you’re dealing with creating a monument to house the immortal remains of an individual who bridges heaven and Earth, and whose ascendance to the stars helps assure the perpetual prosperity of Egypt, I don’t think [this void] was a cost-cutting measure,” said archaeologist Adam Maskevich. Regardless, all experts agree more research must be conducted.
6. The project used common molecules in a new way
Science Magazine explains ScanPyramids used particle physics for probing the internal structure of the pyramids in a non-invasive way. The technology also uses muons to detect anomalies within the pyramids.
Every minute, tens of thousands of muons move through every square meter on Earth. The heavy particles weigh in at 207 times bigger than electrons. Those negatively charged particles travel through hundreds of meters of stone before absorption, acting like X-rays for structures.
7. It all starts with space explosions
Kyle Cranmer, a particle physicist at New York University, explained that the particles originally form in space. Energetic events like star explosions shoot atomic nuclei across the universe at almost the speed of light. After these high-energy particles reach our planet, they slam into the atmosphere like bullets. Subsequently, they hit the nuclei of other atoms and ricochet around.
According to The New York Times, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Luis Alvarez previously used the technology to investigate chambers in the Pyramid of Khafre in the 1960s. With the improved technology, other scientists use it to examine the inside of volcanoes, as well as the irradiated Fukushima nuclear reactor.
8. Researchers used a device you can make at home
To use the muons, researchers placed a muon detector in a nearby pyramid chamber. These detectors use tile-sized photographic films to count the number of muons coming through the structure. By measuring the distance they bounce, scientists then measure the void.
Feeling scientific? Vox notes that you can also build your own muon detector at home. You can even turn your smartphone into one. You might not discover any new voids in your own home, but why not try?
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