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Hidden "void" found in Egypt's Great Pyramid

An illustration of the newly discovered void in Khufu's Pyramid, courtesy of ScanPyramids mission.

Scientists have probed Egypt's mysterious Great Pyramid of Giza with tools of modern particle physics and say they have discovered a hidden "void" within its ancient walls. The large space is roughly 100 feet long and situated above the pyramid's Grand Gallery, according to a report published in the scientific journal Nature Thursday.

Why it matters: The study suggests that modern advances in technology could lead to new discoveries and help create a better understanding of the ancient world — even in well-studied places, like the Great Pyramid, built around 2500 B.C. and considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Context: Scientists involved in the study said this is the first significant internal structure found within the The Great Pyramid since the 19th century. But many archaeologists have questioned whether the discovery offers any new information, per the New York Times, arguing the void was likely empty space designed to prevent the structure from collapsing, as documented in the construction of the ancient monuments.

  • "They found nothing," Zahi Hawass, former Egyptian government minister and head of the scientific committee appointed by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities to review the work, told NYT, noting that such construction gaps were known for at least two decades. "This paper offers nothing to Egyptology. Zero."

Details of the study, per NPR:

  • Mehdi Tayoubi, co-director of the ScanPyramids project, and his team investigated the pyramid using a type of imaging technique that involves muons — subatomic particles that move through matter — to see through into the structure. "We tried to do for the pyramid what a doctor can do with X-rays," he said.
  • After uncovering the void, the team used two muon-detection methods to confirm their findings. "The good news is the void is there. Now we are sure that there is a void. We know that this void is big," says Tayoubi. "I don't know what it could be. I think it's now time for Egyptologists and specialists in ancient Egypt architecture to collaborate with us, to provide us with some hypotheses."

What's next: Tayoubi said he's interested in whether small robots might be able to enter the newly-discovered chamber through tiny cracks or holes and provide more information.

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