Monday,11 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1270, (12 - 18 November 2015)
Monday,11 December, 2017
Issue 1270, (12 - 18 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Mysteries explored

Thermal scanning on King Khufu’s Great Pyramid uncovers an anomaly behind blocks located on its eastern side. Nevine El-Aref reports from the scene

Mysteries explored
Mysteries explored
Al-Ahram Weekly

It seems that the curse of the Pharaohs continues to perplex Egyptologists. The more scientific efforts they exert to unlock the mysteries of the pyramids’ construction, the more they find themselves in a riddle wrapped in an enigma.

On Monday night, the Giza Plateau was buzzing with people. Hundreds of foreign and Egyptian journalists, photographers and TV cameras as well as scientists and officials from the Ministry of Antiquities flocked onto the eastern side of King Khufu’s Great Pyramid to attend a live show and a press conference to hear the results of thermal scanning that scientists had conducted on the pyramid.

“The shortest way towards the future is the one that starts by deepening the past,” Aimé Césaire, the famed French poet once said.  Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities apparently took Césaire’s words to heart, starting the ScanPyramid project two weeks ago to unlock the secrets of Egypt’s pyramids -- four millennia after their construction -- with the help of modern non-invasive technology. The Ministry of Antiquities initiated ScanPyramid in collaboration with the Faculty of Engineering at Cairo University and the French Heritage Innovation and Preservation (HIP) Institute.

It aims at probing the heart of Egypt’s pyramids from afar without touching or drilling into them. This would be achieved through the use of radioactive muons, or cosmic particles, infrared thermography, photogrammetry, scanning and 3D reconstruction by international researchers from three major universities: the Faculty of Engineering at Cairo University, the Université Laval in Quebec and the Nagoya University in Japan.

On Monday night, as a cool breeze enveloped those gathered at Giza Plateau, Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Al-Damati stood before the Great Pyramid and announced that after two weeks of infrared thermal scanning, Egyptian and foreign scientific teams had identified major anomalies at the eastern side of King Khufu’s Great Pyramid.

Al-Damati told reporters that the thermal scanning was done at sunrise as the sun heats the structures from the outside, late in the afternoon, then at sunset when the pyramids are cooling down. “The speed of the heating and cooling phases was used to uncover anomalies such as empty areas in the pyramids which could be internal air currents or different building materials.”

Al-Damati said the result of the infrared thermography scan on the first row of the pyramid’s limestone blocks showed that all the blocks have the same temperature with the exception of three which are hotter. These three blocks were “different in formation” than the others which are uniform. A similar situation was also noted in the middle of the eastern side of the pyramid.

He said that while inspecting the ground in front of the eastern side of the pyramid, scientists found “something like a small passage leading up to the pyramid ground, reaching an area with a different temperature”.

“What could be behind it?” Al-Damati asked, calling on fellow Egyptologists, especially those interested in ancient Egyptian architecture, to brainstorm and join in the research to help in explaining the phenomenon.

“I don’t know yet what could lie behind such blocks or what these anomalies could be, but it will surely lead to major discoveries,” Al-Damati told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“I have several hypotheses in mind, though I cannot reveal them before conducting further research and study,” he asserted, adding that muon detection will soon be used on the Khufu Pyramid by the Japanese mission in order to determine what these blocks conceal and the nature of the anomalies.

“It could be void spaces, fissures or passages. So far, I do not know,” Al-Damati told the Weekly, adding that more should be revealed after two weeks.

French scientist Jean-Claude Barré, who carried out the thermal scanning on the pyramid, describes the anomaly found on the first row of the pyramid as “quite impressive and remarkable”.

He said that in the cooling phase, the transfer of heat usually happens from the inside to the outside, while in the heating phase, it is the opposite.

Coordinator of the project and professor of engineering Hani Helal noted that if an object is built with blocks of the same material and has an identical “heat emissivity”, no significant temperature differences are detected. But if there are heterogeneities in the structure, such as cavities or different type of material used in the construction, temperature differences are detected since some parts heat up or cool down faster due to difference in heat emissivity.

“The Great Pyramid showed striking thermal differences,” Barré told the large crowd from a large screen erected in front the pyramid.

Anomalies in thermal measurements can be explained by the presence of cavities, internal air currents, or different materials with specific thermal capacity. All anomalies detected will be subject to further analysis.

An Egyptian Egyptologist who spoke to the Weekly on condition of anonymity said that nothing would be found behind the blocks except for fractures because this is the “mother rock” of the plateau. He said that when the ancient Egyptians built the pyramids, they inserted the blocks and the casing of the two first rows of the pyramids on the area’s mother rock.

In fact, an empty space doesn’t hold heat as well as rock or soil, so heat anomalies provide clues to structural features beneath or beyond the surface being scanned. They could point to hidden chambers or passages at the ancient sites. “However, the anomalies could also be due to less spectacular differences in structure or composition, for example, fractures in the underlying rock, and this is the case at the Great Pyramid,” the Egyptologist said.

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