The internal structure of an ancient Egyptian pyramid was revealed for the first time using cosmic particles, a team of international researchers reports.
The innovative technology was applied to the Bent Pyramid, a 4,500-year-old monument so named because of its sloping upper half. According to the researchers, who presented their results in Cairo on Tuesday to Khaled El-Enany, minister of Antiquities and the former minister Mamdouh El-Damaty, the outcome was “excellent” as it showed the inside of the monument as with an X-ray.
The technology relies on muons, cosmic particles that permanently and naturally rain on Earth, which are able to penetrate any material very deeply. This is the first of four pyramids to be investigated within the ScanPyramids, a project carried out by a team from Cairo University’s Faculty of Engineering and the Paris-based non-profit organization Heritage, Innovation and Preservation under the authority of the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. The others are the Great Pyramid, Khafre or Chephren at Giza, and the Red pyramid at Dahshur.
Scheduled to last a year, the project uses a mix of innovative technologies such as infrared thermography, muon radiography, and 3-D reconstruction to better understand the monument and possibly identify the presence of unknown internal structures and cavities.
Located at the royal necropolis of Dahshur, about 25 miles south of Cairo, the Bent pyramid was built under the Old Kingdom Pharaoh Sneferu (about 2600 BC). It’s the first with a smooth face, after generations of stepped pyramids. The monument has two entrances, one on the north side and one on the west side. These entries open on two corridors leading to two burial chambers arranged one above the other.
It was speculated that pharaoh Sneferu rests inside the pyramid in an undiscovered burial chamber, but the innovative technology ruled out the hypothesis. The scanning did not detect any additional chamber of the size of the upper chamber or beyond in the field of view covered by the muography. Lost Egyptian Pyramids Found?
“Nevertheless, this is indeed a scientific breakthrough as it validates the muography principle applied to Egyptian pyramids. It paves the way to new investigations,” said Mehdi Tayoubi, co-director of the ScanPyramids mission with Hany Helal, professor at Cairo University’s Faculty of Engineering and former minister of research and higher education.
The results come four months after a team led by specialist Kunihiro Morishima, from the Institute for Advanced Research of Nagoya University, Japan, installed (as explained in this video) 40 muon detector plates inside the lower chamber of the Bent pyramid. Covering a surface of about 10 square feet in the pyramid’s lower chamber, the plates contained two emulsion films that are sensitive to muons that continually shower the Earth’s surface.
They come from the upper layers of Earth’s atmosphere, where they’re created from collisions between cosmic rays and the nuclei of atoms in the atmosphere.