Scientists have discovered a hidden passage in the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. It marks the first discovery in Egyptian structures since the 19th century. The discovery wasn't made through traditional archaeological efforts. The team used the by-products of cosmic rays to find the previously hidden chamber.
"This is a premier," said Mehdi Tayoubi, a co-founder of the ScanPyramids project and president of the Heritage Innovation Preservation Institute, in an interview with the Washington Post. "It could be composed of one or several structures... maybe it could be another Grand Gallery. It could be a chamber, it could be a lot of things."
However, the researchers quickly squashed any romanticized idea that the room held hidden treasures.
"There’s zero chance of hidden burial chambers," said Aidan Dodson, an Egyptologist at the University of Bristol, UK, in an interview with Nature. Many researchers hope that the empty chamber can give further insight into how these incredible structures were built.
"The Great Pyramid is full of voids. We have to be careful how results are presented to the public,” said archaeologist Zahi Hawass. "In order to construct the Grand Gallery, you had to have a hollow, or a big void in order to access it — you cannot build it without such a space. Large voids exist between the stones and may have been left as construction gaps."
The Great Pyramid of Giza was built in the era of Pharaoh Khufu (aka Cheops) between 2509-2483 BC. The pyramids were made from granite and limestone. They key pyramid stands approximately 139 meters tall (456 feet) tall and is still one of the oldest and most popular structures from the ancient world.
How did they find it?
In order to find the void, researchers used a tool called muon scanning. They placed plates throughout the pyramid that would gather the muons -- subatomic particles from cosmic rays that rain down from the atmosphere. Muons deeply penetrate rocks but can also reflect off of harder substances. These properties allowed the scientists to analyze the void without damaging it physically.
Similar studies had been done to the Queen's chamber in 2015. A Japanese team led by Kunihiro Morishima of Nagoya University used the muon detectors in order to detect the particles passing above the chamber. After a few months, two other teams of physicists combined forces and used two different types of detectors inside and outside the pyramid.
All three teams located a large void in the same location as the Grand Gallery, and all three teams were thrilled with the findings.
"It was a big surprise,” said Tayoubi. "We’re really excited."
The next step for researchers is partnering with archaeologists and Egyptologists to theorize what the room could've been used for. As mentioned earlier, the researchers don't believe there to be any burial "treasures" in the chamber. However, it could serve as a "relieving chamber," the team noted -- a space that could reduce the pressure of the rest of the building on the Grand Gallery.
Tayoubi and his team also want to apply muon tracking to Khafre's Pyramid, the second largest of Giza's grand pyramids.
The full report of the recent findings can be found in the Nature journal.