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The Great Pyramid of Giza remains one of the most impressive and enigmatic monuments ever built by human hands, despite being constructed at least 4500 years ago. And the mystery that has surrounded the building through the millennia has led many to search the building for hidden chambers, hoping to discover treasure or esoteric secrets.

In the last couple of decades there has been much focus on the so-called ‘ventilation shafts’ of the Queen’s Chamber, that when explored with a robot by Rudolf Gantenbrink in the early 1990s were found to have ‘doors’ at the end of them. But in the last couple of years a new exploration effort has offered a new way forward: the Scan Pyramids project has employed various high-tech, non-destructive methods – such as infra-red thermography and muons radiography – to literally ‘scan’ the Great Pyramid for cavities.

And today, the Scan Pyramids – along with assisting institutions – are announcing a big find (both in terms of its news value, and also the actual size of the discovery). In a paper in Nature, researchers have reported the discovery of “a large void” (at least 30m/100ft in length) above the Grand Gallery – a find “which constitutes the first major inner structure found in the Great Pyramid since the 19th century”!

The ‘void’ (unimaginatively named the “ScanPyramids Big Void”), was first observed with nuclear emulsion films installed in the Queen’s chamber by Nagoya University, and then reconfirmed using other methods by other institutions. According to the paper abstract…

…This large void has therefore been detected with a high confidence by three different muon detection technologies and three independent analyses. These results constitute a breakthrough for the understanding of Khufu’s Pyramid and its internal structure. While there is currently no information about the role of this void, these findings show how modern particle physics can shed new light on the world’s archaeological heritage.

'Big void' discovery in the Great Pyramid

(Courtesy Scan Pyramids)

The researchers are being cautious not to call this a secret chamber, though that appears to be what they privately think it is. In a press conference today, researcher Medhi Tayoubi – who let news of the discovery slip a few months ago – stated that the team was “avoiding the word ‘chamber’…we know that it’s a big void, but we’re not calling it a chamber”. But Tayoubi also noted that “when you know the pyramids, and the perfection of the pyramids, it’s hard to imagine that it’s an accident.”

Interestingly, along with the discovery of the ‘big void’ comes news that the research team has also confirmed a previous discovery of a void above the northern entrance gate (see the image above). Could this be a secret passageway that leads to the ‘Big void’?

Below is a video from the Scan Pyramids project that details the latest findings, including both the ‘Big Void’ and the northern ‘secret passageway’.

So what comes next? Assisting the Scan Pyramids team is Jean-Baptiste Mouret of the ISIR robotics institue in France, who said details would be released next week of a small flying robot that could fit within a one-inch wide hole to explore the void. Obviously, however, allowing drilling in the Great Pyramid is a sensitive matter and would require permission from the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities.

They’ve certainly got my interest!