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North Face Corridor in the Great Pyramid (courtesy ScanPyramids Project)

View the interior of a hidden chamber in the Great Pyramid for the first time in 4,500 years

Hidden chambers in the pyramids: they’re the stuff of Indiana Jones-style adventure stories, and stories of secret rooms in the Great Pyramid in particular have probably circulated from not long after it was constructed some four and a half thousand years ago.

Over the last 30 years though, the existence of such chambers has felt like it has been creeping closer to reality than legend, as various technologies have allowed us to take new looks inside the massive pyramid of the Pharaoh Khufu – starting with the robots of German engineer Rudolf Gantenbrink in the 1990s, through to the ScanPyramids Mission that kicked off in 2015 using non-destructive scanning technology such as infrared thermography, muons radiographic and ultrasound.

While Gantenbrink’s robot in the 1990s found the mysterious ‘doors’ at the end of the so-called air-shafts emanating from the Queen’s Chamber, since 2015 the ScanPyramids Mission has used a number of non-destructive scanning techniques to identify a number of unexplained ‘voids’ within the huge edifice (not in the location of the ‘Gantenbrink doors’), that the project team have said resemble hidden chambers or corridors.

In 2016, a small void was detected behind the so-called ‘Chevron’, an assembly of four large limestone blocks arranged in the shape of two inverted ‘V’s above the northern entry to the Great Pyramid via the ‘Descending Corridor’, and named the ScanPyramids North Face Corridor (SP-NFC). A larger void (imaginatively known as ‘ScanPyramids Big Void’, or SP-BV) was subsequently discovered in 2017 above the ascending ‘Grand Gallery’ of the pyramid.

ScanPyramids diagram showing the location of the various chambers, corridors and voids in the Great Pyramid

After its discovery in 2016, the ScanPyramids team spent the next four years (2016-2020) gathering more measurements to refine their view of the mysterious void. The study has just been published in Nature, in a technical paper titled “Precise characterization of a corridor-shaped structure in Khufu’s Pyramid by observation of cosmic-ray muons“, in which they were able to confirm the (nearly) exact measurements of the NFC:

North end of the corridor starts at 0.8 m behind the Chevron and ends at 9.1 m southward. A horizontal corridor is favored, with a transverse section around 2.0 m × 2.0 m. More complex shapes than a simple paralleliped are possible, but with the same mean height and width. To our knowledge, this study is the first characterization of the position and dimensions of a void detected by cosmic-ray muons with a sensitivity of a few centimeters only.

ScanPyramids’ estimation of the size and location of the ‘North Face Corridor’

In 2020 the Technical University of Munich joined the ScanPyramids mission employing other non-destructive scanning techniques such as ground-penetrating radar and ultrasonic testing. They carried out three measurement campaigns between 2020 and 2022 “to characterize the pyramid’s stone at the Chevron and confirm the presence of the ScanPyramids North-Face Corridor (SP-NFC)”. The results – also just published in a separate paper, “Localization and shape determination of a hidden corridor in the Great Pyramid of Giza using non-destructive testing” – provided proof of the existence of the detected corridor and allowed exact determination of its physical location.

The results of these highly precise scans allowed the team to propose coordinates for the drilling of a small-diameter borehole in order to explore the void behind the Chevron with an endoscopic video camera. And the resulting footage has just been released by the ScanPyramids team (at the same time as the two scientific papers mentioned above), allowing us all to view a chamber that has not been seen by human eyes for four and a half millennia!

While the corridor or chamber is certainly an exciting discovery, there’s little doubt many who dream of ancient Egyptian treasures or the secrets of Atlantis will be disappointed, as the vault is empty, lined only with undressed bare rock walls and the dust of millennia. However, the video showing the chevron ceiling continuing behind the outer visible chevrons is on its own quite interesting, given the uniqueness of this architectural technique at the time of the pyramid’s construction:

Khufu’s Pyramid is the first pyramid in history that uses a Chevron technique to cover internal structures and prevent them from collapsing. We can find Chevron on the North Face, in the queen’s chamber ceiling and above the king’s chamber. The construction process of the oldest of the seven wonders of the ancient world is one of the most important archaeological mysteries. Any discovery of previously unknown internal structures could contribute to the knowledge on the construction of this Pyramid.

‘North Face Corridor’ within the Great Pyramid (courtesy ScanPyramids Project)

Was the NFC originally planned as a burial chamber, or a grand passage to a separate chamber, but subsequently abandoned during construction? Or is it possible that the NFC was simply built to lessen the load above the Descending Corridor?

Or, is there a still unknown connection between the NFC and the ‘Big Void’, which remains unexplored? Initially there was some theorizing that the NFC might be a secret passageway that led to a large chamber at the location of the Big Void, but the later scanning (and video) of the NFC seems to dispute that – it appears to be a standalone space that extends no further into the pyramid. It should be noted, however, that the ScanPyramids team are careful to point out that “a smaller corridor of <1.0 m between these two structures cannot be completely ruled out” from the data they have so far.

In any case, all eyes now turn to the ScanPyramids team’s analysis and exploration of the ‘Big Void’ above the Grand Gallery.

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