Last year we talked about (in our sister site HEXAPOLIS) the impressive ScanPyramids mission, an advanced research endeavor which basically entailed the use of non-invasive technologies, including radiography, thermal imaging, drone-mounted detectors and scanners, and remote sensing using infra-red – for analyzing the hidden interiors of Egyptian pyramids. But more importantly, these processes were complemented by a highly-specialized technique called muon tomography (involving cosmic rays) – developed by the collaborative effort of Japan-based KEK Particle Physics Institute and the University of Nagoya, and initially used for assessing active volcanoes. And now all of these technologies have come together to deliver their first result in the form of a reveal of the interior structure of the so-called Bent Pyramid. Located at the royal necropolis of Dahshur (around 26 miles from Cairo), this particular structure may be older than even the Great Pyramid, and is believed to constructed by Old Kingdom Pharaoh Sneferu (circa 2600 BC).
In architectural terms, the Bent Pyramid is important – not because of its obviously ‘bent’ shape, but rather because how its design mirrors the evolution of Egyptian pyramids from stepped structures to smooth surfaced monuments. However in this case, the researchers were more interested in the interior setup of this ancient pyramid. So after exposing the tomb for 40 days to elementary muon particles (formed from collision between cosmic rays and atomic nuclei of atmosphere), a dedicated team, headed by specialist Kunihiro Morishima from the Institute for Advanced Research of Nagoya University, was able to discern the major arrangements inside the monument. Their conclusion is that there are two separate entrances from north and west, and they lead to two different burial chambers that are situated one above the other.
Interestingly, this discovery goes against the popular conjecture of Pharaoh Sneferu being interred inside a hidden burial chamber. As Mehdi Tayoubi, co-director of the ScanPyramids mission, and member of Paris-based nonprofit institute Heritage, Innovation and Preservation (HIP), said –
From these plates [detectors], more than 10 millions of muon tracks were analyzed. We count the muons and according to their angular distribution we are able to reconstruct an image. For the first time ever, the internal structure of a pyramid was revealed with muon particles. The images obtained clearly show the second chamber of the pyramid located roughly 60 feet above the lower one in which emulsions plates were installed.
And while an exposure of 40 days is not enough to discern smaller cavities and voids inside chambers, the researchers used simulations that placed a ‘hidden’ chamber within the framework of the interior setup of the Bent Pyramid. The resultant field of view suggested that such a possibility is highly unlikely. In any case, after the Bent Pyramid, the researchers will move on to the ‘big one’ – the Great Pyramid of Giza, the only surviving monument from the ancient Seven Wonders of the World.
Intriguingly enough, preliminary research has already established the structural anomaly present within the Great Pyramid – as judged by its thermal measurements. Speaking about the find, Tayoubi, had mentioned (back in November, 2015) –
This anomaly is really quite impressive and it’s just in front of us, at the ground level. In cooling phase, the heat transfer is usually happening from the inside to the outside; while in heating phase, it is the opposite.
Structures that are homogeneous, i.e. built using blocks of the same material, usually have uniform ‘heat emissivity’. In such cases, thermal differences remain constant, and are devoid of any major spikes. By contrast, heterogeneous objects – basically those possessing cavities or constructed using a combination of different materials – exhibit significant disparity in thermal differences. This is because certain parts of these structures tend to heat up or cool down much faster than the other parts, thanks to differing heat emissivities.
The Great Pyramid showed some really puzzling thermal differences. Differences in thermal emissivity of two types of limestone blocks usually range from 0.1 to around 0.5 degrees. On the eastern side of the Khufu pyramid, however, the researchers observed a 6-degree difference in thermal emissivity. According to the team, the irregularity might be due to the presence of voids or air currents inside the monuments. It also points to the possibility that the pyramid’s internal structure was built using a combination of different materials with differing thermal capacity. Tayoubi added –
This anomaly is impressive and obvious. We have several hypothesis but no conclusion for the moment…We need now to build models and thermal simulations to test different hypotheses in order to understand what we have found.
All Images Credit (except Featured Image): Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, HIP Institute and the Faculty of Engineering (Cairo University).