A team of researchers has discovered a mysterious 30-foot-long cavity inside Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza. Also called the Khufu Pyramid, the structure is the oldest of the seven wonders of the ancient world and the only one that exists today. Scholars still do not know exactly how the 4,500 year-old-pyramid was built, but scientists say the new finding could offer valuable clues.
The 30-foot passageway is around six-and-a-half feet wide and six-and-a-half feet tall and is sealed at either end. It is located near the Great Pyramid’s main access point, where tourists enter to view Pharaoh Khufu’s burial chamber. After centuries of plunder, the chamber is now barren except for an empty granite sarcophagus.
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Historians are not entirely sure about the purpose of the newly discovered tunnel. According to the head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities Mostafa Waziri, who spoke at a Thursday, March 2 press conference in front of the pyramids, the passageway may have been used to redistribute weight throughout the 480-foot-tall structure.
Pharaoh Khufu began building the Great Pyramid around 2,500 BCE in Egypt’s Old Kingdom. It’s comprised of 2.3 million limestone slabs and was the tallest building in the world until the Eiffel Tower was erected in 1889.
“The construction process of the oldest of the seven wonders of the ancient world is one of the most important archaeological mysteries,” reads a March 2 paper in Nature Communications outlining the finding. “Any discovery of previously unknown internal structures could contribute to the knowledge on the construction of this Pyramid.”
Scientists from Japan’s Nagoya University and France’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) found the passageway using a process they call cosmic-ray muon radiography. Cosmic-ray muons are naturally-occurring particles created when the sun’s rays hit the Earth’s atmosphere. Depending on their size and density, objects on the Earth absorb different amounts of the muons. Scientists can determine if an object is hollow by tracking these tiny particles. Once the researchers realized there was a cavity inside the Khufu Pyramid, they inserted a tiny camera (less than a third of an inch wide) through the exterior stones to capture photographs.
The discovery is credited to a years-long effort titled “Scan Pyramids,” which employs non-invasive technologies to research Egypt’s ancient monuments. In 2017, the initiative found an even longer passageway in the Khufu Pyramid. As in the case of the most recent discovery, scientists still do not know the precise function of that tunnel.
While the newly found chamber could help scientists answer larger questions about how the Khufu Pyramid was constructed, there is still more to be discovered.
“There are two large limestones at the end chamber,” Scan Pyramids team member Christian Grosse said at the press conference. “And now the question is what’s behind these stones and below the chamber.”