THEY might be ancient graffiti tags left by a worker
or symbols of religious significance. A robot has sent back the first
images of markings on the wall of a tiny chamber
in the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt that have not been seen for 4500
years. It has also helped settle the controversy about the only metal
known to exist in the pyramid, and shows a "door" that could lead to
another hidden chamber.
The pyramid is thought to have been
built as a tomb for the pharaoh Khufu, and is the last of the seven
wonders of the ancient world still standing. It contains three main
chambers: the Queen's Chamber, the Grand Gallery and the King's Chamber,
which has two air shafts connecting it with the outside world.
Strangely, though, there are two tunnels, about 20 centimetres by 20
centimetres, that extend from the north and south walls of the Queen's
Chamber and stop at stone doors before they reach the outside of the
pyramid (see diagram).
The function of these tunnels and doors is unknown, but some believe that one or both could lead to a secret chamber. Zahi Hawass, Egypt's Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs, describes the doors as the last great mystery of the pyramid.
Several attempts have been made to
explore the tunnels using robots. In 1993, a robot crawled some 63
metres up the tunnel in the south wall and discovered what appeared to
be a small stone door set with metal pins. Metal is not part of any
other known structure in the pyramid, and the discovery ignited
speculation that the pins were door handles, keys or even parts of a
power supply constructed by aliens.
Then in 2002 another robot drilled through the stone block and filmed a small chamber backed by a large blocking stone, but little else. Now a robot designed by engineer Rob Richardson
from the University of Leeds, UK, and colleagues, and named Djedi after
the magician that Khufu consulted when he planned his tomb, has crawled
up the tunnel carrying a bendy "micro snake" camera that can see around
Images sent back by the camera have revealed hieroglyphs written in red paint and lines in the stone that could be marks left by stone masons when the chamber was being carved (Annales Du Service des Antiquités De L'Égypte,
vol 84, ISBN: 978-977-704-184-3). "If these hieroglyphs could be
deciphered they could help Egyptologists work out why these mysterious
shafts were built," says Richardson.
"Red-painted numbers and graffiti are
very common around Giza," says Peter Der Manuelian, an Egyptologist at
Harvard University and director of the Giza Archives at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "They are often masons' or work-gangs' marks, denoting numbers, dates or even the names of the gangs."
As the camera can see around corners, the back of the stone door
has been observed for the first time, scotching the more fanciful
theories about the metal pins, says camera-designer Shaun Whitehead of
the exploration company Scoutek,
based in Melton Mowbray, UK. "Our new pictures from behind the pins
show that they end in small, beautifully made loops, indicating that
they were more likely ornamental rather than electrical connections."
Whitehead, who worked in collaboration with Dassault Systèmes
in Vélizy-Villacoublay, France, adds: "Also, the back of the 'door' is
polished so it must have been important. It doesn't look like it was a
rough piece of stone used to stop debris getting into the shaft."
an Egyptologist at the University of Cambridge who was not involved in
the study, suspects that since the narrow tunnels can serve no practical
purpose, they are almost certainly symbolic. "The metal pins look like
symbolic door handles, and the shafts from the Queen's Chamber are
oriented north-south, not east-west, so I strongly suspect that their
function is symbolic and relates to the stars, not the sun," she says.
While the King's Chamber originally
contained Khufu's sarcophagus and possibly his mummy, the Queen's
Chamber probably didn't contain the remains of a queen: Khufu's wives
were interred in three smaller pyramids of their own. Instead, Spence
speculates that the Queen's Chamber may have contained a "ka" statue of
the pharaoh. In this interpretation the shafts were built to allow
Khufu's ka, or spirit, to cross to the afterlife.
As for the second "door" at the rear
of the chamber, which is rough and unfinished, Spence thinks it is
simply the end of the shaft. "It's most likely to be a backing stone -
there won't be another chamber behind it, it makes no sense," she says.
"However, it's fascinating from a symbolic point of view, and this sort
of work will allow us to get at the intention behind the construction of
Hawass, director of the Djedi project,
says that no other pyramid is known to have a tunnel and doorway like
this, which, he says, suggests there could be a hidden room. "The King's
Chamber may have been a dummy room, since the most important thing in
the mind of the ancient Egyptians was to hide the burial chamber," he
says. "We have a story that the magician Djedi met Khufu, who was
searching for the god Thoth so he could find the secret of hiding his
pyramid. Based on that maybe there is something hidden in the pyramid."
By materials of http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21028144.500-first-images-from-great-pyramids-chamber-of-secrets.html