4500-year-old ‘graffiti’ found inside Great Pyramid tunnel
A robot explorer designed and built by University of Leeds engineers, in collaboration with Scoutek, UK and Dassault Systèmes, France, has revealed hieroglyphs beyond a narrow tunnel inside the Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza. The 4500-year-old markings, seen on video images gathered by the Djedi robot expedition, may give clues to how this part of the pyramid was built.
The Great Pyramid of Khufu is known to contain four narrow tunnels – two leading from the King’s Chamber and two from the Queen’s Chamber
The Great Pyramid of Khufu is known to contain four narrow tunnels – two leading from the King’s Chamber and two from the Queen’s Chamber. However, scholars are unable to agree on what they were used for. This is partly due to problems researchers face getting into these narrow spaces.
Dr Hawass (Minister for Antiquities in the Egyptian government), states, “No one is sure why the builders of the Great Pyramid incorporated the four shafts into the design of Khufu’s monument. Since the shafts in the King’s Chamber open outside of the pyramid, I believe that Khufu’s soul was meant to travel through them. The southern King’s Chamber shaft was intended for Khufu to use as the sun god Ra. It opens exactly between the two boat pits to the south of the Pyramid.
“Khufu would take the two boats and use them as solar boats for his journey as the sun god through the daytime and nighttime skies – one for the day trip, one for the evening trip. The northern shaft was made for the soul of Khufu as Horus to travel to the eternal circumpolar stars.
“As for the Queen’s Chamber shafts, I cannot imagine that they had a religious function, as they do not seem to open to the outside of the pyramid – their outlets, if such exist, have never been found in spite of our careful searching.”
Researchers on the Djedi robot expedition have now obtained video images from a tiny chamber hidden at the end of one of the shafts leading from the Queen’s chamber. This tunnel is particularly hard to explore because it is extremely narrow (20cm x 20cm), it is built at angle of 40 degrees and has no outside exit.
The team overcame these practical difficulties by using a robot explorer that could climb up inside the walls of the shaft whilst carrying a miniature ‘micro snake’ camera that can see around corners. The bendy camera (8 mm diameter) was small enough to fit through a small hole in a stone ‘door’ at the end of the shaft, giving researchers a clear view into the chamber beyond.
The ‘micro snake’ camera’ allowed all walls of the camber to be carefully examined, revealing sights not seen by human eyes since the construction of the pyramid
On previous expeditions, camera images were only taken looking straight ahead. The ‘micro snake’ camera’ allowed all walls of the camber to be carefully examined, revealing sights not seen by human eyes since the construction of the pyramid.
The Djedi team was selected in a competition coordinated by Dr Hawass, to pick the best possible robot to explore the shafts. This process lasted approximated two years and resulted in a head-to-head competition between robots from the University of Leeds and Singapore University. Djedi was named by Dr Hawass after the magician who Khufu consulted when planning the layout of this pyramid.
“The Djedi robot is completely unique, it is the lightest, gentlest climbing robot that has ever been deployed within the pyramid,” said Dr Rob Richardson of the University of Leeds and academic leader of the team. “Djedi robot climbs the shaft walls using soft pads on its ‘feet’ that grip but leave no trace. This is in complete contrast to other climbing robots that rely on tracks to move upwards on sloping surfaces, leaving scuff marks in their wake.”
When pieced together, the images gathered by Djedi revealed hieroglyphs written in red paint that team members suggest were made by workmen. Prior to this, researchers had only found hieroglyphs in the roof of the King’s Chamber, which lies some distance above the Queen’s Chamber.
“We believe that if these hieroglyphs could be deciphered they could help Egyptologists work out why these mysterious shafts were built,” Dr Richardson said.
As well as the painted symbols, the researchers found lines they believe stonemasons made when the hidden chamber was being carved out. They were also able to scrutinise two copper pins embedded in the ‘door’ to the chamber that had only ever been glimpsed from the front before. The very existence of these pins – the only metal ever discovered in the Great Pyramid – has previously puzzled scholars. The detail revealed in these latest images may help to settle those questions.
Mission manager of the project, Shaun Whitehead, of Scoutek UK, said: “People have been wondering about the purpose of these pins for over 20 years. It had been suggested that they were handles, keys or even parts of an electrical power plant but our new pictures from behind the pins cast doubt on these theories.
“We now know that these pins end in small, beautifully made loops, indicating that they were more likely ornamental rather than electrical connections or structural features. 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.”
The team’s next task is to look at the chamber’s far wall to check whether it is a solid block of stone or another door.
“We are keeping an open mind and will carry out whatever investigations are needed to work out what these shafts and ‘doors’ are for. It is like a detective story, we are using the Djedi robot and its tools to piece the evidence together,” Shaun Whitehead said.
The founder of the project, Dr TC Ng from Hong Kong, said: “I am proud that my dream has become a reality. By carrying out a detailed examination of the southern shaft and the space beyond the first door the Djedi team has gone further than anyone has ever been before in this pyramid. Now I suppose that the world is waiting to find out if there is anything beyond the second door.”
Mehdi Tayoubi and Richard Breitner of project partners Dassault Systèmes in France commented: “These results are fascinating. For a long time we have watched the robot being built and tested in virtual reality using our company’s 3D software. Now we see the real robot, working in the pyramid, behaving as predicted and bringing back these amazing images. As exciting as this work is, it is a work in progress. We still have much to learn from Djedi, and Egyptologists still must interpret the meaning and significance of the hieroglyphs.”
Djedi is a joint international-Egyptian mission being carried out under the supervision of Dr Zahi Hawass, who has recently been reappointed as Minister for Antiquities in the Egyptian government. The team has committed to completing the work by the end of 2011.
The pictures have been published in the Annales du Service Des Antiquities de l’Egypte (ASAE), the official publication of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities.