The Pyramid Shafts: From Dixon to Pyramid Rover

   Posted by: Keith Payne   

Categories: Pyramids, The Giza Plateau

Last May the Project Djedi Team caught the world’s attention, and imagination, when they announced that the robot crawler designed to explore the southern shaft leading out of the Queen’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid had transmitted back images of markings left behind by the pyramid’s builders.  Hidden behind a “door” that had either thwarted or limited previous attempts to investigate the shaft, the markings prompted much speculation about their nature and purpose.

The Djedi Project was back in the headlines at the end of December when New Scientist magazine named the discovery one of the Top 10 Science Stories of 2011.  For the next few articles, Em Hotep will bring you up to date on the history of the exploration of the mysterious shafts in the Great Pyramid.  This current article will cover the ground from Waynman Dixon up to the Pyramid Rover Project, with the next article focusing exclusively on Project Djedi.  This will be followed by a couple of very special interviews you will not want to miss..


The Pyramid Shafts

The Great Pyramid of Giza (Photo by Keith Payne)

The Great Pyramid of Giza (Photo by Keith Payne)

The Great Pyramid was built over 4,500 years ago as the final resting place of Pharaoh Khufu, the second pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty.  Designed and executed by Khufu’s vizier and Master of Works, Hemiunu, Khufu wanted a pyramid that would rival that of his father, Snefru—the Red Pyramid located at Dashur.  He succeeded.  The Great Pyramid is the tallest, and at 146.5 m would remain the tallest man-made structure in the world for another 3,800 years.

Hemiunu and his fellow architects took the secrets of its construction to their graves and we are only just now beginning to fathom how the work could have been done with the tools and methodologies that we know existed at the time (for more on this, start with Hemiunu to Houdin: Building A Great Pyramid – Introduction).  But even ignoring for the moment how the pyramid was built, many of the elements in the structure itself have raised questions.  From the unusually tall sloping passage known as the Grand Gallery to the equally puzzling tiered compartments above the King’s Chamber, Egyptologists and everyday people have wondered whether these labor and resource intensive structures served  ritual or structural purposes, or both.  The pyramid shafts would fall into this category as well.

There are four shafts that we know of, two exiting the north and south walls of the King’s Chamber (KCN and KCS, respectively) and two exiting the north and south walls of the Queen’s Chamber (QCN and QCS).  Their purpose has always been cause for speculation.  They have often been referred to as ventilation shafts, but they seem to be too long and narrow to efficiently provide airflow, so this is almost certainly not their purpose (But see Comments section at the end of the article).  Zahi Hawass, former secretary of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, has proposed that they are related to king’s spirit and the solar boats that were discovered buried on the southern side of the pyramid.

The boats are oriented on an east-west axis, corresponding to the daily journeys that the sun god Ra would make through the sky. He believes that the southern shaft [KCS] symbolically served as a portal through which the king’s ka could travel in the night and day barques in the afterlife.  He also speculates that the northern shaft (KCN) would allow the king to symbolically journey on his boats toward the east as Horus surveying his kingdom of Upper and Lower Egypt. (Hawass et. al, 2010, p. 215)

This theory sits well with what we know about Old Kingdom royal funerary practices, but it doesn’t tell us much about the shafts in the Queen’s Chamber.  Unlike those of the King’s Chamber, QCN and QCS do not exit the pyramid—they seem to terminate somewhere within its massive bulk (it is worth noting that even the King’s Chamber shafts may have been covered by the now-missing casing stones that once covered the pyramid’s surface).  This would also seem to rule out astrological functions, as the sky would not be visible from the shafts, and would eliminate the ventilation theory for obvious reasons.  Besides, until their discovery in 1872 by a British engineer named Waynman Dixon, the shafts were sealed from the inside as well.

The Djedi Project is the latest in a series of explorations to better understand the pyramid shafts, particularly the Queen’s Chamber shafts, and what purpose they may have served.  Were they of religious significance, or did they serve a functional purpose in the building of the Great Pyramid?  Even if their purpose was spiritual in nature, which aspects of their structure are symbolic and which are functional?  Were the markings found in QCS by the Djedi Project team religious in nature, or were they notations left by the ancient builders?

The answers to these questions could provide clues about how the pyramid was built, the religious and funerary practices of the time, and could even lead to an as-of-yet undiscovered section of the pyramid.  Before we can approach the Djedi Project and how it might help us have a better understanding of the Great Pyramid, we should first review the history of the exploration of these mysterious shafts.  This article will cover this history from their discovery by Waynman Dixon up to the Pyramid Rover Project.


Charles Piazzi Smyth and Waynman Dixon

Charles Piazzi Smyth

Charles Piazzi Smyth

The story of the Queen’s Chamber shafts begins with the surveys commissioned by Charles Piazzi Smyth, director of the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh, from 1846 to 1888.  Smyth became interested in the Great Pyramid when he read John Taylor’s 1859 book The Great Pyramid:  Why Was It Built?  Who Built it?  Influenced by Taylor’s notion that the pyramid had been designed and constructed by Noah, of Great Flood fame, Smyth believed that the pyramid was built on the principles of sacred geometry, and that an understanding of this system could be deduced if accurate measurements of the pyramid were undertaken.

Smyth set out to measure every aspect of the pyramid he could think of, inside and out.  His first survey was conducted in 1865, an expedition Smyth funded himself when the Royal Society refused him a grant due to what they considered to be the pseudo-scientific underpinnings of his work.  Nonetheless, his extremely thorough survey was published in the Edinburgh Observations Vol. xiii and led to his partial vindication when he was awarded the Keith Prize by the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1867.

Sacred Geometry aside, Smyth’s survey of the Great Pyramid of Khufu was the beginning of our scientific understanding of this awe-inspiring edifice (Above: Plate VII from Charles Piazzi Smyth’s “Our Inheritance in the Great Pyramid”)

Sacred Geometry aside, Smyth’s survey of the Great Pyramid of Khufu was the beginning of our scientific understanding of this awe-inspiring edifice (Above: Plate VII from Charles Piazzi Smyth’s “Our Inheritance in the Great Pyramid”)

Charles Piazzi Smyth wanted to undertake additional measurements in 1872 but was prevented from returning to the Giza Plateau by illness.  Instead, he asked a friend and colleague, Waynman Dixon, a British engineer who along with his brother John were involved in construction work at Cairo, to take some measurements on his behalf.  The brothers Dixon set aside some time to help their friend, a fortunate development for the rest of us.  The Dixons shared Smyth’s inquisitive nature, and the addition of their expertise as builders and engineers led to one of the great discoveries in Egyptology.

The Dixons quickly fell under the Great Pyramid’s spell and were soon looking for secrets of their own.  Waynman was particularly curious about the shafts leading from the King’s Chamber and suspected that there might be similar shafts in the Queen’s Chamber.  He was drawn to a crack in the masonry of the southern wall, and after inserting a rigid wire between the blocks discovered that there was a hollow space behind them.  After chiseling through the facing stone he discovered that he was right—there was a shaft that seemed to correspond to those in the King’s Chamber.

The Smyth-Dixon survey of the Queen’s Chamber with “Dixon’s Channels” marked on the northern and southern walls. QCN still shows Dixon’s chisel marks, while QCS has been patched up a bit.

The Smyth-Dixon survey of the Queen’s Chamber with “Dixon’s Channels” marked on the northern and southern walls. QCN still shows Dixon’s chisel marks, while QCS has been patched up a bit.

The Dixon Artifacts, minus the wooden slat (photo by Jon Bodsworth)

The Dixon Artifacts, minus the wooden slat (photo by Jon Bodsworth)

Using the same methodology Dixon discovered a matching shaft in the northern wall of the Queen’s Chamber, and was rewarded with an additional discovery.  In one of the shafts—he does not specify which but from the context it would seem to be QCN—Dixon found three artifacts:  a small copper hook measuring around 5cm, a small diorite ball, and a broken piece of wood about 13cm long.  Known as the Dixon Artifacts, these objects appear to be tools left behind by the ancient builders.

Diorite pounding tools were used to shape softer stone (photo by Scitim)

Diorite pounding tools were used to shape softer stone (photo by Scitim)

The Dixon Artifacts have themselves been the cause of speculation.  The wooden plank is missing, although it is thought to be somewhere in the Marischal Museum at Aberdeen (The Secret Doors Inside the Great Pyramid, by Zahi Hawass).  The diorite ball is similar to other spheres used by the ancient Egyptians to pound softer stone into shape.  The chisels used by the pyramid builders were made of copper, a soft metal that was only good for a dozen or so strokes against the local limestone, and which was totally useless against the red Aswan granite that was used in some of the structural elements of the pyramid (but see Comments below).  Diorite is harder than the red granite and was one of the tools of choice in the Old Kingdom period.


Rudolf Gantenbrink’s robot crawler, Upuaut-2, took this shot of an object in QCN that might correspond to the riveted hook recovered by Dixon. The track-like object is an iron rod abandoned by previous explorers (Photo by Rudolf Gantenbrink)

Rudolf Gantenbrink’s robot crawler, Upuaut-2, took this shot of an object in QCN that might correspond to the riveted hook recovered by Dixon. The track-like object is an iron rod abandoned by previous explorers (Photo by Rudolf Gantenbrink)

The copper hook (bronze by other accounts, cf. The Secret Doors Inside the Great Pyramid by Zahi Hawass) is of less obvious utility.  The hook has two rivets and might be related to another small rectangular object photographed by Rudolph Gantenbrink in QCN.  This latter object, which has yet to be recovered, appears to have two holes in it that might correspond to the rivets in the hook (The Upuaut ProjectThe Lower Northern Shaft).  It is not certain whether these objects were purposely left there by the ancient builders, or were dropped into the shaft at a point in construction when it was impossible to retrieve them.

But Dixon didn’t just recover some artifacts from QCN—he seems to have left a couple of his own.  Someone, presumably Dixon, used long iron rods to probe into the Queen’s Chamber northern shaft and several of these rods became stuck and were abandoned.  These more recent artifacts would be a vexation to the future missions into QCN, but more on that later.

Whatever we make of the iron rods, we can be certain that the Dixon Artifacts themselves are of ancient origin.  The shafts had been sealed on their lower end by the pyramid builders, and as we shall see, nobody dropped them in from above any time recently.  Dixon’s discovery of the Queen’s Chamber shafts and the artifacts therein was a major accomplishment, but it would be 120 years before another scientific mission would expand on his findings.


The Upuaut Project

The next phase of exploration originally began, somewhat inadvertently, as an effort to reduce the humidity levels in the Great Pyramid.  Humidity causes damage by allowing moisture to seep into the stone, causing it to expand.  Over time this can lead to major structural damage, so the Supreme Council of Antiquities had the idea that whether the shafts in the King’s Chamber were intended to for ventilation or not, they could potentially be used for that purpose.

Rudolf Gantenbrink

Rudolf Gantenbrink

In 1989, a German engineer by the name of Rudolph Gantenbrink began working on a computer database to analyze the pyramids in an attempt to understand their construction.  It baffled Gantenbrink that, with all of the technological advances in recent years, and their potential for exploration, nobody seemed to be applying them to the mysteries of the Great Pyramid.

My engineer’s curiosity was aroused because there seemed to be so many questions and so few answers.  I just couldn’t get over the fact that we can fly to the moon and explore the depths of the oceans, but we can’t answer so many basic technical questions about the most exhaustively studied historical monument of all times.  (Rudolf Gantenbrink, The Upuaut ProjectThe Upuaut Story)

Rainer Stadelmann

Rainer Stadelmann

Gantenbrink was particularly curious about the shafts.  As an engineer he appreciated the technical and mathematical genius behind creating these precise channels through a layered structure on such a grand scale and suspected they must have been an important part of Hemiunu’s plan.  In 1990 he presented his analysis to the director of the German Archaeological Institute (GAI), Dr. Rainer Stadelmann.  Stadelmann was impressed with Gantenbrink’s work and met with him again in 1991, where Gantenbrink proposed revisiting the pyramid shafts with the best technology available.

A partnership was forged—Gantenbrink would make all of the technical arrangements, including the design of a robot crawler to explore the shafts, and Stadelmann would arrange all the permits through the GAI.  It was during this planning phase that the mission to explore the shafts became entangled with the ventilation project.  One of Gantenbrink’s early considerations was the possibility that the robot crawler might run into debris, and so planning for a cleaning operation would be a necessary part of the overall project.

Debris clogging KCN—before a robot survey mission or ventilation system could be installed, Gantenbrink would have to play the part of chimney sweep.

Debris clogging KCN—before a robot survey mission or ventilation system could be installed, Gantenbrink would have to play the part of chimney sweep.

The SCA had also considered the need for cleaning out the shafts in the King’s Chamber as a part of installing the ventilation system, and Gantenbrink’s project sounded like a great opportunity to outsource this dusty undertaking.  In the process of negotiating the permits, somehow the installation of the ventilation system became a “rider” on the project to explore the shafts.  But for Rudolf Gantenbrink, all that mattered was that his project had received the go-ahead.  He arranged for a third party to design the ventilation system based on his database while he set about the task of designing the robot.

Rudolf Gantenbrink with “Father of Upuaut”

Rudolf Gantenbrink with “Father of Upuaut”

As it turned out, Gantenbrink would have to design a series of robots for his mission, The Upuaut Project.  The first robot, which was originally unnamed but came to be called Father of Upuaut, was made mostly of poly-carbonate plastic, had dual independently controllable tracks, and was mounted with a stationary forward-facing color video camera.  In March 1992, Gantenbrink prepared to deploy the robot into the Queen’s Chamber shafts, but soon discovered that the pressure from the chamber’s roof beams had caused the shafts to settle just enough that the robot was too tall—by half a centimeter.

One of the iron rods left in QCN, photographed by Father of Upuaut during its brief trip into the shaft.

One of the iron rods left in QCN, photographed by Father of Upuaut during its brief trip into the shaft.

Father of Upuaut was unable to make it much more than twelve meters into the Queen’s Chamber shafts, but had proven that they were not faux structures.  The predominant theory among Egyptologists at the time was that the shafts probably did not extend more than 3-4 meters before ending, an interesting position given that Waynman Dixon had managed to get his iron probing rods at least 12 meters (actually much farther) into QCN before getting stuck!  In addition to one of these rods, Father of Upuaut was able to transmit back photographic proof that there was much more to be explored in the Queen’s Chamber shafts.  Frustrated but wiser for the effort, Gantenbrink returned to Germany to begin work on a new robot.



The next robot Gantenbrink designed took only about four weeks to construct.  Dubbed Upuaut-1, this robot was actually a sled-mounted camera equipped with a special laser pointer/receiver capable of taking exact measurements of the shafts and the block joints.  Upuaut-1 was designed specifically for surveying the King’s Chamber shafts.  It had no treads or other independent propulsion and relied on a towing system that took advantage of the fact that the King’s Chamber shafts were open-ended, meaning the sled-bot could be towed from a pulley mounted on the surface of the pyramid.

Looking down Upuaut-1’s laser-mounted snout as it climbs KCS, the towing line is visible in the upper right corner of the shaft, the red laser surveying dot can be seen on the lower left wall.

Looking down Upuaut-1’s laser-mounted snout as it climbs KCS, the towing line is visible in the upper right corner of the shaft, the red laser surveying dot can be seen on the lower left wall.

Upuaut-1 was deployed into the King’s Chamber shafts in May of 1992, and other than a few minor snags unrelated to the sled-bot (a sand storm and a lost slip of paper with survey notes and measurements that had to be repeated), it performed brilliantly.  The shafts were cleared of debris, the survey completed, and the ventilation system was installed.  It was a success by all measures, literally.  Now Gantenbrink could return his attention to the Queen’s Chamber shafts, which would require a more sophisticated type of robot than Upuaut-1.

The sled-bot had worked for the King’s Chamber shafts, but without an opening to the surface there was no way to tow a similar robot through the Queen’s Chamber shafts.  The next generation of Upuaut would have to be independently propelled.  For his next robot Gantenbrink returned to a tread system, an over-and-under design that would allow the robot to extend tracks to both the floor and ceiling, giving it excellent power and leverage.  The new robot also had a new laser guidance system and a superior camera with pan and tilt.  It was also, incidentally, shorter than Father of Upuaut.

Irregularities such as this jutting wall section in QCS press on Upuaut-2 from all sides, but also yield discoveries such as the red mason’s mark visible along the edge of the block.

Irregularities such as this jutting wall section in QCS press on Upuaut-2 from all sides, but also yield discoveries such as the red mason’s mark visible along the edge of the block.

Upuaut-2 was deployed in March of 1993, and returned some of the most tantalizing discoveries since Dixon’s initial discovery of the shafts.  The little robot met no small amount of obstacles.  At one point Upuaut-2 proved to be too short for QCS, somewhat ironic given Father of Upuaut’s height difficulties, but this was fixed by using long slats to push the robot forward manually.  In QCN Upuaut-2 was turned back by a combination of a difficult 45-degree angle turn and one of the rods Dixon had left in the shaft, which itself had probably become snagged in the same turn.  Gantenbrink did not want to risk getting Upuaut-2 hopelessly entangled, so he decided to focus on QCS.

Mohammed Sheeha, Rudolf Gantenbrink, and Ulrich Kapp watch the monitor as Upuaut-2 makes history.

Mohammed Sheeha, Rudolf Gantenbrink, and Ulrich Kapp watch the monitor as Upuaut-2 makes history.

On March 22, 1993, Project Upuaut made its greatest discovery.  After climbing one last step at the 53 meter mark, Upuaut-2 came to a section where the masonry was clearly of higher quality than the team had observed anywhere else in the pyramid shafts.  But most exciting of all was the last obstacle of QCS—a block that promised to be more than just the end of the shaft, if it was the end indeed.

As we approach the slab, we can see two dark streaks on it, which upon closer inspection turn out to be copper fittings. And there is something else. The face of the inspector sitting next to me at the monitor has become chalk white. He draws my attention to two round, white marks on the copper fittings.  “These are seals, these are seals!” he exclaims, visibly shaken.  (The Upuaut Project—The 1993 Campaign)

The blocking slab, which would popularly come to be known as Gantenbrink’s Door, was a truly unique structure in the Great Pyramid (although, as we shall see later, there is a similar feature in QCN).  To begin with, the slab and part of the surrounding shaft are made of a different type of stone.  Most of the shaft is made of the same rough local limestone as most of the rest of the pyramid.  The shafts are formed by U-shaped blocks that resemble upside-down gutters that rest on flat base blocks.  The U-blocks, laid end-to-end on top of the base blocks, form the walls and ceilings of the shaft.

The final U-block and the blocking slab (Gantenbrink’s Door) that plugs it are both made from the lighter and finer Tura limestone that was used for the now mostly missing smooth facing stones that once covered the outer surface of the pyramid.  Gantenbrink noted that both the blocking slab and the final U-block were smoother and of higher craftsmanship than any of the other features of the pyramid shafts so far.

The upper-left corner of the “end” of QCS shows the higher quality of both the craftsmanship and the limestone, as well as the left-hand copper pin.

The upper-left corner of the “end” of QCS shows the higher quality of both the craftsmanship and the limestone, as well as the left-hand copper pin.

Regarding the roundish white “seals” that appeared to mark the slab behind the copper pins there was room for maybe-maybe-not.  Stadelmann, who seemed for whatever reason to have been distancing himself from the project by this point, insisted that Old Kingdom seals were created by rolling a pressing cylinder over a lump of clay, which would have looked nothing like what they were observing on the slab that sealed the shaft.  But Gantenbrink’s own research revealed that some Old Kingdom seals were made in gypsum, which might have looked similar to the white marks on the slab (The Upuaut Project—The 1993 Campaign).

The Upuaut Project had advanced the exploration of the shafts literally by leaps (over bumps and ledges) and bounds (up inclines and through breakdowns).  The SCA had gotten its ventilation system, and Gantenbrink had been able to explore the shafts as far as his robots and the legal permits would allow.  But the greatest obstacle would seem to have been a conflict of personalities.

For now, the mystery of Gantenbrink’s Door would remain.

For now, the mystery would remain.

Despite his original enthusiasm, Rainer Stadelmann had gradually cooled to Project Upuaut to the point where he rarely showed up on-site and seemed perpetually dissatisfied with Gantenbrink’s analyses and reports.  On March 28, 1993, just five days after the discovery of the blocking slab, Rudolph Gantenbrink withdrew from the joint venture and returned home.

For their part, the German Archaeological Institute seemed to lose interest in the pyramid shafts and the permits to continue the work seemed in danger of lapsing.  Was the work about to end just as things were getting really interesting?


The Pyramid Rover Project

The Upuaut Project provided some answers, and a lot more questions.  Gantenbrink’s Door presented us again with the Timeless Question—is this a functional part of the structure, or does it serve a symbolic purpose?  The copper “handles” certainly seemed to suggest that the block was movable, but how and by whom?  It was too small and too far within the pyramid to be accessible by people, and besides, both Queen’s Chamber shafts had been sealed up during the pyramid’s construction.  This later point seemed to exclude astrological purposes, and certainly ruled out the ventilation hypothesis.

Looking up QCS toward the blocking stone and the higher quality final (?) section of U-block.

Looking up QCS toward the blocking stone and the higher quality final (?) section of U-block.

The fact that the blocking slab was made of Tura limestone was interesting, but perhaps equally interesting was that the final U-block was of the same higher quality stone and workmanship.  The U-blocks were simply the walls and ceilings of the shafts and up to that point the local limestone had been suitable for the purpose.  Why was this final section of walls and ceiling given “the works”?  Was the blocking slab the end of the line for QCS, or was it really a door?

Zahi Hawass, who had initially been more skeptical than Stadelmann but had come to take an increasing interest in the shafts, knew that the only way to find out what was behind the slab would be to drill a hole in it and take a look—easier said than done, even for the chief of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.  All of the work permits had been arranged by Stadelmann and assigned to the GAI, who were no longer pursuing the project.  Egyptian law required that the permits be assigned to a university or similar research institution, so Gantenbrink could not pursue the work on his own.

Zahi Hawass

Zahi Hawass

Hawass decided that the best work-around would be to have the SCA resume the project with himself assuming directorship.  He had a good relationship with National Geographic, and in 2001 contacted Tim Kelly, president of National Geographic’s television and film division, to assist with the next chapter in the drama of the pyramid shafts.  They agreed that the operation would be broadcast live on TV “in order to refute speculation about the withholding of information that has provided great interest to many people” (Hawass et. al, 2010, p. 204).

The Boston, MA, firm iRobot was commissioned to design and build the next robot crawler, aptly dubbed Pyramid Rover.  The Pyramid Rover shared some aspects with Upuaut-2’s mobility design, including a vertically expandable chassis with over-and-under treads that allowed it to grip the floor and ceiling.  The iRobot team tested the traction system by recreating the shaft conditions in their lab.  Wooden planks were mounted at the proper angle with limestone surfaces and every conceivable obstacle, from speed bumps to sand traps.

Pyramid Rover’s primary camera was top-mounted with some tilt capabilities and a wide-angle lighting array.  The robot also had a specially mounted drill that would, if feasible, bore a small hole through the blocking slab just large enough for its secondary camera, a fiber optic camera with its own LED light source, to slip inside and take a peek.

But before any drilling could take place, Pyramid Rover would first have to determine the thickness of the slab and find an optimal spot for the hole.  This was achieved with a specially modified concrete thickness gauge (CTG) designed by Olsen Engineering, Inc., a company specializing in nondestructive structural analysis.   CTG uses impact-echo analysis, a type of sonar that works by lightly tapping a surface and then measuring the impact response.  Pyramid Rover’s CTG sensor had its own wheels so it could be moved around the face of the slab while remaining flush to its surface.

The Pyramid Rover Project was divided into two phases.  Phase I would involve a number of reconnaissance missions spread out over eight days.  Pyramid Rover was first sent up QCS for preliminary analyses of the blocking slab and the copper pins.  Phase I revealed that the base (floor) and U-blocks of QCS suffered from deterioration, most of which was natural, but some of which was attributed to scuffing from Upuaut-2’s treads.  The team also discovered two crystals that were likewise attributed to modern contamination, most likely of the New Age variety.

Of more ancient origin, Pyramid Rover transmitted back images of red marks that were interpreted as cutting lines made by the ancient stoneworkers.  Phase I also provided a more complete picture of the copper pins, which were observed to be bent downward at a 90 degree angle, flattening them against the surface of the slab.  The whitish material that Gantenbrink suggested might have been a royal seal, on closer examination, appeared to be mortar used to secure the pins in the slab.  The Rover confirmed Gantenbrink’s description of the slab as smooth highly-worked limestone of higher quality than the local limestone.

(Left) Rover sent back images of cutting lines, including this block familiar from Upuaut-2’s trip up QCS. (Right) The Rover mission also confirmed Gantenbrink’s description of the blocking stone as smooth and highly worked, but the white circular marks were looking less like royal seals and more like mortar patches.

(Left) Rover sent back images of cutting lines, including this block familiar from Upuaut-2’s trip up QCS. (Right) The Rover mission also confirmed Gantenbrink’s description of the blocking stone as smooth and highly worked, but the white circular marks were looking less like royal seals and more like mortar patches.

Two of Dixon’s metal rods

Two of Dixon’s metal rods

Pyramid Rover was next sent up the northern shaft with a goal of exploring beyond the turn that had prevented Upuaut-2 from progressing more than 19 meters.  Rover passed this test with flying colors and navigated two more bends at 22 and 25 meters, apparently designed to keep QCN from running into the Grand Gallery.  At 27 meters Pyramid Rover encountered another modern obstacle—two more metal rods of the type Waynman Dixon had used to probe into the shaft more than a century before.  Rover could go no further into QCN at this time, having become snagged on Dixon’s now-infamous iron rods, but transmitted video showing that the shaft continued after yet another turn.

Phase II had similar objectives to Phase I:

The goals of this phase were very similar to that of the first; determine the thickness of the blocking stone in QCS, determine what was behind the blocking stone, study the metal pins on the opposite side of the block, discern the purpose of the blocking stone, and investigate the terminus of QCN.  (Hawass et. al, 2010, p. 205).

On September 16 (Cairo time), 2002, Pyramid Rover climbed QCS and deployed its echo-impact probe, which tapped ever so lightly on the door and listened…  After taking multiple readings it was determined that the slab was just 5-9cm thick, well within the capabilities of the drill and probe-mounted camera.  Whatever was on the other side, Rover would be able to fetch.  The decision was made to drill the hole, 2 cm in diameter, and proceed with the mission.  The following day, with National Geographic broadcasting live, the fiber optic camera was inserted into the hole and 4,500 years into the past.

After drilling the peep-hole (left) Pyramid Rover returned with the probe camera deployed (right).

After drilling the peep-hole (left) Pyramid Rover returned with the probe camera deployed (right).

At about 18 cm from the first slab was another block.  Unlike Gantenbrink’s Door, this block was more rough cut, appeared to be of the local yellow limestone, and had no features like the copper handles, just what appeared to be cracks.  There were two possible takes on this discovery.  It might mean that Pyramid Rover had come to the end of the line—that after an ornate faux block the shaft ended with the core stone that makes up the bulk of the pyramid’s solid structure.  The other, more optimistic take was that this was a second sealing block with something else beyond.  Understandably, Dr. Hawass opted for the later.

“What’s this…? We can see another sealed door. It has cracks… It’s another sealed door! It’s another space, another sealed door, but it looks to me we have a discovery.” (Zahi Hawass, National Geographic Pyramid Live: Secret Chambers Revealed)

“What’s this…? We can see another sealed door. It has cracks… It’s another sealed door! It’s another space, another sealed door, but it looks to me we have a discovery.” (Zahi Hawass, National Geographic Pyramids Live: Secret Chambers Revealed)

But Hawass’ optimism was not unfounded.  Yes, the opposite “wall” did appear to be a rough-cut block of local yellow limestone rather than the Tura limestone of the first blocking slab and the surrounding U-block, but so was the rest of the shaft preceding the door.   There was no reason to assume the shaft could not continue on the other side as it had leading up to the small chamber.  And it did appear to be a chamber.  If the door had been a facing stone, why the 18 cm gap?  The space inside seemed to be intentional.

Hawass also pointed to the large chip in the bottom of the rough block, just right of the center.  It appears that the floor of the shaft continues under the block, which would not be the case if the shaft came to an end against the core masonry.  Although it was not certain by any stretch, a reasonable argument could be made for the block on the opposite side of the chamber being something that was inserted into the shaft, like a cork in a bottle, rather than something pressed against the shaft’s end, like a lid on a jar.

Unfortunately, the Rover’s probe-mounted camera had no tilt or pan capabilities, and the LEDs did not provide enough ambient light to tell much about the inside of the chamber.  The fixed mounting also meant that the camera could not look back at the backside of the door, so there was no way of knowing if the metal pins continued on the other side.  In some ways, it was like a high-tech version of the rigid wires Waynman Dixon had inserted into the masonry of the Queen’s Chamber to discover the shafts—they knew there was something back there, they just couldn’t say for sure what without being able to take a better look.

A new frontier? A third blocking stone in QCN

But the Pyramid Rover Project wasn’t quite finished yet.  Three more trips were made up the northern shaft, and this time Pyramid Rover made it past the metal rods that had stalled it at 27 meters.  Pushing up the slope, at 63 meters they discovered another blocking slab nearly identical to the one found in QCS, metal pins included.  Another interesting discovery was made between 18 and 21 meters within QCN—a plain piece of paper and a ticket for the Sphinx and pyramids!  Although modern contamination was expected, this was a fairly good distance into the shaft for these light objects to be discovered, considering that airflow is limited by the blocking slabs.


Charles Piazzi Smyth’s quest for the sacred geometry of Noah and Waynman Dixon’s chisels and iron rods may seem anachronistic by the standards of today, but they undoubtedly paved the way for Upuaut-2 and Pyramid Rover.  Far be it from us to judge the shoulders upon which we stand.  The next step into the pyramid shafts would build not only on the adventures we have covered here, it would pull together some of the most brilliant minds in fields as far reaching as scientific 3D simulation and virtual reality development, search and rescue technology, even space exploration.  Prepare to meet Djedi, and with apologies to George Lucas, the Force will be strong with this one.



Works Cited

  • Zahi Hawass, Shaun Whitehead, TC Ng, Robert Richardson, Andrew Pickering, Stephen Rhodes, Ron Grieve, Adrian Hildred, Mehdi Tayoubi and Richard Breitner.  “First report: video survey of the southern shaft of the Queen’s Chamber in the Great Pyramid.”  Annales du Service des AntiquitÉs de l’Égypte.  Tome 84, 2010.  Pp. 203-16.
  • Pyramids Live: Secret Chambers Revealed.  Dir. Cynthia Page.  National Geographic Television & Film, 2003. DVD.


Copyright by Keith Payne, 2012.  All rights reserved.

Photograph Modern Egyptian shows the use of Diorite balls as carving tools for granite, at Aswan by Scitim is used in accordance with the GNU Free Documentation License.  All images watermarked “Copyright Rudolf Gantenbrink” are from the official Upuaut Project website, and are the property of Rudolf Gantenbrink, all rights reserved.  All images watermarked “National Geographic” are copyrighted by National Geographic, all rights reserved.  Copyright law allows limited use of copyrighted material under the fair use doctrine, to wit, “[A] reviewer may fairly cite largely from the original work, if his design be really and truly to use the passages for the purposes of fair and reasonable criticism.”  The copyrighted material reproduced in this article is used for the sole purpose of discussing and documenting the history of these various projects and does not seek to compete with the originals, prejudice their sale, or diminish their profits, or supersede the objects, of the original work.  The positions of the originals are, as much as possible, represented fairly and accurately with no speculation attributed, implicitly or explicitly, to the creators of the originals, nor is it suggested, implicitly or explicitly, that the creators of the originals have endorsed this article or its contents.  Having said such, if you are the owner of the copyright to any of the material reproduced within this article it is not the intent of Em Hotep or any of its agents to violate your rights as the owner, and if you feel your rights have been violated and request that said material be modified or removed, it is the policy of Em Hotep, where it is reasonable to do so, to comply with said requests.  All other images are in the public domain and are not subject to copyright law.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 11th, 2012 at 5:34 pm and is filed under Pyramids, The Giza Plateau. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

33 comments so far


I should make a correction here.. In the section describing the Dixon Artifacts I state that copper was totally useless against the red Aswan granite. That is not completely accurate. While it is true that copper chisels were of no use with granite, the ancient Egyptians were adept at using copper tube drills and saws, both of which relied on quartzite grit to cut stone, and there is evidence in Khufu’s sarcophagus (and elsewhere) that both of these tools were used successfully to shape granite. But these tools would have been used for precision cutting. The majority of the work was done with diorite balls like the one Dixon found.


January 11th, 2012 at 8:49 pm

Regarding the ventilation hypothesis:

I almost certainly set myself up for trouble when I use the words “almost certainly,” as I did when I stated regarding the shafts that “they have often been referred to as ventilation shafts, but they seem to be too long and narrow to efficiently provide airflow, so this is almost certainly not their purpose .”

It has been brought to my attention that at least in the King’s Chamber the heat produced by the sun on the pyramid’s southern face would pull stale air up through KCS and cooler fresh air in through KCN and the Grand Gallery.

So why the need for the modern ventilation system? Why not let the ancient one do its job? Because in ancient times there were not thousands of sweaty tourists huffing and puffing their way up the GG and into the King’s Chamber every day! The humanity is the humidity.

So the ventilation hypothesis is back on the menu here at Em Hotep, and I am a little humbler.


January 12th, 2012 at 2:38 pm
Jean-Pierre Houdin

Hi Keith,

You write in “The Upuaut Project” :

“He arranged for a third party to design the ventilation system based on his database while he set about the task of designing the robot.”

By the way, “the third party” was Pr Jean Kerisel and his son Jean-Bruno…and Professor Kerisel was a friend of my father. They met for the first time in the early 50’s in Ivory Coast when my father, a civil engineer, was begining the construction of the first bridge linking two parts of the city over a laguna. Pr Kerisel was a soil specialist and was there to study the bottom of the laguna and below before setting the piles of the bridge. At the time, I was around 4 or 5 years old…and Pr Kerisel came often to our home.

Later, Pr Kersiel was sent to Egypt by the builders of the Cairo subway to study the soil. He fell in love with the pyramids and decided to devote himself studying this Wonder once he would be a retiree. So, in the mid 80’s, he was the one who “paid” for the ventilation system.

And a strange event came later : in the mid 90’s, he and my father were reunited in a comittee set up to study the bridge built 40 years earlier in Abidjan. This comittee lasted up to the end of the 90’s. In a meeting in late December 1998, Pr Kerisel told my father that he would appear, on January 2, 1999, in a documentary about Khufu’s Pyramid filmed for a french TV. My father watched this documentary and at the end of the movie, he said to himself: “If I would have to build a pyramid, I would build it…from the INSIDE with an internal ramp”…Following that, he told me: “Jean-Pierre, could you draw me a 3D model of the pyramid with an internal ramp ?”

You know the story …

Today is January 13, 2012…we are 12 years later…and some research and study work has been done since 😉

All the Best

PS: For KCS et KCN, these shafts were part of a ventilation system up to the funerals. Pr Kerisel, who I met many times in the early 2000’s (before he died), told me this story: “When we went in the KC in the early 90’s, the chamber was very hot and humid, the shafts being filled with rubble at the level of their outlets. The day we cleared these shafts, we could instantly feel the flow of fresh air inside the KC. That flow was sufficient for an empty room…but our problem was to deal with hundreds of visitors, sweating and breathing in the KC after an long and hard effort to reach the room.

For QNC and QNS, you know my opinion…

January 13th, 2012 at 9:39 am

Hi Jean-Pierre,

I would say that “some research and work has been done in the last 12 years” is quite an understatement! 🙂

I had the opportunity to chat with Henri Houdin when we were in Paris last year for Khufu Reborn, and he is a remarkable man. Very kind and pleasant, Anne was instantly enamored.. And as we know, she has excellent judgment with men!

It is very exciting to be able to see these various projects–Khufu, Djedi, Giza 3D–developing independently with different teams, while at the same time knowing that they are connected via the technology from Dassault Systèmes and people like Mehdi, Richard (Breitner) and yourself are well positioned to be able to see the connections. This is the real value of having a multidisciplinary approach.. You have the specialists who are able to push the methodology and technology to the extremes, while at the same time you have the generalists who can see the connections and make sure that all the right people are getting together.

This is research and development 21st Century style, and to see it playing out in Egyptology is, for an Egypto-Geek like me, like a Beatles reunion!


January 13th, 2012 at 11:54 am
Steve Gilbert

Hi Keith and Jean-Pierre,

Of the four objects found in the QCN shaft (Dolerite pounder, Copper hook, Metal plate and Wood stick), it is plausible that the last three were indeed part of a same tool.

The BM catalogue description for the Copper hook says: “Copper forked implement: traces of organic material on the tang suggest it was originally fitted with a wooden or bone handle.”

If the organic material is related to the wood stick, the metal plate might have served as a cap to secure the handle in between the hook and the said metal plate.

The Marischal Museum description says it is a Stone Mason’s Ruler but it is so deteriorate (see full description) that it remain possible that is was rather the handle that was attached to the hook. Sadly there is no picture of the artefact but I’m pretty sure they will be glad to send you one.

Steve Gilbert
Quebec City

Handle: http://calms.abdn.ac.uk/Geology/dserve.exe?dsqServer=Calms&dsqIni=Dserve.ini&dsqApp=Archive&dsqCmd=Show.tcl&dsqDb=Catalog&dsqPos=10&dsqSearch=((text)='pyramid‘)

Hook: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/search_object_details.aspx?objectid=140374&partid=1&searchText=67819&fromADBC=ad&toADBC=ad&numpages=10&orig=%2fresearch%2fsearch_the_collection_database.aspx&currentPage=1

Pounder: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/search_object_details.aspx?objectid=116551&partid=1&searchText=Spherical+dolerite+pounder&fromADBC=ad&toADBC=ad&numpages=10&orig=%2fresearch%2fsearch_the_collection_database.aspx&currentPage=1

January 13th, 2012 at 11:05 pm

Hi Steve,

Thank you very much for joining the dialogue, that is what really makes these articles enjoyable. I will take your advice and write to the Marischal Museum to see if they can provide a photo of the wooden shard. It makes pretty good sense to me as well that the hook, plate, and stick may have been part of the same tool. For the coming article I will have to see if the plate has been recovered.

As of the publishing of the Upuaut Project material on Rudolf Gantenbrink’s site it was still up there in QCN somewhere. Maybe Pyramid Rover of Djedi either recovered it or at least identified it. We also cannot rule out that it may have been somehow associated with the rods Dixon used to prod around in there. We won’t know until its pulled out!


January 15th, 2012 at 1:49 am
Jean-Pierre Houdin

Hi Steve,
Hi Keith,

From Steve:

“Of the four objects found in the QCN shaft (Dolerite pounder, Copper hook, Metal plate and Wood stick), it is plausible that the last three were indeed part of a same tool.”

That sounds evident for me.

“… that it remain possible that is was rather the handle that was attached to the hook.”

That too sounds evident for me.

And the answer is just on the back side of the QC shafts doors: a loop for each pin!

So 2 loops + a hook + a metal plate + a wooden stick = a handle which has a link with the “door” through the loops. That is quite similar to a pan with a removable handle!

Now the question is: “For each shaft, what was the purpose of this tool?”

(My) Answer…but let me explain a little more before:

I’m an architect; I’m a rational guy, so I think that Egyptians built these monuments for a main reason. For Khufu’s pyramid and all the other, they built funerary tombs.

But building a pyramid was more than that; the whole economy depended on their construction and the strength of the central power (the King) was directly linked to the size of the pyramid. The 4th Dynasty pyramids are the biggest ever built and reflect the strength of one family – Snefru, Khufu and Khafre – and the apogee of the “Great Works” of the state. In the following Dynasties, Egypt was never as powerful as she was in the 4th.

This said we have to think that these projects were designed by architects, engineers and many other technicians or specialists (no matter how they were called at the time).

I want to emphasize the importance of the era between the first pyramid (Saqqarah) and Khufu’s pyramid. In around one century, Egyptians made incredible progresses in know-how, technology, programming, planning in every fields, so they were able to build fast and efficiently, like in our modern world, and even more: in a sustainable development manner. NO WASTE, and built for Eternity.

Stone construction, corbelling, Turah limestone, ability to build with the facing already done while the pyramid rises up (thanks to the INSIDE-OUT technique). These are fundamental elements for large smooth pyramids.

As skills and knowledge expanded from one pyramid to the next, Egyptians were always willing to go a step farther, keeping what was working well, leaving aside what was not. Moreover, they always set a new “challenge” for any new pyramid.

Before any construction, each project was carefully designed. It had to be built exactly as it was planned, including every detail needed for the construction. Often these details, linked to a construction necessity, had a great influence on the design itself.

Between Khufu’s pyramid and those before it, the most striking difference is a big change in the positioning of the funeral chamber. In the previous pyramids, the funeral chamber is below ground level, at ground level or just above ground level, this showing an evolution in the design. So the pyramid is built above a chamber already dug or built and the “descending corridor” (leading to the outside) is built, while the pyramid rises, starting from its lower point up to its outlet, reaching the outside at one resulting place.

For Khufu, Egyptians tried a big jump: build a funerary chamber, with a flat ceiling, very high in the core of the monument, at level +43m (layer 50).

What does that mean?


This funeral chamber would be available only 15, 16 or 17 years after the beginning of the construction; this had never been done before.

Something was unknown: how long would the King live?

He could die at any moment during these long years (Sekhemket and Khaba died during the early years of the construction of their pyramids)

The final design of this pyramid was done from the very beginning and included all the parameters. 15 years after the beginning of the construction, one can’t build a chamber at a precise location if one doesn’t know where to start the construction of the corridor leading to it. The design of every internal work below level +43m was totally dependent from the precise location of the chamber. Moreover, the Grand Gallery and its counterweight system – the tool needed to pull the beams weighing up to 60t around year 14 (at that time the pyramid is at level +43m and 2/3 of its volume is done) – had also a big impact on the design…

Consequences: 3 chambers were included in the pyramid.

The first chamber, dug in the ground (the subterranean chamber), was planned for the first 10 years, just in case the King dies early. This is an unfinished chamber, but this could have been quickly finished.

The second chamber (the so-called Queen’s chamber – QC), built at mid-level between the final chamber and the ground, and was available for years 10 to 15/16 or 17 of the reign.

The third chamber (the King’s Chamber – KC), was built as the main purpose of the construction.

This chamber being built at a higher level than its corridor entrance, two ventilation shafts were needed to ensure some kind of air circulation in the room before the funerals.

This problem doesn’t exist in any other pyramid.

As Egyptian liked to build smart, they gave many purposes to the second Chamber, the QC:

– A back-up funerary chamber, with the same width as the KC one but twice shorter, holding a sarcophagus (read Edrisi’s History of the Pyramids, written c. 1245 and translated by J.L. Burkhardt reproduced in Richard Howard Vyse, Operations Carried Out on the Pyramids of Gizeh, Vol. II, Appendix, p. 335).

– A trial model for the setting in place of rafters for a roof

– A trial model for the future shafts of the KC

And, I’m very serious saying this :

– An amplification room for a phonic intercom system linking the South part and the North part of the pyramid during the construction of the KC. The counterweight system requiring hundreds and hundreds of orders for its use (reloading, traction), a communication system was needed. The walls of this room were polished to enhance the acoustics.

That led to set the QC directly on the East/West axis, so the shafts could be built “in a mirror manner” on both side (North and South) from that axis.

Doing so, the designers were sure that these shafts would rise at an equal distance from it at each level, while the KC was being built. These shafts were never supposed reaching the outside, but just the level of the last ceiling of the KC. The “doors” were set in place to protect the shafts from dust, rubble, rain and animals while the intercom was not in use. They were put in place at the temporary outlet of the shafts during the construction. They stood at their final point at the end of the KC construction. One can draw a horizontal line at the base of the last ceiling of the relieving chambers; this line will cross the QC shafts at their end. This is not by chance, but by design. The blocks behind these doors are blocks of the backing stone belt, between the facing blocks and the core blocks…

You could object that the shafts had no outlet in the QC, Wayman Dixon discovering these shafts in the 19th century.

I would reply: look at the walls (North and South) of this chamber. Look how they are built. The blocks of the shafts were “jutting out” in the room (30cm) during the use of the intercom, just like drawers! They were pushed backwards at the end of the use with the help of the counterweight, and thanks to a beam inserted in the niche in the East wall. The unfinished corner of the North block (rough angle) was kept like that to avoid any crack or damage to the block during the push back process.

Look at the cracks on the blocks above the holes of the shafts on both sides: a proof of the stress supported by the blocks during the push back process.
The sealing of the chamber was never done; the unfinished corner of the North block is a proof.

At last, let’s talk about the shafts of the KC.

Up to the end of the construction of the KC, (and rafters on top of the structure of relieving chambers), the whole pyramid inside (corridors and chambers) was ventilated naturally because the Grand Gallery was partially unroofed to let the ropes of the counterweight system run freely well above the Grand Gallery roof.

But once the KC was completed, the unroofed part of Grand Gallery was then roofed with large beams brought down from above. As a consequence, the KC was no longer ventilated because it is at a very high (level 43m) above the entrance of the descending corridor (level 17m), with a lower point at the junction of the descending and ascending corridors (level 7m). That gives 36m above any fresh air entrance.

By setting 2 air shafts, on South and North, mirroring each other, ventilation was smartly provided. As the North face of the pyramid is always cooler than the South face, a natural circulation was blowing from the North shaft (descending air), running through the chamber and exiting by the South shaft (ascending air). Thus, the whole pyramid inside was ventilated.

A small Turah limestone block (with a V shape plug the size of the opening having been set in place when the shaft reached the outside) was standing above the outlet of each shaft, jutting out 10/15 cm. This plug was kept in position thanks to small piece of wood which was linked , by a rope running through the shaft, with the KC.

The outlets of both shafts were sealed at the end (after the funeral. For the closing, workers had just to pull the rope to withdraw the wooden piece; then the small block slid down in the shaft. This small block was unnoticeable from the outside because lots of the facing blocks have been repaired before their final setting, thus bearing lots of small patches (look at the facing of the Bent pyramid at Dahshur).

Note: The proof that the facing was done with blocks already finished (at the quarry itself) can be found at Dahshur (Bent) and Meïdum (Third stage – smooth) : hundreds of facing blocks have been repaired (from shocks received during the transportation) with limestone plugs before their final setting (the shape of many plugs prove that these were put in place before the block of the above layer was set in place).

It is quite doubtful for me to find any “religious explanation” in these shafts, for one simple reason. One doesn’t find a shaft in any other pyramids. Why the “Soul” of Khufu should have needed such shafts and not the other Kings?


January 15th, 2012 at 8:50 am


January 16th, 2012 at 7:38 am

Hi Gouaich,

For my part, you are very welcome. For Jean-Pierre’s contribution, you speak for us both: Thank you very much!


January 16th, 2012 at 9:12 am
Jean-Pierre Houdin


There is something I would like people to understand about my work…

Yes, I’ve some “things” which are truly “out of the box” compared to all the studies made by those who have made theories about “How the Great Pyramid was built”…

Firstly, the “sparkle” from my father: “Pyramids were built from the inside”, an idea which is at the opposite of any other theory (pyramids built from the outside)

Secondly, my 35 years of training as an architect gives me a kind of 3D vision in my brain and some “construction knowledge”…something about which Egyptologists are not very familiar when I look at some of their propositions…

Thirdly, the intensive use of 3D modelling, particularly with the CATIA software from Dassault Systèmes. These kinds of tools allow you to have a virtual scanner of the monument, to “see” the unexpected links between internal rooms and corridors, and to get their position in the space with just a mouse click. These tools are the future of archaeology, believe me.

Who had remarked that the QC shafts ended at the same level as the last ceiling of the relieving chamber?


January 16th, 2012 at 4:35 pm


Amazing! Once again you had me totally enthralled in Egyptology.

Thank you to all of those who commented on your article. They helped expand my knowledge of the construction of this pyramid.

Keith, you’ve made me hunger for more by your “story telling” which makes one eagerly look forward to the next paragraph. Kudos!


February 1st, 2012 at 2:16 am

Hi Joan,

Thank you so much for the VERY kind words! Egyptology is definitely my passion, but story telling and education are my heart and soul, and being able to combine all three is what Em Hotep is all about for me. For me, the real education part takes place right here–in the comments section.

This is where people are able to weigh in with their questions and contributions, and Jean-Pierre is just fantastic about getting back with people. I learn a lot from the readers, not just from their comments, but from the process of researching their questions. Many articles have stemmed from things people have said or asked in the comments section and I always love getting an email telling me there is a comment pending.

Thanks again, Joan, and see you on Facebook!


February 1st, 2012 at 12:54 pm
Ricardo Rocha


Fantastic first part, and looking forward to the conclusion!

Regarding the QC shafts, it’s believable that they were used as an intercom system, but isn’t also possible that for as long as the QC was the designated funereal chamber they also could have served a ritual purpose? Once the KC became available then the QC shafts were no longer extended.

Isn’t also possible that for as long as there was a need for ventilation on the QC, they served that purpose as well, since during all that time they reached the exterior?
I guess I would prefer to see them as multi-taskers vs. an either-or.

Best regards

February 14th, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Hi Rico,

Thank you for your encouragement! Please accept my apology for taking so long to approve your comment, for some reason it became entangled in my spam filter, which sometimes rejects wonderful questions like yours while allowing my persistent Nigerian prince through with his requests for my banking information.

The Djedi article has taken longer than intended, but I became determined to make it a source for not just information, but as a source for myth-busting the disinformation, so there has been a lot of back and forth between me and some of the people on the Djedi team to make sure that I got the details right. It will go to Shaun for final approval this weekend and should be up by the first part of next week.

I mention this because it has bearing on your question. After the article is up, I will be doing an interview with Jean-Pierre about the role of the shafts in his body of work, and he will be specifically talking about the different uses of the KC shafts and the QC shafts, and I believe he will directly address your question.

In short, I would say that you are correct that the Egyptians were multi-taskers. In my understanding, the QC shafts would have been open during the entire construction of the KC, and in addition to an intercom system they would have provided ventilation during this entire time. As for ritual use, Jean-Pierre will have more to say about that, but my guess from what I know at this point is that the KC and QC shafts both served different function, but I don’t think any of them were ritual. I could be completely wrong, obviously, and knowing what is behind the second blocking stone in QCN will maybe shed some light on this. Then again, maybe not.

If I had to make a prediction, at this point, about the Queen’s Chamber shafts it would be this. When they examine behind the blocking stone in QCN they will find a similar small chamber to the one in QCS, and that the “second blocking stones” in both shafts will be the end, and the shafts will not continue beyond that point. My belief is that what is being called the second blocking stones are the some of the more well-calibrated blocks that provide the supporting blocks that contain the rougher core material that makes up the bulk of the pyramid, and beyond them the core filler material resumes.

This, as you will see in the Djedi article, is not the conclusion of the Djedi team, which is leaving the question open until they can take a thickness reading of the second blocking stone in QCS, and get a better understanding of how it fits against the end of the shaft. One of the questions they ask, which throws doubt on my own conclusion, is why the first blocking stone was inserted so far down into the shaft. If it was intended as a dressed ending of the shaft, to match the finer stone of the interior of the chamber, then why go through the trouble of inserting it 18-19 cm into the shaft instead of simply placing it on the end of the final u-block?

This will also be detailed in the Djedi article, which I know.. I have been saying for weeks that it will be done in a day or two, but it REALLY is nearly complete, I promise! And the end result will be hopefully worth the wait. But in summary, take my own conclusion with a grain of salt. Obviously the answer will be more complex, as it will have to account for why the chamber is there at the end of the shaft. But I really feel that if the shaft did continue on the other side of the chamber, they would have used a well-dressed block for the second blocking stone. Even if it had not been the Tura limestone of the first blocking stone and the final u-block, I think an effort to smooth the inner face of the second blocking stone would have been made.

I could be wrong.. It will be quite interesting if I am! But in the other hand, it will be equally interesting if the chamber is the terminus of the shaft, as this would bolster Jean-Pierre’s interpretation of the QC shafts.


March 2nd, 2012 at 11:20 am
Susan Leogrande

One more thing – I watched Chiller Theater as well in West Virginia, where I still live. My love began with the same movie! Congrats to you for taking Chilly Bill’s dream of igniting minds with those old movies. He was one of my Father’s friends.

March 22nd, 2012 at 2:50 am
Gideon Dreyer

I really have difficulty in accepting the conjecture that 3 funeral spaces were prepared for in case the king died in between the building procedure. I also think the Pyramid was going to be completed as a whole come what may. Until those anti chambers (if they exist) are opened, I would also name the Kings Chamber the chamber with a sarcophagus until firmly established that it was in fact for burial. There are more chambers in other pyramids built in the sky for so called burial, that were never used for that purpose in the end. It remains conjecture and therefore not science. Because there is a piano in my bedroom it does not make that room the music room. Please help me to understand the facts that the 2 rooms were factually rooms for in case the kings died..Thanks Gideon

March 22nd, 2012 at 11:15 am

Hello Keith, Hello Jean-Pierre

You both know my admiration for JPH work. Although, the explanations about the QC and the shatfs still does not totally convince me.

My comment here is a question, or a remark.

1 – Let’s agree for a while that the QC shafts were an intercom system, which were needed to coordonate the builting of the KC.

2 – Let’s agree that the QC is a temporary burial room, in case of.

3 – Let’s suppose that… the king die, for example some months after that the QC is build : so he is buried, temporary, in the “Queen” chamber.

First, let’s imagine how “calm” will be the king rest, sourrounded for some years by the noise and shouts of some hundred workers, builting the Great Gallery then the KC some meters near the burial room. But may be that through so much materials of te walls, sound does not reach the KC.

But, it’s unavoilable, he will have to suffer the yelling of orders of workers through the intercom, even amplified by the room itself. Is it acceptable in the Egyptian religion, I really have no idea about that.

I wonder if, in these conditions, this King would not have prefered to be quiet, down below, in the silent underground burial room – but in that case, he wouldn’t have asked for this second temporary burial room.

I agree, what “I wonder” is not an argument neither a proof of anything, but things (the temporary grave theory about the QC) would be easier for me to accept without the .


April 1st, 2012 at 12:51 am

Oups, the end of my previous comment have been cuted. It should be read like this : “would be easier to accept without the intercom system”.


April 1st, 2012 at 12:56 am

Brilliant blog, with fantastic insights.

The theory that the lower chambers were built in case Khufu passed away before completion, including the “intercom” shafts is very interesting. I wonder if the dead end shaft extending from the subterrainean chamber is somehow the equivalent of the shafts leading from the QC? If such a shaft, whatever it’s purpose, was necessary in the final chamber, that dead end passage from the subterrainean chamber might have been discontinued when it became clear the QC would be available in time.

April 28th, 2012 at 11:07 am

Hi Susan!

Wow! Your dad knew Chilly Bill?? I have met some celebrites in my time, but Chilly changed my life! 😉

I still like to watch those old mummy movies… In fact, I just may have to rent one tonight…


August 12th, 2012 at 12:21 pm

Hi Gideon

As always your comments and critiques are welcome! I think that when we are dealing with probabilities rather than absolutes, conjecture within science is a little unavoidable. With regard to the pyramid being completed come what may, I agree the pyramid itself would have been completed, but once the occupant died, I believe construction on the burial chambers would have stopped. This was the case with elite mastabas, and it is thought that one of Khufu’s strategies for avoiding this when he initiated construction of the Western Cemetery was to build “prefabricated” tombs that could be personalized when an interment was needed. Pre-built tombs meant that you did not have to worry about dying before your Mansion for Eternity was complete.

As for the burial in the sky, I am not informed enough to comment on that yet, so my response would be conjecture of a non-scientific nature! But regarding the piano in your bedroom… If you bothered to actually build your house around a piano that otherwise would not be able to fit into it, it would be a fair guess to say that the piano was the primary feature of the room, especially if there is no evidence to believe he room is a bed room (i.e., no bedroom furniture).

So you might build a house around a piano, and despite there being noting in that room but a piano, call it the bedroom, but should someone else presume it is a music room rather than a bedroom, that would hardly be unscientific conjecture. It would be a perfectly rational hypothesis, it would just be wrong. I think that even should Jean-Pierre be proven wrong, it will not be because he was unscientific. I have known him for a few years now and I can say that he goes where the evidence leads, even if it leads him away from an earlier idea he may have had.

Regarding the provisional burial chambers, I don’t think anybody can settle the question factually, as you request. Without finding inscriptions that tell us for certain the builders’ intentions, we have to speculate to a certain degree, albeit from an informed perspective. Lacking a smoking gun, regardless of how much circumstantial evidence JPH can amass, other people will always be free to look at the same data and reach a different conclusion.

Your questions always make me think, Gideon! I hope my answers do the same, and hopefully others with some insight will join in.


August 12th, 2012 at 12:36 pm

Hi Keith and thank you for this excellent site,

I’ve read a lot about these shafts, the history of their exploration and their possible purposes so I was shocked when I read at the end of your article that “a plain piece of paper and a ticket for the Sphinx and pyramids” were found several meters inside the northern shaft !

This is the first time I read this story. Is it a confirmed fact ? And have these “artifacts” been dated ? Finally what are the theories regarding their provenance ?

Best regards from Switzerland

August 24th, 2012 at 11:06 am

I’m truly enjoying the design and layout of your website. It’s a very easy on the eyes which makes it much more pleasant for me
to come here and visit more often. Did you hire out a developer to create your theme? Outstanding work!

September 27th, 2012 at 7:12 am

Hi Lucas,

Thank you so much for reading Em Hotep and taking the time to write

I apologize for not getting an answer to your question, I am not ignoring you, but my attention has been directed elsewhere and I have a lot of plates in the air, to use a juggling expression. I will look into this and see if I can get an answer for your question. I seem to recall those details about the pieces of paper and where they came from, but I can’t recall at the moment what those details were. It seems that as I get older it isn’t short term memory loss that is plaguing me so much as long term memory gain! But I will get an answer for you ASAP.


September 27th, 2012 at 11:18 am

Hi Britney,

Thank you so much for reading and for your kind words 🙂

Avoiding visual clutter has been an important design consideration with Em Hotep, and paying for the dedicated server space helps me keep the site advertisement free. I may at some point in the future accept advertising on a very limited basis and only from reputable businesses and journals that are involved directly in the field of Egyptology, but even then it will only be advertisements that fit within the scheme and format that is already established. Not pop-ups, or any other sort of silliness, just what you might expect to see in a magazine or journal. I am personally offended by adverts that require me to take some action to get rid of them, and would never consider purchasing anything from a company that superimposes their ads over what I am trying to see, and require me to click on a close button to get rid of them. In fact, I tend not to revisit websites that are so tacky.

OK, rant over 😉

The theme I use is “Aspire” which was a free theme from Infocreek, who do not seem to be around anymore. I have heavily modified it and changed the borders and some of the graphics, and have really just stuck with the color theme and papyrus look. “Aspire” always had a sort of Egyptian look, but more Coptic than ancient. It was fairly easy to modify for my purposes, but I “hacked” it the old fashioned way—try this or that and see how it looks. I do not have any real programming experience with web applications, but being a bit old school, I know how to poke around with code and make basic modifications.

A friend of mine pointed out a website some time ago that was using the unmodified version of “Aspire” and when I checked it out, Em Hotep has evolved so far and some many times that the two websites looked more like distant cousins than the same theme! But I am glad that it is working for you and I appreciate you taking the time to let me know that it is having the desired effect.

Take care, and always feel free to jump in!


September 27th, 2012 at 11:22 am

Hi everyone,

I support J.P Houdin from the start, and still will. Although, about these shafts, I still haven’t read arguments that could convince me.

Instead of repeating my arguments/questions (that have not been lucky enough to find any answer 🙂 – I would like to see the question from another side.

I have no skills in matter of “ventilation”, neither in “sounds intercom system”. But may be a scientific approach can be done on these questions.

I mean : can some specialist tell us if so long and small shaft can bring any usefull fresh air ? May be yes, may be no. At least, we all know that a cooling system is not that complicated, although it must respect some physic rules. So the question is simple, do these shafts respect the physic rules to be a cooling system.

And, of course, for the QC, do these shafts respect the rules to be a usefull “intercom” sound system.

The answer “yes” will not of any proof that “it was”, but the answer no will be.

We all regret that the ancient Egyptians didn’t leave us the recept, we all search for scientific approach, and we all looking for inches measurement of this or that structure.

Well, about these shafts, now we have the measurements, so someone who have skills in these matter of cooling or sound waves could help to “close a door” in theories or leave it opened.

I do support Jean Pierre, who honored me by a personal invitation at first place of the Kufu reborn presentation in Paris. But I’m sorry, the specific intercom theory faces, from my point of view, more arguments “against” than “for”.

And about fresh air… I understand J.P when he says “Why the Soul of Khufu should have needed such shafts and not the other Kings?” – but aren’t we allowed to ask why the previous king’s burial chambers didn’t needed a cooling air system, and suddenly khufu one’s would ? In that idea, many burial chamber of the same period should have a cooling system for the mumies’s body safety: do they (I do not know) ?

Anyway, the answers about my questions above can probably be checked in a scientific way, that is the purpose of my comment. And if, until today, I don’t follow JP on these specific questions, I do support him and admire him for all the rest of his theories.


September 27th, 2012 at 12:21 pm

Hi Philippe,

I apologize for not providing a satisfying answer to your questions. Sometimes questions are posed on Em Hotep for which I have no answer, but rather than sit on them, I put them out there for others to answer. Sometimes others chime in, sometimes the questions just sort of hang out there, as yours seems to have done.

My answer, which I do not think you will find very satisfying, is—I don’t know. Like you, I am not an expert in acoustics or HVAC, so all I can do is put Jean-Pierre’s theory out there as-is. I can say that the thermal explanation he has provided—that the hot side of the pyramid would pull cool air through the KC shafts from the cool side, is in keeping with the laws of physics. I can say that I am personally convinced they served that purpose, but that is just my opinion based on my understanding of Jean-Pierre’s explanation.

As for the intercom system, I do not understand enough about the laws of acoustics nor am I familiar enough with the QC shafts to say for certain that is how they were used, nor am I familiar with any scientific studies that have been conducted to confirm or rule out the possibility. I too would like to see more work done on that, but as of now the Djedi Project is on hold, and I don’t think anyone else will be given the concession to work with the shafts in their stead any time in the near future.

As for why the Red or Khafre’s Pyramid did not need such a cooling system, until the shafts were discovered in Khufu’s Pyramid, nobody was proposing it needed a cooling system either. I am not saying that lack of evidence is equal to evidence, I leave that to other crowds in which, I think it is safe to say, neither you nor I run! But I can say that the possibility of shafts in the other pyramids, to my knowledge, has not been ruled out yet.

I share your desire to know more, and I think your skepticism is a good thing. I think you would probably also agree that the shafts play a relatively minor role in Jean-Pierre’s theory, which would stand just fine if his ideas about what the shafts were for should ever be proven wrong. But the shafts are there, they are interesting, and inquiring minds want to know. Brother, I wish I had a satisfying answer for you! But I can say that Jean-Pierre’s work is on-going, even though he is limited, along with the Djedi Team, with regard to what he can do “boots on the ground”, or on the limestone and granite, as the case may be. A new chapter is forthcoming, and maybe there will be some answers then?

Please stay tuned, and please keep in touch, you are always welcome here 🙂


PS: I mentioned above that I put Philippe’s question out here even though I don’t have answers because I don’t want to censor the questions simply because I don’t know. I want to qualify that statement with this, which does not apply to Philippe’s thoughtful enquiry. I receive several screeds a week, some lengthy and obviously the product of some time and work, others rather short and offensive, having to do with conspiracy theories, aliens, Atlantis, and the perennial stance that the Great Pyramid was not a tomb, but was instead a power generator, water pump, initiation chamber, stop sign for extraterrestrials, practically anything but a tomb.

I do not post these questions, and some have written to express that that amounts to censorship. I would call it something else—editing. There are many, many more websites out there dedicated to these subjects than there are dedicated to just plain Egyptology. I know that some of the better amongst them invite debate. Most do not. On the Egyptology side, I am one of the sites which do not invite debate with regard to conspiracy theories. I used to have an interest in some of these theories, but in my opinion they require such a suspension of skepticism that every piece of contrary evidence is dismissed with “yeah, but,” followed by another unsupported speculation. Again, I want to stress that Philippe’s queries are not of this class, but as he is an old friend of Em Hotep, I am using his post to piggy-back this PSA

So the reason conspiracy and new age theories are “suppressed” at Em Hotep is as prosaic as the simple fact that they bore me, and since I pay the bills, I pick the channels. Thanks.

September 27th, 2012 at 2:25 pm
Abdel-Rahman Fowler

Hi everyone,

I am puzzled about the method of emplacement of the first blocking stone (“door”). The 3D sketch of the end of the QCS shows the block nestled within the inverted u-shaped block. So how was it emplaced? It couldnt have been inserted from above, below or from the side. Was it inserted into the u-shaped block before the latter was inverted and placed on the basal block? If so what was the function of the two copper “handles”. Also if the “door” is not held secure by slotting into the walls of the u-block why wouldnt it be moved/turned when it was drilled. Some pressure would have to be applied to drill the hole. This pressure would move the “door” if it was not firmly fixed. Any ideas?

October 2nd, 2014 at 3:44 pm
Billy B.

What if these “Air holes” were used for ropes?

You could gain a lot of leverage pulling rope through and using the pyramid itself as a fulcrum to pull blocks up.

All the holes go up so they would could even use gravity to pull down on the ropes instead of up or sideways.

What do you think?

February 8th, 2015 at 9:14 pm

Hallo Keith,
I would like to say thank you becouse
your Website is super and I’ve found plenty of interesting information hiere.
I would like to ask you about one question.
I have been interesting in shafts in Great Pyramid for many years, but just for few weeks I have found an new for me information about iron rods in QCN.
It’s a part of book: “Great Pyramid Passages and chambers” Second Edition, John and Edgar Morton, 1923

“…I ordered several long steel rods from an engineering firm in Cairo. The
length of these rods varied from 13 to 16 feet, and I had them threaded at
each end and had screw-couplers made so that the rods might be coupled
together in one continuous length. At the end of one of these rods I had a
ball of wood fastened. This was to prevent the end of the rod sticking in
any joint or rough pieces of masonry. The ball glided over all inequalities.

I began by probing the north air channel of the Queen’s Chamber, pushing in
the rod with the wooden ball at the end of it, then coupling another rod to
it and pushing that inward, then a third rod, etc. I found that all the rods
that I had passed up the channel without hindrance, and therefore, I got
more rods made. These rods were of flexible steel, because the channel on
the north side of the Queen’s Chamber does not proceed directly upward in a
straight line, but curves around to the west to avoid the Grand Gallery. The
rods, therefore, had to bend around this curved part.

I managed to push the rods up the Queen’s Chamber north channel to a
distance of 175 feet, and then unfortunately, the rods broke. The strain of
passing around the westward bend proved too much for them.

About a week later, I made another attempt with some new rods, but again my
rods broke at 175 feet.”

This info can we read on the officiele National Geografic’s Website: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/09/0923_020923_egypt.html

Of this part of book indicated, that the two rods were left in QCN by Edgar Morton in about 1920. He has reached a distance of 175 feet.(A total lenght of shaft is about 209 feet.)
I think that he had to go through all of curves in that shaft. Many researches write, that in QCN we have a Dixon’s rod. (e.g. Rudolf Gantenbrick on his Website – photo in section QCN and raises questions about a second rod).

My little comments:

1) If these are Morton’s rods, it would be possible, that the small parts on the floor belong to the Morton’s tool.
2) None of these rods couldn’t be wooden, but both are iron, and thay have little in common with the hook and ball found earlier.
Although there is not enough information about an exploration of QCN in 2002 during “Pyramid Rover” expedition. All of them was focused on the “doors”

How do you thing. Is it possible that, we can see on photo from QCN Morton’s rods from 1920 and not a Dixon’s from 1872.

Best regards


Sorry for my english.

February 28th, 2015 at 10:25 am
Jon Duby

I too am wondering if those shafts could have been used for ropes? The counter weight was giant and needed some leverage. Either they were using pulleys or they were using really long ropes to the outside.

At minimum the Mesaopatamians had been using a counter weighted lever that pivoted on a greased axel, I can only imagine that the Eqyptians also knew about that device. It’s not hard to imagine adapting a greased axel to perform like a pulley, I’m wondering if any evidence for pulleys have ever been found?

October 11th, 2015 at 9:20 am

HI . Very interesting subject.
I read that Rob Richardson from the University of Leeds designed a robot with a flexible neck camera that went inside the camera in QCS and found red Hieroglyphics ?
I am sure you have a lot more to communicate.

November 14th, 2015 at 9:58 pm

Thank you Maria,

I discuss this mission, called The Djedi Project, with plenty of exclusive photos!


November 26th, 2017 at 2:28 pm

3 Trackbacks/Pings

  1. PaleoBabble » The History of Pyramid Research: Another Installment from the Em Hotep Blog    Jan 27 2012 / 1am:

    […] should check out this (very) lengthy entry recently posted on the quite useful Em Hotep blog. Readers may recall that Em Hotep has actually […]

  2. argent finances    Dec 30 2015 / 7pm:

    argent finances

    The Pyramid Shafts: From Dixon to Pyramid Rover

  3. changer de banque 2016    Mar 18 2016 / 4am:

    changer de banque 2016

    The Pyramid Shafts: From Dixon to Pyramid Rover

Leave a reply

Name (*)
Mail (will not be published) (*)