Scan Pyramids Mission – A Preview

   Posted by: Keith Payne   

Categories: Egypt in the News

sp001 - tagThis is just a quick introduction to the Scan Pyramids Mission written by Marc Chartier and myself, in consultation with members of the Scan Pyramids Mission who have recently returned from Cairo.  Our intention is to put this project into the context of some of the theories that have been asserted about the Great Pyramid.  As this project unfolds, some of these theories may stand, some may fall.  Stay tuned to Em Hotep, Pyramidales, and Égypte actualités as the Scanning Pyramids Mission unfolds for exclusives.  They are just getting started…  Enjoy!

For the French version, Visit Marc Chartier’s Pyramidales, otherwise, read on..

“It is not impossible, in the nineteenth century,” wrote Ernest Breton, resident member of the National Society of Antiquaries of France, “that the Great Pyramid contains other rooms and other galleries we have not yet found.”

This question, which has been described for ages as “a mystery” or “a riddle” is at the heart of the, more or less, firmly constructed assumptions by researchers in Egyptian “pyramidology”. The means of analysis implemented to support these conjectures have been, and often remain, limited to the constructive logic which is believed to be that of the ancient Egyptians.  Researchers generally consider the topographic data still observable, evidence identifiable to the naked eye on the outside and inside of buildings, and what is known about the techniques and materials available to builders of the time.

But how can we finally, empirically know if the pyramid of Khufu and the other major monuments of the Old Kingdom contain spaces – chambers, corridors or ramps – that are not “secret,” but simply unknown to us until now? The presence of these structures is something researchers have felt in their “guts” rather than by deductions, some of which were as logical possible, others of which were the products of fertile imaginations.

To answer the questions that torment our minds, the most simple and expedient method would be to dismantle or demolish them in what would be in an attempt to see what lies beyond the wall of our ignorance. Some have already considered this. Others, at a time when Egyptology was not based on true ethics and sound methodology, have even attempted these methods, eternally destroying what might have been key evidence, without attaining conclusive results.

So it is in this atmosphere of a field of research, which has not yet said its last word, that a new mission, using non-invasive, non-destructive techniques, composed of an Egyptian & international team (The “Scan Pyramids” Project) has been established.  The function of Scan Pyramids is to study as-of-yet unidentified aspects of the internal structure of four major pyramids in Dahshur and on the Giza Plateau. It has the distinction of combining three complementary exploration techniques: infrared thermography, muon radiography, and photogrammetric (scanner and 3D reconstruction).

The purpose of this mission is to make methodical and scientific observations, leaving subsequently to researchers in the field of “pyramidology” the task of interpreting the resulting data with objectivity and the certainty that the best available, ultra-modern techniques were used to derive the data.

In addition to data acquisition, there is also the testing of certain theories regarding the construction purposes of certain interior spaces which are not, at first glance, directly identifiable.  As the evidence from Scanning Pyramids emerges, some of these theories may stand, while others may fall.

We should consider here now some of these theories, which are just a few among many.  The theories we will examine all relate to the Pyramid of Khufu, as that is the common denominator that ties them together.

First we will look at the theory of Gilles Dormion (and Jean-Yves Verd’hurt) which asserts that there is an unknown chamber in the Great Pyramid of Khufu, specifically under the Queen’s Chamber, a theory apparently supported by GPR measurements, made in 2000 by the SAFEGE company, The GPR results could indicate the presence of a structure about one meter wide (2 cubits), oriented in the east-west direction, and whose roof would be at about 3.50 meters deep.

There is a variation on this theory, put forth by Jacques Bardot and Francine Darmon, who carried out their investigations on the horizontal corridor leading to the Queen’s chamber, highlighting a sophisticated makeup of the stone walls, from false seals dug with a stone saw, and filled with a mortar made of gypsum and plaster, intending to mask the true pattern of the stones and probably hide access to a burial chamber, as-of-yet now undiscovered, that could be the true King’s Chamber.

The theory of Dormion and Verd’hurt was built upon by the Egyptologist Jean-Pierre Corteggiani, Director of Scientific and Technical Relations of the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology (IFAO) until 2007. According to him, by simply looking at a cross-section of the Pyramid of Khufu, anyone can see that neither the underground chamber, which remained unfinished, nor the King’s Chamber (having suffered serious problems in the five “relieving chambers”) would be suitable for hosting the remains of a mummified pharaoh. The burial chamber must be elsewhere. Hence his conclusion: “The only possibility, if there is one, must be found in the vicinity of the Queen’s Chamber and in conjunction with it.”

While acknowledging his ignorance in terms of funerary architecture regarding the Old Kingdom, the Egyptologist Jean Yoyotte wrote that, “some findings on the spaces, the interior layout of the pyramids, made by Gilles Dormion, correspond to reality.” Then he added: “What is daring and questionable are the conclusions he draws, and especially, the fact that he said he would find the ‘treasure’ of Khufu. This audacity of presumption before any further discussion between skilled specialists is an unfortunate characteristic of our time.”  Yoyotte finally concluded: “It may be discovered [in the Great Pyramid] a store, an annex room [to the King’s Chamber] which contained furniture (…). Blind rooms existed. In fact, perhaps, there are some other rooms which have not, yet, been discovered. ”

Another theory applied only to the Great Pyramid and referring to an internal structure is that of Italian Elio Diomedi. He does not agree with the ideas of Herodotus of a vertical ramp, or machines that lifted the stone blocks.  According to him, a ramp parallel to one side of the pyramid was used to transport the blocks up to a height of 15 meters. Then the ramp plunged within the pyramid in an ascending spiral, like a gigantic spiral staircase running along the inner perimeter of the building. These internal galleries were gradually filled at the end of the construction.

Meanwhile, the Italian engineer Marco Fiorini Virginio develops his own hypothesis, that of an “internal pyramid,” which explains the “volumetric design” indispensable to the construction of the completed pyramid (the external view) with its perfect lines. According to him, the overall volume of the “internal” pyramid represents 90% of the volume of the final pyramid. Its walls are parallel to the “skin” of this “external” pyramid, with a space of 3 m between. A spiral ramp with a width of 3 m is built progressively whilst the “internal” pyramid rises; from the height of 60 m, this ramp is then used for the transport of materials and the movement of workers until the final height of the “internal” pyramid (138 m) is reached. Having attained this height, and flanked by this wraparound ramp, the “internal” pyramid will then find the final use for which it was built –  to serve as a support and reference for the construction of the “skin” made of Tura limestone surfacing the outside of the completed pyramid.

The use of hydraulic systems, with the interior volumes they require, is suggested by several researchers. This is particularly the case of American John J.Williams. According to him, ramps were required for the construction of Khufu’s pyramid up to the level of the floor of the Queen’s Chamber. Then, for the rest of the construction, up to the top of the building, Williams proposes a hydraulic lift (or elevator) “buried” in the body of the pyramid and located on a vertical shaft between the Queen’s chamber and that of King. The path of this elevator goes from the Queen’s Chamber, where it is loaded with stone blocks, tools and workers, or even animals, up to the upper layer under construction; then, depending on the load, the workers leave the elevator, or the stone blocks are discharged and transferred horizontally on sledges until their final location.

The Briton Chris Massey proposes yet another hydrologic system, which relied on the earlier work of Manuel Minguez.  Massey’s principle is simple: why spend human force while the Egyptian builders had a dynamic asset within their immediate reach, namely the mighty Nile? By connecting to the stone blocks a smart assembly made of light and floating material, these blocks could simply exploit the floatability phenomenon. Buoyancy would provide the physical force necessary to support these blocks, rendering them effectively weightless, allowing the builders to pull or push them with ease. To raise them up the pyramid as it was being constructed, the author still uses the Archimedes principle of imagining a series of locks, lifts, and water reservoirs between two levels of construction. But clearly, in this constructive scheme, the complex system set in place should have left traces in the structure of the building: reinforcements, construction of tight spaces, the quality of blocks used …

Recently, Michel Michel, also known under his pseudonym “Khoufou”, has made public his theory concerning both the internal structure of the Great Pyramid (“always consisting of a step pyramid, an internal structure resulting from the stacking of heterogeneous blocks extracted from local quarries, without any special care “) and the system put in place, he says, by Egyptian builders for the construction of external ramps whose materials were then integrated in the coating of the building: “As the top of each step will receive masonry,” he writes, “I also advocate masonry to build the ramps of the pyramid. One could then move a part of the blocks of the ramp to turn it into additional masonry (…) the volume of the ramp (being) identical to the volume of the additional masonry.”

And, of course, we must consider the theory of Zahi Hawass, former Minister of Antiquities. Dr. Hawass has reiterated on many occasions his belief that there is an undiscovered royal burial chamber within Khufu’s Pyramid other than what is known as the King’s Chamber.  To support his theory, with great support and media attention, he has used several specially constructed robot “crawlers” to explore the so-called “ventilation shafts” of the Queen’s Chamber.

This has essentially been a three-part project.  At Hawass’ prompting, in the 90s, the “Project Upuaut”, consisting of two robots, Upuaut 1 then Upuaut 2, equipped with cameras (Rudolf Gantenbrink, Rainer Stadelmann, and the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut) had their run.  Then, in 2002, the world witnessed the “Pyramid Rover” project (National Geographic Society).  Finally, in 2010, the “Djedi Project”, a 3rd generation robot (University of Leeds, the firm Scoutek Robotics, and the world leader in 3D virtual worlds – Dassault Systems) captured the world’s attention.

But apart from a small void of 14 cm at the end of both shafts, a metal bar, 2 pairs of “copper handles,” and painting traces (probably mason’s marks), the harvest has not been up to expectations.

Finally, we come to the work of the architect Jean-Pierre Houdin, which centers on the idea of two processes for the construction of the Great Pyramid: an external ramp for about half the height, which would equal about 85% of the pyramid by volume, and an internal ramp, starting also from the base, to build the upper part through to the top, the facing stones of fine Turin limestone being set up progressively before each layer rises. An additional advantage of this theory is that it recycles one of the two process components, namely the blocks used for the external ramp, that are reused for the upper part of the pyramid.  In other words, the external ramps are recycled into the interior volume of the upper part of the pyramid – nothing is wasted.

It is essential to add that, according to Jean-Pierre Houdin, the constructive “logic” (Houdin particularly likes that word-“logic”) applies to the four large smooth pyramids of the Fourth Dynasty, however, with the following caveat: the internal ramp may have a different path in each of the pyramids, depending on the slope of the sides, of the interior layout (chambers and corridors), or because of the topography.

Thus, in the said reconstituted logic, with slopes above 51 °, Khufu and Khafre would both have an internal spiral ramp, but which may not necessarily rotate in the same direction.

The Bent Pyramid, whose lower part is at more than 54 °, would have a spiral ramp, this one becoming a zigzag ramp running along a diagonal in the top part at 43 °.

The Red, finally, with its inclination at 43 °, should have two zigzag ramps in inverted “mirrors” (like the escalators in department stores) running along a diagonal and whose entrances would find themselves at the base of two opposite edges, South / East and North / West, the position of these entrances being linked with the topography.

These then are the goals of the scientific mission of Scanning Pyramids, conducted without any prejudice nor to serve the purposes of any specific group. Once the results are known and examined, whatever they may reveal, they will be available to all, in the open light.

After this work is completed, will we then say that the majestic Egyptian pyramids have spoken their final words? For the moment, let’s allow the scientists carry out their task with “serenity and humility,” as Mehdi Tayoubi, Co/founder and Chairman of the French Institute HIP (Heritage, Innovation, Preservation), likes to say.  Armed with this new research and evidence, let them make their conclusions in their field of expertise. It will then remain to Egyptologists and specialists in these ancient monuments to interpret the language of stone that will be available to them. Let’s hope they preserve the same spirit of objectivity in which the “Scanning Pyramids” project is conducted.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 11th, 2015 at 6:06 am and is filed under Egypt in the News. 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.

7 comments so far

Ben Russell

I have been looking for more information about the scans, then I got this e-mail, thanks!

November 11th, 2015 at 6:28 am
Richie O'Neill

I have been waiting for this update in anticipation it would be as excellent as it is, awesome synopsis, looking forward to the next instalment

November 11th, 2015 at 6:28 am

I am looking forward to the results of this as well as the day when jean-Pierre will be able to enter the internal, spiral ramp and walk it’s length, filming as he goes.

November 11th, 2015 at 10:50 am
Ray Dawe

Very interesting. Can’t wait for more news.

November 12th, 2015 at 7:04 pm

Just making this post on 15th November 2015 soon after the major thermal anomaly that has been measured on the East face of Khufu’s Pyramid. I just have a few obsevations I’d like to post at this stage. 1) It is intersting to see that the stones in front of the anomolous area are of a differnet size and orientation 2) The anomolous seems to be about two thirds to three quarters of the way towards the north face. 3) There is an area that seems like a patched up crack that runs along the ground for about 5 metres as far as I can see up to the anomolous area. 4) the thermal conductivity of limestone is about 1.3 W/(m k) compared to that of air: about 0.02 W/(m k). This indicates the anomaloy may very well be an open space behind the limestone. However other materials with a low conductivity are wood (0.2) and the mortar they used which often contained sand and gypsum (both about 0.2) as well. I hope there is a space and its not just mortar!

November 15th, 2015 at 3:40 am
Philip A. Femano, Ph.D.

I only hope it won’t be years until the anomalies are studied further. The point of such scanning is not to draw conclusions from the images as much as to serve as a “diagnostic” that warrants closer investigation of the underlying cause.

November 16th, 2015 at 10:50 am

Hey Phil!

Do you realize I am almost two year to they day responding? I think the ancients were better at it than me. But I got so wrapped with promoting the Facebook Egyptology groups (There are a surprisingly scholarly, well-thought-out groups, a quite a few in the front and behind the scenes epeple there!). Then I ran into so hea;th issues, bit I am making an honest effort to rally. I have been doing the Western Cemetery series, and Brian Alm, who studied Egyptology at Chicago, but I don’t think he went the full Ph.D… shame, has anarticle on “Empitr and Warfare,” all about the New Kingdom. I just finished formatting for him today, he juyt neeeds to give the final over=look, the hit publish. I have a coupw more of the Western Cemetery article in the can, but I am spacing them out. Brian has another one submitted about women andf power, and then Sarah She[herd has one on the way about Egyptology during the WWI-II years, and no less a person than Melinda Nelson-Hirst is going to do a bit on the recover of AE aniquities in New Orleans, and drop a littlw piece about what it was to be one of the scholars on the First Vatican Mummny Conference. So too keep things from getting stale, Brian is ding his fist bit, then in a week os so I will do my Western Cemetery article on Arthur Mace, then a week or two then Sarak’s war years bit, then I will do another Western Cemetry piece on Dows Dunham, the Brian’s article on powerful women, then I will do another Western Cemetery Piece to wrap it up, with a few mini-bios of extedition photographers such as Mustapha Abul el-Hamd and Badawi Ahmed – those guy get too-little mention. There may ot be enough about those two, so I may make it more generally about the German, Italian, and American teams drawing on the local talent. It you can think of any diggers I may ave missed from the Harvard-Museum of Fine Arts years specifically in Khufu’s Western Field, I’d be much obliged. I am not sure of where I will go with it after that. Abu Bakr might be a nice way to wrap it up. But bcau to what I was saying, Brian would do his piece on women and power, the I’ll squeeze another Western Field piece in have others who have offered to make contribution, and it is time I let them! 🙂 Em Hotep is pretty much going to be my legacy, so I am, glad I got it fired up again.

Anyway, after two years, I miss you 🙂
As yoy probably have noticed my emhotep email is full. Justhost doesn’t do much b way of spam filters, and I just don’t have the time. It is getting close to time to renew my annualcontract with them Maybe I will mention it. I use my work email mostly now, I’ll try toi reach you through there!


November 24th, 2017 at 11:24 pm

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