Archaeologists are going to map the interior of Egypt’s pyramids with cosmic ray muons

For centuries, researchers and archaeologists all over the world have toiled over one of Earth’s greatest mysteries: how exactly Egypt’s ancient pyramids were constructed. Though there exist thousands of theories and assumptions, the method by which these grand structures came to be continues to stump practically anyone who spends time researching them. Because of this, scientists from Egypt, France, Canada, and Japan recently decided to link arms in an effort to get to the bottom of this enigma, creating a supergroup backed by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities called ScanPyramids. We’re fairly certain something like this led to the events of The Mummy but hey, science, right?

Just as its name suggests, the group intends to spend one year non-intrusively scanning Egypt’s pyramids to uncover what it deems a 4,500-year-old mystery. To do this, researchers plan to make use of radiographic muons (cosmic subatomic particles capable of penetrating just about anything), infrared thermography, photogrammetry, and 3D reconstruction technology. Perfected by researchers at Japan’s Nagoya University, the scanning method was originally used to look inside active volcanoes and also peer inside Fukushima’s nuclear reactors.

Bent Pyramid at Dahshur
Bent Pyramid at Dahshur Ivrienen / Wikipedia

“We want to use these technologies to look through the stones and see if we can find rooms and secret passages behind the walls and inside the pyramids,” Heritage, Innovation and Preservation (HIP) founder Mehdi Tayoubi tells Motherboard. “If we find something, it’s going to allow us to understand how the pyramids were built — this is one of the greatest mysteries.”

With scanning scheduled to commence this November, ScanPyramids looks to focus squarely on the Bent and Red pyramids at Dahshur, and the Khufu and Khafre pyramids in the Giza plateau. According to a published press release, the significance of these sites all date back to the Egyptian Pharaoh Snefru who built the two pyramids at Dahshur while his son and grandson built the two pyramids in Giza. To preserve what ScanPyramids calls “masterpieces of the Fourth Dynasty,” the project’s non-intrusive scanning tech allows the team to avoid drilling even one opening during the entire project.

ScanPyramids’ first step is to embark on two thermography missions to create a series of thermal maps geared towards uncovering each pyramid’s range in density. These thermal maps should help the scientists determine if the structures possess any voids or hidden corridors underneath the surface. Then, the project’s muon radiography will expand on the thermal mapping, giving the team a chance to discover unknown monuments throughout each pyramid. They also plan to use a combination of laser scanners and a fleet of drones to produce 3D replications of the Giza and Dahshur sites down to a centimeter of precision.

Giza's Khafre Pyramid
Giza’s Khafre Pyramid BillBl / Flickr

“The key is to move forward by implementing new approaches,” Tayoubi states in the press release. “Many previous missions have attempted to unravel the mysteries of the pyramids and even if they were unsuccessful, they were helping advance knowledge. Our goal is to make our contribution and to prepare, in humility, the path for future scientific research missions.”

With the entirety of the project approved by the Ministry of Antiquities’ permanent committee, and all necessary permissions granted to them via the required authorities, ScanPyramids says it plans to run the mission until roughly the end of 2016. Considering just how little is known of the creation and production of Egypt’s pyramids, even the smallest of discoveries should make the project a resounding success.

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