New Robot to Explore Strange Passages in the Great Pyramid

The days of robotically exploring the interior chambers of the Great Pyramid at Giza are not over. In fact, a team from Leeds University in England, under the supervision of Egyptian Antiquities Director Zahi Hawass, will attempt to go where no one has gone before, at least since the days the ancient structure was built.

At issue are so-called shafts sloping upward from the north and south walls of the Queens chamber which appear to terminate after 60 meters at mysterious doors. In 1992, engineer Rudolf Gantenbrink was the first to send a small robot up the south shaft and to photograph what appeared to be a door equipped with copper handles. Gantenbrink had been operating without the blessing of Hawass and soon was given his walking papers. No further effort was made to follow up on Gantenbrink’s discovery until 2002 when another robot—this time with Hawass approval and a worldwide television audience—climbed the passage leading from the chamber’s south wall, approached the “door,” and then proceded to drill through it. On the other side of the barrier, though, was yet another barrier. Subsequent exploration of the north passage from the chamber produced a similar result. That was the way things were left until this year when Hawass announced the new robot project.

According to Dr. Robert Richardson of Leeds University School of Mechanical Engineering, the new robot is pre­pared to keep going until it reaches the end of the shaft, to drill through whatever is there, and to find whatever lies beyond. The group, says Richardson, has no preconceptions and will find what it finds.

At stake are numerous theories pertaining to the real purpose of the Great Pyramid itself. Hawass himself is among those who believe the structure is fundamentally a tomb. He has indicated that he thinks the current explora­tion may ultimately locate a mummy, something which, conspicuously, has not been found in any of the pyramid’s previously explored parts. Others have suggested that the real purpose of the Great Pyramid was to aid the pharaoh’s passage to the afterlife. Still others, like engineer Christopher Dunn, have argued that the structure was, in fact, a great power plant.

As for the Queen’s chamber shafts, themselves, Dunn has pointed out that both end at the same height above ground and that their design appears consistent with passageways for some kind of liquid, and that the copper “han­dles” look like nothing so much as fluid switches capable of closing some kind of electrical circuit when the shafts were filled to a sufficient height.

Maybe soon we will all know the truth or, perhaps, be greeted by yet another mystery.

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