Mehdi Tayoubi says that "the ScanPyramids mission strives, first and foremost, to honour human creativity and innovation. Our digitally hypnotized society, which hums to the rhythm of ephemeral tweets of 140 characters, no longer believes that humans could have erected these ancient mountains of stone."
Mehdi is Vice President of Dassault Systèmes, French 3D software developing company, co-founder of the non-profit HIP (Heritage Innovation Preservation) Institute which is coordinating ScanPyramids with Cairo University's Faculty of Engineering and co-director of the ScanPyramids project. He wants to restore our confidence in human ability by discovering how the great Old Kingdom pyramids were built.
The Great Pyramid's Notch N2 has long fascinated Egyptologists. On the northeast corner of the pyramid, around two-thirds the way up, is a large open notch. It could very well be simply the result of natural and human destructive forces—earthquakes first shaking loose the pyramid's fine limestone casing blocks, before being carted off to build Cairo's gleaming palaces and mosques.
Alternatively, the notch fits with the latest serious model for how the pyramids were built: the internal ramp theory. The idea goes that, rather than building an enormous ramp stretching far out into the desert, or one that corkscrews perilously around the outside, the ramp instead is internal—a tunnel running parallel with each face.
The tricky part of an internal ramp is being able to turn the blocks at the corners. Notch N2 fits with the theory that the corners of the ramp were left open to the sky. The rising internal tunnel would emerge at each corner to allow the blocks to be turned90° before being pushed back inside the pyramid into the next tunnel for the next flight along the internal ramp.
This concept fits with a small room behind the Notch N2 that Egyptologist, Bob Brier, explored in 2008. The ceiling of the room included arches with keystones, which suggested that this cavity wasn't simply a space left behind after stone thievery. It indicated that this room was purposely built.
In October last year the ScanPyramids team caused headlines when they announced their discovery of two unknown voids within the Great Pyramid. The team had used muons (cosmic subatomic particles) to detect the voids. They measured the contrast between muons crossing open spaces (like cavities or rooms) and where they are absorbed or deflected from hitting denser material.
One void was detected behind the pyramid's original entrance, where giant gabled blocks overhead seem strangely out of proportion to the tiny opening.
The other void was detected some 20 metres above Notch N2, at a smaller notch (N1). The data suggests the presence of a cavity of around the same size as the known room behind Notch N2. Another point, it seems, in favour of the internal ramp theory.
However, the Egyptologists appointed by the Antiquities Ministry were a little more cautious. They suggested that the voids could simply be the result of normal gaps in the masonry. The ScanPyramids Project was extended for a year to conduct more research.
More results will be due in the latter half of this year. Whatever they reveal—internal ramp or not—they'll be sure to tell us something about Egypt's Great Pyramid, and, as Mehdi Tayoubi hopes, "explain how the impossible once became possible."
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