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Japanese experts join team looking to unlock secrets of Egyptian pyramids

AFP-JIJI, Kyodo, Staff Report

An international team of researchers that includes a group of Japanese scientists has launched a project to scan Egypt’s pyramids to uncover as many secrets as possible about their construction.

The architects and scientists from Egypt, France, Canada and Japan will use modern infrared technology and advanced detectors that do not require drilling to map two pyramids at Giza and the two Dashour pyramids south of Cairo.

“This special group will study these pyramids to see whether there are still any hidden chambers or other secrets” inside them, Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty said Sunday at a news conference.

“These engineers and architects will conduct the survey using nondestructive technology that will not harm the pyramids,” he said.

The Japanese team is led by Kunihiro Morishima, a Nagoya University researcher who has been working on development of nuclear emulsion technologies for cosmic-ray radiography.

The project’s researchers will be using a method focusing on fundamental particles called muons that rain down onto Earth and are believed to pass through people and penetrate deep into rock and water.

Experts said the project, dubbed “Scan Pyramids,” will also be a fresh attempt at understanding how the monuments were built in the first place.

Many previous missions have attempted to unravel this mystery, but archaeologists and scientists have yet to come up with a concrete theory explaining how the structures were built.

The Pyramid of Khufu, also known as the Great Pyramid of Giza — the tallest of them all — was built by the son of Snefru, founder of the fourth dynasty (2,575 B.C.-2,465 B.C.), while the Pyramid of Khafre, or Chephren, was built by the son of Khufu. The two pyramids at Dashour were built by Snefru.

“The idea is to find the solution to the mystery of the pyramids,” said Mehdi Tayoubi, founder of the Paris-based HIP Institute, which is participating in the project.

“A similar attempt was made 30 years ago, but this is the first project at a global level using cutting-edge technology to look inside the pyramids,” he said.

The project is expected to last until the end of 2016.

Eldamaty said the infrared and muon technologies that will be used to search the four pyramids could also be useful in locating a possible hidden chamber in King Tutankhamun’s tomb, which some speculate could be the burial place of Queen Nefertiti.

The researchers will install detectors that will gather muons and measure their energy and incoming and outgoing trajectories to determine how much they are scattering. This data will help reconstruct the trajectories’ paths and compile a 3-D image — resembling an X-ray examination — of hidden chambers.

Muons are more than 200 times heavier than electrons and their trajectory changes depending on the density of the object. They are believed to slow and eventually stop when traveling through rock or other dense material while those flying through empty spaces will continue at full speed.

The same technology was successfully used to scan the damaged No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, enabling researchers to confirm it had suffered a complete meltdown following the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami.