The Search for Hidden Chambers on the Giza Plateau, Part II

The Search for Hidden Chambers

On the Giza Plateau, Part II

by Jimmy Dunn writing as Alan Winston

>>Pyramid Index / Giza

The Giza Plateau Just Outside of Cairo, Egypt

The day of using dynamite or other tunneling techniques to explore Egyptian monuments is long dead. In fact, any archaeological investigation in Egypt is now carefully monitored to make sure that its national heritage remains as safe as possible. New projects are usually approved only in areas that are threatened, such as the wet delta, because the antiquity authorities would just as soon keep other possible sites buried until they can be properly preserved. Therefore, since particularly the 1970s, the use of nondestructive technology has been a necessary means of archaeological investigation, not only on the Giza Plateau, but elsewhere in Egypt. In fact, today it is a common means for Egyptologists to explore a prospective site which not only allows for the preservation of excavations, but also saving money by pinpointing dig areas.

After the Joint Pyramid Project of the 1960s, during the 1970s, SRI International took up the banner of nondestructive investigation on a variety of projects in Egypt. SRI International, which was once known as the Stanford Research Institute based in California, is today an independent, nonprofit research institute. Their work in Egypt was a continuation of a joint American-Egyptian project established in 1974 to apply modern geophysical techniques to the field of archaeological investigation. As with the Joint Pyramid Project, the Ain Shams University was a major Egyptian component of the operation, which was teamed up with scientists from SRI and archaeologists from the then Egyptian Antiquities Organization (EAO), the predecessor of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA). The team leaders were Lambert Dolphin, a Senior Physicist with SRI and Ali Helmi Moussa, Chairman of the Department of Physics at Ain Shams.

Though here, we will explore the projects at Giza, the team also conducted early surveys at Saqqara and in the Valley of the Kings on the West Bank of Luxor (ancient Thebes).

Lambert Dolphin, Senior Physicist with SRI

The SRI International project at first attempted to employ ground-penetrating radar (GPR) as a nondestructive means of archaeological investigation. GPR uses high-frequently radio waves to penetrate below ground level in order to produce an image of the subsurface features. This technique uses a device to transmit waves downward that reflect off the substrata. The signals are then recorded, producing a profile of the subterranean region. There are various restraints to the depth at which this technique is functional, including the type of soil and rocks. Furthermore, high moisture content affects the strength of the returning signal, resulting in a loss of radio frequency, which is a real problem at Giza. While the Giza Plateau sits on the edge of the desert, which would seem to make it ideal for this technology, in reality there is a high humidity level, as well as an underground water table not far below the surface. Hence, the team found GPR to be almost completely useless.

Hence, in their subsequent field season in Egypt during 1977, the SRI team decided to try acoustic sounding, resistivity and magnetometry surveys, though they found that none of these methods, at the time, were particularly foolproof. The problem is that, at Giza, all of the subterranean mysteries are not manmade.

Resistivity surveying is frequently used today in archaeological surveying to detect, for example, walls and ditches, though magnetometry tends to pick up ditches better and is also more suited to spotting metal or burning. It measure resistivity of a controlled source of electric current and a device for measuring the potential differences generated by the current passing through the earth. The resistivity method exploits the different electrical conductivity of an archaeological structures in respect to that of the surrounding soil. The different electrical propertiesof the structure compared to the soil determine the appearance of resistivity anomalies. Structures such as walls, foundations and cavities are poor conductors, while graves, ditches and pits are usually good conductors. In the first case a positive anomaly is generated while in the second, a negative anomaly results. Many different electrode arrays are used, accordingtothe kind of archaeological structure, its dimensionanddepth. Sometimes the result of a resistivity survey can depend on geological and climatic conditions. One reason it remains popular is because the equipment needed is not expensive.

Magnetometry is the technique of measuring and mapping patterns of magnetism in the soil. Ancient activity, particularly burning, leaves magnetic traces that show up even today when detected with the right equipment. Buried features such as ditches or pits, when they are filled with burnt or partly burnt materials, can show up clearly and give us an image of sub-surface archaeology.

Acoustic sounding systems have distinct advantages in archaeological applications, though like other systems, they have many other uses. Without digging or disturbing the area, the range and locations of underground objects, voids, and tunnels can often be detected quickly and easily. Unique acoustic sounding systems suitable for archaeological use were developed for this application under sponsorship of SRI internal funds.

To date, a number of sites in Egypt have been subjected to Acoustic Sounding Technology in Egypt, not only including Giza, but also Saqqara, Luxor, Tanis Alexandria and a number of other archaeological sites.

The Second Pyramid at Giza, built by Khafre

Sea sediments, which were laid down millions of years ago, make up the rock of the Giza Plateau. It mostly consists of limestone, which varies in grade and is sandwiched with layers of sand and gravel. Beneath the surface there are fault lines, but is it also honeycombed by ancient underground water courses which form natural voids known as solution cavities in the soft limestone rock. In fact, there are huge, apparently unexplored natural caves at Giza which are so large one could get lost in them. Hence, it is understandable that the search for hidden manmade subterranean chambers can be very difficult using non-intrusive detection equipment. Obviously, some of these techniques have worked out much better in other areas of Egypt.

Nevertheless, these methods were used to examine the interior and exterior of Khafre's Pyramid, the interior of the Great Pyramid, some limited surveys around the Third Pyramid of Menkaure, as well as around the Great Sphinx.

Work Around the Pyramid of Khafre (Typically known as the Second Pyramid)

In their 1977 season, the team primarily examined the Pyramid of Khafre, mostly around the perimeter where they carried out a number of resistivity surveys looking for hidden tunnels or chambers. They followed up the resistivity surveys with acoustic soundings to verify the more interesting "signatures". These surveys identified anomalies at the northwestern end of the west face of the Pyramid some six meters deep. Unfortunately, this area of the Giza Plateau is particularly subject to faults, and so it was difficult for the team to place any real significance on their findings.

The upper chamber in the Pyramid of Khafre at Giza

They also decided to explore the bedrock directly beneath Khafre's Pyramid by setting up their acoustic sounding equipment in the upper chamber. Here, they detected two large anomalies, one 21 meters deep and another at 33 meters. These appear to have been definite chambers or caverns with strong signatures. In addition, tests in the horizontal passageway leading to the upper chamber revealed the presence of another anomaly some four meters deep, which the team thought could be a tunnel or passageway that might even lead to the other possible chambers.

Location of possible chambers under the Pyramid of Khafre

The team suggested that a small bore hole could be drilled down through the bedrock and a bore-scope camera inserted to determine whether the subterranean spaces could in fact be manmade chambers. The EAO even gave their permission for this investigation, but unfortunately, no funds were available for this work, and to our knowledge, the anomalies have never been further investigated. However, it should be pointed out that, while such new chambers would certainly be an amazing discovery, they are more likely natural formations. Surely one day we will find out one way or another.

A Short Survey on the Interior of Khufu's Great Pyramid

While the SRI team did not further investigate the superstructure of Khafre's Pyramid, believing that such would be redundant after the Joint Pyramid Project, they did spend a single night using the acoustic soundings to survey a limited area of the Great Pyramid of Khufu. They took two sets of data, one from the King's Chamber and another from the antechamber leading to it. Even here, there were problems due to the blocks making up the pyramids core returning multiple waves back to the receiving equipment, therefore causing "clutter". Nevertheless, the survey did appear to reveal an anomalous echo 7.25 meters beneath the floor, about halfway between the King's and Queen's Chambers. The report prepared by the SRI team suggested the echo could represent a possible void near the point where the original pyramid plan was thought to be altered. Hence, it might simply be a space left during the change in plan, or even a large crack More recent investigations of the pyramid also show that the core of the pyramid is less solid than once thought, with areas filled with rubble or sand, that might have also affected these earlier investigations.


Location of possible Chamber found by SRI in the Great Pyramid of Khufu

Furthermore, the teams work was really very scant, with only two sets of acoustic data over a single night, which was also affected by severe clutter. Furthermore, the purpose of this survey was not really to search for hidden chambers in the first place, but rather to determine the scattering effects of the individual pyramid blocks. The effort was really made in order to further develop the equipment and techniques, they the team did recommend additional acoustic measurements within pyramids.

Obviously, these findings through the alternative thought camp into a tizzy. In the Hall of Records, Joseph Jochmans utterly misinterpreted the SRI's data and subsequent recommendations while suggesting conspiracy and obstruction on the part of the antiquity authorities in Egypt. In that work, one can see why the antiquity authorities shy away from non-professional archaeological efforts:

"So far to date, the Egyptian government has not seen fit to take action on these recommendations, even though they may have the potential of leading to a great discovery, perhaps even greater than that of Tutankhamun's tomb. One explanation given for the apparent reluctance to begin the search is that the Egyptians, sensitive to the fact that the Pyramid is their national treasure and number one tour ist attraction, are fearful to let anyone damage the monument by drilling, or extensive diggings. Adding to the general discouragement of further research is the Egyptian Department of Antiquities, whose members are notoriously conservative, and are therefore unwilling to admit to the possibility that other enigmas in the Pyramid have yet to be found. Their attitude is that, since we already know that the Pyramid was a tomb of a Pharaoh, there are no more mysteries to be had, and therefore it would be a waste of time to search for more. In truth they are worried that future discoveries would upset presently held theories, upon which many present reputations and authority is based. But one wonders if, perhaps behind this facade of official fears and conservatism, there might be certain individuals who are working to maintain the restraints on exploration, for very different reasons. These individuals, working on a higher level of awareness, know the secret chambers exist, but they also know that the time is not right for the world to learn of their contents. There must yet be a Transformation, both in the Earth and in mankind itself, before the day of opening arrives."

What utter rubbish. No wonder that the Supreme Council of Antiquates wishes to have little to do with amateur Egyptologists, even though in all fairness, many do think in more traditional terms. In fact, the Egyptian authorities have little say about how new theories about Egyptian history shape up, which come from Egyptologists all over the world. In fact, the Egyptian authorities have allowed continuing investigation of the pyramids by professional organizations, particularly in the shafts of the Queen's chamber in the Great Pyramid.

The simple fact of the matter is that further work was not conducted because the SRI findings were non conclusive, and also because problems with the equipment had to be resolved. In fact, according to Giza: The Truth by Ian Lawton and Chris Ogilivie-Herald, one of the best books we know of on the Pyramids even though it is written by Amateurs, they contacted team member Dolphin, who stated that:

"[The anomaly is] probably an empty void, but possibly only a large crack. The foundation of the King's Chamber goes all the way to the base of the Pyramid and is separated from the foundation of the rest of the pyramid. It is possible these two sections have settled at different rates leaving a big crack.

We had permission to drill a hole from the Grand Gallery into this void, but we elected not to mar the pyramid on such scant evidence."

Nevertheless, claims such as that of Joseph Jochmans persist up into the present day. If everyone who ever wanted to drill into the Great Pyramids were allowed to do so, it would be honeycombed by bore holes, but even limited work by professionals must be tempered. The Great Pyramids of Egypt have existed for thousands of years. Why bore more holes when, in another ten or another fifty years, technology will improve to the point were they can be certain that when they drill, they are drilling into actual chambers? Man fears time, but time fears the Pyramids. The only thing that Pyramids must fear is pyramidiots.

See also:

See Also (Recent News Reports)






Reference Number

Complete Pyramids, The (Solving the Ancient Mysteries)

Lehner, Mark


Thames and Hudson, Ltd

ISBN 0-500-05084-8

Excavating in Egypt: The Egypt Exploration Society 1882-1982

James, T. G. H.


University of Chicago Press, The

ISBN 0-226-39192-2

Giza The Truth

Lawton, Ian; Ogilvie-Herald, Chris


Virgin Publishing Ltd.

ISBN 0-7535-0412-x

Treasures of the Pyramids, The

Hawass, Zahi


American University in Cairo Press, The

ISBN 977 424 798 1