The Search for Hidden Chambers on the Giza Plateau, Part IV: More Recent Investigations

The Search for Hidden Chambers On the Giza Plateau, Part IV: More Recent Investigations

by Jimmy Dunn writing as Alan Winston

The Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza in Egypt has been the focus of many searches for secret chambers

In recent headlines (late August, 2004), Gilles Dormion, is once again, with his partner, Jean-Yves Verd'hurt, claiming that a fourth, undiscovered room lies underneath the pyramid's so-called Queen's Chamber in the Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza. Dormion and Verd'hurt think that this is likely the burial chamber for Khufu, and that it might contain a wealth of artifacts which could rival or exceed that of Tutankhamun's tomb. To find out, all they need to do is drill a few more holes in Egypt's greatest monument.

To his credit, Dormion has been working in the pyramids of Egypt for 20 years, and his and Verd'hurt's radar analyses in another pyramid, at Meidum, led in 2000 to the discovery of two previously undetected rooms.

Like many of the controversies surrounding the Giza monuments, their claims are not very new. In March, 1985, Gilles Dormion and Jean Patrice Goidin, an architect, visited the Great Pyramid and made visual observations that led them to suspect the existence of a hidden system ofpassages and chambers. They originally theorized that the system we see today is actually a ploy to mislead tomb robbers, and that Khufu's real burial chamber was to the side of the Relieving Chambers above the King's Chamber.

Gilles Dormion and Jean-Yves Verd'hurt

At that time, they also observed that the walls of the horizontal passage leading to the Queen's Chamber contained stone blocks that were laid out in a different manner from others in the monument. Specifically, they stated that, "The walls of the long, very low passage leading to the chamber are lined with a crosswise [or cross-shaped] arrangement of stones, the perfect symmetry of which is illogical". Here, the blocks were laid one above the other so that the joints formed a cross-shaped pattern, which is completely unlike the arrangement in any other passage of the Great Pyramid. Their view was that the wall could conceal a storeroom, possibly containing the pharaoh's funerary equipment.

The Queen's Chamber in the Great Pyramid of Khufu

Even recently, Dormion and Verd'hurt seem to be able to muster considerable support from some French Egyptologists, as did the Dormion and Goidin team back in the mid 1980s. Back then, they obtained significant support for a project to carry out work inside the pyramid from the French Ministry of Foreign Relations, the Electricity Board, the Office of Geological and Mining Research and the Geophysical Prospecting Company. This allowed them to mount a project that came to be known as "Operation Kheops" (Khufu was known as Cheops to the Greeks).

In September of 1986, the two men returned to Egypt and began a microgravimeter survey within the Great Pyramid. In the Relieving Chambers, the tests were not conclusive, though they did seem to find some kind of anomaly. Other readings also appear to have indicated the existence of a cavity behind the west wall of the Queen's Chamber passage, just as they had earlier predicted.

Back then, it was a time when the EAO (Egyptian Antiquities Organization) was a bit more acceptable to, what was essentially, amateur investigation. They gave the French team permission to drill three small holes in the wall, which can still be seen at the base today, plugged by metal caps. The first hole was drilled at a 35 degree angle, and revealed only several blocks of stone separated by mortar. The second hole was bored at 40 degrees, with the same results. The final hole, which was drilled to a depth of 2.65 meters, revealed a cavity filled with sand of a very fine quality.

Cavities thought by some researchers to be behind the west wall of the Queen's Chamber of Khufu's Great Pyramid

Essentially, their investigation had revealed little of any substance, though they vowed to return in order to perform more sophisticated surveys. However, before they could do so, in January of 1987, a Japanese team from Waseda University under the direction of Sakuji Yoshimura beat them to it.

The Japanese archaeologists, out of the Egyptian Culture Center at the Tokyo-based Waseda University, conducted their project under the name, Pyramid Investigation Mission. They followed up on the French team's finding with the use of GPR equipment during their first visit between January 22nd and February 9th, and also conducted surveys within the Sphinx enclosure. They returned for a second visit between September 12th and the 23rd, basically repeating the same surveys but with improved equipment and techniques.

The Japanese used their GPR equipment to survey the floors and walls of the Queen's Chamber, which resulted in an indicated presence of a cavity about three meters behind the north wall. Next, they moved their equipment into the passage itself, where they surveyed the entire length of the west wall, which indicated that the cavity was perhaps a concealed passageway running parallel to the horizontal passage. Their report, in part, stated that:

"This newly discovered passage starts from a point only one block's width away from the northern wall of [the] Queen's Chamber. The reflection ends at a point approximately 30m north of [the] Queen's Chamber. Therefore the passage is thought to come to an end here or turn west at a right angle."

The Japanese team also believed that they detected what appeared to be a cavity beneath the floor of the horizontal passage about 1.5 meters below its surface. They believed this cavity might be as much as three meters deep and that it was probably filled with sand.

The sand became an issue with many alternative thinkers. Many rumors about the sand surfaced, including that it was radioactive. This was not true, but when the Japanese team examined the sand and compared it to samples in the Giza and Saqqara area, they found that is differed considerably from that material. Apparently, the sand may have been brought in from some distance. Though Egyptologists believe that the Great Pyramid builders may have used sand filled cavities to buffer the effects of earthquakes, this does not explain why local sand could not have been used.

As for the possible cavities, little further investigation seems to have taken place, and apparently none will anytime in the immediate future, though we can hardly blame the Egyptian authorities. Someone would probably constantly be drilling holes into Egypt's best known monument if given the chance.

The shaft in the subterranean section of the Great Pyramid of Khufu, which was at one point dug out

In 1992, another team, headed by Jean Kerisel, a French engineer, used nondestructive methods to survey the area around the Subterranean Chamber in the Great Pyramid. His research was based on theories regarding Herodotus's "canal" accounts, and the archaeological evidence for the existence of such a canal outside of the Plateau. He began his work by considering the water level under the Great Pyramid by using a combination of calculations originally made by Vyse and Perring, who had the vertical shaft off the Subterranean Chamber dug to a depth of 38 feet. While believing that the depth of Vyse's shaft was great enough to reach the probable level of a canal, he thought that it might have been dug in the wrong place. He reported, in 1992 after GPR surveys, that:

"By this method, we detected, under the floor of the horizontal corridor [leading to the Subterranean Chamber] (to the right of the niche) an interface that could be the roof of a corridor oriented SSE NNW. This roof was found to be at the depth that the descending corridor would reach if it were to be extended. The corridor, if it is empty, would be about 1.6m in height and rises slightly, opening into the pit that we will come to later."

However, in December they began using microgravimetery, and reported that:

"At the spot where the radar had detected a kind of passage, the micro-gravimeter detected nothing, which indicates that the passageway has been filled in. On the other hand, in the horizontal passageway it detected a very clear local anomaly of a mass defect in the west side at 6m before the entrance to the chamber. According to our calculations, it corresponds to a vertical pit of at least 5m in depth, square in section with sides of about 1.4m, in immediate proximity to the west wall."

Kerisel concluded his research by saying that:

"The passageway detected by the GPR could simply be a marl zone of the type of strata that one sees on the head of the Sphinx: but it would be rather exceptional that it should be so thick. As for the micro-gravimeter, it could have detected a sizeable volume of dissolution of the limestone by underground water, that is to say a sort of deep grotto: such a geological accident could exist."

Kerisel apparently wanted to do some drilling to further investigate these findings, but such work also apparently was never performed.

Actually, since the 1960s, many other archaeological projects were conducted on the Giza Plateau, and while no new hidden chambers have specifically been discovered to date, many major finds have been made by orthodox investigation. We have learned much about, for example, the workers who built the pyramids and how they lived, and such work certainly continues to this day.

More work on the pyramids at Giza, as well as the Great Sphinx will probably follow, looking for secret or hidden chambers. In fact, we will, in future articles, explore some limited results of these investigations. But prior to much destructive investigation, it may be necessary for current technologies to improve so that needless damage does not occur to some of the greatest monuments of our ancient past.

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