Robot to explore Great Pyramid's secret chamber

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The Independent Online

Egypt is preparing to use the latest technology to solve a 4,500-year-old riddle. A robot is to be sent up two narrow shafts in the Great Pyramid in Giza to discover whether a secret burial chamber contains the real tomb of the pharaoh Cheops.

The chief Egyptian archaeologist, Zahi Hawass, is to inspect the robot designed by Singapore scientists this week. He was the official who breathlessly watched with a live television crew and a group of the world's leading Egyptologists in September 2002, when an American-designed robot drilled a hole through a stone panel in a pyramid shaft. In a historic anticlimax, after crawling 200ft along caterpillar tracks, the robot revealed nothing but another sealed door at the end of a small empty chamber.

The Singapore team has been working on a new robot for the past two years. The device is to drill through the second door and a stone slab blocking the second shaft in the pyramid.

"It's very important to reveal the mystery of the pyramid. Science in archaeology is very important. People all over the world are waiting to solve this mystery," Dr Hawass told Reuters. "I believe that these doors are hiding something ... It could be, and this is a theory, that maybe Khufu's [Cheops'] chamber is still hidden in the pyramid."

The two shafts, which rise from an unfinished chamber and which measure just 8in by 8 in, have puzzled archaeologists since they were discovered in 1872. They are peculiar to the Cheops pyramid. It was initially thought they were air vents, but experts say it is more likely that they were built as a ritual passageway for the dead pharaoh's soul to reach the afterlife.

The pyramid, which was plundered by tomb robbers thousands of years ago, was built by King Cheops, who was also known as Khufu, in 2,500BC. If the new probe uncovers a secret burial chamber it could mean that none of the chambers discovered so far were the pharaoh's tomb. The King's Chamber leads to a room almost exactly at the centre which holds the pharaoh's red granite coffin. The Queen's Chamber is believed to have held a statue of Khufu, but has never been used. The pharaoh's wives are buried in smaller pyramids near by.

The first probe through the shafts was sent by a German team in 1993, but the robot was blocked by the limestone panel.

Rudolf Gantenbrink, the German team leader, says on his website that when it is known what lies behind the slab "we will almost certainly learn why those two lower shafts were specially constructed to be totally invisible. And we will finally gain the long-sought key we require to unlock the overall mystery of the Cheops Pyramid."