Archaeologists have discovered the entrance to a previously unknown chamber within the largest of Egypt's pyramids. Some evidence suggests it might contain the royal treasures of the pharaoh Cheops, for whom the Great Pyramid was built 4,500 years ago. The contents of the chamber are almost certainly intact.
The entrance is at the end of a sloping passageway, 65 metres long but only eight inches (20cm) wide and eight inches high. Egyptologists previously thought the passageway was only eight metres long, and that its construction had been abandoned while the pyramid was being built.
But a German scientific team, led by a robotics expert, Rudolf Gantenbrink, developed a tiny robot, equipped with a video camera, to explore the passage - and discovered that it ends in a miniature stone door with large copper handles.
The scientists will now spend some time adapting the robot to carry a fibre-optic camera that can be inserted through a tiny triangular gap at the bottom right-hand corner of the door.
It is impossible for tomb robbers to have reached the chamber. If the Egyptian authorities give permission for the chamber to be breached, gaining access will involve digging through 25 metres of stone from the south side of the Great Pyramid's exterior. The narrow passageway appears to have functioned only as a 'spirit path' for the soul of the deceased pharoah.
According to the Belgian Egyptologist Robert Bauval, the passage points directly at the dog star Sirius, held by the ancient Egyptians to be the incarnation of the goddess Isis. Other small passages in the pyramid appear to point to other heavenly bodies - the belt of Orion and the star Alpha Draconis, which at the time was in the area now occupied by the Pole Star.
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