Last year, news broke that scans of the Great Pyramid using muon tomography had detected a huge void in the structure, located directly above the Grand Gallery. The news was hailed as a tremendous breakthrough — it’s the first time a hidden chamber of this sort had been detected since the late 1800s, and it’s the first and only known chamber of this type. But one Egyptologist, Dr. David Lightbody, has proposed an alternate explanation in which what appears to be a hidden chamber is an artifact of the scan with a much more prosaic explanation.
Lightbody explains his theory as follows:
Geometric calculations illustrated below… indicate that the new features on the scans which were interpreted as produced by a single ‘big’ void viewed from two directions, located 40m out towards the north face of the structure, could in fact have been produced by two smaller void zones closer to the center of the pyramid, one on either side of the Grand Gallery structure. Due to the offsets of the two Nagoya nuclear emulsion detection plates from the center line of the Grand Gallery, which were of a similar magnitude (NE2 – 4 m west, and NE1 – 5.5 m east of the N-S center line), and the inward slope of the sides of the Grand Gallery structure, only one such void zone would be clearly visible on each Nagoya scan.
How twin void zones would appear on a single section of an exposure due to muons arriving at an angle of 63.5 degrees to the horizontal from the northern sky, from point P2 on the northern face of the pyramid towards point P1 in the Queen’s Chamber, close to where the detectors were set up (NE1 and NE2). The strips at the top show simulated detector scan strips based on sections taken across the actual scan results. (Credit: author’s diagram)
On one side the small voids would be aligned with the detector and would form a zone that was almost a continuous void directed at the plate. On the other hand, the opposing void zone signals would not align with the detector and so the effect of the signals would not be cumulative. In addition, most of them would be hidden behind the signal of the main gallery structure.
Lightbody, it’s important to note, is not claiming to have disproven the original explanation for the void, or even that his conclusion is more plausible than the original — only that it represents an alternative consideration of the data. His interpretation of the void is that it resolves a structural problem intrinsic to the pyramid’s construction. The Grand Gallery slopes upwards at a steep angle, and it’s difficult to cut blocks with two inclined faces while securing them properly in an unfinished pyramid.
One way to resolve the problem is to leave voids within the pyramid structure. Sand or mortar might have been poured into the voids — such material wouldn’t be picked up by muon tomography, and would therefore appear as void space. Lightbody’s argument is that the structures within the Great Pyramid like the Great Gallery and King’s Chamber may actually have been designed as self-supporting structures that were created off-site before being transported and assembled within the Great Pyramid. If they were, this would explain the voids — they’re artifacts of the assembly process used to build the pyramid, rather than representing a new chamber that might contain artifacts or religious significance.
Why This Discovery Still Matters
Lightbody takes pains to note that even if his explanation is accurate, the discovery of this void inside the Great Pyramid would still be incredibly important. The exact methods used to construct the Great Pyramids are still unknown.
When I spoke to Egyptologist Kara Cooney about this discovery last year, she pointed out that this is by design. The ancient Egyptians weren’t interested in explaining their construction techniques to the general population. The pyramids were intended to demonstrate the power and divinity of the Pharaohs to all who came after them, and the Pharaoh was a critical intermediary between the many gods of Egypt and the common people. It was his responsibility to sustain the gods through rituals and offerings, that they might maintain order throughout the universe. The tremendous resources required to build the pyramids in the first place is evidence of how seriously the ancient Egyptians took this concept. The pyramids themselves represented the first mound of earth to emerge from the primeval waters of Nu in Egyptian mythology.
There’s a certain irony to this. The conspiracy theorists who attributed the pyramids’ construction to aliens or other, more advanced civilizations were, in a very real sense, believing what the ancient Egyptian priests wanted people to believe. The Great Pyramid was intended as a demonstration of divine might beyond the ken of common people. If components of the Great Pyramid were initially created as freestanding structures, and then transported to the pyramid for inclusion within it, finding evidence of this in the form of construction voids would still shed significant light on how these massive monuments were built.
That may not be as exciting as a hypothetical chamber whose riches and artifacts could make King Tut’s look like a pauper’s grave. But it would still represent a tremendous discovery.