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Image: Pyramid heat map
A computer animation shows how infrared scanning can produce heat maps of the exteriors of Egypt’s pyramids (Credit: ScanPyramids.org)

Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities says thermal scanning has turned up anomalies inside the pyramids of Giza, including a “particularly impressive one” on the eastern side of the biggest monument. The report comes just days after the ministry said a similar scan found temperature anomalies in King Tutankhamun’s tomb, hundreds of miles to the south.

Empty space doesn’t hold heat as well as rock or soil, so heat anomalies provide clues to structural features beneath or beyond the surface being scanned. They could point to hidden chambers or passages at the ancient sites. However, the anomalies also could be due to less spectacular differences in structure or composition – for example, fractures in the underlying rock.

When infrared cameras scanned the interior of Tut’s burial chamber, in the Valley of the Kings near Luxor, the ministry said anomalies were found along the northern and western walls. That meshes with other evidence suggesting that yet another burial chamber – perhaps that of Tut’s stepmother, Nefertiti – lies beyond the walls.

Meanwhile, just outside Cairo, the international Scan Pyramids team took infrared readings of the Giza pyramids’ exteriors at sunrise, when the morning sun was starting to heat up the monuments; and at sunset, when the pyramids were cooling down. The ministry said scientists found intriguing anomalies in the cycle of heating and cooling, and singled out a temperature variation at the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops).

Ahram Online quoted Egyptian Antiquities Minister Mamdouh Eldamaty as saying that three of the limestone blocks in the first row on the Great Pyramid were “different in formation,” and that a similar situation was found in the middle of the pyramid’s eastern side. Additional ground scans suggested “there is something like a small passage leading up to the pyramid ground, reaching an area with a different temperature,” he said.

Eldamaty said it was too early to determine the cause of the anomalies. “It could be void spaces, fissures or passages. So far, I don’t know,” he was quoted as saying. He called upon other Egyptologists to join the research effort.

The Scan Pyramids project is using thermal imagers as well as cosmic ray detectors, lasers and drones to produce high-tech maps of Egypt’s ancient sites. The pyramids were raised more than 4,500 years ago, while Tutankhamun’s tomb was built about 3,300 years ago.

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