Image of the Day: Robot Snaps Pics of Symbols in Secret Chamber of the Great Pyramid

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Archaelogists are not sure if they are ancient graffiti tags left by a worker or symbols of religious significance. A robot has sent back the first images of markings on the wall of a tiny chamber in the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt that have not been seen for 4500 years.

The pyramid is thought to have been built as a tomb for the pharaoh Khufu — the last of the seven wonders of the ancient world still standing — contains three main chambers: the Queen's Chamber, the Grand Gallery and the King's Chamber, which has two air shafts connecting it with the outside world.


There are also two tunnels, about 20 centimetres by 20 centimetres, that extend from the north and south walls of the Queen's Chamber and stop at stone doors before they reach the outside of the pyramid.

The function of these tunnels and doors is unknown, but some believe that one or both could lead to a secret chamber. Zahi Hawass, Egypt's Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs, describes the doors as the last great mystery of the pyramid.

In 1993, a robot crawled some 63 metres up the tunnel in the south wall and discovered what appeared to be a small stone door set with metal pins. Metal is not part of any other known structure in the pyramid, and the discovery ignited speculation that the pins were door handles.

In 2002 a second robot drilled through the stone block and filmed a small chamber backed by a large blocking stone, but little else.

This year, a robot designed by engineer Rob Richardson from the University of Leeds and colleagues, and named Djedi after the magician that Khufu consulted when he planned his tomb, has crawled up the tunnel carrying a bendy "micro snake" camera that can see around corners.

Images sent back by the camera have revealed hieroglyphs written in red paint and lines in the stone that could be marks left by stone masons when the chamber was being carved. 

"If these hieroglyphs could be deciphered they could help Egyptologists work out why these mysterious shafts were built," says Richardson.

"Red-painted numbers and graffiti are very common around Giza," says Peter Der Manuelian, an Egyptologist at Harvard University and director of the Giza Archives at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "They are often masons' or work-gangs' marks, denoting numbers, dates or even the names of the gangs."

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The Daily Galaxy via newscientist.com

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